MAMMOTH LAKES — These mountains always remind me of Reese Witherspoons’ teeth. Sure, they are beautiful, nearly perfect. But as with many actresses, there are almost too many of them.
Up here, they call them “The Minarets,” those jagged peaks that make up Mammoth’s north wall, the one that looks like a mosque.
Allegedly, these granite spires all have names: Michael, Leonard, Clyde (the tallest Minaret).
Or, you can name them yourself, as I do: Grumpy, Sneezy, Groucho, Catty Cakes, Smaratcus, Suzanne.
In any case, I am back, hanging with my sidekick Searles in this snowy, linen land, to borrow from Don McLean.
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy, linen land…
Always liked him better than Dylan, but that’s just me.
Purportedly, McLean wrote his paean to Vincent van Gogh on a paper bag, after reading a biography of the painter.
They did not listen, they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will...
FYI, Robert Frost used to write poems on the soles of his shoes. Dizzy Gillespie wrote “Night in Tunisia” on a garbage can lid.
I’m writing this column in a little diner on Old Mammoth Road, in ketchup, on a plate of fries (hence, the spotty punctuation).
Don’t judge. Doesn’t mean I don’t take this quite seriously. To my mind, ketchup just makes everything better.
I was telling Searles when I arrived that we live in an era of blame and judgment, not an era of solutions. Were I able to wave a magic wand over the American Kingdom, I would declare it The Land of the Solution.
I would also forbid silly bickering and family infighting. Beer would be free. Everyone would have a canoe.
Trust me, I would be a lot of fun with a magic wand. I mean, once I got going….
You’d be richer, I’d be taller, Rapunzel would have even more ravishing auburn hair.
She’s up here too, by the way. Didn’t realize she was coming up till she called me from Lone Pine, the bottom bough of the 395, the first pine you come to when you leave So Cal.
Love these little Sierra towns that never change — Big Pine, Lone Pine, Bishop — with their ma-and-pa cafes and boy-howdy saloons. I pick up a twang every time I drive through them. Actually, I start twanging around Lancaster. By Independence, I’m gnawing on jerky.
Soon as I hit the 395, I turn on my fave radio station, 92.5, the Sierra, an alt-rock station that thinks Don McLean and Tom Petty are alt rock. Fine by me.
I zoom past the state hatcheries, where they feed cat food to the baby rainbow trout. Indeed, they stock the lakes and creeks of the Eastern Sierra with fish fed on Purina cat chow. Once in a while, you can hear them meow.
“Here, kitty kitty,” I say whenever I fly fish on Hot Creek.
I’m up here again to work on a book with Steve Searles, the troubadour of these silver mountains, the Thoreau of their iconic bears. He’s a folk hero up here. Before Seales (aka BS), the bears were so overstocked that they were showing up at school recesses and having babies under hotels.
Steve, the town’s hippie biologist, its mountain-man conscience, was hired to hunt them. Instead, he saved them. Don’t want to give away the ending, but this book might save you too.
Yesterday, Steve told me the story of Blondie, a big beautiful mother with anger issues, who repeatedly broke into cabins after both her cubs died.
At one point, she broke into the mayor’s home, got into the chocolate-covered Ex-Lax. Sometimes, you just have to laugh.
Actually, don’t you always have to laugh?
Anyway, the book will be about these bears, a ghostly presence. They are to the Eastern Sierra as elephants are to the Congo.
Like Steve, the bears stick to the shadows. When you’re out walking, looking down, admiring pinecones the size of small cars, the bears are often napping in the trees right over your head.
We’re going to tell you all about bears in this book. We’re going to surprise you with stories about their patience with car door locks and why you shouldn’t be afraid.
Steve used to crawl inside bear dens for a living. So he knows these bears. Wait till you hear about their sex lives.
And we’re going to tell you secrets of these mountains and the starry, starry nights. How, when it’s clear and cold, you can see the Milky Way.
By the way, Perseus made an appearance the other night, son of Zeus. As an infant, he was cast into the sea in a box.
Like you and me, Perseus had his challenges.
Eventually, he beheaded Medusa while she slept — using a Go-Pro, I think, though my recollection is a little rusty. I was very young.
Indeed, I would turn to stone too if I spent a winter up here. Hell, I can barely manage the door code at the condo. Generally, I don’t much like condos, but a Mammoth Lakes condo is among the best you’ll find, with photos and tchotchkes of bears and trout throughout.
I like that in a condo.
As I was puttering around the kitchen the other morning, I was thinking how my favorite part of skiing used to be waking early to make the kids pancakes and sausage before hitting the slopes. They’d twirl the crisped sausages in the syrup, amid the scent of cinnamon and hot coffee – all the soft sugary smells of ski slopes and Christmas mornings.
Note to self: “Hey Self, call the kids. Arrange a week for us up here during Smartacus’ spring break. I wanna get Catty Cakes in the snow, giggling. I wanna get Finn and the lovely older daughter out of the house and into one of these noisy saloons. I want Rapunzel and her boyfriend to wander in, like a couple of cheery balloons.
I might take Smartacus snowmobiling, on one of Searles’ mighty Polaris sleds, that are quicker than my car.
Yet, it’s all the simple stuff, really — the walks, the moonlit nights, the pancakes. When you inhale up here, it’s so much better. When you exhale, it smells like pine.
Up here at the apex of the California wilderness.
Up here, in this snowy, linen land.