While driving to the trailhead, we could see big, smokey-colored, winter clouds hanging on the mountains the way a lazy, obese man’s stomach hangs before him, heavy and unmoving.
“Might be snowing up there.”
We drove on, the Subie gliding over the freshly grated dirt road.
We crossed over the cattle guard and entered the Short Canyon area of Owens Peak Wilderness located twenty minutes northwest of Ridgecrest, CA.
Short Canyon is known locally for its explosion of wildflowers that occurs every spring. Also, it is reputed to be an excellent site for birding, as neotropical migrant songbirds return to the eastern Sierra Nevada after wintering in Central and South America.
We were two months too early to view those spectacles of nature. Still, we had a spectacle of our own.
We stepped out from trailhead under a glorious blue, sun-filled sky. Immediatley, we ascended steep terrain for about three hundred feet. The trail then leveled off and we eased into a casual stroll.
Rocky and sandy, the terrain was a perfect mix of Mojave desert and Sierra Nevada. We meandered for a half mile or so along side a stream fed by melting snow from the upper reaches of the mountians.
Joshua trees began to appear as we reached higher elevations around three thousand feet. We stopped and viewed their eery, spine-like limbs.
“It’s getting cooler.”
The winter clouds began to creep down off the ridge, using a crawling motion similar to how the vapor of dry ice moves.
We walked on.
Flurries began to fall shortly thereafter. And then, we had our spectacle.
Fresh cat tracks appeared on the trail. Dark brown and wet imprints, she likely had a drink in the stream and walked up the trail not five minutes before us.
We looked at each other.
“I thought I heard something earlier.”
We scanned the rocks around us, hoping for a sighting of the secretive mountain lion. We were a bit scared too, as we had heard of mountain lion attacks here in California.
Eyes rouned by adrenaline, we proceeded up the trail.
Suddenly, the flurries turned to a snow squall. Big flakes fell over the canyon. We decided to find a spot to sit down and have some water and a snack.
We settled on a crop of rocks with a sweeping view of the canyon and a stand of Joshua trees situated to our right.
The snow blew on our backs. We drank some water, ate some energy bars, and talked of the tracks with energetic voices.
I took out my pipe and tobacco, and stuffed some tobacco into the pipe. I took out my lighter. I puffed at the pipe, watching the flame get pulled into the tobacco. Smoke began to rise from the pipe.
The snow continued to fall.
The smoke continued to rise.
We sat in the moment, allowing our cares to float away in the wind with the snowflakes and smoke.
(18 February 2001)