Weathering the Storm

Tom in front of the snowbank in front of our house
Even old-timers in Yosemite hadn’t seen so much snow in 30 years. The storms started the weekend of March 19, and kept going through 11-15 feet. That’s right. Feet. Of. Snow. Roads closed as trees and rocks fell across the road, and plows failed to keep up with the snow. Power lines were also hit, knocking out power across the region – leaving people without lights, and without heat. On top of that, in our neighborhood of Yosemite West, our archaic water system sprung a leak, cutting off our water supply. For one night both the generator for communications and the battery back-up to that generator failed leaving residents deprived also of phone contact.

Tom and I missed most of the drama. Returning from a wonderful weekend in Bishop visiting a friend, we saw no need to wait for the convoy and fight our way INTO that situation when we had wonderful welcoming friends who were willing to host us for a few days. While friends dealt with 42 degree INDOOR temps, no hot showers, and the like, we were taking walks in the central valley sun, having dinner with friends, watching movies IN THE MOVIE THEATER – a rarity for us, and telecommuting happily from our computers, showering, doing laundry and enjoying central heat.

Looking out at our front porch
The thing that is really great about situations like this one is the way people come together and take care of each other. We had some renters staying in our house that first weekend, and are so grateful to all of the neighbors that pitched in to help make sure they were doing OK – raiding our upstairs apartment for non-cordless telephones that would work without power for them, shoveling and plowing, checking in, and helping to share information. (It helped that we had really cool renters too.) You can feel the community pulling together.

When we finally did return to the park on Sunday, we were greeted by many neighbors as we made our way down the single plowed lane to our house. One neighbor who’d stayed through the entire ordeal, and had been doing daily shoveling duty wandered down to our house with his shovel over his shoulder to help us dig out. Another neighbor with a bobcat plowed through the 10-11 foot berm in front of our driveway and created a spot for us to park, a third neighbor took some extra time with a plow to clear our street, and widen the mouth of the parking spot, and a forth neighbor, having finished his driveway drove down later to make sure we were doing OK. How could we not be OK with awesome neighbors like that?

That’s my Yosemite.

Mountain Storms

What an exciting week this has been!

Our planned trip to the East Side to visit a friend in Bishop was a catalyst for being on the outside of a whole bunch of crazy that has been going on in Yosemite. The stay in Bishop was wonderful. Ahough we didn’t get in as much skiing as we had anticipated, we enjoyed hanging out and being out of the valley.

Read More

Ladybug’s Picnic

Clusters of ladybugs
Clusters of ladybugs

Re-inspired by some questions from a couple from LA at the Visitor’s Center a few weeks ago, I decided I really needed to know more about lady bugs.

Turns out, ladybugs huddle together during the winter. This supposedly accomplishes three things. 1 – they stay warmer, 2- it’s a great time to meet other ladybugs and get it on, and 3- ladybugs are supposed to release some foul scent that deters predators, especially when they’re all crowded together. Whatever their reasons, seeing these masses of ladybugs is a pretty amazing sight.

Read More

Ahwahnee Fire and Life Safety Renovations

Sometimes there are great perks to my job.

I got to go on a tour of The Ahwahnee Hotel while the building is temporarily closed for renovations, and see first hand some of the amazing work that is being done there. There is so much going on! The whole place is buzzing with purposeful activity as teams of people are working on getting the renovations completed before the the hotel re-opens.

We have to be very careful of what is said about the project, because the PR people are watching everything like hawks, but I can honestly say that I was impressed by the amount of work being done, the attention to detail, and as they’re starting to reassemble various rooms, a very promising finished product. (Sorry for the lack of pictures, I don’t know which of them are approved.)

I can’t wait to see what it will look like when the tools are stowed, and the doors re-open in just over a week! It’s amazing how much will be accomplished in such a short time – so many different contractors working in parallel, trying to keep every aspect of the project moving forward in concert without getting in each others way. A very big round of applause should go out to the folks that are managing it! Some things will probably be obvious to the casual observer, like the remodeled public bathrooms. But there is also a ton of stuff going on behind the scenes, things like replacing ancient wiring, fixing leaky pipes, and adding unobtrusive fire alarm systems. And then there are all the environmental decisions (recycling and reusing carpet) and historic decisions (getting the original light fixture manufacturers to return to rehabilitate and refinish the dining room chandeliers, or preserving stenciling) that I hope will make the rounds as full stories in their own time.

