Down, further down, and Out from Island Lake Basin

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As I learned after my big, seven month trip from San Francisco to the Far West and beyond, transitions can be tricky.  All the rich experiences, encounters with physical challenges or heart-skipping beauty, can seem distant and yet present when channeling (what seems like) perpetual motion into the front seat of a car, then moving that car down a highway to an urban destination.  

I woke up early and had a good 45 minutes without the sun’s intensity.  My final session of zazen beside the lake was neither dramatic nor mundane: the phenomenal world subsided into the rhythms of steady breathing, and then it was just me and the moment, then the next one, and the one after that.  Nothing new, of course, since this teaching goes back over 2500 years. And yet to discover and experience it so many times in the course of a lifetime is humbling indeed.  

An hour to take down tent and get everything into my pack, moving it as tree shadows shrink and the sun rises higher.  Finally I’m ready to take a parting photo, heart in my throat due to the poignancy of the moment, and hit the trail.

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I encounter people on the trail some 30 minutes later, three women with faces beet red, who appreciate my suggestion they follow the stone cairns that mark the trail rather than the stream trickling down granite.  A bit later, I am asked for directions by a thirty-six couple that seems exasperated.  They don’t have hats, sunglasses, or what appears to be adequate water…and the day is warming up.  They’re still a good hour from Island Lake, their stated destination.  “We got turned around by going too high on the granite, and wasted a lot of time.”  I can imagine their struggles, arguments, frustrations, and then relief at finding the main trail again.  So it goes.  

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Shortly after this portrait at the boundary of the wilderness area, I head off trail to the sound of flowing water.  A stream flows over exposed granite, making a pleasant rest and lunch area that is not only scenic but melodic as well.  I relish dropping the pack and wading in the icy water.  It’s probably too late in the narrative to introduce a term that describes water reflections on nearby rocks, tree leaves, or the appropriately positioned human body.  I learned it years ago from my pal Fred Goss, while surveying a stream that ran through his rental property near Lawrence Kansas.  “Ahbazoobahs” seems more descriptive than “reflection” and so there you have it.

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From this little oasis back to the car, the trail skirts the eastern rim of Wright’s Lake, an old resort cabin settlement that goes back to the 1930s.  Nothing is overstated or trampled down, and I’m happy to reach the end of carrying a pack that is wearing on my knees and shoulders.  The last bridge helps symbolise for me the transition that lies ahead: backroad to highway, highway to freeway, freeway to city and fog by the San Francisco bay.  

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En route, the Friday afternoon commuters heading out of Sacramento and Vacaville astonish me with their numbers.  Going the opposite direction, no obstructions get in the way and I’m home by 5:30 p.m., after only about 2.5 hours on the road.  

Gratitude abounds.

The following image is also part of this most memorable trip, although it is the part that I will quite happily forget.

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