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Sunday, November 02, 2003

Oct 2002 Emate Fall Journal

This was written last fall on my emate while travelling through the sierras with our kiwi friends.

Day 1
Today started a journey into fall. The high winds from yesterday were less but still present today. The crops look ready for harvest or even past that. The grass is dry and waiting for rain.
The drive into the mountains was peaceful and not crowded like summer would have been. The sky has a crisp feeling and the shadows are everywhere even in the bright sun. The signs of fall are everywhere if you look for them. It's still warm in the car where only the sun can enter.
Climbing up into the mountains brings us back to green as all the conifers stand tall as always. The shadows here are longer and the air is more than cool if you leave the sun for even a moment.
Entering Yosemite brings back many memories of trips going back in time. A fall trip in the sierras is a clear reminder of the change in seasons and that the mountains will be alone again soon. It's both a good feeling to be back and one that says time is going by. Is this the last trip here for the year, or even longer? Enjoy the time and what you can see and remember. This is a rich feeling for the soul and one that needs to be brought back more often. Take the time for this and you won't regret it. Only the feeling that you should do it more often.
Yosemite valley in October is much more quiet and even the people present don't seem to get in the way as their smaller numbers are swallowed up in the vastness of the valley which shines in the fall sun. The colors seem rich even without the strong green of spring or the white water cascading off the cliffs.
Getting out to look around is a joy for the senses. The sunny spots call you to stop and soak up as much as you can before they are gone. The smells are rich too in the crisp air. Neither of these are present at home so enjoy them while you can. The wildlife is close by whether it's squirrels running along the path or between the black oaks of the deer. Large antlered bucks lay quietly in the grass blending in until you spot one and remember to look. Now five or six are found close by and laying there looking out together it's a sight that wouldn't be possible in many other places at this time of the year. Later, you see tourists scratching the head of a feeding buck not realizing that this could become deadly with just a loud sound or quick movement. Not something you want to see so you move on after cautioning them.
The mighty Merced is low, slow, and calm now but it still reflects the granite cliffs that reach up to touch the sky. At times the cliffs trick you as it seems only dark storm clouds could loom up behind the forest they way they do. The lighting changes them throughout the day as you get a stiff neck marvelling at the forces at work here. Nothing seems to compare with them and it is peaceful to know that they are always here looking over the valley like sentinels. The humans below or even scaling them seem too small to warrant more than a passing glance.
At this point, Yosemite almost looks like it can handle the crowds that press in on it most of the year. There are plans to move more of the traffic and development out of the valley and bring things back to a more natural setting. It's a tall order, but one that should be made whatever the cost. Yosemite is a treasure, although one that may be more appreciated and marveled by those who come from far away while those nearby go on about their work or worse take it for granted.
The drive out goes too fast as the low sun tries to slow you by a frontal assault. The foothills also look softer as you whisk along to get to the next stop near the Big Trees. The old cabin seems snug enough if crowded by the shopping center and noise below. Once the wood stove is going, the place drives back the cold and brings out friendly conversation and memories of previous visits. Looking back on the day now, it seems uncommonly full and rich while staying peaceful. Even the classical music in the background fits like an old pair of gloves with plenty of use left in them. How can the first day of a trip be so good without traces of what was left behind including work, house, pets, worries, and such. Maybe holding these memories will allow the feeling to continue as there is so much more to see and do. A warm feeling spreads across me as I get ready for bed. My eyes are closed as I type this but my mind is still rolling things over and over to see how they fit. The feeling is quite good.
One footnote to the day. The baseball game faded in and out on the car radio but the signal was strong enough to tell of a big victory to start the playoffs, another measure of the fall. Finally there are warm thoughts for conversations had from afar and the hope and promise for more. A collection of thoughts and good feelings that mean much no matter how illogical that might be. Like a collection of kisses given to a traveler for warmth and comfort while away. It's a thought that counts...

