Saturday, September 02, 2017

Eclipse and Such

Every August, between the end of summer camp and the beginning of science camp, I get two to three weeks off of work. I usually have big plans of things I want to accomplish during this time, but invariably the list languishes on a piece of paper while I relax. I could blame the fact that I work hard during the rest of the year, and I would be partially justified. Although I don't consider what I do "work", it does take a lot of energy and focus. It's nice to not wake up to an alarm and do whatever I want for a few weeks. Lately, I've been on a mission to re-listen to all of my old records, which has been taking up much of my free time. It's an interesting process, revisiting those old slabs of vinyl, some of which I haven't listened to in decades. I listen to many of them with different ears now, although I find that in many cases this process has inspired new purchases. Curse my acquisitive nature.

This also partially explains my unusual silence here. I won't write and listen to music at the same time, because doing anything while listening to music relegates the music to background status. Focus goes out the window.

That said, I have left the house a few times. This week, I went on hike at Hidden Villa with Willow, my cousin Peter, and his two girls. It was a hot day on the farm, but nothing compared to the temperatures this weekend (it was well over 100 degrees here, and approached 115 in the central valley, which is highly unusual). A few days ago, Jeanine, Eva, and I went the Dali museum in Monterey. It was very much worth the visit. The day after that, I went to Filoli with Jeanine and her friend, Alina. I had been there as a chaperon on an elementary school field trip with Sophie, but this was my first unstructured visit. We wandered through the mansion and gardens, which are really quite impressive. Then, a couple of nights ago, Eva and I went up to San Francisco to see Greg and company perform at the Lost Church. It was excellent. To give an idea of the current heatwave, it was still nearly 80 degrees in San Francisco after the performance. The micro-climate failed us.

The major event of the last few weeks though was the solar eclipse. I had a series of plans for this, one of which involved the Atlas Obscura festival in Oregon (sold out before I could buy a ticket), and another of which entailed first driving to Las Vegas for a multi-day music festival called Psycho Fest (distance and expense eventually ruled it out). Then, Greg's old friend Dana was going to let us stay at her place in Fort Collins, CO, which was a mere three hour drive from the path of totality. This fell through when it turned out her brother was bringing more people than originally planned. Family before old friends, it seems.

Then, Greg got in touch with his friend, Alan, who had his eclipse experience so thoroughly planned that all we had to do was throw a bunch of stuff in the car and head for the hinterlands of eastern Oregon. Alan, in a series of very thorough e-mails, explained that we would be camping at a campground called Priest Hole, along the John Day river. This would allow us to approach the nearby Painted Hills from the north, rather than the potentially traffic-choked south. Painted Hills State Park had the advantage of being smack dab in the center of the path of totality, not to mention the fact that it was worth a visit on its own merits.

We did the drive all in one go, only stopping to eat at the usual place in Weed, and for gas a couple of times. As we entered Oregon on 97, there was a big, home made sign stating, "Eclipse canceled! Go home!". We ignored it. Traffic wasn't bad, all things considered.

We arrived at the campground around 10:00 PM, guided in by the LED beacon mentioned in the e-mails (did I mention that Alan is very through in his planning?). We ended up not erecting a tent. The Milky Way smeared the black sky above us, and it was a warm night, so why not enjoy the view?

We had a day to kill before the event, so Greg and I waded across the river and into the high desert hills. This took up the morning and perhaps the early part of the afternoon. Back at camp, we lounged and chatted. All told, there were slightly over 30 people in our group, making ours one of the biggest campsites. During the day, other people filtered in, filling the flat, rocky expanse that passed for a campground. Many people played in the river.

The sunset was beautiful. We went to bed relatively early because we planned to get up at 4:00 AM to beat the rush to the Painted Hills.

We did just that.

At the Painted Hills, we ascended a convenient ridge and joined the other people already there. The view was beautiful, and excited chatter broke the silence. At some point, after hearing that a park ranger had warned of scorpions, I wandered off the trail and found one. At the time, I wasn't sure what species it was, but once home and able to research it, I discovered that it was Paruroctonus boreus, or Northern Scorpion. I consider this an added bonus. Icing on the cake, if you will. Beautiful little creature.

In due time, darkness spread, the temperature dropped, a few confused crickets started chirping, and a black hole appeared in the sky, ringed by the sun's corona. It was, quite simply, an amazing spectacle. A flock of birds flew across the sun as we watched.

