This year’s winners –Tristan Blommer, Madison Pauly, Mary Rossi, Rachel Molina, Annakate Clemons and Evan Richman – are 12th-graders attending high school in Lee Vining, Bishop and Big Pine. Their essays reveal varied recreational interests but a shared and abiding admiration and respect for the Eastern Sierra outdoors. On behalf of the contest benefactors/creators and the judges, The Inyo Register offers its congratulations and thanks to the winners of the 2012 Mary Austin Prize for Writing.
People need an escape. A place to go or a thing to do that separates them from the world. A place where troubles cannot follow and the stress and worries of everyday life cease to exist.
Looking outside, I see the trees, static in motion. The stillness of the air is calming. I decide to submerge myself further into nature’s tranquility, so I leave my house, bringing with me nothing more than a stand-up paddleboard and a paddle. My destination: the place where land meets water, the place where I can forget my worries and enjoy the feeling of absolute bliss – June Lake.
I arrive, and before long I find myself wading into the shallows, making the elemental transition from earth to water. The initial shock of the cold is uninviting; my body tenses, but I walk on. I feel the warmth begin to take effect as I adjust to the cold. The farther I stray from land, the more my thoughts and problems seem to lessen their grip. As I walk deeper and deeper and the water begins to rise, I feel lighter, as if more of my troubles are being freed. Once the depth is great enough, I mount my paddleboard and begin my adventure. As I stand, I feel an ever-so-slight breeze against my wet body. The gentle, cooling wind is countered by the motherly warmth of the summer sun. I feel her rays shining down upon me as if she is smiling at my peacefulness. I look around the perimeter of my board and see only the dark blue of the lake. There’s something about standing on water with hardly a soul in sight that’s relaxing.
As I row, I am blessed with the marvelous sights and sounds of nature. I hear the songs of the native birds and watch as they dance through the air, twisting and twirling with joy. I look to the shore and see squirrels in the trees, preparing themselves for the winter to come. As I circle around the lake, I pass through reeds and watch as schools of fish weave in and out of the underwater forest. I feel out of my own body, as if the unnatural world has halted, leaving only nature for me to experience. Everything I was concerned about before – every unsolved problem, every unfinished task – seems to have lost its power over me. I no longer feel troubled. I feel … free.
I lived in a city for the first 10 years of my life. While I was there, this feeling of peace was foreign to me. The sounds of birds replaced with the sounds of industry. Squirrels in trees replaced with machines. Schools of fish replaced with hoards of people. I have been fortunate enough to live in a place as beautiful and majestic as June Lake, and have learned a great deal about the world and myself in the process. I see how far humanity has come since its birth, and yet, I see how far it has strayed from its natural state. I feel that sometimes people need to stop, take a deep breath, and enjoy their surroundings without thinking or worrying or planning. I am thankful for the opportunity June Lake has given me to take in this deep breath, and I’m certain that I will continue to feel its effect even after I am away.
My face turned red and I began to wail. In no way, shape, or form was I about to get back into those ski boots. My instructor tried to explain: I was in pain. I was stubborn. It was cold. He had done everything he could. But this man had never met my father. My dad effortlessly knew how to decipher the tactics of a three year old, and within fifteen minutes I was back outside with my snow boots rather than ski boots clipped into my bindings. Today, the minute my eyes meet the mountains carpeted in white, the tensions in my body slowly begin to ease, my lungs fill with bliss, and the blanketed mountains absorb my troubles.
I have my dad to thank, for pioneering my deep-set fixation with snow. My fascination developed as my trips into the mountains became more frequent. The Sierras became a common ground that served as the foundation for a stronger relationship between my father and me. Every time a storm began rolling in over Mt. Tom, and the sky gradually dimmed, an exchange of looks is all it took. With Santana or Aerosmith screeching out of the speakers and a truck in four-wheel drive, we’d make our way into the storm. I could always tell a good day by the temperature of my teeth, and the rawness in my lungs. Wind, snow, or shine, I never could keep a smile off of my face. The two of us would laugh at the sheer absurdity that we were perhaps the only people who’d be so desperate as to embark on a skiing venture in the middle of a white out. But that’s the thing; we were desperate. Our chronic desire to seek out snow drove us to a point so pivotal that we couldn’t contain ourselves. We’d throw our heads back and laugh out of pure contentment, looking up into the vast white cloud of sanctity, wishing moments like these could last forever.
