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“Barefoot? Wow! That’s Awesome” and other comments off the beaten track

September 14, 2017

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The astute observation that titles this blog post was lobbed at me earlier this week by a manly mountain biker sweating his way up the dusty-rocky single-track I was gliding down like a no-longer-constipated cheetah.

If I had a nickel for this and all the other painfully obvious witticisms regarding my shoeless circumstance, I’d have enough money . . .  to make me wish I had more money.

As it was, that day, I made a mental note to remember his comment and write it down when I got home in my forthcoming/imaginary Book O’ Inane Barefoot Running Comments. But, of course, by the time I’d fought road construction and rustled up breakfast and shucked my perma-stink running shorts and read the local news and decided to do a few loads of laundry . . . what was I supposed to be doing again with my retirement?

There have been so many phrases much more memorable than the title of this blog post, phrases reflecting other cultural/gender/species perspectives (the quail have really made some poignant comments which unfortunately I am still working to translate), but alas, most of these other pithy quips have been snatched away by the “I’ll write it down later” goblin.

This evil entity would like to hijack my own–and every other writer in the world’s– creative output by reassuring us that all those intriguing thoughts and original ideas will surely stay in our brains until we “have time” to write them down. Then this “time” gets sucked down the swirling drain of a Busy Day, and when we finally reach the end of our procrastinating rope, we are left dangling out to dry in front of a relentlessly blank screen.

Yeah.

So although I would love to list all the crazy things people have said to me during my barefoot adventures, both locally and whilst wandering below the rim of the Grand Canyon,  I can’t.

 

But . . . running again this morning, a delightful 90 minutes of Thursday-at-seven-empty trails, I did remember the words quoted in the title of this blog piece as I passed the spot where I’d heard them uttered 48 hours previously.

And I had to admit: the spandex-y biker dude was spot-on-the-dot: being able to cruise these lovely trails on a morning when everyone else must be At Work was downright AWESOME! His thigh-hugging shortz had helped squeeze out a Universal Truth, and I needed to heed it:

I am a patched-up (spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally . . . you get the drift) 58-year-old wife of one/grandma of seven with the opportunity and tonicity and trail proximity to fly barefoot pretty much whenever I want to in a landscape that is not war-torn, or hurricane-ravaged, or dangerous in any way other than being dirty and full of sharp things and tripping hazards (is that not the very glorious definition of trail?).

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Awesome!

Last night I heard a missionary speak; she was from Crisis Care Training International, an organization that provides trauma recovery resources for those who work with children, with the goal of “bringing healing and hope globally to children in crisis, and especially to those in refugee situations.”

Dr. Patricia Toland’s stories and photos were both heartbreaking and inspiring, and really helped to bring perspective to the tiny barefoot sphere I spin in: there’s a world of hurt out there, near and far, children and adults in all kinds of need.

What is truly “AWESOME”, then?

The work of people like Dr. Toland and Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, a PTSD researcher whose book The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma really changed my thinking about trauma: we are all products of hurt, we all need healing, and there are resources available!

So this blog post went down a weird path . . . from a light-hearted reaction to (yet another) inane trail comment . . . to . . . appreciation for trauma healing, and the desperate need for workers in this field that stretches from our own homes to all the way around–and around and around–the globe.

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Me and Annie Dillard and the Total Eclipse of 2017

September 2, 2017

Once upon a time, I read an essay about a total solar eclipse.

That piece of writing not only changed my life, but also the two generations that follow me, because it emboldened me to plan a road trip of astronomical importance a few weeks ago . . . and drag along my daughter and her family (which includes two of my grandkids, hence the “two generations” brag/apology).

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Blake and YaYa whiling away the miles on the way to the ECLIPSE, courtesy of YouDoodle.

The life-changing essay? “Total Eclipse” by Annie Dillard (who for purposes of brevity and aesthetic distance will hereafter referred to as AD), first published in 1982 . . . an essay (ostensibly) about a Feb. 26, 1979 eclipse that AD witnessed in Washington State.

(See http://articles.latimes.com/2006/feb/05/books/bk-ulin5 for a not-so-news-flash recounting of how AD massaged key “cat facts” in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to suit her artistic intent. Here’s another one, complete with post-blog comments: http://coyot.es/crossing/2004/01/12/dillards-cat/)

(Thus am I skeptical if she did indeed witness any sort of eclipse on 2/26/79, because, according to Weather Underground, “The path of this rare wintertime total eclipse coursed across Washington State, northern Idaho, and Montana before entering Canada from extreme northwest North Dakota. A large Pacific storm was affecting the region, and the sun was never clearly visible along the route.”)

Harrumph. Having got all that writerly envy/angst out of my system, I continue with my long-winded (but breathing only through its nose, as Scott Jurek would recommend) introduction to my 2017 eclipse adventure.

I’ve re-printed below (in red) major sections of AD’s iconic eclipse essay (say that fast three times), recently re-published online by The Atlantic as part of the media feeding frenzy leading up to Aug. 21, 2017. 

So we’re workin’ with two threads here, folks:

#1: An undetermined number of years ago, I read AD’s essay (remember: those are the words in RED below) and was stunned by her vividly stunning prose about how she was vividly stunned by the stunningly visceral (and vivid!) experience.

Which leads to #2: Almost two years ago, after a Grand Canyon hiking companion mentioned an upcoming total eclipse in North America, I jumped into research mode and began making plans to witness the sky show no matter what (with the unstated/underlying expectation I would then compose my own stunning prose about the experience, AD-style).

Hmm. How was I to know the opening day of my university’s fall semester would fall on the same Monday as the eclipse? Like any sane person, I quit my 20-year career as an English professor teaching creative writing and made darn sure I would be far to the north in the path of totality on 8/21/17. Preferably with grandkids.

Hmmmmmm. Now I have no steady job; nothing stands between me & the challenge of attempting to out-Dillard AD at the eclipse essay game.

So what follows below is some quick word-blurting created eight days after I returned home from a 12-day eclipse road trip with my husband and our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons in our custom-camper-fancy1972 Dodge van (the last two days especially memorable due to the van’s kaputt A/C system).

In the interest of timeliness & laziness (as mentioned previously, I am now retired/unemployed, and there are SO MANY trails that need running around here!), and to get this piece of writing out of the realm of “I really should write something” into the annals of “Yay. I just wrote something,” I’ve used AD’s extremely deep thoughts (in red) to kickstart my own shallow reactions.

Here we go:

“To put ourselves in the path of the total eclipse, that day we had driven five hours inland from the Washington coast, where we lived. ”

(Remember: all this stuff in RED is COPIED from AD’s 1982 essay. End of plagiarism disclosures.)

Unlike AD’s mere five-hour trek, my own eclipse journey found me & the fam driving for ten days, starting  way down south in Orange, CA. North we trundled along Interstate 15, visiting hot springs/geysers/museums/rivers/friends along the way. After pausing several fun-filled days in Bozeman, MT, on Eclipse Eve Day at 11 am we finally headed east on Interstate 90, then south on Highway 310 along two-lane Wyoming roads through the Sunday-afternoon-empty main streets of Lovell, Greybull, Worland, Thermopolis, Shoshone . . . 

