Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Problems and Solutions

We only have around 140 kids at camp this week, which is down around 50 from last week. Every week, there seems to be a theme. It may be a little premature, since it's only Tuesday afternoon, but the two themes of the week so far seem to be "kids needing their inhalers in the middle of the night" and "technology not working properly".

I must have been visited four or five times by kids who needed their inhalers. There was one nosebleed too, just for variety.

At 2:30 AM, the power went out. I was walking through the middle of camp while listening to Current 93's "Thunder Perfect Mind" on my discman (sometimes I even walk around with an actual walkman, although occasionally with an iPod when I'm feeling modern) under an impressively large moondog, when all went black. I could hear the generator trying to turn over, but it gave one desultory chug and died. Our new security guard, Frank, came out with his flashlight, and we investigated. Fortunately, it was a quick fix, requiring only the flipping of a switch.

Then, this morning, my car wouldn't start. I eventually got it started (moments after I'd texted Jeanine to let her know it wouldn't start, of course) and got home. Then, it was dead in the driveway. Long story short, it turns out that the battery in the "intelligent key" needed replacing. Maybe I should have been paying attention to the flashing indicator on the dashboard. The first time this happened, at Lava Beds last month, I thought it was a fluke. The second time it happened, I shrugged it off. This time, out of necessity, I finally took action. I don't have a physical owner's manual for my car, so it's not there in the glove compartment (which has never actually held gloves - instead being a catch-all for the usual sorts of detritus like pens that don't work, odds and ends I've picked up off the floor and seats, and the like) for quick reference. I quick check online revealed that the flashing indicator meant that the battery in the key was low. A quick walk to Radio Shack remedied the problem.

Lesson: fix things before they become bigger problems.

My friend Scooby was on hand for the second and third events. I've been giving him rides home in the mornings. He's no longer officially an employee, but he comes in to tell stories like always, and then heads home to his new life as a stay-at-home dad. In the back seat, strapped into her carseat, his daughter sang quietly to herself while the adults tried to get the car going. Eventually, alternate transportation was arranged.

My friend Tiger Lily has been drawing cartoon versions of the staff lately. Here's the one that includes me.

Here's a frog, lurking in the shadows near the kitchen. Right before this, I saw a cat, barely out of kittenhood, chewing on something nearby. It ran off almost immediately. It's somewhat unusual to see cats out in the woods. there are so many larger predators willing and able to snack on them.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Belated Happy Autumn

Summer has ended and the Blood Moon has risen, its image recorded countless times and spewed out across social media. This cartoon, courtesy of AsapSCIENCE, made me laugh out loud this morning. It succinctly sums up the typical social media response to widely-viewed natural phenomena. More is more.

Due to the fact that our new (I'd say "interim" or "temporary", but it looks like he's here to stay for awhile) director is still learning the ropes as far as scheduling is concerned, I ended up being in the field this past week. The week started off on the hot side, which made me glad I wasn't working the night shift because hot days/nights means that the campers don't sleep as well. My field group was active, and on the young side (due to the time of year, if nothing else). As the days creep by with no rain, everything just keeps getting dustier and drier.

We did find a mother scorpion and her brood, which was neat.

There was a nice, big Argiope spider up at the reservoir, and the reservoir itself was lower than I'd ever seen it.

The sunsets have been nice too. This was what the sky looked like right before the night hike.

This weekend, Willow played two soccer games and one softball game. Her teams won all three.

On Saturday night, we went to the annual Mayhem in the Mountains party celebrating the birthdays of our friends Chris and Kate. With their house situated on a mountaintop, they have a nice view. The food was phenomenal and the karaoke was silly. Willow even got up to the mic. I helped her out on one song.

The usual sorts of shenanigans happened.



This week, I'm back working nights. When I got up around noon today, I found out that my cousin Peter got the local job he interviewed for recently, and he and his family will soon be moving to the area from Boston! Very cool.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ramblings of the Aged

Every once in awhile, I have one of those thoughts that I've had hundreds of times before, but it will suddenly seem to be accompanied by a new sense of profundity. This week, it was, "every second I'm alive is a second I'll never get back again". In other words, time wasted is irretrievable. Maybe this is the kind of thought that becomes more common as one ages. At a certain point, we all pass from having more future to having more past, and one never knows when that point is or was. I'm reasonably certain that I've passed the halfway mark. In fact, I'd be very surprised if I haven't.

Time's a-wasting.

I also got asked a pair of questions this week that I had to think about before answering. On the way home yesterday, Willow spoke up and said, "I have a question, but you don't have to answer it if you don't want to." Then, she asked if there was a specific reason her mom and I divorced. She has never asked that before. The answer is that there wasn't. I briefly explained the concept of irreconcilable differences to her. Her mom and I are very different people, something that perhaps we should have figured out before marrying. Despite it all, I'm glad that we got married because if we hadn't, there wouldn't be a Willow. There were some good times too. We have to get through where we were to get to where we are.

