Chickaree in a Tree

Of all the wonderful animals that live in Yosemite, my favorite is the Chickaree.

Lately, two of these hyper-energetic and entertaining critters have been running through the yard on a regular basis, chasing each other generally being cute. One day, I grabbed a camera and decided to see if I could get a photo.
This lovely little guy (or gal), was kind enough to pose for quite some time, but I’m afraid he won’t be long for the world. After this photo session was finished, he scrambled down out of the tree and came straight toward me, passing within a few feet. Good thing I wasn’t a coyote!

Then, he turned around and repeated the act, approaching somewhat cautiously, and then darting by. This time, however, he ran up our back stairs and straight into the backboard of one of the steps with a loud clunk. Poor thing. He must have hit hard.
Maybe it wasn’t exactly nice, but I was in stitches. I’m often impressed by their quickness and dexterity, but I guess anyone can have an off day. He shook himself off, decided against climbing the remaining stairs and jumped down off our stairs and ran (sheepishly?) out across the yard.

I went back to work after having a good laugh. I love sharing space with these entertaining little creatures!

Internet Progress

In the midst of a kind of rough work day, Tom sent me an IM yesterday with good news on the internet front. We may soon have the opportunity to pay exorbitant amounts of money for slow internet! The tower construction is finished, and there should be the possibility of accessing a T1 line soon. Nothings certain until it’s certain, but I have my fingers crossed!

There are many great things about living in a national park. Easy access high-speed internet connectivity is not one of them.

And I don’t mean to understate the benefits of living here. I’m more than spoiled by the places that I can go for a lunchtime run, or a quick hike before or after work. I love it here. But especially as a new full-time remote worker, that lack of high speed internet can also be frustrating at times.

At our house, we don’t have cell phone reception, so cellular data is out. There is no DSL or Cable service. If you want internet, the only option until recently has been satellite. On the plus side, it works. And if you think about how amazing it is that you can shoot a computer signal into space and have it bounce down and turn into and email or web page, that’s pretty amazing all by itself. On the minus side, it takes a long time to go to space and back, so the connection has a long latency. Forget video conference calls.

The bandwidth is also limited.

Thanks to this, I’ve become painfully aware of just how much an idle iPhone, in sleep mode, constantly sips data from the internet. Unless we’re careful to turn off any auto upload, “on wifi only” functions, and carefully keep phones in airplane mode when not in use, we can burn through our monthly allotment of data in just a few hours… when the phone is “off”. Checking or sending email is easy, but we have to be very selective of which videos we watch, and streaming a TV show is pretty much out of the question.

The T1 line would still be quite the turtle by today’s “real world” standards at 1.5 Mbps – slower than the satellite connection’s top speed. However, the T1 is private. No one shares it, so the speeds are consistent. It won’t slow to a crawl evenings and weekends the way the satellite connection can. However, there is almost no latency. Satellite is a wider straw, but it’s long. T1 is a little narrower, but much much shorter.

And (TA DA!) there is no bandwidth limit. No more need to ration our internet consumption!

The $357/month fee is painful, but worth it. (No, that’s not a typo.)

Beautiful Rainy Weekend

colorful umbrellas at tunnel view
Hanging Out In The Rain At Tunnel View

A friend of mine really wanted to take advantage of the new moon tonight to test drive a new fancy camera. Another friend I haven’t seen in many months is coming for a weekend visit with her two boys. And it’s going to be raining. And that’s really, in the overall scheme of things, a great thing.

California still really needs the rain. It will be interesting to see the result of the April snow survey, but we’re hovering right around average now but with a big water deficit to make up for. You only need to look around at all the dead trees to see that lack of water is affecting the local ecology.

The forecast is for rain in Yosemite Valley and at our house in Yosemite West, but it’s still going to be cool enough that there will snow up at the higher elevations – snow that is going to be stored up for later on this summer when the weather get drier.

It’s getting warmer and it’s hard not to get ahead of the seasons, anticipating warm weather activities, but there are still some inspirational people going out and getting some great skiing at higher elevations.

Rain makes for some pretty dramatic scenery too. When the sky is a cloudless blue, there are masses of people out taking pictures with their phones and point and shoot cameras. When the storms roll in, that’s when you see the serious photographers with their big cameras come out. The clouds swirl around the Yosemite cliffs making them seem even bigger and lending a feeling of mystery about what lies beyond.

Rain also makes puddles. Don’t  underestimate those! Puddles are great for photography too, creating beautiful mirrors of the landscape everywhere. They are also great for splashing in. I’ve had great fun in the last year hunting puddles to splash in with a friend’s toddler.

And finally, I circle around to a Tim Ferriss Show podcast that I listened to recently where he interviewed Josh Waitzken. Josh is the chess prodigy who inspired the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, and who has since that time won national and world championships in martial arts, and now has a successful business coaching elite mental performers – currently mostly in the world of finance. He has lots of interesting things to say in that podcast, but the one that is relevant here, is that he started noticing that people put value judgments on the weather. “The weather is bad,” means it is raining. But actually, that’s arbitrary. Josh made a point of going outside to play with his son in every storm that comes through. When she visited us, my own Aunt Jaq would get up in the morning, walk outside to sniff the air, and stretch her arms up and say “Ah… it’s a beautiful day.” When we questioned that because it was raining, she said, “Oh, Honey, I decide before I get up that it’s going to be a beautiful day.”