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What Mapquest had optimistically labeled a 6.75-hour drive took us a full ten hours in our overloaded rig, a bloated tub-of-a-van stuffed with six people and two weeks worth of camping gear/food/clothes/ukulele AND guitar  . . .  so much STUFF piled in and strapped onto our rumbling, lumbering wanna-be RV.

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August 20, 9 pm. Eclipse Eve, hurtling through the inky Wyoming night, very close to the belly button of nowhere on Hwy. 20, daunted by the miles of blinking signs: “NO ECLIPSE PARKING ALONG HIGHWAY.” Our BLM website directions said 6.5 miles east of Natrona. But Natrona is not even a town, and our van’s tires were not original-sized, making the van’s odometer a bit removed from reality (no metaphors here; keep moving, folks).

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East of Shoshone: Wyoming sunset magic.

Finally: in the dark off to the left: a string of lights crawling perpendicular to the highway, the only way we would ever have noticed the Goldeneye Reservoir turnoff, since the sign was tiny, unlit, and set far enough off the highway to make sure no-one from California who’d been driving for ten days would notice it.

A “picnic area” for day use only, Goldeneye Reservoir appeared on Mapquest as Burlington Lake. So that’s not confusing. Which made me suspicious if this REALLY was the place that the BLM had designated for free eclipse-only overnight parking (kind of hard to call this camping after a glorious three days in the Gallatin National Forest along the Madison River near West Yellowstone).

9 pm in Wyoming in late August = very very very darkness of nightness. A fine situation to pitch a tent in a ground-hugging prickly pear cactus patch. But it got done. (Just not by me.) Thus endeth Eclipse Eve.

Early the next morning we checked out. It was February 26, 1979, a Monday morning.

That’s weirdly cool! Our 2017 eclipse happened on a Monday morning as well! What are the odds?! (But see April 8, 2024, as the Freaky Eclipse Monday Sequence continues.) 

We would drive out of town, find a hilltop, watch the eclipse, and then drive back over the mountains and home to the coast.

Good for you and your five-hour drive, AD. We had a much more ambitious itinerary; all the pre-eclipse sightseeing (including two days touring some of Yellowstone Park’s wonders) followed by a visit to the Durham Ranch in east central Wyoming where my brother had worked in the 1990s-2000s–and where we’d taken our kids (and finally just ourselves when our kids all grew past family road trips) for summer vacations many of those years.

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We spent one chilly morning enjoying the thermal wonders of Yellowstone National Park. My daughter and her oldest sun are both fine photographers.

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The falls of Yellowstone! Yikes!

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Everywhere we went: signs of the coming Eclipse-pocalypse!

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The Madison River is warmed by nearby thermal activity and therefore amazing to play in.

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I had never heard of Bozeman Beach before. Apparently not too many other folks have, either. (If this fun & free place were in Orange County, it would be wall-to-wall recreationists.)

(And now back to your regularly scheduled eclipse tale.)

It was dawn when we found a highway out of town and drove into the unfamiliar countryside. By the growing light we could see a band of cirrostratus clouds in the sky.

Later the rising sun would clear these clouds before the eclipse began. We drove at random until we came to a range of unfenced hills.

Unfamiliar countryside: check.

Cirrostratus clouds: check. (All morning long these created a lovely gauzy complement to the solar shenanigans.)

Driving at random: nope. We were a bit limited by virtue of cattle grazing rights/fences and our heavy van’s lack of off-road suitability. The best we could do was wobble down off the edge of the raised gravel road a few yards into the grass/cactus scrub pasture.

(Did somebody say, “Cirro-stratus”?!)

We pulled off the highway, bundled up, and climbed one of these hills.

No need to bundle up. Mid-August in Wyoming = quite pleasant morning temps, TYVM (Thank You Very Much).

The hill was 500 feet high.

I’d wished for–hoped for–longed for–a 500-foot high hill like AD had found. Dreamed of it, so that we could witness the moonshadow racing across the landscape, a shadow whose description (thanks AD) had got me stirred up all those many years ago and eager to someday witness it myself. Dang. No such luck at Goldeneye.

Long winter-killed grass covered it, as high as our knees.

No hill, but we did have tawny late-summer grass (with its itchy seed heads) to contend with in our summer shorts, along with the previously mentioned low-growing prickly pear, which caused me not a little consternation since I hated to spoil a good eclipse by having to wear shoes.

We passed clumps of bundled people on the hillside who were setting up telescopes and fiddling with cameras.

Oh yes . . . the clumps of people. We weren’t the only thrifty travelers who thought that $150 to park for the day in the parking lot of the Casper, WY, Events Center was a little ridic.

As the moon (apparently a slow eater) continued to nibble on the sun for brunch, I took a meander around the sudden campground; plenty of folks were clumped around big ol’ telescopes pointed up at the soon-to-be-devoured sun. Ah, space nerds, I salute you. (Along with Stephen Colbert, who said this: “NASA scientists have discovered a new form of life. Unfortunately, it won’t date them either.”) 

Directly behind us was more sky, and empty lowlands blued by distance, and Mount Adams. Mount Adams was an enormous, snow-covered volcanic cone rising flat, like so much scenery.

We had no Mount Adams, just the endless rolling Wyoming high prairie and even-more-endless Wyoming sky. A different kind of beauty, appreciated more by connoisseurs of steppe than fans of crags.

Now the sun was up.

Yes, it was. With our eclipse scheduled (how do they KNOW THIS STUFF?!) for just before noon, we had plenty of time for the kids to sleep in (a byproduct of some other genetic material, not mine; I’d been up since before daylight) as well as time to make a big ol’ eclipse breakfast: scrambled eggs, Costco nitrate-free Canadian bacon, TJs gluten free (i.e. mostly sugar) pancake mix, along with fresh (hopefully local) peaches from the Bozeman grocery store.

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The last one up (always) 8-year-old Blake, acted a little skittish right out of the gate; he is not much for out-of-the ordinary (i.e. scary) movies and/or natural phenomena, and the whole eclipse buildup (The sun’s gonna disappear! Yay!) had been freaking him out more and more as the day had approached.

More people were parking near the highway and climbing the hills. It was the West. All of us rugged individualists were wearing knit caps and blue nylon parkas. People were climbing the nearby hills and setting up shop in clumps among the dead grasses. It looked as though we had all gathered on hilltops to pray for the world on its last day.

Oh yeah. All us rugged individualists. Or not. This scene seemed more alongs the lines of . . . an AARP concert without a main stage? A family reunion without name-tags, so everyone was just kind of wandering around?

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It looked as though we had all crawled out of spaceships and were preparing to assault the valley below.

