Sunday, May 31, 2015

Yosemite Part 2; Family Time; Mirror Lake; Climbing and Base Jumping Accidents; Off to Ten Lakes

Our first bear encounter here in Yosemite was the other afternoon while hiking in the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. It's not a heavily used trail like those in the Valley where most of the tourists hang out, but it was a pleasant hike through the big trees just before dinner. We were just about to head for the car when another hiker said, "You must see the two bears in the meadow." As we approached the lookout point, we saw two big bears, a cinnamon and a black, walking slowly through the meadow and into the woods, foraging for food. 

These bears have only recently come out of winter hibernation, and they are very hungry in the Spring/early summer. We watched as the cinnamon tore apart the bark of a tree (maybe for insects?). The black bear was looking at us with some degree of longing; perhaps he/she just wanted a playmate???


My Lovely Daughter Elisabeth is now with us for a week of hiking and backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Our first four days together will be in Yosemite, and it's her first time here. We enjoyed two hikes today, a short one to Bridalveil Fall, which has a spectacular drop of 620 feet. Unfortunately, in early morning, the waterfall was in the shadows, and thus not particularly photogenic at that moment.

We then hiked along a branch of the Merced River, which was very narrow at that point, and noticed this pine tree that had been bent in a 90 degree arc by the force of the water. Amazingly, it hadn't been broken or split by the river... 

Suzanne has always wanted a rock garden, and was admiring this lovely chunk of granite, suggesting that it would look good in our front yard. "Uh, Suzanne, I think we may have a problem. I think the Leave No Trace Ethic proscribes people removing rocks for personal use. Sigh..."

We also hiked to Mirror Lake, on a small and less-traveled trail that unfortunately was shared with stock (horses and mules). The lake was scenic, but while the four-legged population was not unfriendly, their "droppings" did not add to the wilderness beauty of the trail. (Photo not required.)

We tried to get a photo of Elisabeth in this blog post, but she was being camera-shy, and insisted on recording us instead. 

Unfortunately,we learned today that during the past two weeks, there were three tragic deaths of young people here in Yosemite Valley. One was a climber attempting El Capitan, and two were base jumpers wearing "flying suits" who failed to clear a notch after jumping off a 3,000 ft. cliff. The photo at right shows several climbers ascending El Capitan; they are the miniscule dots in a crack about 1/3 and 1/2 the way up from the treeline, and still have about 7/8 of the climb to go. 

On a happier note, Elisabeth and I will be backpacking for three days up in the High Sierras in the Ten Lakes area on the north side of Yosemite National Park, which is said to be a lovely destination. I am hoping the ranger was wrong when he predicted we would have nighttime temperatures in the high 20s!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Willow Glen; Yosemite Part 1; Pedi-Potti?

I was remiss in the last blog in not including this photo of a house in Willow Glen, a charming suburb of San Jose. Suzanne and I have traveled a lot around the US and every continent except Antarctica, and Willow Glen is one of our favorite "small towns". We even found a suitable home there, but alas, it is already occupied and unlikely to be on the market soon. It has a faux thatched cottage roof and a lovely garden. If I ever get around to buying that winning Lotto ticket, maybe we could have a replica built somewhere, but for now Willow Glen is out of our league financially. Two bedroom, bath and a half, 1500 sq. ft. cottages built in the 1950s and 60s are going for about $1.5 million... seems that Silicon Valley executives love the town, which has a very family-friendly atmosphere and a short commute to work.

We are now visiting Yosemite National Park for a week. My first (and only) trip here was back in 1976 or 77, and Suzanne has never been here. We are looking forward to My Lovely Daughter Elisabeth's arrival on Saturday. Liz and I have a backpacking trip planned next week; regrettably, Suzanne has to remain in our 42 foot motor coach with Rudy and Gretchen while Liz and I hike up to a 10,000 foot lake with 30 lb. backpacks, sleep in tents and mummy bags and eat dehydrated food. (It's a tough job, but someone has to care for our puppies, make sure the air conditioning works and ensure the refrigerator keeps the ice cream frozen.) 

