Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why go into the woods for so long? Experience Summertime.

There are powerful forces in nature that evoke respect when I enter Yosemite. No matter how far away I've travelled or lived from the park, Yosemite enters my thoughts, inviting me to once again recollect my wonder at how our natural world formed and regain that part of myself that is separate from the concrete and roads to reconcile the distance felt between our daily lives and nature at times.

We are part of this wonder. We can connect in a powerful way with the world around us, respect it, honor that it sustains us, but also that it captivates us, allowing us to experience a unifying experience that provides us both external and internal rewards.

Some turn to nature to be inspired at its application to our human needs. I can appreciate that at times, we can find utility, but I also find that maybe not enough appreciation goes into the importance of reflection and preservation of our wild places simply for the sake of making sure we treasure how we feel and the effect nature can have on our spirit, our attitude, our outlook. And, look at how much more vividly we observe when we expose ourselves to the marvels of the outdoors away from our comfort zones.

Maybe it takes a little while to see past the idea that nature is just rocks, trees and some birds and chipmunks, because we are hooked into a world where images come at us fast to shock and awe us and overwhelm our senses. Someone can so easily suggest, it's not exciting enough, and yet not realize how limiting it is to just see excitement as immediate gratification or that feeling we get when we're bombarded with one hair-raising scene after another either in the movies or in the newspapers that we read everyday.

After a couple of days outdoors, the desensitized part of ourselves falls away, like a scab, to reveal a new skin that feels the wind and the air and tunes in again to develop a natural sense that aligns with the flow and life that courses through the natural world.

We start feeling like it's so important to take care of nature, because it not only provides us life sustainment, but also beautifies our experience. Sometimes, alone we, alienate ourselves from experiencing the natural wonders because we look too quickly or get so caught up in one of our personal goals or thoughts.

If we live a little more outside of ourselves, we take deeper breaths and distinguish ourselves because the power of nature ignites our wonder, and reminds us of our longings to be true to ourselves and open to our world, not closed off from it.

If we only are looking for something that moves quickly, that excites our pulse immediately, that may motivate us to trivialize the growth of a small flower or ignore how a mountainside got pushed up to reveal its beauty and shape, then we risk missing our own self discovery and awaken numb and detached. Nature grows and falls, collapses and rebuilds, adapts and reacts every day, and it has the potential of shaking us out of our own mental prisons and engage our spirit, muscles and imagination.

I highly recommend that you grab your hiking boots, a few backpacks and make your way to Yosemite. Even if you don't take up an extreme amount of sports, just short walks and exerting yourself to explore will trigger your mind, body and spirit and provide you with some delectable memories, as you also untangle your own thoughts and emotions and get to know yourself and nature to transform into a more rounded form of yourself, away from the safety of your car, your desk, and your routines to invite a glimpse into life beyond ourselves and our daily routes.

Suddenly, your youthful desire to look under a rock or hop along a creek reminds you that you can get into the spirit of exploration while reconnecting to what brings us all to a state of open awareness and helps us appreciate what it takes to become more in tune with ourselves, the people and world around us and move beyond just feeding our own interests. We need nature and it needs us. We need that time to compare a pine and an oak and feel the sun on our skin after we emerge out from under a shady tree. Dipping my toes into the water is unimaginable soul food.

It's about how we relate to each other, the world we live in, the wonders we are privileged to experience and at the same time I learn during these adventures that no matter what, it isn't just about demands of people or of the world, sometimes it's recognizing that our happiness stems from something that we can tap into on a hike in the elements feeling the weather at a particular moment and identifying what is bothering us and what makes us feel whole.

Also, I always learn a lot from traveling with someone about how to relate to each other, and how important it is to work past misunderstandings and toward a state of recognizing the value each brings to the experience. Both of us learned that we each had learned a lot from our own past experiences that shaped the way we approached camping, and realized that at times, it was a breath of fresh air to develop our own patterns and borrow from our learning, but not feel overly reverent to it. Away from the rat race, we explored our feelings instead of just getting into planning mode and how things had to be.

We even tried a few tips that we learned on the trip from people who live in the area and it was invigorating to be experimental, while acknowledging how much more important it is to build a collaborative moment rather than impose a certain way of doing things, no matter how simple the task. It's more engaging and interactive, and also more organic and integral. You feel less confined or pressured to revive a plan that insinuates that you can't come up with enough yourselves to tackle the undertaking.

