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.]

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.

Enjoying the Rain

Lower Yosemite Fall
Lower Yosemite Fall is back in action!

It started raining today before dawn and rained steadily throughout the day. I’d made plans with one of the coolest people around to catch up over lunch, and wondered how that was going to go. On a sunny day, we’d head out to the river, or someplace like that, but with the weather, I worried she might prefer to stay inside. I was eager to get out and explore, but it’s also nice just to catch up, so I was also prepared to find a dry spot.

I shouldn’t have doubted. When I posed the question, she immediately suggested a walk. In addition to rain jackets and umbrellas, I pulled out my new rain kilt, R borrowed a trash bag skirt, and we headed out into the pouring rain. I don’t know what the fashionistas would have to say, but I thought we looked pretty cool.

rainy day fashion
Rainy day fashion with R. Pictures courtesy R Santiago

In Yosemite, never let the rain keep you inside. We had an incredible walk. Not only were the normal falls rushing again, but there were dozens of ephemeral falls cascading down the cliffs that I had never seen before. Plus, the clouds highlight cliffs in ways that make the familiar magical. I didn’t do a good job of capturing it on camera, but my memories will make me smile for a long time.

The cliffs near Yosemite Falls are magical in the rain.
The cliffs near Yosemite Falls are magical in the rain. Do you see the giant ephemeral fall in the picture on the right?

The rain started out warm, but then the snow line dropped and we could see snow on the higher cliffs peeking out through the clouds. In the office, we had been checking in on the snow falling up at Badger Pass all day via the webcam. I could also keep half an eye on our house in Yosemite West thanks to Bloomsky (You can see a picture of that at the bottom of the Yosemite Forecast site.)

Last week, I was out in the rain with another friend, and her toddler, splashing through puddles and laughing at little kid antics. That was pretty awesome too.

playing in puddles
Relearning how much fun it is to splash in puddles from this little guy.

People visiting the park are often disappointed when it rains during their trip. Little do they know that these are the times that the serious photographers jump excitedly into their vehicles to drive up to the park. The dramatic clouds and lighting show Yosemite off at her best. Plus, sometimes it’s just plain fun to splash around.

Halloween 2015

Halloween office parade
Left: Co-workers alerted the kids will be here soon. Right: Handing out candy to the kids.

So much as been going on this October that Halloween was here before I knew it. Non-costume plans had been made for the weekend, and although those changed, I still didn’t have costume party plans. So, my single whirlwind dose of Halloween festivities was the parade of kids that come through the office each year.

It’s a highly anticipated event in the office. We order much too much candy in advance. Those of us who are more prepared and/or festive dress in work-appropriate costumes, and throughout the day there is a gentle buzz. “When are the kids going to come by?” “Make sure you get me when the kids are here.”

And when they come, escorted as usual by the Yosemite mounted patrol (What other kids get horses in their Halloween school parade, honestly?) People line up at the door to see the costumes, candy at the ready.

There are two waves. The little kids in daycare come first. Some are held by their parents. Others surge forward on their own. One enterprising boy this year held his pumpkin out hopefully to every adult he saw whether or not they had any candy. The older Valley School parade is later in the day. Last year there were a lot of Elsas, but this year there was much more variety.

In addition to this school parade, the kids also make the neighborhood rounds on Halloween night. Yosemite’s small community seems like the perfect place to trick or treat. National Park’s are nice and dark but people know each other here so safety is less of a concern than it might be elsewhere. Besides, I know of one person who makes it a point of pride to offer full-size candy bars.

Those kids must have quite the haul at the end of the event. If their parents aren’t clever enough to come up with a Pumpkin Prince-like story, those kids are probably buzzing on candy right up until the moment that they sit down to Thanksgiving dessert.

Another great Halloween idea to remember – an early October costume exchange party!

Adaptive Climbing

Whee! During their lunch break Mark, Nate and Scott let me try out the adaptive climbing set up they had rigged for the Rock 'n Roll Yosemite group.
Whee! During their lunch break Mark, Nate and Scott let me try out the adaptive climbing set up they had rigged for the Rock ‘n Roll Yosemite group.

The Rock ‘n Roll Yosemite group, organized by Access Leisure  has traveled to Yosemite each year for the last 8 years to explore Yosemite by hand bike and do a bit of rock climbing. It was so cool to see them go out and get it, whether it was biking the Valley Loop to see the sights, or challenging themselves with some rock climbing, it emphasizes to me how accessible Yosemite can be.