Day 2
The day starts with tending a wood stove in a friends cabin. After a quick breakfast of rolls and coffee it's off to Calaveras Big Trees. There the air is still chilled but the bright sun indicates it will warm by the middle of the day. The big trees never disappoint as their size and presence dominate everything below. Today, the Dogwoods show signs of catching fire in a few weeks when pale green goes red. It's not a problem missing that on this trip as the sequoias and wildlife need plenty of attention. The Douglas tree squirrels dart across the landscape caching seeds for the winter months ahead. The western gray tree squirrels and chipmonks are on a similar mission. Above several Pileated woodpeckers are seen, always a rare treat. Bandtailed pigeons flock in the skys but are only seen in this dense forest because our necks are craned to look for the tops of impossibly huge trees.
Meanwhile, the trail gives way to fine dust from several seasons of boots without any rain. That will change soon, but there will be few feet present to note the difference. Deer browse their way through the area and don't seem to worry about the small number of people that have come out on this perfect fall day. Those that came, are treated to a day that won't be forgotten soon.
The rest of the day is spent cleaning the cabin and then travelling across the foothills to get to the historic Columbia Park where time seemed to have stood still when those that knew about sequoias were either intent on cutting them down or wanted to stop those who did. Fortunately, the trees have been preserved and seem to be capable of lasting well beyond all activities happening around them.
This day ended by travelling back home to spend the night and get ready for the longer part of the trip northward. That allowed for a little long distance conversation before leaving again...
Day 3
Off for the wine country on the way to the coast, but the first stop is at the Jelly Belly factory for those sweet tooths. It doesn't take long there before everyone is ready to push on, especially me.
This day is certainly warmer, as we are in the valley but even close to the coast there is little breeze or clouds to cool things. That is OK with everyone as the car is packed and cool. Several stops at wineries make today very different from the quiet nature focus from the last two days. The wines and food are fine and the weather can't be beat so off to the coast in time to catch the evening skys. The drives slows to the twists of the coast where today has the fog far off shore and beautiful views of the ocean and rocks below. Breathtaking and the New Zealanders feel right at home here. Prowling around Point Arena brings back many memories for me including bone chilling cold days in the field and boring quiet ones in a motel at night. We decide not to stay here today and push on past Mendocino for working class Fort Bragg. I fee more comfortable here and the lodging is cheap and I am able to catch a sun setting into the ocean by climbing onto the railing from our second story rooms. Not bad all in all. A trip down to the Noyo Harbor turns up and hearty seafood meal results that hits the spot for all. Today has been a very different day and the driving took a toil as we have probably covered a thousand miles now in three days. It was nice to be at home last night and sleep in my own bed. I sent messages to let people know how I was doing or just to check in. It will be different the next week as this type of opportunity will be less available.
Today reminded me that I grew up on and feel most comfortable along the coast. If I still lived there I would need to split my time between the mountains, desert, and coast but it's a good feeling to be back on a warm fall day when few places can compare. Perhaps I'll end up living somewhere along the coast again someday but it seems that would have to be in tNe future. We'll see.