Instead, by building on the moment together, we built a discussion and intimacy instead of reapplying old patterns and not giving it much thought and realizing what we were doing when we just went ahead and said or did something without each other's input.

Most of all, it opens us up to experience more and enliven our senses.


Day One. Relaxing.

Only drama happened on arrival when someone was camping in our spot nowhere to be seen. Camp host got us a new site and problem solved. We cooked poached eggs for breakfast, ate falafel for lunch and last night made some amazing potato boats. Flip flops broke. Safety pins are great for temporary fixes. Went fishing, but Justin and I forgot bug spray. Retreat! Feeling relaxed. Will try fishing with bug spray tomorrow.

Day Two. We saw mountain lion prints on the shore where we fished near Hetch Hetchy. We fished but it was a little overcast so no takers. We enjoyed most of the day reading in the hammock.

We got to chat with a family visiting from Germany. Their kids were afraid of bears so they slept in the rented van. Several adults laughed about how the plastic between us and a bear visitor was really good reinforcement and protection. The fire pit delivered both warmth and well cooked meals when we didn't rely on the stove for nourishment. Gonzo from Los Angeles made us a pine cone hanging decoration since as he put it he is always anxious and has to do stuff with his hands, especially since he was coming down from sleeping pills that his mother-in-law gave him.

Our camp host slowly made it a habit to characterize our cooking. He always asked if we were making fillet mignon or lobster. Last night, he had chicken, and that's it, he emphasized. When we made falafel, his wife asked if we added lamb, and I said I didn't, but have. She said that she hates lamb because when she visited Israel it hung everywhere in windows, disgusting her. She did meet lovely people in Bethlehem though. Her name is Loretta and she is not named after Loretta Lynn, but an actress that I never heard of, Loretta Young.

Bob, who pulled up in a huge RV next to us thought we were working too hard resting in the hammock. Dale, our camp host didn't hold back his punches when I started firing up the coals last night. Perpetually the kid sister, I got teased with, "I don't know, you think she can remember how to light a fire from girl scouts?"

Of course, the doubt egged me on, and I told him I had built many a fire. He recommended rubbing 2 sticks. Later, after we scarfed our potato boats, he told Bob in the RV that he could take our wood when we turned our backs. I said we never turn our back. Oh, campground banter with hosts! It thundered from about 3am this morning, with occasional lightening, followed by rain. We are in Yosemite Village hanging out. Ephemeral waterfalls formed all over the rock faces. More water here than we saw last time.


Day Three. The rain stopped. We walked to Lower Yosemite Falls and sauntered over tons of river boulders. Lots of people speaking in French, German, Chinese, and Spanish. One German tourist swam in the pool under the falls, but as he dried off and his friend picked up trash people left on the rocks, I wet my hair and belly. That is cold snow melt.

We took the valley shuttle for the first time. We enjoyed a late lunch at Curry Village.
Then, it started to pour again and we took the shuttle over to our car. Fun people watching all day. We cleaned up the wet tent area and crocheted, read and chatted near the warm fire. A camp nearby played assorted games. Turns out they are a youth group camping all week after we had a lovely morning chat today with Brad, one of the counselors. Across the way a family celebrated a birthday late into the night provoking us to grab our chocolate at the campfire and celebrate in close proximity. We change campsites today.

Day Four. We moved to a new tent site at Crane Flat, more room and the sun started to peak thru more. So, we took a short hike along the valley floor and took photos. After hanging out in Curry Village, we watched "Return to Balance: a climber's journey" with Ron Kauk. He even spoke at the end. I used to climb in Yosemite years ago but I am always in awe of climbers like Ron Kauk. He finds the sport so spiritual as he attempts to push our human capability to limits that makes many wonder and push themselves a little. He works with kids who unfortunately have gotten themselves into the prison system and he tries to show them the power of nature to help them adopt a better outlook and see beyond their circumstances. Some of the climbs he performs are awesome and his relationship with nature proves that by slowing down we can really connect with the world around us.

Missed my climbing shoes for a minute. He answered our questions and I truly believe that even though the movie doesn't show the days when he intuited that today wasn't the day for a certain climb, when he talked about those moments, in person, he revealed how important it is to bring humanness back. We try, we keep going, we lock into a moment and every rock teaches him to let go and experience each adventure. Then, we had a lovely fire back at the campground and talked about providence, trust, friendships, and how important it is to feel free to see the world through our own eyes. The fire warmed us and prepared us for our hike to Vernal and Nevada falls.

