Bear Valley and Almond Trees


After leaving Lake Tahoe, I spent a week with my oldest sister Carol at her home in Elk Grove, California. In spite of our 11 years difference in age, I am as close to Carol as I am to any of my siblings. When I left home to go to college at Stanford, Carol and her family lived across the San Francisco Bay in El Cerrito, and later Point Richmond. I was there when they built their home, helped them move in. Her husband, Dave, was like another older brother to me. As the oldest in the family and a girl, she broke ground by working after marriage (back in those days it was still men provided, women stayed home and raised kids) planned a family (Zero Population Growth) a daughter (Karolyn) and a son, and she and her husband were politically active by first supporting candidates and later working for an assemblyman and holding public office. She also lost her husband and became a widow almost ten years before me.

Carol and I spent Valentine’s Day together, cooking mouth watering steaks for our dinner. One day I took an evening off and drove to Isleton on the Sacramento Delta to meet up with my college buddies, Steff and Steve. We met at Peter’s Steakhouse owned and operated by a Chinese family. I had just missed the Spam Festival held in Isleton in honor of a flood that had swept through the community 20 years earlier, so named because the only cans surviving that could be identified were the Spam cans, their labels printed right on the can, not a paper label that came unglued and floated away with the water. On the way back to Sacramento, I drove through Locke, and interesting delta town that had a well preserved Chinese main street. Someday I’ll go back.

Peter’s Steakhouse Spam Festival. Owner’s son in the background.

Karolyn and Tom live near Carol and hosted a dinner that included Carol’s granddaughter Trini and her partner Kong. Carol and I are at different points in our lives but the bonds of family and sisterhood keep us close.

More snow hit the Sierras and Tom and Karolyn weren’t done skiing yet. We decided to ski Bear Valley, a smaller resort east of Sacramento about two and a half hours.

Once a person gets off the main roads in California, there’s no straight road to anywhere. And that was the case here. Karolyn rode with me, so we had two and a half hours to talk about life and other sundry topics. The roads got snow packed and icy in the higher elevations where we were like rats in a maze, the road a narrow passage between high walls of snow. After all, the Sierras had been hit with snowfalls of 1-4 feet of snow each storm. Tom had to stop and put on chains, but my Little Blue Truck plowed through it all. Still, it took an extra 30 minutes due to the snowy road conditions but we made it to the resort by 10:00.IMG_9660

Tom had said Bear Valley would be good, and it certainly was. Unlike many western resorts, Bear Valley wasn’t all “up.” As you drive to the resort and the lodge, the mountain and lifts do go up. But half the mountain is in a valley. The harder runs go down into the valley, and the lifts carry skiers “up” to the resort. But this day the “lower” mountain was closed. So much snow had fallen that the chair loading areas were buried! The pathetic little snowblower couldn’t eat and digest the snow drifted around the chair lifts.

But they had gotten the upper mountain open, and we skied the front and backside of Bear Valley. There’s a no-return area that leads to the Bear Valley Lodge which was open, but we decided against having to take a shuttle back. Again, Tom challenged me to take risks I had not done before. We skied a few trees and tougher runs. We had a nice long day on the mountain. At the end our legs were aching, our faces slightly sunburned from the intensity of the sunny day. We parted ways, Tom and Karolyn returning to Sacramento, I headed south to stay the night in Merced.

The roads leading southwest out of Bear Valley were windy and narrow. I figured I would catch a freeway at some point, but as I got to Angel’s Camp and continued out of the mountains, the roads stayed secondary, at best. I passed a couple roads that lead to Yosemite. I had left Bear Valley around 4 pm, and figured I’d get to Merced around 7 pm.

The sun was setting and the full moon was rising over the Sierras to the east. The blue-gold glow of nightfall was upon me. I climbed a ridge and to my amazement, blooming almond trees filled my vision for as far as the eye could see.

At first I didn’t know what kind of trees they were. I rolled down my window to see if I could smell anything. Orange or lemon trees have a strong, distinctive smell. These trees had no detectible odor. I had a sense that they were almonds, and a sign a little later confirmed it. Google Maps took me on farm roads through these rolling hills with these incredible trees, the mountains dimly glimmering beyond, and the full moon larger than life.

I didn’t stop. I kept driving as dusk turned to dark. I passed farm houses. Low spots warned of flooding. I followed Google Maps, taking me southwest to Merced. I kept glancing at the rising moon, glowing over the mountains, the flowering trees in the foreground.

I didn’t take one picture. I thought to myself, “It’s too dark.” But I know I could have gotten a shot of the moon, a dark image of the trees. Maybe it was a force that made me want to keep this image in my heart, not on an iPhone.

It’s times like this that I think of Scot.


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