December 4-18, 2012
I loved that there was so little to do here; a few tasks seemed to fill the day. Usually, I was the first to get up. I’d rekindle the fire and begin puttering. Chris would soon rise to make his coffee, the one indispensable ritual of the day. One of us would prepare breakfast and afterwards, we usually meditated together.
Then we’d each go our own way, writing, reading, yoga, meditating, napping, doing dishes, stacking wood, showering, or trudging outdoors to and from the outhouse. A few chores required more attention, like shoveling snow off the decks and porches of the various buildings. (Because Chris is a born and bred Bay Area boy, this was his first experience with serious shoveling!) My most industrious time was spent writing and working on photos. Although we did formal meditation, that is, we sat still and kept time, there were also hours of the simple meditation of doing (almost) nothing. Gazing out the window or watching the snow fall. Listening to the alternation between silence and the crackling of the fire. Observing the slow lengthening and melting of the icicles.
We usually made a daily trip to Middle House to access the internet. Some time during the second week, Chris fell in love with Lynda. Lynda.com, that is. It is an online teaching service that covers every imaginable software or technology. After complaining about his blog, Chris was now inspired by its creative possibilities and spent time each day learning the ins and outs of WordPress. His wilderness retreat was also an ongoing tutorial in technology.
Chris’s approach to blogging is much more whimsical than mine, even wacky. I was happy that he started putting energy into his blog since his take on our trip will compliment my style.
THE SECOND SNOW
A second storm was coming. Predictions ranged from five to fifteen inches. We were becoming uneasy, concerned that a deep snowfall might trap us here. We would need to not only get ourselves out, but our truck and all our gear.
High winds were forecasted but the snow began as a gentle continuous shower. It was fine and dropped straight down from the heavens, pulled easily by the magnet of gravity. Later the flakes grew larger and the wind threw them helter-skelter. The snow looked panicked, moving in all directions, sometimes back toward the sky. The closest trees remained solid, but the farther forests and hills, faded, becoming apparitions of a once substantial landscape.
The sky periodically looked like it would clear, the sun boldly exposing itself from behind clouds. But then the snow returned and the blanket of white deepened, piling up flake by flake. It snowed on and off for three days. By the end we had about fifteen inches.
WALKING IN SNOW
On the second day, the wind had died down and the snowflakes were large and heavy. Although I would have preferred going out on skis, if I had them, I became excited about hiking through the transforming landscape. I did not have proper boots so I pulled my socks over the bottom of my pants, creating make-shift gaiters.
There were many deer tracks but I did not see one deer. Where are they? Were they in front of me but camouflaged? Other tracks abound. I wandered along a barely visible trail above the cabin that wound through ponderosa pines. In an open field, the old homesteader barn appeared, sagging and listing to one side, the snow adding an extra burden.
It was always quiet at Vallecitos but the falling snow deepened the silence. The sounds of footsteps, breath and heartbeat were softly muffled. The slight breeze seemed to be hushing everything into greater stillness.
What is a ranch without horses? Although we hadn’t seen them our first few days, Wrangler and Prince showed up one morning outside our cabin. For the rest of our stay they were often nearby for part of the day. They were friendly creatures and happy to receive a greeting scratch or pat. Sniffing for treats, they poked their muzzles into my hands and hair, my coat and pockets. They both seem to think my camera held something special for them.
During the second storm, they met me on the road to Middle House. Wrangler, dotted with big flakes, placed his muzzle into my shoulder and leaned his head against mine. For a while, we stood still, pressed together, enjoying each other’s warmth, our breaths mingling, with the snow silently falling.
With this wintry weather, the wildlife was sparse near the cabin. Many animals were hibernating, had migrated or were carefully hidden. The one creature that left prints everywhere were the rabbits. They created a moat in the snow encircling the entire building. Their tracks also came and went outward from beneath the cabin like spokes from a hub. It was their refuge from snow and cold and probably from some of the predators.
One very cold morning after the big snowfall, I peaked out a window that reached the floor and saw a bunny huddled near the glass in a little snow cave she had made. There was an entrance hole through the surface of the snow a few feet away and tunnels continued on from her hiding spot. I tried to photo this but the angle was difficult and there was glare on the glass (see photo below).
The light apparently also blocked her view in. Latter, after it warmed up a little, she popped her head up and looked in the window at us, ears raised like antennae and eyes wide in amazement. I don’t think she liked what she saw because soon she left and didn’t return.
The morning of the 18th we saw our first elk. Two cows and a calf were, standing in a clearing across the small valley in front of the cabin. Many elk tracks crisscrossed the snow where just the day before there had been none. I opened the door to take a photo and they appeared to get spooked. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Wrangler and Prince galloped past at full speed, whipping up clouds of snow. I don’t know if they were having fun or if something had scared them. I realized then that it was probably the horses, not me, that had caused the elk to vanish into the forest.