Saturday, May 19, 2018

Some Spring Photos From Camp

There is a solitary week of science camp yet to come this school year. Between now and then, I have a week off. It's true what they say about the years seeming to go by faster as one ages. The weeks go by in a blink

A few things of note have happened this year:

The road to camp is finally fixed now. It took over a year, during which we had to shuttle kids in vans from the parking lot of another camp down the hill. In the final months, when repairs were actually underway, we had to adjust our schedules to work around the road closure.

There is a retrofitting/repair project underway at Lake Ranch Reservoir. The reservoir was built in the 1870s, and is not up to current earthquake safety standards. Coincidentally enough, it sits right on top of the San Andreas Fault. The water company is putting in new pipes, but to do this, they've had to drain the water out. It's not completely dry, but the water level is as low as I've ever seen it. Because of this, there are vast expanses of mud. To date, five different kids have lost shoes (literally), and two kids got mired in the mud deeply enough that they had to be dug out by their friends.

We've been doing an official animal count on the Thursday long hikes, with a view toward creating our own database of local population trends.

Three staff members have seen a Mountain Lion in the last couple of weeks. I was not one of them.

The strangest animal sightings for me have been:

Seeing a Hoary Bat fall out of a tree and then, when Bat and Sasquatch tried to get it into a box for a trip to a wildlife rescue center, suddenly recover and fly back into the tree (pictured below). Other groups saw a Bobcat and a Bald Eagle on that day. I saw a bobcat a few weeks later. I still haven't seen a Bald Eagle around camp though.

Seeing a hapless Western Toad locked in amplexus with a rotting Bullfrog carcass(pictured below).

Having a solo sit during the night hike ended by a Great Horned Owl. I told the kids I'd hoot like an owl when it was time to end the solo sit and return to the circle. About a quarter of the group mistook the real owl hoot for mine.

Finding a Western Forest Scorpion in the middle of cannibalizing a smaller member of its species.

Below are some photos from the last few months of camp.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Trips So Far This Year

My last post was way back in the benighted month of January. Now, with Spring struggling to be born, I suddenly got an urge to click out a few words, if for no other reason than to briefly document a couple of trips taken during the opening months of 2018.

Back in January, Jeanine, Eva, Willow, and I took a trip to Las Vegas for this year's Twist and Shout convention. Jeanine and Eva got there earlier and stayed later than Willow and I did (our truncated trip was due to school and work). It was a brief trip, during which we stayed in a couple of different hotels. During our stay on Fremont Street, we checked out the Fear The Walking Dead attraction, walked to the nearby natural history museum, a record store, and a bookstore, and wandered the off-strip strip. Willow and I experienced our first Uber ride on our way back to the airport. Quite convenient.

Check out my photo set here.

While we were gone, one of the cats (or possibly more than one) managed to upend the Corn Snake tank, meaning that when I got home, there were two snakes loose in the house. Within days, Dexter alerted me to the location of the first one. Dexter is the only cat not on the suspect list. Weeks later, Brian (who is definitely on the list of suspects), found the other one hiding behind our non-operational dishwasher. Problem solved.

Our other trip was to Richmond, so Jeanine could say goodbye to her friend, Debs, who had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. A bunch of like-minded friends of hers converged on a local mall and created a beautiful garden scene out of balloons. Despite what could be considered a grim reason behind the trip, we had an enjoyable stay, visiting the Poe Museum, the Hollywood Cemetery, Belle Isle, some record stores, and a few other places, some of historical interest, and some of culinary appeal.

Check out my photo set here.

Debs passed away earlier this week. I'm glad I got to meet her before she went. Here's a short article courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Good Newts

At work, we've designated Thursday as Critter Counting Day. The idea is to create a database of animals seen on our so-called Epic Journey hikes (about 5 hours of trail time). This week, we had nine field classes, so lots of of different trails were taken.

We combined two field classes for a hike out to the reservoir because the route allowed van access, which was important because we had a boy on crutches, a girl with a mildly twisted ankle, and a girl with vision impairment. The boy was dropped off and picked up .6 miles from the reservoir, but made it up the hill on crutches and down it in our ATV pushcart (actually a jogging stroller, but we don't call it that because nobody ever wants to ride in a stroller), the girl with the injured ankle walked all the way there but accepted a ride back, and the girl with vision impairment did the whole walk.