Totality lasted two minutes, and then sunlight speared our eyes, making us reach once again for our solar-filtered glasses. We remained in place until the shadow had passed completely away again, and then left the ridge.

Back at the campsite, we packed up and hit the road, full of plans for the drive back. Our plans died in traffic. There are a lot of interesting volcanic monuments along highway 97, but by the time we got there, they were closed for the day. Further south, traffic slowed to a standstill. During the worst of it, we traveled a mere 15 miles in around 3 hours. By that point, our backup plan of camping at Lava Beds National Monument was looking like it wasn't going to happen, so I pulled over and we slept alongside the road.

Around 5 hours later, we awoke to find the traffic gone, so I started the car and we continued our journey. We visited Crater Lake, which was obscured by smoke from burning southern Oregon, ate a much needed breakfast at the park restaurant, where we commiserated with the people at the next table about the traffic. Once outside the park, we headed for I-5, with the intention of stopping in Ashland for lunch. Along the way, we were sucked into the Oregon Bee Store to buy honey and beeswax candles. In Ashland, we visited a book and a record store, had lunch at the bookstore cafe, and bought ice cream before heading back out to I-5.

Our next planned stop was Shasta Caverns. I had been there before, but Greg hadn't. We made it just in time for the last tour. It was pretty much like I remembered it from the last time. Worth doing.

Afterward, our tour guide recommended a Thai restaurant in nearby Redding. We headed there and ended eating next to a couple of women who had been on the tour and overheard the recommendation. They had watched the eclipse from an alpaca farm. One of them called it the "alpacalipse". I approved. We also commiserated about traffic.

Then, we hit the road for the long journey back to the bay area. Just like that.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


How to distill summer down to a few words?

I worked nine weeks of summer camp, four of which were Summer Camp Classic, and five of which were Trailblazers, with one of the latter being a residential camp for the migrant education program. Badger, despite his attempts to retire, is still the director of the classic summer camp, and Sasquatch has stepped in as director of Trailblazers. He came laden with all sorts of new ideas, including shelter building, a blind walk, Jedi training (sort of a combination of tether ball and dodge ball), cooking, and new (to me) games such as Wolf Pack, Mission Sasquatch, and Nature Survival Experience. It was a blast, and over too fast.

Due to the storm-damaged road, we shuttled kids to and from camp in vans all summer. I was skeptical that it would work, but we managed.

Willow had summer school for much of the summer, but managed to spend two weeks as a camp counselor, one week for Wild Things (mostly 5 and 6 year olds), and one week with the older kids. Sophie was up for some Wild Things counseling too. By all reports, they both did great jobs. I'm a proud dad. Willow is sad that it's over, and is now back in school as a high schooler. Initial reports suggest that the biology teacher gives too much homework.

To mark the end of camp, on Friday I went and saw an uncut Italian language print of Dario Argento's Suspiria at the Roxie Theater in S.F., and on Saturday went up to camp in the evening with Jeanine and Willow, where we met Weasel, Night Hawk, Lion, Clover, and others for a Perseid Meteor Shower viewing party. We saw some big ones and had a fine old time. Weasel recently had both her vocal cords removed to combat the cancer growing there, but can still talk because the false vocal cords help create sound. She went through the whole ordeal with bravery and grace, plus some online diagrams showing what was happening.

Sunday, Jeanine, Willow, and I went up to see the most recent Central Works play, Winter, about the right to die with dignity. It was excellent, even by the high standards of Central Works.

Here is a photo set of all the photos I took during summer camp.

As far as this blog goes, I haven't been writing much mainly because I've been listening to records. It sounds funny when I write it that way, but I've been trying to re-listen to all of my old records, CDs, and cassettes, and since I have over 8000 of them, it's taking up a lot of time. I've rediscovered some gems along the way, but this has led to more purchases. But hey, it's a hobby.

I may or may not get back on track here. Time will tell.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

A Few Photos From the Stormy Months

This looks like a California Newt emerging from a creek, but in reality it's just crossing a trail. Over the last couple of months, I've joked about how it seems that all of the rain withheld during the multiple-year California drought was unleashed over the course of this winter. In any event, the swiftly saturated ground couldn't handle the deluge, so runoff swamped many of the trails, either due to culverts being blocked or simply because the water had nowhere else to go. It made hiking an adventure.

