Thursday, April 30, 2015

365 True Things: 33/Photography

The first photo show I was ever in was while taking black-and-white darkroom courses at Monterey Peninsula College: a group show of night photography. Several of my pieces were featured, and it was a beautiful show, at the Cherry Center in Carmel. It felt very professional. That would have been in the late 1990s. A few more group shows followed, each with one or two of my works. I always enjoyed the collaborative aspect, and how the various pieces played off one another.

My first "solo show" was in August 2009. I put that in quotes because it was at my hairdresser Charlene's. But it was solo, and I thought it looked good. Charlene herself is an artist—oil painter—and she maintains her salon like a gallery. She always has art up, including sometimes her own pieces. She takes it seriously. I was her first venture into photography, and she said she enjoyed the different, more formal feel. The subject matter of that first show was macro photography. The images were like colorful little puzzle-gems: you had to look closely and use your imagination to understand just what you were seeing.

I've since had four more shows at Charlene's: one featuring images from Hawaii; one, over the Christmas holidays, all red imagery (yes, lots of flowers: poppies, amaryllis, Indian paintbrush, tulips); a lazy show of recycled black-and-white shots from my darkroom days; and most recently—a year ago—assorted photos that included local landscapes and "iPhoneography"—apped images.

A couple of months ago, Charlene asked if I'd do another show. I said sure. Though truth be told, I don't enjoy putting these shows together. I stress over choosing the "best" shots, and then I stress—often for weeks—wondering if my printer will work. It always has in the end, but it's large and complicated, and sometimes it's cantankerous and beeps angrily at me while spitting the paper out, refusing to print. (That printer was the subject of one of my first posts on this blog, back in 2009: It's been a fraught relationship right from the git-go. But come to think of it, setting up the printer was what led to my first show. Things come around.)

I am currently scheduled to hang the new show on Sunday. Have I started printing? Have I even selected all the shots? I thought I had—I thought I'd do a show of Norway pictures—but now I'm reconsidering, thinking I'll do a general travel show: my best shots from recent trips. So I'll pull from New Zealand, Ecuador, Scotland, China, maybe Hawaii again, maybe the East Coast, and, yes, Norway. Maybe I'll be able to find a theme. That would be nice.

So today, I will calmly, pleasurably, choose fifteen of my best images. And I'd like to start printing today as well. Hopefully the machine will give me a break and just . . . print. No beeping. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

365 True Things: 32/October

Today, for some reason, I am thinking about my favorite month: October. I especially love the light in October, and the long slanting shadows. I love the crisp air and the fact that we usually get our first good rain in October (petrichor!). I love it that October is World Series month, even though I don't really follow baseball—but the World Series reminds me of my father mowing the lawn while listening to the play-by-plays on his little red transistor radio. Really, he followed the Dodgers—Vin Scully's voice is a strong childhood memory for me—and may not have cared about the World Series per se, except of course in 1963, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1977, and 1978. (He would have cared about 1981 and '88 too, except he died in November 1978. It would have been nice if the Yankees had given up the Series for my dad that year, but alas.) So anyway, now, for me, it's the World Series in particular that triggers those memories. And of course, there's Halloween. Although I don't dress up in a costume myself, I love it that more extroverted people than me do. (That includes children.) So yeah, October: my favorite month.

Here are some pictures I've taken in Octobers past.

Monterey waterfront

Sand City
San Francisco
Point Lobos
Del Rey Oaks Frog Pond
Monterey beach
Carmel Valley
Looking west from Toro Park
Yosemite Valley
View from high on Mount Shasta

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

365 True Things: 31/Frivolity

I wrote a while back about geocaching (#9), one of my pleasures and a way I get out exploring. Nowadays a geocache can be so small that all it contains is a tiny rolled up piece of paper that you write your caching name (mine's "annevoi") and the date on (you BYOP—bring your own pen), but the original cache, hidden on May 3, 2000, was a large bucket full of goodies, and subsequent early caches tended also to be large. The "classic" container is an 11x7x6-inch ammo can. I like larger caches because they can hold treasure. Now, often the "treasure" ends up being so much junk. But sometimes it includes a travelbug, an object with an ID tag whose movement can be tracked. I don't know why I get such delight moving travelbugs from cache to cache and viewing their travels on a map, but I do.

