Yosemite Nature Notes evening presentation

Yesterday I did something that I rarely make the time to do – I went to one of the Evening Programs put on by either NPS or DNC Interpretation. After a long day at work, it can be hard to motivate for anything other than a relaxing evening at home. However, this program was being given by film-maker, Steve Bumgardner, on the making of Yosemite Nature Notes which I love. Plus Tom planned to spend the evening at a YWPHI meeting, so I thought I’d check it out.

I’m glad I did. I’ve seen most of the Yosemite Nature Notes videos before, especially the most recent ones, but even I saw some new stuff, like the the previews of episodes to come, and enjoyed listening to Steve’s take on the park, on filming in the park, and sharing Yosemite’s magic with people. I suppose it isn’t that surprising that a guy who makes his living telling stories on film, can put together a fun series of stories in person too.

We got to watch three of the finished YNNs, starting with the most recent video on Horsetail Falls, the Glaciers Episode, and then the Big Trees Episode which narrowly won out over the very popular Frazil Ice video as the parting shot. Plus, a couple of shorter pieces – some ‘making of’ shots, and a timelapse of Yosemite’s crowded spots which drew out-loud giggles from the crowd in many places.

During the making of sequences, Steve talks on camera about how difficult it is for people to get to remote corners of the park, like Mt. McClure and Mt Lyell where the glaciers still live, and the pleasure of being able to share some part of that experience with people via camera. I hadn’t thought of these films in quite that way before, but it’s true. I’ve been asked if there’s enough to do in Yosemite for 3 days, and these films are the start to a visual answer to that question. If I think about all the things that make Yosemite special, the ideas for film topics goes on and on. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Moonbow episode, and whatever comes of the backcountry ski/backcountry hut footage. What about the High Sierra Camps? Big Time? Climbers and Big Wall climbing? Each person who has spent time in Yosemite has this running list of things in their mind of what makes this place so special. There are rafters, and hikers, and painters, and people that hang a hammock out by the river and spend all day with a good book. What kinds of things do they think are amazing? What else belongs on that list?

NaNoWriMo 2010 Winner

I’m a 2010 NaNoWriMo Winner

According to some of the things I’ve read, one of the most enjoyable parts of NaNoWriMo is the sense of community and the pleasure of sharing the experience with other WriMos in the area. Perhaps I’m missing out. I know I haven’t talked much about NaNoWriMo this year – not on the blog and not to many people IRL either. Still, it was an interesting experience for me, and I’m proud to say that I’ve managed another 50K words of utter rubbish in under 31 days. No, you will never see any of it.

If I’m feeling honest I would admit that I had a much more detailed plan this year, and that the result of that was a marginally better story than last year’s story. That makes sense. At least this year when I hit 50K words, I still felt like the story was going somewhere. It’s not done yet, the story, I mean, but there are so many other things to do in the world, I’m not sure if I want to finish it, or just declare victory and move on.

I had a harder time finishing this year than last year, that’s for sure. I had thought that planning a relaxing trip to Hawaii would give me plenty of time to type away, but instead, it was harder to make the decision to write rather than explore, and by week three, I was at a huge deficit. More than anything else, this year taught me that I will probably never write a publishable book. When I think of the time investment that author friends have put into a single work – I get the itch to go snorkeling, surfing, hiking, skiing, just about anything. This exercise certainly gives you some appreciation for the sweat and determination that goes into creating books.

Speaking of books, I’m dying to tell you about a book that hasn’t come out yet, but which I’m really looking forward to. Now that I’m done with the WriMo stuff, it will soon have a post all its own, but in the meantime, check out author, Greg Crouch’s blog about China’s Wings, the pilots who flew over (through, really) the Himalaya during WWII. Tom and I got to hear a preview of some of these stories over dinner one day years ago at Hans’ Basecamp, and given the teasers in the blog, I can’t wait to get my hands on the published result!

Stories of Yosemite People

I had the good fortune, a few months ago, of running into Lynne Joiner, an Emmy-award winning journalist and author who was visiting Yosemite and had the kernel of an idea to write a story about the people living and working in Yosemite after stumbling across one or two employees with an interesting history. She told me about her idea, and I told her I thought it was a wonderful subject. She’d just finished writing a book, Honorable Survivor, and planned to spend the next months traveling and promoting it, but thought she might return to the idea in November. Well, it’s November, and she’s just finished another quick trip to Yosemite during which she stopped in and met with me briefly, rekindling my own excitement for the idea.

There are so many interesting people living in Yosemite, from all backgrounds and walks of life, who are assembled in Yosemite because of what Yosemite is, and because of the love of the place. I’ve already started contacting a few of the people I know who have interesting stories, and I hope the project will continue to grow. There are the legendary people in the park, of course, the Julia Parker types. But Lynne admitted that she was as interested (maybe even more interested) in the stories of the housekeeping staff than in the stories of the executive teams. NPS is conducting an oral history project, that I know far too little about, but is probably an amazing source of stories about people. NPS is interested in how the perception of Yosemite has changed over time, and have been interviewing people with a long history of the park for their “I Remember Yosemite” project, which is also fascinating, but this book could also be a different beast, something more inspirational that sets your mind to wandering through possibilities. What happens when where you are becomes more important than what you do to earn money? Maybe it would be start to expand the conversation Po Bronson started in his book, “What Should I Do With My Life?” beyond merely what one should do in terms of a career, as Tom suggested all those years ago. Who knows?

There is so much potential there. It’s set my mind spinning – who else should be in Lynne’s book?

Of course, it isn’t a book yet. It’s not even almost a book – she still has to pitch the whole idea to her agent, so who knows if anything will come of it. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed, and hope for at least a few teaser articles about some of the people who make this place such an interesting community.

Elderberry Treasure

The best jam ever

The great thing about books, real live paper and ink books, is that in addition to sitting on your shelves collecting dust, sometimes they call out to you, to just take a quick peak inside, for old times sake, or to jog your memory a little bit. When you listen to them, sometimes there’s a forgotten treasure waiting for you.

I don’t remember now for sure which book it was that I pulled off the shelves of the Valley apt. bookshelves. I want to say that it was the book about writing short stories, which would make sense since I’ve been listening to many of the New Yorker Fiction Podcasts lately, and have been thinking about short stories. But, whichever book it was, I was pleased to find some interesting reading, and something else.

Back in December of 2008, we got a wonderful Xmas present from two very dear friends of ours – a jar of homemade Elberberry jam and a card that went with it, lovingly prepared and shared with us. The jam is long gone, but the card – the card survived in a book about short stories. And it was wonderful, nearly 2 years later, to find it, and be reminded again of the card-creators-jam-makers that made them both.

The inside of the card

The Card always brings a smile to my face. The inside reads:

“Wild Organic Naturally-grown and ripened Elderberries Hand-Harvested in the Woodchuck Country of the Southern Sierra at the Peak of their Flavor; Refined Natural evaporated cane juice from Environmentally tilled tropical plantations cultivated by Happy, Documented Legal Immigrants paid a Fair Living Wage (but a wage that does not support large families which would contribute to the problem of overpopulation over-taxing the Planet’s Resources); Dextrose and Citric Acid produced by Caring Chemical Engineers who are Members of Union of Concerned Scientists, using lab apparatus – made only from 100% recycled and certified “Cradle-to-Cradle” technology and materials; and Sustainably Harvested, Naturally-Aged Fruit Pectin from Old-Growth pectin groves.

Our unique, Special Issue October 2008 Vintage of Hoffman Mountain Wild Elderberry Jam commemorates five consecutive years of high-standard first ascents on the southern escarpment of Hoffman Mountain on the western slope of the High Sierra. Nourished by plentiful organic fertilizers (Bears are common in the area), harvested beside the Little Rancheria Trail by itinerant adventurers, gently simmered with love to the peak of perfection in the charmingly quaint stone-hearth Country Kitchen of the Old Climbers’ Home in Mill Valley, California, these Elderberries are guaranteed to bring a wild reminiscence of tumultuous Sierra Autumn Sunrises to your family’s table.”

And that is why digital books, for all their convenience, are not as good as regular books.

NaNoWriMo musings

I Finished NaNoWriMoI finished!

During the month of November, I and more than 32,000 other people around the world each completed 50,000 words of fiction. This was just over 19% of the people who signed up. Collectively, according to the NaNoWriMo stats, the word count of everyone who participated and uploaded their writings to the NaNo web site is 2,427,190,537. That’s a lot of words.

It literally took me years to decide to take the NaNo challenge. Tom and I picked up the No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty a long time ago during one of our random book store wanderings. It’s a fun book, and it suggests all kinds of fun indulgences you can expect to treat yourself to during your novel writing month – like a handy stack of snacks next to your writing spot (for energy), getting your spouse to do the dishes, etc. It also promises strange and crazy things like, if you write enough, your characters will start to do unexpected things. I wanted to know how that worked.

Only a few days before November, I was thrutching through a list of possible ideas for a novel, with no particularly appealing prospects, when Tom suggested that I write about a society that doesn’t sleep. He’d started a short story along those lines some time ago, although he had little more than a character and a set up.

I took that idea and over the course of a month developed it into a dreadful, going nowhere story with flat characters who I ultimately didn’t like that much. It’s not that the idea didn’t have potential, (I still think it does) but hey, I haven’t written any fiction in years, if I ever have, and it sucked. That’s OK, and I learned a lot.

I learned that a 50K word novel isn’t really that long, and I shouldn’t have been afraid of running out of story before I hit my goal. I learned that it’s easy for me to make things difficult for my characters. I enjoy it. I learned that I have a nasty habit of qualifying my speech/writing – as in “I learned that I might have a tendency to qualify my speech/writing a little” – which is great for word count, but makes for crappy writing. And I also learned that they weren’t kidding. My characters really did start to do some unexpected things. It works like this: you have this idea for what you think your character is going to do in the next scene, but by the time you get around to writing it, you realize that he/she would actually respond in a completely different way. So, then off you go, shooting down some previously unplanned avenue. It was wonderful.

For the most part, I held off on the snacks, but I did reap the benefits of having my spouse take over many of the household chores… I mean the ones that he usually does anyway. I’m generally terrible at domestic chores. Have I mentioned before that I’m crazy lucky that I married Tom?

So, now that I’m done, I’ve decided to simply close the door on that particular story. No, you can’t read it. I still like the idea, and maybe certain elements will find their way into other NaNo projects in the future, but this particular effort falls into the burn-it-now category. I’m not committing to doing this again next year in any way, but I also wouldn’t say for certain that I would wait a whole year before starting up some other little story. As experiments and projects go, this one was sheer fun.

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month

There. I did it. I pushed the little sign up button on the NaNoWriMo page and now I’m basically committed to writing a 50,000 word novel next month. Hoo boy.

Part of me is really excited about the challenge, and another part is wondering what the hell the first part is thinking. First of all, it’s not like I don’t have plenty of other projects on the table, or more productive things that I could be doing with my time. Second, 50K is a really big number. Big enough that I can’t really picture it in my head. Third, I’m taking a week off in November to attend a conference, and I’ll be too busy absorbing conference stuff during that week to write much, so I’m already missing a quarter of the time that people have to write. I went to the NaNo forum, and unlike (it seems) many of the people posting there, I don’t feel compelled to write all the time (unless you count journaling, and I don’t). I don’t have a story bursting inside me that needs to be told. In fact, I don’t relate to ANY of the items on the “Are you a serious writer” thread. “Would rather write a scene with two main characters having sex than have it” – are you NUTS?

Wait, what is this about?

National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to devote the time to write 50K words that all point in the same direction. 50K words amounts to a short novel, but apparently, it’s a good goal to shoot for. According to the website, last year, in 2008, they had an all-time high completion rate of 18%, of a total of 119,301 participants from around the world, so it’s difficult, but not impossible. There’s a website where you can enter your word-count, and if you make it to 50K, you win. There aren’t any big prizes on the table, so even though it would be impossibly easy to cheat, there isn’t really any point to it. It’s all about personal satisfaction. And bragging rights, if you’re into that.

That said, I was surprised to find out that the National Best-Seller, Water for Elephants, started out as a NaNoWriMo novel, and the media kit has a decent list of published authors who participate. With nearly 120K participants last year, and growing, at least I have a lot of company in this craziness.

So, why am I doing this?


Tom and I picked up the No Plot? No Problem! book a few years ago, and there were two things about the event that caught in my head, and have been rubbing around in there since then. The first is: that it’s all about word count, not quality. No one ever has to see what I’ve written (don’t even bother asking to see it – the answer is no), so it’s a great opportunity to try to shake my somewhat overactive personal editor and just type. That sounded like an interesting exercise. You could even take it as personal development, if you wanted to.

The second thing is that these writers talk about having characters come to life and direct the story. That seemed like an interesting experience too. One that might be fun to have.

That’s it. I’m not sure that these two things make up for the vast array of reasons to do something else with my time in November, but I pushed the little button. I might as well enjoy the ride.

Fall Foliage in VT

Flowers by a barn at Trapps Family Lodge
Flowers by a barn at Trapps Family Lodge
After 14 years together, Tom and I finally went to visit Tom’s parents in VT for a week during fall foliage season. Foliage season in VT is a little like the Holiday season in other towns – the hotels fill up and are charging peak rates, there’re a million people running around with cameras, snapping shots of pumpkins and other squashes, sheaves of wheat, and of course the colorful leaves.

When I asked Tom what he remembered of foliage season in VT, he said that he mostly remembered October as being rainy and grey. Sure enough, it rained every single day that we were there. Fortunately, the clouds broke enough on a couple of days that I was able to get out and see what the wash of color looked like in the sun. It was amazing.

The Sierra gets color too. I’d say that we are near peak now – several weeks after the VT foliage passed its prime. The gullies fill with gold, and here and there a bright yellow big leaf maple, or a rosy dogwood, flashes in the sunshine. Le Conte gully, in particular, is full of these small bushes that turn a brilliant shade of yellow in the fall. Stavast has a painting called Golden Armada, and I’m convinced that these are Golden Armada bushes, whatever those are. One of my rescuers recently told me that when they airlifted me out of Le Conte Gully three years ago, the rotor from the helicopter picked up a tornado of golden leaves, rising up into the air around me. Would have been cool to see.

More foliage at Trapps
More foliage at Trapps
But VT really fills with color – so much so that sometimes it seemed like my eyes were attracted to the small contrasting bit of green among all the reds, oranges, and yellows. There are more deciduous trees and fewer conifers than here, and more mountainous terrain than my home state of MN, all of which combines to create a scene really worth traveling for. We took a hike down near Waterbury Reservoir, taking in the scenery and being impressed with the people who once made a living in that steep and rocky soil. The Ricker family cemetery was particularly impressive, with three generations of Rickers, marked with headstones like the one for Phoebe Ricker who lived to be over a hundred. They must have been a hearty crew, although the nearby headstones for an infant and two other young children speaks to how tough living there really was.

Stowe Church
Stowe Church
Of course, the other reason to travel to VT, in any season, is the chance to visit with Tom’s family. Tom’s parents were wonderful and welcoming hosts. Denis rescued us in the middle of the night when our delayed flight meant that we arrived after the car rental desk had closed for the evening. We had a dinner with him, his family, and Steve C. one evening while we were there. Tracy, Ron and Julia drove up just to have some lunch with us. Julia’s list of 101 things to do before she graduates from high school, inspired me to try to come up with a bucket list too. I’m still working on it. Dinner with Steve and Mary is always a pleasure, and we’re hoping to see more of them on this coast now that Andrew is out here.

As always, vacation is just a bit too short. The day our departure flight was scheduled was to be the first sunny day that week, and we missed out on getting to sail in a race with Denis aboard his J-24. It’s not that I don’t love Yosemite, and being in the Sierra, but vacation is always good.

Great images.

I get an occasional tip here and there on how to use Photoshop from the amazing and creative in-house graphic designer in our office, but just in case I get to thinking that I know how to do a thing or two… there are images like these which are in a completely different league.

It’s not that I can’t start to figure out now, how someone would start to put an image like that together, but coming up with the ideas, planning the shot out, taking different images and figuring out how to put them together. Truly cool.

And while you’re there, check out some cool wildlife pics. I’m not sure some of them aren’t also examples of very clever Photoshop-ery, but they are neat anway.

Guilty Bear Jam Pleasure

Mama bear and cub
Mama bear and cub
If I see a bear by the side of the road, find a legal pull-out, get out of my car and watch, and then a Bear Jam forms, is that my fault?

Usually, the way bear jams or deer jams form, is that one person notices the animals. Drawn by their attention, a group begins to gather. Motorists slow down to see what they are looking at. When that something is a bear – or in this case, a momma bear and two absolutely adorable cubs – crowds form, traffic slows, and before you know it – Bear Jam.

Brother Bears
Brother Bears
I have proven over and over, that I am EXACTLY the sort of person that stops in the middle of the road in order to get a better look at some cool animal. Tom and I came to a full halt in the middle of the road in Australia to watch an Echidna uncurl and then complete it’s wobbling deliberate journey across the road. I’ve stopped mid-drive for bear, coyotes, even a couple of road-side flowers. Sometimes, you just have to stop.

However, I do at least try to be reasonably considerate about it. I am more than aware that not everyone on the road has the same inclination to come to a complete mesmerized halt at the very same moment that I do. After all, most of the time the person that isn’t interested in the thing by the road, or actually has someplace to be, is me. Besides, coming to a complete stop in the middle of the road just around a blind corner is freaking dangerous.

Bear Family
Bear Family
Most recently, Tom and I were caravanning two cars back to our house when I looked over and spotted a bear. Tom had seen her too, and we pulled over in the nearest pull-out, grabbed our camera and binoculars and walked back up the street. It wasn’t long before a giant crowd formed. Some people just stopped in the road. Others, with more consideration tried, unsuccessfully, to pull mostly off the street before jumping out to take pictures.

Before long, a resigned-looking ranger appeared, trying to clear the traffic, keep half an eye on people creeping down into the meadow to take a closer look, and get the illegally parked cars off the road. I didn’t envy him his job at that moment.

The bears had probably been in the meadow for quite some time. If we hadn’t stopped, maybe no one would have noticed. Maybe the Bear Jam wouldn’t have formed at all. Although I feel a little guilty about that, we did get some nice pictures – and a chance to watch some really beautiful bears doing wild bear things.