The other question was asked by one of my younger friends at work, who asked what my fears were. I eventually came out with "failure, and I used to fear rejection.". Later, after giving it more thought, I decided that "embarrassment" and "terminal disease" are better answers.

I think back to a time when I was younger and realized that the conversations I had with friends were often much more intense than the ones we all have now. Is this too something that happens as we age? I don't feel like I've mellowed out, but in some ways, I guess I have.

I'm thankful to have younger friends who still have more future than past. They help give life a needed edge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


My cousin Peter came to town for a job interview, and we met up yesterday evening for some Ethiopian food and conversation. My brother Greg came down from Berkeley for the occasion too. The last time the three of us were together was back in 2012, when Greg, Willow, and I went east to visit family (has it really been three years already?). If Peter gets hired locally, this will mark the first time a relative outside of the immediate family has lived in the same state as I do. I feel fortunate to have relatives I actually like. Hopefully soon I can add "relatives who live nearby" to the list.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

First Night Back

After a day trying to rent (one on hand that nobody could start), then buy, a chainsaw (which ended up being cheaper than the rental fees would have been), and then reducing the huge branch laying across our fence and into the parking area behind our house, I headed off to work and resumed my school year duties as night supervisor.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jeanine took a picture of me in action:

There is a new security guard sharing my space, and he seems nice enough. He also seems more competent and is definitely more comprehensible than the the one from Spring and Summer. The new schedule is a bit confusing (I have new start and end times, but I don't quite know what they are), but things more or less went as they usually do. In fact, it was an easier than usual Monday night for me.

While out walking, I encountered a toad in the usual spot.

Today, my cousin Peter, who currently lives in Boston but is in town for a job interview, is stopping by. It's his first time in California. The possibility of him moving out here is exciting. I've never lived in the same state as any of my relatives (immediate family excluded, of course).

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Wind in the Avocados

My job is tied to the school year, although school has been in session for nearly a month and our first day of summer camp is today. Our inservice week was last week, and coincided with a mini-heatwave, with temperatures climbing into the triple digits. For once, it didn't really matter, because around 90% of the time, we were inside, listening to people talk. Now that the Office of Education has turned its gaze directly upon us, an attempt has been made (and I paraphrase a co-worker here) to "fit a square peg into a round hole" and make our jobs more traditional in structure. The job of a naturalist (or anybody who works at a camp) is by its very nature, flexible in terms of hours worked. Going forward, more attention is being paid to the administrative side of things, and our schedules have all changed to reflect this. My schedule is among the few that has actually improved, in that I'll be working fewer hours but still getting paid the same. Of course, in the past I'd sometimes be at work for 12 hours straight but only get paid for 10, a fact that I didn't complain about because on an average night, I'd probably only work for a couple of hours, with a vast swathe of free time in between.

So, this week we got information about mandated reporting, hashed out the schedule changes, got reminded of our duties as Disaster Service Workers (which simply means that if disaster strikes, we can't abandon the kids in our care), re-upped our first aid and CPR certifications, got treated to Ethiopian food for lunch (a highlight), weeded the garden (which was nice after all of the sitting), and hashed out the schedule changes some more. The humorous part was watching a room full of active people squirm through hours of inactivity. That included myself, of course, but it helps to see the humor in uncomfortable situations. It makes them more bearable.

Sunday was our open house, during which parents and students come up to tour the site. I brought Willow along, and she amused herself by coloring, doing homework (okay, that part wasn't too amusing), and coming along when I took a group of parents and kids down to the nature lab. From my perspective (and from the perspectives of everybody else I talked to), the day went smoothly. We're more or less ready for the school year now, despite some lingering concerns about the new schedule.

Willow had a soccer game this weekend too. Did I mention that she's playing soccer at the moment? Her team won, scoring the only goal of the game.

Today is windy and cool, and punctuated by the sounds of avocados hitting the ground. The tree was creaking so alarmingly that I went out in my slippers and did some quick pruning, pulling enough avocados from the pile of branches I created that we filled a box.

Shortly afterward, a different branch snapped off and hit the fence. Fortunately, the fence is strong and didn't get knocked over. Perhaps even more fortunately, nobody had parked on the other side of it.

All of these things falling from the sky are irritating the chickens, who especially kicked up a fuss while I was pruning. Four of the five chicks have proven to be roosters, and Jeanine has already found people willing to take them off of our hands. For now though, they are rampaging around our yard.

