Slow, slower, snowest

January 30, 2023 Comments Off on Slow, slower, snowest

I went for a ride yesterday, 43 miles round-trip up the Kern River and back up the 1.1-mile hill to the cabin, a whopping 2,484 feet of climbing.

It felt awful, it took forever, and when I was done, I was done.

Last October, when I rode from here to LA, bike fully loaded and busting at the lungs with enthusiasm and strength, that was considered a throwaway ride. Yesterday I saw that it was still a throwaway ride, but what had been thrown away was my fitness.

The massive storms of Christmas and early January have left deep snow on the peaks, peaks I’ve never seen snow on before. For the first time they’re really looking like the Sierra Nevada, the “Snowy Mountains.”

The snow on the lower slopes is all gone, which is to say it has melted and drained down into the Kern River, which, though no longer boiling, is fuller than I’ve ever seen it. And it’s loud for most of the twenty miles or so upriver that I pedaled.

At one point I got off and went down to a favorite campsite. The high water mark, judged from the debris in the trees, was six or seven feet high. One massive old pine which had lain on its side, forty feet long and maybe six or seven feet in diameter, stripped of bark and covered with knife graffiti from years of campers, had been picked up by the raging river and tossed downriver some 200 feet, now resting up into the boughs of another tree.

Large boulders that had been easy landmarks were either gone or so far downriver and mostly submerged that they were invisible.

All along the way, dry creekbeds gurgled and tumbled and poured water into the river from the upper slopes, dry no more. Most of them were creeks I hadn’t even known were creeks.

And up on the peaks I could see the snowpack waiting for the spring. All those millions of gallons of frozen water will have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is “down here.” It will be a glorious and beautiful and watery spring and summer. Things will be so green that they hurt. The southern Sierra will be born anew.


This is a throwback winter, one step forward, ten steps back. The reality isn’t that it’s been a winter of heavy snowfall, it’s that global warming caused by unabated burning of fossil fuels created a weather storm more destructive than beneficial to temporarily relieve the artificial drought caused by same burning of fossil fuels. The big trees don’t need a one-off freak storm, they need annual heavy snowfall to create the big snowpack that lets the taproots of young sequoias and other conifers grow quick and fast and strong and deep.

The creeks and rivers don’t need one freak snowmelt to recharge, they need millenia of steady precipitation to refill the springs, the drips, and the habitat, even the man-made reservoirs built so we’d never run out of almonds and oranges.

This throwback winter, I realized on dead legs, may be the only time in my life that I experience a true southern Sierra winter and spring. There’s always a last time, and last winter was dry as a bone. Future winters are certain to be that dry or drier. The joy of snowfall and the richness and life it brings, those things are swirling down the river forever.

What corporate farms see as an opportunity for more nuts, and what urbanites see as more cheap lawn watering, I see as a swan song.

But for now I get to pedal with heavy legs in search of a bit of fitness, marveling at the beauty, and full of excitement at what nature has in store. The lake is fuller than it’s been in years. Pine cones are everywhere. Spring may not be bustin’ out all over, but winter is so beautiful that I can wait.

If you haven’t made your 2023 resolutions yet, make just this one: to catch the Sierras in full bloom one last time, and make sure you burn as much gasoline as you can to do it.


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