We made a couple of recon runs around Yosemite to ensure it is adequate for Liz's visit. One of our first stops on entering the park was at Tunnel View at sunset.That's Half Dome on the right side of the valley in the distance. No complaints about bad views here! The only problem is that our coach is too big to fit in the park's campgrounds, so we are in a commercial campground 40 miles away (a full hour+ drive on windy mountain roads), with no phone service and minimal Wi-Fi, so blog posts will be a bit spotty.

This photo shows a bronze relief map of Yosemite Valley. The drop from Half Dome, Glacier Point and El Capitan are about 3,000-3,500 feet to the valley below. Suzanne was carrying her phone in a vain hope of getting a cell signal. She will be reduced to using Skype via Wi-Fi if the limited signal allows. 

Rudy and Gretchen met another long-haired miniature Dachshund, a cute 1 year old English creme in a skirt. Rudy was interested, but I think Gretchen was a bit jealous of the younger girl's flirting with Rudy... 

Yosemite is known for its towering granite walls. This one is an example of the easier climbing walls. It's only about 1,000 feet high and has lots of cracks and ledges. ("Easier" being a relative term... I forgot my climbing gear back in the attic, so will have sit these out.) 

El Capitan is the Holy Grail of big wall rock climbing, though. Good climbers will take five days to climb El Cap, sleeping overnight on tiny 6'x8' platforms tied to the rock, thousands of feet above the ground, with all their gear (water, food, poop bags) hauled up right alongside them for the duration. Sounds like great fun, doesn't it? Climbers from all over the world come here for the experience.

Our first hike was up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, which is located out of sight to the left side of the rock wall in this photo. This pretty hiker looks perky at the bottom of the hike, but what would she look like two hours later? 

Near the start, we saw this young coyote pup resting at the entrance to his den on a rock ledge about 15 feet above the trail. He could not have been over a year old, and looked friendly and curious, not afraid of us at all.


We took the easy route, a 2,000 foot climb up a trail with lots of switchbacks and a set of 131 granite steps at the end.

Why is it called the Mist Trail? Take a look at the mist blowing onto the steps (making them very wet and slippery); it's also chilly up here, out of direct sun and with snowmelt mist wafting over you.

Looking down, two things are apparent: 1. the trail is rather steep; and 2. the average age of the hikers is about 1/3 of my own; these two factors contributed to my somewhat leisurely pace...

We made it to the top, and Suzanne still looks pretty and chipper, which is much better than Der Blogmeister, who was getting a lttle tuckered out by this point and declined to be shown wheezing... but we did finish our first hike without incident, so that is always a plus. 

Suzanne insisted that I put one shot of the Old Goat in this blog, just to prove I was really here and not eating wings at Hooters, so I picked one that showed me rested and smiling...

Yosemite isn't all rock walls and waterfalls; the Merced River runs through it, and has been one of the major forces in cutting the valley to its current shape.

And this small marsh, or fen, displayed some of the most brilliant greens I've seen in a long time.

Finally, our good friends Sharon and Joyce back in The Villages liked the photo of the blue loo on wheels outside the San Francisco Victorian home in the previous blog post so much that they are considering purchasing their own, more high-tech version, the Pedi-Potti, shown here. We are thrilled, because then they could go on bike rides with us at home and be ready to share their new acquisition on "comfort stops".


Thursday, May 28, 2015

San Jose and San Francisco

We departed rural Petaluma and Marin County for San Jose; that relocation required us to contend with heavy San Francisco area traffic. This was a far cry from the rolling, tree-covered hills, cows and farmland we had enjoyed for a week, and presented some mental challenges with small cars cutting in front of us periodically. When that happens now, I try to remember My Lovely Bride's motto, "Send love", rather than my gut reaction...

Arriving at our destination, we set up camp in another Elks Lodge RV Park. The location was perfect, close to Willow Glen, a charming suburb of SJ, and only a half mile to the San Jose Center for Spiritual Living, where Suzanne presented the Sunday Message workshop at two services and her Making the Connection in the afternoon. The community at CSL SJ was one of the most enthusiastic, warm and loving that we have encountered. There were even several attendees who had been at both of Suzanne's Corte Madera talks the previous week. We are looking forward to returning here next summer for at least a week.

