Breaking New Ground—A rule is a rule until it isn’t

A child in the 1950s, I learned to follow the rules. I was one of those kids who colored inside the lines. The consequences of not following the rules — a spanking or being grounded — were too dire for my little bottom or adolescent psyche to risk.

When I graduated from college and moved into New York City, sexual pioneer Helen Gurley Brown threw my neatly organized pickup sticks into the air and left me to contemplate my sensibilities all messed up on the floor. In New York I found a world of rebellion and gusto-grabbing. I was dizzied by the possibilities that existed for liberated women. Brown’s pioneering voice showed how women had been girdled by their undergarments long enough; it was time to break new ground, throw off the shackles (even the elastic ones of girdles and bras).

Brown’s book, “Sex and the Single Girl,” preached that not only was it okay for women to have sex before or even without marriage, but we should embrace it. It was the rebellious, lascivious 1960s, when the birth control pill had been legalized.

Unencumbered of our rules, we embraced like crazy.

I broke the rule of “skirts only” at the publishing house Harcourt, Brace & World and wore the first pantsuit in my department. (I still prefer pants to skirts; I own only two dresses.)

Brown and Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem said women could have it all, could live any life they wanted to live. We believed her. In that freewheeling city, we could question the efficacy of rules, challenge status quo in all quarters.

When I left the gridlock of city life to move to Aspen and work with the author Leon Uris, I discovered a world without rules. Their absence enabled us to look objectively at reasons behind rules and adopt them or not depending on their perceived viability.

Some rules seem so deeply rooted that it doesn’t occur to us to challenge them: Rape doesn’t cause pregnancy; the Bible holds the one true word of god; home ownership brings security, for example.

Few things in life, I learned from my parents, were more important than owning one’s own home. There was no more real stake in a community or in one’s seriousness, importance and security. The certitude of that advice percolated until the day my husband and I became enchanted with Mammoth Lakes, with its small-town, ski-town sensibility, and scraped together all our funds and bought a condo, a home. Check. One rule of life, followed.

We enjoyed a few years of feeling proudly serious and important. Then, the recession hit and property values plummeted to the point where our “home” lost half its value and our mortgage was underwater. Our notion that home ownership signaled security was dashed.

With hindsight I find myself questioning the fundamental tenets of American life. Those tenets were more solid and safe in my parents’ times. The world didn’t move at such a meteoric pace. Values and goals handed down by parents had staying power — the venerable institutions such as marriage, owning a home, working for 50 years for one company to earn the gold watch at retirement. Oh yes, how about retirement — there’s a rule that has died a sad death for many Americans. Retirement is now so far beyond the norm, light at the end of the tunnel isn’t even visible.

But back to being liberated, and its value in confronting tired conventions.

Back in the ’60s, breaking the rules was exhilarating. We respected the rules, which was why it was so exciting to break them. In today’s world, many people seem to think they they’re more important than the rules.

In HGB’s era, it was breaking new ground. Today it’s acting like you own the ground. In the forest, dirt bikers ignore posted signs that say no vehicles allowed, and tear up the trails on joy rides. Road rage is an expression that one person’s time is more valuable than the next person’s.

Anything, it seems, carried to extremes, risks losing its purpose, its reason. How do we refresh the rules of life; it’s not so simple as pressing a button on your Internet browser.

And with the world changing so fast, a rule may last through one 24/7-news cycle. Whew! Talk about dizzying.

How Vidal Sassoon changed my life…and my hair

That Tuesday in 1969 started out like any other.

Legions of women walked to work in New York City wearing sneakers (tennis shoes for West Coasters) and carrying their heels in shopping bags.

I was one of them. I was also one of millions of women who set our hair on big rollers every night, and slept on them. Mine were one and a half inch-diameter brown mesh over an aluminum spring. Not easy to find a pillow position with this lunar armor covering my head.

But the results—oh, the fluffy hair with body and height. For someone with stick straight hair, I adored the way my hair looked when I unwrapped the rollers every morning.

With my bouncing, long, blonde hair, I left my apartment on 89th Street at Madison Avenue that hot August morning, and walked 40 city blocks to my job at WNEW FM in the Pan Am Building, just north of Grand Central Station. I joined the ranks of my fellow gals. We looked odd dressed to the gills in the style of the late 1960s that verged on formal and sporting scuffed sneakers on our feet. We were a pragmatic lot; no one enjoyed walking in pain-inducing pumps.