Speaking of creeks, this is what Todd Creek in Sanborn Park looked like after a landslide dumped some extra trees, rock, and soil into it. For over a month, I was actually a bit nervous letting kids near the water, let alone hiking up the creek. Now, from the vantage point of Spring, things are more or less back to normal, although due to the flooding and sliding, in some places it's a new normal.

Just past Todd Creek there is an old landslide that took away a section of trail back in the nineties. The rangers put up a fence so hikers wouldn't march off the new cliff and die, and a single track detour trail eventually allowed access to where the main trail picked up on the other side. This winter, as one can see from the precarious condition of the fence, more earth slid away. Sometime after this photo was taken, the fence succumbed to gravity. It now lies broken at the bottom of the newly scoured ravine. Most of the trees that started growing after the original slide now lie shattered downhill somewhere. In addition to this, the detour trail is simply gone, like a giant took an ice cream scoop to the hillside.

Lastly, here's a photo taken up Todd Creek Road, showing one of several slides that temporarily blocked access. The only people who ever drive up this road are park rangers and camp maintenance staff, but we routinely hike groups of kids up and down it. It's a good thing we're flexible. Many plans were changed on the fly this winter.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Still Here

I'm looking out the window at bright blue sky. A breeze so gentle as to be almost nonexistent ruffles the foliage. It has been around two months since I've written here, and this will only be my second post of 2017. Two months is a long time to be silent. During this silence, a rainy Winter has given way to Spring, we have gone on a couple of trips (one to Orlando, and one to London), and the political situation in this country has continued to fester.

The trail pictured in the previous post is still closed, and the road to camp has sustained enough damage that we've had to shuttle kids up it using vans. Buses exceed the new weight limit and it is apparently against regulations to bus kids up compromised roads (as it should be). We have added several vans to our fleet though, and it is now part of the routine.

I'm using Willow's laptop now. Mine is barely functional. It's a good thing Willow has two.

My long silence is partially due to my laptop getting more difficult to use, and once I got out of the habit of posting regularly, the days just slipped by even after I switched laptops. I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things, so hopefully more posts will emerge over the forthcoming days. I realize that I'm mostly speaking into the void anyway, since I don't imagine many people read this (and nor should they, since these posts are usually unfocused personal ramblings). I continue to write just to keep in practice.

Perhaps it's time to rethink my approach.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

A Month Off For No Good Reason

So it seems I've taken a month off from writing here. It wasn't planned, and there is no real reason behind the decision. I just haven't felt like writing.

The most significant thing to happen during January was the beginning of a new political era, one that is certain to end poorly for everybody. Some enterprising souls are taking notes on the slow motion train wreck here. Tensions run high. Rioting has occurred. Various scummy fringe groups suddenly feel empowered. Innocent people are already suffering.

Of greater personal significance was the sudden death of my friend, Jim Kaiser. Jim played music with my brother. I'll write about him over on my music blog soon, as it seems the more appropriate place to post about him.

Locally, we have gotten a truckload of rain. At work, I've seen water in places where I've never seen it before. Creeks have jumped banks, power lines have come down. Creeks that are normally mere trickles or dry washes have suddenly become raging, frothy torrents. Most significantly, the trail to the reservoir was subject to a landslide, and is going to be closed for months.

Here's what the John Nicholas Trail leading up to Lake Ranch Reservoir currently looks like.

Here are a couple of the trails in Sanborn Park.

We got a foggy day too:

The picture below was taken in a spot where this in normally no surface water.

Sometime over the holiday break, the deer carcass near the driveway in Sanborn Park was reduced to a pile of scattered bones.

There were a few chilly nights too.

The only noteworthy excursion (not counting musical ones, which are reported elsewhere) of the month was a short trip to Hacienda Cemetery to find the grave containing an arm (the owner of which is buried in another cemetery, but that will be a trip for another time). We succeeded. It was a nice little spot.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Final Post of the Year

I suppose I could have gone somewhere or done something noteworthy over the break, but I chose to stick close to home. I didn't even go hiking. The closest thing to that was the walk to downtown that Jeanine and I did yesterday. That said, I guess I walked around Berkeley a bit too, when Jeanine and I went to meet up with Greg, my cousin Peter with his twins (recently turned 4), and aunt Marilyn. This is the first time Marilyn has been out to California since before I was born, and Peter has been showing her around. We managed to cross paths twice while she was here, once at home, and then in Berkeley, where we spent most of the visit in bookstores.

