Friday, June 26, 2015

It's Definitely Summer

Last night, while leading the second night hike of the summer camp season, I spotted a scorpion in a tree. I've been using an ultraviolet flashlight to spot scorpions and Yellow-spotted millipedes for years now, but this is the first time I've found a scorpion in a tree. By the end of the hike, we had found 17 scorpions, a glow worm, and witnessed a meteor scratching an arc across the sky above and spitting sparks as it died. It was visible long enough that when I saw it, I told the kids to look up and they actually all had time to see it too.

The heat was one of the reasons that there were so many scorpions out and about. Thursday was the hottest day of the summer so far, I think. Today, it doesn't seem so bad yet.

Oh yeah, Sophie and Nathan were both up at camp this week as Wild Things counselors. Nathan now has not only a driver's license, but a car. Sophie took part in the counselor skit last night, stepping into the role that Alex made his own during previous summers. She has grown enough that a lot of people have to do a double take before recognizing her. The same could be said for all of the kids though. Time is forever slipping away.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Challenge Completed

Slightly over three years ago, I started a walking challenge on Dailymile. I've mentioned it here before - the challenge was to simply walk the 1,779 miles that the hobbits walked in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (no, I don't know how the hell that number was arrived at, or who did the math).

Yesterday, somewhere above the creek at work, in the company of 21 kids and 4 counselors, I completed the challenge. I didn't have a ring that I cared to part with, so nothing was flung into the crack of doom, but I felt a sense of accomplishment. Jeanine even managed to find me a proper shirt to wear for the occasion - a shirt that referenced walking to Mordor - which I found draped over my laptop when I got home from work on Monday. She's thoughtful like that.

For most of the challenge, I've been using Dailymile to keep track of my mileage, and in the last few months, I've added a Fitbit to my arsenal because Jeanine, being Jeanine, managed to get a couple of free Fitbits through an online trading group. I've found mine quite addictive. It definitely inspires me to move more.

Today, a scorpion crawled under it. Scorpions do that.

Here's a picture of one of the shoes that helped me finish the challenge. I tend to wear out my shoes quickly, or wear them wrong, like I'm doing in this instance. Photo by Honey Badger.

Finally, here's a picture of a mandala I helped a group of campers and counselors assemble in the forest this afternoon. I think that some of the boys were more excited at the prospect of destroying it afterward. Leave no trace.

Less pleasant is the fact that one of my coworkers was suddenly fired today. I'm not sure why. My coworkers are more like family than anything else, and we pretty much all feel that way, so there was a shocked silence when the news hit. We've been told that it's not related to our other recent troubles. Still, it was strange and sudden.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Solstice

Once again, we mark that point in our journey around the sun when days are stretched to their breaking point and nights are compressed into the smallest possible temporal space. Now, the trend can reverse itself for six months. To my mind, this is one of the few holidays that actually means something, at least when one considers the big picture.

Usually, the Summer Solstice falls on or near the first day of summer camp. This year, we've already had a whole week of camp at this point. Given recent events, there have been some changes in our protocols and procedures. Basically, it just means more sign-in and sign-out sheets attached to clipboards, and parents now have to line up to affix their signatures to said sheets. There has been a small amount of grumbling about this, since the process is essentially a speed bump in the dropping off/picking up process. People are busy! They've got places to be! That person with a clipboard is slowing them down! Fortunately, during the week, many parents knowingly rolled their eyes and accepted the changes with good humor.

The other big change is having an actual security guard on site during the sleepover on Thursday night. It's the same guy who kept me company for the final month of science camp this year, which is good because he's a nice guy. While he sits awake in the hub all night, the five staff members on duty sleep on the field with the kids. This year, we have new cots, which are both more comfortable for us and more visible to kids. Oh yeah, having five people instead of four is a change as well. The fifth person has the unenviable job of being the one who gets awakened by kids who need to use the bathroom. This week it was Algae, and she reported only being awakened once, so I guess it's not too bad.

I had Group Two this week (out of 8 groups, with Group One being the youngest), and it was a pretty good group, with only a couple of boys who always seemed to be doing the opposite of what they were supposed to be doing.

There is a rattlesnake back in the hole on the edge of the lower field, but since it basks just inside the lip of the hole, I haven't yet managed to relocate it. Maybe during the coming week sometime...

Apparently, the park rangers now don't want kids splashing around in the pond. It figures - they make it look all nice and then deny access. Typical paper pusher mentality. We had a good hour of fun before the ranger drove by though.

I led a couple of critter hunts, and although we didn't find anything spectacular, the usual suspects were out and about.