Some bugs have goals. One I found on the island of Hawaii, called "Dolphin's Leap," wanted to visit all the Hawaiian islands. I'd been on the verge of taking it back to the mainland—we were heading to Oahu the next day, and then home—but when I saw what it wanted (or, okay, what the little girl who sent it out into the world wanted for it), we scrapped our plans to visit Pearl Harbor and instead trudged from our airport hotel a couple of miles to Bob's Big Boy in the Mapunapuna neighborhood of Honolulu so the bug could continue its quest.

Another bug wanted to go to a cache near a child's grandparents' house in Juneau, Alaska. We were traveling by ferry through the Inside Passage, so didn't have the mobility to get to the grandparents' neighborhood. Instead we dropped the bug in town. I later checked to see if it had reached its goal and saw that the person who picked it up didn't read the description and took it back home to Canada. It never achieved its goal.

A few years ago, I launched four travelbugs of my own: two were PEZ containers, a cow and a frog. The cow went to Scotland with a friend, made its way to England, and soon disappeared. The two non-PEZ bugs, a large stuffed Tigger and a keychain featuring Hawaiian-style flipflops, also went missing pretty much immediately. As I recall, "Flip-flopping to Paradise" never received a single log entry. Someone must have needed a new keychain. So disappointing.

Picton Harbour, NZ: Lots of water here!
PEZ FROG, however, is still in play, four years later. Here's his goal: "I would like to visit watery places: rivers, ponds, oceans, lakes, waterfalls, desert oases--parks with sprinklers, in a pinch. However, I am a plush  frog and would just as soon not get wet." He went to New Jersey, Delaware, and finally Pennsylvania, where he kicked around for quite a while. Last year while I was visiting David in Maryland, we stopped and picked PEZ FROG up (and showed him Niagara Falls—talk about a thrilled frog!), then in December we took him to New Zealand. There, I dropped him in Unity Park in Dunedin, one of the 100 oldest geocaches still active (GCB1, placed 11/12/2000). A Swede named gunnarj grabbed him and toured him ALL over New Zealand, and even showed him Sydney, Australia, before dropping him off in a travelbug hotel near Karlstad. The last I heard, as of April 3rd, he'd made it to another travelbug hotel in Sweden, and had logged 30,166 miles. Now, that's a travelbug!

This week we're launching some new trackables. One is called "PEZ Kitty" (I guess PEZ containers are my "signature"); the other is a tiny maraca. Those two are already out in the world. "La Maraquita," in fact, resides in the very first cache that we've hidden ourselves. The game keeps growing.

We have seven more ID tags, so other travelbugs will follow: already lined up, needing only to be tagged and registered (and names and goals devised), are a little puzzle ball, a green superhero action figure, a mini-helicopter, a Buck Owens keychain, and a Corona keychain/bottle opener in the shape of a blue sombrero (all culled from the "treasure" in other caches). I expect they'll go missing in short order, but who knows? Let's just call this an exercise in optimism.

Monday, April 27, 2015

365 True Things: 30/Music

The other night we drove up to Gilroy for a house concert—or in this case, a barn concert. Our old friend Dorian Michael was playing with his band the Mystery Trees. Four musicians: Dorian and Kenny Blackwell on guitar, Ken Hustad on bass, Bill Severance on drums. Awesome musicians all.

I love house concerts. They are intimate, immediate. I'd guess there were maybe a hundred people at this one. You're almost in the laps of the musicians —especially if you're in the first couple of rows, as we were. And besides that, people bring all sorts of desserts, and there's wine AND real glasses to drink from. All for the $20 price of admission. (Though a donation jar was present, which was filling nicely when I passed by. The hosts sponsor these concerts out of love. They should be rewarded.)

So we had a rollicking wonderful evening of bluesy, rootsy, hillsbillsy music linked solidly to rock 'n' roll. It made me so happy. And it reminded me that it's important to get OUT to hear music once in a while.