I beg to differ, AD. It’s Aug. 21, 2017, in the hills west of Casper, WY, where a bunch of people have crawled out of their RVs and SUVs and Subarus, not spaceships. (Disclaimer: I am no AD when it comes to crazy simile. But I can rhyme at unfortunate times.)

It looked as though we were scattered on hilltops at dawn to sacrifice virgins, make rain, set stone stelae in a ring.

Again: I got nothin’ like this.

I did, however, try to take pictures to show how many people there were, but everyone was spread out over the mile of entrance road leading to the circular parking lot that bordered the reservoir and that the web site said held 130 vehicles . . . all lined with docile revelers.

There was no place out of the wind.

A natural wonder almost equal to a total eclipse: even though we were a mile high out on the wide-open/treeless plains, no relentless Wyoming wind tugged at all the tents and awnings decorating the prairie . . . . just a lovely breeze to carry away the dust from late-arriving folks.

The straw grasses banged our legs.

Hindsight (and the Urban Dictionary) make this seem like an unfortunate verb choice in 2017. To keep the horny pasture plants at bay, we spread out a 12×12 blue tarp under the Easy Up and then retreated to the sky (or at least the sturdy van roof viewing platform).

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Approaching totality . . . the light was weird!

It began with no ado. It was odd that such a well advertised public event should have no starting gun, no overture, no introductory speaker.

Talk about well advertised! The media circus had been grinding along for weeks, so much so that at times, toward the end, I almost lost my eclipse mojo and considered staying home out of the doomsday crowds/traffic jams/gasoline-and-food shortages predicted by our media compadres.

I should have known right then that I was out of my depth. Without pause or preamble, silent as orbits, a piece of the sun went away. We looked at it through welders’ goggles. A piece of the sun was missing; in its place we saw empty sky.

Huh. Welder’s goggles would have made perfect sense (being married to a welder for 41 years and all that), but our daughter had seen fit to order six pairs of Eclipse Glasses on Amazon about a month before the shortages hit amidst news hysteria about “fake glasses” that would not protect anyone’s sun-lovin’ eyes.

The previous day, our Bozeman friends had mentioned the difficulty in obtaining any (fake OR real) dark glasses at such a late date, so we left them a couple of pairs: one for the adorable Poppy to watch the eclipse, and the other to try to sell for $50 on Craigslist. You never know how desperate those wealthy Bozemaniacs might get.

The hill was 500 feet high.

Our van perch . . . not so much. Maybe 8 feet above the prairie. Just enough to widen our perspective, but . . . dang . . . I sure would have liked a bleepin’ HILL.

Up in the sky where we stood the air was lusterless yellow. To the west the sky was blue. Now the sun cleared the clouds. We cast rough shadows on the blowing grass; freezing, we waved our arms. Near the sun, the sky was bright and colorless. There was nothing to see.

I don’t know, AD . . . there’s always SOMETHING to see: the people, for one thing. From our van perch we could see all the different rituals playing out: arm selfies and stick selfies and group portraits and telescope peering and the nearby family of five looking cool in their dark glasses kicked back next to their rented RV in camping chairs just. Staring. At the sun.

Sheesh. No matter how much I trusted my Verified Amazon Purchase Eclipse Glasses, I just could not bring myself to take more than quick glimpses up at the dark bite being nibbled into a thing we’ve been told all our lives NOT TO STARE AT.

A piece of the sun was missing; in its place we saw empty sky.

How cool was this?! Now the grandkids were getting into it, although the eight-year-old had an initial bit of coordination difficulty and would take off his glasses while his head was still in tilt-back position. And of course my subsequent threats of impending blindness probably did not enhance his eclipse comfort level. The ten-year-old, however, was really diggin’ it, almost bragging: “Oops! I forgot to tilt my head down again! Now I see a bright spot even when I’m not looking at the sun. I’m not going to go blind, am I?” Cue maniacal ten-year-old chuckle . . .

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I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970.

I was 10 years old on March 7, 1970 and on the West Coast, so I don’t really remember this event. It seems that totality stretched from central Mexico up through Florida. Woulda lasted for over three minutes, but apparently it was TOO CLOUDY TO SEE IT in the United States. 

Yay for cloudless Wyo in 2017!

(But . . . I wonder, again, if AD “really” saw a partial eclipse in 1970. That’s the thing about the “creative” aspect of creative nonfiction: once the truth-pact with the reader is broken, a giant wall of skepticism looms from thence forth, calling into question pretty much . . . everything a writer (e.g. AD) claims to be “witness” to. 

It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it. During a partial eclipse the sky does not darken—not even when 94 percent of the sun is hidden.

You go, AD! This is what I’d spent the last how many months trying to explain to anyone who would listen back home in Southern California. Didn’t help. But maybe it was a good thing that pretty much everyone local stayed home. Old Goldeneye Reservoir couldn’t have handled my three million Orange County neighbors (not to mention the twelve million just to the north in LaLa Land).

Nor does the sun, seen colorless through protective devices, seem terribly strange. We have all seen a sliver of light in the sky; we have all seen the crescent moon by day. However, during a partial eclipse the air does indeed get cold, precisely as if someone were standing between you and the fire.

Love the simile, AD! We sure did put on our fleecy jackets as the temps plunged and the light grew just . . . plain . . . weird.

Look at Mount Adams,” I said, and that was the last sane moment I remember.

Here is the moment I remember in AD’s essay (from my years-ago reading). Then and now, my skeptical self sez a big “Puh-leeze.” And then AD goes on and on in artful (perhaps even a bit over-the-top, to some of us negative Nancy’s) fashion about all the color changes. And So Forth:

I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake. I was standing in a movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages. I missed my own century, the people I knew, and the real light of day.

My mind was going out; my eyes were receding the way galaxies recede to the rim of space. We had all started down a chute of time. God save our life.

(I left out big chunks, but you get her drift. SOMETHING HUUUUGE was happening, dontcha know?)

From all the hills came screams.

Now this was one of the best moments of the eclipse sequence. Because we were in a gathering of hundreds of people clever enough to find a free and unfettered viewing place, because we were all from far away (with license plates from Alaska to Massachusetts) and had made great effort to be exactly here at this exact moment for this exact reason, because all the media hype was wrong about banana shortages in Idaho but exactly right that this was a Big Deal, when totality hit and the light went away and we were all nothing but colorless silhouettes, we all began whooping and hollering like ??? (If I were AD I’d insert the coolest simile ever here, but just imagine a winning three-pointer in the last seconds of the tournament championship, and you’ll hear something similar. But slightly more fun, ’cause nobody had to lose for all of us to have so much to cheer about.)

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Almost totality . . .

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. . . vs. TOTALITY!