I’ve always been more interested in stories of the natural Yosemite outside the doors of buildings, rather than inside, but these are times when the unique history of the building itself really comes to the fore, and walking through, I was struck with the feeling that we aren’t just observing history from the high and mighty seat of the present, but also actively participating in the ongoing story of that place.

Fun with Renters

Tom and I have been renting out the downstairs apartment in our house since June of last year, and it’s really been a wonderful experience so far. Our renters have been remarkably conscientious and have taken great care of our place. Plus, it’s been fun to meet people.

When we first started renting, I thought people would want privacy, and might even resent it if the ‘landlord’ dropped by, but that hasn’t been the case at all, in fact almost exactly the opposite. Most people have been happy to meet us, and sometimes take advantage of our experience in the Park to help plan their trip. This winter, we even had snowball fights and went sledding with one set of renters when a Sierra storm gave us all a snow day. That was a really fantastic day. Adult snow days come with shoveling in addition to a day off from work/school, but even so, they are an unexpected gift.

It’s such a good thing that Tom has such a naturally generous and outgoing nature. I think if it had been just me, I might have mistakenly hidden out upstairs trying to be inconspicuous instead of making the trip down to greet people.

Yosemite Forum – GIS in SAR

A small group of us went to the Yosemite Forum presentation today by Paul Doherty on using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help aid Search and Rescue operations. These once-a-month forums are a chance for the community, and the public at large to learn about some great ongoing Yosemite research.

Today we learned about how researchers are using GIS to try to facilitate Search and Rescue operations. GIS is a system of overlaying complex information on maps that allows you to plot relationships and visualize patterns over a geographical area, and make predictions about the behavior of populations. As a technology, it is already being used by a wide variety of researchers, and policy makers, as well as by fire management teams and rescue personnel. Paul’s preliminary research covers creating systems that will help rescuers anticipate how far a person might have traveled since they were last seen, and plot out a search strategy within that range, (GPS units can then also reveal exactly what ground rescuers have covered.) Finding safe landing areas for helicopters when they are needed for rapid evacuation, and trying to look for patterns in where people are injured and when to help manage resources.

What I liked about this talk, was that Paul has real in-the-field experience, and blends that nitty gritty academic interest with a very practical interest in giving search and rescue teams tools that give them the best possible chance of finding someone and getting them out safely. He pointed out a couple of times during the talk that Yosemite is lucky to have some amazing expertise, people who, after decades of experience, are shockingly good at SAR strategy, but those people won’t always be around, and these new tools can help even some of those with less experience make smart decisions in the field.

Meditation Seed

A friend returned to work today after taking a 10-day meditation retreat at nearby Dhamma Mahavana in North Fork, CA still reeling from everything that she had experienced there… and I don’t necessarily mean in a good way. Her description of what she went through pretty much terrified me. Correct that, terrifies me. Present tense. She was talking about pain – emotional and physical. Nearly beyond endurance.

So, after talking with Tom this evening, if I can get the days off, I’m going to sign up.

Maybe it’s a birthday challenge appropriate for a milestone birthday.

Maybe it’s something that deep inside I know is just what I need – even if it is excruciating to get there.

OK – but this can’t just happen in isolation, right? Time to start meditating now. Tom suggested 40 days of 40 min of meditation just prior to the retreat in a sort of birthday challenge style, but I feel like I would need to build up to even that.

Begin.

Plastic into Oil

We have a problem with plastic trash, and a fuel shortage. What if we could just take all that trash and turn it back into fuel?

Akinori Ito from the Blest Corporation has figured out a way to turn plastics back into oil, using a tabletop machine that allows you to feed plastics from the trash into one end and get burnable fuel out the other. At one point in the video, Akinori Ito is holding a bag of what looks to me like plastic recycling, and tells us that he doesn’t see garbage, he sees treasure.

It got me wondering if suddenly the North Pacific Gyre (aka Great Pacific Garbage Patch) is suddenly the new Saudi Arabia. And if the people and organizations trying to clean up that mess are buying up these machines left and right. (Did you know that you could take a working cruise to see and help clean up the North Pacific Gyre with Algalita?)

And if, like me, you wondered if this was too good to be true, Steve Machan, mentions in his blog and in an article for Technorati, a second machine that does the same thing – the Environ Oil Generator.

Is there hope for us (and our environment) yet?