From the rim of the hot springs, I languidly observed the approaching doe, who appeared interested in the delicate, soft grasses at the water’s edge. Two fawns crept up timidly behind her. With a start, the mother finally recognized the human presence and snorted sharply to her children to keep them back. She needn’t have bothered; I was scarcely interested in causing trouble, and my muscles were so relaxed from exposure to the steaming waters, I couldn’t have left the pool hastily if my life depended on it.
I had found paradise. The trailhead was twenty miles distant, and my job required me to report for duty in less than five days, but I was content to postpone the return journey while my body recuperated from three days of overexertion in the Sierra high country. The only labor I allowed myself on the first morning was to construct a granite throne within the largest hot spring pool, from which I could thumb through a paperback novel and enjoy the simple pleasures of being both warm and clean in the backcountry.
The afternoon was spent writing notes and drifting across a nearby pond on a discarded raft, traveling wherever the winds would take me. The pond was deep and groundwater-fed, with crystal-clear waters that allowed me to look down as I floated and see great aquatic plant forests rising up from the depths. I was entranced by the illusion of flight, feeling like a bird that was skimming silently above the treetops. Below, the drowned branches swayed gently back and forth, as if stirred by a silent, ghostly breeze.
Temperatures in the valley plunged soon after sundown, and all through the night, steam from the hot springs drifted across the meadows and settled as frost upon the grasses and willow leaves. I awoke the next morning to a silvery landscape, to which color was restored only after the sun had risen high into the sapphire sky. The ice had grown thick inside my water bottle, so I set it in a sunbeam to thaw, knocked chunks of icy debris from my cookpot and began dismantling my tent in preparation for a long day on the trail. Civilization was still distant, but my body felt re-energized after 36 hours of spa treatments; blisters were healed, overused tendons had begun to restitch themselves, and enough liquid heat had penetrated my limbs for my tired muscles to relax and regain their vitality.