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Desert Connection at Mojave National Preserve: Guest Authors

May 14, 2019

As my most recent post chronicled, I was fortunate to spend several days wandering and writing at Mojave National Preserve last month with like-minded adventurous women.

Two of them recently sent me links to their desert-inspired words, which filled me with joy and a desire to share:

“Out of My Comfort Zone and into the Unknown” by Gloria Rose gives insight into this courageous 69-year-old’s first camping trip (but I suspect not her last!) http://www.gloriarose.com/out-of-comfort-zones/

“Wind over the Mojave” by Lori Baumann pays poetic homage to one of the desert’s most enduring (if not always endearing) features: the presence of wind: http://www.lorriebaumann.com/wind-over-the-mojave/

Kelso Dunes

Thanks for sharing your voices, Gloria and Lori . . . you inspire me!

Happy (sandy, windy) trails!

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Desert wandering and writing (some barefoot)

May 9, 2019

 

I had an idea a few months ago: gather a group of women writers at Mojave National Preserve and hike and write for three days.

Keek Lynne and Gloria

A couple of weeks ago, seven of us made the trek out and beyond cell phone signal, and together we practiced writing quickly to “prompts” (complete with random words we jotted down on scraps of paper and then plucked out of our doubly-useful hats): Just. For. Fun.

It’s difficult to describe, but the combination of a bit of direction + time constraint + others in the same boat works just about every time to help folks overcome writers block and get their creative brains working.

pencil cholla

Pencil cholla

And, of course, the beauty of the Mojave desert was part of our inspiration!

hedgehog cactus Mojave National Preserve

Hedgehog cactus clinging to a rock

hedgehog cactus

Hedgehog cactus in the pinyon forest at Mid Hills

Creosote superbloom

A creosote superbloom was in process

yucca superbloom

Blue yucca at dawn

Kelso dunes hike

The challenge of sand slogging at Kelso Dunes

sand in shoes after dune hiking

The ground was too hot to go barefoot, so I got stuck wearing sand-catcher shoes.

Fringe toed lizard Kelso Dunes

Fringe-toed lizards do just fine on the sand, shoeless.

Fremonts phacelia

Fremont’s phacelia at Mid Hills

blue sage

Blue sage

pack rats begone

It didn’t take long for the pack rats to discover our engine compartments . . .

Campfire Peeps

These Peeps quickly became super-sugar-crispy.

toes and sunrise

Mojave dawn

It was a lovely three days with seriously awesome sister-adventurer-writers; one of my favorite quotes from the weekend came from 69-year-old Gloria, who on the first camping trip of her life got to experience the excitement of a tent failing in the middle of a windy desert night: “Before this trip, the most exciting thing I’ve done recently was go to the mall and buy a new lipstick color.”

Happy Try-Something-New Trails!

 

Implicitly Barefoot; Explicitly Wandering/Writing

May 6, 2019

Green Theory and Praxis Journal

Pleased to have had a poem published recently in Green Theory and Praxis Journal:

http://greentheoryandpraxisjournal.org/gtpj-issue-12-volume-1-april-2019/

Happy (green) Trails!

What it might mean to “come to our senses”

April 24, 2019

 

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On the way to Upper Yosemite Falls

My default blogging position: frozen, stuck to my computer, immobile for the hour or so it takes to combine photos and words and then tilt them into the seething cauldron of disembodied info that old people like me with a corny sense of humor like to call the interweb.

Lately, another obsession has found me glued for-way-too-many hours-at-a-time to my laptop, trying to guess and click my way to riches, hoping to unbury a wealth of family history and stories, people and lives and time and places I never knew but can now imagine via electronic birth, marriage, draft, social security and census records.

Unfortunately for my body, all this adventure has been taking place in my head, and yesterday was the best/worst day yet: while I (finally!) found the paper-trail-proof I needed to place my grandmother’s death and burial site in Hot Springs, Arkansas (she died a day after giving birth to my father’s youngest sister), when I “came to my senses” at the end of the day–it was 7:30 pm and I had not yet had dinner, much less gone for my customary late afternoon barefoot trail run, much less moved much at all for, oh, I don’t know, six or so hours.

That there was something wrong wrong wrong with this (non-moving) picture,  I’d been suspecting for a while, as the allure of “detective work” and uncovering family stories/secrets has been sucking me into its gaping maw for a couple of weeks now, whenever I’ve been home for a few days.

