Snow still stripes the Eastern Sierras as foreign eyes from lands as far as Germany, Japan, or as nearby as Pennsylvania and Michigan state up the mountains. Aspen groves flutter their tiny heart shaped leaves in even the slightest breeze, their knotty black eyes watching everything that lives, breathes and moves in this forest. The Inyo National Forest to be precise.
Aspens grow quickly but are often short lived as natural fires ravage them and their fellow understory. Towering tall, more impervious to such blazes, Jeffrey pines and their chunky orange bark emit a vanilla smell to anyone willing to stop and smell the bark. Their large cones litter the forest floor.
Redheaded woodpeckers and stellar jays, their bright blue feathers complimented by black mohawk-adorned heads, flirt with the space between the branches.
As elevations increase the Jeffreys give way to Lodgepole pines, named for their often perfectly straight trunks ideal for pioneers to fell as timber for their wooden homes. Tuolumne Creek flows slowly, still frigid as May comes to a close. Shirtless hippies gather around the bed of an old truck, eating hamburgers and French fries. Carload after carload of Asians, Europeans and Americans crowd the lone road through the park, which will eventually curve over the pass and lead to the more famous Yosemite Valley. A mother, dreadlocks and a short yellow dress, leads her two children over a downed dead tree that acts as a bridge crossing the creek.
The nearby meadow teases them all with tiny flowers that, though occasional amongst the grasses now, will eventually overtake even the beauty of the rising domes and waterfalls, the forests and fauna of this national park, and by July they’ll be, as John Muir himself put is, the gem of the Sierras.
Night will fall and campfires will light tiny corners of these forests. The traffic will disappear. Midnight animals will come out foraging, living their lives largely unaware of how lucky they have it to be in not only a natural landscape, but one where human activity leaves behind popcorn and chip debris, easy pickings if not a downright treat.
As dawn breaks, scathing the eastern sky a vivid purple most painter’s palettes will never quite know, the mountains will yawn their slow snowmelt stretch and it will all begin again.