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Spending Light at Lake Tahoe

Bespoke Traveler teamed up with Expedia.com to explore northern California’s Lake Tahoe region and its bounteous nature for a lesson in the art of seeing. Before you read about my adventures, see Lake Tahoe in the Expedia Viewfinder Image Library.

Lake-Tahoe-duck-BT“Whoa, check out the teeth marks on this! Bet the beavers used this stump for that dam over there,” he says. I glance from the half-chiseled trunk he hunches over to the debris plugged stream he points out.

“Beavers, huh?” My pulse quickens. I scan the placid pond to my right and spot a dark stub rippling in the middle. “Hey, is that a beaver poking its snout out of the water?” I ask, excited.

“That’s a floating stick,” he replies, confident after a quick survey. Just then, I hear snide cackling from behind reed clumps. Seconds later, two mallards swim out from cover, laughing at me openly before popping under the surface. I turn away deflated.

Lake-Tahoe-bird-BTIn my backcountry trek through the Lake Tahoe watershed I have so far detected a blur of evergreens, a ground strewn with cones, and one junco who flew at my feet in a whir of feathers. Startled, I jumped backwards and the bird indignantly flapped to the high branches of a lodgepole pine. That is more than I usually unearth of Tahoe’s wilderness as I am better acquainted with its well-groomed ski slopes than its wetlands or meadows.

Lake-Tahoe-Mountain-BTNot far from those powdery runs there are numerous routes to navigate through the glacial basin which is where I find myself today. One of my hiking delights is wildlife encounters: glimpsing nervous hare, chancing upon foraging deer, sighting osprey circling. They happen rarely to me, but to Jesse all the time. Perhaps it is his photographer’s mentality, his finer perception of shadowy depths? He is always spying a prize from his keen examination of the details. Meanwhile I am doomed to blindness, forever missing the minutiae of a universe dispersing flashes. It has bred a jealous competitive streak in me. So I pester to accompany him on outdoor rambles in hopes I will outwit him, discovering a furtive fox or abandoned nest ahead of him.

Lake-Tahoe-Scope-BT“All a matter of looking in the correct locations,” he tells me constantly. Thus, I choose my settings carefully. I study snow patches for bear tracks, peruse twining boughs for bright-breasted robin, skim the rushes for shimmering dragonflies… all to no avail. A masked realm greets me, unwilling to open its doors. Like my mother who claims each of her recipes consists of “some spices with a pinch of salt,” I am convinced Jesse is holding out on key details. There is more to observing than meets the eye.

Lake-Tahoe-creek-BTI sprawl upon the banks of a winding runnel, my chin grazing its lazy amber sweep. I wait for minuscule stirrings, infinitesimal shifts below. I sense a skulking presence scrutinizing me from some cattail clusters. I change position, resting my cheek on a wet rock for better visibility. I loiter, peering at the dense grass. Jesse proceeds to slouch next to me.

“Do you hear that?” he asks in a whisper.

“What?”

“The croaking,” he says.

Brows furrowed, I listen for the sound. In between the clamor of buzzes, chirps, and burbles I glean a faint ribbit. “Yeah, but where’s it coming from?”

“In there! See the tiny tree-frog?”

“Where? Where?” I concentrate, craning my neck, bobbing my head, a human pigeon searching for crumbs in vain.

“In that thicket to the left,” he replies.

“What color is it?”

“Greenish-brown. Did you find it?”

I shake my head, frustrated. The creature is lost to me…. Finally, a webbed pad twitches. My eyes widen and I distinguish the amphibian from its surroundings for a moment. Then its slate-speckled body leaps into muddy obscurity. “That’s a grey frog, not green or brown,” I declare.

“Grey? No! The frog was clearly green and brown,” he counters.

Lake-Tahoe-Cone-BTI arrive at two conclusions: I need to hone my other senses, and shade is specific to the beholder. I cannot rely on Jesse for my captivating experiences. Instead I must attune to the granular scenery, fathom hue and dimensionality for myself. Tramping again I scour my periphery, nose quivering, ears perked, fingertips tingling with urgency. I spy a few whistling chickadees, inhale cedar fragrance when the wind whips their limbs, hear a distant creek gurgle whilst I linger over fir needles. I am not overly ambitious —a few chipmunk visitations will suffice, a mink view will do. The gnats, however, have tracked me. To evade them I interrupt Jesse’s examination of a moss-crusted fallen log.

“It’s really surprising what you can find in the weirdest places,” he says. Two ant groups parade in separate circles inches from each other. They march in file, never straying. We watch mesmerized expecting them to join forces any minute, maybe regroup formation. They have other plans, strictly adherent to their proscribed path. The purpose of their clandestine maneuver remains unknown to me, yet I peek into the cosmos’ continuing mystery. I realize that I have been as foolish as these ants, relentlessly plodding the same trajectory, never dreaming darkness camouflages light. Prosaic interactions lead to astonishing treasures. Death gives shelter to microcosms. The entire period I sought evidence of life, I was bulldozing it with my obtuseness. How many thousand protoplasms have I decimated at each step? Busy hunting for lofty game I forgot about the multitudes composing nature’s backbone.

Lake-Tahoe-scene-BTArmed with the secret, I ferret under boulders and probe soil around my feet. Innumerable ecosystems dart from the thrust of my pen nib. Vacant interstices teem with energy. Now, I chase the gnats who disperse, their bemused hum an effervescent concerto. A cinnamon aroma guides me to dappled fronds. When I caress the downy stem spindly legs wave at me from within the lacy entanglement. Suddenly, an ebony spider vaults mid-air, suspended on nothing! I gasp in disbelief. It calmly saunters over empty space then vanishes. Baffled, I forage for the arachnid magician. Not until my breath vibrates the aether do I glimpse the diaphanous filaments of its sorcery. Upending a decayed oak leaf to comb for my invisible wizard, I behold an iridescent emerald beetle. Its jewel back gleams in the dusk, winking in camaraderie. I have captured creation’s spark.

