Saturday, July 30, 2016


As I type, patches of California are ablaze. The last I read, the Southern California fire is approaching containment, but the one in Monterey County is not. The smoke is giving our lungs and eyes a workout, but painting the sky vivid orange at sunset. On Wednesday night, as we settled down on the lower field at camp for our weekly overnight campout, I watched the planes (we're in the flight path) pass by overhead, preceded by smoky cones of brilliance as their lights cut through the thin layer of smoke. Sometime in the middle of the night, my friend and coworker Bat heard a large tree fall somewhere out in the forest.

The week was hot, with 90 plus degree weather and the usual dry, dusty conditions. The Trailblazer campers were a good group, and the Leaders In Training likewise. The latter group included Willow, who despite her worries, passed through the program with flying colors. Nathan was one of the mentor leaders of the program, and Sophie was a counselor for the Wild Things program, so of the four siblings, only Alex was missing.

We have one more week of Trailblazers left this summer, and then I'll be back working for the regular day camp program for one final week before getting a couple of weeks off.

We have a new director now, and her official start date is August 8th. She has a history with our program, and those of us who already know her, like her. In fact, she is the reason I decided to apply for a job there in the first place, because years ago, her daughter was a camper in one of the science camps I led at Youth Science Institute, and one afternoon, she mentioned that I should go check out the nearby camp where she then worked. Long story short: I did, and I've now worked there for almost 12 years.

According to Willow, she had one of the best weeks of her life being part of the Leaders In Training program. She used the phrase, "it blew me out of the water", to describe her experience, and mentioned that at the end of it, she felt different. It was a true rite of passage for her, and of course, I'm both proud of her and happy that it meant so much to her. All due credit goes to my incredible coworkers, the mentor leaders, and her fellow Leaders In Training. The emotions evident at the end of each week are proof that the program is a powerful one.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trailblazers, Week 2

Week two of Trailblazers went more smoothly than the first one, although that is not surprising. Week one usually sees us all relearning the intricacies of the routine, and this year, since I'm the only returning leader, it was mostly straight-up learning.

Also, this was the first week working alongside the Leaders In Training program, which provides us with junior counselors-to-be (13 year old kids learning how to be counselors). This year, the L.I.T. program is led by Bat, Scooby (who retired at the end of last summer but hasn't let that stop him from working), and Raven (who retired from teaching recently, but hasn't let that stop her from working), and it's always a pleasure and an honor to work alongside them. As an added bonus, the campers were better behaved this week, so I spent less time putting out fires and more time adding extra layers of fun and meaning to the week. It was also much cooler, which always helps.

I didn't take many pictures this week, but here's a couple.

Dragonfly exoskeletons, left on a twig near the little cement pond in Sanborn Park:

A cormorant on a rock at Lake Ranch Reservoir. The Heron was hanging around too, but I didn't have my zoom lens:

Lake Ranch Reservoir:

And finally, the Friday mandala.

Starting tomorrow, Willow will be an L.I.T., and Nathan will be one of the L.I.T. mentors. It's supposed to be hotter this week. Damn.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Churning Out Useless Crap

Over the weekend, while we were out and about, we stopped by the local comic book store, where Willow spied a Grumpy Cat comic book. As we were leaving, she said, "sometimes I hate my generation. I mean, there's a fricken Grumpy Cat comic book. Who would read that?"

Good for her.

She still takes selfies though. Here's one that she took of the two of us.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Flies By

The cicadas are in the midst of their rite of passage, emerging freshly formed and green from the hard exoskeleton of childhood. The one above was emerging next to the lowermost metal rung on a redwood tree down at our ropes course. I spent a lot of time ensuring that it didn't get kicked while the campers began their ascents, and just as much time photographing its first few breaths of adulthood.

Ahwanee the kingsnake tried to eat my arm, reminding me why I usually leave her in her cage. The campers were really interested in the process. Falcon, who was one of my counselors last week, took the picture.

We just finished up the first week of Trailblazers, which is a more science/natural history based summer camp. When one considers that three out of four (everyone but me) of my coworkers had never worked this particular camp option, the week went really well. We did an overnight, doing all of the things that the regular day camp does, and adding telescopes into the mix as well. That was a long shift, starting at 8:15 AM on Wednesday, and ending at 4:30 PM on Thursday. We did get some sleep in the middle of it, of course, and fortunately, the kids slept well. The only downside to the week was that some of the kids had behavior issues, ranging from not knowing when to stop talking to outright disrespect. We were also quite short on counselors (called "mentors" for this program), with only three of them sticking out the week. The fourth counselor was my stepson Nathan, known as "Manzanita" at camp, but since he has an actual job, he vanished now and then.

