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Off The Trail: Turning Point

September 23, 2013

It was a hot, still morning and the smell of summer was adrift on the hazy golden air—pine sap; sage; the deep green scents of manzanita and ceanothus; the lavender aroma of lupine gone to seed.

Even the bees, spiraling through the waning fireweed along the trail, seemed lazy: somnolent, barely able to keep their heavy, furred bodies alight.

The purple asters were plump and their leaves a brilliant green; the rose hips red as Rudolph’s nose; the squirrels everywhere, chittering and scolding (yes, squirrels scold)—driving the dog into a state of apoplectic fervor.

As they dropped and scattered their winter’s store of green lodgepole pine cone seeds over the dusty trail, it looked like emerald snow against the gray granite and sienna dust.

This was a fine and ordinary late summer day in the High Sierra backcountry, nothing unusual—maybe a little warm for September—and we were basking in it, rambling down the trail from Virginia Lake headed for Duck Pass and then home at a most decadent pace, when it all changed.

The air, so heavy and golden and warm, turned to pewter.

Just like that.

The light, so golden and hazy and slumberous, turned sharp and cold.

Just like that.

The sky, blue as the eye of a Siamese cat, turned steely silver.

Just like that.

The clouds rolled in thick and gray and the wind rolled in even faster, slamming into the hillside we were walking along.

It was a cold, cold wind, and it came from the north like it meant it, riding the current of the impending autumnal equinox.

To the west, over the Silver Divide, the exuberant white summer clouds flattened and iced—they looked like someone had just put a heavy weight on them—and turned somber and serious.

Our ramble turned to a trot, and we shot down the drop into Duck Lake’s outlet then up the other side, fast.

We hit the emerald shore of the lake (where we had hoped to eat a leisurely lunch) and the icy wind nearly blew us off our feet.

Rain turned to ice-shot hail and we donned down coats for the rest of the hike, and we knew summer was over.

Just like that.

Duck Lake at Summer's end. Photo/Illustration/Wendilyn Grasseschi
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