A Day at the Visitor’s Center

This Saturday, on a perfect 50 degree sunny day in Yosemite National Park, instead of relaxing, enjoying the park, going skiing or rock climbing, I’m going to spend about 8 hours volunteering to stand in the Visitor’s Center and answer questions from visitors – mostly the same question, which is some varient of “Here I am, what should I do now?”

Seems like I am often asked why I would give up a weekend day (about twice a month) to volunteer in the Valley Visitor Center. Well, there are plenty of reasons to volunteer in a National Park. Some people use volunteering as a way to live in and enjoy Yosemite for longer than the allowed week in the summer time, but I’m already here. Others use the volunteer program as a stepping stone to future employment, but that’s not my goal. (Love my job, even when it’s driving me crazy.) There are also many people who come from all over simply to give back to a place that they love. That one applies.

Interestingly enough, even though there are hundreds (thousands?) of volunteers in the park each year, when you live here, and more specifically work full time here, it isn’t as easy as you might think to find a way to volunteer on a regular basis. Because there are so many people who are retired, or taking a break and able to offer substantial chunks of time to volunteering, the ‘evenings and weekends only’ opportunities are fairly slim, so when I found out that another co-worker of mine was volunteering with NPS Interpretation, I leaped at the chance.

Volunteering in Interpretation is a pretty good gig, really. NPS is often able to provide some kind of accommodation (for those that don’t already have it), the work is easy and rewarding, and look at where you are! In the Interp department, there are also great side-perks like working with really wonderful people whose JOB is knowing cool stuff about the park. Talk about a great learning opportunity! And talk about suddenly being introduced to exactly the right group of people know when you come across some new thing, curious story, or historical reference and want to learn more about it. Plus, it feels good to be able to help people out, and share my love for and knowledge of the park. For the most part, people are appreciative. (Although during the summer time I also understood the volunteer who prominently displayed a large button saying ‘Don’t yell at me. I’m a Volunteer’ on his shirt.) Last summer, I was allowed to research a topic of my choince and give a short 15 min. presentation, and I was invited to participate in morning Yosemite Nature Club outings that were absolutely fascinating.

So, while there is definitely a part of me that really wishes I could sleep in on Saturday and then spend the day recreating, there’s also another part that is grateful to be doing what I’m doing. If you really want to make my day – stop by the Visitor’s Center and ask me a question that I have to go to one of the reference books to look up. It’s not that I like being stumped, but if I get to discover or learn something new, that makes it all worthwhile.

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!

Fitness Month

I had one of those realistic, vivid dreams a few days ago, that leave you wondering if the thing in the dream really happened or not. In the dream, I was trying on jeans, which I hate doing anyway because nothing convinces me that I’m a completely abnormal shape than trying on pants, even when I’m fit. In the dream, when I looked in the mirror, I realized that I had a huge balloon butt. I mean, giant, where did this come from and why haven’t I noticed it before, booty. Naturally, in the dream, the pants didn’t fit.

When I woke up the next morning, I realized that, yes, indeed, it was long past time to get back in shape. I tried this last October, and then promptly injured my shoulder by crashing my bike when I took a corner too fast. When that injury healed, I got taken out by a wobbly kid on a bike who swerved into me, and injured myself again. All that is finally (knock on wood) in the past, and I’m having dreams of being fat. Tom has put a moratorium on stupid minor injuries (and major ones too), and I’m ready to go.

Read More

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.

My Baby Bird

The Cutest Baby Bird
It was the strangest thing, and has been quietly haunting me ever since it happened.

We were on our way out the door to surprise a friend on his birthday, saying goodbye to a guest who had spent the night and was now on his way to Colorado, by bicycle. Tom had taken the first load of things out to the car, when he called me, and pointed out a small baby bird, still slightly downy, hopping and cheeping on our walkway. It didn’t seem able to fly yet, and could only manage a few feet in a flutter.

That was interesting, and I thought maybe I’d go out and take a picture. I sat down on the sidewalk, and started taking pictures, and the little guy (girl?) started hopping toward me. I held still, delighted to be getting a close-up view, and trying not to frighten it away. I shouldn’t have worried about that. It hopped straight up to me, and cuddled in next to my leg. When I moved away, it followed me and settled in again. It seemed cold (in spite of the down coat?), and desperately cute.

The baby bird hopped right up to me and snuggled in for warmth.
The only explanation for this one being out on its own, that I could think of, was that he’d been kicked out of his nest by a stronger sibling or something, and left without help from his parents, hopping and peeping as it was, it was probably going to end up as a coyote snack, if it didn’t die of exposure or starvation first.

