A springtime ramble with clouds on the horizon

It was the final evening of five-day ramble through Henry Coe
State Park. I had claimed an oak-studded knoll overlooking Redfern
Pond as my home for the night.
It was the final evening of five-day ramble through Henry Coe State Park. I had claimed an oak-studded knoll overlooking Redfern Pond as my home for the night. My sleeping bag unfurled and food hung in one of the oaks out of the reach of inquisitive critters, I now reclined in my camp chair alternating attention between my book and the coming dusk.

I watched the northern sky with growing interest. The scattered high cirrus clouds I had noticed earlier were beginning to coalesce into a threatening gloom. The wind was steadily building.

Then, in a distinct instant – a moment of focused attention that undistracted time in nature allows, I watched the wind riffles on the pond, which had been drifting toward me out of the north, turn 180 degrees, pushed by a newborn southerly wind.

Uh-oh. Wind from the south. Threatening clouds to the north. I’m no meteorologist, but that means a low-pressure system is headed this way. Is it going to rain? The predictions were for fair weather before I left.

I dropped my book and headed for higher ground and a better look. I retraced my steps to a high grassy knob I had passed coming into camp earlier that day.

Once there, I had a sweeping panorama of the interior of Coe Park to the east, Hollister’s valley and hills to the south, and Gilroy and Mt. Madonna to the west.

This meteorological turmoil ahead of the coming storm had driven every particle of grime from the air, revealing a crystalline view all the way to a clear distant horizon. The sky was a virtual cloud encyclopedia; fluffy cumulous clouds mixed with an infinite variety of saucer-shaped wind-stretched lenticular clouds made the sky appear to be filled with an armada of flying saucers.

The low sun streaked through occasional cloud openings to striking effect like some overly dramatized Albert Bierstadt painting. The hills, the valleys, the green, the clarity, the light. I turned and reeled in dumfounded rapture like a five-year-old on his first visit to Disneyland.

I saw one other thing, too. Dark rain clouds up north, approaching.

Back to camp. I set up the tent. Weather permitting, I never sleep in a tent, preferring to sleep under the stars. But I always carry one just in case. This looked to be one of those cases.

No rain yet, but let it come. I am ready for it. Back in my chair overlooking the pond, I witnessed another distinct instant that we miss in our hyperactive and distracted lives. Scattered concentric ringlets reflected the setting sunlight off the pond’s surface, a feature I connect with rising feeding fish at this time of day. I was confused. There are probably bass in this pond, but do they rise like Sierra trout? No sooner had I asked the question than pit-pat-pit-pat, the first drops of rain fell on the sleeping bag draped over my legs. Those ringlets on the lake were the first drops of the coming storm.

I spent that rainy night in the confining comfort of my tent rehashing my trip.

For five days I had been all alone, seeing no one and not speaking a word. I had not seen many of the attractions I have come to expect from Coe Park, no coyotes, no bobcats, no elk, barely even a deer. But the solitude had given me a great gift. It had untied all the knots in my psychological and emotional rope. My receptors began to pick up signals that are usually lost in the din and racket of life here on the anthill. I had witnessed and been truly present for a shift in the wind, the first drops of rain, the interplay of light and clouds on the edge of a coming storm.

And all this happened (it never ceases to amaze me) just over the hill from home and just down the road from six million people.

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