Millions of Heartbeats To Come

The night’s thick with the sounds of birds – gulls, phalaropes, diving ducks, ospreys and hawks, calling to their kin, to their neighbors to the north, to the bears in the deeply departed glaciers, to the fish in the rivers. All was safe, if not for long, at least in this moment. And animals, it is well known, live for the minute in which their hearts beat, not for the millions of heartbeats to come.” – From “What Is Rightly Mine,” one of ten short stories from the collection, Cover This Country Like Snow.

Mono Lake is so unique on this planet only aliens would find it recognizable. It’s one of my favorite places on Earth and it’s the setting of my story “What Is Rightly Mine.”

More than 70 years ago, the City of Los Angeles began diverting water from Mono Lake’s tributaries. The ensuing years have brought lawsuits, passionate advocates, freshwater streams, seagulls, and the lake’s incomparable beauty together. For me, Mono Lake was so downright weird I became obsessed with it. To this day the view of Mono Lake from the vista point just south of Conway Summit still stops my heart.

To learn more about the lake and the fascinating environmental challenges it has faced, become a member of the Mono Lake Committee and read about the relationship between water for Los Angeles and the lake here. The Committee’s leadership has always been top-notch and their love of the lake will rub off on anyone who stumbles into the excellent visitor center and bookstore off of Highway 395 in Lee Vining, California.

In honor of the lake’s many amazing features, here are photographs by Carol Underhill, who has loved the lake and the Eastern Sierra as fiercely as me. Carol is a noted naturalist and amateur photographer who works for the United States Forest Service. She’s also my sister and I love her keen eye for composing nature in pixels and words. Check out her National Forest photo album – click here.

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Nearby volcanic cones and mountain peaks create intense weather as well as cloud formations that paint the wide expanse with gusto.

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An osprey alights on its nest.

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The strange and delightful tufa towers.

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Author and sister Carol camping alongside the Owens River, early 1980s

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