We were delighted when John and Gulshan Finnemore invited us to their beautiful home in nearby Cupertino for a traditional Indian meal prepared by Gulshan. It was a special treat, and the first time we had enjoyed authentic, home-cooked Indian cuisine. John is a retired engineering professor, and head of  the international headquarters of the Universal Spiritual Brother/Sisterhood. He and Suzanne discussed spiritual topics, and I got to chat with Gulshan about life in Mombasa, Kenya, where she grew up. It was a most pleasant afternoon, one that we shall long remember. (The view from their deck, which John built, was to die for.)


We reluctantly departed San Jose and drove to the edge of the Pacific Ocean to the town of (what else?) Pacifica, where our $96/night campground set a record for outrageous prices. Thankfully we were only spending one night here.  Although the view was pretty good, it was foggy and raw when the wind was blowing.  

I did meet a charming young lady walking along the bluff, and convinced her to have dinner with me.

After lunch, we took a walk along the shore to a nearby park with a couple of miles of trails; oh, and did I mention it was often windy here? This tree was one of dozens bent to leeward by the strong onshore gales that arrive regularly near the entrance to San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge is about 15 miles north of us, and we could see several ships offshore headed into the Bay. 

It was low tide, and several surf fishermen were out trying their luck. No one was catching, and I thought about going down to the beach to give them some pointers, but my date suggested it was getting late in the day and we should head back home and prepare for her event that evening.

We headed into San Francisco to meet our host, Alan Hugenot, head of the San Francisco Chapter of the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS). Suzanne would be speaking at the Golden Gate Spiritualist Church of San Francisco, sited in a former mansion on Franklin Street. 

We arrived early, so I took a walk around the neighborhood, which had several well-preserved Victorian houses to admire.


I'm not sure whether the owner of this house has a plumbing problem, but the outside "loo" leaves somethings to be desired in the charm and elegance categories... but then who am I to judge? Two of our best friends have similar facilities on their front lawn back in The Villages. (Yes, Sharon and Joyce, you do have a lot in common with SF high society.)

Suzanne's San Francisco IANDS event was a resounding success, and she is convinced that the venue (a historic Spiritualist church) helped the ambiance as well. (Thanks, Alan, for the invitation for Suzanne to speak and the delightful dinner we enjoyed with you and Gale.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

I would like to thank Judson and Donna Emens of Tuscumbia, Alabama, for sending me this quote by Congressman William Jennings Bryan from a Memorial Day speech delivered at Arlington Cemetery in 1894:

"With flowers in our hands and sadness in our hearts we stand amid the tombs where the nation's dead are sleeping. The essence of patriotism lies in a willingness to sacrifice for one's country, just as true greatness finds expression, not in blessings enjoyed, but in good bestowed. Read the words inscribed on the monuments reared by loving hands to the heroes of the past; they do not speak of wealth inherited or honors bought or of hours in leisure spent, but of service done."
"The officer was a patriot when he gave his ability to his country and risked his name and fame upon the fortunes of war; the private soldier was a patriot when he took his place in the ranks and offered his body as a bulwark to protect the flag; the wife was a patriot when she bade her husband farewell and gathered about her the little brood over which she must exercise both a mother's and a father's care; and if there can be degrees in patriotism, the mother stood first among the patriots when she gave to the nation her sons, the divinely appointed support of her declining years, and as she brushed the tears away, thanked God that he had given her the strength to rear strong and courageous sons for the battlefield."
"And on this Memorial Day we shall fall short of our duty if we content ourselves with praising the dead or complimenting the living and fail to make preparations for those responsibilities which present times and present conditions impose upon us."
"The strength of a nation does not lie in forts, nor in navies, nor yet in great standing armies, but in happy and contented citizens, who are ever ready to protect for themselves and to preserve for posterity the blessings which they enjoy. It is for us of this generation to so perform the duties of citizenship that a 'government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.' "

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Silage; Corte Madera Events; Bike Ride from Hell; No Chinese!; Earthrise at IONS; Coast Guard Lingerie?