On our hour-long drive home, David and I reminisced about concerts we've been to, both together and before we got together (though a few of them were together before we got together—but that's another story). Here's a no-doubt very partial list, in no particular order:

Jethro Tull
Gentle Giant
Bruce Springsteen
Bob Dylan
Rolling Stones (introduced by President Clinton: no, it was not "in the day," but they were awesome good nevertheless—and the tickets were free: David won them via the NRDC!)
Steeleye Span
Talking Heads
Pink Martini (with Ari Shapiro!)
Béla  Fleck and the Flecktones
Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn
Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke, and Jean-Luc Ponty
Strength in Numbers (Edgar Meyer, Béla Fleck, Mark O'Connor, Jerry Douglas, and Sam Bush)
Chick Corea with and without Return to Forever
Shakti, with John McLaughlin
Dave Brubeck
Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Randy Newman
Loggins and Messina
Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters (the one show I wanted to walk out of—I do not do funk)
Miles Davis
Bobby McFerrin (including a reenactment, in a five-minute swirl of activity, of The Wizard of Oz, so wonderful!)
Dave Matthews Band
Stanley Jordan (in the Berkeley Amphitheater: we could not believe our ears)
Joan Armatrading
Mose Allison
Dr. John ("fuck Florentine Tiles")
Ralph Towner (in Paris)
Greg Brown
Brett Dennen
Ottmar Liebert
Keb Mo'
Michel Petrucciani, with Makoto Ozone
Gary Burton, with Makoto Ozone (at the Blue Note, NYC)
Bill Charlap
Michel Camilo
Brad Mehldau
Regina Carter and Kenny Barron
Jake Shimabukuro
Los Lobos
Patty Larkin
Sheryl Crowe
Shawn Colvin
Ani DiFranco
Patti Smith
Lucy Wainwright and Suzzy Roche
Little Feat
Eric Clapton (he was disappointing; his band was great)
The Chieftains
Cesaria Evora
Richard Shindell
Tuck and Patti
The Bobs
Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks
Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax
Jean-Pierre Rampal
Donovan (David saw him; I was off gallivanting)
Keith Jarrett
Demon Taiko Drummers

And I'll just mention in closing my envy-to-the-grave: My brother-in-law, David's older brother Geoff, actually heard the Doors at the Whisky-a-Go-Go. The Whisky was pretty much like a house concert, in its size. And the Doors, despite their short tenure, are in the pantheon.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

365 True Things: 29/Marathon (part 2)

Sometime in 2001, David convinced me to sign up with him for the next year's Big Sur Marathon. The actual 26.2-mile run. The real deal.

Now, David was a runner in high school, cross country and track, but me, I'm just a plodder. I worried that I'd hold him back, but he assured me he'd train with me and stick by me—he wanted my company.

I'd done the 21-mile Power Walk several times by then, so knew more or less what to expect. Assuming I trained well—and knowing that if push came to shove, I could always walk—I figured that, yeah, it could be fun. So I said sure.

That year, the BSIM folks were conducting marathon-prep clinics at the local hospital. We attended those, and got good training tips. I started running—plodding . . . okay jogging—regularly, on dirt roads behind a nearby industrial park, or along the coastal rec trail.

Then came 9/11. After the Twin Towers were brought down, I, like Americans generally, did some soul searching. One question I asked myself was what would I regret not having done if I were to meet my end unexpectedly. The answer, strangely enough, was going dog-sledding in Alaska.

I searched online and found Sourdough Outfitters, out of Bettles, 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle. They offered a five-day trip into Gates of the Arctic National Park. I signed up.

This story is not about that experience, but here's a picture of my team and the glorious landscape we traveled through. The trip was in mid-March, and I was fortunate to hit a "warm" spell, with temperatures in the teens and twenties. (The week before, the mercury had been hovering around minus 20.) Still, there was plenty of ice. On day four, I was taking a lunchtime stroll by a frozen river. I wasn't paying attention, and ended up on a patch of slick ice. Down I went, boom: smack on my tailbone.

I managed to limp my way through the rest of the trip (running up hills, to give the dogs a break, was quite painful), but once I got home, I more or less stopped any jarring movements. Including—or maybe especially—running.

Skip forward to late April. The marathon was a few days away. David had been keeping up with his running. He informed me that he was going to run the marathon. After all, he was in shape, and we'd paid big bucks to register.

Well, heck. FOMO hit me bigtime. I thought it over and decided that I, too, would go, on three conditions. First, that I woke up in time to catch the 4:30 a.m. bus. Second, that there was no wind—not that wind or lack thereof at my house would mean a thing for the marathon course, but still: it was a condition. I've forgotten what the third condition was, but whatever it was, it, along with the other two, was met the next morning.

And so, off we went.

Although I hadn't run in six weeks, my last run had been a solid 13-mile loop—a half-marathon—in rolling hills near our home. I hadn't been especially fast, but I'd felt strong and good. And today, as I'd told myself at the outset, I could always walk.

