Tuesday, July 31, 2012

10 Years

Ten years ago today, I sat down in front of an old desktop computer and typed out my first short post for this blog.

Now, I'm typing on a laptop, two residences removed from the one I lived in a decade ago, and searching for something profound to say about it all. Much has changed around me. When I started this blog, I was childless and preparing to get married. Now, I have a 9 year old daughter and I'm preparing to get married a second time (we're looking at November).

Sometimes months will go by without an entry here, but I always come back. It's almost like a responsibility - something I've started and must continue. Not many people read this, but I feel like I can't abandon what I've begun, if only for myself and my own reasons. I actually get a kick out of going back and reading the older posts - they're like a message from the past.

How long this will continue is anybody's guess.

Currently listening to: Monolyth & Cobalt "Eilean"

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Caves and Graves, Trees and Wasps

Like last year, this year we ended up spending our summer vacation week visiting an amusement park and a succession of caves. In fact, it was the same amusement park as last summer, mainly because it was on the way to the caves.

The caves were closer to home than last year, and unfortunately all of them were the guided tour type of excursion, rather than like the Lava Beds caves we visited last year, where one is allowed to wander at will. That aside, the caves were fantastic. We went to Black Chasm, California Caverns, Mercer Caverns, and Moaning Cavern, even finding the time to do a night of car camping and Sequoia-ogling at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. I got to do a tandem zip line ride with Willow at Moaning Cavern, zipping down the 1500 foot cable over the dry scrub below. We also checked out nearby Natural Bridge, which featured a creek that had worn a tunnel through the limestone.

While in town of Volcano, which is where Black Chasm is, we wandered through the old Catholic cemetery there, finding a letterbox as we did so. We soaked up a lot of history at every stop, seeing a Cave Bear skeleton at California Caverns, and piles of bones on display at Moaning Cavern (not to mention some still in place on the cavern floor, left behind by people and animals who took the quick way down). There was one skull said to be from a Chinese girl who fell the 165 feet to the bottom of the cavern around 12,000 years ago. In Angels Camp, we checked out the museum, which was full of artifacts from the Gold Rush days, not to mention plenty of history related to the famous frog jumping contest, instigated by the Mark Twain story. The girls generally seemed to like the places we visited, although I think they both enjoyed the amusement park part the best. Ha.

Oh yeah, we also went to the Jelly Belly factory and went on the free tour. Needless to say, we bought some jelly bellies before hitting the road again.

The trip was well documented, of course.

We've been back a week now. At camp this week, Sophie came along and had a fun time. She got to be in my group too, which was nice. The Hognose snake wasn't in his cage on Monday (somebody needs a lesson on how to properly secure the top), but when I was getting food for the other animals on Wednesday, I discovered him crawling across the floor in the Nature Lab. I put him back in his cage, and the first thing he did was get a drink. It has been a parched summer.

Speaking of dryness, I think this is a contributing factor to our Yellow Jacket problems this year. There are so many more of them around than I've ever seen before. One group of kids got attacked on Wednesday as they navigated the narrow trail that follows the creek. I knew where that nest was, because a group I was leading stumbled over it several weeks previously. Then, on Friday, while on a "critter hunt" (an activity that I love to lead), we were looking under some old sections of brick wall that pepper the chaparral area. I had already looked under a few, finding a pretty little baby Rattlesnake under one, when one of the kids pointed to another and said, "I have a weird feeling about that one." It was set in the ground pretty well, so I really had to yank to free it from the dry dirt, and of course when I did, the Yellow Jackets were already boiling out of the ground. 10 people got stung, including a boy that got stung 5 times. Once I got all of the kids to safety and swatted the wasps off of them, I had to go back and get the plastic cage I'd dropped a few feet from the nest. By that time, the wasps had stopped boiling over, and were settling back down. I managed to grab the cage without getting stung again (I had initially gotten stung twice). It took awhile to calm down the boy who'd gotten stung the most, but for the other kids, it proved to be no big deal. One small girl, who couldn't have been more than 7 or 8, was particularly inspiring, shaking the whole experience off with a smile. Some kids are cool that way.

