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Late Season at Lassen

At the edge of Lassen Volcanic National Park is a fumerole known as Terminal Geyser. In early summer, when the snow is melting off the firs and manzanita, the water flows through the raging steam and cascades over the rocks below. The hot spring devotees who visit the hot creek have constructed pools down the canyon that vary in temperature from scalding to barely warm. In early autumn, long after the snows have gone, the creek still runs, though only with the trickle that bubbles out from the fumerole. With so little water, even the first pools are nearly too cool.

I had come on a late September pilgrimage to the park and I woke up in darkness one morning to hike to the hot creek by sunrise. The sun was barely on the trees when I slipped into the hot pool below Terminal Geyser in the early morning coolness, with the mist coming off the water and the roar of the fumerole above. The odor of sulfur hung in the air, though not so much as to be unpleasant. I sat stretched out in the shallow pool with my hat over my face to block the sun. The water was only slightly above body temperature and I soaked for a long time without getting too hot.

As I soaked, I remembered the cloud of bats obscuring the evening sky as they flew above my road just east of Orland, in the northern Sacramento Valley. They had wheeled across the road, over the fields and into the darkness almost before they registered in my eyes.

On the way back to my truck in Warner Valley, I walked through a meadow of faded mule-ears, some of which still bloomed despite the time of year. Shortly past the meadow, I entered deep fir forest. As I walked, I caught sight of a magnificent buck standing without moving among the trunks. I stopped and we looked at each other for what seemed like hours before I moved on, still meeting eyes, until he was lost among the trees. Only a short distance more and a grey coyote whispered across my path with a quick glance in my direction.

Spilt Ink logo by Brian Kunde. Used by permission.

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Last modified, Jan. 22, 2001