There was a small Alligator Lizard under the board where I expected to find an Arboreal Salamander (the salamander was back the next day).

There was a little Garter Snake in the transition zone between chaparral and forest, just where I told the kids there was likely to be one. I like it when the wildlife cooperates like that.

One of the kids found a big, fat Forest Scorpion under a piece of wood. During the week, we found several more, including at least five on them on the night hike. It's a good thing they're not dangerous.

Here's my favorite dead Douglas Fir tree, with its crown of Poison Oak.

I'm not the only one taking pictures. In fact, there are quite a few staff members and volunteers who are excellent photographers. Here's a picture of me, taken by Honey Badger.

Despite recent events, our happy island in the stream of grim reality has survived, and continues to thrive. Out in the stream, species are disappearing while the masses prefer to wallow in fetid pools of ignorance.

Here's an account of my recent trip to Baltimore, published on my music blog because it's basically a review of a music festival.

Currently listening to: In Gowan Ring "Visions of Shadows That Shine" Perfect music for the Solstice. Perfect music for anytime.

Friday, June 12, 2015


The second week of June is usually a week of transitions, this June was no exception. At work, this week is referred to as "summer camp set-up week", and we were all hard at work putting away the science camp things and wiping the dust and cobwebs from the summer camp things. There were an alarming number of mice nesting in corners of sheds and storage rooms. One was molding at the bottom of a bucket, and another was mummified in a trap. The week, of course, had meetings and updates of various sorts, including a meeting addressing changes in our routines brought about as a result of the topic I addressed a couple of posts ago. This year, there will be a security guard on duty during our Thursday camp-out, and the Rule of 3 (no staff members or counselor volunteers are ever allowed to be alone with campers) is now in place as a policy. We also have a new bus stop, which is over at the local high school rather than at the elementary school we've been using up until this summer. This is good news, because the additional space in the parking lot and the general layout of the area we'll be using means we can spend less (or no) time directing traffic and reminding parents that no, they're not entitled to run over traffic cones or send their children running into traffic. In short, summer is looking good.

The other transitions that happened this week were the middle school graduations of both of my stepdaughters. Eva's graduation happened on Wednesday afternoon, and it actually rained for the duration of the ceremony, meaning that we were soaked to the skin by the time it was over. Many parents at the ceremony displayed the class and refinement of the kind of people usually encountered at Walmart (this is based videos I've seen online, since I've never shopped at Walmart and never will). Their lack of situational awareness was such that we couldn't see the stage due to umbrellas and people crowding to the front in the aisles. I can understand people wanting to take pictures of their kids, but at least a couple of women simply stood up in the aisles and recorded the entire ceremony while the people behind them stared at their backs. Despite getting soaked, it was great that we got some rain.

The next evening, it was Sophie's turn to graduate, this time under the hot sun. Finally, I thought, I won't be stuck behind a bunch of umbrellas! Wrong. There were a number of people who brought umbrellas to keep the sun from their patrician countenances. Thankfully, before the ceremony began, they were told to put them away.

The ceremonies were similar, although Eva's was perhaps a bit more rushed due to the rain, and shorter due to the smaller number of graduates. Heartfelt speeches were given by students and administrators, and people were generally in celebratory moods. One chapter has ended, and another has begun. In two years, it will be Willow's turn.

At work yesterday, I discovered that the hole at the edge of our lower field is once again home to at least one rattlesnake. I didn't move it because it was inside the hole, and thus harder to catch, but I plan to try to relocate it on Monday. Just as I was leaving though, I was told that there was a rattlesnake in the garden, eating a mouse. By the time I got down there, it had gotten nervous, abandoned its meal, and vanished under one of the rock borders separating pathway from plants. The counselors who had been working in the garden showed me where it had gone, and in short order I had captured it. I left it in a bucket with its meal, in the care of one of my coworkers, with the hope that it might resume eating. I'm betting that it didn't, but I figured it was worth a try.

Later, at home, Jeanine found a Black Widow in the process of making a web in the kitchen, between the dishwasher and the cabinets, right at ankle level. We now have a pet Black Widow. We're calling her Agnes. Later, I realized that California has two dangerously venomous native species, and yesterday, I had to catch one of each. What are the odds of that? With me, actually pretty good, apparently.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Today, at the closing ceremony for Willow's softball league, Willow was presented with a "Sportsman of the Year Award" plaque for her age division. I'm a proud father. She definitely earned it too. Afterward, I took her to a birthday party at nearby Vasona park, and while she partied, I walked to nearby Lexington reservoir, which is about 4 miles away.