Which I haven’t! My most recent “embodied” adventure? Three days/nights in Yosemite Valley with my fourth-grade grandson and his class as they attended outdoor education camp.

My own “embarrassing family secret”? It was my first trip there. (OK, I went once as a small child, but it was a “drive-through” kind of national park visit and I have no memory of the AMAZING granite & water & trees & waterfalls & leaf-bud & puddles & switchbacks & did I mention granite that make Yosemite Valley so . . . amazing. Yep. It’s a place pretty much beyond my puny ability to paint in words, so . . . here’s some photos.)

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The approach to Upper Yosemite Falls

 

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Lots to reflect upon in Yosemite Valley, including this acorn grinding place on top of a large boulder; the story of the valley’s native People is compelling and complicated and continues to this day.

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The wild winter storms snapped and/or toppled so many trees! Cleanup continues. (This is along the Upper Yosemite Falls trail.)

 

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The resort formerly known as Camp Curry is still in clean-up mode.

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The new sign for “Half Dome Village” . . . with the recent change of National Park lodging concessionaire came a change of names (another complicated/sad Yosemite story).

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Old seed and new growth after rain: gotta be a metaphor hiding here somewhere . . . 

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Manzanita–along with the oaks and all the other plants of the area–provided abundant food and medicine (and everything!)  for the native People of this place.

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Above: a sampling of microtrash collected on my hike up the Yellowstone Falls trail. More than once I found big bad macro-trash: the peelings of entire oranges thrown down the steep slopes (and thus too dangerous to retrieve). This is not OK. People need to realize orange peels are trash that needs to be carried out, not something they can toss along the trail by rationalizing, “Oh, it’s natural; it will decompose.” Nope and nope.

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Cost to attend as chaperone: $400. Being a part of the fourth graders’ learning experience (watching a new generation of earth-stewards develop): priceless!

 

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Yosemite Valley: a place to wander and learn and reflect

Today’s insight: have more empathy for folks who struggle with spending too much time living in their heads via computer/video game/smart phone alternate realities (including family history research black holes!) . . . and then . . . do what I can in my own life to continue to “come to my senses” . . . to get unplugged and experience our beautiful world via sight . . . sound . . . smell . . . sensation . . . savor . . .

Happy Sensation-filled Trails! Get moving! Share the love!

Spring-ing back from rejection and other bloomin’ stuff (including a Writing-Retreat-in-a-Can)

April 12, 2019

 

flora cover spring 2019

Remember when checking the mailbox was a daily source of “what if” excitement? (Of course, for writers, there was also the possibility of [more] rejection slips.)

Now that it’s an electronic-virtual-no-paper-changes-hands world, chances for mailbox euphoria are fewer and further between–but–it happened yesterday! In the mail, along with AARPizz, credit card bizz, and time share shizz: the Spring 2019 issue of Flora, the bi-monthly magazine of the California Native Plant Society.

With a cover-ful of poppies and the promise of “Spring Awakening,” this issue also contains one of my poems (republished from the recent anthology Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California).

definitely home in flora

The intersection of art & science, poetry & California native plants!

AND . . . right now, during April’s National Poetry Month and California Native Plant Week! I can only echo what the eloquent Homer Simpson might pronounce at a time such as this:  “Woo hoo!”

This was much-needed ego-salve, as a hike down my eroded-asphalt driveway (a daily barefoot treat for the feet) a couple of weeks ago brought me face to face with a slender envelope of rejection from a writers residency I had assured and re-assured myself I was perfect for and very likely to get (otherwise it would have been impossible to justify wasting the $40 application fee on something that, sigh, turned out to be out of my league).

A few days later: rejection to another residency, the filling out of whose/which application had consumed an inordinate amount of time, not to mention the time of some professor colleagues to write letters of recommendation, and not to mention another substantial ding to my credit card.

But at least this one didn’t hit me out at the mailbox. Nope, just a standard email: “Dear Writer, it’s not us, it’s you that sucks” (or maybe it was “there were many strong residency proposals and space is limited blah blah blah”; either way, it’s a punch in the gut that requires much Trader Joes dark chocolate and many hours of barefoot trail running to soothe).