To make a long story short, I did finish. For 25 miles I plodded along at a pace of exactly 12.5-minute miles. I felt pretty good, and I never hit that physical "wall" of overwhelming weariness that long-distance runners talk about, whether it's from lactic acid build-up, muscle-glycogen imbalance, or blood-glucose depletion.

However, round about mile 22, 23, my insidious mind started muttering mutinous comments—for no good reason. I felt fine. A little weary maybe, but fine. The voice got louder and louder, though, and more and more insistent. Until finally, at mile 25, I gave in.

I stopped.

I immediately felt queasy, and had to crouch on my heels for a good five minutes, staring listlessly at the pavement and at the clomping feet of my fellow runners. Eventually, I shakily stood up, pointed myself at the finish line, and started walking. As we neared the chute, I broke into a slow jog. I would run across the line. And I did.

David stuck with me the whole way. Now, that's a good partner.

Ever since then, David has talked about trying another marathon. Me, I did it once. And once is enough.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

365 True Things: 28/Marathon (part 1)

Tomorrow is the 29th presentation of the Big Sur International Marathon, and I took a few moments this afternoon to stroll around the tent complex that tomorrow will be a hopping madhouse. Today, though, it was fairly quiet. A group of high school students who will be volunteering in the food tent tomorrow were getting oriented, and people were placing compost and recycling containers. Here and there people stood chatting or going over a clipboard list. It was quiet, but with a buzzing undercurrent of tension.

Eleven-mile marker
Across the road, a cluster of emergency personnel—sheriff's deputies, California OES representatives, fire fighters—stood shooting the breeze. I spoke with one of the deputies, Ivan, a friend from Search & Rescue, asked if he'll be there tomorrow. He said yes: he's on patrol, but the marathon finish line is in his beat. Plus, he's the terrorism liaison for the SO. I misheard him, thought he said "tourism liaison." He laughed. "Well, I suppose I could arrange for people to get a tour of the jail, but no: not tourism. Terrorism." After the Boston Marathon tragedy, that makes sense. Sadly. I sincerely hope Ivan isn't called on to deploy in his capacity as terrorism liaison tomorrow.

The BSIM has grown over the years to now include, in addition to the 26.2-miler, a 21-mile, 10.6-mile, 9-mile, and 5K race (plus a 3K held this morning). The 21-miler used to be called the Power Walk, and I participated in it five or six times in the 1990s. There is nothing better than having the westernmost lane of Highway 1—the edge of the continent—yours and yours alone for those five, six hours of the last Sunday morning of April. Well, yours alone if you don't mind sharing with several thousand other runners and walkers.

I remember the first time I did the Power Walk. Disembarking from the bus at 5, 5:30 a.m., I was surprised that the air wasn't too cold. When it came time to decide what precisely to bring on the walk, I decided to leave my sweats behind. I'd be fine! It promised to be a beautiful day! I'd be walking fast and would warm up! Well, no sooner did we round the first turn, but we were hit by a wall of frigid wind. My bare arms and legs immediately turned bright pink. I stepped up my pace. Eventually we wound into a divot on the winding coastline and managed to warm up a bit, shielded from the wind. Then back out into it . . .  and so forth. I don't remember just where the wind let up—just after the infamous Hurricane Point, perhaps—but it finally did, thank goodness, and we were able to establish a comfortable pace, enjoy all the music along the way (and the strawberries just before Point Lobos, a scrumptious tradition), and make pretty good time in the end. Each and every Power Walk I did, I was glad of the effort. And, each one so different, the experience.

Tomorrow, another story about the Big Sur International Marathon.

Friday, April 24, 2015

365 True Things: 27/Childhood

The only childhood disease I ever had was chicken pox. Supposedly I infected an entire family that was about to return home to Australia, at a farewell party my parents threw for them. At that moment, I can only assume, I was not yet showing signs of the illness—because otherwise the party would have been canceled, right?

Or I would have been sequestered.

But contagion sets in one to two days before symptoms appear. Nor did the family postpone their trip home—there again, I don't know why. Maybe they left before my condition became apparent. But over the years my father regularly managed to bring up "that time I spread chicken pox to the continent of Australia." He was such a card.

