Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Walk in the Woods

There's always a weekend in spring where we start thinking summer has come!.  Lines at REI go out the door, there's a crush at Greenlake, people start yoga and mow lawns, dogs that haven't seen the light of day in months are dragged out to parks and people spend ages trying on sunglasses they'll lose in a drawer next week when winter returns.

Last Saturday was that weekend: sunshine and temperatures in the 70s lured me out for a hike with Wren.  We went to Boulder River Trail up near Darrington.  At 9.45am parking was already packed and we had to navigate the potholed road where piles of sawdust still lay by the lengths of freshly sawn trees that had fallen over the trail, a reminder of recent storms. Driving up from Seattle we also passed the Oso Landslide site.  In the early fog and cool it was deserted and we stopped a moment to reflect on how small we are against geologic scale and how the flag of a nation feels like a vanity against the carving and calving of the earth's surface.

The Oso Gate Memorial
Oso Landslide where 43 died March 22, 2014
We started up the trail unsure how far we'd go. At first, Wren was concerned about the cliffs to the right of the path. He said he wasn't worried about himself but was worried Beezle could fall off.  I told him Beezle would take care of himself because he had four legs.  Then I looked over the edge and wondered if I was right.

Beezle does not like bridges.  If he has a chance to walk over a log or walk under it he always takes the low road.  This bridge was no exception. Wren says "I got a real fright.  I thought Beezle would go down into the river and be stuck there and not come up".  He did come up.

Along the way we passed the downed trees and snags. Some huge trees had splintered on the path while others blocked the way entirely and had steps sawn in them where we had to carry Beezle. At every crossing people would pause and ooh and aah at how cute and small Beezle was and what a distance he was walking.

The full Boulder Creek hike was 9 miles.  We made it the whole way (Wren was running downhill on the way home).  He was thankful when I stopped looking at every mushroom (because the same species kept recurring). Beezle had run out of steam 3/4 of the way alone and only continued out of desperation and fear of being left in the woods with wild dogs and fern fronds to eat.

On the way home we ate snacks from Grocery Outlet and stopped at Cabelas to buy Wren a knife.  He has been whittling and cutting cheese with it ever since.


There were birds nest fungi on every surface and at every angle.

Wren surveys the remains of a recently fallen tree across the trail.

There were many spring fungi out, and particular abundance of this ascomycete which is
a species of pseudoplectania (vogesiaca or nigrella)

lichenomphalia umbellifera symbiotically associated
with green green alga Coccomyxa on rotting logs.

Birds nest fungi.

A foraging pug who wanted to eat our pear but was chased away by Beezle
(who does not eat pear)

A cone shape in a twig circle.

Welcome to the Woods

Some things don't need a caption.

We walked 9 miles in total (a fellow hiker had a GPS). It took us 6 hours and Wren
was largely responsible for us keeping going to the end of the trail before turning back.
I was still the next day - he was not.  Beezle looks at me with dread when I say "Walkies".


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Worse Things Happen .. In National Parks

When bad things happened my grandfather used to say "worse things happen at sea".  I am not sure exactly what he meant by it - I assume that anything bad that happens on land is a lot worse when you're out in the middle of a roiling ocean, reliant on your own supplies and resourcefulness. Regardless, its function was to give us perspective on petty complaints. After this trip I am adding a new adage to my collection of Life Quotes:

"Worse things happen in National Parks".

Noah and I decided to See the Sunrise at Zabriskie Point. Our sun can be seen to rise and shine from many part of the earth (and I saw a spectacular sunrise through my tent flap the day before). But some parts of the earth have better views of it than others and some parts of earth in National Parks have the misfortune of being accessible to the nation, and being known for this.. this ability to see the sunrise with the same framing everybody else has seen, and also to be able to prove it with a photograph.

I didn't know it, but according to reviews (yes, view sites have reviews on Google):
So, instead of a few folk sitting on a high place watching the suns rays reaching over the curve of the earth, there were dozens of people with tripods vying to get front row seats to photograph the reddening canyons from an iconic vantage.  It was like this about an hour before sunrise.





They jostled for position, ran from vantage to vantage. This guy asked us to "step back a bit" so he could get his desired angle.  He's in the Khaki brigade. When you go to a national park you must wear khaki pants and a kit vest. Do you love him?



