Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Yo, Yosemite!

As some of you know, I had a class field trip earlier this month to Yosemite for my Geology of National Parks class. In case you didn't already know, I've returned to SF alive and in one piece. Indeed, with all the talk about bears and the 442 reported incidents in the park this summer, I was concerned about remaining unscathed. Luckily, however, bears featured little into my weekend, so without further ado, I will attempt to recount some of the highlights.

Thursday: I chose to carpool in the professor's group, because I knew he'd discuss the material on the drive to the Park, and he'd also know most of the ins and outs of the rules. I'll say up front that I wasn't disappointed on either count. We discussed the New Madrid fault and gemstones during the hours of landscape I'd yet to become acquainted with (I rode shotgun, so I had the best view.). The trip really began to sink in when my ears starting popping from the rise in elevation. And by the time we started on the Old Priest Grade, with its steep, narrow lanes (what does California have against guardrails anyway?), my stomach was bunched into coils of anticipation and anxiety. I thought we were surely about to enter the Park, but we still had an hour more, winding up and down and around lines of Pacific Dogwoods and varied conifers.

We arrived at our campsite in the early afternoon, in plenty of time to wander around before we were set to rendezvous for dinner and plan for tomorrow. So, sans professor, Chris, Tom, Saki, and I wandered over to Happy Isles, where we got our first real Yosemite views: rockfalls tumbling into tree roots, rocks being eroded in rivers, friggin' huge rock faces in the distance. This was merely a taste to whet the geological appetite for the weekend. But, hey, why rush things, right? Better to go back to camp and schmooze with everyone. At this point, I realized something very important for girlie girls like me: having 4 experienced campers (Capy, Chris, Adam, Dave the Prof) and a boy scout (Tom) in your camp is a necessity if the camp doesn't include log cabins and electricity. They built the fires, cooked the meals, helped erect tents, did the heavy lifting. I confess there were times I felt utterly superfluous to the group.

Hands-down highlight: Going stargazing and seeing the Milky Way for the first time.

Quirky Valonna-ism: I put Saki and my tent in a tree-fairy ring. I figured, why not?

Friday: 6 am wake-up call, instant oatmeal, caravaning out of camp at 8 am. First up was Stoneman Meadow, where we heard about Tis-a-ack, an Ahwahnichee woman whose face is on one cliff, while her papoose, Royal Arches, is below North Dome (her husband). Next, another meadow, where we spotted a bald eagle, I fought with a boy for my own binoculars, and we saw the Map of North America (mafic inclusion) on a cliff face. The map, by the way is cut off at the Mississippi, but as one guy said, "Who needs Florida anyway? It's just a big swamp."

Next, we drove up toward Sentinel Dome, and I couldn't help marveling at the Pacific Dogwoods all over again. Apricot, mango, persimmon leaves: breathtaking. As we hiked toward Sentinel's summit, Dave told us the differences between lodgepole pines and Jeffrey firs. And it started to snow, just when we were reaching our 8000-foot target. This was where we stopped for lunch, and by the time we were finished eating, the clouds were beginning to clear. Wow!

Down we went, past smoky and milky quartz dikes, toward ginormous fissures in the rockfaces. I'm proud to say I managed to crawl out to the edge of them and not throw up. We talked base-jumping, suicides, avalanches (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers style). Then we hiked back to the cars; our school day was done at 5:00. How's this for weird: Michael, one of the fellas in my camp, comes from Carbondale, and knows Lambert's Cafe.

Hands-down highlight: the view I earned atop Sentinel Dome of Half Dome, the Clark Range, and the Star King.

Quirky Valonna-ism: What a glorious hot shower at the end of the day--followed by rain all evening.

Saturday: Happy to report that the "real" rain did not invade our tent, and I awoke moderately refreshed for the serious hiking in store. I'll keep this brief, because, frankly, I think my brain shut off a few times to allow my body not to panic at the heights or stop from exhaustion. You see, we hike/climbed 2000 feet to reach the top of Nevada Fall (6000 feet). This is serious altitude for a girl who was raised on less than 400 feet elevation.