Day 4
The day started by heading back to Mendocino for a grand meal and some sightseeing. Few places can compete with Mendocino even though it should be too early to see whales off shore. Spending half the day around town is a good reminder why it is so popular. The weather was perfect, the crowds small and the shops have quite a bit of charm even though I don't spend much time in them. I can entertain myself outside while others take care of the shopping and sightseeing. I did manage to listen to a little baseball on the radio and people/bird watch to pass the time quite nicely.
The drive up the coast showed off some spectacular beaches, again because the weather was perfect for viewing or roaming around on. We did some of both. The long hours of driving is taking a toll on me though as I would rather look at the scenary and/or listen to music for quiet concentration rather than all the conversation and questions. I understand why I am getting it, I'm just not used to it and would prefer the solitude if I could get it. We did have fun going to watch a college football game at special request and the low key level of play and entertainment was enjoyed by all. Dessert afterwards was OK to if you like Key Lime pie like I do. All in all, the day was pretty good and I find myself in a motel room again, this time Eureka, next stop to be determined after a day of hiking and sightseeing around here. I'm going to sign off for now and do a little reading. OH yes, one footnote, I did see some very interesting books in Mendocino today. The latest by Kim Stanley Robinson which creates an alternative history for earth over the last 900 years and A day hikers guide to the natural history of Mexico. I hope to read both later this year.
Day 5
This day started in Eureka at a motel. A quick trip over to Arcata resulted in some excellent mexican flavored coffee (Mocha Mex with mexican chocolate) and a sticky bun, no not that kind!
We headed north to Pararie Creek State Park which has great hikes and views of elk. We had a beautiful day in the Redwoods with the sun beaming through like you usually don't see. The elk stayed away but we did see a few from a distance and everyone was so happy with the hiking that it didn't matter. We had a spectaular drive up to the park too and it was just as good going back when we were all tired. After some rest at the motel it was back to Arcata for an amazing japanese meal with lots to drink. Through in the giants winning in the background and this was quite a day. Even if the days left of the trip aren't quite as good, this will be a time to remember. I didn't have the camera today but have taken some good pictures. We'll have to wait and see what the results look like.
Fall along the coast, or indian summer as it is called, is a time almost too special for words. The breezes are mild and warm and the fog sits far offshore all day. The sun is bright, even deep in the forests with the result being sunbeams all the way to the forest floor and it's hot to hike the steep trails. Not a drop of rain or fog makes this place seem like you should live here all year. This feeling will be tough to beat...
Ravens, varied thrush, and may other birds were seen today. It was so warm, most wildlife seemed to be resting somewhere and the forest was especially quiet. There was lots of sign of scat and other activity in the vegetation though. My assignment is to find a bear for our travellers but that is not easy. You never know where one will appear. I spend time looking for marbled murrelts even though it's really the wrong time to seem them high in a redwood which is uncommon even during breeding. I just wanted to get a feeling for what it would take to spot one and it is tough to look up that high in these tall trees. It felt good trying anyway. More chances later in the month when I'm back up this way for work. I plan to make the most of the time too.