I marched; I liked the exercise. Then again, everyone walked fast in New York. At the end of the two-mile trek, I was hot and perspirey. After stopping in at the corner coffee shop for a coffee regular and a toasted corn muffin, I hopped the elevator and THEN ducked into the ladies room before walking to my desk.

The woman in the mirror had loser hair. Humidity had reduced my fluffy hair to a limp, blonde mass that clung to my skull. This despite gallons of hairspray. I hated hairspray.

For this disappointing result I underwent the torture of sleeping on stupid rollers every night?

I kicked the wall beneath the mirror.

Pain shot through my toe; it throbbed, I was sure I’d broken it.

That did it. Anger morphed into resolve, and after work that evening, I marched myself over to Fifth Avenue and straight into the Vidal Sassoon salon.

On Tuesday nights, haircuts were free, as long as you could submit to the ministrations of an apprentice hairdresser. We girls with problem hair, no money for a haircut, or the simple desire for hair adventure stood around waiting to be chosen. Student hairdressers approached each of us. They felt our hair, lifted it to see how thick it might be, how unruly. Gasps and expletives occasionally escaped their lips as they guided their conquests to the depths of the salon to perform magic.

As if they were picking sides for a softball team, they left me until last, clearly disappointed with the fineness of my hair; only at the final moment did they deign to style it.

As Sassoon has said, he was not after style; he was after bones. One apprentice washed my hair, another one cut and styled it, and a third blew it dry. Edward Scissorhands couldn’t have flown through the process any faster. When the cutter whipped away the gown and proudly showed off his handiwork in the mirror, Sassoon’s comment proved true. In place of my blonde locks (curl imagined) I had a cap of hair that contoured the shape of my head. Wispy pixie hair. About an inch long all over.

Just that easily, I had done away with the problems of humidity, hairspray and tormented sleep. I now had wash-and-wear hair; I could jump out of the shower in the morning, dry my hair with a towel, comb it into place and walk to work without fear of losing my style. It was a revelation. There’s far more to life than perfect hair.

Thank you Vidal Sassoon.

Mammoth. Skiing. Heaven.

It’s curious how we alight in certain places.

From the moment I strapped on those long Northland skis at the age of 15, I was bitten, forever smitten with skiing. The sound of cold Vermont snow squeaking beneath my leather boots, the crinkling of little hairs in my nose as I sucked in that high alpine air and the mountains that rolled around me in shades of green to purple held me in the swirl of a hug.

That moment set a trajectory that drew me from the gentle mountains of Vermont to the Colorado Rockies and finally to the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada range.

I had tried following a traditional path set for me by my father, working in book publishing and radio in New York City, then law in Washington, D.C., but I kept escaping to Vermont in my VW bug for euphoric flights down the slopes of Killington and Mt. Snow. Around the corner from my house in Georgetown, a car’s Colorado license plates gave me such an itch to head for those mountains that it took only a few months to decide to quit my job, break up with my boyfriend and drive that Volkswagen straight to Aspen, Colorado.

Died and gone to heaven. Colder than Vermont but dry-not-bitter cold. Snow not ice. Wide-open fields of soft, airy fluff, uncrowded slopes, even elk standing against the mountains watching us ski by. And as if by magic, it snowed at night and mornings dawned clear and sunny and powdery.

Growing up in a small town on the East Coast, I had been steeped in frontier history and tradition and followed the call to the mountains in fine old explorer style. My Yankee sensibilities fit right into the Colorado ski town snugged right up to the mountains. Landing there was landing home.

My soul flew thermals with the ravens above the ski mountains. When I hurled myself from the top of Aspen Mountain to the base, I traveled through pine alleyways, swooped into bowls and gulches, dodged squirrels that shot out of the woods daring me not to run them over, grinned at the shrieks of glee lifting out of the glades…and at the end of the day, met up with friends for a beer and bragging rights.

I skied the Rockies for a lot of years, growing up there, really, married, and skied some more, hitting Vail, Copper, Breckenridge, Telluride, Winter Park, Steamboat Springs. I learned to drop my fear of going too fast. Especially if I wanted to keep pace with my husband who was an SST on skis. On 215 K2 downhills, he swooped the mountain from top to bottom like a graceful hawk chasing and toying with a mouse. We reveled in laps on the gondola. Up and down, up and down as the sun gradually filled the gulch with light.

I never wanted to leave my ski heaven, but there came a time when that idyllic existence gave way to another kind of adventure: moving to California.

