Friday, July 25, 2014

Thunder/Lightning/Hail...and now, what's this, SUN?

Our "home"
"Pesky" camp robber Blue Jay     
Friday - Beauty upon beauty!  Few things surpass the tranquility of a walk through a high altitude Sierra meadow in July. The sun is shining, wild flowers abound, there is the smell of wild mountain herbs in the air, brooks murmur in the sunlight…There is a surprise every minute!
Today we hiked a 5 mile loop in the twenty lake basin above Saddlebag lake– just ourside the bounds of Yosemite park..  I have seldom seen such a variety of prime wildflowers – old friend – columbines, arnica, shooting stars, lupines ( in their many varieties), mariposa lilies, monkey flowers, Indian paintbrushes, on and on!  Such joy!  I am surprised that there is still a snow pack and Conness glacier still exist (although a fragment of its former self), despite our dry winter.
The horizontal 'crack' shows that this is an active glacier - it has moved 'this much' since last winter
At the end of this blog you will find the recipe for the best trail food ever - rusks - they are so hard it is necessary to take the days supply-  moisten with water over them before you leave camp ( but shake off excess water), carry in a sealed plastic bag.  They will keep "forever"as long as dry - they are just right if moistened .
View outside our tent front door
      Yesterday was exciting but in a different way – we hiked to a lake in the neighborhood of Mono pass.  The morning was glorious – also filled with great variety of wild flowers.  The big storm of the previous day had left plants lush and flowers perky!  About 2 in the afternoon we noticed the clouds gather – (and they do so quickly in the high Sierra) .
Gathering clouds - 2 PM
By 3 pm  light rain started falling – OK,  we put on our rain gear and kept hiking.  By 4 pm the rain turned to hail- first small and then the size of small marbles.  I want to report to you  - that ½ inch hail hitting you on the head is painful!  Also I noticed that hail bounces when it hits the ground – rebounding into the air by 14 inches.  Seeing a meadow with many bouncing hail  stones is like being inside a popcorn popper!  We returned to our car – shed our rain gear – and returned to camp… to find the evening dry enough to cook dinner and enjoy the evening.
Our camp after the 2 inch rain storm
     Saturday – The trail up to Gardinsky Lake is intense!... the trail is a very rapid ascent to a high plateau with a jewel of a lake in the midst of meadows and rocks, a few low growing willows, and more variety of  flowers than "you can shake a stick at"!  I prefer hiking with Judy, but sometimes she wants a quiet day, and she was put off by this very steep climb - Once I reached the lake, I had it to myself - me and the breeze and the water sounds, Marmot chirps around me in the talus slopes... Walking around the lake I discovered good snow packs melting drop by drop to feed the lake.  

Above Saddlebags Lake
View across from Gardinsky - in normal years this is white with snow in July and August

     I have heard the discussion so many times - "Why do we do this to ourselves?"  Many high trails are very tough.  The legs complain, breathing is difficult, I have to be sure of my footing on rocky steep slippery trails...  My body goes into slower motion the higher I climb...The "why" is easy for me - there is such satisfaction for me in  pushing through to reach the height -to see the high lands where so many beautiful things are to be found.  It is a "high" like no other experience.

The music of flowing water
     Wednesday - Here I sit beside a high mountain lake - I am held captive by the glacially formed cliffs of North Peak rising before me- we are several miles deep into the 'high country' - In this moment I sit on an immense glacially formed boulder.  We just shared a delicious trail lunch, the sun feels warm on my skin, the breeze is cool, The lake ripples at my feet and in the surrounding rocks I hear many forms of falling and flowing water.  This is a land of granite, water, ice, green growing things in the meadows, flowers abound! Time does not exist! I feel an intense peace.

