“One of the most beautiful and exhilarating storms I ever enjoyed in the Sierra occurred in December, 1874, when I happened to be exploring one of the tributary valleys of the Yuba River. The sky and the ground and the trees had been thoroughly rain-washed and were dry again. The day was intensely pure, one of those incomparable bits of California winter, warm and balmy and full of white sparkling sunshine, redolent of all the purest influences of the spring, and at the same time enlivened with one of the most bracing windstorms conceivable. Instead of camping out, as I usually do, I then chanced to be stopping at the house of a friend. But when the storm began to sound, I lost no time in pushing out into the woods to enjoy it. For on such occasions Nature always has something rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof…
Toward midday, after a long, tingling scramble through copses of hazel and ceanothus, I gained the summit of the highest ridge in the neighborhood; and then it occurred to me that it would be a fine thing to climb one of the trees to obtain a wider outlook and get my ear close to the Aeolian music of its topmost needles… After cautiously casing about, I made choice of the tallest of a group of Douglas Spruces that were growing close together like a tuft of grass, no one which seemed likely to fall unless all the rest fell with it. Though comparatively young, they were about 100 feet high, and their lithe, brushy tops were rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy. Being accustomed to climb trees in making botanical studies, I experienced no difficulty in reaching the top of this one, and never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion. The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobolink on a reed.
In its widest sweeps my tree-top described an arc of from twenty to thirty degrees, but I felt sure of its elastic temper, having seen others of the same species still more severely tried -- bent almost to the ground indeed, in heavy snows -- without breaking a fiber. I was therefore safe, and free to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited forest from my superb outlook. The view from here must be extremely beautiful in any weather. Now my eye roved over the piny hills and dales as over fields of waving grain, and felt the light running in ripples and broad swelling undulations across the valleys from ridge to ridge, as the shining foliage was stirred by corresponding waves of air. Oftentimes these waves of reflected light would break up suddenly into a kind of beaten foam, and again, after chasing one another in regular order, they would seem to bend forward in concentric curves, and disappear on some hillside, like sea-waves on a shelving shore. The quantity of light reflected from the bent needles was so great as to make whole groves appear as if covered with snow, while the black shadows beneath the trees greatly enhanced the effect of the silvery splendor.
The sounds of the storm corresponded gloriously with this wild exuberance of light and motion. The profound bass of the naked branches and boles booming like waterfalls; the quick, tense vibrations of the pine-needles, now rising to a shrill, whistling hiss, now falling to a silky murmur; the rustling of laurel groves on the dells, and the keen metallic click of leaf on leaf -- all this was heard in easy analysis when the attention was calmly bent.
I kept my lofty perch for hours, frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the music by itself, or to feast quietly on the delicious fragrance that was streaming past…
When the storm began to abate, I dismounted and sauntered down through the calming woods. The storm-tones died away, and, turning toward the east, I beheld the countless hosts of the forests hushed and tranquil, towering above one another on the slopes of the hills like a devout audience. The setting sun filled them with amber light…"
-- John Muir, from The Mountains of California, 1911 (included in Words for the Wild, Sierra Club Books, 1987)
* * * * *
At least several times a year I find myself commenting on unusual weather. That’s because strange or extreme weather events are now far from rare.
I had tentatively planned to offer a Mid-Summer Review in a couple of weeks, as I often do in early August, especially when a summer has a distinctive “character.”
But the fact that we had unusually rainy weather this past week invites a few comments (total rainfall for July was double the usual amount, most of it falling last week -- and another long string of rainy days was predicted for this coming week as well, although the rain's return has been postponed for a day or two).
Indeed, there seems to be no such thing as a “normal year” or a “normal season” anymore. Wild weather swings keep recurring, almost certainly the result of global warming -- in line with the predictions of climate experts, who for years have been telling us that “extreme weather events” will become increasingly common.
[For a current article on the subject of the media's failure to mention climate change when reporting on extreme weather, see "The Media’s Failure to Connect the Dots on Climate Change:" https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-medias-failure-to-connect-the-dots-on-climate-change_us_5b59f813e4b0de86f494bb62
Precipitation-wise, we had an extra wet late-winter-through-early-spring this year, with twice as much rain as usual, which made the waterfalls on hikes spectacular.
But that period was then followed by a couple of very dry, mostly rain-free months, when rivers and waterfalls dropped to especially low levels.
Which has, in turn, been superseded by a period of near record rainfall, filling the waterways to overflowing again. Vegetation is now as lush and gorgeous as it ever gets.
The rain a few months ago resulted in two “flood hikes” where we had to walk through water, which in the past usually only happened once every 5-10 years.
If you think a flood hike doesn’t sound like fun, you could be mistaken, since group spirits on those hikes were as high as on any sunny hike, if not more so.
As long as we avoid danger and minimize risks (an essential part of decision-making, which is why our hikes are occasionally cancelled, especially due to icy roads in winter), the adventure of unexpected challenges can make an outing especially fun and memorable, even though it might not be what we had expected.
Another recent example was our 7/23/18 easy-moderate Island Pond hike, where in spite of minimal rain the preceding weeks, we had to negotiate a stretch of flooded trail (probably due to a beaver dam). Several people told me they totally loved the hike. Watch for photos (including a few funny ones) in a forthcoming slideshow.
Drier and sunnier days will probably return soon, which will understandably be welcomed by many of you. Yet it’s wise to remain ready and be prepared for all possible weather, of course. And to remember that nature (wet or dry, extreme weather or not) is always available for our enjoyment, enrichment, and fulfillment.
-- Charlie Cook