We were the world’s dead people rotating and orbiting around and around, embedded in the planet’s crust, while the Earth rolled down. Our minds were light-years distant, forgetful of almost everything. Only an extraordinary act of will could recall to us our former, living selves and our contexts in matter and time. We had, it seems, loved the planet and loved our lives, but could no longer remember the way of them. We got the light wrong. In the sky was something that should not be there. In the black sky was a ring of light. It was a thin ring, an old, thin silver wedding band, an old, worn ring. It was an old wedding band in the sky, or a morsel of bone. There were stars. It was all over.

Astronomic histrionics, anyone?

But, yeah, it was pretty cool. So freakin’ cool I wanted to do nothing more than capture it in photos, somehow, some way, even though every amazing situation in my life that I have attempted to digitize has NEVER done the actual event justice.

I still had to try.

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The best my little pocket camera could do. Sigh.

It is a sickness: technological optimism mixed with premature nostalgia (the act of feeling regret about the event’s passing while still in the middle of experiencing it) tainted with self-sabotage . . . for the minute one turns one’s attention from actually experiencing something (all five senses engaged, present in the moment, zen-tastic), when you turn away from the real and toward the digitized/digital/technology-mediated devilish DEVICE. . . you lose everything.

The resulting diminished memory then results in . . . post-eclipse angst that you were fiddling with not one, but two pieces of techno-crap, and neither was properly designed and/or set up to take in an occasion of such (literally, yo!) magnitude.

What now entertains me, though, is replaying my iPad’s inadvertent movie that I made when I somehow hit the “record” button and proceeded to spin in my little circle of interacting with my family up on the van and setting off the timer on my tiny tripod-ed pocket camera. The movie is dizzying only because I am swinging the iPad around with me as I turn to witness the grandkids’ reaction and then swivel back to look at the sun. Which is gone, by the way, and in its place is a thin ring of light that has feather-flares coming off it (The corona. Oddly the same brand name as my high-quality garden shears). In all the flurry, I managed to remember that I could look at it without glasses during totality, so I did, and finally shut my mouth and quit my fidgeting and stared. At the (non)sun.

You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse.

Yes indeedy. And they were nothin’ like my pathetic blurry/grainy images.

All of those photographs were taken through telescopes.

Now she tells me.

(And then follows another of AD’s melodramatic side wanders into the territory of the “mindless dead.” Then her description of going to a restaurant for breakfast after, where everyone was abuzz with “Did you see?”)

My story continues with awe as well: BAM! The minute after totality passed, after the glorious “diamond ring” effect glittered for its few astonishing seconds, after the crowds stopped cheering and the dogs stopped barking and the air started to warm again . . . pretty much immediately the RVs and SUVs and Subarus lined up on the exit road, headed for who knows where, maybe back where their license plates said they belonged (Nebraska to New Mexico), or their next Good Sam Club road trip adventure destination.

It being lunchtime at the Goldeneye Reservoir west of Casper, Wyoming, we fixed us up some chicken sandwiches, and began to wonder: what to do with our barely used eclipse glasses?

AD ends her essay with more facts about the shadow that precedes the eclipse–a shadow we were unfortunate to not observe due to our hill-less vantage point.

This bummed me more than a little, since AD’s powerful description of the shadow racing over the earth’s surface had lodged in my imagination all these many years, and made me hope I would be awed by such a sight as well.

So here’s to another opportunity to see the shadow of the moon race across the Texas plains at lotsa miles per hour (disclaimer: speed varies depending on location: 1502 mph to 2410 mph during the 8/21/17 US eclipse) on April 8, 2024–ANOTHER MONDAY eclipse, with the path of totality stretching from Texas to Maine . . . and up to 4 minutes of darkness on the schedule. (How do they KNOW this stuff?!)

All the red words were excerpted from Dillard’s book The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New. Copyright © 2016 by Annie Dillard.

Here’s a PS of photos that didn’t fit into the story above. Happy (Sunny!) Trails!

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Eclipse selfie.

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My daughter and oldest grandson posing for YaYa (that’s me). (Daughter later pointed out the lens cap kind of ruined the newsworthiness of the photo).

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Trail running on one of the many options in Bozeman, MT. Lovely forests, threatened by development. Sound familiar?

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Meanwhile, back at the Durham Ranch: it’s a little dicier to run on the red gravel (“scoria,” a sort of baked clay) that covers many roads in east/central Wyoming . . .

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. . . so I dragged out my Sockwas and cruised for a few amazing miles through the high prairie, startling pronghorn as I loped along at my own YaYa speed.

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Our Bozeman hosts had (among many other fun toys) . . . a SLACKLINE! Another bucket list item, checked. (Photo credit: Tina Davidson . . . thanks!)

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This is one of my favorite images from the entire trip: thousands of folks from all over God’s Green Earth waiting in the hot sun for Old Faithful geyser to erupt. We sauntered up at the last minute and saw the same thing that these folks had waited 90 minutes for . . .

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If you are ever near Wright, WY . . . make sure to stop by the Durham Ranch and take the tour of the bison herd in this nifty little tour bus. Such nice folks! We really appreciated all the hospitality!

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This is how close you can safely get to these historic (and delicious) creatures . . . as long as you stay within arm’s length of the tour bus. (Note the oil rig in the background; energy extraction is a Big Thing in Wyoming, where the tap water is ignitable. Yes, I’ve done that.)

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These monstrous bison patties were an important source of fuel for cooking/heating by the prairie’s earlier inhabitants. They also work for Frisbee/Disc Golf. JK. LOL. 🙂

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Singing “On the Road Again” . . .  with beautifully sunsetted miles to go before we sleep (this night would be in Rock Springs, WY, at the KOA where the manager was AMAZING and kind and helped us out even though it was past 9 pm and the office was closed but she unlocked for us anyway and the bathrooms were spotless and we were gone before dawn the next morning . . . )

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Saying “buh-bye” to Goldeneye. Thanks, BLM, for making a (temporary) place for so many of us to enjoy a truly astronomical spectacle!


“In response to” all kinds of stuff, some barefoot

July 26, 2017

This is where many of my barefoot adventures begin:

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In the winter, all is muck and mire, but then the rainy season ends, allowing relentless mountain bike traffic to pulverize what briefly was mud to fabulous dust.

I respond with mixed feelings to the smooth trails.

Sure, fluffy dirt is fun to prance shoelessly through, but at the same time, I resent the ever-increasing busy-ness (and dangerous-ness) of “my” local trails.

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Bike tracks everywhere . . . but there’s a hidden sign: the “letter K” that shows a roadrunner also shares this trail.

How about a positive response to something, Gramma Grumpy-pants?

Let’s see . . . how about a recent “response” poetry exercise that resulted in a poem I was pleased to see take shape?

Background: Although I’ve never “done improv,” I do appreciate the art form, and had the happy idea to steal a basic improv exercise and apply it to poetry.

“Yes, and” is the ultimate “response” game; it forces players to follow whatever comment is made (no matter how crazy) with “yes, and” + their own impromptu sentence, thus continuing the play of ideas.

Last month, I hunkered down with some other writers in aspen shade (Grand Canyon National Park/North Rim forest), distributed poetry books, and began our “yes, and” exercise by extending the invitation to “allow your book to fall open and let a poem choose you.”

