Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fewer Kids

There are only 68 kids at camp this week, and Monday night was full of the usual "settling in" pains. In other words, some kids pushed the envelope a bit to see if I was serious about the rules and a large number of girls had trouble adjusting to sleeping away from home.

After awhile, things calmed down and the animals ventured out to play.



Empty cabin:

The place really does seem deserted.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Weak End

Sometimes weekends come and go without much of anything happening. On one hand, it's nice to have lazy days, but on the other hand, it's nice to finish the weekend with a sense of accomplishment. Sure, I put together the new lawn mower and mowed the lawn, and I took Willow out to unsuccessfully look for a Halloween costume, but none of us did anything especially noteworthy. Jeanine, as usual, spent most of the weekend working. Eva went out to a concert on Friday night. Willow parked herself in front of the TV when we weren't out and about. I try to get her interested in doing active things, but usually this requires me not giving her a choice. Her default setting is inactivity, which is funny, because she willingly joined the cross-country team at school. She is always involved in some sort of sport, whether it be soccer, softball, or running, but at home she just wants to unwind in front of a screen. It's probably at least partially my fault, because I do the same thing (in fact I'm doing it right now) with my laptop.

And what does Willow want for Christmas? A laptop.

Out in the yard, the doves brave the threat of hawks and continue to hang around. One of the chickens may have a case of Bumblefoot.

Tonight marks the start of my third week back at work for the season. There are only supposed to be 75 kids though, so the place will feel half empty. Whether or not that will make a difference in my workload remains to be seen. It all depends on the kids.

Finally, here's an interesting article that points to a link between California's drought and climate change. Right now, the sky out my window is blue, with no rain in the immediate forecast.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Falling Liquid, Falling Solids

My second week of work this school year has come and gone. The kids were great, but some of them leaked. I had to clean up vomit three times. None of these were as bad as the poop incident. A boy came back from the night hike and managed to make it within five feet of the toilet before disaster struck. I see this a lot: Kids tend to hold things in past the point of no return, and then make a mad dash for the nearest toilet. What often happens is the minute the stall door closes, a small, localized explosion occurs. In this particular case, absolutely none of it actually made it into the toilet. The boy, along with his poopy clothes and poopy self, didn't want to come out, but eventually he was coaxed into the shower by a helpful teacher, leaving behind more poop than I would have thought a small child could contain. Needless to say, lots of cleaning and washing needed to happen. Another kid had a similar problem, but his cabin leader handled it by bagging up his clothes and making him shower. At least this second disaster was contained by pants.

You'd think that fifth graders would be able to make it to the bathroom in time. Thankfully, most of them do. It's the exceptions we remember though. This is the downside of my job. It sometimes seems that the fifth graders of today are like the toddlers of yesteryear. The increasing infantilization of America is an interesting yet worrying phenomenon. A lot of the skills of yesteryear seem to be being acquired later in life, if at all. You'd think that being able to get to the toilet in time would be one of the skills considered mandatory after the age of 3 or 4, but you'd be wrong.

Later that night, it rained, and it was beautiful. The sound and smell of rain more than made up for all of the frantic cleaning earlier in the evening.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Autumn Equinox

Each year, the temporal distance between the solstices and the equinoxes seems shorter, although I guess we're all halfway to somewhere. As I type these words, we're halfway to the Winter Solstice. I'm afraid to blink. If I do that, my eyes will open on the Winter Solstice and the final ashes of the year will whirl away on the winter wind. That is assuming that there will be wind. While I'm assuming things, I guess I'll go the distance and assume some actual rain into being as well.

Happy Autumn Equinox. The day started off a bit foggy, but it didn't last. Outside, doves and chickens mingle in the dirt under a blue sky. The squirrels have been decimating our avocados too. Here's some photos from yesterday.