It’s as if some unspoken language exists between the snow, my dad, and me. The minute I looked into his eyes at the USC Orthopedic Center, I knew that this season things would be different. While my dad is no longer able to join me in my skiing endeavors, we still share a common bond with the mountains. The moment someone mentions talk of a large winter, his eyes light up and I know that our minds cross paths for that split second in time. Sometimes watching the clouds roll in over Mt. Tom I wonder why my dad’s been challenged in such a way. I can see that this physical barrier eats away at him. Sitting in his stale, white, hospital room he leaned over and hoarsely murmured, “It’s your turn.” And he was right. I find resound comfort in the fact that his love for the mountains and life-long passion lives on through me. He fully matches my excitement to ski with his support. While our days on the hill are concluded, our mutual bond is as strong as ever.
In a time where people are most concerned about the latest Facebook update, or the trendiest pair of designer jeans, the mountains provide an escape, an escape from society, technology, materialism. The outdoors provide an education incomparable to that of a classroom setting. The Sierras gave me the opportunity to turn theory into application. They gave me the opportunity to kindle a life-long relationship with my father. Their unique ability to narrow the generation gap, and foster a sense of love, and common-passion, leaves me utterly awe-struck.
Madison Pauly is a Senior at Bishop Union High School. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys spending time outdoors, skiing, hiking, climbing, and volunteering in the community. Upon graduation, Madison plans to attend a four-year college or university majoring in Business.
Blossoms of Bodhi: The Alpine Flowers that Changed my Perception of Myself
By Rachel Molina
Mt. Whitney is 14,505 feet tall. The hike to its summit is 22 miles long. When one stands at its highest peak on a clear day, they can see where the vast, curving dome of the sky touches Utah. The alpine wind is as harsh and cold as the blade of a knife and there is melting ice near its pinnacle even during the summertime. Whitney is a challenge to its surrounding mountains and to those determined enough to climb it in its hugeness. It sports rocky, sun-scorched peaks from which all plant life is repelled. All plant life, that is, but a particular species of purple flower – the Sky Pilot – that clings to life in the vicinity of the base camp near Whitney’s zenith.
When my father, my younger brother, and I made the trek up Mt. Whitney last summer, I might not have noticed the small clusters of pale purple and blue scattered along the rocky countryside had my slightly-out-of-breath father happily pointed them out to me. We paused to photograph them, the frigid air running its fingers through our hair and whistling piercingly in our ears.
The Sky Pilots are delicate and beautiful in the fragile way that fine china or crystal is delicate and beautiful. If I were to reach out and touch one of the pale petals trembling in the wind, it might have shattered. The face of each miniscule blossom peers between the sand-papery, dimly jade leaves of stems that seem to sustain the plant as much as they subdue it. Each twisted, yet inexplicably elegant knot of these flowers blooms from the mouth of a crack along the austere, craggy mountainside. They sprawl over russet and sand-colored stone in places where there is no shelter from the glare of the sun or the sting of the wind, but, despite their apparent fragility, they appear to be unfazed by their exposure. Each flower’s dainty face is slightly upturned, perhaps in tacit defiance, as it refuses to budge from its rocky home, to bow to the harshness of its environment, to shrivel in the brilliance of the sun. They are not afraid to face their hardships, and they endure them with steadfastness and eloquence. If they had voices, these flowers might entertain the occasional passersby with tales of their youth, of their adversities, of the icy alpine wonderland about which they must know more than I or anyone else. They would tell jokes of an intelligent, dry flavor, and I would laugh. They would divulge the meanings of their personal existence, and I would listen. Every time one of these flowers sprouts it is a victory, and every time one meets its death, it is silently tragic.
Perhaps Sky Pilots are simply fortunate. Perhaps they bear nothing, have little to discuss, and even less of an ability to listen. Perhaps they are nothing but flowers. I, however, find that the minute, violet-petal’d flora dwelling between the rocks near Mt. Whitney’s windswept summit are inspiring in their endurance and their strength. In a very subtle way, encountering those flowers changed my perception of myself; who I was, who I aspire to be. I figure that if those petite, seemingly-fragile flowers can survive in their environment, I can survive in mine.
Rachel Molina is a 17-year-old attending Bishop Union High School. She has lived in the Eastern Sierra for her entire life and currently resides in both Swall Meadows and Bishop. In her spare time, Rachel enjoys writing novels, conducting scientific experiments with the Earth to Sky group, and playing the violin, the viola, and the trombone. After high school, she hopes to major in astrophysics and music at UC Santa Cruz.
