Conversations on Goose Lake

I couldn’t digest the news on Monday morning of dead children washing up on the shores of the Rio Grande River. That was enough to cause me to get out of my chair and go camping in the Sierra Nevadas for a few days. Within the hour I had my truck and camper loaded with a few essentials and headed for the high country to retreat from the world of bad news.

Interstate 80 east toward Reno and Lake Tahoe was light with traffic this morning, especially so after I got through the gummy mess around Sacramento. Soon I was above the valley floor and within another hour heading through much lighter traffic in the high country. I stopped in the mountain town of Truckee and bought enough food to remove myself from civilization for several days.

Goose Lake looked so pretty in the early afternoon. It’s not very big, and today not very crowded. The spot where I hoped to camp was available, so I pulled my truck in over a rough road of rocks and tree branches, a couple of hundred yards off the asphalt. This lake is one of many tiny ones in the high country that normally survive California’s drought years. I believe they are spring-fed, rather than reliant on a melting snow pack, as is the case with the larger man-made lakes in the lower Sierras.

Ducks and geese glide smoothly over the surface of this pristine lake. People bring up kayaks tied to their car tops and like to paddle around the shore line that is composed of boulders and fallen trees that have become whitened like the hair of aging humans. The lake bed is shallow and a few days of summer sunshine warms the water enough that it is splendid for swimming.

This second year of drought has made camp fires an extreme hazard. Mountain dwellers still talk of the big Yosemite fire of last summer. I would just crawl into my camper each night about the time the sky got good and dark, and go to bed. The risk of starting a wild fire was unthinkable. I would be up earlier in the morning this way, and able to pick out some of the bird songs in the pine forest in which I was deeply embedded.

During the high noon day sun I would jump in the lake and swim part way across and then return by following the shore. The few kayakers I saw on the lake took notice of me. I was the only person to get wet. I wondered why they didn’t just park their kayaks and take a long cool dip as well. Instead, they would sit in the hot sun on top of the inviting water and lather their skin in oils and lotions that I could smell wafting across the lake in the light, mountain breezes. One kayaker told me that I looked like a seal. I took that as a compliment and kept on swimming and floating around the lake.

I would eat lunch in a chair beside my camper in the afternoons and open my Kindle to read short stories and a novel of Ivan Turgenev. I had not thought to charge up the battery on my Kindle before leaving home, so ran out of reading juice too early to read as much of Turgenev as I would have liked. I would like to read all of his work this summer, but now I am behind on this ambitious endeavor. I had a hard copy of Vonnegut short stories with me as well, so read these when Turgenev died.

Ducks really are magnificent swimmers to watch. They would come back into this quiet corner of the lake where I camped, and dive together for food while they talked over the wilderness experience among themselves. I was close enough and quiet enough to not alarm them, so that I might be privy to their conversations. They talked about how good the weather had been this July, how lovely the water felt, and the mothers and fathers would discuss how smooth the feathers had become on the baby ducks. I listened carefully for these few days and had to agree with them on every point.

On my last evening of camping, about two hours before dark, the sky clouded up a heavy gray. A thunder and lightning storm suddenly burst open and let loose a terrific display of rain and hail. I sat inside my camper with the back door open and watched how quickly the ground became whitened with pebbles of ice. Who would guess such a thing might happen in July?

I never like the return from a camping trip. When I hit the main highway, I am suddenly thrust back into the busy, noisy, angry world where I hardly feel at home. Maybe later this summer I can find my way back again.

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