Monday, September 15, 2014

Bright Lights, Big City


Yesterday, after weeks of dusty trails, dense forests, quiet lake swims, and hot springs, I hit the city.  Not just any city, mind you, but a real, honest to goodness tall buildings, stand-still traffic, sidewalks that smell like pee, big city. And after all that time in the wilderness, it made me break out into a white-knuckled sweat. I couldn't think fast enough to make decisions in traffic, I balked at prices, and I nervously yanked at my now-uncomfortable city clothes. I wandered like a refugee, a displaced person of some kind, dropped into an alien world where the women are all ten feet tall, the men are always speaking into a cell phone, and all the surfaces are reflective. I felt like an outsider, a yokel, a gawker, and a little sick to my stomach. This panicked anxiety surprised me. I hadn't realized how drastically my context had shifted from the urban jungle to the, well, jungle jungle. It made me acutely aware of just how much I thrive on the calm and quiet of the outdoors, the ability to hear myself think, and the lack of over-stimulation. I wonder about living in these places, how people find time to themselves, where their quiet moments happen, and how they ground themselves. I wonder what it means to 'get used to it', if you lose the longing for the wild after a time, or if the call of it is simply drowned out by the urban din. I was glad for the trip, for the afternoon of playing tourist, and the necessary business that got done. But I was also glad to head back out, to smaller buildings, empty streets, tall trees, and the great outside.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Out of Towner


It's been a long summer. The trees are browning, the ferns are fading from the thirst, and everything, everything, is covered in dust. My long ago tomato starts and I have faithfully stood in our pots, and even produced some fruit. But mostly, I have been away. Of the last twelve weeks, I have spent most of ten of them adventuring, visiting friends, working away, and on the road. This week, I arrived half an hour before turning around and heading to work, and will leave again today as soon as I get off. My cat is pissed at me. My luggage is never unpacked. I have not see 'that' YouTube video. I have not seen anything you, or anyone else has posted on Facebook. People greet me like a long-lost friend. There is something to be said for stepping away, trusting that the things you need the most will be there when you return, and the things that fade were going to anyway. Being gone does a lot of good for sorting your priorities, forcing you to make choices, and teaching you to let things slide. 

 Where are you going?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dry Days



California is evaporating. Continued drought combined with collective denial have spurred the loss of 63 trillion gallons of the states reserve waters. You can see for yourself what this looks like in satellite images from NASA here. Hetch Hetchy, the reservoir famously protected by John Muir that provides the majority of water to San Fransisco, is at 63 percent its normal level. The loss of this massive volume of water has been large enough to initiate a rebound effect in the Earths crust; California is also rising, to the tune of more than half an inch in less than a decade.

According to the State of California, close to half of many residents water use is for outdoor urban areas.

Drain the pools. Turn off the misters. Let the lawns go brown. Get it together people.
photograph courtesy of Science@NASA

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Great Wide Open V- Tunnel Vision


Lava tubes are one of my favorite things. Formed as a result of cooling during an active flow, lave tunnels are a testament to the inherent lazy nature of the world. Even lava, if given a chance with take the easiest route, sometimes not even bothering to craft a new tunnel, instead flowing through a tunnel formed by a previous flow, using it as a means of easy travel and transport. When cooled, these caves become underground conduits that lead directly into the belly of the volcano. Cool.

Literally. Basalt is an amazingly efficient insulator and most caves stay close to freezing all year long, even in the desert. In eastern Oregon these caves were the first source of refrigeration for settlers eager to beat the heat. Early entrepreneurs made good money harvesting the ice from these caves and hauling it back to town in blocks for sale. Now, the caves are overrun with tourists, largely unprepared for the experience. Although it may seem to go without saying, these caves, like an others, are really dark, really cold, and offer questionable footing. Most people forget these things and find themselves shivering along in the dark with frozen toes. But it's worth it, even if it's just for the Lord of the Rings style ambiance. 

There's a whole world down there... 

Friday, August 22, 2014

It Doesn't Have to Be a Circus


We've all seen it. The family outdoor adventure gone terribly wrong. Exhausted, crabby parents dragging kids, sometimes in complete meltdown mode, down trails, coaxing them, in vain, to come out of tents, or generally having to pander to them to get them to go outside at all. I know a lot of parents that fear these scenarios, a lot that have lived through them, and a couple that pretty much have no idea what I'm talking about. Michael Lanza and his wife Penny fall into the latter category.

Ask the elder Lanza's about hiking or backpacking with kids, even with infants, and they pretty much shrug and say, "Yeah, what's the big deal?" Talk to them about taking their kids backpacking in some of the most spectacular parts of the National Parks, and rather than recount mishaps, tantrums, and parenting fails, they talk about how proud they are of their kids, how they are always exceeding expectations. Michael even wrote a book about it, using his year of backpacking with his kids in the National Parks to highlight climate change and the urgent need to show our children the best of these wild lands before they disappear.  

Along the way he does a pretty great job of demonstrating that kids can be treated just like anyone else outside, as long as you are willing to accommodate them. Kids need more sleep and more stimulation than us. They can't carry as much and they aren't as good at catching dehydration or hunger before it takes a turn towards grumpy. But they are game, resilient, and have a lot to teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

It IS possible to get outside with your kids, minus the meltdowns. And it's important that you do if we want them to be stewards in the future. So be brave, plan well, keep a positive attitude, load up the clown car, and get yourselves outside.

To read some of Michael's blog or buy his book:

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Great Wide Open IV- Some Like it Wet


It doesn't matter how many people tell you about it, or how emphatic or dramatic their telling of it may be, until you witness half an inch of rain in less than an hour in what is usually a dry-as-bone desert, you can't really believe it.

There are more low areas on a seemingly flat property than one may think. 
The low areas can hold more than four inches of standing water.
This is important as the door starts at 4.5 inches.
Metal roofs make lightning more exciting.
Continuous lightning and thunder really do mean the storm is centered above you.
The neighbors house is the same color as rain, or close enough to disappear into it.
Frogs, like humans, think the carport is a great place to stay dry. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Thru Hiker


In case you have been away from media in the past year or so, Cheryl Strayed wrote a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The short version is that she goes out unprepared, with no previous experience, in part to detox from a heroin habit and in part to get over a breakup and find herself. She eventually triumphs, after facing cold weather, blisters, and the consequences of her lack of preparation. And there's a lot of men, nice guys that repack her pack for her, pass along tips and gear, and generally make things go more smoothly for her. And love interests. They're making it into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. 

Wild is a great story about personal transformation. It's well written and compelling. But it's a terrible example for anyone considering taking on a thru hike. It makes the PCT seem pretty scary and inaccessible. It also makes it seem like maybe men are better suited to such thing or that maybe women can't do it without the help of men. But there are plenty of hiking memoirs and guides that are good examples while still being compelling stories. And some of them are written by women. The one I am reading these days is “The Appalachian Trail Girl’s Guide: Part Memoir, Part Manifesto”.  

What's great about the Girl's Guide is that she keeps it real and practical. You get an easy read with some great stories from her more than six month long hike of the Appalachian trail but you also get a ton of great advice from what kind of tent to use to how (and when) to swap out your winter clothes. And if you are thinking of taking on the AT, she lists some of the prettiest places and best section hikes of the trail to get you started. Books like these are great escapes and good fuel for our creative wanderlust. Check it out. 

To Read Megan's Blog, Appalachian Trail Girl: