Tuolumne Meadows, in the awe-inspiring Sierra Nevada, California: millenia ago, massive glaciers passed through these parts and gouged out a vast, rippling valley full of towering granite monoliths. As the glaciers moved on and began to melt away, sparkling lakes formed in the hollows and depressions left in the rock by the passing ice. Cold streams brought sediment and sand into the lakes, and rich nutrients began to support a flourishing web of life. As layers of sediment and organic matter grew thick, the lake waters grew shallow. The lakebottom lifted toward the sun and the air, and soon a succession of reeds and grasses broke the surface of the water. Exuberant wildflowers followed soon after, and then soft, spreading bushes.
Where the lakes had been, buzzing meadows now rested, cradled by smooth expanses of granite. Many hundreds of years from now, the meadows will lose enough of their moisture for pioneer trees to set root. These trees will grow to maturity, shadow out the wildflowers, and initiate the slow transition to sweet-smelling forests of pine, fir, and incense cedar.
But for now, they are meadows, and I find myself in the middle of one. It's still blossoming, but the feel of the soil is dry. Perhaps it is nearing the end of its time. Like graceful vultures, pine trees perch on the meadow's edge, patiently waiting to make their move. Although this meadow will become a forest several centuries from now, long after I myself am dust, I still get the feeling that I ought to enjoy it while I can. I take off my shoes. White pebbles, worn smooth by ice and water, nevertheless bite at my feet. I make my way toward a nearby pond, and my toes feel the relief of silky, cool mud. I bend toward the water, and am amazed to see feathery strands of bright green bladderwort, an aquatic carnivorous plant luxuriantly beaded with tiny traps engorged with miniscule crustaceans. As my shadow falls across the surface of the water, herds of tiny minnows recoil at my presence. Their retreat startles larger fish lurking in the center of the pond, and these fish jerk into motion and then disappear languidly amidst the silt and stones.
Barefoot, I am able to avoid crushing too many of the delicate pondside plants as I step. I gingerly make my way to dryer ground, and my feet are enraptured by the velvet feeling of grass and moss and diminutive mountain flowers. My favorite flower here is Parish's yampah, a relative of the carrot that rises from the ground like tiny white lace parasols and covers the meadows like a fine dusting of snow. I walk beside the river where the grass is most lush. All along its edge, there are places where the riverbank has crumbled into the water, taking carpets of grass with it. Some of the chunks of riverbank still glow greenly beneath the rippling surface, and they look like beautiful emeralds, submerged, just out of reach.
I sit down. A groundsquirrel flees into its burrow. I remain quiet and still, and it reappears. Another groundsquirrel comes to greet it, and they touch noses and caress each others' cheeks. What are they thinking? Suddenly, they are off, bolting across the meadow to do whatever it is groundsquirrels do.
Around this meadow, in other granite pockets, lie gorgeous alpine lakes. These lakes that exist now--young, fresh, clear-eyed--are daily receiving sediment from the streams that fringe their banks. Slowly, the silt at the bottom of these lakes grows thick, rising higher and higher to eventually kiss the mountain air. When these lakes have become meadows with groundsquirrels and bladderworts and pale white yampah, the meadow where I sit now will perhaps be a fragrant forest, dusty, strewn with resinous pine needles. But for now, there are no pine needles, only grass, and my naked feet seem to draw vital energy from the green fronds. I tilt my head. Above me, the clouds glide effortlessly but dramatically, stunning white on blue.