gold_flamingo (gold_flamingo) wrote,

adventures in California

The weather report said a major snowstorm was going to hit Sequoia National Park late afternoon on the twenty-fourth.  Ok, Mom and I said to ourselves, we’ll just leave early and get to our hotel before then.  We can spend a day inside reading books and wait out the storm, and then explore our very own winter wonderland on snowshoes and skis.  It seemed like a perfectly reasonable plan, and the early phases went well: morning departure, good traffic, installing snow chains on our tires around five thousand feet, with snow beginning to fall around three thirty in the afternoon, just as we entered the Giant Forest, where the red-brown hulks of the Sequoias begin to emerge from the dark or moss-hued trunks of the pines, their rich bark vivid to the point of luminosity even in the thin, overcast light.  We arrived at the Wuksachi Lodge shortly after four, having made a half dozen photographic pit stops, and settled into our suite just in time for an early dinner.  We opened a bottle of wine and went to bed early after a pleasant evening curled up on the couch reading and watching the snow fall.

I don't know exactly when in the night things began to go wrong, but when I woke up the next morning it was colder and darker than it should have been.  The power had gone out early in the morning, and the buildings with the guest rooms (for reasons passing understanding) had no generators.  We called the front desk and were assured that power was never out for more than a couple of hours, and we should come down to the main lodge, which did have a generator, and enjoy the heat.  The snow was still falling heavily, and we were advised not to attempt any outdoor activities more strenuous than walking to breakfast.

Over the course of the day, the estimates for the resumption of electric service kept falling off into the future.  I read a science fiction novel in which no one froze to death.  Mom watched TV shows on her iPod.  I went for a little walk during a clear moment in the late afternoon and was surprised to discover there were actually lovely mountains all around us.  After dinner, the stars came out briefly, bright and sharp on that moonless night as the points of white-hot nails tacking up the sky.

After spending the night under heaps of blankets, on Friday morning it was eventually revealed that the electric company no longer had any estimate for power restoration at all.  Shortly after lunch the staff announced that the hotel was being evacuated and everyone had to leave.  So we made emergency reservations at the Big Sur Lodge on the coast and trudged off (through the continuing snow) to pack our belongings.  We made a couple of stops at various trails on our way out of the park in hopes of at least appreciating the scenery a bit before our departure - it was a winter forest out of a fairytale, vast trees flocked with snow, the ground draped knee high or more in glittering feathery white, silent, empty of everything but a few ravens and  the snowshoe prints of the few who had come before.  We struggled through the drifts in sheepskin boots and drove down the mountain with the heat on to dry our trousers.

California is much longer than it is wide, but its width is real enough, particularly when driven on an empty nighttime highway, ruler straight across the central valley, miles marked by nothing but songs on the satellite radio and the occasional headlights passing on the far side of the road.  We got to Big Sur before midnight, and for one night all was well.

In the morning we found out that the park was completely closed due to the summer’s fire, which consumed huge swaths of the nearby mountains, in some places nearly down to the highway.  We drove up toward Monterey instead, and took a walk along Point Lobos, where the clear dark water crashes against the little rocky coves, and wind-bent trees form living statuary along the ridges.  It reminded me of Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island off Brisbane, which had back in 2004 reminded me of that same Central Californian coast, seen on some childhood trip I can now only half recall.

On Sunday we began the drive back to Los Angeles slowly, pulling over every half mile for a view and a photo, at least until I fell off a rock I'd climbed to gain a better vantage and banged up my right knee.  Not an advantageous injury at the beginning of a long drive, though we still enjoyed stopping to see the elephant seals near St. Simeon and a quick lunch jaunt through Cambria, one of those little coastal vacation towns were cuteness is a self-sustaining industry.  Still, by the time we'd gotten home and lugged the bags upstairs, I was in no shape to do anything but lie in bed with my knee propped up, icing it with frozen risotto and drowning the ache in gin and CSI reruns.

Hopefully the limp will abate by the time I head out to San Francisco for New Years…  I feel there may be a lesson in all this, but am not entirely sure what it might be, other than “always have a contingency plan for your contingency plan,” or possibly “if you have to fall, try not to land on rocks.”  Oh well.  It could have been worse.  At least we didn’t get stuck in Heathrow this year.

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