Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Camping is something I grew up doing and have continued to love into adulthood. Finding a decent spot to set up camp, sitting around a fire with friends and family, waking up to the smell of early morning with the sunrise fluttering through the trees and the mesh windows of a tent, smelling like campfire, being sweaty and dirty, it's the kind of hobby that was easy enough to continue doing living in the east side of the Sierra Nevadas and along the Inyo Mountains. Whether it's backpacking deep into the mountains disconnected from the modern world or schlepping stuff out of the truck of the car after getting the WiFi password from the campground host, I take a lot of enjoyment away from sleeping in the dirt. Something about being a little more exposed than usual is cool to me. Getting to wake up outside is refreshing-- whether it's communing with nature or rediscovering how awesome having a real bed is-- and I wanted to share that with my girlfriend.

She told me she'd never gone camping before, aside from childhood expeditions in the back yard or spots on the beach within walking distance of stores, and it nearly broke my heart. I spent a lot of summers hiking and camping with my dad as a kid, and by the time I became an adult I made it a point to camp at least once a year. I was, and still am, very privileged to have had-- and still have-- a back yard that's federally protected wilderness, so awhile back I agreed to take her camping. She got a free weekend and came up to see me, and even though the weather report called for rain the chances were slim; 20% here isn't usually likely to produce anything other than maybe cool looking clouds, so we excitedly waited for Saturday.

I got my car camping gear sorted through and situated. A K-Mart quality tent and stove I've had for years, an old cooking set, a hand-me-down sleeping bag, and a bunch of other necessities made their way into the trunk of the car, and after a quick stop at the store for Doritos, hot dog buns, and other fireside munchies, we headed north.

The clouds swirled along the peaks of the mountains. The sky beyond them was gray, the darkness from beyond them skirting the white clouds and blue skies above the valley floor. The breeze was gently sweeping through the desert and making the sagebrush and errant tree sway lazily along the roadside. Light cut through the clouds in the Sierra canyons in golden beams. Jackrabbits hopped across the road as we made our way west into Gray's Meadow, in the foothills below Independence Peak in the Kearsarge Pass area.

We found ourselves a little wooded campsite and began to set up for the night. After the tent was up, the food put away, stove ready to go, and everything else in its place, we settled in. The clouds were drifting along overhead. The sunset brought bright oranges and soft pinks among the deep blues and grays, and the cool of evening crept in as the colors faded into the evening. I made a fire, starting it with some napkins and some (surprisingly effective and obviously delicious) Doritos, and I began making up scary stories while being laughed at. It was dark, but it was still early, so we looked forward to burning up the rest of the firewood and taking in the evening before going calling it a night.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Then the rain started.

Lightning was flashing off to the south once it'd gotten dark, but it was far enough away that it served as little more than something cool to look at. After awhile, though, a raindrop hit my hand, and after that a slight drizzling of rain started to come down. That would have been fine too except the lightning and thunder started to get closer, and as time went on the rain started getting heavier. In my infinite wisdom I'd forgotten to consider packing rain gear aside from the rain fly for the tent. As the lightning and thunder got closer, the rain got heavier, the wind picked up, and we got thoroughly drenched, we finally relented to the weather and broke camp in the dark.

As we drove back home, watching the storm surround the valley floor and lightning cracking through the clouds and to the ground, I felt a little bummed that I couldn't show the normal camping experience with someone who'd never experienced it. After we got home, dried off, and had a few rounds of Cruisi'n World for the N64 (which, for the record, I dominated), I was glad to have the experience of being rained out. It was something I hadn't really experienced in awhile, and it gives me an excuse to go camping again with her soon. It served as a reminder that things can be a lot of fun even if they don't go as planned, and how quickly the weather can turn sour.

I can't wait to go again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Surprise Rush

Typically work slows down for me after Labor Day. School gets back in session, the weather starts to cool off, the John Muir Trail hikers and the Mt. Whitney climbers starts to peter out, and tourists leave behind a lull that sticks around for awhile until the annual film festival in town. Once those crowds leave, the town goes into its hibernation and waits for spring to bring the tourists back to the neighborhood. I don't mind it too much; after months of scrambling around it's kind of nice to take a little more leisurely pace with activity at the desk.

This year, though, September has managed to be even busier than the last few months. I don't know why that's the case, but it reminds me of how fun and hectic things were when I started working at the hotel. That little spark of accomplishment when I get to hit switch that turns on the "NO VACANCY" after wondering how to sell the last room, the pearls of wisdom old folks impart on me whether I want them to or not, the sweet relief of resting my aching legs after standing, walking up stairs, and trotting around the property all day, it all has decided to get fun and interesting (and occasionally infuriating and irritating) late in the game this year.

On top of a few packed weekends for weddings, photo workshops, tour groups, and film productions, run-of-the-mill tourists catching the heat in Death Valley and the not-on-fire parts of Yosemite are still coming in. It probably won't slow down until the end of October if the weather keeps doing its thing. Even though I look forward to things slowing down, it's kind of nice to keep busy since the more business town gets the better it is for everyone when it finally slows down.

Working in a tourist economy is a sporadic thing. Some years are flooded with hikers, fishermen, and people passing through, soaking in the gorgeous days at the base of the Sierras and seeing what there is to see. Others are spotty: crappy windy or rainy weather, irritable tourists, everything too expensive to afford a stop. Combinations of those factors can elongate a busy season or shorten it, but it's always a crap shoot how financially stable I'll be during the winter. With this surprise rush of business I get the feeling it should be easy to make it through winter easily enough.

So, until the typical fanny-pack-wearing looky-loos thin out and the thru-hikers retreat from the Sierras to the great indoors away from here, I'll enjoy the excitement that comes with keeping busy at work.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lawn Clippings

Like I wrote about a couple weeks ago, I didn't get a lot of junk food when I was a kid. Every now and again I'd get to eat at McDonald's when I'd go out of town for shopping with my mom, awesome greasy pizza when visiting the grandparents, and hot dogs and other crap for various other occasions. The phrase "You Are What You Eat" comes to mind, and I think my mom kind of got the hint while my siblings and I were growing up. Whole grains, lean protein, fad health foods out the wazoo, a whole lot of it came to the dinner table as a kid (including these pale, bland turkey hot dogs... we've never really gotten over those...), and as I've come into adulthood I've grown to appreciate the healthy crap I was fed.

Lately I've jumped on the bandwagon for kale. It's packed to bursting with vitamins A, C, and K, a pretty decent source of potassium, a good source of omega-3 acids that are good for the brain, and toted as a hipster superfood and the greatest thing to grow out of the earth in the history of everything. It's a relatively sustainable and versatile crop with a long growing season and resistant to pests and drought (there's a whole article on it here if you don't want to take my word for it), so overall it's a pretty great vegetable for a number of different reasons.

Personally, I like the taste and texture. That's why I eat it.

I was chopping up some kale and some red leaf lettuce earlier today, and threw the greens into a zipper bag with some spinach. I mixed up the leafy concoction and decided to grab some of its contents to throw on a sandwich for lunch. I was putting my lunch fixings away and, for whatever reason, decided to take a whiff of the contents of my super-wonderful salad mix.

It was kind of like a fresh cut lawn. Like I took a grass edger and tidied up around a wet sidewalk. It was reminiscent of when I used to mow lawns as a kid, and it was kind of funny that my "rabbit food" smelled exactly like what the jackrabbits munch around my dad's yard. Sure, leafy greens are just glorified lawn clippings that are socially acceptable to eat, but it makes sense why some folks won't eat salads without dressings.

Like I said, though, I like the way it tastes and its texture. Leafy greens are pretty great.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Waking Up Early (at Home)

The faint blue glow of daybreak crept through my bedroom window. Soft shadows commingled with the dim illumination from outside, and the whole apartment was filled with the first evidence of day. The rooster at the house across the street hadn't started to crow yet. My neighbors in the apartment complex had left for work an hour beforehand. I stood in the front room, adjusting to the early morning quiet and the dimness of dawn before making my way to the kitchen to start the much-needed coffee.

Waking up late is a side effect of working late. After years of clocking out after 11 PM and trying to unwind after busy nights I've found myself tucking myself into bed well after 2 or 3 AM, then waking up usually seven to eight hours later, so watching the sunrise and soaking in the pace and quiet that comes with the morning is a rare treat for me, and usually I'm too tired to really appreciate any of it. Sleep usually burns my eyes, as if the sandman was a cop at a student protest in 2011, and the sense of longing for my bed is almost heartbreaking, but yesterday was different. I was just... awake.

I sat in the front room with my cup of coffee while the sun started to hit the Sierras outside my window. The pale blue sky and gray-purple granite were painted on the horizon, and the cloudless weather made the view seem more imaginary. The light through the slats of my window blinds went from blue to gold, and the world around my apartment started to wake up. The stupid rooster across the street started with his obnoxious crowing, cars headed to the high school rolled by, the delinquents finished their cigarettes in the alley by my apartment, and I was dressed and ready to face the day ahead of me.

Sometimes I wonder why I don't wake up early more often, but then I remember how rare moments I'm actually awake early are. I like my bed a whole lot, but I also like peaceful mornings and the coolness of the early part of the day. Then again, I also like being awake until the end of my shift, so my early mornings tend to remain uncommon.

They're nice when they come around, though.