December 14 (1977, 1979, 1984, 1985, 1997, 2005)
A Glimpse of Earth's Halo ~ More Cloud Bows

12/14/77   morning. clouds and occasional sprinkles persist.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

12/14/79   sunny morning. nights have been restless since the burn, and I tend to fall asleep early, wake up around midnight, and have a heck of a time sleeping again.

last night though, i was rewarded by a brilliant show. i rolled up a big joint around midnight, turned off the light, and lay back on the couch. it's near new moon now and the stars are very bright. i admired them and saw a shooting star. then another. and another. i could see, i estimated, 1/15 of the sky out my big window, and there were at least ten meteorites per minute visible. i moved the couch over to the window so i could see more sky. from my new position jupiter and mars high in the east. i noted that the meteorites were continuing to fall at a steady rate. Some were faint traces; some were fireballs glowing brighter than venus for an instant.

then i was rewarded by a faint shimmering golden curtain that whisked across the sky and vanished: my first glimpse of the earth's halo, the aurora borealis. i watched and waited for a long while after that, but it did not return.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

12/14/84   a rare, sunny morning [...]

Skiing planned for tomorrow with Kelly and Mitty, but a storm is forecast to arrive and deep snow down to 2000' elevation.”


The canyon wren prowls around the cabin, as has become its habit on sunny mornings. Sometimes it spends so much time exploring and gleaming tiny insects from every part of the cabin, that I begin to find its high-pitched chirp-buzz of a call-note irritating.

I've been out skiing quite a bit so far this year. Six or seven times.

My latest videogame is ‘Ms. Pac-Man,’ which I go to the Baxter Cafe to learn. I've become something of a fixture there.

The Smarts Crossing lawsuit has been duly filed and I served Seely myself, about a month ago. Since then I've done a title search, a tedious process, which has led me back to an Edward Pickering, who patented a homestead on the property in 1920.

I've also spent time at the Auburn Library, going over the microfilm of the old Dutch Flat Forum, published back in the mid-1870s. I've searched for a record of Smarts Crossing, and have not found it yet.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

December 14, 1985

Early Saturday morning; I'm wearing my down jacket, no fire, the days are too warm for a fire, the cabin holds the heat well enough in the evening hours, and the morning chill is soon abated.”


Rich abjured me to come and ski at Sugar Bowl. So I will. Maybe I'll finally get really good at telemarking this year. I mean, I'm already very good, and can ski all of the advanced runs at Sugar Bowl on my skinny skis; but I want to be terrifically good, and ski them all fast, jumping, with grace and elegance.


[Russell Towle's journal]



Since I wrote the previous entry, I was contacted by Dave Lawler, and did some mapping and reconnaissance work for him, involving a mining claim near Forest Hill, embracing a shady canyon with many tall Douglas firs and an understory of Pacific yews and Torreyas. Also some real tan bark oak trees, rather than the shrub form of that species, which is all I have ever seen this far south in the Sierra. Some hundred-year-old hard rock gold mines are on the property, with an old cabin, and the creek formed the dump for the Mayflower hydraulic mine long ago. It is BLM ground and Davis helping the claimant to demonstrate that it is in fact a viable mining claim. However, it is not, as it stands, although mining on a small scale has taken place in the small volume of hydraulic mine tailings left along the creek, over the past ten years, by a pleasant if alcoholic man who resides in the cabin. Which is a dreadful mess. In fact, there is trash all over the place. So it wasn't the most palatable job, to help defend a man's right to trash public land and post his “no trespassing” signs all over the place, while pretending to operate a mine.

I met with Dean Decker of the BLM last week too, and took him out to see the petrified wood parcel, and show him the road giving access to it, which may have been used to make the most recent large theft of petrified wood. Perhaps the parcel will be given some kind of “special resource area” classification, which will help in preventing further thefts and collections of petrified wood.

Dave Lawler and his girlfriend Pat came over on Friday, and Greg and I took them out to see the property corners I have discovered in recent weeks, in the petrified wood area. Greg is so wonderful, so friendly. As we walked through the diggings with the last light of day streaming in beneath the clouds of an approaching storm, and gilding the forest before us, he took their hands and walked between them.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

More Cloud Bows
[North Fork Trails blogpost, December 14, 2005:
The truly inimitable Julie reports on a recent adventure. As usual the geography is a little, well, vague. There are two trails to Mumford Bar, one from the south, near Westville, on the Foresthill Divide, the other from the north, near Government Springs, on Sawtooth Ridge.

The former is reached via Foresthill, the latter via Emigrant Gap and Forest Road 19, turning left onto the Helester Point Road. Julie went in via Government Springs.

To reach the North Fork is a hike of a few miles. The canyon is 3000 feet deep here and is deepening as one goes east.

She fords the river, and ventures up the American River Trail to the base of the Beacroft Trail, the next trail east, going up the Foresthill Divide from Mumford.

This is a hike of a few miles.

Then she and her friend return.

About cloud bows: the best treatment I have found was in a coffe-table book full of gorgeous color plates titled "Clouds of the World," by an airline pilot who always flew with his camera. This book came out around 1978 or so and is likely long out of print. Essentially, there are many types of ice crystals, in cirrus clouds, and related clouds. Each type has its own peculiar angle of refraction. Hence each type of cloud bow is located a certain angular measure from the sun; we call the line from our eye to the sun, zero degrees, and on the same line, produced behind us to infinity, is the anti-solar point, at 180 degrees. A particular type of cloud bow may be found only at an angular distance of degrees, for instance.

Sun dogs are those commonest cloud bows located on the "ring around the sun," the angular separation of which, I am embarassed to report, I do not recall; it might be 35.26 degrees.
So familiar sounding, the nature mysticism and cloud bows. Now when I see
them, they are still just as magical, but in a different way. Not because
they mean something, but just because they exist and I am lucky enough to
see them sometimes. I saw one yesterday (Tuesday) after a magnificent hike
down Mumford Bar with Kathi. We were in full sun almost all the way down,
and there was no snow in Emigrant Gap. At the river it was cold and shady ,
naturally, and it was painful to cross the water. 34 steps to take and the
pain sets in after 24! We proceeded up past the Mumford cabin, and lunched
at the wonderful roaring and thundering grotto near the bottom of Beacroft.
The day did warm finally in the bottom of the canyon and our crossing on the
return trip was much more pleasant. Then back into the warm sun up the
slope. We decided to top off the day with a visit to Big Valley Bluff, and
that is where we were treated to a sight of the sun dogs. One on either side
of the sun, as it settled into some low clouds. The moon was high and quite
large. The snow on surrounding peaks took on a peculiar steel blue color as
the sunset dwindled to dusk, truly one of the more dramatic sights I've
seen. And sun dogs too!   Julie
Quite a nice long walk! Thanks, Julie!

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