It was one of the last days of early fall, the days where the weather is warm but the air somehow has a bite of cold to it too. Up at 6000 feet in the Sierras, the chill in the air was more pronounced than in the valleys. The black cottonwoods had felt it, and their leaves were glowing a vibrant yellow. The creek had felt it too, and even though it hadnt rained for months, water was tricking down the rocks again, freed from the summer sun's evaporative oppression.

I was standing in a flat area inside the bend of the creek, and in a jagged line, following a small draw the creek had abandoned years ago, were 4 of the black cottonwoods, their leaves yellower than any others in the valley. They were tall enough to compete with the Jeffrey pines for light, but they also caught the fall wind. The yellow leaves were falling out, spiraling in the air before landing on the ground, leaving a pattern of brown, black, and yellow beneath the trees. I was looking up at the sky, watching the leaves spiral. Everything worked. The seasons were changing as they should. It made me laugh for a minute.

Suddenly, there was pain in my ankle. At first i thought a wild rose thorn had dropped into my boots. But the pain persisted, intensified, felt like it was pumping into my foot. I looked down, and a tiny yellowjacket was stinging me, through my sock. Apparently i was standing on it's nest. I doubt the little insect had any idea of the beauty of its surroundings; but it may have known that the yellow leaves meant that cold would come soon... it had to lay its eggs. I was most likely standing on them, and the wasp wanted me to move. I moved... ran and stuck my foot in the frigid creek water. The yellowjacket, although successful in its mission, was crushed in my boot, and dead. Upon arriving at the creekbank i noticed another yellowjacket, gnawing at my jeans, trying to sting me. I flicked it away, and it returned. After a few times i was out of options and ended up squishing it. It spiraled into the creek, just like the leaves... matching the yellow color as it swirled down the creek.

The cottonwood leaves were dying, falling into the creek. But the tree will live on... it is in an ideal location for its species. The yellowjackets died as well.. but even though my foot was sore for a while, i really do hope that their eggs will survive the winter and hatch in the spring under the shade of the cottonwood's new pale leaves. I'll still be wandering the Sierras too.. at least until my winter comes. Maybe if i can find a way, I'll stick around even longer. Either way, for that second somehow the pain made sense. The tree made sense. The creek made sense. The wind made sense. Sometimes, at very rare moments of life, everything just makes sense.

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