And then things got beyond crowded to weird. A TV-style yogi was doing some kind of sun honoring thing with a boombox playing inspirational pop music, loudly, nearby. So, picture this photo with a tinny pop soundtrack.  Oh. And a Japanese-American woman in a white silken tunic prancing around making sun honoring gestures with her hands followed by an entourage of older male tourists. A homophobic man with a bloody eye told me that he and his "boys" got in trouble riding Harley's, and did not do "stuff like that".





A little note which made Tunic Lady seem more calculated was her sneakers.  She was wearing clunky old-person sneakers but she'd slip off before doing her 'barefoot in the sand' dancing and prancing and then put them on to walk around.  Men turned and photographed her, gesturing her over to pose in the foreground of their sunrise.

There were also people camped with cameras like little black pimples on distant buttes ;)

The irony of it all was that the sunrise was not particularly saturated and colored that day as there was a veil of clouds.  I overheard the yoga guy tell someone that "it isn't as intense" as yesterday. I took some photos (but really need to read the manual on my camera as I spent about half the time dicking around with settings).  When I opened the pictures in my photo viewer I started to think about intensity.  Are people hooked on a saturated version of the world, like the "Pop" filter on apps?  Do you slip the intensity slider a little to the right?  And if you do.. what are you moving towards... does the brighter version seem truer, more fun or just more like the life people will Like?


This is as it was recorded by me and the camera.
This is with saturation maxed so I hope it makes you feel nauseous but
there are many published photos on the continuum towards this hyped sky.
Ansel Adams, probably the greatest american landscape photographer wrote about an experience climbing a ridge west of Mt. Clark:

"I saw more clearly than I have ever seen before or since the minute detail of the grasses, the clusters of sand shifting in the wind, the small flotsam of the forest, the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks. There are no words to convey the moods of those moments.”

Don't get me wrong, I am glad people get out to National Parks but what I hope they find there is an experience of the minute detail of things, the humility of breath in the great sweep of the earth.  This was not that moment.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sierra Hot Springs

I don't like New Year's Resolutions. If something is worth doing, just do it already.. don't wait for the ball at Times Square to tell you its time. So this year, when someone asked what my resolution was I just said I was going "to go to three new hot springs". I am not sure why I said it, I guess because it was cold, in the middle of winter, I like Breitenbush Hot Springs and of course I enjoy Korean bath houses like Olympus.

Last week I made a trip down to California and Nevada with Noah, and visited 3 hot springs in two days so perhaps I was prescient in my ambitions.

We started off in Sacramento and drove Route 50 East and 395 South to Bridgeport CA. The drive through the Sierra's was beautiful. It reminded me of great scenic vistas I've experienced - the view across the foothills to the Drakensberg, the high plains and the hills of the Black Sea.  The scale of the mountains covered in evergreen trees, patches of high meadow white with snow and sudden cuts of rivers carrying snowmelt merits a kind of silence. Its enough to simply be in places like this.  For those not in the US, the Sierra Nevada range is the highest and longest mountain range in the contiguous United States and includes Yosemite National Park as well as many others.






Travertine Hot Springs
We dropped down from the mountains to a wide valley and then turned South to Bridgeport. Bridgeport is really tiny but its near Travertine Hot Springs which is a natural spring up a mile of dirt road. We arrived at dusk - surprising a jackrabbit in the headlights - and came to a landscape of large boulders and low trees, with warm water seeping from the earth and running down the hill in muddy rivulets and bogs.  There are a few large central pools and in a few places, people have cultivated others. We found a pool down the hillside. The night was brilliant with stars.

As I walked back to the car a large animal lurched out of the dark to sniff me.  It was a hippy's dog. Apparently hot springs attract people who are relaxed and live in camper vans and travel with dogs and children who wear colorful clothes and hats.  Because it was dark, I don't have a photo of this Spring but Noah has a photo of the hare and the sky looked like it does from any dark-enough North American earth.

We walked back without lights.  Noah says the trick to walking in the dark is to lift your feet up so you don't kick into things.

