Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring is trying real hard....

Camp Connell, Ca -- That's a Black-capped Oregon Junco pecking away at out bird feeder outside the kitchen window,
The bird, and his flock of friends, have begun swarming around the house in the last week or so as the weather is trying to decide what season we are in. We are at 5,000 feet elevation so Winter is still toying with us.
We have had a wave of Spring storms, mostly cold and wet, move in from the North Pacific.
So we have rain, then it gets colder, and we get a new layer of snow, then the sun comes out and it starts melting. Then the cycle starts again.
The icicles on the bird feeder are a result of those cycles, but the birds don't seem to mind.
The Grey Squirrels are moving around a lot too, as are the Stellar's Jays. The deer have not yet returned, waiting on the ground-covering snow to melt any day now.

Just down the mountain, the grass is a brilliant green and other critters are on the move. This beautiful skunk was getting a drink of cool water from a ditch near the Ironstone Vineyard near Murphys. I kept a respectful distance and he waddled away, only slightly irritated. but not spinning around and aiming his artillery in my direction as he will do when really threatened.

At Murphys' elevation, somewhere around 2,000 feet, the oak trees are not yet ready but the grasses are.

When you hear about the beautiful rolling hills of California, this is the place. It is spectacular in Spring as the plants awaken and the animals return to warm-weather patterns. The grass looks like the scenes we saw in Ireland last Fall. Almost hurts your eyes.

Or makes you sing for joy.
The old hymn "How Great Thou Art"expresses it perfectly:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

I did not try to sing to the birds and skunks and squirrels. Didn't want to scare them off.

Earlier in the week I was driving on the highway near Calaveras Big Trees State Park and a coyote started to cross the road in front of me. He saw me coming, stopped, and backed up to the edge of the road and sat down to wait for me to pass, completely adapted to passing cars even here on the edge of the wilderness. Smart critters. No wonder they are the source of many legends among native people.

I missed a lot of good animal pictures because I was too busy looking, my mouth hanging open.

As I was standing beside a dirt road admiring the green grasses, a Red-Tailed Hawk soared overhead, intently watching the grass for a sign of a careless mouse.

One of the Scottish folk songs I love has a line in it about a hawk. He captures and eats only what he needs, the songwriter says, "not one mouse more."

Would that we were that conscious of what we do to the earth.

Back at our house, the snow plow came this morning around 7 a.m., scraping and blowing away the snow and ice from the drive so we could get out to work in the park's warming hut.

By late afternoon the icicles were gone from the bird feeder. The forecast for the next few days is warmer and sunny.

But you never know.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spring Skiing at Bear Valley

Camp Connell, CA -- The night before we had about 18 inches of new snow, and then the sun came out the next morning.
So I went skiing.
It was one of those stunning days in the Sierra Nevada you can remember for years. Snow-capped trees, brilliant blue skies, fresh snow sparkling in the cold air.
I talked Pat into driving with me the 20 miles uphill to Bear Valley Ski Resort. The drive alone was worth the icy roads.
Because it was a Thursday even though we arrived late we still got a good parking space, one of my measures of a good ski day. No crowds at all. No lift lines.
Son Zack works as a lead ski lift operator, and we surprised him and had lunch together when it came time for a break.
It was a great day to be with family, even though Zack had to work and Pat stayed in the lodge where she read, ate, and made new friends.
Because of an inconvenient surgery in January I missed two months of prime skiing, and I don't have THAT many years of skiing left in my aging knees, so I was eager to catch up. But not so eager as to kill myself. I am a cruiser.
My Gulf Coast friends know I got a late start, only started skiing in my 40s, so I am happiest (and most competent) when I cruise the intermediate runs. I don't do a lot of flips, races, or deep powder.
But I love it, and it was a really good day.
The video is less than four minutes long, very amateurish, and a bit wobbly in places. But it will give you an idea of what it is like to soar on top of the mountains in winter.
And then I went home and took a nap.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Louie Johns - sailor and friend

Camp Connell, Ca -- Louis Johns, known to us as Louie, lived just down the dock from where we keep our boat at the Oakland Yacht Club.
The attached video shows a short trip we made together from Alameda across San Francisco Bay to Pier 39. We went over to see the Giants play with a group of friends, all on boats.
He was an energetic, entertaining, bright young bachelor in his 40s, though he seemed much younger. He lived the good life aboard his sailboat, and telecommuted for one the Bay Area high tech companies.
We saw him often, coming and going on the dock, hosting friends in his cockpit lit with Tiki Torches, and often carrying a giant rubber ball he used for his exercises to the end of the dock where he worked out. He worked hard, and played hard.
He recently spent a work/vacation in Hawaii, surfing and working and -- as he said -- searching for the perfect wife. He didn't find her but he was still happily looking the last time we saw him.
One night he was walking home, tripped on a curb and fell and hit his head, and died. But the tragedy of his death does not erase the joy of his life, or that he lived well. You can get a glimpse of that in the video.

RIP Louie.