The process of becoming a Californian was tortuous for me. I was happy in my life; being uprooted and hauled to a remote canyon in Los Angeles was unnerving. The PCH was a nightmare. After living someplace that was no more than five minutes from anywhere, the PCH strung out a line of sparkling cars whipping along at warp speeds, while the drivers ate, talked on phones, applied makeup, did not look at the ocean that sidled into shore. I couldn’t drive. I was trapped in a hot canyon where the air didn’t seem to move. At all.

I wanted to ski, to live within vertical horizons. We couldn’t get to Mammoth fast enough. The first time we drove up from L.A. – in the dark – we had no idea where we were going or what the landscape looked like. It was all we could do to keep focus while other, more excited drivers daringly passed us on the two-lane sections of freeway. But the second trip was in bright daylight, a breathtaking journey from desert up to mountains, and awed us with a sense of geologic time and volcanic movement.

We became permanent Mammoth residents within one winter. The bonus in discovering Mammoth was finding a town filled with great people, kind, generous and friendly, a town we never want to leave, with a mammoth ski mountain to explore in winter and neverending trails to hike in the summer.

Now, just a little snow to cover the dog poop and add to the great snowmaking done by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and we’ll have a great year. Think snow.

A perfect slice of hiking heaven

Last week, driving out on the Scenic Loop, the orangey-yellow aspen leaves shone like neon in the sun, heightened all the more by the contrast with the dark green of the pines. A favorite hiking trail now passes through a curtain of aspen trees, leaves strewn all over the trail.

Back in July, one Monday the sun gleamed promising on the morning. It looked like a standard-fare summer day. A bowl of blue sky soaring over the pines, sparkling clear waters in the lakes, the sound of streams gurgling from the ever-present snow runoff.

But it went beyond normal. On a hike up to the Inyo Craters, the sage smelled sweet, Brewer’s lupines radiated a heavenly purple scent, the aroma of pine needles on the forest floor lifted upward in the sunshine, and a soft breeze blew the heat away.

One of those times when it all mingles to cause a feeling of “all’s right with the world.” When you feel so thoroughly glad to be right where you are.

The Inyo Craters hike is short, less than an hour up and back. It starts out as a single track foot path. No motorized vehicles allowed, so a good place to walk with my dog.

It takes off through a grove of aspens, up and down a small hill, curving through a stand of pines. The path opens into meadow and trees then saunters variously through sunshine and woods. At one point, what I call trail art is displayed just off the trail; it’s a long-ago fallen tree, all that’s left of which is a tangle of roots. It looks as though someone set it there, just where the morning sun lights it up. Could easily be the makings for a driftwood coffee table.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, the trail crosses a dirt road and heads sharply uphill to land in the parking area for the Craters. Cross that road and the next half-mile wanders through heavier woods on a well-tromped trail up to the Craters.

Although hiking a loop can generally be more satisfying, this trail looks different on the way back. There are a few different routes down from the Craters (one of them passes Jeffrey pines of huge girth). Past the Craters parking area, that steep hill becomes a downhill paved in soft seasons of pine needles.

My dog loves running for all she’s worth down this hill. Back across the dirt road the scenery changes and the single-track leads back to the trailhead.

At the end of the trail, walking through that grove of aspens (a rich green in summer and a blaze of golden yellow in the fall) a breeze is shuffling through the leaves as if to say farewell, come back soon.

Back at the trailhead, five salt and pepper-haired men are offloading dirt bikes, getting ready to take a morning ride in the network of dirt roads that spiderweb through the Scenic Loop.

Steve Searles, Mammoth’s wildlife officer

Every small town has its characters and its heroes. Steve Searles is both character and hero in Mammoth Lakes, California.

Mammoth Lakes Wildlife Officer Steve Searles stops to talk during a bear patrol in the Lakes Basin.

Known as the Bear Whisperer to the millions of people worldwide who have watched him on Animal Planet, this wildlife officer is known simply and belovedly as Steve by those who live in this Eastern Sierra mountain town.

He’s hard to miss, towering over six feet four inches, looking every inch the rugged mountain man, yet gentle enough to whisper to bears.

“I’m the luckiest guy you’ll ever interview,” he told me one gorgeous fall morning as we sat outside his house and talked about his work with bears.

“I love my job,” he says, spends most of his time at it, and has come to know well the 26 bears that inhabit the greater Mammoth area – the Lakes Basin, Mammoth Mountain and out to the airport. He works seven days a week, whether patrolling 10,000 miles along 61 miles of road in a single year, or talking to people about bears. “I love meeting people who are afraid, telling them the truth. No one in California has ever been killed by a bear.”