Mono Lake
The next day we headed South through the great basin. Mono Lake is a saline soda lake (very salty and alkaline) which forms an oasis, important for migratory and nesting birds. This is not a hot spring but its beautiful and watery so I am including it. We ate lunch at the lake shore and then walked through the towers of tufa which stand like sentinels (or meerkats).





South to Wild Willy's Hot Spring
This spring was a few miles and cattle-grates off 395, South of Mammoth Lakes.  Located under a great sweeping horizon on a ridge above the valley floor, the cold wind peels off the mountains but the sun and water are hot.  You walk from a parking lot down a path and wooden walkway to a series of pools. On the way we passed an unnaturally happy man carrying a six-pack of empty beer bottles and alcohol.  More dogs were hanging around and a vacant-eyed young woman walked by, expressionless. 

The upper pool was a bit milky but a nice temperature.  We had it to ourselves but other people were hopping in and out of the main pools with drinks and children and dogs and communal cheer. As I got out I found an alcohol swab of the kind people use to prep a site for injectables. This was not encouraging and gave rise to "fucking hippy drug user" thoughts in both of us.  Perhaps the sign should add "pack your sharps".

I wish they had specified that human waste should be buried in a land far-far away.

The path to the pools at Wild Willy reminds me of an Andy Goldsworthy piece
Beautiful space.
 Hilltop
The final spring we visited was Hilltop. There were three women in bikinis and 2 naked dogs at Hilltop Hot Spring when we arrived. The dogs were friendly. The women were locals.  They were not hippies or drug users but its not that fun to sit in a Spring the Size of the hot tub with three strangers eating crackers.  

This was the only spring I chose to wear a swimsuit.  I guess I didn't need to but I didn't want to get undressed in front of the dogs and the only thing weirder than sitting in a spring the size of a hot tub with three strange women eating crackers and one women eating lots of things, is to sit in it with three women eating crackers and one women eating lots of things when you are the only one naked.  Actually, put like that it sounds like a "fuck, why am I naked" dream.

At Hilltop I learned that one of the women was eating crackers and cookies and chips because she wasn't getting any orgasms.  I also learned that they had been sitting in the hot spring a few weeks prior when they felt an earthquake.  I also learned they were locals and came here often. Noah declined to get in that hot spring which was a wise decision and enabled me to hop out within a short period and say I was ready for lunch (I find I am always ready for lunch in these circumstances).

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Running in the neighborhood

I went for a morning jog around the neighbourhood.  Houses have tall walls topped with electrified wire, sharp metal spikes or stakes. Many larger homes have a guardhouse where a security guard sits.  Everyone has signs for armed response or Blue Security posted at regular intervals along the wall.  Driveways have 10 foot high, automatic gates.  When cars drive out they wait outside the gate until the gate is fully closed before driving off.

Outside the wall the streets have no sidewalks but are verged by green lawns and plantings with red earth paths walked into them.  Some have rockeries, bromeliads, ferns, wide-leafed grasses.  All the roads are lined with trees - the kind of trees that really make good shade.  The canopy is wide and well-leafed and many trees have someone sitting under them.

You don't see many white South African's walking.  The gardeners wearing blue overalls are raking leaves from the street, the driveways are leaf-free.  At some homes, a security guard sits on a plastic chair by the gate, while other workers load bricks from a pickup or polish the brass numbers on the wall.  Maids walk the dogs and others sit, chatting on the lawn while Common Indian Mynah birds hop and sing "keeky keeky keek churr churr kuk kuk kuk".  Occasional doves call from the dark trees.

The homes are large - with patios and deck chairs overlooking the distant sea.  Some have swimming pools and tennis courts.  All have big leafed plants and lawns of uneven green (weeds are common) studded with red-earth erupting mole-hills.  Jacarandas and Flame trees are common - big seed pods lie in the road along with purple jacaranda flowers (exam season) and red earth.  Outside the larger homes the red earth has been raked clear and you can see the lines of the raking in the sand by the street.

Ants make trails and crickets cheep.

I can see the hedge that will have martengulas later in the year, small avocados have fallen from some trees after recent winds.  Its hot and humid now - blue skies are being replaced by building clouds from inland and the sea flecks white.