Monday, September 07, 2015

What I Did During My Summer Vacation

My Three weeks off can be divided into three discrete sections. During the first week, I took care of a number of things that I'd been putting off doing, like getting my car maintained, renewing my driver's license (it expired last December, a fact which I didn't notice until late May), cleaning up my corner of the garage, and generally getting ready for the second week, during which Greg and I went on a road trip to Lava Beds National Monument and Portland. This past week, I've been going through photos from the trip, listening to music bought during the trip, reading novels, and loafing. Oh, and I made some quacamole. This last is noteworthy because I used avocados from our tree. Usually, the squirrels beat us to them, but for some reason (hawks, drought, what have you), they've been falling down on the job lately. Our tree is a Mexicola avocado tree, which produces avocados with an interesting anise flavor, making for equally interesting guacamole.

As for the Lava Beds trip, I was happy that Greg managed to find the time to go this year, since last year he ended up backing out of the trip at the last minute (we ended up running into my two road trip companions from last year, Lucia and Jellyfish, while we were in Portland - see my music blog about our Portland adventures here).

I had been watching the news about wildfires and their attendant smoke during the week leading up to the trip, but I needn't have worried. If anything, Lava Beds was much more smoke free than last year. The trip up went off as planned (which makes for boring reading - sorry), with our only stops being for gas somewhere north of Redding, and then at a cafe in Weed which I think I've visited every time I've passed through there. The woman at the counter mentioned that she'd just been to Lava Beds and told me to watch out for rattlesnakes, which I thought was funny due to my excessive familiarity with them.

We got to Lava Beds with enough time to wander through Mushpot and Labyrinth/Thunderbolt caves. We also climbed to the top of Schonchin Butte, where the wind did its best to whip us off into space. After hiking back down we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Unfortunately, the expected starscape wasn't visible due to the cloud cover. My habitual search of the bathrooms for interesting arachnids only turned up one tiny scorpion, which promptly hid underneath the door frame to one of the stalls.

The next day, I had a bad moment when the electronic key fob to my car seemed inoperable (which meant that I couldn't start the car). After some fiddling, during which there really doesn't appear to be a way to start the car without it, it mysteriously started working again. My hypothesis is that the battering it took overnight due to the wind (which constantly uprooted our tent stakes during our stay) while it was in one of the pockets on the inside wall of the tent, somehow caused it to temporarily stop functioning.

During our circuit of cave loop road, we didn't see a single person inside the caves and only a pair of cars on the road. The park we virtually deserted, which is another reason I like it. In fact, the only people we saw inside the caves were in the immense Skull Cave (at the bottom of which we found some icicles), and one guy in nearby Big Painted Cave. Inside the little alcove in the rear floor of Big Painted Cave, there is still a substantial pool of water, partially frozen in places. There was a small trail cam set up to monitor the space, no doubt keeping tabs on what species of animal use it as a watering hole.

Lava tube caves always look like they should be powerfully resonant inside, but the air always ends up being dry and dead sounding. That doesn't stop us from trying though.

The two places we visited that I hadn't visited before were Fleener Chimneys - a series of spatter cones, and Gillem's Camp/Gillem's Bluff. At the end of the bluff trail, there was a pile of rocks containing offerings in the form of stones, coins, and even a small, broken elephant figurine. The view along the scarp was amazing from this vantage point, as are most of the views within the park.

In the evening, we hiked out along Three Sisters trail, going farther than I went with Jellyfish and Lucia last year. We found a massive lava tube, mere feet from the trail. The collapsed portion of the tube gave way to yawning black entrances to the east and west, but there was no safe way to descend to them in the waning light, so we just took pictures from the rim (which in no way do justice to the sight).

On the way back, we went off trail to try to find crickets, using the time honored tradition of cupping our ears and following the sound. Coming back after our unsuccessful attempts to locate them (too many, which made it confusing), I almost stepped on a rattlesnake (which made me laugh, due to the woman in Weed warning me about them). It shot into some nearby scrub, tail buzzing. My subsequent attempts to locate it failed, so I think it eventually wormed its way into some available nook under the plants, maybe even into the covered lava tube it had been resting on. it was dusk by this point, and rattlesnakes (as well as other reptiles), sometimes use this time to soak up some extra heat from warm rocks (or asphalt, which often leads to roadkill).

The night, with a beautiful moon above, once again proved to be not conducive to star gazing.

In the morning, on our way out, we visited Petroglyph Point, joining a ranger-led talk about the Modoc people. We got to try out an atlatl, throwing fletched spears at a target. None of us actually hit it, but I came close. Nearby, we came across a sleeping Barn Owl, snug in a dark recess near the bottom of the cliff. As always, the ground was littered with the bleached bones of rodents.

Leaving Petroglyph Point, we heading north into Oregon, and soon the dreaded smoke reduced the day to an eerie shadow of itself. This lasted for a good amount of time, and was strangely beautiful. Unfortunately, this ghostly beauty comes at great expense.

During a delay caused by one-way traffic control (road repair/construction), we looked left and saw this. Ha.