In this interface between wild lands and developed towns is the place where we learn to adapt to living with wild animals. Bear, coyote, cougar, raccoon – all roam this mountainous habitat that is overlaid with the town of Mammoth. We coexist, holding the animals in as much respect as we do fellow humans, sometimes more.

“Coexistence with bears is a metaphor for any challenge to coexist, whether it’s with people of different colors, religions, or ideologies,” Searles says.

It’s Searles’ approach that is so irresistible. He talks to the bears, scolding them when they’ve gotten into something they shouldn’t, talking gently to a mama bear worried about her cub that has gotten stuck in a dumpster, shooing them away. “I’m sensitive to their body positions, they’re sensitive to my tone of voice; I use that constantly,” he says.

The majority of bears in Mammoth are males, both adult and subadult. The five sows gave birth to two cubs each while in hibernation last winter. Searles says the high birth rate was caused by two wet years that produced an abundance of currants and berries for the bears to chow down. The plentiful food gave them enough bulk to sustain multiple births.

Steve works with the Mammoth Lakes Police Department in a proactive way, the only one monitoring bear activity.

“Steve and the officers work very effectively as a team,” says former Police Chief Dan Watson. “They are enhanced by Steve and he is enhanced by them.”

On his patrols and in his call outs, Steve carries no fear, although he does carry an arsenal of noise and nonlethal charges for sending a nuisance bear on its way. The bears know Steve, have learned from him. For instance, the other day a bear was somewhere he shouldn’t be, and “he heard me cock my gun,” and hightailed it out of range. “Beyond a shadow of a doubt, bears learn; it’s the greatest thing in the world,” he says.

Watson relates an interesting story of a bear (#86) that wandered into Mammoth tagged as a Yosemite bear. He’d broken into at least five Yosemite houses (he was captured, tagged and released), and disappeared. In July he showed up and got into a Mammoth house. Steve shot him with rubber rounds. “That bear is still here and hasn’t been a problem,” Watson says.

“This is the number one place in the world for coexistence with black bears,” Searles says, giving credit to the people of the town, the water district, police department, hospital board. … “They do the bulk of the work. I’m the front man.

“It fills my heart to do the work and I’m so proud. It’s heady stuff…we’ve learned to coexist and set an example for other communities for what’s possible.”

When he came to Mammoth 35 years ago, there were no bears here. “We destroyed the Grizzly bear in California (by 1922 they were extinct in the state). Grizzlies were black bears’ natural predators. Now they have none.”

The first three black bears that found their way to Mammoth had Yosemite ear tags on them, Searles says, and they multiplied, to a point in the last decade when Mammoth’s police chief hired him to kill the bears. “I was an avid outdoorsman and hunter. The chief asked me to shoot seven or eight bears, wait a few weeks and shoot seven or eight more.”

Steve asked if he could study the bears first, and came up with his plan to manage them, rather than kill them.

“I’m preaching common sense,” he says. “We in Mammoth feel a sense of stewardship. We started with the stickers that say don’t feed our bears.” He adapted the old slogan don’t feed the bears and substituted “our” so people would feel that stewardship. His program is acknowledged around the world for its quality and success.

“Today, we don’t feed our bears. I have found no cases of people knowingly feeding bears.” Sure people inadvertently leave dog food outside, or food in their cars, and the bears have phenomenal noses. For example, just the other day, someone left a just-purchased case of high-priced soup in his truck, and one of the bears smelled the contents through the sealed cans, opened the truck door, pierced the cans and devoured the soup. “Bears are problem solvers,” Steve says, “They smell the food, they find it.”

Before people really grasped that dumpsters need to be locked against these clever critters, there were fifty hits a night. Today, Searles says, he maybe sees two hits a day in the more than 450 dumpsters in town. He gives huge kudos to the restaurants; they’ve gone from being the worst offenders to being the best at locking their dumpsters.

Mammoth did experience some hard times with learning how to coexist with bears, but now, Steve says, “we have zero issues, and people are not acting irresponsibly.”

On a typical day, Searles patrols, talking to people, checking dumpsters, checking for problems. “I start in the middle of town and work out in bigger and bigger circles, checking in on roosting trees, known daybeds, making sure the bears are where they should be,” he says.

Since most people know his number (760.937-BEAR) he gets a lot of direct phone calls that are mostly welfare calls…there’s a bear in a car, a deer with a limp, etc.

