September 1st, I hiked into the most popular, hiking destination here on the Tahoe National Forest in the Central Sierra Nevada of California: Loch Leven Lakes. I'd been there several times. By writing magazine articles about the vicinity as a great fall destination, I too have sung the praises of the area. However, I try to avoid the beautiful lakes during hectic summer seasons. When I return, I come in the back door, the Salmon Lake Trail. In the 18 years I've lived here, the main trail from Big Bend off I-80 has been pounded and washed away from a good trail to much of it little more than an eroded channel of ankle-punishing stepping stones. Too many of us are loving this once natural location to death.
That day on the cusp of fall, my memories anticipated the returning hues of the season. Colorful willows and other shrubs dotted around the cobalt blue lakes have always inspired me. Each fall, waters of high-mountain lakes seem even more azure against the cornflower blue of skies streaked by, at least, five shades of white, bulbous clouds. By displaying flamboyant yellows shining with the vivid glow of hundreds of candles, the few quaking aspen in the area always find time to celebrate another year of survival in this rugged landscape. Their leaves flicker as vividly as flames fluttering in the tiniest of breeze. Their bright, neon yellow, twinkling lights glow against the muted gray granite and dark green trees as prayer candles in church. For me, just as inspirational.