The Torrents of Spring—Attenuated and Abbreviated in 2015

Nature can create a drought, but only government can create a water shortage. ~ Anonymous

Thousand Island Lake
Thousand Island Lake

I’m sitting at the edge of Thousand Island lake; it’s the 28th of May, 2015 a few minutes after noon on a clear and sunny spring day. The lake is largely frozen over and just beyond its white and splintered surface towers Mt. Banner, its slopes lightly dusted with a powdered sugar coating of fine snow.

In most years, late May would find this spot buried under several feet of snow, but I’m sitting on bare earth. I listen to the three-note song of the mountain chickadee and the high pitched whistle of a fat brown marmot just recently aroused from hibernation and now doing his best to sneak a bag of Fritos from my pack.

A boots-eye view of Thousand Island Lake while a marmot observes my backpack.
A boots-eye view of Thousand Island Lake while a marmot observes my backpack.

It is an early spring and the Sierras have their lightest snowpack since the winter of ’76-’77.

I recall those years and think about state and federal government. I think about the lack of action, the lack of response.

The severe drought of the 70s must have made for a million dinner time conversations. Restaurants displayed little plastic signs on every table, “Due to the drought, water will be served upon request only.”

Read moreThe Torrents of Spring—Attenuated and Abbreviated in 2015

Wild!

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Is this the face that launched a thousand hiker’s boots?

Spoiler alert: I might spoil the ending of the book and movie Wild here. If you don’t want to know about the endings, I suggest you skip this. Last year I bought the Kindle version of Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild. Much as I admired her rather fine writing, it didn’t take me long to decide that she was doltish and inane, her hike ill-considered, her past–though perhaps titillating to some–injudicious at best. In short, I didn’t find her someone I wanted to hang out with through all the pages of the book. I put it down. My wife though, stuck it out, through blisters and blackened toe-nails and days of rain. In the end she was disappointed. “It just didn’t come to enough,” she told me. Eventually I picked it up again and slogged my way through. In the end, Ms. Strayed seems to know that 1100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail may have taught her something–she can feel some inkling of it inside, but she can’t articulate it. There is a lesson, but it is like, she says, a fish glimpsed briefly in the water of a sunlit pool, but when trying to reach into the pond to grasp it, it slips away.

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Money, Gold and Promises

Burro race, Rhyolite, Nevada, July 4, 1908. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.
Burro race, Rhyolite, Nevada, July 4, 1908. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

Hyperbole: Extravagant exaggeration; language that describes something as better (or worse) than it actually is. (Merriam Webster)

In August, 1904, two men were crouched on the desert ground in semi-darkness before dawn. They held their hands over a small campfire to warm themselves. The morning breeze smelled of the heat that would come later, when the sun was up, but it had been close to freezing overnight and wasn’t much warmer now. They were prospectors and they were camped just over the hills from Death Valley.

They were about to make an historic gold strike. Some even say that their find saved the state of Nevada. You wouldn’t guess any of that if you looked around the town that sprang up as a result of their bonanza. It lies in ruins now, a bit over a hundred miles north of Las Vegas. Perhaps some of you have been there, but not many know its story. The town was called Rhyolite.

An old legend says that while one of the men, Ed Cross, was frying bacon and heating baked beans over the fire, one of their mules ran off; Ed’s partner, Shorty Harris, scrambled up into the hills above their camp to catch it. When he’d nearly caught up with the mule, the story goes, Shorty tripped over a rock and sprawled out face down in sand that was speckled with gold. History books claim that he shouted then, “Forget breakfast, Ed. This is it! The find of the century!”

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Lines written a few miles above Walter’s Wiggles

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Zion Canyon. The West Rim is on the right; Angel’s Landing is lower right.

There’s no accounting for the passage of time. Clocks and calendars while seeming to measure the flow of moments or years or lifetimes, aren’t really up to the task. How can 600 pages torn from faded calendars explain why some fifty year-old memories seem as fresh to me as last week’s? How can a canyon take 250 million years to form? How can re-visiting a favorite old backcountry climb here in Utah cause such a burst of emotion, though it’s been many years since I’ve been here? The very passage of time seems less than real.