Day Five. We headed to Vernal and Nevada Falls. Vernal Falls is at an elevation of 3,327 feet and Nevada Falls is at an elevation of 5,971 ft. The mood for the day was adventurous and we both loved seeing the historic waterways so full and vibrant, but there were also a lot of moments of reminiscing when I remembered coming here with a huge backpack for a ten mile hike and packing in. This time, it was a lot of fun walking up with tons of folks and first getting used to the elevation.

The view of the rocks and the river made the time away from the rat race a vast improvement to the psyche and soul. I realize at times that along with the desire I have for feeling what it feels like to climb and share the experience with people from all walks of life, there is more than the introvert that is getting fulfilled in the moment. I feel that my extrovert inside gets to delight looking around and smiling at others and saying hello during these passing moments that activate our brief encounters in a beautiful place appreciating a wonder of nature with a common interest to relax and decompress and take it all in.

We made it to the Mist Trail and loved the feeling of the mist on our skin.

Tons of places to take great photos and I have to say that I loved all the moments when you see someone wearing painted on shorts and the laughs Justin and I shared about thigh rash if you do actually wear those and sweat. I don’t know, sometimes, you have to focus on style, just to be able to distinguish between wardrobe choices. Then, you realize, ok, that hiker decided that shorts don’t need to be practical and one should not live only for avoiding thigh rash. So today, I wore shorter shorts, but I’m also not hiking up to the falls, to still avoid thigh rash. Anyway, there were a few model men taking off their shirts at the falls and posing, and of course, you couldn’t help but say, well good for them. Then, there were the families, holding onto the wandering child that just seemed to trip on every rock. We saw a lot of reasonable folks using walking sticks.

When you stop and see a couple sitting on a rock, do you ask them to help you avoid taking a selfie? Well, in our case they offered to take our picture. Aww. The air is so fresh, the mist of the falls is so invigorating, and a ton of rock stairs in front of us took us higher and higher to experience the falls and how people respond to the falls. Maybe, walking up with people from various parts of the world on a narrow path on the side of the rock on a holiday is the only time you’re going to get to know anyone at their least stressed, while they learn to decompress again and forget all the things that bring people to be at odds.

Near the water it feels peaceful, despite the fact that if you fell into any of these falls, you wouldn’t be at peace at all. Of course, you see a few people totally ignore the signs that say stay out of the pools of water, danger, and maybe they have little reason to worry about hitting the back of their head on the rock while sliding into fast and uncontrollable water undertows and rapids.

Vernal Falls.

We ate lunch at a beautiful spot that looked up at Nevada Falls, and I was so excited that humus wraps, trail mix, cantaloupe and potato chips could be so satisfying looking up to the cascading water.

Someone asked us where the path was to the top and later we found them on the trail, glad that both groups found the trail.

When we made it to Nevada Falls.

We dipped our toes and it was very difficult to pull us away.

The current and the rocks remind us of what we’re made of and how fast we can flow and how quickly everything can get out of control, so we look for our shores.

We descended on the opposite trail, so that we could walk a loop. Someone filled their water bottle with water from the river. Another person stood way beyond the hand rails for their own thrill even though the fall would be enormous and deadly. We made it to the last mile and appreciated how good our bodies felt. I ran the last mile, even though minutes before I was exhausted, but a third wind kicked in. It’s a beautiful place really, and we are privileged to appreciate the wonders of Yosemite. We baked pizza for the first time back at the campsite.

Crochet, chatting and of course, chocolate.

Day Six. Off to the high country, because we love exploring. We got a great book that pointed out all the spots along Tioga Road....Lots to share, more to come. We loved May Lake and Tenaya Lake! Headed to Tuolumne. You really do learn a lot from those guide books, even if we did pick it up at a gas station. No wi-fi anywhere nearby, but we looked forward to all of our adventures. When we drove to May Lake, we learned that the road that leads to hike to May Lake was built by a silver company in the 1880s at a cost of $64,000. Its mostly paved now, but just the knowledge and thought of what it took back then to get a road built at that time inspired a lot of conversation about who travelled the roads then.

We had learned at one of the previous stops where we explored the difference between pines and oaks, that Yosemite wasn't created until 1890, so the construction of this road preceded the park's creation. We had also learned that some of the trails off Tioga Road were an intricate network of trade routes that led from the Pacific Ocean across the mountains of California when American Indians traded buffalo robes that originated from the distant east along with seashells and beads. The road to May Lake is narrow but exciting and once we got to the parking lot for the hike, we couldn't wait to hike to see May Lake. Along the way we saw some fools gold and marveled at the trail and anticipated how beautiful the lake would be.