By Annakate Clemens
As I crossed the road across from the trailhead I felt anticipation for the hours ahead. The ground changed from pavement to an unbeaten path and the shade of the trees sheltered me from the hot summer sun. I felt where I belonged. However the distant rush of a passing car still reminded me that I wasn’t where I longed to be, completely immersed in the natural world. I urged on away from the road; I passed under trees: jefferys, lodgepoles, sugarpines, and my personal favorite, aspens. A slight breeze caused the light green leaves to flicker under the sun’s rays. They danced, creating a melody on the otherwise quiet trail. The slight rustle of the dancing leaves set my mind at ease, let me escape from the troubled world and just enjoy the serenity of such a simple sound. And suddenly it was gone. The trail had curved upwards, bringing me out of the song and dance of the aspens down below. The trail led steeply upwards, it was the mountain’s equal, shaping to every contortion. My body ached as I pushed myself over the uneven surface. Eventually I stopped and turned, and the whole of June Lake was revealed to me. Off nestled in the mountains, houses turned into little boxes, their features blurred by sheer distance. Mono Lake sat past the hills, acting as an ocean to the much smaller lakes surrounding June. Taking one last sweep of the view, I turned and was met by the stark approach of the dark clouds ahead casting darkness as they gathered. They weren’t ominous or threatening but hovered ahead promising rainfall. As they drifted lazily in from the north I set forward, determined to finish my journey. Over one more ridge, with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction, I reached my destination: Fern Lake. The mountains embraced the lake in its arms and expanded outwards. I circled the lake until I found the perfect spot, a few rocks to rest, eat lunch, and bask in the beauty of nature. My muscles relaxed, my mind at ease, my goal achieved, nothing could be more perfect, until I felt a slight drop land on my arm. I gazed at the heavens and welcomed the cool rain falling as a mist of diamonds. I had escaped the bustling world and came to a rest in the natural world, the original world, the cleansed world. Off in the distance, I wondered at the raw, untouched land. Wishing I could disappear into the world God had made.
I had made my escape but, thinking back, even the trail that had led me here held the touches of mankind. I live in the most beautiful place in the world, yet hardly ever get to truly experience it. Most of us don’t; we don’t appreciate the world we live in. The people of Mono County have forests in their backyards that many travel hundreds of miles to explore. So why don’t we take time every day to immerse ourselves in the surrounding landscape? Yes, we may be busy with day-to-day life in the so-called real world. However these tasks aren’t the most important part of life. The real world is the natural world. It is untouched and untainted by society’s greed for expansion and materialistic objects. The place we live in is special, and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Disappearing into the natural world is one of the best things a human being can experience. Essentially, when we enter the forests of our country, we are returning home.
My name is Annakate Clemons and I attend Lee Vining High School. Coming from a rural school and community I always longed for the experience of a larger city. However, after working for the Forest Service’s YCC program for a summer and exploring the Eastern Sierras more, I changed my mind and now fully appreciate the place where I grew up. I enjoy hiking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. I enjoy long-distance equestrian riding and traveling. I plan on attending a university in California, preferably near or in Santa Barbara.
By Mary Rossi
When the baby won’t sleep, many parents will try to soothe it by taking it for a ride in the car. My dad had a similar strategy, except his vehicle was just a little different. My mom would fill up my Barney bottle, my dad would saddle up his old bay horse, and we would go out on a trail ride until I would doze off, which worked like a charm every time.
The moment I got home from the hospital, my dad lifted me up and placed me on the back of his old bay. He got a fair bit of scolding for that from my mom, but I’m almost sure it’s what ingrained my natural affinity for horses. When I was two, my dad had brought home every little girl’s dream, a pony, which was gifted to him from his good friend, Garret Spoonhunter. I creatively named him Ponyboy, and we were almost inseparable. I would climb up on a stump that was in his corral, and jump on his back just to mosey around that little pasture until dinner time.
When I got a little older, vehicles with a little more umph had piqued my interest. When I was six, my dad would let me sit in his lap and steer the truck, an opportunity I would always seize to scare my mom as badly as possible. When I was nine, I was driving the truck myself while my dad would check his trap lines.
All along, I’ve seen some of the most beautiful parts of the country while exploring on horseback or in the truck. One adventure I will always remember took place on the way to my dad’s secret fishing hole in the White Mountains with my cousin, Lisa, who stayed with us that summer. We were almost there when Lisa gasped and pointed all the way on top of a hill, where there was a Big Horned Sheep, who appeared to be posing just for us (at least that’s how I remember it). Then I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, and suddenly there was an entire bunch of Big Horned Sheep crossing the road just behind us. There were two rams, many ewes, and even a few kids. I’ll never forget the kids jumping from rock to rock under the watchful eyes of their mothers, not a care in the world. After watching them until they were out of sight, we kept driving until we arrived, at which point we saw a Red Tailed Hawk. Lisa is from the innercity, so this entire experience was absolutely world-rocking for her, so when she got her camera out to take a picture of him, he flew away – right over our heads, and she got the most perfect picture. That night, we dined on fresh-fried trout, which definitely topped off our day in the White Mountains.
