Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Everything is huge until you see the picture.

This is Tumbleweed. He is the most adorable donkey who ever lived.

Bryce Canyon

Nice shot by Liz.

One of those plants in full sexy mode.

Prickly pears in full sexy mode.

Something missed here...

Ribbon Falls, moss shawl.

At the top of the shawl.

Headed out in the morning; note the streak of sunlight illuminating the one rock.

At the very end of the hike. Notice the sweat.

I don't think I'll ever get out of Death Valley.

Those are the Sierra Nevadas blending into the sky there.

California oil field... right among lemon, grape, almone, oregano fields that stretch just as far.

Rolling hills just east of the coast.

Palm tree. Go figure.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lost In America: In Which Lost In America Falls Into The Grand Canyon

or: Been Down So Long...
or: That Ol' Sinkin' Feelin'
or: We Did Not Get Swept Away Like Those Other People

I had many titles prepared for this one. You can make up your own if you like.

Lost In America, the errant duo last seen walking among corn-bean-squash rows and stumbling through a Ninjutsu lesson, leave that crazy place about a week ago and return to the site of a festering, multi-billion-year-old gash in the earth. They dress as the sun pokes its nose over the hills, and then they begin a 4,000 foot, 7 mile long descent from the remote northern rim to a campground far below. The trailhead, at about 8,000 feet elevation, goes among pines, oaks, and maples. As the air gets thicker everything shrinks; pines become prickly pears and oaks are replaced by an aloe/yucca/agave type plant that, when "in the mood," empties its thick tresses of life and poots forth a 15-foot tall, arm-thick stalk with bean-shaped pods protruding from the top few feet in a sort of cone. These natural euphemisms can be seen growing in places where even rocks can't find purchase.

Finding themselves thoroughly out of breath, our heroes (well, at least this one) wonder 'why, oh why did we leave that magical farm and the free food and the people who shared so much knowledge with us?' But their descent is distracting; blue and brown and orange lizards scramble from under booted feet, Kaibab Squirrels (a distinct species endemic to the North Rim) chirp and echo, and silence is broken by a large spring tumbling from inside the rock wall. (Incidentally, this particular spring provides all of the water in and around the Grand Canyon, and it only requires pipes, no pumps.) Sweaty from the sun and its red-orange reflection, Lost In America pitches a tent under a stout, twisted cottonwood tree and lays in it for the rest of the day. Night comes with dinner and is cool from a ten-minute rainshower. Their calves and quads sleep off some of the day's wear, recongealing torn striations, tying little knots.

Cold waterfall, Ribbon Falls the next day, a short hike from camp and not the sort of thing you'd expect in a place that looks, from above, to be comprised entirely of orange tones with parched brown, sharp freckles. The water falls a few stories and slaps onto the top of a tall, calcified shawl covered in inch-thick spongy green moss that hides the water flowing down. The visitors there are all from Maryland. There is chitchat. A couple kids throw rocks at the moss wall and make dents, much to their delight, while this particular hero glares at them and wishes them back to Maryland, which he does not miss right now. He gets lost sitting behind the waterfall, up top of the big shawl where the water splashes have made craters, birdbaths, also lined with velvety moss; when the wind blows the waterfall shifts to a different mossy crater. Some of the mist frizzes off and never hits the ground, just evaporates. Maryland kids come up and one just climbs right into one of the craters, making more moss dents. Below, their mom does not want to get wet. What?

That night our heroes boil some water and rehydrate a packet of Mexican-style rice and half a packet of dry bean dip and add peanuts and raisins, wrap it all in flour tortillas and devour. Alarm: 4:30. They want to beat the sun for the return hike. The return hike is a breeze, even after a hot, tossing night, even when they cross paths with four mule teams that have made the trail soft and sinky, left grassy piles buzzing and small lakes of ammonia, wheeeeeeyeew! The top and the taking off of boots and packs is better than pie for breakfast. It's lunchtime, go time.

Las Vegas is a scary place.

The day after, looking at the map and hatching a special, bright blue dream, starting early again to beat the sun, just throwing everything on top of the waterproof cargo bag. Feeling awfully go-ey. The road they take goes up, back up to 8,000 feet, then down to 105 feet below sea level. Death Valley, California, bigger than Rhode Island, hotter than . . . well, hell. Soaked bandanas dry after about ten minutes; there is no sweat, it just evaporates. It's all sorts of colors out; purple, burgundy, red, orange, tan, beige-- a color scheme, if you will. Black rock piles, white salt plains. Mountains from the valley rise 8,000 feet again. The Sierra Nevadas appear around a corner; from 30 miles away they fade right into the light blue sky, and then we are in them, taking a route vaguely shown in the atlas, finding sequoias that get steadily taller, arrows pointing straight up. Those mountains last a long, long time, and we're told it's still a day's drive to our dream. What?

California has everything, kind of like Maryland, just more, bigger, etc. Once the road flattens out, straight west, the same day as the previous paragraph with desert and mountains, there are fields of grapes, red on the left, green on the right, that stretch to the horizon-- this is where your food comes from. Fruit trees grow their perfect afros in perfect rows, rooted into perfectly naked, light brown soil. Those happy cows that make the happy cheese in happy California? They are also rooted soullessly into naked dirt, feeding out of metal baskets. This is not what was expected. After more grapes and some almond trees (yep, trees. Never really thought about nuts like that), more mountains! Tan, dry grass, very rolly, and the sun goes below the visor in the truck. Ten miles from the end, we round a hill and see . . . a thousand-foot-tall wall of cloud where that dream was supposed to be. Ha! We made it, right? Right? Well, yes. That's where we're going now, to the beach to see the ocean. The other one, the Pacific. Ha!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

For Your Earification

8-22-08 - Right now there is a ramshackle bluegrass group forming on the porch of the Henry Miller Memorial Library. A wedding reception is being set up and the air is green with the clink of wine bottles. A couple days ago was deafening wind for 14 hours, too hot for music. I first recognized the pairing of travel and music as we were digested by Trailridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park; a Mozart violin concerto put an exclamation point on every curve, italicized our gasps, a fairly emotional boilover. It was random, at the whim of my music machine.

