Beautiful Rainy Weekend

colorful umbrellas at tunnel view
Hanging Out In The Rain At Tunnel View

A friend of mine really wanted to take advantage of the new moon tonight to test drive a new fancy camera. Another friend I haven’t seen in many months is coming for a weekend visit with her two boys. And it’s going to be raining. And that’s really, in the overall scheme of things, a great thing.

California still really needs the rain. It will be interesting to see the result of the April snow survey, but we’re hovering right around average now but with a big water deficit to make up for. You only need to look around at all the dead trees to see that lack of water is affecting the local ecology.

The forecast is for rain in Yosemite Valley and at our house in Yosemite West, but it’s still going to be cool enough that there will snow up at the higher elevations – snow that is going to be stored up for later on this summer when the weather get drier.

It’s getting warmer and it’s hard not to get ahead of the seasons, anticipating warm weather activities, but there are still some inspirational people going out and getting some great skiing at higher elevations.

Rain makes for some pretty dramatic scenery too. When the sky is a cloudless blue, there are masses of people out taking pictures with their phones and point and shoot cameras. When the storms roll in, that’s when you see the serious photographers with their big cameras come out. The clouds swirl around the Yosemite cliffs making them seem even bigger and lending a feeling of mystery about what lies beyond.

Rain also makes puddles. Don’t  underestimate those! Puddles are great for photography too, creating beautiful mirrors of the landscape everywhere. They are also great for splashing in. I’ve had great fun in the last year hunting puddles to splash in with a friend’s toddler.

And finally, I circle around to a Tim Ferriss Show podcast that I listened to recently where he interviewed Josh Waitzken. Josh is the chess prodigy who inspired the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, and who has since that time won national and world championships in martial arts, and now has a successful business coaching elite mental performers – currently mostly in the world of finance. He has lots of interesting things to say in that podcast, but the one that is relevant here, is that he started noticing that people put value judgments on the weather. “The weather is bad,” means it is raining. But actually, that’s arbitrary. Josh made a point of going outside to play with his son in every storm that comes through. When she visited us, my own Aunt Jaq would get up in the morning, walk outside to sniff the air, and stretch her arms up and say “Ah… it’s a beautiful day.” When we questioned that because it was raining, she said, “Oh, Honey, I decide before I get up that it’s going to be a beautiful day.”

That’s it. I’m fully planning to enjoy the beautiful weather in Yosemite this weekend. I’ll do some puddle splashing with my friend and her boys, take some photos, and revel in the great reason to curl up with some hot chocolate afterwards.

Pumpkin Prince

With Halloween coming up, with the ever-looming prospect of kids with too much candy on their hands, I thought I’d share a brilliant idea that a co-worker told me about. When she was growing up, she and her brother were allowed to eat as much candy as they wanted Halloween night, but then, all the left-overs went to into giant pumpkin shaped bowls to be left for the Pumpkin Prince.

In the morning, the candy would be gone – taken by the Pumpkin Prince – and, magically, in its place would be some amazing, and much-desired present. The kids thought this was fantastic – new basketball shoes, toys, whatever – and felt like gloating when the other kids had only their paltry daily ration of Halloween candy in their lunches. And the advantages to the parents? After the one-night candy-fest, the kids were happily back to eating healthy food. And then, of course, there is the Pumpkin Prince, who makes out like a bandit with all the kids’ candy, which can then be generously re-distributed at events or throughout the year.

Happy Halloween!

Recent Notoriety and Reminiscences

Me and my Vending Machine
Me and my Vending Machine

One of the odd consequences of living in Yosemite, and also of being part of the marketing department, is that my face seems to keep showing up in funny places. I get a chuckle out of it, usually. Part of me is certainly flattered at the attention, but it’s also hard not to be self-critical.

As part of a photoshoot I participated in while I was working at the Mountaineering School, my picture was taken while I was hiking – or pretending to hike, rather – out on Old Big Oak Flat Road with El Capitan in the background. That image, for a short time, graced the cover of the activity brochure, and is now on the front of several Pepsi vending machines. My Pepsi machines, my friends tell me, are in the Village Garage, at Housekeeping Camp and maybe some other locations. Unfortunately, I’ve never really liked that picture of myself, and it’s a little disconcerting to run into such a big image of myself. I’m glad that the two machines in front of our offices have pictures of other people.

While at YMS, I also had a chance to go snowshoeing with Tom Stienstra, an outdoor columnist for the SF Chronicle, TV personality and guidebook author. Between that and his continued close relationship with Kenny, who now works only 15 feet from me, he recently decided to publish a story about me in the Chronicle. It is a story about the accident I was in nearly 3 years ago, and my subsequent recovery. It was interesting to work with an experienced journalist and storyteller, and to see the process that he went through in terms of preparing for an interview and then writing a story. Unfortunately, the online article generated a bunch of pretty negative comments, which I thought were either petty, immature, uninformed or a combination of the three, but they still left a bad taste in my mouth.