That’s it. I’m fully planning to enjoy the beautiful weather in Yosemite this weekend. I’ll do some puddle splashing with my friend and her boys, take some photos, and revel in the great reason to curl up with some hot chocolate afterwards.

Firefall Video By Shawn Reeder

If you haven’t seen it already, be sure to take a look at the beautiful new-this-year video of the Horsetail Fall “Firefall” that happens in February when the conditions are right.

When we first moved to Yosemite, we were driving out of the valley on South Side Drive, came around a corner and were mesmerized by what seemed to be a waterfall on fire coming off the shoulder of El Cap. Quickly, we pulled off in to the pull-out (which had plenty of space) with just a few other people equally surprised and entranced.

I didn’t own a fancy camera or tripod back then, or a cell phone/camera, so I didn’t get the amazing image, but the experience of discovering the magical event is etched into my memory.

These days, when you come to Yosemite during “Firefall Season” the event is hard to miss. Photographers travel from across the country, and start setting up in the morning in order to claim their spot before the masses show up. NPS sets up cones and turns an entire lane of the road into a parking lot. By 2p, practically the entire corridor along the viewing angle is elbow-to-tripod with people, trampling vegetation and setting up lawn chairs in hopes that the day will bring just the right combination of sunshine and water to make Horsetail Fall light up.

And this year didn’t disappoint. It was the first year in many that the waterfall had enough water to be truly spectacular, but I didn’t go down to see it. Not even once. It’s OK. I’ve seen the amazing pictures, Shawn’s video, and I still have that memory of rounding the corner and enjoying Horsetail Fall magic in a wilderness setting.

Seasons In The Mountains

Bee hovering in front of wildflowers
Sipping from the Bird’s Eye Gilia

One of the great things about living in the mountains is being able to change out seasons by driving up or down in elevation. The same day I took the above picture at 3000 feet, people were skiing and snowboarding in beautiful spring snow conditions above 7000 feet.

I remember growing up in the mid-west that the first few snow days of winter might have been exciting and new, but by the time February or March rolled around I was just aching for the first warm days of spring. And they would arrive – warm and sunny at maybe 55 degrees F, and everyone, conditioned by months of bone-chilling weather, would be out in shorts and t-shirts throwing frisbees on the still-brown lawns.

Now, the moment that longing for spring weather hits, we can just drive downhill for an hour and find emerald hills, wildflowers, and soak in 70 degree temperatures.

Not to brag. But it’s nice living here.

Yosemite Nature Notes – Ski Yosemite

I always love Yosemite Nature Notes when they come out. The footage is beautiful and the stories are often informative. But this episode is particularly special to me… I was invited to be in it!

I feel like I have more to say about how much I love Yosemite’s winter season… but so much of it is beautifully captured in the video and gracefully expressed by Virgia and Josh and others in the video, that I think I’ll just let it speak for itself.

Thank you so much to Steve Bumgardner for allowing me to be a part of the production!

Yosemite Transition

As neglected as this space is from time to time, I thought it would be remiss not to at least mention the big changes that have been happening all around me this month.

On March 1, Aramark took over the Yosemite concession contract, and that ushered in a new cultural era for the park.

The public would be most aware of the name changes: The Ahwahnee has become the Yosemite Majestic Hotel. Yosemite Lodge at the Falls has been shortened to Yosemite Valley Lodge. Curry Village is Half Dome Village. Wawona Hotel adopted an old name, Big Trees Lodge, and Badger Pass has been stripped of character and renamed with the functional, if less poetic, Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area. There has been a huge outcry about this, and friends of mine have received threats and have been virtually screamed at by strangers who have only the vaguest idea of what is actually happening. Ultimately, though, I have to agree with Pete who has written about the history of name changes in the park (there have been many), and the endurance of the things that actually matter.

Not neglecting the importance of labels and traditions, I genuinely feel that Yosemite won’t be changed. Have amenities distracted us from what the national park and the land truly are? Rocks and trees, water and seasons, won’t be a whit less wonderful. Jays and oaks won’t care, bears and domes won’t be diminished if we re-label a hotel.

If you’re interested in hearing stories of Yosemite from an amazing naturalist and interpreter/communicator/nice guy, you ought to wander over and check out Pete’s Yosemite Nature Notes blog. On a similar note, the National Park Service is in the process of re-examining the rules governing wilderness use in Yosemite. Now, this is something that will most certainly impact those of us who want to do more in the park than take pictures from the road. Now is the time to pay attention and participate.

