Here’s a nice picture of some poppies

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There’s a fire in the canyon

I’ve lived in Southern California for a long time now, a place where natural disasters are the next best thing to sporting events (which are the next best thing to car chases) for creating community and stimulating conversation between strangers. But I’ve never really had firsthand experience with the whole wildfire genre until yesterday/last night/today. We’re on something of an evacuatory lockdown here in the canyon, but I’ve decided to stick around owing to the difficulty of getting back in once you leave. And so I hung out this morning with some of the fire crews (with their permission, of course) to keep tabs on the progress and to appreciate the amazing abilities of the helicopter pilots.

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Gallery: Prehistoric Days

Prehistoric Days: Climbing Rocks In Joshua Tree

One night a couple years ago we drove out to Joshua Tree late at night. We arrived after dark under a bright moon. Standing in the warm night, we gradually became aware of a deep droning sound that seemed to be coming from everywhere, or nowhere. The rocks themselves seemed to be singing. We walked in circles for ten minutes before we finally discovered the source: someone was playing a didgeridoo in the darkness. I know it was just some guy with a hollow stick, but I think I know a little bit what Jesus meant when he said the “rocks would cry out.”

So, anyway, my brother and I went out there last week and the week before. We climbed the rocks and otherwise entertained ourselves (I tried flying a kite at around midnight when the wind picked up, but the tail kept catching in the sagebrush so I stopped). Here are some pictures.

Oh, and the music is by Nathan Larson from the soundtrack to Palindromes. I’ve been hearing this piece around recently and I can’t get it out of my head.

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Joshua Tree

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I went to Joshua Tree with my favorite brother last weekend. Despite the fact that it was supposed to rain, we had great weather, if a little windy. Neither of us really got enough of it so I think we’ll go again this weekend. Of course, there will be pictures…

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Gallery: The Plastic Storm

As you might have heard (or not – we here in Southern California assume everyone cares about our business), there was a big storm here last weekend. It rained heavily and the wind blew.

I went down to the beach during a lull. The normal scene of smooth sand and water was much distorted. The storm had brought in truckloads of what can be fairly called flotsam. There may have been some jetsam involved too. As well as some detritus.

Anyway, it was pretty terrible and it made me think of an article I’d read recently, which was forwarded to me by my favorite sister. The article was called “Plastic Ocean”. Read it now if you’d like, but be prepared to be freaked out.

That article, and then the view on the beach last weekend, has got me thinking about every piece of plastic I use. There are so many of them. And I’m constantly throwing them out. It makes me want to never use a plastic spoon again. And when I went to the grocery store today, I carried out all my groceries in my hands without any bag at all. Crazy.

I’d recommend not thinking about it too much, just for your sanity’s sake. In fact, forget you saw this. Put a (plastic) bag over your head or something.

Here are some pictures I took.

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Gallery: Salton Sea

I decided to drive to the Salton Sea last weekend on Sunday afternoon. Now if you’re a Southern California resident you should have already started feeling tremors of fear just reading that sentence and this is why: you’ll remember that it was the end of the Thanksgiving weekend and you know that there are basically 5 ways to leave and to re-enter the Los Angeles area. And, yes, the 10 freeway to Palm Springs and the Salton Sea is one of them.

So I drove happily to the east, noting somewhere in the back of my brain the acute absence of fellow travelers going my way on the freeway. Like the calm before the Katrina, anyone with any sense was not going east out of L.A. at 2pm in the afternoon on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This is like jumping off the back of the boat at midnight in the Southern Ocean. You can pretty much guarantee that it’s going to be a long time before you’re home and in bed.

And it was. The hordes of returning holiday travelers hit the bottleneck about the time I was leaving and the mess still hadn’t let up at 8pm when I decided to head home. I don’t know if the pictures that I got were worth the pain, but I had a pretty nice day and saw some nice country. I also listened to a good podcast from here on the drive out. And then on the way home I made a loop through Joshua Tree, which is always good for the spirit.

So, anyway, here are a couple pictures.

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Gallery: All Visitors Must Report To The Front Office

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Here’s something I shot this week.

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A Tribe Of Yucca

Yucca Tree Tribe

Red Rock Canyon State Park, California

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Mt. Shasta: Why Driving In Northern California Is Nice

mt shasta from california highway 89

I had been wandering for a long time in the tall timber when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw this. It surprised me. How it got behind me, I’m not sure. I was tempted to think that it had moved, or was sneaking up on me. But, in my experience, the mountains sit still most of the time (my faith is clearly not quite as big as a mustard seed). I’ve decided it was a miracle. Which explains it nicely, I’d say.