Some nice things have happened as a consequence of that story too. One was that another writer, Bill Katovsky, who is working on a book entitled Return to Fitness, contacted me about putting a short sidebar about me in his upcoming book. Again, I had the opportunity to witness the writing process of a professional author. The methods and styles of the two men are very different, but each time I was amazed to see the sometimes subtle, sometimes sweeping influence on the story I would have told, making it more dramatic and/or fleshing out details.

Another thing that surprised me was that someone who had recently been in an accident and had injuries similar to mine contacted me to find out about my experience with recovery. I was happy to report to him that so many of my issues have gotten better over the years. But most interestingly, to me, was the number of old friends who got back in touch with me after reading the article. Reconnecting with them gets me thinking about other phases of my life, and the cool people I’ve met.

I’ve gotten back in touch with some friends over the last year, since my sister-in-law, nieces and nephew convinced Tom and I to get Facebook accounts. Facebook is kind of a strange service. On Facebook, I am friends with old High School classmates that I hadn’t been that close to, even then, and co-workers that I rarely interact with in real life. And when it comes to HS friends, the day-to-day updates don’t seem to come close to filling in 20 years of radio silence. Still, I love it. I love getting little messages about what people are doing – just random news and noise from their days.

And then there are the actual conversations! I just got back in touch with my orchestra teacher from high school and she reminded me that at one point I was upset that my dad wouldn’t let me get a job. “School is your job”. I don’t remember that at all. School is an awesome job. Getting to hang out and learn things all day – I wish I’d been more appreciative when I was younger. I wonder what else I’ve forgotten.

I wonder if some day I’ll stumble back across this post and think back. Oh yeah, remember those silly Pepsi machines with my picture on them? Those were the grand old days in Yosemite.

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.

Thinking about bears

Yosemite's Bears
Yosemite’s Bears is a great read – and not just because I know him. One of the articles that particularly caught my mind was Jeffrey’s musings about what a solution for managing bears would be. He talks about some of the things that they’ve tried – things that haven’t worked, like trying to condition bears to avoid human food, or putting up yet another bloody sign next to the ones that are already up, and things that have worked (to a degree), like improved food storage and ‘hazing’ bears with rubber bullets and loud noisemakers. It’s helping – but it’s hard to see and count the number of bears that remain wild that wouldn’t have otherwise, while dealing with the one bear that becomes dangerous, who has run out of other solutions, is a heart-breaker. Bringing us back to the questions: What else can we do? What is the solution?

Just as it’s in a bear’s nature to get the most calories for the least effort, it’s in a person’s nature to keep their food where it is convenient (not necessarily in a properly shut bear box) and to be lazy about walking the trash to the dumpster.

Idea 1. Make the lazy option OK. People may already be investigating different mechanisms that automatically lock and close without any additional effort from the people using them. Trouble is, bears seem to be shockingly good at figuring out how to open things, so this automated mechanism has to be complicated enough to foil clever bears, who have years to figure it out, but not so complicated as to confuse non-clever people who drove in late and just want to get to bed. Hm – now that I think of it, those could be overlapping sets. Tough problem.

Idea 2. Make the consequences more severe. The one solution/non-solution, that Jeffrey promises (I hope) to return to at some later date, is the option of issuing more/bigger citations for improper food storage. I hope he does, because his perspective would be interesting. I’m sure increasing the consequences for improper food storage isn’t a new idea for Jeffrey, or the others who have been working for years with Yosemite’s bears, but here are my thoughts anyway, since I’m thinking them.

It seems that the way to make that effective, is to do it in a way that makes it remarkable. Make the consequences for getting caught severe. Get a few headlines: “Yosemite NPS is cracking down on illegal food storage. $5000 fine for a forgotten sandwich…” Recruit travel writers like Tom Stienstra or Marek Warszawski to write articles. Issue a Press Release. Make the new policy big enough to make NEWS.

Not that you could EVER do this, but if we hazed people for leaving food out the same way we haze bears for getting close, people would take notice and start telling their friends. Nothing like a little hostile fire to encourage me to get that food into the locked bear box – pronto. Plus, it would be cathartic for rangers to open up with paintball guns on repeat offenders, wouldn’t it? (Joking! …kind of)

I don’t know. If there was an easy solution someone would have done it already, wouldn’t they? I’m sure there is no magic bullet. So, we creep up on a solution, one tracking collar, rubber bullet, sign, citation and heartbreaking bear story at a time. Thanks for the writing, Jeffrey. I hope we can figure it out.