Plus, it was hot. When we woke up on the field before 7:00 on Thursday morning, it was already hot. Later that day, we came across a Northern Alligator lizard hanging out in the creek. So, it was lizard-in-the-creek hot.

Cedar, who works the Wild Things program, walked by my group at one point and showed us a Calisoga spider molting he'd found next to the freshly molted spider. He told me where he'd seen the spider, and we went and found it the next day. Calisogas are my favorite local spider.

At the end of the week, I had the kids contribute to a nature mandala on the forest floor, and then we used it as a centerpiece for the closing moments of our final hike as a group. Some of the kids got into the spirit of the moment, but there were a few who felt compelled to be the center of attention the whole time, which put a bit of a damper on things. It was a nice mandala though.

The week marked a couple of firsts too. Moonlight and I both played guitar in front of actual audiences (first in front of the campers, and then at the Wednesday evening campfire program, in front of both campers and parents). Are we very good? No, but we were apparently proficient enough to pass muster.

Also on Wednesday, there was a solemn tolling of the bell to mark the halfway point of the summer camp season (Insert cliche of your choice about the voracious tendency of the past to eat the future).

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Hiking On A Holiday

On Independence Day, I went for a hike with Jellyfish, Lucia, and Mountain Lion past Lake Ranch Reservoir and up the new stretch of John Nicholas Trail. Due to our late start we didn't make it all of the way to the end, but at least I got farther up the trail than I had previously. I think we ended up hiking around 7 miles, all told. Not bad, I guess.

On the way back, we watched an egret alight at the very top of a tree, perching there like some sort of Christmas tree topper.

But even the egret had to look up.

Down by the water, Jellyfish spotted a large Garter snake. We had a quick photo session with it before moving on.

Afterward, we found an Ethiopian/Eritrean eatery surprisingly near home (one that Jeanine and I were unaware of) and had some decent food. The service was a bit slow and the decor was crappy diner-esque, but the location bumps it up a notch.

Jeanine spent the day working, first for pay, and then for free at the annual block party that occurs on our street. I managed to avoid any sort of 4th of July celebrations though, because by the time I got home, the block party was over. There was a brief illegal fireworks show happening a block or so away, so we saw some of the action through the window. At one point, I went out to wheel the garbage and recycling bins to the street and saw no fewer than three police helicopters on the prowl for illegal fireworks activity. That didn't seem to slow people down at all though.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Week Three

Last weekend, my friend (and ex-coworker) Pelican got married to Kiwi (who I don't really know well), and the ceremony was relaxed, inspiring, and fun in a way best appreciated by those of us who understand the power of beautiful, wild surroundings. Okay, maybe not exactly wild, but Huddart County park in Woodside was a good approximation. Given the nomadic nature of the couple's work history, three different environmental education programs were represented there. It was nice to see our ex-director, Anita, and ex-coworker, Comet, in attendance, as well as the surprising appearance of ex-coworker, Red Tail, who, along with his bandmates in Charmas, was hired to provide the music for the occasion. Since a few years separated their time with our program, Pelican and Red Tail had never met, so it was pure coincidence that Charmas was hired.

Sometime between the end of the wedding and the beginning of the work week, I shaved off all of my facial hair for the first time in eight years. Just because.

The geography of my lower face, long hidden by a forest of graying hair, is revealed to the air. The cicada on my nose doesn't know what to think:

The week flew by in a flurry of dust and sweat. It was hot, with temperatures hovering somewhere in the low nineties, so reptile sightings were confined to Fence lizards, Alligator lizards, one skink, a lazy turtle or two, one Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (hiding in almost the exact spot I discovered a Gopher snake the previous week), and a Ringneck snake.

I took our Trans Pecos Ratsnake out for a climb so the kids could watch a snake climb a tree.

The kids documented a lot of... interesting... animal sightings.

And lost a lot of their stuff:

We found a skink on one of the hikes, and despite my directions not to grab it by the tail, a camper did, with predictable results. Notice how this poor little critter is missing the last half an inch of its tail.

Thursday night, I moved a toad from the walkway that led from where the counselors were to where the pizza and soda were. That poor toad wouldn't have known what hit it. As it was, it was able to continue its solitary nocturnal existence in peace.

And here's a Friday morning photo of a couple of my favorite people and their related shirts.

One of the coolest things we saw this week was this cicada, drying off before vanishing into the distance.

It looks funnier if you turn it on its side:

Finally, here's a mandala from Monday:

Just like that, the summer is one third over. Six more weeks to go.

Next week, we have Monday off because the whole country grinds to a temporary halt while people drink to excess and ignite small, ineffective explosive devices.