I have been hospitalized once, but not for illness. When I was maybe five or six, my family went on vacation to Colorado, near Gunnison. We were staying at a camp with scattered cabins, but there was also a central dining hall. One evening when we went to dinner, a collie was tied up outside. I petted it, and it licked me, very friendly. The next day, the same dog was tied up—or so I thought. Turned out it was a different dog, and it did not like children—or at least, it did not like me. It bit me in the face: got my nose and just below my left eye. (I was very lucky not to lose that eye.) I ran into the dining hall, blood pouring from my face. I can only imagine what my parents thought. I do not remember the trip to the doctor, but I'm told it was a long dirt road out to civilization, so I did not get help immediately. I do remember, after being patched up, looking in the mirror often to admire my Band-Aids, in primary colors of red, blue, and yellow and featuring space symbols—Saturn and comets and constellations.

Eventually the wounds healed, but the scars were coarse and bumpy. The final treatment was plastic surgery: hence the hospital visit. There, I remember counting backwards from 10 to, oh, 9, as the anesthesia kicked in. And I remember ice cream, lots of ice cream, and feeling lucky because I didn't have to have my tonsils out to get it.

Many of these "memories" may be pure fabrications. Maybe the Band-Aids were from after the plastic surgery, and maybe they didn't feature comets and such—but I'm fairly certain about the mirror and the bright colors. Maybe the Australians actually postponed their trip, sparing the planeload of passengers—not to mention the entire continent of Australia. (But if so, why can I picture so well people covered with spots desperately applying make-up to their skins?) Maybe there was only one dog and it was a German shepherd. And do I really remember Neapolitan ice cream? I don't know. But those are the stories that are lodged in  my head.

I did, definitely, get bitten by a dog, though: I have the scars to prove it. And fortunately, the plastic surgery worked like a charm. Today, you'd never know I'd been badly marred. For several years after the operation, my father would regularly grab my chin and scrutinize the fading scars. I still remember his piercing blue eyes and that feeling of being inspected. Eventually, he stopped: satisfied, I guess, that I was still his beautiful little girl.

As for that chicken pox: it reminds me that I really should get a shingles vaccine.

(The image is courtesy of Paperfections by Sharon Harnist.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

365 True Things: 26/Work (VWA)

Today was a work party on the Terrace Creek and Pine Ridge trails in beautiful Big Sur, with my usual trail pal, Lynn (at the front in this picture), plus my trail boss, Steve, and his lovely wife, Beth (currently sporting a right forearm cast thanks to a fall in a creek on a previous work party—she's number two in the pic), and another volunteer wilderness ranger, Dave. We worked hard and accomplished a lot:
  • one wilderness toilet seat installed at Barlow Flat Camp (Dave)
  • three trees cut out of the Pine Ridge Trail (Lynn and Steve)
  • three hundred yards (by our feeble estimate—it might have been much more) of brush cleared from the Terrace Creek Trail (Beth and me)
The brush included ceanothus, tan oak, an extravagant wild pea (you pull and pull and pull, and it keeps on coming!), elderberry, poison oak—and more. We deal with these encroachments on the trail with loppers and handsaws. Plus it's a good upper-body workout, because you then have to toss the trimmings down the hill. The trees—attacked with cross-cut saw and come-along—included a madrone, which they expected to be troublesome but was not, and a tan oak. I'm not sure what the third tree was. Probably also a tan oak. They fall down a lot.

Most of this work was performed in anticipation of a USFS mule team coming next Thursday to bring three wilderness toilets in to problematic Sykes Camp (problematic because, with its well-known hot springs, it is very, very popular—but in a place, a narrow canyon without much river edge, that can't stand up to such popularity). In turn, the mule team will carry out the many hundreds of pounds of trash—most of it from Sykes Camp—that we wilderness rangers have been stashing over the last couple of years, just off the trail. We carry out what we can ourselves, but we're no match for the Sykes Camp hordes.

People don't realize how much work is required—and is done mostly by volunteers—on these trails in our national forests and wilderness areas. They walk (or stumble) after a long hike into a nice, well-kept campsite, and take it for granted. That's not to say that most backpackers aren't good Leave No Trace practitioners. But: so many people we see on the Pine Ridge Trail are ill equipped for what they seem to consider a stroll in the park—but it's a ten-mile stroll, up and down over steep eleva-tions. Their Coleman stove and cooler aren't appropriate, and all too often, we wilderness rangers end up carting out their abandoned gear.

And don't get me started on toilet paper.