Rare Alpine Lily - found by Judy!
Columbines - the best ever this year!
     There has been and is a problem on this Tuolumne trip that is only getting worse.  Judy suffers from Asthma - and the condition is normally controlled by her prescriptions.  In the rush to get away she left home a critical drug,  Now it is apparent that her breathing is becoming more and more a problem - especially at high altitude and at night.  My wife is a stubborn woman - and troubled as she is, she too has a deep love of the high mountains, and is very reluctant to cut the trip short - but it is apparent that we must.  It is the fault of the high altitude, the cold air, and smokey campgrounds.  So Thursday we did it - we left our beloved high country for another year.  I felt a growing anxiety going with her on high distant hikes, especially when sudden problems developed... It has been a good trip and we have stored up plenty of mental images and tales to tell.  So we leave it for the marmots and the picas.

Face of North Peak
'Elephant Heads' at their prime ( look until you see the trunk)

The frames of Judy's glasses broken due to her stepping on them - repaired with 'mole skin' - it worked !

Glacial erratic - Granite boulder deposited by the melting ice on top of metamorphic rock

Rusks 6/4/14

This recipe is highly flexible – add what you have or leave out the ‘extras’

·      Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1.5 cups unbleached white flour 1.5 cups whole wheat bread flour
1/3 cup each: artificial sweetener (1/3 t Stevia) or 1/3 cup sugar, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries
1 C ground flax, All Bran
1 tsp salt,
2 tsp coriander, cardamom, ginger
2/3 c date granules
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½  C almonds, sesame, poppy seeds
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
¾ cup yogurt     
1.3 C milk                                                                                      
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
·      In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly mix the dry ingredients.
·      Combine all the wet ingredients, pour them into the dry ingredients, and stir until you have a soft dough, similar to biscuit dough.
·      Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll or pat it to about a ½ inch thickness.
·      Bake the rusks on buttered baking sheet for about 25 minutes until the tops are crisping and browning a little.
·      Loosely pile the rusks on a baking sheet and keep them in a 200 degree oven all day or all night (about 12 hours) to dry.
·      The finished rusks should be very dry and hard. Cool and store in an airtight container.
·      Rusks will keep for weeks.

Divide into 32  round flat “cookies” about ½ inch thick before baking



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Notes from Tuolumne Meadows July 2014

1.  Monday - Thunder growls and the barks with a voice that shakes the skies!  ...Not once but repeatedly much of the afternoon.  I love it!   I almost wish that I could believe that it was dragons roaring or Norse gods at play.   The scientific explanation seems to lack pizzazz. We got enough rain to moisten some of the dry soil.  By evening the sun was back.

2.  Tuesday -Judy reading a book, I set off for Dog Lake -it's about an hour and a half walk uphill.  Once there I walked around its perimeter.  It was mixed forests, sedge bogs, and alpine grasses.  Meadows were adrift with clouds of dragonflies - their transparent wings reflecting the sunlight as they circle and dive above the meadow flowers. Birds here are quite fearless of humans and study us with interest as we pass through their world.

3.  "May you sleep like a stone -and wake like fresh bread". This Russian folk-saying describes us here.  We sleep with the gentle river song in our ears and wake to the songs of birds.  Most days, after long hours of 'adventure' we are ready for sleep soon after the sun goes down and are up making coffee by 6:30 when the sun returns. We are such softies - we each have a comfortable air mattress and a big yellow REI tent-that claims to be a four person tent...but fits the two of us nicely (and we are not big people).

4.  I love the fact that I am away from all electronic "noise" news, no music, no internet is a treat.  It take a few days for me to disconnect from " things that need to be done" and to give myself permission to "lean and loaf at my ease and observe a blade of summer grass" (in the words of Walt Whitman).    Every day I get better at it

5.  After lunch -I am writing this sitting beside our flowing river, lupines blooming around my chair. But what's this? It's starting to rain...and hardTime to beat a hasty retreat to the tent- where Judy is taking a nap.   I quickly gathered up items in danger from the rain and threw them in the car.   In the tent, it rained hard, then harder, then a torrent... The wind shook the tent as if to blow us high away into a tree!  Overhead there were wild thunder crashes and lightning to light up the dark sky...then it started with the hail thundering on our tent roof! Judy and I through the whole thing was a wonderful display of nature - bur hoping that nature wouldn't come flowing into the tent!  I had built an advance drainage channel to deflect water from the tent -and that worked quite well. Just as quickly as its arrival, the rain is gone-us with a soggy campsite and all of Judy's clothes hanging on a line completely soaked ...but no real damage...    It was about 2 inches of rain in a one-hour period.