This afternoon we say goodbye to Dad (who is flying to Cape Town for a weekend with the boys) and Wren and I will spend the night at Ammazulu in Kloof before flying home tomorrow.

Sugar and the "God Cell"

#1
Wren: "I hate it when someone says you can have something for desert, like this turkish delight chocolate bar, and then you forget and you ask if you can have it now and they say 'no'"

Me: "Its breakfast!  Its 7.30am"

Wren falls face down on the bed and sighs, turns, looks at me with a quivering bottom lip and then lies face down again.

#2
The power goes out unexpectedly in the Game Reserve and we are left sitting in the dark with one flashlight between us.  Dad and David ask if they can use the flashlight to get something from their cabin, 100 m or more distant, in the dark, with no fence around the camp.  We light candles in the lodge.

They ask: "Can we use the flashlight for a few minutes.  We will be back soon.  Otherwise it will be very dark walking to our room [unfenced lodge camp]?

Wren: I don't like to say this, but I am getting to the point where 'I just don't care'.

#3
We are in the game reserve and stop by some fresh rhino dung where a dung beetle is working.  We open the window so Wren can see. He rolls down the window and makes a great sound of disgust.

"Argh! SHUT THE WINDOW.  My nose is vomiting!."

#4
In this area of Durban North all the houses have Blue Security contracts and a special extra-active armed response team. On our return from the Game Reserve we found that our electric gate opener was flat and so we could not open the gate.  Because the gate and perimeter are topped with electric fence, we could not get in.  Dad drove off to buy a battery for the remote while Ingrid called Blue Security to see if they could open the gate.

Ingrid said "They have an override so if we called them in an emergency they could get in."

Rodger arrived in the security car.

He said "No, sorry.  We don't have the override. That is an added service. We get a God Cell in the car and that lets the guard on duty in the car get in for an emergency only.

Ingrid was puzzled.  She was told that with the Added Active Security package they would have a God Cell.  Dad was not sure he wanted Blue Security to have an all-access pass option.

Wren and I were listening.  We were quite intrigued by the God Cell and Wren kept mentioning it when people talked about the gate.

Today, Blue Security came over to consult with Ingrid. Later, I saw a receipt for the work order done today.  It said "Installed, one Guard Cell."

Aw, God would have been so much better.

Umhloti Beach Day

Today was our last full day in Durban.  We went up the North Coast to Umloti, to swim in the protected lagoon behind some rocky reefs.  When I was a girl we would come here to go musseling and look in the rock pools at low tide.  More recently, Dad and I have snorkelled to look at the fish who swim in the pool and collect around the rocky reef.

Umhloti Lagoon
Wren loved the lagoon and the rocks.  We saw many small fish and Wren was committed to catching one.  Unfortunately, we did not have a net.  I did have an old plastic container which he tried to scoop the fish with.  We did not succeed.  An elderly man with a long grey beard was snorkelling in and around the rock pools.  He was wearing a long white tunic and leggings.  He told me he was a Muslim and despaired of the world - the greed which drives wars and conflict - and did not understand it.  He said, we have all we want here with some fish.  I have a snorkel.  He wants to catch some small fish. Why do we need more?

Wren loves Cream Sodas.  They are bright green in South Africa. Today Wren learned he does not like them with ice.
At the Umhloti Coffee Shop overlooking the sea.  Wren had Calamari rings and I had a toasted sandwich.
Wren is trying to catch fish. 
"Did I get one yet?"
"I REALLY want to catch a fish."
The surf beyond the reef was strong but regular.
Some Durban sea photos for the expats.  It was a splendid Durban day... hot and muggy but not too much heat.  The sea was warm and wonderfully clean.
Yesterday we spent the morning at South Beach and Ushaka.  Wren loved it there too but didn't go in as deep because the waves were a bit bigger than Umhloti lagoon.
Wren was stalking an Ibis.  He thought perhaps it couldn't fly because when he walked faster, it walked faster.  Eventually, he cornered it and it flew away.
The young man of the left makes these sandcastles to raise money from tourists.  You pay him a few rand to take a photo in front of his sandcastles.  I was told that this is Zumas Zululand estate.  The one on the right is a rhino and it says "stop Poaching".  At North Beach there is a large Malaysian flight 371 with the Malaysian logo in coloured sand.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Morning Swim at North Beach

Wren & I went for a morning swim at North Beach.  It was only 8am but already hot and bright with lots of swimmers in the water. The surf life saving club juniors were swimming and running with their red boogie boards.  Wren jumped over the little waves - worried about his sore thumb which he cut on the mandolin slicer last night while copying Dad and I chopping apples.