Late October was bear hunting season in California. It’s also the time when bears are packing on the poundage, preparing to spend six months in their dens. Because of all the water with the late spring, the currants and berries are plump and plentiful. “Between the natural food and people locking their dumpsters, the bears are not causing trouble.”

Mischievous, not malicious

That doesn’t mean, however, that they are not still mischievous. Many of the dumpsters in Mammoth condominium complexes are “bear proof,” yet some bears have learned how to manipulate the latches.

A bear approaches one of these dumpsters, stands on his back feet and slides the latch with his lips, opening the door and lumbering in. It’s dinner hour, just after dark, and he rustles around, finding a meal. After a few minutes, his head appears in the opening, he looks around, then meticulously emerges, slowly and quietly, and scampers off.

Steve tells a sad story of the 500-pound, light-colored, more than ten-year-old bear that turned up dead at the end of September on Rusty Lane.

“How great it was that this big gentle giant had his home here,” Steve says. People continue to send the wildlife officer condolences on the loss of this bear.

Once a bear is gone from its habitat, at least two and a half bears are ready to move into that area. In this case, it’s Ace that’s moved into the big blond bear’s habitat. Fans of Animal Planet and locals remember Ace, the rascally young bear a few years ago that got into considerable trouble. The pitch-black bear with the white diamond on his chest wasn’t intimidated by people, but Steve worked with Ace and eventually got him to move away from trouble. And now the bear’s got his own habitat.

It is a bonus to live among the bears. “The bears brighten everyone’s day. They have a positive effect on people,” Searles says. “Since the beginning of man bears have had a special place in our hearts.” They’re a symbol not only of strength and great love, but of clean air and water, and of living together.

This entry was posted in All Things Mammoth and tagged Animal Planet, Mammoth Mountain, Steve Searles, Town of Mammoth Lakes on October 31, 2011 by Diane Eagle Kataoka.

Turn, turn, turn

At the acme of any cycle – the seasons, the moon – a sweet poignancy holds us in thrall. Like a carnival ride that shoots us to the top, where we pause for the briefest of breaths. And then we begin the free fall into the next cycle.

The fall equinox, September 23, will hold us for just such a moment between waning summer and waxing autumn. It is fall, not spring, that quickens my step, dawning each day with excitement and anticipation.

It is that feeling of anticipation I’ve experienced since I was a kid… Fall has always meant new beginnings… one year older and a brand new school year.

It is also that time of great fishing and hiking, the saddle between summer and winter, the off-season. It is a miraculous time. In the burnished light of autumn, people seem to walk around in a daze, as if internal springs have loosened, less tension on them.

Up here in the mountains, where seasons have distinct personalities, we stretch out into fall, savoring every moment of daylight on hikes and walks through aspens lit up from behind as the sun goes down. Fingers of yellow and gold inch up gulleys in the turning of autumn. Nights grow imperceptibly longer, pulling us toward close winter nights indoors.

We preserve summer’s bounty so we can enjoy fresh tomato sauce or squeaky green beans at our winter dinners. It’s a genetic thing in humans as in animals to store up for the winter. Cravings for bacon and heavier food signal an ages-old physical preparation to add bulk against the cold. Bears do the same thing, filling up for their own dark winters. And squirrels scurry, stripping myriad pinecones of precious seeds.

Out come parkas and hats, ski equipment examined, dollars counted for new gear or a visit to yard sales and consignment shops. Cross training is in full gear, to be ready for opening day on the Mountain.

We take trips in this interim time, lying on beaches, traveling to spots all over the world or across the country. They provide perspective on our lives and businesses, a chance to fill up on theater, music, museums, to spend luxurious time with friends or relax with a good book. Because returning to Mammoth, whether by car or plane, causes an intake of breath, a sureness that we live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Through a glass (creek) brightly

First times are always special.

Glass Creek Meadow is a memorable hike. For anyone. It’s been on my list for years and finally I made it last Wednesday with Sally Miller and Danna Stroud.

The turnoff to the west on the Obsidian Dome road from U.S. 395 follows about a three-mile dirt road to the trailhead. The road passes the fork to Hartley Springs Campground, which, unfortunately, is closed.

We parked, strapped on packs and water, and took off through the forest toward the sound of Glass Creek. A momentous sign declared that we were entering the Owens River Headwaters Wilderness. That alone is huge. For those who live in the fast-paced, smog-filled outer world, here is a sweet-smelling protected place, yet one that is easily accessible.

