Over the 54 years I’ve spent on the planet, I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in the mountains during just about every season - and just about every year. As a kid, we camped on the west slope of Sonora Pass every summer. We often took day trips in the spring and fall, and we skied at Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley in the winter. After college and before kids, my Dad and I camped and fished on the West Walker River each fall (including one October when the temperature never rose above 25F!). More recently, work and recreation have both taken me into the high country - fishing, camping, and backpacking in the summer; hunting in the fall; research and extension work all year long. Today, I spent most of the day on the Tahoe National Forest north of Truckee, retrieving the game cameras we put out as part of a livestock guardian dog study. And as usual, the trip confirmed that autumn in the high country is my favorite season in my favorite place in the world.
While we haven’t had any really stormy weather yet, we’ve had enough cool weather (and shorter days) to convince the high country to put on her fall wardrobe. The cottonwoods and brush on the west slope are starting to turn yellow; the aspens on the east side are spectacular. With overcast skies and a stiff breeze, the aspens seem to emit their own radiance - flecks of gold against the green of the ponderosa pine and red fir.
Autumn is a shoulder season in the northern Sierra - the summer tourists have left, and the skiers haven’t yet arrived. Serious fisherman know that fall fishing on Sierra rivers (especially those that flow east) is often the best fishing of the season - and I did see a few fishermen today. Only the most serious deer hunters are out during the middle of the week - and Zone X7a, where I was today, has a limit on the number of tags available. Once I left the pavement of CA-89, I saw a grand total of 4 other people. As I grow older, my curmudgeonly tendencies grow stronger; I thoroughly enjoyed the solitude today. In my mind, the mountains and their critters are similarly introverted. Autumn in the high country gives me the same feeling I have when company leaves our house - I miss our visitors, but I also relish the relaxation. The wind sighing in the trees today seemed to be more than simply a meteorological phenomenon.
I have been lucky, over my entire life, to have reasons to be in the Sierra in autumn. Whether for work or recreation, even the briefest trip to the high country this time of year rejuvenates and relaxes me. I suppose that’s part of what attracted me to deer hunting in my middle age - hunting is a chance to be in the mountains this time of year, and a chance to be quiet and observant. As our daughters have moved on to (and out of) college in other parts of the West, I’ve come to appreciate the seasons in the other great mountain ranges of our region - but I’ve never come across a place I love more than the Sierra high country in autumn.