I’ve been unbelievably blessed by being born and growing up in this valley. There are things here that are not comprehendible to people who have been born in a different environment. Our awe inspiring views often lure tourists to the side of the highway to take pictures of the Sierras, whereas my friends and I have grown up running around on the many trails they have to offer. Camping, trail riding, fishing, hiking, and everything that we’ve all done at least a hundred times has given us an appreciation for nature that is much harder to acquire differently. Nestled between the Sierra Nevadas and the White Mountains, the Owens Valley is one of the most interesting, beautiful places on the planet. So, in conclusion, I know how easy it is to take this place for granted, but when you think to, stop and take a minute to appreciate just how lucky we are to live here.
Mary Rossi is currently a senior at Big Pine Unified High School. She is very involved in the community through her various clubs and extra curriculars. Mary would like to acknowledge her father for being her major inspiration both in this writing and in everyday life.
By Evan Richman
Heart pounding, eyes wide and stomachs turning as the car pulls into the deserted parking lot. Doors slam, as the parking lot neighbors build anticipation, hollering, “Better get your snorkels out for this one, this powder is going to drown you.” My breath comes in short rasps, my feet slide into the familiar orange molded casts called ski boots. Like well-trained soldiers, we’re prepared, no screwing around, this is one of those rare powder days.
Bindings click, perhaps it’s the euphoria of powder that is impairing our ability to speak, nothing but smiles and wild eyes scan the mountain. The chairlift creaks the corner, lifting us up towards the beginning of what will be nothing less than epic. Chaos unfolds as I exchange ideas of where the most untouched powder will be found with Sam. We plan to take full use of this untouched white substance. As if the skiing god himself gently sat on my shoulder whispering sweet nothings, we both knew what runs would produce the most epic sensory overloads. An eternity passes until the chairlift reaches the destination, final checks are performed; beacon clicked on, leashes attached, poles strapped up, and bodies prepared.
Standing motionless hanging over the edge, replaying the cliff drops, the rocks to avoid, like a veteran quarterback, we were born prepared. Two poles click, a quick glance at my friends, the music ambles on from my iPod, then what? Like bullets from a gun we fire out into the unknown. Gliding carefree turn after turn, mouths frosted, nothing but bliss courses through the veins. Disbelief ensues as the powder sprays deep into the refines of our clothes, this is skiing. Between the face shots the first cliff beacons for attention, the adrenaline kicks into overtime, no time for second guesses. The endless powder turns into nothing as the ground gives out beneath my trusted skis, 360 performed gives me a quick view of the conquered cliff. Stomped, like falling into a cloud, setting up the next turn as the air snakes up another mouthful of snow. My mind is on the verge of explosion, the utter jitters of my body is the result of sensory overload.
A burning sensation tingles from my thighs, begging for a quick break. A quick once over, find Sam, Kyle, Daniel, and make sure we are all in close proximity. The storm rages on, casting a deep gray color over the mountain while spewing more snow to the fortunate locals below. I am unable to comprehend how my tracks are already half filled. Finally, the four of us come screeching into the lift line. The red jacket, black beanie, colored backpacks are covered in whiteness. This is exactly what we dream of, half asleep in English, attempting to listen as the teacher rambles on. Uneasiness settles on the mountain, the wind calms to a light breeze, the snow falls straight down, a quick glance into the sky shows only white specks falling ever so gracefully to the ground. A quick breather on the lift, more idiotic ski gabble, and we are ready for run number two.
For the next few hours, your mind is carefree, nothing else matters but that next turn, that next cliff. Powder is my medicine. The locals screaming the classic skier lines in the air, the genuine smiles, the joy;nothing beats the experience of fresh tracks and good company.
My mouth wide open, frozen to the tongue, lets out a small chuckle. The experience of another great powder day is in the books. A perfect day, my sanity has been restored.
Hi my name is Evan Richman. I am currently completing my senior year at Bishop Union High School. I’ve lived in Bishop my whole life. I enjoy participating in multiple activities ranging from football and hockey, to hiking, backpacking, and skiing – while also, of course, keeping my grades up. After high school I plan to attend a four-year university that is close to epic skiing. And in the words of Warren Miller, “Gotta use your brain, it’s the most important part of your equipment.”