Normally, I can be fairly stoic when it comes to natural selection. In nature, sometimes even the really cute little guys get killed and eaten, but then the cute little guys rarely make a personal plea. They rarely come right up and ask for a little warmth. It had snuggled up to me. It had started a Relationship.


I know nothing about how to care for a young bird. I didn’t know what kind of bird it was, or what it would normally eat. If we fed it, would it still learn to forage for itself eventually? Even more of an issue, we were leaving for a 3 day weekend in San Diego. We couldn’t take it with us, or care for it while it was here. so, we settled for leaving an old fleece jacket on the sidewalk with the little bird, and continued packing the car. Almost immediately, the bird settled into the jacket and I was able to pick up jacket and bird and move it to a more sheltered location. Then we left.

What kind of bird is this?
Tom wondered aloud whether we’d really done it a favor or not. Starving to death doesn’t sound like a good way to go. Maybe it would have been better for it to have been left more exposed, to die more quickly from a predator.

We’ll never know. When we got back, the little bird was gone.

I learned later, that sometimes when a young bird is first learning to fly, it spends some time hopping and flapping furtively on the ground, with the mother bird nearby, before getting itself straightened out and getting on with its life. I choose to believe that is what happened to my little bird.

Of all the birds in Yosemite, this little brown bird is my new favorite kind of bird… or would be if someone can tell me what kind of bird it is.

Cousins in Yosemite

Cousins at Glacier Point
Cousins at Glacier Point
My beautiful cousins from Florida are now living in CA, and they came to visit last weekend in Yosemite. It was wonderful to have a chance to catch up with them, and show them around. They were so thoughtful – they brought me a delicate orchid as a birthday present, and a birthday card. These are so much more spectacular than the small native orchids that you find around the park growing wild.

On Saturday morning, after late night arrivals for both cousins, we got a leisurely start with Quiche (courtesy of Kim) and strawberry scones (courtesy of Stephanie and Tom, respectively), and then hit the trail. Fortunately, because Tom and I had left one car in the Valley, we were able to start the hike down the Panorama and Mist Trails from Glacier Point, rather than driving down in the Valley and battling for the few remaining parking spaces. The hike was wonderful.

As seems typical lately, Tom and I slipped into flower picture taking mode, and brought up the rear of our procession for the first part of our hike. I saw some purple nightshade for the first time. The Brewer’s Golden Asters were out in great numbers. Whisker brush. Monkey flowers. Pacific stonecrop. We decided that we need to keep a journal of some sort to catalog all the different flowers that we saw along the trail including things like time of year and any other interesting things. That would be a fantastic record to have.

Tom and Orestis playing funny boy games along the trail
The waterfalls were more spectacular than usual for this time of year because of our big winter/snow season, and the mist a welcome reprieve from the heat on the trail. The best part was just having the chance to get to know each other a little better.

Dinner was interrupted with the need to go and retrieve Kim’s car, from where we left it at Glacier Point, but the ice cream and the conversation was excellent. Stephanie decided to get up early instead of driving late, sneaking out of the house at 4am on sore legs and feet from hiking, only to work a full shift on her feet for the day. Next time, maybe we should try rafting instead.

Kim and Orestis spent the night in the downstairs apartment, and we got to spend a little more time with them in the morning (my actual birthday) before they took off to explore Tuolumne and maybe Mono Lake, while we settled in to clean the rental apartment for the next guests, and then curl up with movies and a bit of champagne. All in all, a very happy birthday weekend.

Our Yosemite Rental House and etc.

The Yosemite House

The steady churning of projects surrounding our new Yosemite vacation rental increased to a frenzy starting late May into early April. We have a nice stream of renters from VRBO who are planning to stay in our downstairs apartment starting on June 1, and the pressure to have everything in order by then is intense.

In addition to the furniture purchases we’ve made online, in the last two weeks we’ve made, collectively, 3 completely separate trips into Fresno for furniture and other finishing supplies for the house. We’ve bought a brown leather sofa for the living room, new comforters, sheets and bedding for the bedroom and the living room daybed that we ordered online, a sharp-looking 42″ TV, TV stand, rugs, blinds, and a multitude of other home supplies like kitchen gadgets, pots and pans. The friendly cashier at Lowe’s mentioned today that he recognized us from the previous times we’ve been in the store. We’d be a lot happier about that if we didn’t spend so much money every time we went in.

The building phase is finished. We passed our final building inspection a week ago on Friday, but we’ve hired the Roosevelt Cooks (that’s plural, Sr. and Jr.) to help us pour a separate parking pad and walkway, so that our renters will have their own space when they drive up. They framed it up in just half a day, it looks great, and now are getting ready to pour just as soon as the weather cooperates. I love hiring professionals.