Anywho, getting back to the narrative, we made our way up a rocky quasi-staircase to Vernal Fall, next to the Emerald Pool. Don't worry, we made plenty of Oz jokes. This is where we ate a snack before the real workout of the day, climbing up the rocks to Nevada Fall. These make you thankful for long legs, make you consider wishing for longer ones. When I finally reached the bridge over the Fall, that separated me from the rest of my class, I truly did feel the endorphin high runners get. I felt like I was strutting as I shuffled over and plopped down next to some of my compadres. First order of business, guzzle the last of my water as I ate a sandwich. Second, study a bit for the test that Dave would give in just over an hour. Third, lay down against the rock that curved perfectly against my back, sunning myself, not caring a bit about how sweaty I currently was.

Hands-down highlight: The comaraderie around the fire that night, all the geology jokes, the further definition of "geo-sexual studies," which isn't as perverse as it sounds. Many of us taking turns yelling out the name Elmer. Don't ask me why. In short, the whole night.

Quirky Valonna-ism: I brought up the rear for completing the climb to Nevada Fall, so I declared I was guarding everyone's back. Report: No bears.

Sunday: 8 am intended wake-up call, but I got up at 7:30. See what too much nature does to a body? Time to dismantle our camp, prepare for one last little trek through Yosemite. Our carpool opted for Lower Yosemite Fall. We lingered there for about an hour, then started back to the car. On the way, we came upon about 7 baby Bambis, and I found my favorite dead tree to date.

We started the drive home, stopped for In 'n Out Burgers along the way, and arrived back in the city to clear skies, fog just enveloping Sutro Tower at 4 pm. I headed home to enjoy solid walls and a real bed. Ah, back at home, but what an adventure. We all bonded so much during those four days. It seemed strange to go back to the classroom that Wednesday, after we'd spent such so much time in the field.

Hands-down highlight: The Whole Weekend.

Quirky Valonna-ism: I may voluntarily camp again.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Once Upon a Time . . .

I just finished reading The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. Rarely have I been so enchanted by fictional characters. The title gives a bit away of course, and I don't believe in offering spoilers, but please consider reading it. Henry time travels; it's in his genes, and he has next to no control over it. Clare is his wife, and she's known Henry since she was 6; she waits for Henry to arrive, waits for him while he's away. This is a story that dwells almost exclusively between two perspectives, yet it's an incredibly rich narrative. You see, Henry and Clare's story is not bound by traditional chronology. What may be past memory for Clare is still to happen in Henry's future. They are completely entertwined, almost codependent.

I know. You're wondering what about this book makes it such a good read. Sure, it might be that I was stressed out and needed some escapism to relieve that. Maybe I'm a sucker for time travel. Or it could be because it raises so many marvelous questions. Time's a pretzel...the past, present, future are occuring simultaneously...how do you keep a secret about your past for your loved one's future? Even though it's not in the mystery genre, I found myself reading closely, combing through the lines, dates, memories for clues. I love that. By the end of the book, I was deeply invested in Henry's and Clare's fates, turning each page, and willing things to turn out my way. As if the future had not already happened.

"That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done.So there is nothing new under the sun."-Ecc. 1:8-10 (NASB)

"Unbelievable, that old Biff could have chosen that particular date. It could mean that, that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance. Almost as if it were the junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence."-Doc, Back to the Future, Part II

"It is no more crazy than a dog finding a rainbow. Dogs are colourblind, Gretchen. They don't see colour. Just like we don't see time. We can feel it, we can feel it passing, but we can't see it. It's just like a blur. It's like we're riding in a supersonic train and the world is just blowing by, but imagine if we could stop that train, eh, Gretchen? Imagine if we could stop that train, get out, look around, and see time for what it really is? A universe, a world, a thing as unimaginable as colour to a dog, and as real, as tangible as that chair you're sitting in. Now if we could see it like that, really look at it, then maybe we could see the flaws as well as the form. And that's it; it's that simple. That's all I discovered. I'm just a... a guy who saw a crack in a chair that no one else could see. I'm that dog who saw a rainbow, only none of the other dogs believed me."-Stuart, Kate and Leopold

I used to sit in front of digital clocks, waiting to see the numbers change as the minutes passed. It fascinated me to "watch" time pass.

Countless people remark how time goes slowly, yet all too quickly.

When I was in junior high, I learned that the second is a measurement of vibrations made by the cesium atom.

Last New Year's Eve, I called my family in Missouri at 10 pm Pacific to wish them a Happy New Year. We were both "here and now," but it was 2007 there and still 2006 here. I marvel at this on one level and find it mundane on another.

Things to think on when you have the time . . .