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Here’s the books we used for inspiration (by Kern County, CA, Poet Laureate  Don Thompson.)

Then we each chose a line from “our” poem, copied it at the top of a blank journal page, and followed the quote with the words, “Yes, and . . . .” followed by whatever images/ideas seemed to want to be a part of the party.

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Two pages of scribbles: in response to the last lines of Don Thompson’s poem “Drought.”

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I am a big fan of Don Thompson’s work; he seems like a most kindred of spirits, another dusty path wanderer (his trails wind around the San Joaquin Valley where he has lived all his life), who pays close attention to his local places, plants, critters . . . and then composes simple-but-never-simplistic poems about what he notices.

[Confessional tangent: after my review of his book Everything Barren Will Be Blessed was published four years ago, Don began sending me a lovely Christmas present each year: limited-edition chapbooks of his work in thematic arrangements, with both old and new poems resonating off each other in compelling ways. And, even though I was raised by a mother who was high priestess of the Prompt-Thank-You-Note cult, I have not, to this day, ever acknowledged these most precious poetic gifts. Sigh. Can such a gross omission be atoned for via a blog post? One can hope . . . ]

Those pages of notes began to tug at me this week, so I dug out my North Rim journal and started copying into a computer document any words/phrases that seemed interesting. It’s a comfortable composing method that bypasses any chance for writer’s block: I’ve already written a bunch of schizz, now I can just play around and see how things want to fall into lines/stanzas (deleting/adding words is part of the fun).

The resulting poem will end this post, but first . . . more photos from  recent wandering:

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You can bet I had an elevated-blood-pressure response to this 12-balloon mylar nightmare–perhaps it drifted over from the cemetery in the background? (Side note: running near a cemetery = highly recommended to help keep priorities straight. A few deep breaths; a prayer; some satisfying helium-releasing balloon-stabs with my trusty pocket knife = lower BP, stat.)

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Robber’s Peak: a high point for my local wanderings . . . and another place that makes me think of “big picture” ideas, such as, “Wow! I can run up and down this hill again, after so many years of injuries. Guess I better not take my strong legs & lungs for granted.” *truth in blogging note: that ain’t me in the picture.

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They seem odd/out of place, but there are four palo verde trees in brilliant bloom right now, just outside Irvine Park, far from the trees’ native desert habitat. A quick search uncovers two facts I did not know: it’s the state tree of Arizona, and it’s a habitat-destroying weed in parts of Australia.

Here’s the response poem . . . Happy (“yes, and”) Trails . . .

In response to

. . . their hooves pelting the road / more like rain than rain
(from “Drought” by Don Thompson)

Who has not mis-imagined
a sound? Tires crunching
down the gravel and you think:
finally, he’s home,
until the neighbor’s door slams?

Once a lovely cloying
perfume–Youth Dew–
caught me; I closed my eyes,
hoping for another hug,
but the cemetery
remained 2,000 miles
down the road.

Clouds on the boil
over faint mountains:
is it a thunderstorm
or the first roil of wildland inferno,
thousands of acres torched,
grandmother oak and her woodland
community scorched: woodrat, newt,
sister butterfly, lichen, oak
titmouse, mychorrhizae, acorn
woodpecker, all
our secret paths?

Who has not been tricked:
thirsty for rain,
desperate to wake
to the first hard drops
overhead, not the staccato
pop of gunshots,
desperate now
to go back
to dream time.

What are your (barefoot or not) options?

July 12, 2017

What are your options? (Googling this question brings up a gaggle of topics, from Arthritis treatment to costume ideas beginning with the letter “Z.” My favorite search result: “Securing Hadoop: What Are Your Options?“)).

(It made me unreasonably happy that a word like “Hadoop” exists and is somehow related to serious biz-ness.)

The idea of “options” has been on my mind since last week’s “movement”* class during which we spent 45 minutes exploring the options associated with . . . wait for it . . . rolling from side to front, side to back. (*Thus the ironic air quotes around the descriptor “movement.”)

So what made this a fabulous game-changer of a class session? The fact that we were challenging our brains to do something different, creative, novel: performing a “familiar” movement in slow, methodical — non-habitual — ways.

This is the beauty of Feldenkrais . . . it’s all about options, learning to do the “same old” stuff of life in novel ways, as movement/life coach Darcia Dexter reminds us most every week.

So it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did, that I woke the next day, straightened my lower leg to help me roll over (just like we had done in class), and heard a phrase ring out in my crazy silent loud head: “We have options!”

Soon after that I stumbled upon the first chapter of Scott Berkun’s new book and was reminded that creativity (my current flavorite research topic) involves choosing weird options: “Being silly often leads to having fun, and having fun means you are more likely to try new things. How do you expect to be more creative if you’re not willing to try anything you haven’t done before? Not willing to try makes you a victim of the status quo, the greatest killer of potential since the dawn of humanity.” 

So the rest of the week, as I ran and pondered, everything jumped out as me as

“option-al”:

When I hike and trail run, my options first of all revolve around my choice of footwear (or lack thereof).

However, during a volunteer stint last Saturday, I was confronted with trails not of my choosing, trails that had recently been weed-whacked to make them less impassable, a good intention but one that left weed stickers flung everywhere I stepped, transforming barefoot fun into OUCH!

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What were my options? Continue in awkward pincushion pain, or slip on my Sockwas and enjoy the hills and heat and views.

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. . . and the heat was made a bit more bearable by my nerd-u-listic hiking umbrella . . . 

To not be locked into my prideful mindset of “barefoot only” felt like a creative breakthrough. Can I please be done having to prove anything more to myself, and just be free to adapt to changing conditions without worrying what others might think of my barefoot street cred?

(Wise advice from a forgotten source: everyone’s too worried about their own shizz to give a shizz about your shizz.)

The next morning? That’s right: I had options.

Instead of going for a run on the same ol’ trails (which I LOVE and appreciate in all their seasonal beauty throughout the year, but the theme this week was options, dang it, and it was going to be another braid-wilting, heat-alert kind of day) . . . instead of driving 14 minutes to my nearest trailhead, I invested another 10 minutes behind the wheel and made it all the way to:

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The Pacific Ocean, a terrible place to drive to on a weekday morning because of commuter traffic, and an even worse destination on a summer Sunday during a heat wave.

But I had options! How about leaving the house at 5:30 am, arriving just in time for a most non-habitual sunrise: (we’re usually socked in with fog at the coast)

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With a 50-mile sandy race coming up (next year, but gotta start some time), I thought it might be wise to explore new training options, such as . . . deep sand plodding. Yikes.

Corona del Mar had plenty of sand, but the trash was bumming me out, as were all the childhood memories associated with the place (Where’s the old snack stand? Why is the beach so small? In what universe is it OK to leave so much trash behind after a day of beach fun?!)

