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.

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.

Dogwood Memories

Dogwoods are peaking near our house in Yosemite West. Picture taken from our deck.

Dogwood trees have a particular niche of its own in the passing of seasons. In the spring, their large white blossoms (actually sepals) decorate the forests and mark the arrival of spring. Photographers of all levels focus their lenses on them – against a backdrop of dark red cedar bark, the deep grey blue of the Merced River or back-lit against the brilliance of the sky. They are stand-alone beautiful, and I love them for that, but I also love them because they’re now associated with people and memories that are fun to revisit as well.

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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.)

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!

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.


Traveling and Lessons

The alarm went off this morning at 4:00 am after a later night than I had intended. I’m beat.

I’ve spent the better part of the day traveling across the country, and hoo-boy is this one-post-per-day challenge turning out to live up to its name. Here’s something short that I’ve been thinking about for some time.

happy kid

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a bit of time lately with this kiddo and his mama. They’ve been teaching me some very important lessons.

  1. Celebrate everything! Every achievement, no matter how small, is better when you take time to recognize it. At some point, I decided that certain things would/should happen, and I stopped celebrating the moments that they did. This is a mistake. You can totally keep celebrating things after you’ve done them twice, or ten times or more.
  2. The world is filled with wonderful things. Yes, there are giant cliffs and waterfalls in Yosemite, but equally amazing are the leaves that fall in the path, milkweed seeds blowing in the wind, the fact that you can drop small stones and pine needles through holes in the boardwalk, and puddles. OMG, puddles. I should really spend more time thinking “Whoa! Look at that!” about the common things.
  3. Making noise is fun. Cool ways to make noise include: stomping on bridges and boardwalks, rocking loose manhole covers, pounding on railings with a stick. Hitting keys on a piano is pretty fun too, but cool noises go way beyond that.
  4. Dance more. Music optional. Enough said.

[There’s more. I feel like I learn a lot about wonder and appreciation from time spent with those two. But, I’m tired. If you read this and feel like you have learned stuff from young kids, feel free to help me out in the comments.]

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.

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.