6.  Wednesday came to Lee Vining to dry stuff out in the Laundromat.  After a nice meal we started back to our tent to be turned back another rock slide they said and it would be 3 or 4 hours before they could open it.  So we have returned to Lee Vining as refugees.

7.  The weather report for the week is not encouraging - so much for "the great drought" - not here...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Seeing with new eyes...

I have taken these photos over the past 5 years in Tuolomnie Meadows or Yosemite Valley

One of the pleasures of traveling is gaining new eyes for appreciating the beauties of our own home and garden.  Despite the drought, these days are temperate and the nights cool.  

So what are we doing?  Preparing for another get away…  

Every year or two we feel a need to return to one of the reference points in our lives – upper Yosemite – Tuolomnie Meadows.  I first hiked these trails when I was 19 years old... 

We have our house/dog sitter in place, gear and food packed...Off we go...

We will set up our yellow tent, hide our food from the bears (in the animal proof steel storage bin provided), and then set off on day-trip walking adventures in the many directions from our base camp.  Upper Tuolomnie is a land of Alpine terrain with glacier formed landscapes.  The most common trees here are foxtail and white bark pines.   (Strange to imagine that at these elevations in Peru they are growing crops of corn, quinoa, and potatoes).  Each visit we respond anew to the freshness of the land.  We look to see what the season gives to us. This year we suspect that the snow will new gone but there should still be water flowing.   There are always new surprises – and different wonders  to discover.  

The plants and animals in upper Yosemite are old friends… the marmots and pikas, the ground and tree squirrels, the stellar jay and the Clark’s nuthatch, crane flies,  the mosquitos (well, maybe not ‘friends’…).  The lupines, coneflowers, "elephant flowers", leopard lilies, columbines, wall flowers...and so many others.  This time of year the little pocket-meadows between the fell fields have the sweet smell of green growing things.  The streams of flowing water make music day and night.  Every season I visit "my mountains" I think how fortunate that I just “hit” the perfect time to view wildflowers… But over the years I have come to realize that there is a whole sequence of blooming flowers – and every part of the growing season has its own surprises. 

Tioga pass marks the continental divide and, going East,  begins the steep descent to the Nevada side of the Sierras.  Some of our favorite high altitude wilderness access points are just over the divide.   Working from word of mouth, topographic maps, and blind luck we have stumbled onto a variety of pristine locations with few visitors.  I often like to hike further into the mountains than Judy - but she is quite happy to have an afternoon reading a good book in the shade of a tree ... while I "trec-on" to higher points... I carry an emergency beacon - so if I should trip over my own feet and need help getting out - I just "press the button" ... (then there is no way to call back the helicopter... So I had better be sure that is what I need!)

I love being open to trying to capture photos of my beloved mountains.  I have long since given up on the grand vista photos – they never catch the spirit of the real Sierras.  After years of trying – I seek to see details or juxtaposition of objects that tell a story.  I am often surprised to “see” something familiar in a new way.  

One of the secrets to good mountain  photos – doesn't matter how great the composition is – if the light isn’t “right” the photo will be mediocre at best.   I have come to appreciate shadows and reflected light.  Digital cameras now come with such a variety of settings – it has taken me a long time to learn how to use more of them to good advantage. A lot of photography is cerebral – almost reflex – recognizing “good” images and then making a bunch of quick decisions about composition, lens settings, light… and then sometimes in the process deciding that it isn’t a good photo after all. 

The curious thing is that the photos I choose to take are limited by my own preconception of what a good photo should be.   When I look back at old family photos from earlier generations they almost all involved groups of people standing in rows facing the sun – and many of the people squinting from the bright light.   In the mountains, it is my challenge - to see things beyond my pre-formed ideas of what "I am looking for"... and see that which I have overlooked before...

Friday, July 4, 2014

Knowing and Uncertainty

Photos this week have nothing to do with my essay - Here are a collection of doors seen in Peru...