I’m on a hike with my wife, Andrea, to the west rim of Zion Canyon and while here, I seem to step into Wordsworth’s famous poem about his walking tour above Tintern Abbey. Even though he wrote of a time and place 216 years in the past and thousands of miles from here, the lines of the poem ring true for me.

The hills above the Abbey held special meaning for Wordsworth, but he had not climbed in that country for five years. He wrote that the place had not been unseen in all that time however; often when the crush of the city strife became too much for him, he would revisit these vistas in his mind and find that it calmed him.

He remembered that when five years younger he could bound over the mountainsides like a deer—not quite the case when he sat writing the most

Read moreLines written a few miles above Walter’s Wiggles

Got (RAW) Milk?

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I grew up on whole, raw, unpasteurized, non-homogenized, unaltered milk fresh from our organic pasture-fed herd of Guernsey cows. Now, to be fair, the word “organic” wasn’t thrown around back in those days, but we did not use any herbicides, pesticides, or artificial fertilizer on our pastures, so I think our green meadows qualified.

You could see the cows grazing on fields of clover on misty mornings, the green pasture looking like a painting by John Constable, a little trout stream, with weeping willow trees along its banks, flowing along the northern edge. Early mornings, often before dawn, we’d head out to the barn and milk our 20 cows by hand, the milk splashing with a metallic ring into pails that we then poured into 3 foot high milk cans—the kind you only see in antique stores these days.

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The Cutest Grandbaby in the World

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[dropcap3]F[/dropcap3]or years I’ve seen those ubiquitous—at least in our more senior neighborhoods—bumper stickers urging everyone to, “Ask me about my grandchildren!”

Sure. Fine. Maybe I will. Or not.

Until little Esmee came along.

My youngest, Scott, a child of California suburbia, earned his master’s degree in music from the New England Conservatory (NEC), in Boston. Can you just imagine this Southern California boy commuting from his rented walk-up in Cambridge down to Boston on a clunker bike in the winter in the snow? Perhaps with a cello on his back?

It didn’t seem natural.

Esmee's neighborhood.
Esmee’s neighborhood.

And after his rather artful, jazz improv master’s recital he actually stayed in the cold country of the east. Married to Chelynn in the summer of 2012, with a full teaching schedule and a rented apartment attached to a century-old farm house a few miles outside Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, my son and daughter-in-law have their first child. Yep; the cutest grandbaby in the world. Esmee.

Of course we had to fly back to see the baby. Any grandparent could relate; after all this is only common practice, repeated thousands of times each year throughout the land. But this time it was my grandbaby.

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The Pacific Crest Trail in a Dry Year

Stellar's Jay in Idyllwild.
Stellar’s Jay in Idyllwild, California. Photo courtesy SD Dirk under a Creative Commons license.

A boy of about twenty, with a substantial pack and good hiking boots, long pants and dusty T-shirt stood at the Cienega Junction on the PCT. He was studying a small map with far too few details; his face looked drawn and was as gray and dusty as his clothes.

Andrea and I had been over much of this country in two days, from the town of Idyllwild up the Devil’s Slide trail and PCT past Wellman’s Divide to Round Valley where we had to melt snow for cooking and drinking because the spring-fed spigot in camp was dry. And there was very little snow left for melting. We’d been to the top of San Jacinto Peak and now we were headed back to town. The boy was standing in the middle of the trail.

“Where are you going?”

“North,” the boy said.

I understood. That’s the answer they all give when they’re attempting the whole of the PCT, from the Mexican border close to Lake Morena all the way to Canada some 2700 miles. North.

He held his map high in front of his face in the afternoon sun. “Is this where I turn?”

“Yes.”

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Would You Like Scaling and Root Planing With That?

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Angela, a bright, pretty, 30 year old came to me for a TMJ exam last week and when I asked her who her general dentist was, she told me she didn’t have one.

“I just moved to San Diego from the east coast and I am looking for a new dentist. I went to Acme Dental Clinic (not the real clinic name) for a dental exam but I’m not going back there. I think they’re a scam.”

“Really? What happened?”

