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High Tea

17 Apr

Oh hello! Is this thing still on?

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I’ve been wanting to throw an elaborate tea party on a scenic vista for a long time, and a few weeks ago I finally got the chance.

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We headed up to Turtle Back Dome and laid out our spread, which included these awesome baby chick deviled eggs that Katie made.

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There was sparkling conversation.

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There was music.

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There was art in many mediums. (Jacqueline had the brilliant idea of painting her nose to be The Nose on El Capitan, although I think if we want to get really specific I think her nose is actually the Great Roof.)

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Sunset was pretty splendid.
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Over all I’d say it was pretty spectacular. There aren’t nearly enough tea parties in my life.

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P.S. Pictures are compliments of Daniella’s phone since I failed to bring a single functioning camera.

Bet You Can’t Have Just One

2 Oct

I’ve wanted to hike Potato Chip Rock for years and a few weeks ago I finally conquered it.  My brother was coming to visit and we wanted to do a simple one night camping trip.  By the time we booked, most of the more popular camping spots were taken, so we chose one of the few spots left Southern California at William Heise Regional Park.  From the reviews I assumed it was going to be more crowded and full of families.  After all, it boasts a playground and year round cabins.   I was pleasantly surprised with the isolated, wooded sites and miles of hiking trails overlooking the Anza Borrego Dessert.  Sure, we could see a couple of fancy houses on the hills surrounding the park, but overall it was a great spot for summer camping.

After a night of camping, we headed over to our destination.  My brother had Googled photos of Potato Chip Rock for ideas on how we should stage our picture.  If you look it up, you’ll see all kinds of creative ideas, from rock climbers hanging off the edge, to yoga poses, to groups that have set up a fancy tea party on the rock.  We weren’t prepared for the long line of photo takers and by the time we got up there (and I overcame my fear of the short jump to the rock), we didn’t have a lot of time for creativity.

By all rights, this should be a Photo Adventure, but it’s not.  Mostly because i was too caught up in the actual hiking to stop and snap pictures.  Partly because I didn’t bring a camera and my phone was dying.  Because of that, you only get one.  Just one picture, achieved after an hour wait in line and a four-mile hike straight up in the heat.  But boy was it worth it.

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~ April

Photo Adventure: Ten Lakes Redemption

20 Jul

On completely separate occasions, both my friend Daniella and I, had kinda lousy experiences at Ten Lakes. Not that we’re complaining, mind you. Camping in Yosemite is still preferable to many things, even if it does involve blood loss, sickness, missing persons, and monumental amounts of whining.

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But looking back on the experience several years later, I still remember amid all the complaining, the jaw dropping view from Ten Lakes Pass, and the view of the lakes. It was time for us to give Ten Lakes another try.

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Glacial Polish

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In the early evening we heard rockfall off of this wall.

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The moon, Jupiter, and Venus reflecting on glacial polish

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The wildflowers were so fluorescent they could have been painted by Lisa Frank.

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I was apparently obsessed with glacial polish on this trip.

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Blue Conness

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Redeemed.

~Robin

Photo Adventure: The Best Camera

25 Jun

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Tenaya Lake Encased in Fog

These pictures are from all the way back in May when I took a weekend trip to the Eastern Sierra.

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Tuolumne River, sadly bare of snow

Unfortunately, I forgot to charge my camera battery, or rather, forgot to pack the battery I had charged….and forgot to bring the car charger I bought specifically so I could recharge my camera batteries during road trips. Awesome.

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Sunset at South Tufa

(Also, a jar of Nutella was pretty much the only provisions I brought for the entire trip. Either I wasn’t at my smartest when I packed my food, or I was a freaking genius. I can’t decide which.)

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Snowy June Lake Loop

Besides I couldn’t skip posting these, look who showed up!

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Aprilly!

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Aprilly and Greg!

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They brought better food than I did, and even managed to make baked brie in a dutch oven in a downpour. Left to my own devices, I probably would have just eaten spoonfuls of Nutella in my van. I’m glad they endeavored because it was soooo good. (I offered to spread some of my half-eaten jar of Nutella on it, but for some reason they declined.)

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The next day the weather cleared enough for us to hike into Lundy Canyon.

It turns out Greg and I have differing opinions on photo orientation. He hates anything that isn’t landscape. This immediately made me want to champion portrait orientation as the superior choice in photo layouts. But then I realized that I’ve been shooting more and more in a square format since I started goofing off on Instagram, and I kinda like that too. So here it is, I’m stating it for the record: I’m pro photo layout diversity.