Having spent most of my youth in New Orleans, it came as a bit of a shock when, as a teenager, I spent a summer on a family dairy farm in Iowa. That was hard work, sunup to sundown, and subliminally, it may have provided some of the impetus to join the Navy and see the world. Memories of the farm are rather dim, but I don't remember "silage" being part of the daily routine. (Where is Ty going with this thread, you may ask?") Well, we arrived at our next campground at the US Coast Guard Training Center in Petaluma, Sonoma County, California, but instead of the blue Pacific Ocean, this is the view from our coach.  We are surrounded by farms, fields, hills and patchy woods, with deer, wild turkeys, Canada geese, and jackrabbits, rather than seals, sea lions and laughing gulls. 

The fields were being harvested that day with several combines, threshers or forage harvesters (my knowledge of farm machinery is as vague as that of flowers), and as the farmers were wrapping up, My Lovely Bride, whose farm knowledge is even more sparse than my own, asked one of the drivers what they were harvesting. "We're cutting grass for silage" was his brief answer; seems it is stored in airtight silos where it ferments and is fed to cows and other ruminants over the winter. Fermented grass must make for happy ruminants...

After getting settled in our bucolic paradise, Suzanne prepared for her next two events, on consecutive nights at the Sunrise Center in Corte Madera, near Marin. On Sunday, we had a delightful dinner with the directors of the Sunrise Center prior to Suzanne giving her Messages of Hope presentation, which was very well received. On Monday night, she gave a new talk based on her Making the Connection presentation, including guided meditations. The effect on the attendees was predictable and gratifying; at the end, no one wanted to leave. 

We had a great bike ride the other day. Well, that was my judgment, anyway. Unfortunately, My Lovely Bride does not share my opinion. On the day after each of her events, Suzanne likes to go out for a gentle bike ride of an hour's duration; exercise and increased oxygen flow invariably restore her. So, after her first Corte Madera event, we drove to Helen Putnam Regional Park, which had some mountain biking trails that I had spied out, and they were graded easy-to-moderate over rolling hills. The trails were okay, maybe a bit steeper than we had expected, but all was going well until we dropped down a particularly steep section and wound up in a neighborhood a couple of miles from the park entrance. I could tell that Suzanne was getting a bit tired, so I suggested that we simply ride streets at the base of the hills in a clockwise direction until we arrived back at our parking spot. Well, half an hour later found us out in deserted ranch country (more rolling hills with a few cows and sheep) and MLB was being told by her guides, "You are doomed if you keep following this guy..." She asked me to stop so she could check her iPhone map, and it turns out we were headed the wrong way on the road to Pt. Reyes, a very scenic (but very distant) landmark. "Ty, maybe we should have gone counter-clockwise." Okay, so back we rode, only an extra half hour or so, but mostly uphill. Fortunately, MLB is still speaking to me, but she was pretty tuckered out at the end of our ride.

IONS - I'm not referring to atoms and molecules in which the number of protons is not equal to the number of electrons, but rather to the Institute of Noetic Science. IONS was founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell and German rocket scientist Werner von Braun to investigate parapsychological phenomena and human potential. We visited IONS' EarthRise Transformative Learning and Conference Center the other day, where we had lunch and toured the campus in the beautiful hills above Petaluma. I even got to do some hiking there one day while Suzanne was busy; I particularly enjoyed a bit of meditative time at their labyrinth. The IONS campus is surrounded by rolling hills covered with wildflowers, and has a sense of peace and tranquility that undoubtedly contributes to its mission, the study of consciousness, psychic abilities, human potential, spirituality, meditation and other non-traditional phenomena. I liked Edgar Mitchell's response to a skeptic interviewer: "That's what's fun about it. We're breaking down barriers and finding things. That's what science is all about: new discovery. ... There's nothing that we have done or have demonstrated that doesn't have good science behind it. Skeptics be damned."