[PS. Thanks to Loyd over at YosemiteBlog for pointing Jeffrey’s new site out to me.]

Optical Illusions: Seeing isn’t believing

Optical Illusion from Kitaoka
Optical Illusion from Kitaoka
It’s often amazing to me the kinds of shortcuts that our minds take when interpreting the world around us. For the lazy, who won’t click through to the wonderful article in Discover Magazine, the greenish spirals are actually the same color as the bluish spirals. What changes is the color that surrounds it. You can see other illusions like it on Kitaoka’s page.

We see different colors when they are exactly the same, less food on a large plate than on a small plate even though it’s exactly the same amount, and feel full based on what we’ve seen rather than what we’ve eaten (from Mindless Eating). We have confirmation bias – the tendency to see and attend to things that confirm our pre-existing theories. Sometimes it’s amazing how well we get around in our world.

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.

Another poem from The Writer’s Almanac really struck me a few weeks ago, Durum Wheat by Lisa Martin-Demoor. I find that I am reading these on a regular basis during natural breaks in the day. It doesn’t take long, and you sometimes find great gems, like the closing lines of this poem.

Durum wheat

by Lisa Martin-Demoor

Memory at its finest lacks corroboration
—no photographs, no diaries—
nothing to pin the past on the present with, to make it stick.
Just because you’ve got this idea
of red fields stretching along the tertiary roads
of Saskatchewan, like blazing, contained fires —
just because somewhere in your memory
there’s a rust-coloured pulse
taking its place among canola yellow
and flax fields the huddled blue of morning azures—
just because you want to
doesn’t mean you can
build a home for that old, peculiar ghost.

Someone tells you you’ve imagined it,
that gash across the ripe belly of summer,
and for a year, maybe two, you believe them.
Maybe you did invent it, maybe as you leaned,
to escape the heat, out the Pontiac’s backseat window
you just remembered it that way
because you preferred the better version.

Someone tells you this.
But what can they know of faith?
To ask you to leave behind this insignificance.
This innocence that can’t be proved: what the child saw
of the fields as she passed by, expecting nothing.

You have to go there while there’s still time.
Back to the red flag of that field, blazing in the wind.
While you’re still young enough to remember
a flame planted along a road. While you’re still
seeing more than there is to see.

“Durum wheat” by Lisa Martin-Demoor, from One Crow Sorrow. © Brindle & Glass, 2008.

Daemons and Geniuses

There are a lot of amazing TED talks out there at this point, but this has got to be one of my favorites. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love, shares a new perspective on the creative process that goes back to the Greeks and Romans. It’s the idea that the creative energy comes from Somewhere Else – a creative daemon or genius that comes to work with the artist on her projects. She talks about how this idea helps her to approach her writing with a more positive and healthy mental outlook and tells us incredible stories of the creative process of the poet Ruth Stone. It’s only 18 minutes long. Watch it.

Least Crowded Channel

A while back, Tom turned me on to some great interviews on, and in particular an interview with Tim Ferris – the author of The 4-Hour Workweek. One of the many great ideas that came out of that interview (just go listen to it), was the idea of exploring and using the least crowded channel for communication. Tim figured out that if he wanted someone’s attention, the best way to do that was to use a channel of communication that wasn’t already crowded and noisy. For example, if you want to establish a relationship with an A-list blogger, the easiest way to actually get on their radar is not by sending them an email. These people are getting tons of email. Instead, Tim made a point of attending conferences where there were a more limited number of interactions.

Of course, that doesn’t just apply to people on the A-list, or even the B, C, or D-list. And it also isn’t just that face-to-face meetings are better. If you’re meeting people constantly in real life, but you have a new account on Twitter, maybe that is the best way to approach you. I wonder if that is/was part of the beauty of Twitter – especially at the beginning. There weren’t that many people on it, and so it was an uncrowded channel.

Today, I had my own little Least Crowded Channel experience. I’m online. There’s Twitter and email and Facebook, and a woman today took the time to find my phone number. Huh. It’s not exactly like a face-to-face meeting, but I get fewer phone calls than I get emails, so it worked. She wanted to submit a testimonial to about her family’s long-standing relationship with Yosemite to celebrate her parents’ 69th anniversary (they honeymooned in Yosemite in 1940). Today. And she called me at 4:30 as I was starting to think about winding down for the day. But, she had such a sweet and beautiful story, that I couldn’t resist. If she’d sent me an email – I may have skimmed it before I left. Maybe. But I’m sure I would not have felt as compelled to stay a little late to put her testimonial up today – much less give it front-page billing.


Other notes:

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