My awe was cut short as our trail wandering narrowed and steepened impressively along and up Glass Creek, its tumbling waters rushing louder and louder, until we reached Glass Creek Falls.

Above the falls the trail gentled and moved into sage, then an exposed, sandy stretch. Downhill to our left, Glass Creek wandered through a verdant riparian ribbon of green. Almost out of the creek rose White Wing, a cinder-colored round peak that looked like it would be fun to ski.

Gradually, after a mile or so, we caught sight of the meadow, mirage-like in the distance, beneath San Joaquin Ridge, reaching up to nearly 12,000 feet. On the other side, June Mountain.

Onward into the huge Glass Creek Meadow, some two miles in length, with its riot of wildflowers. On this particular August day, purple was the dominant hue, with white and yellow accents, and an occasional splash of Indian paintbrush.

The list of flowers Sally identified for us was fascinating. It wasn’t until after the hike, when I started naming them, that I realized what a wealth of flora we actually saw.

Monkeyflowers, buttercups, lupine, even some white lupine, corn lilies, larkspur, yampa, wild onions, Indian paintbrush, iris, showy daisies, cinquefoil, clover, clown clover, buckwheat, forget-me-nots, elephanthead, penstemon, ranger buttons.

We stumbled on seeps and sudden springs in the meadow and saw a treefrog (Pacific chorus frog), a couple of Yosemite toads and several different butterflies, from the orange-tipped Lorquin’s Admiral to a leopard-looking butterfly and a silvery blue.

There in the meadow the realization staggered that we were at the headwaters of the Upper Owens River. From these springs, a creek begins to wend its way downhill, thundering through a ravine and eventually flows into Crowley Lake.

As more and more people populate our world, wild places are increasingly critical, places of silence, respite from the grinding of engines that tear up the land, where the aromas of myriad wildflowers and pine are as pure as can be and not polluted by gasoline fumes.

“It’s a privilege to hike in wilderness in part because we the people made it happen. Wilderness becomes so only when you have committed citizens that bring the idea to protect a special place forward and help move it through the process. Wilderness may be created by Congress but never without the idea first being born in the hearts and minds of local citizens,” says wilderness advocate Sally Miller.

On our way back down the creek trail, we encountered several families of hikers who appreciated the fact that they were hiking in the wilderness. They were all from Southern California. Some of them, second generation Eastern Sierra hikers, were introducing their children and a third generation to the special qualities of wilderness hiking. Near the falls we ran into Devils Postpile’s Deanna Dulen and her husband Wangdowa, in training for their imminent trip to Nepal.

This hike into Glass Creek Meadow did seem like such a privilege, as it is, thanks to the 2009 wilderness bill that also provided protection for the White Mountains, San Joaquin Ridge, Hoover Wilderness areas, Granite Mountain and John Muir Wilderness, and thanks to the myriad grass roots people who worked hard to create these pockets of wilderness.

In the heat of the afternoon we reached the falls a second time, noticed the wild onions and monkeyflowers growing in the mist, felt the quenching coolness emanating from the water, and couldn’t resist splashing that coolness on our faces.

For more information on this hike, see “Exploring Eastern Sierra Canyons” by Sharon Giacomazzi. For more information on wilderness, visit the Wilderness Society at wilderness.org.

Around the corner

Moving into fall. Early last week I saw a clump of yellow aspen leaves bordering Sierra Star Golf Course. A few minutes later I picked up a single yellow leaf off Lodestar Road. For nearly a month, I’d noticed an increasing number of denuded pine cones – squirrels busy stashing food for the winter.

This past weekend, the pine butterflies were in fluttering force. The small, delicate, white with black-lace-edges butterflies are out from August to October, laying their eggs before winter.

There are so many clues that summer is waning in the mountains. Season changes are much more subtle in southern California, but definitely there. One summer when we were living in Santa Barbara the maple trees on our street began turning red in August.

Late August, Seaside

I rise from a chilled night, sleeping deep

to find sweetgum leaves quivering

against a gray rain sky.

Two weeks ago in baking heat

they began blushing, red encroaching green.

By the time September turns

these leaves will finish in claret splendor.

I remember now how August can fall in the mountains

scrub oaks rusting the slopes, aspens

firing to gold up high near tree line.

Turns more than leaf color:

curls me inward,

hibernation of the spirit and

time of deep nesting, couched in

swirling words of thick novels and

Rachmaninov’s romantic drifts,

and reflecting the glow of a fireplace

seen from without on icicled nights.

There is so much movement in the

simple shiver of August’s leaf.