I returned to Kerrick Meadow last week. I hadn’t been there since October a couple of years ago when the water in Kerrick Creek stood in little pools that froze at night. The water was low but trickling along this time in mid-August, and it was much warmer. A month and a half makes a big difference in the High Sierra. After camping the night at Peeler Lake, I hiked into the meadow in time to catch the morning light as it poured between Crown Point and Cirque Mountain.
The journey around the high country loop out of Twin Lakes is beautiful, taking in Snow, Crown, and Robinson Lakes as well as Peeler. Rock Island Pass is dramatic, living up to its name. But there is something about Kerrick Meadow that feeds my soul. It’s the high point of my backpacks around this loop.
The main thing I like to do in Kerrick is to sit and let the sounds and sights of the meadow surround me. I know that such inactivity is not popular in this age of nature adventures. I don’t climb up any rocks, race down any trails, catch any fish, or find any geo-caches. I just sit. I choose a place out of sight of the trail, so other hikers that pass by won’t have to wonder what is wrong with me.
As I sat on a big white granite slab, a cool breeze soughed through the lodgepole and whitebark pines. Warblers of several types, probably early migrants, worked through the branches. A junket of juncos, nuthatches and chickadees followed them as the sun rose higher above the ridge separating the meadow from Peeler Lake. The brown grass and powdery dirt baked in the heat releasing an earthy, herbal aroma
The birds moved on and I did too, ambling along Rancheria Creek, until I reached then far end of the meadow, just before it narrowed and dropped off to become Kerrick Canyon. I found a shady spot by the creek where a round granite boulder and choir of pines sheltered the creek bank.
Beside the boulder, a single blue lupine surprised me. Only a couple of inches tall, the blossom stretched up fresh and bright in the cool morning. At first it looked to be sprouting from a clump of alpine laurel, but on closer look I found it’s prostrate stem stretched form a small clump of hairy, grey-green leaves–Brewer’s Lupine (Lupinus breweri var. bryoides).
Philip A. Munz in his Introduction to California Mountain Wildflowers says that Brewer’s lupine is particularly well-suited to growing in the alpine zone because it’s leaves shield it from the effects of the drying wind and bright sun. But there was only one flower. I looked around for others before I sat down beside this one. Other little mats of lupine were dry and flowerless.
Flowers are like everything else. Sure a flower belongs to a species and variety and has a common name that categorizes it, but each flower also has a unique way of manifesting life that reflects all it has gone through to reach that point in life. I watched this little lupine a while to get to know it better. In spite of the drought and heat, it grew vigorously and held its solitary blossom high.
The desert artist, Henry R Mockel (Mockel’s Desert Flower Notebook) advised aspiring artists to “find yourself a solitary bloom. Visit it daily. Observe as the colors cycle from morning to night” (California Desert Art).
Thoreau thought one of the beauties of lupine was how they colored whole hillsides with the color of the sky, but he lamented that even a third of a mile away he couldn’t see their color. I sat close enough to this one for it to fill my sight and like “The bluebird carries the sky on its back” (also Thoreau), this single flower brought the blue sky to the brown earth.
I lay down on the grass beside it and looked up at the cloudless California sky. A bee or fly buzzed by my ear, perhaps investigating the flower. I didn’t look. I closed my eyes and felt life around me and within me.