Christmas came and went. Greg ventured down. Presents were exchanged and food was consumed. Eva's present arrived just in the nick of time, and one of Willow's is still not here. If it shows up, she'll be getting it for her birthday instead.

I got Eva a colony of Dermestid beetles, which are mostly used for cleaning animal skulls. Come to think of it, I might borrow them from her if I find anything interesting at work. So far, the beetles have only eaten cat food, but a couple of days ago I found a dead rat on the lawn, so we'll see how that goes...

Oh, we might have a new cat. A couple of days ago, I spotted a fluffy, white cat in the yard. It was too busy watching the chickens to take notice of much else. Jeanine went out and brought it in. She took it to the vet to see if it had a chip, and it does, but the chip was never registered, which essentially makes it useless, meaning we have no efficient way of finding the owner. So far, no bites on Craig's List or the local community forum either.

This will undoubtedly be my final post of the year. Willow is here this weekend, and we don't plan on going out anywhere tonight. Jeanine has a couple of gigs, but should be home well before midnight. Tomorrow, I plan on going to Gilman for the first part of the Lookouting festival, which is spread out over this weekend and the next. Eva was there last night and her friend's car got broken into, so she lost her phone and an expensive make-up kit. A parting kick from 2016? I guess that neighborhood has never been the best, but I always felt perfectly safe parking there. Until now. Jeanine had the foresight to insure Eva's phone though, so a replacement is already on the way.

But I ramble...

Willow has a plan to try going vegetarian, at least for the month of January. Today, she wants to go out and have a burger though. I'd laugh, but I spent yesterday buying a crapload of music online in preparation for my plan to buy none during January. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I guess...

2016 definitely had some lowlights, none of which I'll recap here. One highlight for me was that 2016 was the year that I finally started to learn how to play guitar. It's also the year that I ended my time as the night supervisor at camp and went back to being a field instructor. We got a new boss too, and she's a breath of fresh air after the interim director we were briefly saddled with.

Politically, I despair. Personally, I'll keep doing what I do. Yeah, I have some so-called resolutions in mind. Maybe some of them will stick this year. In addition to my annual attempt to cut down on my unsustainable music spending habits, I'm going to try and severely limit my time online at the start of the year, at least when it comes to Facebook and such. Recently, Willow actually voluntarily deleted some of her social media apps, so she has finally (independently) come to the conclusion that she spends to much time on social media as well. This way, we'll be able to benefit from mutual support.

Here's to the coming year. Let it be a good one.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Final Week of Work for the Year...

We only had around 70 kids attending the final week of science camp for 2016, which made camp seem kind of empty. My hiking group was composed of 17 campers and one cabin leader. We only had two volunteer cabin leaders this week, with two staff members filling in as cabin leaders for the other two cabins (we usually have 11 cabins full of kids). Thursday brought a deluge, and the road to camp was briefly blocked when a large Madrone tree fell across some power lines. It was still there when I drove out, looming ominously above the asphalt, propped up by nearly nothing. I'm not sure why the utility people were allowing us through at that time, but probably because they'd turned the power off.

On Wednesday, I took the kids on my favorite winter route for the all day hike. The forest is beautiful when the weather is rainy and foggy.

During the rainstorm, on a whim, I had the kids dig around an old Mountain Lion kill site (without telling them what it was) to see what they could find. This is all that remained:

Below is a photo taken the first time I visited the remains a couple of years ago. It was pointed out to me a day or two ago that felines will usually go for the brains and hearts first because they contain high levels of taurine, which feline bodies don't produce. Canines, on the other hand, will eat the stomachs because they can benefit from the plant nutrients but don't have the enzymes to break down the cell walls of plants. Due to this, a girl in my group actually stepped on the stomach the first time we visited the carcass. If coyotes had been about, she wouldn't have.

This weekend, my cousin Peter's twin daughters celebrated their fourth birthdays. I went over and celebrated with them, and then headed up to the city for a Neurosis show, which was excellent, as usual.

Willow was out with her girl scout troupe this weekend, having a sleepover. Jeanine has been busy with work, and Eva has been out with friends (she rarely seems to be around on the weekends at all these days). I have two weeks off now. I usually have all sorts of plans to get things done, but end up not accomplishing much. Will this year be different? Time will tell...