This next paragraph may surprise some readers. I was reading a fair and balanced on-line news source, and the report of the Chinese building bases in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea "spun me up". For the uninitiated, this term means that I was spun up like a gyroscope, but in an angry way, because the People's Republic of China (yes, those stinking Communists) are building military installations (on barely visible reefs in other countries' waters) that one day will be used against the United States Navy. My anger was in fact directed both toward the Chinese government and toward incompetent civilian academics at the US Naval Academy. The first is easily understandable, because our position vis-a-vis China is very similar to that of Japan in the late 1930s. Thinking observers should realize that we may well be at war with the Chinese in the not too far distant future. The secondary reason is less obvious. Back in 1998, My Lovely Bride was Deputy Director of Humanities at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, and drafted a recommendation that Chinese be added as a foreign language major, since they were even then becoming a strategic threat to the USA. Her paper was rejected out of hand by the civilian professors at USNA, who saw adding Chinese as a threat to staffing for European languages. That sure makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? For those who read history, the parallels between the strategic objectives of Japan in the 1930s and China today should be patently obvious. (There is some vindication in that when I looked at their web site today, USNA has finally added a Chinese language major with four professors). 

On a lighter note, I could have been really embarrassed today, and maybe even arrested. It makes for an "interesting" story... We are at our Coast Guard campsite for a week, and while our campsite is peaceful, it has no grey and black water hookup, meaning that we have to carefully manage our water usage, or move when our waste tanks are full to a nearby dump station. Laundry has to be done weekly, but we don't have the grey water tank space to run two big loads without filling the tank. I drew the short straw, and looked for the base laundromat. It's a small base, and the only facilities are in the barracks, where 18-24 year-old Coast Guard men and women are berthed. When I got there, there was only one washing machine not in use. No problem, I would just make several trips. All was going well until I returned to remove the first load of wash from the dryer... 

I must have been distracted, because as I opened what I thought was my machine, several women's bras and panties fell out, and they obviously did not belong to My Lovely Bride! My first terror-stricken thought was that the young owner of those undergarments would walk in just at that moment, scream "Pervert!", and I would be hauled off in handcuffs and a mug shot posted on the Internet... Fortunately, no one walked in, and I tossed the unmentionables back in the dryer, found the correct machine and finished my duties without further incident, but it was a close call, and as we passed several women Coasties on our way to dinner, I wondered whether one of them might have been "The One"...

Friday, May 15, 2015

Go-To Flower Girl; Paso Robles; Wine!; Two Graces; Camp Roberts; Gilroy Garlic; "What-a-Bank?"

I would like to thank Loyal Reader and Go-To Flower Girl Colette Sasina back in Florida for identifying the two wildflowers in Saturday's blog post. The tiny red flowers are a member of the buckwheat family called Turkish rugging (Chorizanthe staticoides). The Latin name derives from a word meaning "to suck", supposedly because Romans would suck on the leaves of this plant to allay their thirst.

The bright yellow flowers in the past blog are California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), and are in fact the official state flower. The petals close at night or in cold, windy weather and open again the following morning, although they may remain closed in cloudy weather. By the way, this photo of the California poppy was shot in Cambria, CA, where one solitary flower makes its home in a crack in a sidewalk.

Under the heading of Interesting but Useless Trivia, you may be interested in learning that the California poppy's scientific name was given by German botanist Adelbert von Chamisso after a fellow scientist, Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, when both visited California aboard the Russian ship Rurik in 1814. In researching the ship's name, I found that Rurik was also the name of a Rus tribe warrior of the 8th/9th Century who may have actually been a Viking king named Rorik of Dorestad, whose Very Manly Portrait shows that he may not have been a sensitive, New Age kind of guy, unless that spiked club (mace) he's holding was just for show. (You may remember that the Vikings left Scandinavia because their wives kept serving lutefisk, now the state food of Minnesnowta).