How to make lemonade out of the lemony bitterness in my tum-tum? I vowed, along with Scarlet O’Hara, to never again be so hungry for far-off writing “freedom” when, hello, I’m retired and can pretty much write whenever I want, now that my two-year grandkidding gig is just about over.

infrared kids

What I do when I’m not writing . . .

So I hopped in my newly designated Writing-Retreat-In-A-Can (aka our ’72 Dodge van conversion) and chugged up the El Modena Grade to my Running Happy Place, only fifteen minutes from home: Irvine Park, which was now to become my Writing Happy Place as well.

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While one would never want to encourage children to approach such a sketchy-looking vehicle, on the inside it is an amazing, fully functional “tiny house,” complete with desk for writing, kitchen for eating, and bed for napping–and–best of all: no internet, all of which enabled me (in the best sense of that over-denigrated word) to spend the time it took to finish the manuscript of a 35,000-word middle grade novel (that means grades 4-6, not “middle school”)  I’d started years ago in a mountain cabin in Blue Jay, CA, worked on some more the next summer in a seedy motel in Palm Springs (in July, when temps are high and rates are low), and now, finally, can label as “first draft done.”

Manuscript

The protagonist is a very poorly disguised 11-year-old me back in 1970 in the minimally fictionalized town of “Orangegrove,” with my six siblings distilled into two, and parental dynamics that may-or-may-not be autobiographical. (That’s why it’s called fiction, yo.)

So–am I grateful I was not awarded a month-long writing retreat with meals prepared for me in a remote mountain setting? Nope. Still simmering a little.

But I am grateful that God works in mysterious ways and that I now have retirement book project #1 (of at least three) well on its way, with a kind literary friend who is reading it this week to give initial feedback.

In other news: SHOES?!

New Merrells

As Neil Young says, “Comes a time . . . when you settle down” and buy a pair of lace-up shoes. The time is now: I have four trips approaching that will require me to hike with a group in some sort of leadership capacity; three of the gigs are even for pay, so . . . I took my “thanks for babysitting” gift card to REI and cashed it in for some Merrell Vapor Glove 4 Road Running Shoes--a moniker much more complicated than the footwear, which are as light and roll-up-able as any I’ve seen.

Yosemite, New Mexico, Utah, Grand Canyon, here I come! (But you know I’ll be slipping out of these foot-coffins any chance I get.)

As I prep for the 38-mile Paria Canyon (Utah) backpacking trip again, I thought it would be fun to do some local water hiking, since when I hiked the Paria for the first time a few years ago I counted over 100 crossings of the silty river in just the first day. It’s an amazing slot canyon adventure, with Navajo sandstone walls soaring up (and probably down, too–geology never ceases to amaze me) hundreds of feet, sometimes as close together as an arm-span. (Here’s someone else’s description; I thought the name of the blog, “Bearfoot Theory”–with two bare feet standing in for the two letter “Os” would mean the author was a kindred anti-shoe spirit. Nope. Oh well.)

wandering santiago creek

Santiago Creek wandering practice

Yep. There’s no trail to follow along the Paria–it’s in and over and through the water.

And quicksand. (One of our previous-Paria group members stumbled into some knee-deep downstream-rock-eddy muck, got pitched forward, and trashed her amazingly expensive DSLR camera. Moral of the story: quicksand isn’t just for John Mulaney’s stand-up act.)

super bloomin lupine

Lupine-love

Speaking of spring (as the title punned at): the local post-fire, post-rain superbloom is still a thing around here, and it’s difficult to keep any kind of trail running momentum going when confronted by these petal-friends everywhere:

Silene lacineata

Silene laciniata (aka “pinks” because of their “pinked” or cut petal edges, not because of the color, which is obviously red-not-pink)

 

Eriophyllum confertiflorum Golden yarrow

Golden yarrow–another name that needs a truth-in-nomenclature disclaimer, as it NOT related to “real” yarrow–Achillea–at all.

Emmenanthe penduliflora Whispering bells

In all the twenty-plus years I’ve tooling up and down these local trails, I did not remember seeing this before, and even after I paged through just about the entire Wildflowers of Orange County, I still was puzzled. That’s what CNPS friends are for, and a quick email of the above photo to a local expert–who will go nameless so he is not inundated with similar requests–provided the name of this seldom seen fire-follower that only blooms for a few years after everything has been burned away: Whispering Bells. Why such a beautiful name? Because as the flowers dry, and the breeze blows, they sound like: Whispering Bells.

