Of Ice Cows and Going Home

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

We came down from the mountains above Tioga Pass the other day with the sound of the gate closing behind us.

The ice was still sweet, the lake was still broad and sunlit and crazy with the sound of children laughing and the fine, light sound of thin silver skate blades cutting spirals atop the frozen water. Even on this day, in the face of the incoming storm, a child rides the silver sheet of molten glass, sitting on top of an eight-inch-thick chunk of broken ice, pushed by her sister across the bright ice at blinding speeds. She crashes into another broken chunk and it shoots off like a hockey puck, skimming the lake until another child stops it and jumps on. Her brother repeats the process and the two of them shoot north toward their parents.

Another child has a rope he swings over his head; a cowboy lassoing another chunk of ice like lassoing a balky cow. He walks proudly to the shore with his parents, the roped ice-cow following, then breaks down in tears when his dad tells him they can’t take the ice cow back to Fresno with them in the car.

A family spins and twirls and falls down, over and over again, just for the fun of it. They don’t have ice skates on; they probably don’t even own any. It doesn’t matter.

It’s magic just the same.

But the wind was blowing fast and hard from the west, spinning across the mountains and trees and granite like a restless animal, tearing at our clothes and hair.

“Time to go,” it said. “Time to go.”

So, we went. We got to the Tioga Pass gate just in time to miss being locked into Yosemite National Park, racing an incoming storm that would close the road, at least for a while this drought-stricken year.

But it was hard to leave.

For the past few months, ice had been king up there. With no snow for weeks, with freezing temperatures and clear and windless days, the ice at Tenaya Lake had been perfect.

Spinning through the night under a full moon, peering through the clear, clear ice at fish, racing the sun in late afternoon, picnicking on the bare sand beaches in weather warm enough for shirtsleeves; this lake had held magic within its arms for many weeks, until the gates closed, sending most home for the winter.

It's still there right now, as a long, snowless November stretches into December, but you'll have to work a bit harder; it's an eight mile hike from the lower gate on Tioga Pass Road to the lake now.

Go on.

Get out there.