Day 6
The day started with a tour of downtown Arcata which was busy with students and businesses. While others prowled the shops, I checked out the bus stop to see how people can come and go without cars. There seem to be good options for that. The used music store has a wide variety of music and fairly high prices. I didn't get into the bookstores but from memory they also have lots to chose from. This would not be a bad place to live overall and when the weather is like this, everyone that visits under these conditions, they must feel the same way until the rains come and stay, and stay.
Over the mountains along 299 is a beautiful drive, especially when it isn't busy with logging trucks and mobile homes. We did pretty well and even made a few stops to enjoy the weather. We could tell that it would be much warmer in the valley where we were headed. It was nearly 100 degrees when New Zealand met taco bell for the first time. They can now say, been there, done that. Up we go towards Mt. Shasta which is always impressive even when all the snow is gone. We found a cheap place to stay in time to watch my most important baseball playoff game. I sat quietly, except for muttering, in the dark pulling my team along to a win, and their first championship in 13 years. Now we get at least another week of baseball which will add some challenge to the travels ahead. I will try to enjoy the sights while being tense about the games but all in all it's much better than the alternative. I will need some coffee/newspaper time to soak it all in. Since I am the main driver, I can make that happen regardless of what others might think. They were pretty understanding yesterday, staying in the other room until it was safe to check in on the situation. The game itself was one of the best I've seen in a long time. Baseball, fall weather, and travel make a very good combination. A fine one in fact. Tomorrow will bring us back into the sierras and Mt. Lassen. From there, we will wander our way down to Lake Tahoe, final destination for this stretch of the journey.
Day 7
It is always an amazing sight to see Mt. Shasta up close. That was how today started. Even with wires and other obstacles in the way, this is one impressive mountain over 14000 feet tall. I have never climbed it, yet, but hope to some day. Meanwhile the area and mountain seem to attract many people with cosmic connections to the mountain to go with those working folks that have been there for some time. I don't fit in either category but do love to look at this mountain which rises Kilamanjiro like out of the ground.
Today was mostly spent travelling along my favorite highway 89 passing through a beautiful stretch of the sierras less overrun than most other parts. The area is very dry and hasn't had rain for a very long time. Very little snow clings to Shasta and Lassen. Still, there is a feeling of fall even with the summer like temperatures. The trees know it too and there are strong hints of fall colors to be seen especially in the valleys and meadows. The rich yellow colors dominate with the green conifers. Elsewhere, the red leaves from posion oak, vine maple and other shrubs add much to the dry soil and green forest. What a time to be in the area!
We spent lunch at Burnie Falls State Park and the waterfall was spectacular in spite of the drought. The cool mist was inviting and the hike was a warmup for later trails in the sierra to come. Lunch there was a calm time with few visitors this time of year.
On to Lassen. It's quiet and calm there except for the visitor center with a busload of kids. They are having a good time and I would too if that was my school day. We move on to the views and trails as we don't have much time to spend today. We get in some hiking to Bumpus Hell and pictures and views of the mountain that are rich and warm. Wildlife and geology mixed with landscape views and more!
The drive to Quincy is long but peaceful and 89 rolls like a river thorogh the sierras. We arrive about sunset and end up in another low cost motel that serves the purpose. The food is better at Moons resturant just like before. Tomorrow will take us to Tahoe and me to the Sierra Science Summit conference. I should be able to find an old friend there and we will have much to catch up on. When the day is over, more baseball will have me on the edge of my seat or bed or wherever I end up at the end of the day.
Day 8
A cooler day started in Quincy. A drive to Graeagle gave us all the pancakes we could eat and required a beautiful hike into the Gold Lakes basin to walk it all off afterwards. The drive to Lake Tahoe gave us aspens that seemed to be on fire and hurt our eyes! I made the afternoon session of the Sierra Science conference and found it most rewarding. We will remain in the area now for the rest of this trip.
Day 9
Today is a work day, sort of. I am attending the last day of the Sierra Science conference with a focus on biodiversity and policy. That sounds like work and it is except for the lakeside setting. I also get breakfast and lunch. There are some good, thought provoking talks on how to tackle conservation planning on something 425 miles long. I now have to follow-up by contacting speakers and poster presenters to get more information on their topics. The setting at Lake Tahoe is a very good one as you can't help but marvel at the beauty of this amazing lake with a fall setting. At the same time, you can see the changes from development that is surrounding more and more of the lake and the impacts are obvious. So are the pressures that produce them. Regulation doesn't seem able to manage something on this scale without public support. Mix in the lack of good baseline or even current conditions for species, habitats, abiotic conditions, trends and/or change occuring and you have something that seems beyond human scale. At the same time, that is where the problem comes from. There is some very good science and modeling going on currently as well as some bad versions of both. There is less money at both the state and federal level currently so the stage seems to be set for letting things run their course until something so dramatic and bad (wicked was the term used in one talk today) grabs everyones attention. That probably means a loss that can't be reversed, at least in my lifetime and/or that of our children. Pretty heavy theme and something that seems to fit with the fall winds that now blow hard outside my cabin. Change is coming and on any scale, that can be hard. At the individual level, it is hard to cope with the things that are lost or can't be done anymore. On a community scale it can set a tone in how people relate to each other or retreat into their memories. Cultures and society seem capable of the same. Are we looking at a cycle that must run its course or is this a change in direction with a tragetory that will lead to a new baseline? Jimmy Buffet says "Only time will tell" and that seems like an appropriate note to end on for now. Meanwhile, the vacation trip continues from this lake base. Baseball is very much a topic of interest as my long suffering team has become a force that seems to be headed to a dramtic finish at or very near the top for the first time in so very long. A very good distraction at worst and perhaps an example of something much more...
Day 10
Today started slowly for a change. Breakfast and a newspaper were available right at our cabins. The temperature had dropped a lot last night but the sky was still clear and sunny. We drove up to the summit and hiked up the rim trail to a visit point near Mt. Rose. From there, the lake shimmered below and seemed to go on forever.This little hike was very dry and dusty but rewarding.
We moved down for a relaxing lunch by the pool. It sounds fancy but the place and food were both cheap although satisfying. We then moved on to drive all the way around the lake to scout out the marathon route and terrain. It looks challenging but doable. Of course my only job is to get the others to the start and pick them up so we can head home afterwards. I expect to have a tired bunch but can entertain myself using a few mp3s. That is Sunday. We also visited a casino and I invested some change only and came home with lighter pockets as a result.