But today: I was happily engaged in whacking weeds. And occasionally I'd stop to take a look around. And listen. We got the sheer pleasure of a foggy morning with "redwood rain" (fog drops dripping from the trees so hard it sounded like rain). Delicate gold-silk globe lilies, and native Douglas iris. The sweet sound of quail and the sharp laughter and knocking of acorn woodpeckers. That's the payoff for volunteering as a ranger. It works for me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

365 True Things: 25/Chemistry

My father was a world-class organic chemist—specifically, a phytochemist specializing in flavonoids—and UCLA professor. If my mother is to be believed, had he not fallen gravely ill during what should have been the peak years of his career (roughly 35 to 45), he would have won a Nobel Prize. He was certainly beloved by his students—those, at any rate, he didn't scare away with his exacting standards.

When I was in maybe the eighth grade, I had an assignment to . . . create a science experiment? It may have been that general. In any event, I must have gone home and informed my parents, whereupon my father jumped in with a fantastic idea: paper chromatography. I had no idea what that was, of course, but I was secretly pleased that he wanted to spend time with me on my science experiment.

He brought home some fancy glass equipment, solutions, special fibrous paper, little clips from his lab. We inoculated several strips of paper with . . . something pigmented. In researching the technique just now, I see references to analysis of colored inks. Also plant pigments—like the banana leaf shown here. But just what we used, I do not recall. For some reason I recall blues and reds, which suggests pH analysis. But who knows.

On presentation day, I confidently set up my equipment, inoculated new strips of paper and dipped them into the solution, and everyone watched in wonder as pigments crept up the papers and separated out.

Then the teacher asked what was actually happening. And I was stumped. Apparently my father had neglected to explain. Or, more likely, he'd explained and I didn't understand. And I was too shy to ask him to slow down, start at the beginning, be as basic as possible.

Thus, in a single mortifying moment, ended any potential career I might have had in the sciences.

When I later took chemistry in high school, I remember several times when I had a question and would ask my dad—and he'd start off at or (usually) beyond the question and explain from there. He assumed intelligence in the people around him. But intelligence isn't the same as knowledge. Moreover, there are different kinds of intelligence. I have never been strong at analytic thinking; I'm more of a synthetic thinker. At least, that's what I tell myself. Could be I was never taught analytic thought—and that junior high experiment only confirmed that I was scientifically dumb. 

In my research just now, I've gathered (from a website called Science Stuff, geared to schoolteachers—and apologies in advance for those of you who get this stuff if I've bungled it) that there are a few reasons why things such as ink separate out the way they do: the solvent itself (a water-soluble ink will separate out in water, a permanent one will require a different solvent); the molecular weight of the component substances; and the "polarity" of the compounds (their affinity for the solvent). (In the banana leaf, the photosynthetic pigment Carotene, a dietary source of vitamin A, is the least polar—with least affinity for water, so it moves quickly: it wants to escape; whereas Chlorophyll b likes water, so rises up the paper slowly.)

There's actual chemistry behind that "polarity" business (-->), but it's too late for me.

And that chemistry class in high school? One day I walked in, and the teacher, Mr. Jerome, smirked at me. Said, "You're going to enjoy today. We're watching a film." I got a sinking feeling. I knew exactly what he was talking about: when I was younger, on various occasions my mother and I would drop my father off at a film studio on Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, then go run errands, returning in a couple of hours to fetch him. He'd been making educational films. Explaining chemistry to high school students.

And yes, when the lights went down, there was my father in his crewcut perched on a laboratory bench. Explaining away. Only, not to me. By that point, I was deaf to his explanations.

That film and Mr. Jerome's name are virtually all I retain from that semester of chemistry. I wish it weren't so—I wish I did understand more of the physical world, including chemistry. It's not exactly a regret; more of a lack. One that extends into the heart of my relationship with my father as well. But that's a whole other story.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

365 True Things: 24/Heights

If on my 2003 attempt on Mt. McKinley (Denali) my climbing partner and I had made it to the top, that would have been the highest I've ever been: 20,230 feet. As it is, we only made it to about 17,000 feet—twice. The reasons for our failure include food poisoning and a blizzard. In this photo, we're looking down on the 14,000-foot base camp from about 17K. It may not look like much, but it's a veritable village—including, fortunately, a well-stocked medical tent, where my partner was set to rights after a day on IV fluids.
Himalaya moonrise
In point of fact, the highest I have been is around 18,000 feet—in Ladakh, northern India. Some friends and I did a several-day trek there in 2004, through country stunning in its stark, desolate beauty, crossing over several 18,000-foot mountain passes along the way. We also drove over one of the highest paved roads in the world, at Khardung La (17,582 feet; La = pass in Tibetan), to arrive at our trailhead. Talk about the top of the world!