“They told me I needed 4 visits of deep cleaning for my periodontal disease and that I should also get my teeth whitened. They were selling those things pretty hard. I just got a bad feeling about them.”

I did six-point perio probing. This young lady had no visible calculus and I found one place—mesial of #3—that had a probe score of 4 mm. All the other scores were 2 or 3 mm. Healthy, normal gum tissue and no bleeding points whatsoever. Four quadrants of root planning? Totally unnecessary.

I put down my perio probe and Angela looked up at me. “Well?”

“Well, I’m just trying to find a polite word for BS. Sorry, I can’t think of one.”

Read moreWould You Like Scaling and Root Planing With That?

Sherpa Stew and Yak Butter Apple Pie

Horse with the setting sun in Kyanjin Village, Nepal.
Horse with the setting sun in Kyanjin Village, Nepal.

The mountain came into view at dawn, a beautiful alpenglow pink against a still dark but clearing sky. Lang Tang, 23,711 feet tall, is not even in the top ten of Himalayan peaks, but its magnificent shape captured me. We were at the first of several tea houses on our way up the Lang Tang Valley to Kyanjin—and all the way the mountain would tower above us.

I suppose I knew what to expect—you can Google anything these days. Our first tea house, the glass windows of the dining room a collage of stickers advertising everything from helicopter service “anywhere in Nepal, including Everest Base Camp,” to various trekking and climbing guides, was about a day’s walk below the small village of Lang Tang and the Lang Tang Monastery. The stickers on the window were in a world of languages from English, German, and French to Japanese.

This first lodging place had its own mini hydro-electric generator and there was power to charge cameras and iPads, but only for a few hours each evening. The toilet facility was an outhouse a dozen yards down a small slope. When you flushed, by pouring water from a big blue plastic bucket, the effluence was carried by a pipe straight into the Lang Tang River. The river runs so clear and clean-looking, a seemingly pristine Himalayan stream. But you don’t want to drink from it.

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Chop Wood, Carry Water…and answer your cell phone

Old meets new in the Middle Himalayas

Mt. Everest with its familiar plume of blowing snow.
Mt. Everest with its familiar plume of blowing snow.

I’m in the back seat of the bus from Kathmandu to Pharping, literally the end of the road. It’s a jouncing and twisting hour-long ride and although I never suffer from car-sickness I’m fighting nausea with every turn on this mountain road; at Pharping I’m happy to make my way to the front of the bus so I can get off. But when I do, the heavy choking smell of wood smoke nearly overwhelms me. This is certainly no better. I fear I may be suffering the fate of almost every traveler who comes to Nepal–an Asian version of Montezuma’s revenge. I think about the chicken curry lunch I had the previous day at an historic stupa in Kathmandu. As it turns out, it’s going to be more than a few hours before my stomach is back to even semi-normal. There will be some very un-pretty scenes along the trail to Kafleni.

I’m traveling with a small group from REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) and from Pharping we’ll hike several miles and climb two or three thousand feet into the middle Himalayas and camp for a few days and nights with the snowcapped mountains I’ve read about and dreamed of crowning the horizon to the north and west. From my campsite, and then from the hills above it, I can see Langtang, Manasulu and, in the distance, Annapurna.

I came to Nepal to do some trekking in the higher Himalayas, but the trip will take us first to these lower elevations in the middle Himalayas and also to Chitwan National Park. I’m sure that one reason for the sojourn in this lower range is to showcase some of the work done by the charitable foundation, Nepal SEEDS. And it turns out, that work is worth seeing.

Hari Pudasaini in the Himalayas.
Hari Pudasaini in the Himalayas.

Our camp is set up just above the village of Kafleni, one of several small villages that dot the dramatic hillsides here. With us are K.P. Kafle, a renowned Himalayan guide, Hari Pudasiani, a tall and sturdy looking man and also a well-known mountain guide and Jorlal Thing. Jorlal was born in the high Himalayas and is disarmingly quick with a smile or a charming joke. But after a short time with him, you know he’s a good man to have with you on a tough climb.

Read moreChop Wood, Carry Water…and answer your cell phone