I dropped Razzle off at the Mammoth Lakes Airport, begrudgingly. I wanted to kidnap her and keep her with me for the duration. As in forever. Her wonderful husband would for sure not be cool with that. So I had to let her go. We’ll journey together again soon. And for life. I’m so grateful to know her and to love her. A priceless being, that little Razzle…
I got out of that airport as fast as law would allow, for it was via eavesdropping that we learned that Tom Cruise was in the vicinity. I was totally not down with getting hives that day. Besides, I was on a mission to eat at a gas station. Not just any gas station, but the Mobil station in Lee Vining. (I received a tip via email from an HGMer. Love that!) As I drove into town I saw Mobil Mecca on the hill to my left. My heart longed for their fish tacos, but I had to check into my motel because the office closes at 8PM. Love that, too.
I was focused on the signs, but noticed the lake off to my right. Pretty, I thought. Nice lake. The town itself was cute in an accidental way. I was looking forward to spending a night alone in this sleepy little lakeside village. The main drag had a curve to it with the storefronts hugging the road. Down at the end of town, all 3 blocks of it, was Murphey’s Motel. With thoughts of “World Famous” fish tacos in my head, I focused on being efficient at check-in and she obliged.
As she handed me my key she asked, Are you a photographer?
Oh. Well, it’s going to be a pretty sunset tonight.
We exchanged smiles, but when her head started to look like it was wrapped in a corn tortilla I had to grab the key and motor. As I reflected back on that exchange I drove right by the Mobil Mecca, catching a glimpse of packed picnic tables by the dozens, all nearly obscured by the cars that parked in the lot and on the street.
Whoa. This is no joke. I cannot wait to eat here.
I stayed in the left lane as the main drag turned into a highway. Up ahead was a U-turn. My stomach growled. I pulled into it and paused to check for traffic. Directly in front of me was a dirt road. Beyond the dirt road was a pink-hued, broad puddle of water that basked in the setting sun. I lost my breath a little. Then looked left toward my dream taco. Then ahead to the dirt road. I went left. And at the light for Mobil Mecca I pulled another U-turn.
I couldn’t resist.
Once I pulled onto the road I knew I had made the right decision. I’ll get tacos later, I thought. This sunset I cannot miss. As the road meandered above the lake, it became clear that this was going to be an epic experience. Cradled by the Sierra Nevada mountains, Mono Lake has no outlet to the ocean which makes it as salty as that last handful of crumbs from the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. Something about freshwater and no outlet makes for a high salt content. You know by now that I am not sciencey, so hopefully that explanation will suffice. As a result of this odd eco-thing, spires of calcium-carbonate (you know I had to look that one up) rise up from the water like wet-sand crafted castle turrets dripped into being by the hands of children.
A boardwalk took me to her shore. When I stepped on to the sand I was so grateful I had come. This oasis, surrounded by a parched valley that shot skyward off in the distance, was the perfect warm blanket after a day of pushing my body hard. Tripods were set up with cameras atop aimed at various views, ready to capture the light as it changed its mood. Clearly this location was a major draw for those wishing to capture magic on film.
A few children chased birds and looked through view finders, pausing to dip their hands in the silky, salty water. And out in the middle of the lake floated a kayak cradling a person who had the most perfect seat in the house. Alone, drifting on a landlocked sea made of glass, warmed by a setting sun. I spent a moment feeling what that would be like and knew right then that I would be back. Alone. And in a kayak at sundown. One day.
I spent about an hour walking along the shore and marveling at the sculptures that rose from the water. Three times in that hour I overheard people describe Mono Lake as a scene from another planet. Four if you count my whispers to myself.
I’ve been blessed by the views of northern California for over a year now, but I haven’t gorged on nature’s body like this ever. Not ever. Although I have to say, Carlsbad Caverns is pretty flat out insane. But that natural wonder has a tourist attraction bent to it. My time in the Sierras was all about blurring the lines between me and nature. I felt like an extension of her being, not a paying guest. However, I did have to fork over $3 to park my car at Mono Lake. Truth be told, I would have kissed each plank on the boardwalk, too, if requested.
Since I arrived at Lone Pine, five days prior, I was in full on heavy petting mode with the planet. Each encounter seemingly hand-selected to meet my needs. From the warm-up hike where I dipped my toes into Chicken Spring Lake (Not the most romantic of names, but sparks would fly if I camped there.), to the mind-blowing summit of Whitney, to the bizarre and stunning Alabama Hills, to other-worldly Mono Lake. I could not ask for anything more from Nature. She pulled out all the stops to show me that this world, this life I am so grateful to have, is saturated with pure magnificence. I choose where to focus my gaze. Where to invest my energy. How to respond to challenges, embrace opportunities, shed fears and live fully. She gifts me with the full support of her most grand creations to nourish my soul and keep my body sound.
With the skies darkening, I began to walk back up the boards. I was overcome with emotion. I didn’t want to leave the lake. I didn’t want to leave the moment, the feeling I had inside just by being there. I sat on a bench tucked into some brush and stared east at the glowing mountains reflecting the last rays of the sun. Tears shook free from my eyes. I could hear footsteps and laughter coming up from behind. I turned from the path to hide my wet cheeks as the voices came closer. And then I heard,
I looked over my shoulder and then down. Sitting next to me was a wee little gingerette in long shorts and a dirty shirt, evidence that she had a day of play. She swung her feet twice while looking into my eyes and then darted off to catch up to her family. I heard her father say to his wife,
We are a special family.
They held hands. Gingerette broke through the grip and became the link between the two.
I want s’mores, Daddy!
I was glued to my bench. Gripping it might be the more appropriate description. I felt my core curl on itself. I wanted to ponder the fact that I won’t have a Mommy Daddy campfire, that our original family is no more, that I failed my children. It felt natural to go down that road. I was already emotional, why not just run with it and have a good and hard ‘I’m never going to have that moment’ sob?
Because I needed something else more. To make her proud of me. To show Nature that I was worthy of her investment. That I was committed to letting go of the outcomes and living a joyful life in the moment. That The Genius’ betrayal would not alter my course or turn my heart cold. Instead, it was a gift that she was helping me to unwrap.
I conjured up scenes of the boys and me sitting around a campfire after sunset at Mono Lake, toasting marshmallows and spotting birds playing in the brush. We’ll be thick as thieves as we explore life together, sharing a love for boulder jumping and lake swimming, fly fishing and star gazing, story telling and dream making. And whatever else they come to love as they poke around the blue marble.
Those thoughts were much more satisfying than taking the bait of negativity, of lamenting what will never be.
Bait made me think of fish tacos. I took in a massive breath and one more gulp of the view before setting off for my car. As I drove back out the dirt road, birds played in my headlights, their eyes reflecting the light as they turned to fly toward me. I laughed with them as they flew in from the side of the road to have a little fun on a Friday night. They lightened my mood with every flap of their wings.
I was ready to eat.
And Mobile Mecca was ready for bed. The lights were off. The tables all cleared but for one. Three guys dug in to freshly served plates of tacos, having arrived mere moments before closing hour. I arrived mere moments after. No one inside dared make eye contact with me having stared into many disappointed eyes at this time at night, I’m sure. But I wasn’t disappointed. How could I be? Honestly, it would have been gluttonous. I was already full. By letting go of the outcome (my plan to feast first), my evening exceeded anything I could have crafted in my head.
It was time to return to my room alone where I could savor my remaining time at Mono Lake in solitude. The next day I would drive through Yosemite straight into an infirmary, complete with the discovery that The Happy Dance Chick had pulled a calculated move, no matter what The Genius says.