On a personal level, the transition has had more of a social impact than anything. Because Aramark didn’t replace all positions within the park, many people who have lived here for years, and sometimes decades, have suddenly found themselves out of a job (like me). But in Yosemite, where employees tend to live in company housing, being out of a job often means being out of a place to live too, and so friends are scattering far and wide and rebuilding entire lives – home, job and community. If you can imagine how disruptive it is for one person to make a major life change, imagine an entire community doing it simultaneously and in multiple dimensions. Even many of the people who have found a way to stay have new employers, new co-workers, new housing and often a slightly different job description to adapt to. It’s been a stressful time, filled with uncertainty, and I’m glad to see things settling back down. In fact, one of the most encouraging reports was from a friend who works at the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, who said that it all seems like business as usual, right down to the shouted morning welcome… “Good Morning, Badger Pass!” Ha!

On a personal note, I am so grateful to Delaware North for the opportunity that allows me to work remotely from Yosemite. In spite of derogatory slogans to the contrary, I’ve been impressed with how much Delaware North has cared to try to find creative ways to help people through the transition process when they can.

Begin Chapter Next.


Connecting to the past

My parent’s house, the one I grew up in, is filled with images of family. I don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about my family history, but here I’m steeped in it. Today my mom pointed out a picture of my great aunt, Janet, with my dad as a boy. She made it possible for him to build a life here in the US. A picture of her friend, Eunice, who she asked to sponsor my dad has a prominent place on the wall. As kids, we always called her Amah, grandma.

pendant and letter
Pendant and letter from my grandmother.

On this trip, my mother gave me a pendant that my grandmother left for me along with the note that she wrote. Add it to the list of reasons I regret not knowing how to speak, read or write much Chinese. Fortunately, my mother translated it for me so I know that in the note she describes how my grandpa gave this to her when she went to the South Sea to meet him in 1930, and says that she wanted to pass it along to me. The note itself is brittle and already torn from being unfolded in many places. I wish I’d known her better.

There is a faded picture cube on the desk downstairs with a picture of me at 1-2 years old astride my favorite stuffed yellow bunny. I remember that bunny, and it makes me think of the stories about my imaginary friend, Cackle Sue. I have no idea if she cackled, or where that name came from, but my mom tells me she spilled milk and got me into trouble a lot.

One of my brother’s favorite stuffed animals was sitting on my bed below the headboard that I always imagined was a guardian owl. I still do. I can’t help it. This old picture of me as a kid is sitting on the bedside table. Theresa as a girl

At some point, when I was a few yeas older, I lost one of those pigtails to a friend who was playing barber. I had short hair for a long time after that.

There is still a painting hanging from the closet door that my super talented next door neighbor friend made for me at some point when we were growing up together. I wish she’d thought to sign and date it. Her parents still live next door. My parent’s wedding photos. Cousins, aunts and uncles smile out from every surface. Pictures of me and my siblings playing on the swingset, blowing out birthday candles and posing for portraits in our high school letter jackets.

It’s good to be home.

Hospital Stays

No pictures today. Dad took a fall and wound up in the hospital. At first, the most worrisome thing is that he’s been getting dizzy a lot lately, and there didn’t seem to be a good explanation. But then, once we got to the hospital and they did a battery of tests, they discovered that he had hit his head (he said he didn’t), and that there was some intracranial bleeding. This is of particular concern because in the last few weeks he’s been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and prescribed a blood thinner called Eliquis. So, although the amount of bleeding wasn’t extensive, there was significant worry that with the blood thinner, it could get worse over night.

As near as we can figure it, the fall happened around 9am. We initially called the Mayo Clinic to see what could be done about his dizziness, and the nurse on call recommended a trip to the ER. It seems like we got checked into the ER shortly after 11, certainly before 11:30a. Then, we spent the day there waiting for tests, test results, a room to open up in the ICU for them to monitor him overnight. If we are lucky, the evening’s CT scan will show no additional bleeding, and they will be ready to release him tomorrow.

MN gardens

Mom and Dad have been growing orchids for a while.

It’s been too long since I’ve been back to MN to visit my parents. This morning, we went for a walk around the yard to see all the new things since I’ve been here last. There are so many things. There are more flower gardens than there used to be, and more things in the gardens. At this point, most of the flowers are past, but we admired the ones that are still blooming, talked about the ones that will bloom again this spring, the ones that are quickly taking over the shaded areas. I learned which flowers are the deer’s favorites to eat, and which ones were successfully saved with all kinds of crazy effort.

Most of the leaves are gone, but there are still some flowers blooming in the gardens.

Earlier this year a deer died right next to one of the flower gardens. There were no wounds or anything, but it was so big they thought that maybe it had simply died of old age. When they found it, it was frozen to the ground and looked like it had been there for a while. What does one do with an old rotting deer corpse anyway? They started calling around, but no one seemed willing or interested in doing anything with it. One person suggested that if they dragged it out to the road, the city would come to clean it up. Not only was that too far for octogenarians to drag a large deer, my parents were afraid of what the neighbors would say.

Finally, someone found out how big the yard was. “Oh,” they said, “well just leave it there. Nature will take care of it.” So with a neighbor’s help, my parents eventually rolled this deer onto some plastic sheeting and dragged it further downhill into the woods. There aren’t any big predators in this area, but they were surprised at how quickly it disappeared. They saw a fox, and a lot of black birds. It was gone in a matter of weeks. I went to find it today.

deer skull
Remains of a deer who ate my mother’s flowers. She’s tough, people. Don’t mess around.