I'll add the location to our ever-growing list of areas to avoid, and the next time a kid says he has a "weird" feeling about something, I'll ask if he means good-weird or bad-weird. I guess he must have meant bad-weird, which is interesting because, as far as I know, none of us actually saw any Yellow Jackets flying around until I pulled off their roof. The kid had a bona fide psychic moment.

Currently listening to: Various "PM50"

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cautionary Tale For Naturalists

Week 4 of summer camp is over and done with. It was a hot one, with temperatures nearing the 100 degree mark (or perhaps surpassing it, depending on which thermometer I choose to believe).

Last night, a kid got stung by a Forest Scorpion while on the night hike. He wasn't with my group, but with the only other group leader who uses a UV light to look for scorpions and millipedes. The kids in my group were a bit older, and our scorpion and millipede viewing went off without a hitch. Apparently though, younger kids are a bit like magpies, grasping anything shiny within reach. Scorpions look pretty shiny when reflecting UV light, so the kid, who I believe is eight years old, reached for the shiny object and got a rude surprise. Fortunately, the local scorpions don't pack much of a punch, and the site of the sting didn't even swell. It hurt though.

When she was informed, the boy's sister (who was hiking with me) sighed and said that she wasn't surprised at all. Later, she told me that he had thought it was a shiny nut.

The lesson is, when hiking with younger kids, be aware of this tendency.

Go figure.

Currently listening to: Common Eider, King Eider "Worn"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Love

Later, I told some kids that I put the frog back in the pond. One kid opined that it would have been funny if it had turned into a prince before I dropped it into the water. It's true. That would have been funny, in a "dignified people getting messed with" kind of way.

Currently listening to: Evan Caminiti "Night Dust" LP

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Take Everything and Put It In A Smaller Container

This weekend, I've been pawing through boxes of National Geographic Magazines accumulated by my parents over a decades-spanning period starting before I was born and ending sometime in the nineties. My goal was to set aside issues that had articles I might actually read, and jettison the rest. The bulk of the collection is now on the front step, just waiting for whatever Freecycler responds first. I've decided to keep somewhere between 20 and 30 issues, plus most of the maps and other foldouts. I couldn't convince Willow to hang up any of the maps in her room, so I might have to hang some of them myself. I might also use some at work, either as geography contest prizes or as teaching tools during the school year.

It actually pains me to get rid of so many magazines. The photos are exquisite, and there is so much interesting information in those thousands of pages. It occurred to me that much of the contents of those magazines probably isn't available anywhere else. Not on the internet, in other words. I remember sometime back reading or realizing that every time there is a big technological change (I think I read an article about a lot of movies on VHS not making the jump to DVD), a lot gets left in the dustbins of history. Of course, where National Geographics are concerned, a lot just gets left in closets and garages. Hopefully someone will be able to take the magazines put them to good use, perhaps in a classroom or some other similar place, because realistically, I'm never going to read decades worth of old magazines. Information overload.

Currently listening to: Pentangle "Cruel Sister"

Friday, July 06, 2012

One Third Gone

I realized sometime last night that the 2012 summer camp season is already one third over. Today marks the end of week three of summer camp, with six more to follow.
This week, like the two previous ones, went relatively smoothly. I caught the same Gopher snake three times, which is unusual for a Gopher snake. They're usually not as sedentary as the local rattlesnakes have proved to be. One co-worker landed a dream job at a school over the hill, tons of kids became separated from their belongings, adding to Lost & Found Mountain, ex-campers appeared on the scene as counselors, including Alex, who worked with the Wild Things kids (that's the 5 and 6 year olds) and contributed to the Thursday evening festivities with a song (Heart of Gold by Neil Young) while ex-camper and fellow counselor Sausages accompanied him on harmonica. It's amazing seeing these kids grow up. They all have so much to offer. This is still one of the main reasons I love my job.

Willow just peeked in and said it's time for ice cream, so I'll end this post here. Ice cream is calling.

Currently listening to: Neil Young & Crazy Horse "Rust Never Sleeps"