Back to our California Adventure... we recently survived our first winery tour(s) in Paso Robles, where we sampled some excellent wines from the J. Lohr, Eberle and Tobin James vineyards. Our good friends Bill and Gayle Hancock from The Villages had given us several recommendations, and they were spot on, but we only had two days in "Paso", so we will have to return some day to try the other 247 vineyards and tasting rooms there, such as those with really interesting names like Frolicking Frog, Seven Oxen and Tooth and Nail. Speaking of frolicking, this lovely lady was holding down the bar quite well (or was the bar holding her up?). For a "short ball hitter" who usually has only a half glass of wine with dinner, she did quite well in our tastings. 

While driving around the area, we passed this appropriately named, lovely hilltop villa, Casa de Vina, which is actually a vacation rental surrounded by vineyards. Suzanne wanted to see what they charged, but I assured her it was out of our price range... 

The Eberle Winery's mascot is a small boar, which reflects the German meaning of Eberle, and rubbing the boar's nose is said to bring good luck. Coincidentally, the founder, Gary Eberle, is from Pennsylvania (Suzanne's home state), and attended Louisiana State University (my alma mater), where he developed an affinity for wine (yep, probably in The Library, that student watering hole that has a branch on every college campus). 

While in Paso Robles, we also visited Grace Pucci and her mother Grace at their beautiful Victorian home. The younger Grace is the president of the local Historical Society, so we were able to learn a lot about the city and its preservation efforts over lunch at Panolivo Cafe. These two lovely ladies are relatives of our good friends Elizabeth Magee and Joseph Valentino back in The Villages, and had hosted Suzanne, Elizabeth, Bev Garlipp and Ann Lavelle during a visit they had made to Paso Robles a few months ago. (On the food front, I was impressed by Panolivo's chicken and pork boudin blanc, reminiscent of the Cajun variety we had enjoyed just a month ago in Scott, Louisiana, Boudin Capital of the World. It was served with spicy Dijon mustard and the best roasted potatoes I've ever had, an altogether yummy meal.)

Our campground was at our second National Guard base in a row, Camp Roberts, 13 miles north of Paso Robles. It is a functional, no-frills Army training center, rather than a fancy, well-appointed facility like you would find at most Air Force bases. But the price was right, $10/night, as opposed to the $55-75/night that commercial campgrounds charge in wine country. This was the view from our campsite; I was a bit startled early one morning while walking Rudy and Gretchen to see a large coyote watching us hungrily from about 50 yards away. We never let the dogs off lead, and I always carry a knife when we're outside of towns (and inside some), so I wasn't very worried, but I always take a look around with a flashlight at night before bringing them out for a walk.

We have also seen many deer, hawks, wild turkeys, owls and one striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). I definitely steered well clear of Pepe le Pew... skunks can be highly accurate up to ten feet away with their shots of mercaptan fluid, which can stop a bear in its tracks. The only animals known to attack skunks regularly are dogs (who don't know any better) and great horned owls, the skunk's only natural predator. Skunks are also crepuscular, being most active during twilight hours. 

We departed Camp Roberts enroute our next stop, Gilroy, California, the Garlic Capital of the USA, where we set up camp in another Elks Lodge RV park. There are only two other RVs here, and we are shaded by a cell phone tower disguised as a tall tree, a very clever ruse that doesn't fool birds and squirrels. We passed on sampling the garlic wine and ice cream that local businesses offer, but the garlic odors emanating from several restaurants was enough to whet our appetites for heavier servings of that delicious, pungent bulb that is a relative of the onion. Gilroy's upcoming Garlic Festival in July will be the 37th such event, and over 100,000 visitors are expected to attend. There is a competing Garlic Festival on the Isle of Wight in Hampshire in the United Kingdom, but English cuisine being what it is, only 25,000 attendees will be there, mostly (I would suspect) Italian, Greek and Spanish immigrants. 

Finally, there are probably many banks around the country that I have never heard of, but this one has a most unusual name: "Rabobank". We laughed the first time we saw the name, and wondered what brilliant marketing person had thought up the name, which is pronounced like an invitation to "stick-em-up." Turns out it is a primarily agricultural-oriented bank headquartered in the Netherlands, is one of the largest banks in the world (assets of $900 billion), and is rated one of the safest banks in the world. If its name wasn't quite so weird...