At work last night, a couple of kids did some regurgitating in the darkness, meaning I earned my pay. Before this, a skunk wandered past the Hub, making a circuit of the cabins. Fearing that some sleepy kid would wander out and trip on him, I herded him away from the buildings. He let me get within about five feet before turning and waddling off.

Here are a pair of bad phone photos.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Right after I finished the previous post, there was a ruckus in the backyard, with lots of dashing around and clucking. Jeanine exclaimed "hawk!", and we dashed outside to discover a seemingly empty yard. There was a disappointed looking Cooper's Hawk on the roof next door. It flew off after we spotted it.

It took us awhile to find the chickens. They'd all dashed for cover. We were a bit concerned about Henrietta, because she's the lightest, which makes her the most likely to be singled out by airborne predators. Thankfully, she'd squeezed under one of the Bougainvillea plants, which has thorns long enough to deter even the most determined hunter.

Hopefully, nothing bigger will discover our yard. I imagine that, as long as we have a buffer zone of doves, the chickens are pretty safe. They definitely know when to dash for cover too.


I've been involved in the "Walk to Mordor" challenge for awhile now. In fact, I can't remember when I started. The challenge is simply to walk the distance walked by Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings. It's a long way. 1779 miles, to be exact. To date, I've walked 1162 of those miles, with 617 left to go. My goal this year was to complete the challenge before December 31st, but slightly over 3 months of the year left, that no longer looks very realistic. I started off strongly, walking 100 miles in January. Unfortunately, I slacked off after that, especially over the summer. I hate walking long distances in the heat. Case in point, I only walked 12 miles in August (although, to be fair, I didn't log any of the walking I did at Lava Beds). As of this writing, I've walked 19 miles in September, which isn't a lot, but it's better than nothing. I walked nearly 8 of those miles this weekend though. Nothing like making up for lost time.

It's cloudy out today, and there is a bit of a bite to the air at night. There's also a good chance that it might rain later in the week. That would be nice.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

One Down

This morning, there was a sad little pile of feathers in the back yard. I guess the hawk came back when nobody was looking. We are no longer graced with an even number of doves.

Currently listening to: Sol Invictus "See the Dove Fall"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wildlife Notes

One of the chickens just ran like a crazy bird past the window, and Eva just reported seeing a hawk over in the neighbor's yard. That explains the running chicken. I looked out back in time to see the hawk flying away, but not in time to get a good enough look to identify it. I'm guessing Cooper's Hawk. Eva said she saw chasing the Mourning Doves that congregate in our yard so they can eat the chicken food. We're becoming quite popular with the local doves. Jeanine has seen 22 of them in the yard at once. My top count is still only around 12 though. I think I need to get up earlier in order to see real numbers. After all, the early bird catches the... chicken feed.

Speaking of wildlife, last night on the way to work, I saw three young coyotes. As coyotes almost always do, they vanished like furry ninjas seconds before I could point a camera lens in their direction. The moment is captured in my mind though, so I'm sharing it with words rather than photos. I love seeing coyotes.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rain, Sort Of

For most of the night at work, water drifted down from the sky. Most of the time, it was more of a heavy mist than a proper rain, but it was better than nothing. Unfortunately, this strange phenomenon of descending moisture seemed confined to the hilly regions, because the ground was still bone dry at home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Smoking Weed

It looks like the town of Weed has been hit by a wildfire. We drove through Weed on our way to (and from) Lava Beds last month. At the time, visibility was poor because of smoke from other fires, Mt. Shasta had less snow on it than I've ever seen before, and an atmosphere of apocalypse hung in the air. Despite what one might think due to the irreverence of the title I've saddled this post with (because I couldn't resist), my heart goes out to the people who have suffered through this fire and others around the state.

Phones and Fog

I've finally given in. I've become one of those people who takes pictures with his phone. I've always resisted new technology, mostly because new technology comes with hidden risks (for example, look at how many people get killed by cars), but also each new invention becomes a new crutch - something that all of a sudden nobody can live without. I don't want those kinds of chains on me.