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Open Space

Ash Creek Wildlife Area, Big Valley, California

My house is among trees and I’ve taken a liking to the grasslands. I’m hoping to resolve this conflict before long, but in the meantime I’m taking walks in places like this. The dog likes it, especially when it is cool and damp outside and when there’s a ball to chase. I like it because I can see in all directions which is good for watching the sun rise and set, tracking the wind as it approaches, and lying down quietly and listening to stillness of the open space.

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Driving North

I left Southern California at 4:30pm on Thursday. Over the San Gabriel Transverse Range and down into the Mojave. Unfortunate that I chose to make a 1000 mile overland drive on the hottest week of the summer. I stopped to get food in Palmdale. Too hot to leave the dog in the car. Too hot to take him out. But something must be done. So he skipped across the blazing hot parking lot to a place in the shade while I went inside.

An hour later the highway changed numbers (14 to 395) and I’m in Red Rock Canyon. The wind was incredibly hot and dry. We only stopped for a short time. Shadow, almost blown over by the wind, looked around in surprise. What kind of place is this?

One quick stop in Olancha to take pictures and chase rabbits. I took the pictures. The dog chased the rabbits. The sunset was beautiful. Suddenly the trip started to be an adventure. Back on the road, the air was beginning to soften. Pulling into Lone Pine, the open windows brought the scent of water and green grass and my head spun with delight. Have you ever smelled something that made you sad and happy and dizzy all at the same time? Strangely, my first impulse was to somehow record the experience. Camera wouldn’t do it. Neither would the audio recorder. How do you record a scent? In this day of gadgets, the smell of a thing is still unconquered. It is the most immediate of experiences. All along this drive, I found this again and again. There is no way I can ever share those moments. You had to be there.

Bishop for the night. Super 8. Terrible. Please, I never want to stay there again.

In the morning, the front right tire is flat. Perfectly appropriate finish to my stay. I’m up and ready to go, wanting to count off the miles before the sun starts to blaze. Instead I change to the donut tire and find a tire shop. They will open at 8am. It is now 6:25. So I sit still and listen to see what it is I am to learn from this. Finally by 9, the tire is fixed and I am back on the road.

The road climbs upward and eventually back down again to Mono Lake, a beautiful and alien lake. The Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway sponsor sign says “Another June Lake Liberal”. I feel like visiting June Lake. I weave my way through the sagebrush down to the edge of the water. Tufa formations. The salty water is beset with flies. The shoreline is black with them. The dog sniffs at them and then jumps back in surprise. The sun is hot. Time to drive.

Now the 395 crosses into the border of Nevada. The sky goes white hot and I swear to myself that I will do my best to never visit Carson City again, much less Reno, for the rest of my life. There is nothing there. 106 degrees Fahrenheit. No reason to ever go there again.

Crossing back into California, I forget to look for the sign marking the border. But suddenly I am noticing that things are cleaner, the road is better, the signs are in good order. I realize I am already over the line and, for some reason, breath a sigh of relief. It is nice to feel at home.

At Susanville I decided to take a detour. I won’t spend the time to write about Mt. Lassen other than to suggest that, if you are driving in the area, you take the time. I mean it.

Late afternoon, driving flat out and fast for Alturas. The long slow summer evening stretches out across the valleys and make me feel peaceful and in love with the land. More of the smell of dirt and sand and water and summer. Ash Creek Wildlife Area feels like a holy place. The barn owls peer down from the rafters through the murky darkness. The avocets stalk gracefully on the mudflats. Finally it is dark and I am safe at home at the Rimrock Motel.

In the morning, I climb northward out of the valley into the high desert of southern Oregon. Lakeview is small. The people who live here must either never drive their cars or they drive them for miles and miles. There are no other options.

And finally to Bend which seems a little like a heaven on earth. The evening skyline is one of the best. I’ll try to post a picture of it. Any town which features “floating the river” as one of its main attractions on a summer afternoon has my vote. And the fact that as you float, you float right past the back door of the Gap makes you realize that this is a different kind of place. Here they use SUV’s to carry their kayaks, not to ensure that they have lane changing rights on the evening commute.

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Lassen National Forest

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