Most Americans, when asked how they gain understanding of the world, will tell you that they rely on “good reasoning”, “follow common sense”, think  “critically” or “logically”.

But for some, this only goes so far… The issue between creationists and evolutionary biologists keeps resurfacing… The Pew Research group found that 42% of Americans see themselves as creationists.  This creates an issue in our schools and what we teach our children.

First lets get one thing clear – Science is not about “proving” things to be true.  Science is about seeking available information and finding the most probable solution to a problem based on the evidence. As new knowledge becomes available, explanations are adjusted and corrected.  For something to be a “theory” – does not make it unreliable.  It simply tells that “it is the best conclusion” to fit the known facts.  No one study or test “proves” or “disproves” something. It is abhorrent to scientists to think of manipulating data to support a desired outcome.

The belief in creationism is a “belief”… created by people of faith to explain the origins of the earth, and all life…passed on my tradition over the centuries… but not based on ongoing tests or scientific research. This interpretation is not open to question and examination.

It is not fair, and not possible to have an open debate between the two positions.  One system disregards anything that does not support the faith position.  The other is open to all new tests and results to reach a conclusion. 

Far from all Christians support the literal stories of Genesis. Many modern day Christians see Genesis as an allegorical story – a metaphor. These Christians see Genesis as the ancient explanation of an early people…. The story tells how these people experienced God active in their world.  In the Genesis story, God says that creation is “good”.

My goal as a science teacher is to encourage students to investigate – to examine, to learn how to design tests, to gather new verifiable information.  People who base their position purely on “belief” are very limited in how far they can engage in these actions.

I am concerned for young Americans who are prevented from learning how to think critically.  News articles this week pointed out that Bob Jones University Press sells a Life Science textbook (used by many voucher eligible schools).  This book teaches students that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time…. And many have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years.  Great dragon-like-beasts are mentioned in the Bible, and this is offered as “evidence”.  The books advocate that the student must decide between belief in God and belief in evolution.  This misses the point that for many Christians today, it is enriching to combine a belief in evolution with an understanding of a God for whom creation is ongoing.

It is recognized by biologists today that life on earth is undergoing constant change.  Evolution is a continuous process – natural selection in allowing the most fit organisms of all species to survive. Understanding the impact of the rapid human population expansion, global climate change, and human impact on our planet are imperative for our survival as a species.

I have a fear that the US is producing a population that is not competitive with much of the rest of the world in scientific knowledge.  Not only does the pursuit of deeper knowledge depend on producing individuals training for new cutting edge research; but the national policies, that support new programs, depends on an educated population to encourage and support the programs.  Schools in much of the rest of the world do not face the conflict over teaching rigorous scientific knowledge and the pursuit of scientific reasoning methods.

Someone recently told me “I’m not sure that I believe in evolution”.  This person is an example of someone confusing their beliefs with their ability to logically assess evidence.  The evidence is there – we can choose to ignore it but that doesn't remove the existence of the evidence.

How can people without scientific knowledge understand the major biological issues of today?  - Genetic engineering, emergence of new microorganism by mutation, new crop development, medical treatments, the rule of mutations and adaptation resulting from human impact.  Those people that say they don't trust scientific problem solving are going to be left behind in the competitive global economy of the future. The question is are we training students to be ready for the new world economy…

I am curious why many people mistrust science.  For those without knowledge, they don't understand how science works.  Concepts are growing increasingly complex - and in depth understanding requires long study – and this is not possible in all the important topics of current study.  Also scientific knowledge is constantly changing – so no one explanation is the final “truth”. Most of these changes are minor ‘tweaks’ – but for many we want final definite answers.  At times we discover that our explanation is inadequate and then it is necessary to return to basic questions and seek more complete answers. But this is how science works – new questions – demand new research – and better more inclusive interpretations. 


Perhaps it is the loss of certainty that leads many to feel uncomfortable with the scientific process, and sends people back into reliance on a comfortable set-in-stone belief system.  But just because such beliefs are more comfortable doesn't make those approaches more honest or effective.

Two recommended articles on the topic