Do not listen to the Beach Boys Pet Sounds while driving up coastal highway 1 100 miles south of Monterey; it is cloudy. Instead, I advise a more dangerous endeavor: The Firesign Theatre: Waiting For The Electrician, Or Someone Like Him. Civilization, HO!! The surreality of the mountains rising straight up from the seaweed salad with the absurdist commentary on European imperialism provides the proper counterpoint to driving and removes the dimension of time from your movement through the other three. Try to concentrate on both while steering.

The Arcade Fire's Funeral, the most melancholy pop album I've ever heard, is a good way to usher in or out a new phase of most anything; in this case, our departure from the Grand Canyon.

This is the most memorable of what could be a whole year's worth of listening. I'll take requests...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Utah!? No. Itah!!





Liz heard these words this morning. They were true. A bison had wandered over 20 miles from its pasture. Later, the mayor came by the farm wondering if we'd seen him. We've been here a week without a boring day; it proves one of the many phrases boasting the originality of Boulder, Utah: "something interesting every day." It is true. Sometimes you wake up to this:

Or sometimes you come home and find this happening (it might not be what it looks like...):

or this:

going on and you just have to wonder why it's not like this everywhere.

We've been still for a whole week; driven fewer than 100 miles, spent less than $100, which is really changing the stats on our trip, though not impeding us mentally from hitting the coast. The problem is that there's so much to hit before that.

I had my first day in a working kitchen today. I recall a story my grandpa told me (and this may not be entirely factual due to my memory) about being a smartass in his early and brief military career: in the morning inspection lineup, his attire, or perhaps his entire self, wasn't entirely ship-shape. When the inspector came by the admonishment given was, "Hop to it, Olsson!" And so my Grandpa hopped, and was given some large number of hours on KP, Kitchen Patrol, peeling potatoes.

Well, my first day in the kitchen was spent peeling carrots. 70 pounds of Holmesian (gigantic) carrots that I then sliced on the diagonal. Now, I'm not complaining; I asked to work in the kitchen and was given full warning of what I'd be doing, with the option of renegging should I find the task too demeaning for my haughty disposition. It was mostly fun; not fun in the yay-it's-playtime way, but fun in the repetitive-task-that-lets-out-your-obsessive-side way. I skinned those roots good, then sliced them to the rhythm of many rap songs that were blaring in the kitchen, keeping them within one millimeter of the pinky's width I was instructed to cut; the fingers of my right hand curled under, nails guiding the orange shaft as my left hand guided the blade forwards, downwards, then backwards to finish the motion. After completing a carrot I set the high-carbon stainless steel blade aside (good kitchens stock good knives), tossed the ends into a waiting compost bucket, and scooped the ovane discs into an empty commercial-sized sour cream tub lined with a half-gallon bag. I filled a dozen bags. My hands and fingernails are stained orange. Imagine what you would do with six gallons of beautifully sliced carrots.

So I lied. Liz and I both worked in the restaurant last night to help prepare for a wedding. We had been at the farm in the morning continuing our task of weeding, mulching with compost, and now planting comfrey, yarrow, and mint around the 25 or so young fruit trees that line the driveway and irrigation pond. This sounds great, right? It is in one's imagination, but when you get down there and find out that it is not worms that do the dirt-digestion but ants, your mind will change fast. These little so-and-sos have vast and myriad underground fortresses throughout the entire state, and their Capitol Hill and military base is on the farm. They are responsible for some great deeds such as, as mentioned before, creating dirt out of . . . well, other dirt . . . and making sure the hundreds of sunflowers scattered about don't get any other forms of life on them. If you so much as brush up against a sunflower leaf you are sure to acquire one or two quarter-inch black ants running down your collar to check your immigrant status. If you did not pass the citizenship test, ZAP!, you get a little pinpricky bite. Occasionally and undoubtedly you will step onto one of their tannish/pinkish mounds or walk near a sunflower and will instantly have a sandal and leg covered in ants, which is uncomfortable to the point of jumping up and down in a frenzy, even when they don't bite. This, so far, is the only drawback to living here.

As I was saying, Liz and I worked in the restaurant last night preparing for the wedding, observing how different people deal with stress, and learning how to stay out of the way of a stressed out, sleep deprived, hungover chef wielding a hot pan and wearing headphones. The night before last there was a ten-hour power outage in the entire vicinity due to the brigade of thunderheads that have been coming our way everyday for the past three days, unbuckling their steamy undergarments, and quenching the thirsty mosquito eggs that have been waiting for this, the monsoon season, to begin. The power outage is why the chef and several other cooks were hung over; I guess that modern conveniences, when nonfunctional, lead to heavy drinking at three a.m.

I should put a note here about alcohol in Utah! (apparently you can't spell Utah! without an exclamation point, it's just that great). This vast, multichromatic, Mormon-infested (no offense, unless you're a fundy...) land has a law that stipulates that beer brewed in this state (Utah!) cannot contain more than 3.2% alcohol by *weight.* This works out to about 4%, which is barely enough to be antiseptic, not to mention flavorful. So most people drink whisky, which can be found easily enough at any state-run liquor store (the only place you can find out-of-state beer, too). I think this is silly. That's my note about alcohol. Here are some more pictures: