Still Here #FergusonFire

In spite of all odds, it seems that our house is still standing! Our neighborhood has been under a mandatory evacuation since Aug 21, and yesterday, a crazy fire whirl (also sometimes called a firenado) raced up Avalanche Creek temporarily pinning fire fighters in our neighborhood as it crossed Hwy 41 and headed toward the fire fighter’s camp at Badger Pass. In the map, you can see the active fire for Aug 3 in red running along two sides of the neighborhood as fire fighters heroically held those lines.

From what we can gather, things are progressing a little more calmly today, on our front. Our neighbors across the river in Foresta are seeing more activity, and down by Wawona everyone is waiting for good conditions to close the line down there and watching some spot fires carefully. Yosemite Valley residents remain evacuated because this fire impacts all three roads into the valley from the west, though the valley itself is not directly threatened.

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The ArcGIS map of the fire as of yesterday, August 3, with our house at the tip of the arrow.

Today was also the memorial service for Captain Brian Hughes of the Arrowhead Hotshots who lost his life on July 29 defending one of the lines protecting our neighborhood. Reports that it was powerful and emotional are easy to believe. I wish we could have also been there to show our support and our thanks.

Chickaree

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 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

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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.)

First snow of the season

Dogwood leaves covered in snow
Dogwood leaves covered in snow.

The first snow of the season at our house in Yosemite West is always a treat, and worth a quick mention. After a few years of drought, it’s even more welcome. The dogwood leaves at 5000-6000 feet elevation in our neighborhood are still turning, and I loved seeing the contrast of the bright colors against the snow.

Badger Pass is reporting 9 inches, which is also a good start. My co-worker, pointed out that the first snowfall of last year was about the same date, so this in itself isn’t going to get us very far, but hopefully it’s just the first taste of more snow to come. The storm wasn’t cold enough for snow to fall in Yosemite Valley itself, but from the valley you can see the frosty rim all around.

Neighborhood cedar in snow
My favorite neighborhood cedar
shaggy mane mushrooms in snow
Shaggy Mane mushrooms from our yard, surprised by the dusting we received.
Bridalveil Fall
The water in Yosemite valley is no longer gushing the way it was while it was raining, but it is still nice to see Bridalveil Fall flowing again.

Where did Summer go?

Summer disappeared in a haze of off-set weekend schedules with Ranger Tom, too much work, and unrivaled weekend Valley traffic. It seems we were only just thawing out from our ‘snowpocalypse‘, and now we’ve had our first winter storm of the season. Tom hasn’t even really stopped skiing… he’s managed to get some ski time in every month this year.

On the plus side was the discovery of road biking, cool days, misc. writing projects (not here) and learning about meditation. I completed a 10-day silent meditation retreat and came out feeling invincible – or as another meditator said ‘like I could dodge bullets in the Matrix’.

I finished up a volunteering stint with NPS interpretation at the Visitor’s Center, and am excited to explore new opportunities for a mid-week opportunity to volunteer to help with youth education in the park. With the few short hours I am willing to spare each week, I expect I won’t be able to get as much face-time with the youth as I might like, but it will feel good to have contributed in some small way. Volunteering, by the way, is amazing. Even within the context of a small place like Yosemite, there are so many opportunities to see different perspectives and learn new things.

The rental business has been busy and fun. It’s interesting to meet the people that come from all over to stay with us for a short time, and be part of their vacation. And this year we’ve had so much help from Donald and Sarah who’ve made it easy to do the work part.

My milestone birthday came and went, and I’m planning a 5th boulder day party to celebrate and also to remember some of the people that helped me out so much back then. It’s not just the summer that’s flashed by – the last 5 years have disappeared like magic. If I think about it – the last decade or two has too.

Which season is it?

Two weeks ago, Tom and took a leisurely walk through Cook’s Meadow and noticed that the Redwing Blackbirds had returned for the spring season. It’s warm and sunny again, but after the intervening storm, I got to thinking about those optimistic birds, and what they made of the intemperate weather. Finally got around to drawing it out.

Actually, the warm temperature has created trouble of its own for us. All the melting snow is slowly puddling up on our property, and Tom spent the day digging a drainage trench and carrying buckets of water out of our crawl space. Fortunately, DNC facilities let me borrow a sump pump so that we’re not going to have to do that in shifts throughout the night! Tomorrow’s forecast for warm rain over all that snow uphill of us still has us biting our nails, but it’s going to be ever so much better with that pump!

In a certain twist of irony, as we battle too much water in the crawlspace, we’re also dealing with no water in the tap. The county guys have been here for a couple of days and with all the snow and melting they can’t even find the source of the leak, much less work on repairing it. The water has been out for about a week now, and the county has decided to save money by not having their crews work through the weekend.

We’ll be fine, of course. It’s like camping, with the bonus of heat and electricity, but after the big storm, lots of us are ready for a return to normal, and of course the renters that had planned to stay this weekend weren’t very excited about the lack of water. We found them a place to stay in El Portal, at Yosemite View Lodge, so they’ll be fine, but we’re sad to see them go.

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.

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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.

Snow Day

When I looked out the front window, I saw a whole family running back and forth outside our house – sliding happily down the street in their plastic sleds. They’d been at it for an hour at least, and didn’t show any signs of stopping soon. Snow brings so much joy to the mountains! I consider shouting to them that there is an even better sledding street around the corner, but they’re having so much fun, I decide to just let it be.

Snow also brings some travel headaches. My plans to get up early and catch a quick ski in the morning before work, turned into an hour of shoveling and snow-blowing, only to find out that the road to Badger Pass is closed for the day due to snow. Unfortunately, when we get a heavy snow like this, the plows just can’t keep up, and they focus on keeping the main roads clear instead. Even so, Hwy 41 was listed as R3 for most of the morning, meaning that all vehicles were required to use chains, even those with 4WD (rare!), and Hwy 120 was closed entirely for snow removal.

If only the snow had come a week ago, it would have been perfect. As it is, holiday travelers are struggling to get into the park, or making decisions to stay home instead. I hope the family renting our downstairs apartment make it here safely! The conditions are going to be fantastic.