At the reservoir, we counted 303 newts in the water, where they were mating and laying eggs. That's a record, although truth be told, I haven't counted every time I've gone on a hike.

There were some cute newt tracks along the trail too.

Here's the total count for the day:

Monday, January 08, 2018


We have a big pile of manure outside of the garden gates at work, used to make our composting efforts more effective. This week, while the campers were literally shoveling shit, I walked around the pile and encountered a couple of photographic opportunities.

Life in waste reminds us not to waste our lives. You're welcome.

Happy New Year

It's too early to tell if this Winter will be as rainy as the last one, but we're off to a good start, with a little rain falling during the week, and more rain falling as I type.

The road leading to camp is still being repaired from the damage sustained last Winter, with the new completion estimate being mid-February. Of course, the work didn't begin until the rainy season began, so there is a big possibility of weather-related delays complicating matters.

The first week of the year went well, with the all-day hike finding us in a drizzly, foggy wonderland of mist-obscured trees and marching newts (we counted 71 of them on that one hike). The newts were out in force for the night hike as well. We actually got back a little late because of all of the newts (and millipedes) I had to move out of the trail. We found a lone female Western Toad too.

The coolest find of the week was a small adult Pacific Giant Salamander sitting on the walkway near the parking lot.

This week also marked the debut of the Flat Rock Scorpion I bought over the break. A couple of the classroom teachers actually held it (but not the kids, because I never let them hold anything with a stinger). Here she is in her UV drenched glory:

The forest is beautiful this time of year. It always is, but the rain and fog paint such mysterious pictures.

Someday soon, we'll have a new Hognose Snake at camp. I bought a new one this weekend. The one at camp is around 25 years old (I bought it in the early nineties, but I can't remember the year), which is well beyond the life expectancy for the species, so I think it's time to bring it home and let it retire in peace. I've already successfully fed the new one a thawed pinkie too.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Some Words At The End Of The Year

There haven't been many words published here this year. Reasons vary, but it's probably a combination of needing a break from the self-imposed responsibility of updating this page and despairing over the current state of the world.

The latter, at least as far as the U.S. is concerned, continues to be well chronicled here.

By the numbers, I read this many books (which means I've been slacking compared to the previous year), walked lots of steps (still waiting for the official Fitbit year-end report on that one), and listened to lots of music in my quest to re-listen to all of my records (I've got to keep better track of how much, if only for my own obsessive reasons).

I think it's mainly my music-listening activity that keeps me away from the keyboard these days.

Lots of people died this year. The older we get, the more it's likely to happen. The three people I'll miss most are Jim Kaiser, Annie "Rattlesnake" Whitacre, and my aunt Jan Olander. I wrote about Jim here. Annie was a camper and later, a counselor, at my work. She was creative, rebellious, and talented. She was also one of the few counselors who attended our wedding back in 2012. A few photos are posted below. The fist one was taken during summer camp a number of years ago, and the rest are from our wedding.

Her obituary is here.

Her voice is here.

My aunt Jan died on November 19th. I'm glad that I, along with Willow and Greg, got a chance to reconnect with her (and the rest of my dad's side of the family) a few years ago. In Willow's case, the word "reconnect" isn't right. I'm glad that Willow got to meet her. Here is a trio of photos from the trip.

Greg made it out to Red Wing for the funeral. Due to work, I did not.

Three excellent people, all completely different from each other. It's the differences that make us stronger. The world is just a little less varied now.

It's hard to follow that with much of anything, but I want to mention trips taken this year before I end this post. The only one I wrote about is the trip to England that Jeanine and I took back in April. We stayed with my friend Nidge, who was an excellent host. I wrote about it here. I also managed to take a trip to Oregon with Greg, which I've already written about, a trip to Orlando with Jeanine, Eva, and Willow, and a trip to Baltimore for the Days of Darkness music festival.

Goodbye 2017. 2018 will be what we make it to be.

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.