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

Friday, June 27, 2014

Good resolves!

Thomas Wolfe - said " You can never go home again!"  What I think he meant was that as we live our lives we are changed and we can never return to the way we saw things before the new experiences occurred.  That applies to travel as well...

When I return from a trip,  I come home with a fresh perspective. It is a chance to look again at my habits - of - life and see in a fresh perspective what I might want to change.  

For one, I want to know what is going on in the world – but it is so easy for me to become compulsive about seeking out excessive news programs.  In Peru, I checked headlines, read a little… and that was all.  At home there are newspapers, in depth investigative reports, internet, TV, radio… Now that I’m home, I resolve to not once more overdose on ‘news’ just because it is available.

When I am at home, with a kitchen loaded with good food, it is so easy to “go hunting for a little snack” – In Peru we ate a good satisfying breakfast, a midday “comeda” and a snack in the evening for “Cena”.  I wasn't aware of feeling hungry and I lost a few pounds!  Can I follow this pattern at home?  I am full of resolve.

In Peru, when we needed to travel, many of our excursions involved walking- far more than at home.  Here my car beckons to me from the driveway. “Take me” it says…  I do walk the dogs– I am active in my garden – Part of the problem at home is that my city is not designed for walking to the places that I need to go… When I do walk – I see more, often find interesting people to talk to, and feel good about myself. Perhaps the issue is really how I choose to allocate time.

There are opportunities for new adventures every day here as well as Peru.  Routine schedules eat up my day…  “Come on, John, what can we do today to change the routine?” What fresh experiences are just waiting to be discovered?    

Will I keep my good resolve?  Will old habits draw me back?  Judging from past experiences. i would say - partly, probabily... but not entirely.  Travel does change the way I see the world.

For right now I can say that I  experience the most  'culture shock' when I come home.  I like the stimulation of travel and I feel a little "ho hum" to come home...  Oh well - Adventures come in all sizes and flavors... I just have to be open to seeing them...

Video link of the week:  We shared breakfast with an Australian couple in Cusco... They recommended this video series - After watching them - I do too!

A sampling of photos from the many I brought home

Judy working her way along a challenging section of one of the Inca trails.

A friendly Quetchwa woman we met on the trail

Those Inca folks knew how to make a trail that lasts!

Hats give clues to identify- The women with tall white hats are "mestizo" (part Spanish, part Indian), the others belong to distinct regional groups.

Massive Inca stones - each stone shaped to fit exactly - no mortar required... The large stone is over 3.5 ft. in length and shaped without metal tools.

A friendly merchant 
Trail side llamas and sheep

Fiesta parade dancers - (note they are wearing masks)

Ollantaytambo with ancient ruins on opposite cliff - Ancient Inca town in continuous habitation since Inca times

Incan grain storage structures on South facing mountain side

Fruit merchant

Salt evaporation ponds

Pre Incan spirit portal site - high on steep mountain side

Our street in Ollaytamtambo - note running water in stone lined ditch, and stone walls contracted by the Inca

Ruins of Incan fort... Never attacked by Spanish