Saturday, July 24, 2010


I PURPOSELY LEFT THE ALTAS out of the saddlebag. Today’s objective was not to go some place in particular. Rather, it was to get to the high country. Without the map, I would be free to explore the pavement and trails as if I were the first person to visit these wilds. Never mind that someone before had to put in that pavement and those trails. I can suspend my own disbelief.

East of Georgetown, along the divide of the same name, a nicely engineered and maintained ribbon of asphalt seductively beckons me forward. Curves, gentle and soft, require little more than a thought to negotiate. Crests afford vistas of the silver rim of the Sierra shimmering in the late morning sun. Forests frame the road on two sides, and where the forests do not, expansive meadows of early spring lupine, goldfield and tidy-tips stretch out and drop over ridgerims. Still spring, even though August is just over the horizon.

The contrast between Rocklin’s hour-ago thick, ozony atmosphere and the here-and-now’s clarity is not lost. To spend one’s days in the high country, I always think, if only regarding air quality, is to spend them well. My goal on such fanciful trysts is to keep to the higher elevations for as long as possible.

AT AN INTERSECTION, US 50 is 25 miles in one direction so I go the other. Almost at once, the smooth pavement deteriorates into a pucky patchwork of blacktop repairs. Narrow now, willows from the stream course off to the right appear to be choking it. Several have whip-like branches freed of foliage by passing Jeepers. Topping a minor rise, an ancient bowl has silted in. Succession. Grasses advanced across the playa centuries ago. Pine nuts processed and pooped by some squirrel, raccoon, bear or other ancient rooted. Now, a second or third generation yellow pines advances across the meadow.

Sometime back, folk found this spot perfect for grazing cattle or sheep or goats. A few of those pines were felled and a crude log shelter was constructed. Followed by a post and beam barn, a livestock chute, another house, a small short structure with a sunken floor that appears to have been a icehouse, and an “essential,” complete with crescent moon cut into the doorway. From relentless seasons of sun and snow, regular as a heartbeat, each building now occupies a different point on the timeline toward decay. Homes on crude rock foundations stand longer than those without. Tin roofs hold off the elements better than those shingled. Trees bust through the interior floor of one whose roof is weathered to flinders. More succession.

The invitation on the decrepit post and wire fence said “Keep Out,” so I cross for pictures, stepping over the running brook and detouring around its tiny pools.

Perching atop a stump with apple and jerked beef in hand I scan a distant ridgeline through the stand of trees, breathe deeply the springtime air of the meadow and return to the thought: To spend one’s days in the high country is to spend them well.

I wonder what the name of this collection of derelicts might be. I wonder how many other high mountain meadows were once home to small livestock operations, both here in the Sierra and west over in the Coast Range. I think about the Rockies and countless other mountain systems in our North American backyard; musing about the cavalcade of trappers, timber-men, sourdoughs and settlers all of whom did or didn’t leave their mark for history. When did they come? How long did they stay? Why did they leave? Why is this place left and what’d they call it? And, what’s with the “Keep Out” sign? Not very neighborly.

I MAKE MY WAY BACK HOME, burrowing through the temperature inversion and down into the blanket of stale, summer heat. Once in the reference library, I retrace my route. I find I was up toward Wentworth Springs on the El Dorado National Forest. The maps – the Forest Service one, the California Gazetteer one and the Metsker Map – can’t seem to agree on a place name for this little meadow. The Metskers, I note, are pretty reliable in pointing out the otherwise forgotten.

Conflicting evidence aside, I choose to refer to this locale as “Brigadoon,” and imagine how many similar Brigadoons must exist west of the hundredth meridian in North America. I return to my collection of maps and spot scores of them. Each with a history. Each with a mark man-laid upon the land. Many in the high country.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

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