Hmmm. Maybe I could ditch the complaining and come up with a creative solution (after picking up a few pieces of plastic and realizing it was too big of a job for a single memory-infested runner).

Options galore, just a few minutes up Pacific Coast Highway:

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Lots more sand, both packed–near the water–and deeply loose–past the high tide mark.

I allowed myself the option of both walking and running, both down in/near the water, or up in the deep stuff . . . 

. . . . and visiting both the local piers allowed me to notice/compare small differences (a major part of the Feldenkrais neuromuscular learning experience). By 9am I was out of there, long before the strand became the usual impassable summer weekend patchwork of towels/umbrellas/chairs/happy-frying-trash-flinging folks. (Did I mention I’m not a fan of crowds?)

Other options I’ve been opting in on lately: running with eyes open and closed, allowing the SMELLS of the landscape to captivate me as much as the summer-blooming wildflowers (who because of their dry-ground-defiance deserve extra appreciation).

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A brilliant flower whose common name is “pink” even though it’s red (has to do with the fringed flower edges). 

 

 

 

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Deer weed, a nitrogen-fixing plant whose flowers change color after pollination, which is happening as we speak.

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Beware the datura (well, don’t freak out; its flowers smell delicious, but just don’t ingest any part of this plant unless you are looking for A) a vision quest, followed by B) liver damage/death (or at least a very scary trip to the ER)

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Vinegar weed: yeah, it smells like its name, and yeah, it was a useful medicinal plant for People who knew what they were doing.

More cuckoo-bananas option-stuff: last week I ran a trail “backwards.” (Nope; not that kind of backwards. Do I look like I’m crazy? I just ran the loop counterclockwise for a change . . . change which is difficult to climb out of when the ruts have grown deep over time.)

Then I put on my running shorts one leg at a time (don’t we all?!) but I did it out of order–left foot first. Ever brushed your teeth with your non-dominant hand? Yeah, that’s an option 🙂

Here’s a “weird”* one: I plunged into memorizing the words/chords to a new-to-me song: Weird Al’s Star Wars parody of “American Pie.” (As rusty as my guitar skills are, my grandsons seemed to really get into singing along via Skype; there’s an option I never had with my grandparents . . . )

(* love me my air-quote puns)

Just because you limit your options to someone else’s melody doesn’t mean you can’t still be wildly creative, right, Weird Al? 

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(not my own photo)

While Weird Al has all the music that’s ever been made as his parody-option-field, Bob Dylan–there’s an old-school wild creator–gives us only two options in this song that I heard on a recent road trip and have been growling to myself ever since:

 

One more optional idea that popped into my head during a recent dish-washing/pondering session: the practice of non-habitual acts of kindness . . . doing very little things (making coffee for a spouse even though you don’t touch the stuff, not screening your mom’s phone call, waving someone else ahead of you in line at the grocery store, you get the drift) that don’t cost much except the ability to respond to a tiny situation in a way that might bring much-needed joy to someone else.

This rambling post still needs a segue to transition to the boat-load of photos I’ve taken these last few days; hmmm . . . I got nothin’ . . . but here’s hoping some mental clothespins will appear and help you connect them to the wispy theme-thread of this blog post: so many options).

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Atypical morning clouds along the So Cal coast

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Big feet, tiny surfers (in left background)

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The place where my love for barefoot rock-hopping began about 50 years ago when I would try to run all the way to the end of this rock jetty without stopping. I still remember the feeling of exhilaration, but do not remember so much gull-poop . . . 

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The (in)famous “Wedge” from afar. 

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As a child of the 1960s, I remember watching endless episodes of Gilligan’s Island. This is the harbor mouth from which the ill-fated group left for their “three-hour tour.”

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Crabs always seem to invite semi-vulgar captions; not goin’ there. 

One way I aim to add novel options to my running: balancing on whatever I can find. Here’s a “whatever I could find” along the short stretch of blacktop that links trails above and below Villa Park Dam.

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And here is some training for the rock-scrambling portions of an upcoming race. Rock fun! Another activity imprinted upon me at an early age out at Joshua Tree. Our rock-hopping antics seem to have scared our parents so much they never took us camping there again . . . 

Happy Rocky, Sandy, Counter-clockwise, Barefoot Trails! We have options!

Fourth of July or Thanksgiving?

July 6, 2017
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Along the Embarcadero, a lovely map of the Morro Bay/Sandspit/Morro Rock area shows us that “We are here.”

It might be sizzling hot around the rest of the Southwest, but Morro Bay (on California’s Central Coast) is dependably chilly all year . . . so Grammy Me and the grandkids had to bundle up to go exploring this past pre-July-4-holiday weekend.

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Shoes are always optional when hiking with Grammy . . .

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Sea otters! See the sea otters? Once thought to have been hunted to extinction, they now seem to be making a comeback along the California coast, a nearby volunteer/docent explained as she lent us her binoculars and filled us in on the local Morro Bay population . . . almost 50 of them now . . . the most in recent history.

Then the fog burned away just in time for the Barefoot Concerts on the Green show at Sea Pines Golf Resort. That’s right . . . this event is billed as “barefoot” . . . and people were! The Big Daddy Blues Band had lots of us dancing; you’ll find me dead center in the pale yellow top/white hat, groovin’ to the blues.

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So that was last weekend, pre-July 4: giving thanks for summer and seven barefoot grandkids to share adventures with.

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But grandkids can wear a grammy out, so when we got home on July 3rd, I decided to relax the next day with a lovely 7:15 am 10k race through Orange Park Acres (an equestrian community just east of town where I spent some happy times as a young teen working with horses):

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Gotta love the 1970s . . . 

This time, I’d be on foot rather than horseback, but it was still fun to ramble up and down those old hilly streets and horse trails for just a bit over an hour . . . that’s right; my time of 1:04:44 put me in 89th place (out of 157 runners).

Dang: I’d have won a top three age group medal if I were in the 20-29/female age group. Instead, I was 10th out of 24 women age 50-59. (Looks like lots of us post-midlife-crisis ladies know how to really have a good time: go run.)

When I think back to October 2016, and my scary/excruciating lower-fibula stress fracture, I can only thank God that my bones seem to have recovered, and I was able to run smiling and pain free the whole blessed race.

It’s been a long (life-time, pretty much) journey of one running injury after another–especially the long-term left knee issues that first surfaced on May 15, 2004, at the Bishop High Sierra 20-mile race. I hope I never take the ability to run pain-free for granted. (And a shout-out to the amazing physio/movement practitioners who’ve helped me get to this point: Dr. Derrick Sueki of Knight Physical Therapy and Feldenkrais/movement coach Darcia Dexter.)

So there I was, Fourth of July 2017, not taking anything for granted, on a runner’s high all day, calling my kids to #racebrag about my (slow, but I did run negative splits for each of the 6.2 miles) time.