We’ve also started thinking of the front yard area, and what we can do there that will be beautiful, but wild and un-manicured at the same time. We bought some Sierra wildflower seeds at a local nursery, and I hope that the yard area turns into a wild garden of color when the weather warms up. We’ve had some blissfully warm days, but just tonight there was snow again, and the Dogwoods in the yard still haven’t been persuaded to bud and bloom. This is a long winter year, and the snow is lingering.

Still, it’s coming together so fast.

Getting fit

I’ve finished the first week of a new weightlifting/fitness program, and am looking forward to decreased soreness in week 2. The first week, the bicep curls left me unable to straighten my arms, and after the leg work out, I now groan and stretch my protesting calves into a standing position in the morning before taking the first my first tottering steps. Truthfully, it feels fantastic because it feels like I’m getting stronger. Tom says that there is already some visible difference in my upper arms. My biceps are back. I’m not completely sure that I believe him, but the positive reinforcement is welcome anyway.

Tom also tells me that according to one of the fitness experts that he now follows regularly, sometimes the nutrition is the key to big breakthroughs. The expert himself is not a nutritionist, but he’s just noted over the years that often his athletes make a big jump in performance as soon as they get the diet part of the equation right. So, Tom’s concerned that the many handfuls of almonds I snack on pre-dinner, is not the winning strategy I’m looking for after all. The highly recommended 6 small meals a day (with an emphasis on protein) program is the hardest part of this fitness program for me. I’m going into week 2 with a renewed commitment.

The frozen shoulder is thawing slowly, as it tries to keep up with the other exercise. I’m up to 160 degrees of passive flexion – the same as the active range of motion in my ‘healthy’ shoulder. Still, my external rotation still needs some work, and the left shoulder as a whole is still terribly weak, although between rehab exercises and my weight program, it seems to be getting stronger quickly. I’m looking forward to making a first stab at rock climbing again. I want to try my hand (my shoulder really) on an easy boulder problem that everyone has been recommending (everything from 5.2 to V4). It’s going to be a long time before I’m climbing as hard as I used to, but at this stage in the game, I’m just looking forward to being out on the warm granite pulling hard.

Wouldn’t it be great if this summer was my summer to put all the things I’m interested in together? Backpacking, trail running, rock climbing, photography, playing the piano, art and the internet? Not to mention running a vacation rental and too many projects at work. There’s so much to do!

Swiss and Bay Area Guests

Next week, our friends from Switzerland arrive for a few weeks of mountain adventure and exploration. It’s going to be so good to see them again, and to meet the littlest Longchamp, who I think is already 3 years old. It’s strange how time moves. It seems seems mostly to slide by unnoticed, except for the size and ages of our friend’s children.

We had hoped that they would be the first guests in the new downstairs apartment, but there’s still too much to do to make them feel comfortable there, especially with a toddler. Instead, we’ll have a few more evenings of preparing, and then when more friends from the Bay Area arrive on Thursday, Tom and I are going to do the honors ourselves, and give the place it’s inaugural stay (if you don’t count the handful of people who crashed down there among the construction debris when it was still completely unfinished). It feels like we’re going on vacation, and I can hardly wait. Also, we’ll hopefully figure out if anything is missing before our renters arrive, so that everything will be ready for them when they come.

Snow Creek to Mount Watkins

… and breathe…

Between a Sisyphusean marketing workload with DNC, a conversion optimization class that operates heavily on the you’ll-get-out-what-you-put-in principle, volunteer activities at the Valley Visitor Center for a full day once every other week, a frozen shoulder that seems to be adamant about remaining stuck, and house construction (Tom’s been going nuts, and we now have flooring down in most of the house, and appliances waiting for installation, it’s very exciting), it’s been a long couple of months between the last post and this one.

Fortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be getting closer. Two weeks ago, Tom and I met up with our friend Shauna, and skied out to the Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias. Neither Tom nor I had ever been there before but it’s close to Shauna’s new house, and it was a perfect day and a great chance to explore. Last week, I got out for a quick walk on the Hites Cove trail to look at the wildflowers. And with those two activities as the sum total of my exercise for the last month, today Tom and I hiked up the Snow Creek trail to Mt Watkins and back. Our agreed-upon turn-around time left me a few hundred yards short of the summit, but I have Tom’s pictures from the top as inspiration for the next trip.

The skiing was brilliant and beautiful, the weather perfect, and it just feels fantastic to really get out and DO something for a whole day that doesn’t involve my computer.

It was about 11 miles round trip, with nearly 4500 feet of elevation gain, and I am bone tired and fully expect to be hobbling and sore tomorrow, but I am ever so happy. I’ll try to post some pictures soon.

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.