I only have a cell phone at all because they keep being given to me. A while back, Jeanine, tired of never being able to get hold of me due to the nearly inoperable state of my old phone, got me an iPhone. So, I now sometimes take a picture or two with it, but only when I don't have an actual camera with me. Now that I generally use bigger (and slightly less portable) cameras, if a particular moment or thing catches my eye, the phone comes out. Damn. I've been sucked in.

This is a weird lead-in to a picture of the rays of the morning sun spearing through the dissipating mist, but sometimes life can be that way. I really love those fog-enshrouded mornings. Most of the time, I want the fog to stick around for the whole day. Sadly, that rarely happens.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First Night Back

My first night back as night supervisor started out busy, with homesick 5th graders filling the hub. One of them managed to do a pretty good job of filling the sheet of the hub's bunk bed with snot, not to mention the kid who filled the floor with vomit, and the kid who filled his jammies with pee (ironically enough, he wasn't one of the three potential bed-wetters I had been asked to wake up in the middle of the night). Thankfully, a teacher volunteered to clean the vomit while I continued to help the cluster of homesick kids and Papa Bear, who is my friend and coworker, but this week is volunteering as a cabin leader, dealt with the pee. That just left the homesick kids, who were mostly easy to cheer up. One girl said that the smell of strong mint calmed her down, but the mints one of the teachers had didn't do the trick. I was about to take my flashlight down to the garden so I could gather some actual mint leaves when I remembered that I had a tin of Altoids in the car. Those did the trick, although she came back for more at least once. Maybe she was just swindling me out of my Altoids, but I'm trying to cut down on my sugar intake anyway, so I was glad to give them up.

Once things settled down, I uploaded some photos, read a bit of Alastair Reynolds' "Pushing Ice", listened to the beautiful new Disemballerina release, "Undertaker", while walking my habitual two miles around camp, and watched Park Chan-Wook's Stoker. An evening of excellent entertainment.

Unlike last night, tonight I'll remember to put a memory card in my trailcam. I'd love to get some nocturnal photos of something besides deer and raccoons.

The lights in the parking lot have been fixed, which means that it's harder to stargaze out front. The visibility is nothing like it was up at Lava Beds, but it's still much better than it is at home.

There are wildfires burning in the state right now. It reminded me of the smokey sunsets at Lava Beds. Here's a sunset view of Schonchin Butte, with attendant smoke.

Currently listening to Orion Rigel Dommisse "Omicron"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ice Caves

It's hard to get an idea of the massive scale of the entrance to Skull Cave, but the person in the foreground of this photo almost does the trick. At the back of the cave, there are a series of metal ladders and walkways leading steeply down to an ice covered floor. At least it used to be an ice covered floor. There is still a bit of ice there, but over the years it has greatly diminished. It's still refreshingly chilly down there in the dark, and it felt nice to get away from the hot day above. We visited two other caves that were supposed to have ice. Merrill Cave had a tiny bit, and was cold enough that as we descended, it was hard to hold onto the railings for too long, but Heppe Cave just had a pool of water.

While my mind still dwells on Summer, here in the present it is time to go back to work. Tonight is my first night back in my role as night supervisor at camp since... March? February? I can't remember, to tell the truth. I spent most of the late Winter and all of Spring as a field instructor, so it has been awhile. In a way, I'm looking forward to it. It's nice to be up at night while most of this half of the world sleeps.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Making Use of Available Resources

Imagine making a house out of your own waste, and then passing it on to your descendents. This picture is a Pack Rat midden, made entirely out of their own dung, and probably cemented together with a substance called amberat (the internet reveals that at least one person thought amberat might be helpful as a skin care product - now that's funny!). The ranger who pointed this interesting homestead stated that some of the dung used in its construction was probably decades old. Given their tiny legs and lack of motorized transport, Pack Rats generally only use nearby resources (shop locally!), and in caves, there isn't much nearby except stone, dirt, and whatever your behind leaves behind.

Human waste isn't allowed though, as this sign indicates:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Schonchin Butte

This is the shadow of Schonchin Butte, taken from somewhere along the trail as we descended. I can cross "climbing a volcano" off of my bucket list now. So what if it hasn't erupted in more than 30,000 years?

At the very top of the butte is this fire lookout, first staffed in 1941. It's still an active lookout, but isn't staffed 24 hours a day. We got there right after the lookout's shift was over, and belatedly realized that the guy we'd seen descending as we sweated upward was the lookout, looking glad to be off work.

Inside the lookout was a little bed, and some stuffed animals. I imagined them being used to comfort a lost kid. I'd love to spend a night up there. The skyscape must be amazing, and a moonrise or moonset would be similarly spectacular.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lava Beds

We're well into September already, but for me, it still feels like Summer. The sky is a vivid blue, with a forecast high of 75 degrees today. I should be back working nights this week, but I ended up taking the week off due to a couple of musical events I wanted to attend. I really only required the first two nights of the week off, but by taking the whole week off (with pay), I enabled one of my coworkers to get some extra work.

The trip up to Lava Beds National Monument went off without a hitch. The Lava Beds lie in the seldom-visited northeastern corner of the state, right on the border with Oregon. It's high desert and chaparral up there, and the parched desolation speaks to me in some deep way. I'm not a fan of heat, but I've always enjoyed desolate landscapes, and Lava Beds allows me to spend time in the desolation and escape the heat by spelunking through ancient lava tube caves. Truly the best of both worlds. I even got slapped in the face by a Townsend's Big Eared Bat, which was kind of exciting. This happened somewhere inside Juniper Cave, after we'd left the ranger-led tour through Hercules Leg cave. Inside Hercules Leg, the ranger pointed out a Pack Rat midden made entirely out of rat droppings. A veritable mansion of crap.

My companions for this particular trip were my friend/coworker Jellyfish and his girlfriend, Lucia. We camped next to the campsite from my last visit in 2011 with Jeanine, Willow, and Eva. As always, given the distance and isolation of the spot, the Milky Way was smeared across the night sky, and I even finally saw the Andromeda galaxy - a faint smudge best seen out of the corner of the eye. We saw more bats than I remember from last time, plus a Jackrabbit who was fearless enough to wander right into the campsite. There were more Ravens than I remember too, and their local dialect resembled yelling children. There were no unusual animal sightings though - no antelope, Solpugids, or Kangaroo Rats like last time. We did explore a few caves I hadn't visited before though, and we climbed to the top of Schonchin Butte, something that the girls would have balked at last time, if we'd even bothered to suggest it. We hung out on the deck of the fire lookout building for awhile. The view was spectacular, and would have been even more so if it weren't for the haze.

The sky was hazy with the smoke of fires burning elsewhere in the state, making the sunsets fun. Temperatures were mostly in the eighties, although it seemed much hotter when we journeyed out to Petroglyph Point.

Learning from my last visit, I made sure I brought a camp stove this time, so we could have warm meals and I could have coffee. It made a big difference.

Near the end of our time there, we went on an evening walk and discovered some "undeveloped" caves. The main caves at the park have their entrances blasted open and have either ladders or stone steps for easy access. There are a great number of other caves out in the back country though, and on our short walk, we managed to find four or five of them. It was growing dark though, so we left them for another time.

Still on my to-do list is to make it to the back of Catacombs cave, which apparently involves spending around four hours underground. We didn't have the time or gear to make a go of it this time out.

Despite having been back for a couple of weeks, I haven't yet finished uploading all of the photos I took. I blame our inexplicably slow internet at home. Jellyfish, who dragged a tripod through all of the caves, will eventually getting around to posting his photos too. I look forward to seeing them, because I'm sure they'll be much better than mine.