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Here I am at the finish line (which was combined with 5k racers in red bibs). I think I smiled pretty much the entire race. (But, on a disappointing (?!) note, I was not able to maintain nose-breathing past the first mile or two; once my pace started picking up, it seemed important to open my mouth to breath. Scott Jurek . . . one of these days . . . )

And what was my favorite part of the course (which wound through an equestrian community on dirt bridle trails), she asked rhetorically?

The respite piles of soft fabulousness (otherwise known as horse poop).

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I shot this image this morning, in another part of the East Orange hills, to illustrate this post (since I didn’t carry a camera for the race). 

There was a group of kids running the 10k race from some kind of running group; each time they approached a pile of horse crap, their (adult) leader would scream, “Hazard!”

This disturbed me not a little, so I finally had to speak up and remark to the several kids running along the wide trail near me, “Those aren’t hazards! They’re soft places to land your feet!”

As with most of my barefoot preachin’ and proselytizin’, I fear my words had little effect on changing anyone’s mind about how gruesome/awesome horse shit is.

Sigh.

 

But I wander on, shoeless and unafraid of any rocks, dust, mud, or critter crap decorating my path.

I can run again! Every day is Thanksgiving!

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Here I am this morning getting in some easy recovery miles behind the Villa Park Dam. It’s amazing how sore a grammy can get from pushing the pace during a measly 6.2 mile race. 

Since I’ve been averaging one race a year lately (2016: Monument Valley 50k; 2017: Fourth of July 10k) . . . tomorrow morning, I sign up for 2018’s challenge: my first 50-miler next February.

Happy (Grateful) Trails!

(NOTE: More gratitude to my daughter for taking most of the photos in this blog post. THANKS!)

Barefoot hiking, and just . . . hiking

June 23, 2017

It’s been hot, folks.

I just drove back from Grand Canyon country a few days ago; when the afternoon traffic slowed down on I-15 through Las Vegas (please note the speedometer: only 10 mph), I snuck a shot of my trusty little VW’s air temperature gauge: 120 F.

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What’s a barefoot hiker to do?

Not this!

(The above link is to an article my daughter sent me about a lady who–somehow?!–“lost” her shoes while hiking in Death Valley recently and ended up in the hospital with third degree burns on the soles of her feet.)

During my three (count ’em: 3) recent hiking adventures in/near Grand Canyon, I capitulated to common sense and did a most repugnant-but-necessary thing: I wore $#!+ on the bottom of my feet so I wouldn’t end up on the Darwin Awards web page.

While this offends most every fiber of my barefoot being, I like to imagine that some wisdom is accompanying my transition to this new era during which Taco Bell counter workers in Page, AZ (WITHOUT EVEN ASKING FOR MY I.D.!) tell me, “With the Senior Discount, your order comes to $7.32.)

(And anyway, to add insult to injury, after I read the article about the Death Valley barefoot hiking genius, I decided to google the phrase “barefoot hiking” . . . I appear nowhere in the first several pages of results, leading me to believe that I have no street cred to damage, anyway.)

While the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails at Grand Canyon are so well-groomed and well-traveled that they are most delightful to hike barefoot, when it’s chilly in the morning, a nice thin pair of wool socks, coupled with my faithful Merrells, makes for a warm, fashion-forward experience:

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Here I am at the South Kaibab trailhead last month as our GCAFI group began its three-day mule-assisted geology-wonderfilled trip (offered by the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute; I served as assistant to the “rock star” geologist Brian Gootee on this trek). Fortunately, after about an hour it warmed up enough to remove the ridiculous wool long johns as well as the sandals.

Next May 2017 adventure: a couple of hikes near Lee’s Ferry followed by five days of meandering down the Paria River . . . another GCAFI adventure; this time I was assisting that extremely knowledgeable mountain-goat-in-flip-flops, Christa Sadler. Our first little Lee’s Ferry day hike: a precipitous jaunt up the historic Spencer Trail, during which we ascended 1500 feet in two miles over sinuous, slippery, hand-rail-lacking rocks ‘n stuff.

But the view from the top! (Navaho Mountain and the rock formations of southern Lake Powell)

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For a little more grip, less slip, I went with my Sockwas (plus the requisite wooly socks). 

The next day, the real fun began: five days of sloshing down the Paria River until, 38 miles later, we would end up back at Lee’s Ferry.

What to wear, what to wear . . .

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I started out the first day in an old pair of my husband’s New Balance zero-drop Minimus running shoes (with the insole removed for less padding). They were OK for sloshing through the ankle-high water, but when I put them on the next day: ouch. The back of my heels barked, “We want our sandals back!”

Never one to ignore my dogs . . .

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. . . I spent the next four days in my lovely, featherweight, barely there Merrells (which of course, like all good things of the past, are obsolete and impossible to obtain any more).

When bits of grit from the pebbly stream bed got sucked up between my foot and the inner sole, I could usually solve the problem at walking speed by just swishing my foot against the current. Once or twice a day that did not dislodge the offending tiny chunk of Navajo sandstone, so I would have to pause and un-velcro and swish until all was smooth underfoot (under-sock?) again.

Last week I returned to Grand Canyon’s North Rim for my third-annual “Writing on the Edge” creative writing workshop (another wonderful GCAFI program, if I do say so myself). It was now HEAT ALERT time on the Colorado Plateau; trail surfaces, even at 8600+ feet in elevation, were enough to toast my tootsies during all our Kaibab Plateau forest wandering, so once again I strapped on my (deteriorating, but not degenerate) Merrells–with one difference: no socks this time. Other than some messy-looking dust-stripes at the end of the day, this worked good enough while I was busy being responsible and leading the day’s hiking fun.

Side note tangentially related to this barefoot-or-not blog post: I got to the North Rim a day early, without a camping reservation for my first night.

What to do?

Head for the NPS Backcountry Office and see what was available on a hike-in basis, of course. My first choice, Cape Final, was booked; not surprising since there is a total of one overnight site available at the end of that lovely two-mile trek through Kaibab Plateau forest. There was always Widforss Point, another stunner of a hike that undulates through the Ponderosa, aspen, fir, and spruce trees. But that was five miles one way, and I’d just driven 500, and thus was not eager to finish my hike in the dark.

“What about the Uncle Jim trail?” Ranger Steve asked.

“What? I can stay out at Uncle Jim Point?! Sign me up!” The Uncle Jim loop is five miles total, and I knew I could get out to the point just in time for sunset over Grand Canyon.

So I paid the minimal fee ($18 or so) for a permit, drove to the North Kaibab trailhead (which is also adjacent to the Uncle Jim/Ken Patrick trails’ start), stuffed the bare necessities for an overnight in my pack, and took off . . .

BAREFOOT all the way, baby. Ahhh . . .

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No shoes, but I did bring a screen tent. Just because.

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The morning view from Uncle Jim Point; note the plume of smoke from a fire burning in the Flagstaff area. 

Wildflowers light up the forest and canyon rim: on the left is heat-seeking cliffrose, on the right is a shade-loving species of Maianthemum. 

