Monday, July 26, 2010

Fire above the hills

An atypically dramatic day in the basin. Around 4:30, I walked out onto our deck to see smoke spiraling up into the sky from across the lake. The fire quickly grew to 500 acres. Sarah and I drove around for a few hours in search of the best vantage point from which to photograph the blaze, whose smoke lifted into a shifting funnel braiding north with the wind. Helicopters and tankers dropped water from Grant Lake and vermilion fire retardant.

In the evening, I drove up the rough end of Black Point for yet another thrilling view. It was as if the Mono Craters, after 650 years (when Panum Crater let forth), had come alive again. Smoke unraveled to the east, and up. I imagined an octopus, with waving tentacles, holding against a rock in a pool (the basin) as the tide went out.

I descended just about at dark, and having been distracted from my run by the blaze all afternoon, set out at about 8:45 pm. I parked by Wilson Creek on Cemetery Road, and ran the ~ 6 mi loop around Dechambeau Ranch. As I started out in the dim light, poorwills hopped off the road in front of me, some lighting into the sky after moths. They would flutter up, short-tailed, then the circle around and land on the road, becoming rock again (as members of the goatsucker family seem to), in an enthralling game of touch and go.

Then, the moon rose. I had fire on the mind, so when it came up--a brilliant, smokey orange over the ruffled edge of the clouds on the east side of the basin--I thought the White Mountains were burning, too. My God, I thought, what a conflagration--those mountains are doomed! It took me a moment to catch on. When it came clean of the clouds, the moon was just a few days passed full, so for the rest of the loop I ran with my shadow (a strange feeling to have it fall to the West, after noon). The crenelated sage on the side of the road let through slants of light across the sand before me, but I felt myself leaning forward more than usual, hoping to strike firm ground. Running in the dark on an uncertain surface can be like feeling out the end of a stairway at night. (My hips concurred, come morning.)

I added on to the loop by going out and back to the Black Point parking lot from my usual left turn. Along that stretch, the moon's reflection lit the lake where it's broken by a reef of tiny islands between the mainland and Gaines Island. The long buttress roots, then stump, of Negit, were sharply defined as well by a luminous halation that moved with me.

Every once and awhile, a rodent scurried in the sand or scrub nearby. But the only time I was fearful was passing two trailers on the bluff between Black Point and the Dechambeau Ponds. No doors flew open. But humans are unpredictable.

8 mi, 56 min; Dechambeau loop from Cemetery Road and Wilson creek, plus O+B add-ons to the Black Point parking lot and toward County Park

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