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~Robin

P.S. I miss you!

From Reading Green to…. Sleeping Outside

20 May

The day April posted that she was going to take on a challenge to read harder I found myself squirming with guilt. Should I take on the same challenge? I love reading, and I should try to diversify what I read.

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To tell you the truth I feel like I already have. During our month long earth day celebration I read several books that would not have gone to on my own. For the most part, they were great. I was glad that Earth Day gave me the incentive to pick up treasures like The World Without Us, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Trash (which I thoroughly enjoyed but never got a chance to review.) Still by the time the end of April rolled around I was counting down the days until I could put the blog reading aside and finish the Magicians series and dive into Wildwood.

But there was another thing that drove me nuts all through the month of April: I was spending way too much time chained to my laptop. I wanted to get out more, but April is a busy time for me, and I’m a slow writer, so I spent the majority of my limited free time staring at a computer screen and slowly going crazy. In a few months I’m going to start taking classes for grad school, and I’m sincerely worried that it’s only going to get worse.

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Less of this….

But I just happened to wander over to Semi-Rad that day and Brendan had issued his own challenge. Spend 31 Nights between now and September sleeping outside. Quite honestly, accepting his challenge feels a bit like cheating. This challenge is genuinely impossible for people who don’t have the money or the means to get them to a park that allows camping. Not everyone has a backyard to sleep out in, or they live in areas where it’s unsafe to sleep outside. I just happen to be one of the lucky people who occasionally gets paid to sleep outside. And my backyard is a park. I’m spoiled, and it’s something of a travesty that I don’t enjoy it more often.

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So I’ll take that challenge. Even though I probably should be setting goals that are just a little bit harder, I genuinely want to do this. Because even if it only manages to drag me away from the glow of the computer screen and into the outdoors for just one night, I won’t regret it. Not even a little bit.

~Robin

P.S.
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Definitely more of this.

Earth Day: Sharing Nature with Children

30 Apr

Read Green 6.

As I mentioned earlier, children benefit greatly from exposure to nature. If you want more information, I would recommend starting with Richard Luov’s Last Child In the Woods or The Nature Principle. But I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually read either of these books cover to cover, and that’s not exactly the topic I wanted to talk about for my last Earth Day post.

Instead I’m going to assume that you already have a vested interest in sharing natural places with a child in your life, but don’t know how to get started. Maybe you are the parent of the child in question, or lead a scout or youth group. Or maybe you are the cool and/or crazy aunt or uncle who just wants to teach the little nugget to appreciate the outdoors. The good news is that you don’t need an advanced degree in ecology to create meaningful experiences for children in nature. All you really need is a healthy dose of common sense when it comes to safety and some basic knowledge of how to reduce your impact in your natural areas of choice. Once you’re armed with those, feel free to dive into these resources:

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The first, Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature with Children is such a classic that I couldn’t help but steal it’s title for this blog post. More than thirty years after its first publication the activities in it are still pure gold, even for a generation of kids who grew up being amused by computers and video games. I challenge you to find a child under the age of eleven who doesn’t enjoy playing Camouflage, Bat and Moth, or Meet a Tree.

The activities are divided into three categories. (And in true outdoor educator form each category is named after an animal. That is how you know this book is really legit.) Bear activities are calm and often introspective, crow activities encourage observation and physical activity, and otter activities encourage playfulness.

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Another great book that uses a slightly different approach is Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown. The first part of this book is geared more towards expanding the skills and perspectives of the mentor, (that’s you,) and the second half dives into activities. It is definitely intended to be more of a curriculum guide than a collection of stand alone activities but don’t let that scare you away. It also focuses more on tracking and survival skills than Cornell’s book, but includes meaningful activities about awareness and community building.

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When my friend Sal described this last book to me, I thought it was too good to be true. There was no way a book existed that connects children with natural places using outdoor activities and books. And yet it does. The book is called A Sense of Place by Daniel A. Kriesberg. While this book is definitely more geared towards teachers, I don’t think the activities are too complicated or difficult to be useful for the rest of us. Plus, if you’ve stuck with us all the way through the month of April you clearly have an interest in books and the environment; it would be kinda great if you could pass those on to the next generation.

Those are just a smattering of the resources I know and love. If you want more ideas I am happy to chat about it. Leave a comment or send us an email.