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Not impressed by my friendly toe-overtures (toe-vertures?) is a well-camouflaged greater (mountain) short-horned lizard.

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The lovely trails were full of deer prints (above) as well as a few actual deer (below).

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When the workshop participants showed up, it was fun to lead them back through the the Uncle Jim trail for some delightful forest writing time.

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Here’s our best “three wise monkeys” imitation:

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One of the most surprising sights from Uncle Jim Point: this unsettling perspective (below) of the upper North Kaibab Trail. I love this trail, and I’ve hiked this two-mile segment above the Supai Tunnel many times, but when I looked at it from a distance, it felt . . . alien. It looked way too steep and switchback-y and difficult, while my body remembers it as challenging-but-fun: tree-lined, puffed with soft, colorful barefoot-friendly dust (pulverized by mule hooves during the daily tourist rides), stinky with mule-poop, inhabited by clouds of mule-poo-loving flies, the gateway drug for rim-to-rim addicts . . . it’s a whole different trail when you’re on it.

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After the writing workshop, I headed for Lake Powell, where the damned Colorado River festers behind the concrete scab known as Glen Canyon Dam. (Hmm . . . it appears I have been irrevocably influenced by whiling away the miles listening to David Gessner’s book-on-tape: All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West. )

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I spent a couple of days helping folks peel juniper logs for a traditional Navajo hogan, admiring the sunsets and sunrises from our work area just outside Page, AZ.

Then it was time to head home, wake up early, greet the sunrise from my local trails, enjoy some barefoot miles, and continue doing what I can to keep “my” trails balloon-free. (?! WTF: “the tassel was worth the hassle”?! I guess the folks who believe this have no problem buying 12 helium balloons and letting them fly off into the local wildlands . . . sheesh . . . )IMG_3005.JPG

OK. Deep breath. Smell the datura. Ahhh . . . .

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Happy (loco) Trails . . . stay cool out there . . .

 

Retired from what, for what? (Insert barefoot plans here)

June 6, 2017
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Little me in a big place (Paria River, May 2017, photo by S. A.)

Oh the irony: As of May 31 I have officially retired from my 20 years of teaching writing “to focus on my writing” and here I sit, metaphorically tongue-tied (there’s too much chocolate hiding in a certain unmarked kitchen cupboard for me to be literally tongue-tied, although I suppose if my tongue were actually tied up in a good half-hitch or two I could still figure out how to melt my Trader Joe’s 72% Dark Chocolate and dribble it into the corner of my mouth via some straw-like contraption).

Reduced to chocolate rambling, already. It’s gonna be a looong retirement.

But anyhoo . . . the pressure of finishing my last university semester, clearing my office of 20 years’ worth of books on writing, books of writing, books I’ve written (that was the lightest box), rocks I’ve collected, snake-and-lizard skins shed nearby on campus, student-thank-you knick-knacks (as well as truly fabulous art objects as created by the stellar student Sofia) . . . window-replacing posters of native plants and wild places (Imnaha country; the view from Shoshone Point). My much-appreciated air purifier to filter some of the fluorescent dustiness. Twelve file drawers full of: necessary/vital/world-might-end-without-them records of meetings, committees, classes. (Said the paper-hoarder.)

It’s all gone.

No it’s not.

Some of it did find its way to Goodwill (books) or the paper-shredder (about eight file drawers).

But the rest is resting uncomfortably on my living room floor until such a time as I feel I can spare from:

1. Hanging out with my hubby and/or grandkids
2. Answering two weeks of neglected emails
3. Processing those two email-less weeks of May spent in Grand Canyon country (photos to follow)
4. Running wild again on my good ol’ familiar dusty/dangerous-to-toads/wildflower-bedecked trails of Irvine Park/Barham Ridge/Santiago Oaks (definitely more photos to follow)

All the weighty, insightful musings of April and May (those annual Easter thoughts of suffering/death/renewal; all the everything’s-a-metaphor ideas from my recent double backpacking trips with geologists; such mind-blowing common sense awakenings from my latest self-help book dabbling (that would be Mindset  ) . . . all that stuff has been stuffed into my daily handwritten journals which immediately become indecipherable due to, shall we say, writing-implement-manipulating deficiencies (the worst grades I received in elementary school? for Penmanship).

But there’s hope: I have Big Plans to find the perfect voice transcription software/app and miraculously transfer all this past year of scribbling into computer-generated text that I will then enjoy playing with/editing until it all falls into place as my Memoir of a Lifetime: How My Last Year of Teaching Somehow Illuminated My Entire Life And It All Became Really Clear And Then I Published It And Made Enough Money To Replace The Really Good Income My Job As Professor Of English Was Bringing In, Albeit With Much Accompanying Stress.

In the meantime, these pictures remind me of many good recent (and old) things; may they inspire others to get outside and live:

 

The above images are (just a few) from an amazing six-day, 38-mile backpacking adventure through Paria Canyon with Grand Canyon Association Field Institute’s (GCAFI)  extraordinary Christa Sadler leading the way for eight of us fortunate folks.

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Here at Phantom Ranch/Boat Beach–in the depths of Grand Canyon–Brian Gootee explains geology with wonderful enthusiasm and clarity.

Before that, I spent four days in Grand Canyon, hiking and learning with GCAFI geologist extraordinaire Brian Gootee (see photo, above) and an eager group of beginning backpackers, one of whom had the technology and artistic ability to capture this image of double-condor-grace as we hiked along the South Kaibab Trail:

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What was also awesome about this adventure: the aid of some athletic mules to carry our gear down to Phantom Ranch (and from the mule corrals it’s just a few hundred yards to the group site at Bright Angel Campground, where we spent some delicious time under the influence of green-violet swallows and stars and even a rainstorm and rainbow).

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Then it was time to drive home, to dive back into life in Orange County: crowded freeways, beautiful-but-dangerous trails:

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A smashed arroyo toad with incriminating mountain bike tracks nearby . . .

But it’s rare-mariposa-lily season on Barham Ridge: the Intermediate Mariposa Lily is listed as “endangered, rare, or threatened in California” — and it’s such a wonderment to come across these lovelies every year at the end of May/early June as they cling to life along Barham Ridge/Irvine Park trails that are continually being widened by So-Cal-intense mountain bike use.

On a happier note: I am determined to keep in mind that all these late-bloomers (it’s June, long past the famed “So Cal Superbloom of 2017”) are part of the metaphors-everywhere world that we are privileged to inhabit:

 

 

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Datura wrightii at the bottom of Grand Canyon

So plants and experiences and memories link it all; here’s the place from which the first photo in this blog post was taken; it’s impossible to show the scale of this high shelf in a spring-adorned alcove along the Paria, but if you go back and look at my size from my compadres’ vantage point . . . it becomes apparent that we are tiny critters, indeed, and any plans for retirement grandeur need to keep this perspective in mind.

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Happy Grand Canyon, Paria, and/or Local Trails! (Preferably barefoot)