Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mammoth Trout & Forest Bathing

Last weekend was my husband’s family reunion, of sorts. Just the immediate family - mother, father, 3 brothers, their wives and a couple of dogs . The occasion was fishing and the location, a family hangout for many years, Mammoth Lakes.

We drove up from southern California along Hwy 395, through miles and miles of dry, mostly deserted, barren, hot desert. The occasional Joshua Tree dotted the landscape, adding some visual interest to an otherwise monotonous stretch of beige nothingness. Dilapidated buildings, the occasional gas station, rest stop, and home-made jerky stand were all we saw for hours. After sweating through 95 degree heat in a car with non-working air conditioning (!) the road started its ascent after Bishop. As we climbed, the car’s outside temperature gauge literally went down one degree after another every minute, eventually reaching the high 60’s. Ahhhhh, relief! Not only was the temperature change a welcome relief, but so were the sights. As the road gained elevation, the landscape also changed. Brown desert gave way to green pines, sand gave way to craggy mountains.

As we exited the highway into Mammoth Lakes, my husband and I recognized stores and restaurants we’d been to the last time we were here and we were glad to see many of them were still in business. Of course, his memories go back much farther than mine. Childhood summers and winter vacations were spent at the condo his parents had once owned here.

Mammoth in the winter

We were too early to check in to the condominium his family had rented for the weekend, so we drove past the street where we would have turned, and went a bit further up the road to Twin Lakes. Glad to get out and stretch our legs again, we were blasted with gale force winds we hadn’t expected. We took a few pictures, but the wind just about blew us over. Undeterred from enjoying this idyllic place we hadn’t seen in a long time, we got back in the car and continued up the road and crossed the bridge over the lake. You could see the waterfall best from this vantage point. We were both thinking the same thing: someday we would have to camp here. Twin Lakes Campground is small but beautiful, each campsite nestled among trees and shrubs, virtually private from its neighbors. One place I had never seen was the top of the waterfall that feeds Twin Lakes. What an amazing view! (Later I was to learn that it had appeared in a Toyota commercial).

The mountains had the last remnants of snow at their peaks – just enough to remind us that winter had passed but that summer hadn’t quite yet arrived. Despite a lackluster season, snow melt created ample water to feed these lakes. Fishermen in their little aluminum boats bobbed around on their surfaces with rods dangling in the water, hoping to catch something. I was hoping the men in this family would be successful, too. Dinner the second night depended on it!

As evening approached we realized it was time to head to the condo where the rest of the family had probably already arrived. After all the greetings and unpacking the car, dinner was quickly assembled and we tucked in. It had been a long travel day for all of us.

Lake Crowley, 15 miles from Mammoth Lakes
The following morning, as sandwiches and goodies were packed, the men were sent off to fish Lake Crowley. The women headed out to sightsee. We headed to the lakes (I didn't mind seeing them again) and drove past the Mammoth Mountain ski resort up to the summit for a panoramic view of the Minarets, as well as other mountain peaks and alpine meadows. The sky was blue, the air clear, everything breathtakingly beautiful.

Throughout the day we had been getting periodic text message updates from one of the brothers with the # of fish caught. For a while, it was looking kind of grim. I was thinking that maybe we should give them the address of the nearest supermarket to stop at along the way! At the end of the day they came home with enough to feed the 10 people we would have for dinner. Fresh trout for everyone!!
Lake trout
My brother-in-law, Steve, is a really good cook, and he was in charge of preparing them.  He left the fish whole and into the cavity placed a twig of rosemary, lemon slices, salt and pepper and sliced onion. Then he grilled the fish whole for 7 minutes per side and let them rest for a couple of minutes before cutting off the head and tail and filleting them.

We each received half a fish, which was plenty, with all the other food we had. There were green beans almondine, rice salad, and Greek salad. It was a great feast and everything was so good. The fish was of course the main attraction and absolutely wonderful. Moist and juicy and incredibly fresh (like 'hours' fresh, not 'days'). 

That weekend I realized that there is something sort of primal in catching and preparing your own food - a link to times when people had to rely on themselves. Today's "hunting" at the supermarket doesn't provide that same feeling. To go out and "hunt and gather" for oneself provides a greater appreciation and respect for the food we eat, since there would also have been times one would have had to go without.  
I fished with my husband and father-in-law on that very same lake many years ago. I had caught the first fish and at the end of the day had caught the most. There was a sense of accomplishment there, I will admit. But my favorite part of being in the mountains is the time spent outdoors. I find that very primal, too. I recently read that a great way to recenter yourself is to engage in "forest bathing". I thought this was a great term to describe spending time in natural settings. I do feel "bathed" when I see the beauty of sweeping vistas, alpine lakes and meadows, and snow-capped  rugged mountains. It renews and refreshes.

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