Here at home in coastal California, the highest I get with any regularity is 2,030 feet: Snively's Ridge in wonderful Garland Ranch Regional Park. It may not be the top of the world, but it does give out some pretty sweet views.

Monday, April 20, 2015

365 True Things: 23/Jackrabbit

Several years ago I was having breakfast with my wacky, wonderful friend Tesi. We were talking about this and that, when out of the blue she asked, "What's your totem animal?" I said I didn't have one. She said, "Close your eyes. The first animal you see, that's your totem animal." I did as instructed, and who should leap into the dark receptacle of my imaginings, but Jackrabbit.

A jackrabbit (Lepus spp.) is actually a hare. And the difference between a rabbit and a hare—besides the longer ears of the latter? Several: They have very different lifestyles, for starters, with hares living fully above ground, while rabbits live socially in burrow or warren systems (an exception being the various species of American cottontail, Sylvilagus). Hares (and cottontails) rely on running, not burrowing, for protection. Newborn hares (called leverets) are precocial—that is, fully developed at birth, furred with open eyes—while newborn rabbits (kittens or kits) are altricial—born undeveloped, with closed eyes, no fur, and an inability to regulate their own temperature. Rabbits don't leave the nest until they are several weeks old, whereas leverets are able to fend for themselves pretty much right off the bat. Hares also have a longer gestation than rabbits. 

But what about a jackrabbit as a totem symbol? Googling got me this: "If jackrabbit is your power animal, you are alert and never box yourself into a corner." Pretty true. "You always plan for an escape exit, should the need arise." Well, there I've gotten better at sticking things out, reminding myself that even the most unpleasant experience will have an end. "You are quick-witted, peaceful, talented, and a survivor." Quick-witted I'm not so sure about, but the others—sure. "The role of victim is not appropriate in your business or personal relationships." Also true. "Jackrabbit's message is, always be alert. When walking in a strange neighborhood, pay attention to your surroundings. Keep away from your enemies; you know who they are." Well, except I don't have any enemies. And I tend to stay out of the parts of town where there might be enemies. But always alert? I do notice things, but it's not in a watchful way; more in a curious way. So, alert, yes, but not in the sense of being fearful. "Learn to 'freeze' when you want to avoid detection." Ah, that I'm very good at—at least, I've always felt fairly invisible (Chameleon might be the more appropriate totem animal in that regard), though over the years I've accepted, even embraced, the fact that some people do notice me, and for good reason. "You are fertile with new ideas." I'm fertile with distractability, that's for sure. But yes, I could choose to look at my distractability in a positive light.

What brought Jackrabbit to mind today? On our afternoon walk in a "fairy tale" oak woodland, one of our regular destinations, we were looking for a good spot to plant a new geocache. We'd wandered off the small trail onto an animal track. As we entered a relatively clear area, I heard a rustling, and then saw the lithe body and long black-tipped ears of . . . a jackrabbit, bounding away from us! I always feel so very lucky when I see a jackrabbit!

(The first photo has no attribution that I can find—so thank you, whoever took it. The second one is courtesy of Daniel Streifel.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

365 True Things: 22/Photography

My first camera was a Canon rangefinder: I'm guessing it was a Canonet QL17, but I no longer have it so can't check. My father bought it for me in 1965 when we lived in Japan. I don't recall using it while we were there, though I must have.

I do remember shooting an entire roll of film at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna a few years later, as I made my way down what seemed like an infinitely long Allee toward a fountain that, in my photos, never got very impressive (i.e., I never actually made it to the fountain in those 24 or 36 shots). Here's a picture (not by me) taken from the fountain looking back along the Allee; apparently my idea of "infinity" was bigger back then than it is now. Or maybe it just seemed infinite because the entire experience took place through a viewfinder.

I became "serious" about photography in 1990 or so, when I started taking classes at the local college in black-and-white photography, including darkroom work. I love silver gelatin, and I love sloshing around in chemicals. But I doubt I'll ever find my way into a darkroom again. Now all my printing is done on a Canon iPF5100 17-inch inkjet printer. Almost exclusively in color.