The Thumb Cut
The cut was a Drama. I had been using a Mandoline slicer to prepare apples for a waldorf salad Ingrid was taking for Thanksgiving in South Africa. Mandolins are vile appliances on which home cooks trade mortal risk for the chance to have perfectly thin and even slices of fruit. Nobody who has cut off the top part of their thumb can look at one without feeling a bit queazy.  Generally, when you buy a mandolin it comes with various parts:
  • Liability disclaimer part
  • Slicer Blade Part
  • Grater Blade Parts
  • Plastic vegetable grip part.

After a few months, only the slicer blade part remains because the other parts are stupid and have been lost in the back of the cupboard  Yes, I said it... stupid. Despite the demonstration videos, you really can't hold a carrot with this plastic grip thing. To do so, you have to pre-sculpt the vegetable into just-right shaped parts which wastes all the curved bits.

Everyone knows holding the fruit or vegetable is dangerous so I don't know why we do it but we do. In fact, if you google "Mandoline Slicer da" it prefills the phrase:

"Mandoline Slicer Dangerous" and gives you articles with titles like:


Whatever you do, do not select IMAGE SEARCH for "Mandoline Slicer Dangerous"

Anyway, we were talking about how dangerous it was and I was going slowly, so Dad took over slicing and went fast. I felt ill and walked out the kitchen because I was sure he was going to cut himself. Wren was watching and eating apple slices.

Dad put it down to lemonize the apples and Wren just picked up a wedge of apple and started slicing it fast "whizz whizz".

I screamed "Nooooooo!"

But he was already screaming "Arghhhhh" and bleeding everywhere while I yelled at him about a minute late about the Mandoline slicer.  I think there was a Fuck in there too.

It bled for a long while and took three bandaids, including a cool bandaid from Japan and caledula ointment to stop it.  It rather ruined the evening because Wren had ongoing commentary about his finger with themes like:
  1. Will I get an infection?
  2. OH GOD, I shook my hand it will start bleeding again.
  3. Will I die of blood loss?
  4. Why has Futurama stopped?
  5. When will it stop throbbing?
  6. I can't eat Thanksgiving in South Africa because of the pain.
  7. I can't play iPad anymore.
Back to the Beach
So, this morning we went swimming at North Beach and despite swearing he would not swim, Wren was pleased that his cut did not sting. In fact, the bandaids fell off and it does not look so bad. Dad warned that the top of the finger will dry up and fall off.  I have not mentioned that to Wren yet as its only a small piece of finger but he is probably attached it it. Well, he is attached to it now and that would worry him.

The beach was stunning.  Warm water and small waves.  I took Wren out about 4 m from breaking waves past the little sandbank (right on shore) to a place that he could only just stand but could float up and down the waves holding onto the boogie board.  I said he could say "Home" anytime and I would take him back to the shallows.  He said "Home" twice - once when a wave was a little steeper than usual and once when he was concerned about a big wave. We plan to swim every day that there is sunshine.

Morning coffee at Juran was great.  David and I had soy.

David has headed back to Cape Town with his 100% Rye Bread and Garlic oil.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday in Durban

A Morning Bike Ride
Dad likes to take the dogs running on Saturday morning.  Dad rides his mountain bike and the dogs run alongside (on leashes) or - when its wild - free. Ingrid is worried about this because the dogs sometimes run in front of the tyres and make Dad fall off.  Being almost 70, this is a bit risky but he does it anyway.

I haven't been exercising so I agreed to go on a morning ride with Dad. He said "about 5.30am" which is early but we were on Game Reserve Time so it seemed okay.

This morning, at first light Dad tapped on my bedroom door and we dresssed quickly and drove north up the coast road to a sugar cane plantation where Dad likes to ride.  There is a lovely dirt road by the river where weavers nest and monkeys bark from the huge groves of bamboo.  As we arrived at the gas station where he parks, I asked what time it was.  It was 4.45am.