Where the trail starts to ascend the back side of the dam, I found this little critter.

Like I did the last time I picked up a Gopher snake on the trail (hiking up Mission Peak with Willow), I stepped into naturalist mode and did a quick presentation for a nearby family, and then released it off the trail so it would be less likely to get run over by one of the many cyclists who fly down the path.

The reservoir itself actually has a decent amount of water in it.

The trail itself was hot and dusty.

When I got back to Vasona, Willow was out on a peddle boat, working on her sunburn.

Also of recent note, Willow's oldest brother, Alex, just graduated from high school. When I started this blog, he was a little six year old boy who preferred to be known as "Lexy". This makes me feel old. He also has had his first car accident, which gave the two middle kids, Sophie and Nathan, mild concussions, and did some pretty serious damage to his car.

Friday, June 05, 2015


Today is the last day of science camp for the 2014/2015 school year. On Monday, we start setting up for nine weeks of summer camp. I will be working five weeks of day camp, and four weeks of our newish Trailblazers program. The forest is menacingly dry, and we'll have to be careful on windy days.

There is a reason for the long space between this post and the previous one. Something happened at camp that I've been hesitant to write about. Around a month ago, while at one of Willow's softball games, I got a call from my boss to inform me that one of my coworkers had been arrested for child pornography. Of course, I was floored. Just moments before the call, I had been talking with Sophie about how much we liked this person. After the call, and the person we thought we liked was proven not to exist. We had liked a fiction, a disguise. Since the arrest, he has also been accused of molestation, and there has been word that he was not only trading pictures online (which is what got him caught), but manufacturing them. I'm not sure how much is actually true, but at the very least, he had child pornography on his laptop and phone, so he belongs in jail and permanently away from children even if the other allegations turn out to be false.

At a subsequent work meeting, one of my other coworkers stated that it was like somebody had died. There has indeed been a grieving process, with all of the usual steps: disbelief, anger, determination to move on, and everything in between. For me, the feeling of betrayal is the one that has stuck. The media, being the sensationalist monster that it is, has inflamed things with article after article on the subject. The result has been general outrage amongst a vociferous minority of parents and other people tangentially associated with our program. Not that I blame them (the parents that is - don't get me started on the media), because I'm a parent too, and Willow herself has been under the care of this individual while at camp. You see, he was the only other employee to have my job description. He was the night supervisor at our second site. Willow went there as a camper last year. Of course, there are parents who seem to lack perspective. Maybe they've fallen prey to the media fear mongering, or maybe they're just easily upset. Willow mentioned that one of moms of a softball teammate won't even let her daughter go to sleepovers anymore (which has nothing to do with our camp at all) due to this news.

Speaking of Willow, one of my first thoughts upon hearing about the arrest was how to break the news to her. Sophie had been standing right next to me when I took the call, and I couldn't tell her what had happened. She knew something bad had happened, but all I could manage to do was reassure her that nobody had died or been injured. In the end, it turned out that I didn't have to break the news to any of the children in my life. The news was all over all of the schools by the next day. There is more than one way a child predator can rip away innocence. This is the indirect way.

All of our employees go through the standard background checking procedure. Even our volunteers are fingerprinted (with the exception of the ones who aren't adults yet). This obviously isn't foolproof. In the interim weeks, the Office of Education (which oversees our program) has been doing its own investigation into our past safety procedures, our director (my boss) has been forced into a leave of absence while the investigation is happening, and a security company has been hired to provide extra staffing for each site at night. So, for the past few weeks, I've been sharing my space with an elderly security guard whose main conversational gambit has been about how things are cheaper in India. He is a nice guy, although we don't have much in common, and his presence cuts into my alone time. Being an introvert, I seriously value my alone time, but we do what we must. This morning, it being the end of the school year, I shook hands with him and we parted ways. I don't imagine we'll continue having actual security guards on site, but I'll always have some sort of company during my shift from now on. The policy of having only one person awake at night at each site is permanently at an end. The vacant position at our second site is currently a rotating one, with staff members filling in as they can. Other changes are in the offing as well. Our reliance on low-risk offenders to do janitorial work is at an end, as the whole weekend work program has been canceled (this despite the fact that it's pretty common practice for educational institutions to take advantage of this program - Eva's school does, for example). Time will tell what the permanent changes will be. It's a work in progress, and what all of the consequences will be, we don't yet know.

I refuse to link to the news stories here, but they can be found with a few clicks and the relevant search words. I could write more, but I think I've gotten this off my chest now, so I'll end here.