(The camera photo is from a post by Allan Burgess on a website called Rangefinder Film Cameras of the 1960s and 1970s; Schönbrunn Palace is courtesy of Camilamarie from the blog Travel Initiative.)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

365 True Things: 21/Mushrooms

The other day while searching on Amazon for the term for a particular sort of knife (utility, as it turned out: yes, brain fart), I stumbled on a "mushroom knife." I was skeptical—a knife is a knife (unless it's a utility knife), and a SWAK has always served me just fine out in the woods . . . And then I saw the cute little boar's-hair brush at the end of the handle (for brushing dirt off mushroom caps). And the elegant curve of the blade. Okay, it's still gimmicky, but it wasn't very expensive. So, I ordered one as a birthday gift for David. It arrived today. The problem is, David's birthday isn't until September. I asked him if he wanted to wait or open it now.

So: it seems we—I mean, David—has a nice new mushroom knife! Too bad we haven't had any rain to bring out the fungi. Maybe next
year . . .

David and I started mushrooming back in, oh, it must have been 1984, '85. We were living in the East Bay, and—I don't even remember—probably started noticing mushrooms on walks in Tilden Park. We soon discovered the San Francisco Mycological Society and began attending their monthly meetings.

Mushroom groups tend to organize mushrooming forays, and we went on a few of those. We were hooked in no time.

Agaricus augustus
I remember one trip to an area just outside Yosemite. There had been a forest fire a couple of years before—and morels love burns. David and I arrived before the rest of the group, and we went for a hike out of the campground. On our way back, my nose detected a spectacularly musty-earthy aroma. "Stop," I said. "There are morels somewhere right around here." Sure enough, they were growing in the trail, evenly spaced down the middle. Thank goodness we hadn't stomped on them as we headed out.

Lepista nuda
The nose: I'm reliving right now the almond extract smell of "the prince," Agaricus augustus. (And okay, there goes my mouth watering.) And then there's the maple syrup fragrance of dried candy caps (Lactarius fragilis)—good in pancakes. And the orange juicy goodness of a fresh blewit (Lepista nuda). And this one I've never actually smelled, though I'd like to: matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake)—a cross between dirty socks and Red Hots, so I hear. Doesn't that sound scrumptious?

Mushrooms have taken me to some exotic places, most notably the Soviet Union: from Karelia, up near Finland, down to Tannu Tuva, down near Mongolia (the latter put on the map by physicist Richard Feynman and bluesman Paul Peña, via the documentary Genghis Blues). I traveled there, and also to New Mexico (which was equally wonderful for mushrooms, surprisingly), with the author of the quintessential Mushrooms Demystified, David Arora, and a few other die-hard fungophiles.

Cantharellus californicus
I recall, after the USSR trip, arriving—gratefully—in Helsinki, and there finding a restaurant called Kanttarelli, specializing in chanterelles. Every dish, even the desserts, featured this delectable little golden mushroom. You won't find anything like that in the fungophobic U.S.

In a large jar in our pantry, we still have some dried yellow morels (Morchella esculenta) that we found near Muscoda, Wisconsin (the state's "morel capital"), in 1988. We'd learned that the fungus associates with a certain deciduous tree (ash, maybe?), and soon we were running through the woods from ash to ash, and beneath each tree we'd find a cluster of beautiful big morels. It was the treasure hunt to beat all treasure hunts. The now almost thirty-year-old mushrooms, stored in glass, are still full of flavor, believe it or not (though we're almost to the end of them, alas).

When we moved to Monterey a year later, we were happy to find clusters of black morels (M. elata) in newly landscaped areas around the Cannery Row parking garages, the spores having hitchhiked in on the woodchips. 

Agaricus bitorquis
How do you tell the difference between a delicious mushroom like Agaricus bitorquis—related to the button mushroom you find at Safeway—and one like Amanita phalloides, a.k.a. the "death cap"? Or, how do you know what mushrooms are safe to eat when you travel to a new place? The best way is to find fellow fungophiles. When we moved to Monterey, we latched on to the Santa Cruz Fungus Federation, and went on outings with them. You learn so much that way. You also make good friends.

Amanita phalloides
These days, we don't get out mushrooming very often. If we do go, our objective is definitely to find edible shrooms: chanterelles, porcini, "the prince," oyster mushrooms (which favor dead oak), or a local specialty, Sparassis radicata, a.k.a. the cauliflower fungus.

Just writing about this makes me eager to go on a mushroom hunt. But as I said above, there are no shrooms this year to speak of. All the more reason to pray for rain here in California in the season ahead. Let the fungi live.