I’m ascending here with a 3:1 pulley system, making it easier for me to make progress by giving me a mechanical advantage. I didn’t have much trouble when doing this in the best case scenario – free hanging, short pitch – not to extrapolate to the longer routes that people have done on El Cap. Those ascents are inspiring and humbling.

Most of the others in my group also used the 3:1 pulley, but one of the things that Mark Wellman emphasized was how important it is to customize for each individual to maximize their strengths and give them the best experiences. One super fit and athletic woman ascended without any mechanical advantage, sprinting to the top by cranking dozens of full on pull-ups to get to the top. Rawr! It was so inspiring to see that go. And then, another guy was able to use an ascender attached to his foot and another for his hand to make the best use of his right arm and right leg.

Meanwhile, Paradox Sports just finished up an interview with Katie Couric. (part 2) (They say she’s planning to come to Yosemite with them this fall!) and is getting ready to release an Adaptive How To Climbing Guide. So many awesome things happening in the world. It’s cool to be in touch with people doing such amazing things.

Cycling back around

People like me, people who have a long string of hobbies that would take up several lifetimes, and a list of interests that extends even further than that, end up cycling through things, returning to favorites, and constantly adding a few more cool things to the list. That way the list gets longer and longer.

I haven’t been paying much attention to this blog lately, but that’s because I’ve been playing the piano, drawing pictures, exploring some different social media sites, and trying to keep a steady eye on fitness levels and all the physical recreation that I like to do as well. Lately, I’ve added a new thing to my list of hobbies. Cycling.

I got excited about riding the road bike that my friend, Beth, gave me last year, and over the course of this very dry winter, Tom and I bought mountain bikes. As it turns out, although perhaps every boy rides a bike this way, there are some fundamental bike riding skills, that I never managed to pick up in my girlhood, and I’ve been getting an education riding around the trails behind our house.

Plus, I’ve been invited on a bakery to bakery bike tour this spring, and I’ve been trying to get into shape enough to enjoy, or at least survive, the ride. I’m unused to spending much time in the saddle, but am trying to remedy that. My friend Chris, made the following video with a new GoPro, and although I wasn’t with him on this ride, we’ve done a few loops of the Valley together. It’s a great way to get out and “get the news” as John Muir would say.

Biking Southside Drive from Chris Publiski on Vimeo.

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news”
― John Muir

First Skate Ski of the Season

I wish I had stopped to take a picture. Really. But sometimes, you’re having so much fun doing what you’re doing, that you just don’t want to stop and dig the camera out… even if you had it stashed in a convenient pocket to do just that.

Skiing was Great

The Cross Country Center at Badger pass opened this weekend, and Tom and I wandered up to see what the skiing was like. The previous storm dropped about 12 inches, meaning that the road had a decent coverage, but there wasn’t enough on the hill for the lift-served area to open. In some ways that was fine with me. I was excited to get a nice aerobic workout in.

The connector trail from the parking lot to the road wasn’t groomed, so we put our striding skis on, but then turned back when we realized that the road itself was freshly groomed, and changed to our skate skis.

With all of the fresh snow, the skating was slow enough that we skated most of the downhills, but firm enough to be fun. We went out past the Bridalveil Creek bridge and up to just before the next section where it starts downhill again. I was feeling surprisingly tired from the P90X workouts I’ve been doing lately, and decided that was a good place to turn around. Tom went a little further and then caught me on the long climb back up to Summit Meadow.

I’m looking forward to more of that!

Watch that Last Turn

We had just pulled out of the Badger Pass parking area, and were getting ready to make the left turn onto Badger Pass road when we caught sight of a green Subaru driving entirely too fast for the conditions. Sure enough, although the driver turned the wheel, his car kept going straight, careening wide into our lane. Fortunately, Tom managed to slow down just enough and the Subaru smacked hard into the snow bank just in front of us. I suppose it’s a no-harm-no-foul sort of situation. We backed up to give him space to back out of the snow bank and he pulled himself clear, wheels spinning and sliding across the ice. I thought at one point he was going to hit us after all and Tom muttered that someone needed to learn to drive in the snow.

Naturally, the guy was very apologetic. He hadn’t had any other issues with handling on the way up, and was surprised to lose control so spectacularly and completely.

That’s the second time we’ve almost been hit at that intersection. The first time was also due to someone trying to take that corner way too fast. That car had chains on the front wheels, and as the front end of the car turned the corner, the back side whipped around into our lane, pulling the rest of the car with it.

It’s a tough corner. During the summer, as you’re driving up, Glacier Point Road actually takes a slight left bend there, and it looks like a hard right turn into the Badger Pass parking lot – the kind of turn you’d want to slow down for. In the winter, the road beyond the parking area isn’t plowed, and if you aren’t paying attention, it might look like just another right turn in the road. And if you aren’t paying attention, you might not realize how steep the turn is. And if you aren’t paying attention, you might not notice that as you continue up the Badger Pass road, it gets more snowy and more icy as you gain elevation.

My point is – pay attention. I love running into friends at Badger Pass, but not like that.

Yosemite’s last grizzly bear?

I love Twitter. I’m not on it all the time, but sometimes it’s amazing the cool things you read and discover there. This came from YosemiteSteve, the talented creator of the Yosemite Nature Notes films who apparently has a Grizzly bear project kicking around his mind. I’m hopeful that we’ll all get to benefit from that eventually, but for now, I was just interested in the story of what might have been the last grizzly killed in Yosemite, back in 1887. Steve posted a link to the original hand-written letter from RJ Wellman to Joseph Grinnel, and the rough transcription that I made of it is below.

A few things that caught my attention:
– Although Wellman has a great deal of respect and admiration for the grizzly, his thoughts about wolves and cats aren’t nearly so generous.
– Two guys milled a tree, packed the lumber on a mule and built a scaffold 10 feet off the ground in one day, and I wonder what kind of tools they were using.
– Wolves and wolverines!
– The letter written on April 20, 1918, was finally received June 19. I wonder if they thought a two-month transit time was fast or frustrating.

Notes on the transcript:
I tried to preserve the spellings where I could make out the letters, and things I couldn’t figure out are noted with [brackets]. I could probably have figured out more, but was more interested in the spirit of the story, which I think comes through clearly regardless.

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Mono Winds

The Mono Winds are blowing in Yosemite. My Facebook stream echoes with wide-eyed descriptions of the fierceness of the wind shaking the buildings, but in the newer construction over by Curry Village, it’s a regular night in the apartment, tapping away at my computer and learning new things. Oh, yawn.

According to a document that looks like it might have been published as a collaboration between the National Weather Service and the National Park Service, the Mono Winds are a cold wind blowing downhill from the Mono area that can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour as it gets funneled through geographic constrictions like Yosemite Valley. This event is predicted to have 20 – 40 mph winds with gusts as strong as 60 or 75 mph. For some perspective, the fastest recorded winds are 231 mph on Mt Washington on April 12, 1934, (the date my mother-in-law was born), a hurricane doesn’t rate the name until it has consistent winds of 75 mph, and a Category 5 hurricane must have winds of 155 mph or more. The Fujita Scale gives a rough description of the kind of damage that you might expect from strong winds due to tornadoes. From that it looks like the Mono Winds are definitely on the gentle side of serious. However, they are still strong enough to knock down trees and branches, and that poses the biggest danger to people and property here. (Woe to the few remaining autumn leaves that thought they might hold out for another week or so.)

It’s best to be prepared, so the executive team met to discuss possible emergency measures. They are taking the situation seriously. A tree fell down early in the day near where I live in Curry Village. Certain evening programs were cancelled as people were encouraged to stay indoors, and some residents were asked to prepare in case they needed to be evacuated quickly – if a tree fell and hit their building, for example. I called Tom and suggested that he move the car to an open area out from under any trees. The climate around me started to feel a little jumpy. People were trying to figure out what they were going to do with their pets, where they would go etc., and when it came time for me to leave for the evening, the prospect of walking alone in the dark for a mile back to my apartment was starting to make me nervous.

Thank goodness for cell phones. I called Tom and made idle chit chat as I walked, figuring that if the freak accident did occur, at least he would know to call 911 quickly, and I chose a route home that avoided overhanging trees as much as possible. I think that walk home felt like being a mouse for a few minutes – like something big might come crashing down on you at any moment. Best to be alert, and just this side of paranoid. Other than being blustery, it was a beautiful night, crunching my way through all the leaves and pine needles that covered the walkways and roads, but it was hard to enjoy it. All in all, I’ll be happy when it is over. Hopefully we’ll all enjoy a peaceful and uneventful night.

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.