It is a mid-November Sunday.
Snow bunnies have fled their summer cottages, leaving them tidily boarded up and presumably winterized, an assumption to be proven false on the first night, soon to come, that temperatures plummet and indoor plumbing comes explosively undone. Our fix everything guy, Carl, enjoys a nice pre-Christmas bonus every year doing the actual winterizing.
From my front porch I watch a silver haired couple stroll arm in arm across the village green, an unspoken bond between them that enjoys its own silence, revels in it.
The icy morning stillness that has pushed aside the billowy autumn breezes now portends the onset of winter. The couple is dressed accordingly, enveloped in mossy toned hues, they are now rendered strikingly visible by their singular camouflaged presence.
We settle our restless pre-winter resistance by deciding to take a drive. It is a top down roadster kind of day, a day that will make up for all the days this summer when we forgot to make the effort to go kayaking. The kayaks, still on their winter storage racks, chide us with the refrain, “This may be your last chance!”, as we don sweaters, tweed jackets and scarves, no real bundling, more fashion and affectation than actual protection,an indulgence in vanity which we allow ourselves this day, a good day for a drive.
We ascend Gold Lake Road, meeting only cyclists and the occasional hiker. These are savvy people, privy to the closely held secret that now is the best time and this is the best place in the world to have the majesty of the Sierra opened up like an exclusive private parkland, an after party thrown solely for his or her personal enjoyment.
We laugh and wave as our vehicle arcs wide around them, unconcerned of lane restrictions and oncoming traffic. There is no traffic, it’s just us.
The Buttes rise in the distance, reminding us that we are indeed in the mountains, something easy to forget in the bowl of light from which we have just emerged, the immense Sierra Valley, with its fenced pastureland and smooth worn surfaces.
Here the Buttes stand like forbidding, craggy sentinels guarding the stone edifice of some mountain giant’s lair.
Here the first snow has already fallen and still lies, as it will until next July, in shallow north facing crevices.
We pull over at a vista viewing point and exit our vehicle to take it all in. There is no way to capture this magnificence visually, so we simply sit and marvel at the silence.
We begin our ear popping descent to Highway 49 and turn toward Downieville. The winding trail of asphalt soon enters the shadowy depths of river canyon. We are gradually made aware of a living presence which virtually illuminates the scene as brilliant copper, orange and gold torches. The oak trees are everywhere suddenly made apparent.
I am immediately reminded of the couple I saw this morning in the park. Like the couple, the oaks go unnoticed for most of the year amid the crowd of pushing, jostling, towering Ponderosa Pine that dominate the landscape. This singular moment, when almost no one is looking, within this quiet transformative moment, the ancient ones appear. They are not here to dazzle in robes of crimson, no paparazzi “Fall Foliage” photo op.