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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another day on the Greenwater Trail

Even wonder if you’re lost? I long ago discovered that in any effort, the willingness to try to succeed makes everything possible. I don’t mean to try as in make a one time effort, but to define a time frame, such as an afternoon, a day, or in some cases months or years, and a give a regular block of time to an effort, to see where it leads. Overall this has worked well. The process is akin to heading up a trail, and taking the occasional side trail, just for the enjoyment of it. My sense of exploration is in part a willingness to try things. But these trials have a prickly way of turning into obligations. And too many obligations is just that. I've been doing this kind of thing for my adult life and sometimes I wonder if I've been lost by doing so.

Then there are the events which serve as a kind of cool breeze into an autumn morning to remind that it’s time to reassess plans. I've had some of those recently. Little stuff: the flood, the minor back injury, paying the lords of maintenance, and of course reminders of all those projects started but which are at a standstill for one or more reasons. A project being stalled usually is due to the project which gets the biggest block of time – the career. Between the events and necessities, I sometimes feel as if I'm in a proverbial case of loosing the trail because of the trees. There are so many trees. It adds up to the indisputable fact that the last year has been extraordinarily busy.

One thing is for certain. It was time to head to one of my favorite trails for the afternoon, and that trail is the fabled Greenwater Trail, which is about 11 miles back on USFS-70. The trail has a therapeutic effect on me. The trail winds its way along and crosses the Greenwater River more than once, and meanders past several lakes as it meanders towards Corral Pass. You could spend a couple of days on this trail, and may not see all of it. And it would be a nice a nice way to spend a couple of days. If you don’t have a couple of days, which I never seem to, you can spend several very enjoyable hours on this trail. The scenic moments start at the outset and keep on coming.

I've written about this trail before, and today’s trip was a chance to stretch my legs and to test my nearly recovered back along an inspiring and enjoyable path. From my first step off of the parking area (which requires a forest service permit) and onto the trail, a beautiful sanctuary of trees, rock formations, and a measureless array of plant and wild life awaited.

This trail is used by horse and foot traffic. The first several miles are a very well maintained path dappled with boardwalks and foot bridges to guide you. It has a feel of being more like a theme park than a typical back country trail.

My plan was to walk about an hour outbound and then start my return. Along the way back I planned to check out a side trail I hadn’t previously tried. Forest light is often heavily filtered, and I used the opportunity of an overcast day to take some time lapse images.

The image (left) is a 14-second long exposure. Looking at the trail over even short periods of time creates a far greater glimpse of how we see than a briefer view. What may appear static in a typical high-speed photo is shown here to be subject to nearly constant change. This change is not unlike the difference between a plan and a work in progress. A plan is not quite a footstep in the soft soil, but it is where the expectations are formed.

Someone placed stepping stones across this frequently traveled-over creek long enough ago that moss has well established itself. Part of the enchantment of the Greenwater trail is that it is a highly developed trail while remaining intimate with the forest. This 25-second long exposure shows that the creek, some plants and branches are in constant subtle motion. Time lapse photos give a painterly quality of selective blurring. It uses a paint brush called time. Even though this area is pretty calm, you can see motion everywhere.

Of course not all crossings nor all creeks are the same. I remember the first time I traveled this path. A group had just started to rebuild the bridge. At the time of construction the hand supports were not yet in place, so there was only a split log suspended over the rapids. The log was a little bouncy to cross. Well, as often happens, I spent too much time on the outward part of the journey that day and the forest grew ever darker as I was heading back. I had visions of trying to cross this bridge in near darkness. The effect of the moving water and sound works to amplify the sense of motion on the bridge. Between the low light and lack of hand rails, I felt a little like I was on a tight rope. But that was another day.

Today, in no small irony I find that being over-committed is a lot like crossing that not yet finished bridge, in the twilight, without handrails. Having too many “goals,” makes the journey very involved. I’d rather have handrails, but often, don’t get a choice.

Here light, a ridge, and time-lapse photo conspire to turn a mountain trail into a painterly play of color and light.

Along the way a fellow traveler I encountered - a butterfly – performs one of life’s memorable plays: One’s entire focus can be held by a simple convenience of nature, which for the butterfly is the flower he’s sitting upon. But all too soon someone is buzzing near by, encouraging you to move on.

A short time later, a Kodachrome moment

Nearby this spot is a side trail I’d long thought to find. On other days I was intent on following the main trail. But not today. After only about a minute of looking for it, I found the side trail I suspected must exist somewhere, hidden by the trees and brush. The trail leads around to the other side of one of the most amazing sub-alpine lakes in the area - the Lower Greenwater Lake. It is breath taking in its unblinking expanse. The calm water, muted colors of rock and plant-life show nature in daylight nuance.

There are places where the ordinary is so far removed from daily experiences as to seem extraordinary.

Some old trees, water and plants can portray that change is the core of nature.

Before long a slight change in light warned me that I had to be heading back. The time of day is rich in soft light and just a little downhill from the lake, the recently calm water feels the pull of the downhill journey.

Back in the old growth, the day fades to show a sanctuary caressed by soft light.

And under the silken advance of evening, the trail has lead back to the parking lot. Perhaps I'm not lost at all, and time spent exploring diverse paths is important.

Note: A duplicate of this article, but with bigger photos can be found at


Lorraine Hart said...

Oh Tracy...this is goosy-bump good on so many different levels. What a gift, thank you!

This is exactly the type of piece I would like to see in school textbooks. Connecting the words with these pictures (oh these beautiful pictures!) that are, indeed, like impressionistic movement and light...the effect really resonates as good medicine. It resonates as a great tool for our times...and tired travails.

Beautiful piece of creative writing.

Mizu Sugimura said...

What gorgeous scenery! I also concur with Lorraine on your writing. Hope you have had a good year. Thank you for your earlier correspondence.

JosephMcG said...

Thanks for taking me along on your journey... your meditation on the journey and these wonderful pictures spoke to my heart gently and truthfully...

thank you...

Stephanie Frieze said...

Tracy, thanks for the walk in the woods. It was exactly what I needed just now. I've been thinking about the woods out your way. It's been a year since my husband and I came out there and I long for another visit!

Kim Thompson said...


I've missed you!

These photos ROCK and the words are so amazingly perfect and spot on.

Shoot, I feel like chucking the schedule and getting out in the wild now.

Don't we all?

More, more, more!