Monday, July 29, 2013

California Wilderness: The Ecstasy of the Untouched

Allison Dycaico (trail name: Otter) writes about her experience in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, and what Sierra Institute has meant to her:

During our hike up to the base camp for this leg of the trip, I was stunned by the raw beauty of the landscapes though which we traveled. Fields of wildflowers – fireweed, Indian paintbrush, and some species of sage whose small white flowers blessed our trek with their sweet herbal aroma – flourished in fields of gravel between boulders, in stands of conifers decimated by a recent fire, and in marshy areas fed by natural springs and snowmelt.

During this leg of the trip, I particularly enjoyed swimming in Clear Lake, the water source for our base camp. When we first arrived at the lake, sweaty and breathless from our uphill trek, we flung our gear down and plunged gleefully into its tranquil waters. We were delighted to discover there were other swimmers in the lake: green and brown newts with russet bellies. The newts were our companions for the rest of our days at Clear Lake, and a constant source of amusement. The newts, like the other fauna in the area, were entirely unacquainted with humans. As a result, they were boldly curious about us. When we dipped our fingers and toes in, the newts swam with serpentine grace to taste and twine around our unfamiliar appendages.

Newts were not our only animal neighbors. Dragonflies and damselflies frolicked in the air above the lake water, while lazy trout made halfhearted attempts to snare their iridescent prey. By day, the raucous shrieks of Stellar’s Jays followed us as we explored the area, alerting all other animals to the presence of humans. Tiny chipmunks scrabbled up and down the many species of conifers, squeaking in rage when we ventured too close to their home. We soon discovered that our base camp was a favorite night-time hangout for a herd of deer. The deer did not startle at our voices or freeze in terror when a beam of our headlights hit them in the darkness; it was truly as if they had never seen a human being. We were filled with the intoxicating sense that we were camping somewhere truly remote and pristine, a mountain landscape that had somehow escaped human detection.

Why am I writing to you now from the backcountry bliss of the Marble Mountain Wilderness? I love to explore new natural landscapes. I am fascinated by human-nature interactions and alternative education practices. California’s diverse and stunning landscapes continue to draw me out into the wilderness. These factors reigned paramount in my mind when I applied to the Sierra Institute, but what I didn’t foresee at the time was how much fun I would have, and how much I would grow as a person through this program. The academic course, California Wilderness, is similar to those I’ve taken for general education requirements through the UC system. It requires a substantial time commitment; we are required to read around two to three articles and participate in three to four hours of combined lecture and discussion per day. 

When I first heard about the course load, I anticipated that I would have little time for myself or for connecting with the other students. In actuality, I have ample free time to complete the readings, write in my journal daily, bond with the tribe, explore the breathtaking surroundings on my own, and bathe or swim every day. It’s amazing how much freedom we have out here without the constant imposition of clock time, how the hours dissolve into the golden present with only the calls of mountain birds to mark that each moment has a beginning and an end.

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