May Lake is gorgeous and worth the 2.5 miles round trip. Elevation: 8,700 ft at the trailhead and 9,270 at the lake! I got a chance to talk to one of the camp hosts at May Lake about wilderness permits and the area. He told me that he'd read a statistic that around 60% of visitors to the park sightsee from their cars, and generally don't leave their cars for too long when in the park. We talked about how people fear leaving their comfort zones and don't appreciate the benefits of experiencing the wilderness on foot, on trails or in the meadows. It's a beautiful lake with an amazing view of Mt. Hoffman.

Apparently, Mt. Hoffman is named after Charles Hoffmann, a member of the 1863-67 Whitney Geological Survey. He named the lake after Lucy Mayotta Browne, the woman he married in 1870. Next time I'd love to hike to the top of the mountain. Mt. Hoffman is the geographic center of Yosemite. Justin fished in May Lake. We saw a few groups of overnight backpackers heading out on trails and a few groups of people enjoying the lake.

After we hiked back to the car, we headed to Olmstead Point and to Tenaya Lake. It was too cold to get in, but laying on the sand and reading was luxurious for me. I really liked the views.

We made our way to Tuolumne Meadows and it was spectacular. It's so wonderful to walk around the Tuolumne River and enjoy the panorama to see the domes. We planned to return to explore the meadow in a couple of days.

Later, back at Crane Flat, we met the camp host Caroline, who shockingly has done camp hosting for seven seasons. Made a delicious basil pesto pasta at night that was delightful.

Day Seven. Made a little sassafras tea for the road after we ate breakfast. What a beautiful campsite. We headed back to the Valley to explore the Merced River. Justin fished and I crocheted. We also took a few of the short hiking trails around the river, before and after pizza at Curry Village.

We ate dinner at the Yosemite Lodge. Pretty good brisket and stuffed trout, although saving the tiramisu for later made the campfire even more enjoyable. 

My dreams over the past few nights were fascinating and very revealing about my fears, concerns and thoughts that I needed to work out while sleeping. Sometimes, it feels like the things that scar us, won't even let us alone in sleep, but isn't it so true that all the times you think you won't be bothered by certain forms of neglect and cruel interactions in your personal life or circumstances in the world, your subconscious tells you differently. Sometimes, our minds need to protect us from being hurt again by people who don't appreciate our value and individuality, and other times our minds are just waiting for a good time to make sense of it. 

While there might be people who are emotionally unavailable to us who have hurt us, we long to understand that we are good the way we are, and definitely make good with the decision to not expose ourselves to even more fear of intimacy or attacks on our self-worth. Ultimately, we long for fulfillment in our relationships, not just fight or flight interactions. Talking about what bothers us is so important, so that we don't just bury it and not find closure. We can't just think or talk about things as if it's all picture perfect, otherwise we cause ourselves harm. 

Day Eight.  Morning campfires are fun. 

Amazing day in Tuolumne Meadows. The elevation of the meadow is approx. 8,619 feet. We also saw a small bear on the drive along Tioga Road. It was fun to watch the bear play with a log at a safe distance. Lots of people took pictures.


When we got to the meadows, I pulled out a hiking guide I bought years ago that highlights hikes on the meadow with some historical anecdotes and I finally took one of the hikes mentioned in there. Justin was game. It led us alongside Lambert Dome to great views of the Cathedral Range peaks and a marmot!

 This marmot just showed off on a rock in the sun!

Beautiful. Then, we made it to Soda Springs. Geologists can't exactly explain why the water bubbles like a soda, but I can explain how good it felt dipping my toes into the spring. The water has a faint smell of rust. The cabin was built in 1889 by John Baptist Lembert, the first European settler in the meadows.

We walked over to Parsons Memorial Lodge and met some other Sierra Club staff while I read a few pages of Muir's writing. I've never read any of his books and am looking forward to it. A bit of green tea on the walk back to the car to go enjoy a burger at the grill. After lunch, we hung out at the Tuolumne River and I got in! No, really, I got in.

 I don't usually swim, or even get hit with the desire to wade much further than my calves, but I walked in with my bathing suit and felt the cold water and felt exhilarated. Unforgettable moment. I enjoyed the water, the view and the mood. It's amazing to spend some time in snow melt. On our hike and drive we started writing a parody song titled "One Inch" that Justin and I are still polishing up to add to our silliness collection. 

