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Nighthiking Melanie Dylan Fox The season is over. I know it in the way the air tastes first thing in the morning when I look out my cabin window past the trees. The grass in Round Meadow is brittle, dry and low. AU summer the meadow has been taU with grasses and flowering plants. I take the nature trail to work every day, a path that I have used since my first summer here in Sequoia National Park. This "Trail for AU People" follows a short, concrete loop around the meadow. I walk slowly, stopping to look at the different plants. Each summer I discover a new wildflower I haven't noticed before.Velvety stickseed produces both pink and sky-blue flowers. The flowers rest in bright clusters at the top oflong, narrow stems covered with green hairs. They are soft and fine to the touch. The plant is caUed stickseed because it attaches prickly fruits to whatever touches it—a way of spreading seeds and ensuring its survival. My favorites are yeUow-throated gilia, sometimes caUed mustang clover. The plant has smaU flowers, almost unnoticeable, that favor the dry, rocky areas ofthe forest. Often they grow like grass near rough outcroppings ofsharp, granite boulders. The ones up here at this elevation have five lavender petals with a starburst of yeUow in the center surrounded by spots of black and white. Few plants bloom this late in the season. The meadow looks brown, tired, without color. The indigo colored elderberries I always stop to pick are now hard and bitter to the taste. We wiU have to wait until next year when they are again sweet with juice before we can make wine. I make a fuU pot ofcoffee before I remember that most ofthe others have already left the park for the season. Every morning, several friends and I would sit outside my cabin, drinking coffee around a smaU wooden table that my brother made as a birthday present. They have left to spend their summer wages on traveling and visiting friends before they arrive at their 85 86Fourth Genre winter destinations—ski resorts in Lake Tahoe, Steamboat Springs, a large hotel in theVirgin Islands. I suddenly remember that no one wiU be here for coffee this morning or the next. When the sun breaks through the dense tops ofthe taU trees I will sit alone in front ofmy cabin in a white plastic lawn chair. The mugs that my friends have used aU summer are still unwashed in the stainless steel sink. They wül remain that way until I begin packing to leave. I wiU wrap them in faded newspapers and place them into a box in the back ofmy car. I know that the season is over in the way the ceramic mug in my hands doesn't warm my fingers and the murky Italian coffee cools faster than I can drink it. What I taste in the air is süence. The absence of children's screams and laughter. The absence ofparents with stül-sleepy vacation voices caUing to them to quiet down, behave. My cabin is at the edge of the guest lodging , and the tourists' voices and laughter have awakened me every day for the last four months. Even the animals, the chickarees and golden-mantled ground squirrels, move through the forest with a quiet urgency I didn't notice yesterday. They dig in the thick layer of pine needles and bury sugar pine cones that they wiU return for later in the winter. There is a stiUness in the air of leaves about to faU. The equinox is stiU a week away, but ifI close my eyes and breathe deeply I can pretend it is autumn in the Midwest and I am in my parents' backyard. The scent is so familiar, almost imperceptible at first, and it fiUs my lungs and clings to my hair. For as many times as I have done this before, for as many endings as I have known in this park, I am always surprised. I am never prepared when it happens. One morning in September I awaken with a sadness I can't explain. Like...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-1733
Print ISSN
1522-3868
Pages
pp. 85-93
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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