The Ice Cream Mountains

November 7, 2011

in Trip Blog Posts

  • SumoMe

Sunday, October 8, Ashland, Oregon

As one drives north on I-5 and nears Red Bluff in the northern reaches of California’s Great Central Valley, Mount Lassen to the northeast, and Mount Shasta, dead-ahead, begin to loom like volcanic ice cream cones through the bug-spattered windshield above the car’s dashboard.

In July or August, when I am usually traveling this route bound for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at Ashland in Southern Oregon, mid-day temperatures approach 90 degrees, Lassen looks like a melting scoop of chocolate with a lightning-bolt drizzle of marshmallow creme slithering sideways down its western flank.

And Shasta is a yet bigger scoop of Rocky Road, flecked with bits of white, with adjacent Black Butte seeming to be a big chunk that toppled off in the heat when one of the mountain god’s little toddlers became distracted and allowed his ice cream cone to dip to the northwest.

But when summer fades away, and fall arrives, winter can make at least a cameo appearance weeks before Earth closes out it’s annual run around the solar system.  On a September trip twenty years ago to Crater Lake in the Oregon Cascades, fall begat winter, winter begat spring, spring begat summer, and summer begat fall, all within the span of four days.

I have attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival many times since my first visit to Ashland in 1973.  My favorite theater experience is sitting under starry skies on a balmy summer evening while watching a performance on the Festival’s Elizabethan Stage.  But his year, for the first time, I am in Ashland in October, to witness the candle-lit closing of that theater after the final performance of the season.

It’s twenty to thirty degrees cooler than in summer.  A few days before my arrival, a storm had swept south from the Pacific Northwest to the San Francisco Bay Area.  So as I drove  north, Lassen had changed its flavor to vanilla, and Shasta was two-scoops of the same, with just a few veins of mocha running through it.

As I walked along the Bear Creek bike path this morning after breakfast, fish-scaly clouds, mare’s tails—wispy streaks of ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, and dish-rag gray layers of stratus, spun over the valley in which Ashland sits, portending the change forecasted in the weather from today’s dry and sunny to tomorrow’s damp and drizzly.

Tonight, the only stars I see will probably be those strutting across the Elizabethan Stage.  As I write this just before 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the National Weather Service radar is showing showers falling, at least at higher elevations near Ashland, and the satellite photos suggest that by the time the curtain goes up on Love’s Labor’s Lost at 8 pm, the heavens will be lost in clouds.

Instead of the “Aloha” shirt that I might have worn on a summer evening, long underwear, a heavy sweater, down parka, gloves and a wool hat, will make up my play-going costume.  When The Bard’s work has played itself out on-stage at 10:30 tonight, a hot toddy, rather than a cold beer, will be what I’ll be longing for.

And when I wake up Monday morning, ice cream mountains may have entered stage-left and stage-right, to the east and west of Ashland.

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