Twilight over Tioga Lake

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mono Lake Series

For a couple years now, I have had the privilege of visiting one of the most special places in the world: Mono Lake.  Mono Lake is an unusual lake in the high desert of Lee Vining, CA, east of Yosemite Park.  It made such an impression on me I wrote three poems about it.  You maybe wondering what makes it so unique.  The poems give you an idea of its qualities, but I encourage you to check out and learn for yourself.  Better yet, visit Mono Lake!

These poems involve three very different experiences there, which depended on the time of year it was and the weather.  Hope you like them and the pictures.

Mono Swim  8/20/07

The landscape: Mars, 10,000 years ago.

My feet hesitate at the edge of a brackish lake.  

There are three reasons to stay out: prickly salt in eyes, clouds of crevice-finding brine shrimp, thousands of flies gliding on surface.  No, millions of flies.

And then there is one reason to go in: why not.

The flies are uninterested in me, and kindly part.  My pallid legs swirl saline and fresh water into a glassy oilyness.  I am intrigued.

At first, some fear.  The brine shrimp--will they go places they shouldn’t? 

But soon, acceptance.  And even enjoyment.  I swim through thousands of tiny feather dusters.

I look closer at these Sea Monkey cousins.  “They’re either mating or dead,” I tell my companion.

“Maybe it will bring us good mojo.”  Maybe.

I watch the shrimp swarming me, curious of my flesh.  Is it wrong to like this?

Finally my feet pedal without touching the sand.  It is effortless; I walk in space.

The utter nowness of it: me, the muted colors, the creatures, the salt.  I run in water, in absolute silent peace.

When I exit, the water leaves quickly but the salt stays.  

I sit and draw pictures on my skin.  Uncomfortable and content.

Soon my friend leads us to a thankful creek.

I plunge myself into the river animal’s innards, freeing myself from saline prison.  

Giggle, shiver, gasp.  

Clutch my face and think:

To Whatever there is. Thank you. 

Mono Wade  6/10/08

This time it is different.

It is early summer, a season confused.  The solar broiler is on high during the day, but nighttime still requires a hat.

The grasses and willows have yet to be burnt into submission.  Soft and green, they caress my legs on the pilgrimage down to the beach.

We wade through Mono's ghost on this walk--the lake used to be here.  

A skeleton of a boat parts the fragrant sage.  It will never again feel water on its bones.

Now we reach the living body of Mono.  My body pulses with the eager memory of last year's swim.  

At once I see the lake is not the glassy blue I remember.  It is a vivid living green.

I hesitate to go in this time.  The memory is tainted with a bloom of algae.  

Pacing the shore like a distraught animal, my feet make a brrr brrr sound on the salty flats.  We're on a giant crème Brule.  

My friend enters smiling, not having the mental block against the strange floating flora that I do.  

I get over myself and gingerly paw into the water.  But where are my feather duster friends, the shrimp?

"Oh, it's too early for them," says my friend.  That is why there is so much algae--no shrimp to feast on it!

I try to bury the wish for the Mono Lake of my last summer's swim, and enjoy the lake for what it is right now: A being early in its life cycle, waiting for consumption and copulating to happen within its arms.

The algae is beautiful in its own slimy and virid way, while it is in the water.  I watch it swirl around my arm when I make a whirlpool.  But lift it out, and algae becomes a shameless lump of goo.  

Moral of the story?  Be mindful of your memory of the future.

I have to give credit to Deep Survival author Laurence Gonzales for the concept of the "memory of the future."  It is basically another way of saying anticipation.  What drives us to do something (usually) pleasurable is "remembering" how we will feel afterwards.  But sometimes these "memories" are not always accurate, and lead us to disappointment or even danger.

Mono Surf  9/4/08

End of summer at last!  Now my alkali friend will be swimable.  Free of algae, filled with shrimp.  (I realize my preferences are a bit backwards from most.)

This time my companion, a connoisseur of skinny dip spots, leads me to the north end of the lake.  We hike through scratchy brush and skeletal plants hibernating in the heat. Damn me for wearing shorts.

We are blasted by hot, sand speckled wind.  This is not a very fun walk.  But I see our reward ahead--Mono Lake, perfect sky blue with calligraphy lines of white throughout. And a new surprise.  Whitecaps.

This is the alonest spot we’ve attempted yet.  Only the gulls and sandpipers can glare at our nakedness.  I am not worried.  No other humans will come here.

There is no hesitation this time.  The perky waves of coolness feel too good on my 
skin.  For the first time ever, I get my whole body wet before my friend.

And now I float on waves!  Real, ocean-inspired waves live on Mono Lake this day.  I am back home, swimming in Cape Cod again.  Completely buoyant.  Mono Lake holds me and bounces me like an infant.

Laughing out loud does bring drawbacks in the form of a mouthful of Mono water.  I splat it out, thinking of it as a salt and baking soda gargle.  It also stings into my eyes, and pretty much every other mucus membrane.  But so what!  It is too joyous to matter.

We last long this time, leaving only after our salted eyes could take no more.  We wash off in the fresh water river and leave our briny friend until next year.

Walking back, I feel dopey, drunk almost.  Refreshed and happily drained.  

We have been baptized in the name of rollicking happiness.  




About Me

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San Francisco, CA
Elissa is an east coast transplant making her way through life by way of San Francisco. This amazing city provides lots of fodder for writers of all types. I find inspiration for writing through life's little and bizarre events, such as grocery shopping for dog treats, salamander hunting, and insomnia. I am a preschool teacher in "real life."