Earlier in the day we met one of our campground neighbors Sheila who asked us to help her put up her tent. She was a blast to talk to and she gave us a copy of her book "Anatomy of Healing and Wellness" as a token of her appreciation. We're both looking forward to reading the book. We had a great discussion about intuition and healing, the Kabbalah and mysticism, and Vegas.  

Then, well, we tried to bake bread in a flower pot. That's going to take some practice, although we got a few decent bites out of the center of the pot.

Day Nine. We secured a spot at White Wolf after some anxious anticipation while packing and driving over from Crane Flat. Our host Cindy was much more pleasant a ranger than the ranger who sneaked up on our camp at Crane Flat the night before to give us the bear speel. There's a way to be a ranger that makes visitors feel like the parks are a great place for recreation and then there's the ranger we met the night before, who lacked social skills and could not get beyond just being a good maintenance worker toward being a personable lover of the outdoors tasked with a difficult job of addressing park regulations while still liking people. I'm pretty sure his days of liking people ended a few years back, now all he saw was bodies bombarding the park ready to lower the proverbial bar for the worst possible example of bad behavior in the great outdoors. Anyway, thank goodness Cindy actually tried to relate to the people coming through there to relax and unwind. 

Before we got to Tuolumne Meadows, we stopped at Yosemite Creek. 

We took the day to return to Tuolumne Meadows and hiked and explored various angles on Pothole Dome. Unforgettable moments with Justin as we experienced spectacular panoramas. 

Burritos for dinner after hanging in the hammock. I crocheted my tenth crochet square for my triangle hip wrap that I've been working on for a few months.  

Day Ten. Off we drove to Bennetville, the ghost town past Tioga Pass. Elevation: 9,700. Although some trial and error caused us to backtrack and take a disappointing side trip to Saddleback Lake (horse flies! - ow), we finally found the trail. We took a short hike down the old Tioga Road and rambled through beautiful flowers and different topographies.

I also had a chance to watch a chipmunk try to communicate with other chipmunks further away. At first it sounded like a bird in the tree until I saw what the chipmunk was doing. 

On the way to the mine, we also met a dad and his daughter who had been up to the mine before they put the grate on there making entry impossible. 

When we arrived at the mine, it started to rain. Then it started to sleet!!!!! 

We found it pretty troubling to read in my Tuolumne Guide that early projections for the ghost town were 50,000 and that they never actually found any silver in the mine despite it all. 

In Bennetville, only a stone's throw away, two of the 15 buildings still stand and we took shelter in one of them with a couple of hiking groups while the storm passed.

We met a wonderful couple and their little girl from Montana, who originally came from Portland, and a group that brought their German Shepherd Brutus along.

He carried his own food and treats in a doggie back pack. The three of them were staying at a camp eight miles away.  Once the storm passed, we hiked back and ran into an older man who wore bells on his shoes (literally) who had taken another approach to the ghost town before over a bridge and would not take no for an answer after we explained to him that we hadn't seen the bridge that he described until we parted ways. He preferred the bridge route and wished that he was back on the bridge route rather than this longer route. We tried to assure him that it was beautiful despite the lingering rain. He continued onward to the ghost town and mine. 

We saw lightening on the way back and discussed proper procedures if lightening got close to us. Then, after we made it to the grill for lunch, we realized that the meadows hadn't experienced the storm, only threatening clouds on the horizon.

We shared a table with a couple of long time hikers. One came from Georgia and the other came from North Carolina. Both were traveling solo. The guy from North Carolina was hiking for 4 months and shared how several of his friends wondered why he would do this rather than take a Corvette down to Florida and check out the girls. The gal from Georgia compared her experience with hiking on the East Coast and seemed a little more enamored with her hikes back home, when discussing the people she ran into on the trail, but really loved the views in Yosemite. Then, we chatted about Southern hospitality and whether or not it was contrived.

On our way out of the meadows, we stopped at Tenaya Lake and this time I jumped in. We met Danny and his pitbull Maximus. The three of us dared each other to swim to a tree that poked out of the lake, but none of us made it a reality. The trees that poke out of the lake represent how dry the climate was in the past. The water felt awesome! Maybe it was hotter out, or maybe the excitement of getting through sleet, got me in the water. Anyway, great memory.

We ended up around the campfire later that night, enjoying ourselves and noticing bats flying above. It's always amazing to have a great last day on a trip. Fantastic experience and left me wanting more! There are still so many places to explore in Yosemite. Can't wait to get back on a trail!