Springing back from fire, and rejection, and blooming anew . . . a beautiful time of year!

Hello Spring chalkboard

(The above chalk painting courtesy of a granddaughter whose art inspires me to be a less cynical person.)

Happy Non-cynical Barefoot Spring Trails!

 

Super-bloomy-spring and what’s next?!

March 31, 2019

Super bloom catalina mariposa lilies

Words are puny in the face of such pink-petaled beauty, but I am always trying to put a name to the faces of wildflower friends, so . . .  pleased-to-meetcha, Calochortus catalinae–Catalina Mariposa Lily, found only in a limited area of California (this patch is in Santiago Oaks Regional Park), thus earning it a rare plant ranking of 4.2.

My own scale of how-much-I-love-these-native-wildflowers accords them a perfect score of 10/10. Not only do they nicely illustrate “Consider the lilies of the field“, their bulbs were an important food source for California’s earlier inhabitants. 

Dichelostema under overcast skies

Here’s another symbol of my favorite kind of March Madness–the crazy wildflower parties going on right now all over So Cal: Dichelostemma capitatum (or Wild Hyacinth).

Another edible-bulb lovely, they are taking over my back yard (in a the best possible sense) so there’s plenty to nibble . . . and nectar on . . .

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Can you find the moth-blur, above?

moth paused

A sphinx moth of some sort–not to be confused with a similar-sized hummingbird–that’s a proboscis instead of a bird-beak. (yikes!)

painted lady behind dichelostema

Also in the news this past month: painted ladies on the way north; here’s one enjoying some of the (many many many) dichelostemma in my back yard, where March passed with days full of sunshine and butterflies.

Wildflowers of Orange County in the field

And here’s my favorite book for this time of year; it features–ta da!–dichelostemma on the cover.  This is THE BOOK to have to fully appreciate the super-duper-bloom going on right now (and our OC-CNPS chapter just received new inventory–order yours today at occnps.org/wildflower-book).

Tidy tips in the sun

Just one more dichelostemma-and-friends photo–here posing on a local OC Parks ridgetop with Tidy Tips, a perfectly named flower if there ever was one–look at those tidy petal edges . . .

another wildflower picked and discarded

In all my wildflower exulting, this. (Imagine many sad faces here). WHO DOES THIS?!

California Asterella Asterella californica

But it didn’t take long to get cheerful again after my hiking buddy Gina pointed out this tiny, amazing liverwort: California Asterella. It feels like an invasion of privacy to take a close-up of this reproductive structure, so I’ll leave it at that, bryophyte reproduction not being a current hobby, not that I’m ruling it out for the future. OK, I just ruled it out.

tunnels of horrible nasty invasive mustard

One person’s yellow hills of glory is another’s HORRIFIC INVASIVE ALLERGY-INDUCING mustard. My nose starts to drip just looking at this photo, and the thought of all the superblooms of today being choked out/smothered/shaded/destroyed in the years to come by this noxious weed . . . makes my eyes water a bit as well . . .

Santiago Creek reflection

After so many weeks since any measurable rain, all that’s left of surging Santiago Creek are a few placid pools, perfect for reflecting burned willow branches and thoughts of . . . what next?

 

barefoot balancing fun

Photo by Gina B. . . . thanks 🙂

What next?! April 2019 begins a new chapter for me–my two-year grandkidding gig is over, and I’m looking forward to lots of barefoot writing/adventures, Lord willing and the log don’t snap . . .

It’s good to know that in 15 minutes I can be shoelessly enjoying my local happy-bloomy-place (Santiago Oaks), balanced and smiley in a delirious fog of orange blossom perfume (a scent that conjures up an entire childhood when and where orange groves were as common as Starbucks are now).

Happy Trails, wherever your path leads you . . . places old and new . . . blooming where you are planted, or growing in new directions . . .

I Just Updated My “About” Page (here’s hoping your day holds much more excitement than that)

March 8, 2019

Would you believe: (tip of the hat to Maxwell Smart here)

  • It’s been nine years since this barefoot hiking and trail running journey began back in January 2010 at age 50.
  • It’s been 297 posts since this one on August 28, 2010.
  • It’s been eight or more years since I updated my “About” page . . . until . . . today

https://theagavin.wordpress.com/about/

NoShoesNoProblem