As I walk to work I eye the hillside suspiciously. Each new rock on the road, each new branch makes me wonder if the the whole hillside will be coming down. The U shape of the road that leads us to the tucked in RV sites of Cricket Hollow in Sequoia was carved long ago. The road beyond turns to dirt and a large oak has fallen across our backroad emergency exit. A culvert runs right through camp and we yell over the roaring waterfall of what was a bone dry creek a month before. The front, inside, bed area of the RV is soaked 4” high, the walls are sweating with condensation, the moisture drips from our vent and if I had measured I’m sure to have wrung out a cup of water from what was wiped from the windows. Our blankets are damp, our pj’s are damp and it’s finally dawning on me that life in an RV is only just barely out of the elements.
Tim and I play a game called “remember when”. As in “remember when it was dry and 106 degrees in here?”. Truth be told it’s effective. After the better part of two years we’ve pretty much been through it all, and survived. Playing this game reminds us that, as much as this moment is all consuming, it’s just a moment that will pass. Tomorrow will be some other uncomfortable element to laugh about. Kind of a wonder we’re still sane.
I click on every article about flooding, rockfall, tree fall and road closures. California is a mess and it’s a good thing. The park is also a mess and the road has been closed off and on since we arrived. I’m temporarily answering the phones and e-mails for the park. “Yes, the road into the park is closed”, “No, I have not been given an estimate of when it will open but we are working on it”.
The best part of all this rain down where we are is that it’s snowing buckets in the mountains. This bank of snow is California’s most important reservoir. This is the water we so desperately need. The Sierra snow pack makes up 1/3 of the state’s annual water supply with the late spring melt off getting us through our long dry summers.
Lucky for us on a day off we had perfect snowshoeing weather, a sweet offer to use park snowshoes and un-trampled snow due to the previous park closure. The day was overcast but we were still excited. As we gained elevation we drove through a thick and still fog. The sinuous Generals Highway climbed ever higher and eventually we popped out over the clouds. Tim commented on the “1000 feet of fog”. It hadn’t registered that way for me but I mulled over this thought for a few until we turned a corner and spread out before us was a swirling, boiling ocean of white, California’s Central Valley capped in Tule Fog. The combination of wet winter soil and still air causes the whole valley to fog up. Infamous multi-car pile ups have happened because of this yearly phenomena. However, along with our winter weather, the fog has diminished exacerbating the effects of drought for farmers whose fruit and nut trees rely on this trapped chill and moisture.
Finally we start to see snow on the ground and further still the Giant Forest blanketed in a sparkly white powder. Every time I see the Sequoias my heart skips a beat. We slip and slide through the parking lot ice rink til’ we get to our trail head. No tracks, we’re the first of the day. We trudge out to a spot called Beetle Rock. Here the snowy landscape seems to go out for miles as the edge of the view meets the white fog below. We admire frost on leaves and mosses, we ooo and aaa at the steam coming off trees as the sun warms them, we take in the magic of watching snow fall off overloaded branches filling the forest with a fine shimmering fairy dust. At a more populated spot rosy cheeked siblings throw snow balls at their dad, an older couple that enjoyed their ski track so much that they turned and went back again, others just sit still and take in the beauty of a meadow ringed in snow covered Sequoia trees.
The past five years of drought have wreaked havoc on our over-loved, over-used, over-populated California. With so many interests and needs in the most populated state there was much finger pointing, blame, anger and fear for the future. There was also a little creativity. It started with a farmer in 2011 who intentionally flooded his grapes in winter. He hoped that this would replenish the groundwater table while not damaging his crops. His bet paid off. Now hydrologists near Davis are experimenting with this concept on other popular central valley crops. It won’t be a perfect solution across the whole of the central valley yet it shows that with some creative thinking and continued research it could be an effective way to better manage our water resource in good and bad water years.
The drought is not “over” we just have a temporary reprieve. We don’t want to play the game of “remember when it rained one year and we all went back to bad habits?”. It’ll be wise to move forward as if we still are in drought, build back up our water bank, stay creative and never take it for granted again.