Lake-Tahoe-sunset-BT“Quick, quick, come see!” I shout. The insect scuttles into a neighboring hole before Jesse shows. I laugh. No matter. Its disappearance provides for other unfolding intricacies. The art of observation has transformed Tahoe from a charming panorama to a dramatic performance on a microscopic level. I will no longer envisage this destination in general terms. It lays open to me in glorious subtlety, fashioning itself into my core, an eternal essence of my being. Acquiring this vision has required unscrupulous attention, unceasing effort, and rigorous discipline. With my new understanding I shall rummage everywhere with an enhanced sensory awareness. In my travels I will remember to gaze long and hard at the tiniest features, the gloomiest corners in order to appreciate how details elevate the whole terrain. I will employ all my faculties to witness cities bloom, landscapes metamorphose, and the ordinary alter into the wondrous.


TRAVEL NOTE:

The second deepest lake in the United States, Lake Tahoe supports both riparian and sierra biological communities. Walking the many paths here unearths beautiful stories about the diversity of each zone. For adventurous hikers, the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail skirting the lake reveals its volcanic and glacial past. Shorter tracks like the 2-mile Five Lakes Trail and the 1.2-mile looped Tahoe Meadow Trail display deciduous groves and alpine flora.


What details have you discovered on your travels that surprised you? Do you have any tricks for finding the uncommon?


 

 

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35 replies »

    • My pleasure. What a beautiful story about your first hearing of Lake Tahoe. Before the internet made information readily available, how thrilling it was to receive magazines and flip through their pages, delighting in discovery of new landscapes.

  1. I think nature is waiting to be discovered and once we do, we never feel complete without it. If only we allowed ourselves to slow down, to open our hearts, eyes, and ears. Thank you for your lovely descriptions.

  2. I think we can enjoy hiking with this mountain. It such a lovely place, I should bring my friend here.
    I would like to ask if you have a tourist guide for this fun activity?

    • No we did not. The trails in this area can be accomplished without one. However, the Leave No Trace Center often offers free guided hikes. You can check their website to see if there are any upcoming ones around Lake Tahoe: https://lnt.org. Also, in certain parks around Lake Tahoe rangers can accompany you on certain trails if you set up an appointment with them. You would have to contact the specific park office and ask them about this. The state parks site: http://bit.ly/29HOepH lists all the relevant parks under their jurisdiction. Hope this helps. Enjoy your future visit to Tahoe!

  3. Beautiful description and photos. I have trouble visually zeroing in on the smaller things myself. I always feel as though I’m the last to see the bird up in the tree, so quite frankly I focus more on the big picture, the lines and proportions, the grandeur of the panorama, the air quality and its smells, and then maybe a small cluster of wildflowers as it’s not going to move. Let someone else spot that chipmunk and watch it flit here and there. I’ll soak up everything else.

    • 🙂 Isn’t it wonderful how each of us sees the world so differently? It makes hiking with companions so much more rewarding for me, as I suddenly find my world opened up in new ways. Thank you for sharing your own perspective.

  4. I’m feeling terribly guilty because I often bulldoze spiders webs. 😦 In the name of good housekeeping 🙂

    Your work is lyrical, as always, AG. You capture so well with words, you oft times don’t need Jesse’s lens. But, oh, I know those frustrations! Always it’s Mick who says ‘did you see?’ Blank look 😦

    Thank you for the ride around Expedia. I’m not familiar with the site despite all the years they’ve been in business. I don’t equate Tahoe with snow because I have a friend who always ventured there in Summer. Happy wandering! 🙂

    • Thank you Jo! Wait till I tell Jesse what you’ve said about my words not needing his lens! 🙂 As for the spider webs, I wouldn’t want them indoors either. Think of it as a challenge to your house spiders’ web-building skills. 😉

  5. At the stop left side of your post there is picture of a small island on a lake surrounded by trees. It looks familiar but I can not recall where I have seen it. Is it part of your Tahoe trip?

    • Yes, that is part of Lake Tahoe. It is a view of Emerald Bay and the tiny island is most popularly known as Fannette Island though it is also called Emerald Isle or Hermit’s Island.

  6. My brother is going on a fly drive this year to California I wonder if he’ll make it to lake Tahoe? I must send him to your blog. Do you have a blog post with a list of must see places in California I can send him?

    • That would be a lovely recommendation and how fun for your brother! I don’t write listicles and no list could cover all the awesome things to see in California. However, some quick suggestions, aside from Lake Tahoe, would be Sonoma Valley, Yosemite NP, Big Sur, and Muir Woods. What part of the state will he be visiting?

  7. Ha, I just loved walking and searching this incredible place with you ~ wonderful writing style, and brings a great smile as I sure wish I was in such a place now (versus a crowded metropolis…). Beautiful post and will have to plan a trip to Tahoe soon, so much to see and experience there.

    • Thank you so much Randall! It made me smile to learn that you were able to explore this lovely place through my words. I hope you get to discover it for yourself at some point. It has so much more to offer than ski resorts.

  8. I am very glad to see you visited Tahoe and enjoyed your visit. It is one of the most glorious places in the world. And kudos to you for making it in winter. Be sure to come back when the weather is fine too! It is different and no less spectacular!

  9. Thanks for sharing what Lake Tahoe can offer. Your article & photos made me realize there is so much more to do & see there other than skiing of which it is famous for. Your attention to details is amazing. Looking forward to your next adventure.

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