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Thanks also to everyone who read along with our annual month-long Earth Day celebration. Thanks especially to Mara for writing a guest post, commenting, and also for always being awesome. To Lisa and Rebecca for their proof-reading rescues. To Bethany and Jamie at the El Portal Library who helped me find and check out a huge mountain of books. To Sal, Rebecca, Ayla, Becky, and everyone else who told me about awesome books I should read.

❤ ~Robin

P.S.

Earth Day: Books in Nature

26 Apr

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Everyone in Yosemite is slightly relieved that we finally got some precipitation this past week. It isn’t even close to enough to relieve the drought, but every little bit helps. We’ve seen the effects of the rain most dramatically in Crane Creek, which runs smack through the middle of the burned area from the El Portal fire last summer. With no plants to hold the soil back the deluge of water has filled the creek with sediment.

The book in the picture is Your Water Footprint by Stephen Leahy. It provides a good overview of current water use issues, and includes a pretty extensive section on the water footprints of everyday products. It also provides several suggestions for how to reduce your individual water footprint, and well made visuals accompany the information.

In truth, I wanted to review more books about reducing water footprints, and after scourging the local libraries, the shelves of Barnes and Noble, the collections of other Central Valley libraries, and even the library of the environmental organization I work for, I was disappointed by how little I found. You would think that in a place in such a dire state of drought, resources like this would be in high demand. Friends, this does not bode well for us.

~Robin

Read Green 4

Earth Day: Why I Still Like Stories About People Who Do Dumb Sh*t in Nature; or, Books with “Wild” in the Title

9 Apr

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You know what books I’m talking about*.  They’re the ones where some idealistic yet world-weary young man (or woman) decides that the only way to overcome their problems is to disappear from modern life into the wilderness.  True, they are unprepared, but their mettle more than makes of for their lack of planning. Armed with nothing but their pioneering spirit they venture off and… probably something awful happens.  Because they weren’t prepared.  Because as far as determination takes you, it doesn’t replace healthy caution.  Because nature doesn’t care about life goals.

Before I defend this genre, I should elaborate on the critics.  To do this, I called across the room and asked my husband why he hates these types of stories so much.  The complaints include (paraphrased and edited for length and language):

  • As someone who enjoys the outdoors, I feel zero sympathy for a person that went off into the wilderness without any sort of preparation.
  • I’m supposed to have sympathy for idiots who got themselves killed, or almost killed, because of their own poor choices.
  • Why is someone who made horrible life choices supposed to be a role model?
  • People who have no experience outdoors think that they can do the same thing and everyone will think they’re so strong.
  • But I think most people who don’t like Into the Wild are just Republicans that are like “Ah! Sean Penn and hippies!”

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There you have it folks, the case against survival bios.  I definitely identify with some of the points.  When Cheryl Strayed described heading out onto the PCT in hiking shoes she was breaking in for the very first time, I practically screamed at my computer (I listened to the audiobook) as my feet broke out in sympathy blisters.  I get that people who have not been out-of-doors much might read these books without much cynicism and that might get them into trouble.  Actually, from every intellectual angle, I can see why these books should be deeply offensive.

The problem is, I really like them.  Even with all their foibles, I get caught up in the inherent optimism of their protagonists.  These people, who generally have not been brought up loving nature, feel pulled toward it to reinvent themselves.  I’d also argue that while not nearly as prepared as they should be, both Cheryl Strayed and Chris McCandless did what they thought was their due diligence.  Strayed discusses her foray into online discussion groups and McCandless carried in a plant identification book, thinking it would be enough.  While most seasoned veterans can immediately see their errors, these people didn’t have the life experience to know just how much they didn’t know.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The mistake they both made was that they believed that nature is a restorative force.  They’d read the romantics and saw the wilderness as something that would provide for them and heal their souls.  Unfortunately, anyone who’s spent any time in the wild knows while those things can be true, nature is very unforgiving to even the best prepared.  I think it’s that tragedy that draws me to the stories – the dichotomy between two of nature’s most powerful attributes.

I don’t see McCandless or Strayed as role models.  They’re interesting characters, but not my heroes.  Their stories may be the reason these books were written, but that’s not why I read them.  I like them because it reminds me of why we need to respect the wild places of the world.  They remind us that we are small parts of something large and we are not always in control.  That’s the feeling these people were chasing in the first place and, whatever else happened, I think they probably found that.