Tomorrow will be a very big day but a quiet one. I will get to visit with an old college friend who has being doing very interesting research at Tahoe and other places like Anartica. We have not done a good job of keeping in touch but I think we can improve on that after visiting her house and then going out to dinner. I hope so.

Day 11
Today has been the slowest day of the trip in some ways. We didn't want to do much with everyone else going on a long marathon or half marathon walk the following day. I did take an interesting drive to Incline Village where huge expensive homes and a large private beach dominate. The prices in the shops make you wish you were back in Tijuana or somewhere else more real. I wouldn't even consider buying something there. I did donate a few coins to a casino until the smoke got the best of me. You can't do much with 72 nickels as winnings anyway.
Hanging out around the pool and watching my favorite baseball team in a playoff game was a little to easy. We took a trip up above Truckee to visit a very old friend of mine. We had a nice visit and shared the wine I brought. It's been quite a while but I think we are still very good friends. We had some wild and special times that bring back memories even now, much later. Her research at Tahoe and Antartica is quite challenging and different from the biology we both started with. Her dogs and cat make good family and her job allows her to live in the mountains she has always called home. It would be hard to imagine her somewhere else. We had a very good dinner and shared stories and questions and promised to do a better job of keeping in touch. Later, at the motel, I traded emails with a few far away friends and family members. Earlier in the day I made a cell phone call to see how my mom is doing. What did we do before all of this technology made remote contact possible?
A trip like this makes me wonder what lies ahead in the future. Questions of quality of life, health, job contribution, family, travel and the need to do something meaningful while there is time. I can't answer any of this now but this is the best time to think more clearly about things that hide most of the time. I don't think I can give this too much more thought now but perhaps on that long drive home tomorrow... How do you put everything together and give your family the support and love that they need? How do you keep things fresh and thrilling with travel, adventure, and meeting new friends? How do you keep things going while like everyone else, you grow older and slow down?

Day 12
Well, this is the last day and it starts early when the grass is frozen as I get a marathon walker to the start line before the sun comes up. Then it is back to the cabins to finish packing the car and heading to the half marathon start line. There are lots of people running or walking in this even today. My joy is to get people to the start, take some pictures during the event and then pic everyone up afterwards. The day is beautiful and the walkers and runners come in all sizes and abilities. Most seem to finish and have a good time.
Afterwards, we head south over one of my favorite passes and some of the most beautiful fall colors from quaking aspen that are too rich for words. I've never seen so many this bright. Lots of pictures are taken and the rest of the drive is both familar and special to me.
We arrive home with very tired and sore (theirs) bodies and go get one of my favorite take out meals. It's been a trip to remember and I'm sure I will. This will also complete my trip journal and homework (!) assignment for now...

OK, here's a little footnote to go with that journal. I put together a few pictures from our trip afterwards on this link:
Fall North/Sierra Vacation. For what it's worth, I plan to get that emate out and use it more soon!

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