"I thought it was dark because of the weather" said Dad.  There were storms last night with high winds, thunder and lightening.  The sea was calm but the sand was wet and there were twigs and fallen baby avocados on the ground in the garden.

We rode off with the dogs and the first half of the ride was easy.  We passed a man walking through the cane with his fishing rod on the way to the beach, some workers with their green overalls and work boots walked up to a farm with a blue tractor and otherwise not even the monkeys were awake.

The second half the ride was really hard! We road up a steep and endless red-earth and gravel road through the cane.  Dad's bikes gears are crap and so they kept crunching and slipping.  My thighs muscles were twitching and I felt ill with exertion. Is Dad 70 or am I?  Eventually, at the end of the endless hill Dad said "We are almost at the highest point.  Do you want to go the short way home or the other way which is 10% further".

This was a blantant lie.  We were far from the highest point and I doubt it was 10% further.  After many more ascents and steep descents, I am now mud splattered and exhausted.

A good breakfast of haloumi and vegges with wicked cheesy-hash-browns and two coffees has softened the memory but I could do with a nap.

Day 6: Hilltop and Back to Durban

Hilltop is humanity. Wren is 100% happy here. We have learned that an important feature of humanity is a building which does not have holes by which nature can enter. Down at Munyaweni the floorboards had up to half cm gaps which is how the scorpions and spiders wandered in. The eves were also open which is how the bats and snake came in and the walls in some parts of the house were only slatted bamboo. Even the doors were more conceptual - without locks or fastenings beyond a piece of wood which rested in a shallow depression.

As Lanny reflected after seeing the lion run away on the day walk iions don’t want to come into human places. Now hyenas are another matter.

Anyway, Hilltop camp has nearly sealed rooms. The floors are tile and the eaves are sealed.  We slept wonderfully and only a line of ants carrying a dead beetle disturbed our sanctuary.

Morning Stroll at Hilltop
On our morning walk in Hilltop we saw a crushed scorpion in the road which ants were eating.  Wren was interested but didn’t want me to take it home and draw it.  Monkeys were out eating in the fruiting trees and flying across the gaps in the canopy with noisy scrambling landings.

We enjoyed a buffet breakfast with many sausages.  Wren likes South African breakfasts because, unlike the US, there are many meats.  On the buffet was pork sausage, chicken sausage, thick rasher bacon, eggs, tomatoes, spreads (Marmite, Bovril, tomato sauce, peri-peri and two mustards) and toast.

The German tourists were upset because they had to queue to make their own toast. They felt this was inefficient and complained.  There was sometimes a gap in toast-manufacture when the person in front of the line waited for their toast to appear but didn’t anticipate the toast-needs of the person behind them.

Fetching the Hikers
At lunch we fetched the hikers from the Trails Camp near Mpila.  They had had a great 3 day hike - being surrounded by lions in the darkness, by elephant and being semi-stormed by a bull elephant.  The Adams shareholders were red-faced, slightly burnt and thrilled by the experience.

We stopped at the Litchi Orchard Delish Sisters near home and had more food.  The litchis are still not ripe and the monkeys are stealing them, green or not!

It was good to be home. Nobody wanted dinner.


BBC News is only talking about the Paris bombings and the Mali Hostages.  It is so repetitive that we decided not to watch anything.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Day 5: Munyaweni - Baboon Spider

Wren is afraid of spiders but also fascinated by them.  Hearing that there were bats and a Baboon Spider in Lanny and Pete's cabin, he wanted to go and see them.  He prepared to enter with his wooden panga in one hand and his pangolin carving in the other.

We did not see the baboon spider.  Wren said "Knowing there is a baboon spider but I do not know where it is is EVEN WORSE than seeing a baboon spider."

He thought a bit then added: "Or you could say, if you don't know its there its not really there. So I am okay".

Lanny took a picture of it which she will share.  For now, here is the Baboon Spider Atlas and I trust that if you want to see it you google Harpactira Baboon Spider for a picture.

Preparing to enter the Baboon Spider Zone with panga raised. 
Playing Disc World afterwards