~April

*If you don’t, they’re Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Earth Day: Cli-Fi is the New Zombie Apocalypse

7 Apr

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Aliens invade.  Robots become sentient. Nuclear war rages. Something is turning humans into flesh-eating zombies.

We’re familiar with the tropes and we’re fascinated by them.  Dystopian themes are everywhere in our movies, tv shows, and books.  They reflect our most primal fears – outsiders, technological change, violence, disease…  Dystopian fiction captivates us because it’s a safe place to explore our worst fears.  We can read a story about the arrival of unknowable creatures that turn anyone that sees them into deranged murderers (Bird Box, I recommend it) and then put it down, feeling thankful that, while the story seems possible (plausible, even!), today the sun is shining and all is right in the world.

It’s no surprise then, that there is a whole genre of books chronicling humanity’s doom from environmental catastrophe.  These are stories that deal with peak oil, climate change, and mass extinctions.  Pretty heavy stuff.  And there’s a snappy new name for it: Cli-fi.   As in sci-fi, but the “cli” stands for climate.  Get it?

From the handful of books in the genre that I’ve read, one thing that stands out is the sheer hopelessness of them.  Cli-fi, not that surprisingly, is a pretty bleak genre.  If you’ve read The Road, a loosely classified cli-fi, you have an idea of what the basics are.  Earth is dying, or has died, and humanity is trying their hardest to hold on, despite the fact that they all know they’re doomed.

I picked up The Book of Strange New Things to get some more cli-fi under my belt and while the story didn’t captivate me, it does hit the themes pretty hard.  In this book, the author tells the story of earth’s destruction through letters to the main character from his wife, Bea.  Peter, our protagonist, is a missionary to a pretty benign alien species on a strange and habitable, if somewhat boring, new planet.  Meanwhile, his wife is mostly hinting at the devastation of extreme weather and resource depletion back in England, until her fate is no longer avoidable.  I found myself wanting to hear Bea’s story much more than Peter’s, but the structure does allow the author to make an interesting point.  What do people do when they know the worst is happening, but it seems far removed from their own reality?  Do we choose to engage or ignore?  It’s a question we are increasingly actually facing, and in its mission as a true sci-fi novel, The Book of Strange New Things forces you to tackle it.

Though the vast majority is, not all cli-fi is depressing.  Well, the earth will pretty much be shot, but sometimes humanity survives.  I racked my brain (and Google) trying to come up with a few “happy ending” examples, but I could really only come up with one.  Interstellar, last year’s underrated Christopher Nolan film is a great cinematic example of cli-fi.  Switching back and forth from the survivors on earth and the astronauts trying to find a new home for humanity, Interstellar navigates the different ways both parties react to the inevitable.

I imagine now that book lovers of the future will look back on cli-fi the same way we look at much of the science fiction of the 50s and 60s.  They’re filled with anxiety about space travel, an anxiety which has ebbed, but not vanished.  Now we find the fear of little green men to be quaint, even as stories of abandoned space crews and black holes remain.  I wonder what aspects of today’s cli-fi will be considered overblown hysteria, which will still hit close to home, and which will be realities of everyday life.

I apologize for such a downer of a post, but I’ve been reading a lot of cli-fi lately.  Maybe Robin can cheer us all up tomorrow?  I’ve got to find a picture book about a kitten or something…

Further Reading and Some Book Suggestions:
The Storytellers Will be Cli-Fi Heroes
The Rise of Climate Fiction
Global Warning: The Rise of Cli-Fi
So Hot Right Now

~April

Photo Adventure: New Toys!

1 Mar

My brother (the great enabler of all things involving photography) gave me new toys for the holidays.

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I was excited to play with them, but I was hopelessly lost at first. (After several minutes of struggle, I finally realized why I couldn’t get any of my new filters to attach to the lens; there was already a UV filter on it. Yes, I’ve had this camera for two years. No, I never noticed it before.) I’m going to be the first to admit that I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I am having fun.

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Half Dome through a fisheye lens

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El Capitan and the Three Brothers with a wide-angle lens

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Yosemite Falls and the Merced River with a ND8 Filter (I think.)

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El Capitan, with orange and blue filters

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El Capitan and the Three Brothers, with fisheye? wide-angle? I don’t know.

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Tenaya Creek. I’m not even going to try and guess what I used here.

I still have a bunch of macro lenses to play with!

~Robin