Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Some, to see a bear, would pay a fee*

While I'm still fairly grouchy about missing the Glacier Institute's three-day grizzly bear seminar this weekend, I do get a consolation prize: I'm flying my sister into Kalispell on Friday night and we're going to show her around Glacier before flying her back on Monday to the crappy job that gives her so little vacation time she hasn't a single extra day to spare by September.

But I was really hoping to attend this seminar and finally see a grizzly in the wild. On the glacial recession trip, we hiked the Swiftcurrent Trail, which had been closed until that very day because of grizzly activity. Last year, the seminar participants had encountered a sow and two cubs on the way up to the glacier. This year we saw nothing, though we did meet some folks at the glacier who had taken the ferry across Swiftcurrent Lake instead of the trail around it, and informed us there was a sow and a cub on the slopes above where we were hiking at the exact time we passed through.

I've had a lot better luck with black bears. There are a few black bears that hang around the mountain up at the house. My neighbor owns more than a hundred acres of woodland that surround our place, and while he thinned the forest a bit this year, he made certain to leave a substantial channel through which the bears could travel. My mother-in-law and I saw one a couple summers back, and we frequently see them on the road up to my brother-in-law's place on Big Mountain. And we had an encounter with one up in the Adirondacks, which is worth its own post.

And of course, there was this little experience in Glacier almost exactly a year ago:

I love how, at the end, the bear briefly observes the car going by and then immediately goes back to munching.

*Can you name that tune??

Monday, August 20, 2007

Deregulation, Salem style

For someone who hates winter as much as I do, it may seem odd that all of my favorite holidays are clustered in the run-up to it. I'm a confirmed Halloween freak; as several of the readers of this blog are aware, Mr. T and I used to hold an annual Halloween costume party that seemed to become more elaborate every year before the tradition basically spluttered out when we moved to Oregon. My friends and family were all good sports about it and we had nearly 100% costume participation every year. So every year when the breeze gets a cool tinge, my thoughts turn lightly to jack-o-lanterns, skeletons and kettles full of dry ice.

And today I spotted the first Halloween-related news item. Apparently Salem, Massachusetts has eased its regulations on fortune tellers. Or, as the ordinance reads,

those locals who are engaged in "the telling of fortunes, forecasting of futures, or reading the past, by means of any occult, psychic power, faculty, force, clairvoyance, cartomancy, psychometry, phrenology, spirits, tea leaves, tarot cards, scrying, coins, sticks, dice, coffee grounds, crystal gazing or other such reading, or through mediumship, seership, prophecy, augury, astrology, palmistry, necromancy, mind-reading, telepathy or other craft, art, science, talisman, charm, potion, magnetism, magnetized article or substance, or by any such similar thing or act."

Since the dark arts have now been deregulated, concerns abound over letting just anyone practice them. I swear, if you can't get a quality phrenologist in Salem, then where, I ask you, is one to be found?

Cartomancy? Scrying? Anyone got a dictionary? Because I'm too lazy to click over and look those up.

Given my Halloween fixation, I've often wondered whether I ought to hoof it on up to Salem one year. But I hate tourist traps, and Salem on Halloween can't possibly be anything but a tourist trap. Has anyone been?

Calgon, take me away

I'm having a rather rough day, and during the worst part, I actually googled "how to get kid to leave me alone" just to see what would pop up. This essay burbled up, and was like freshly split aloe on a sunburn, I tell ya. Reading that was a helluva lot better than perpetual self-flagellation for not being able to stop myself from yelling at my kid.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Latest favorite photo

Here. A vertical is here.

I took these in eastern Oregon on the way back from Montana in late May. I made Mr. T pull off the highway (he's used to this sort of thing) while I spent half an hour trying to find an acceptable composition. I've been wanting a photo from this angle for a long time, but I'd pictured it very differently in my mind's eye. Essentially what I want is this composition, except taken from the middle of the river.


Monday, August 13, 2007

It's just sex, after all

Welp, I got the question tonight. The unvarnished, unadorned, completely straightforward, no wiggle-room question: But how do the mommies and daddies make the babies?

I need some time to consider how much information to give him, and in what way, so I dodged a bit. Fortunately, it was bedtime, so I did what I always do when he asks a question just before bed. I told him we'd look it up and discuss it the next day. I've heard some good things about certain books, which will at least help provide a framework for the explanation.

This topic doesn't freak me out, and I've made a practice of being somewhat matter-of-fact about these types of questions. What bums me out the most about this landmark is that I know he won't be able to keep this fascinating new information to himself. I can look forward to him discussing the nitty-gritty of baby-making with his classmates, teachers, my mother and the server at the next restaurant we patronize.

And then I'll have to tell him that's not a topic for public discussion, and then -- no pun intended here -- the seed has been planted. Sex is something mysterious and dark that freaks people out, just like death. (No honey, it's not really nice to tell your grandfather you thought most people died before they got to be as old as he is. I know he laughed. But really.)

Plus, my baby is growing up. Maybe that's what really tugs at me.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Even my fingers are sore

My friend John and I did a Habitat for Humanity build yesterday, and I used muscles I've neither seen nor heard from since about 1986. I graded a lot with a metal rake, a round shovel and something ominously dubbed a "rock spade." That was actually an outrageously heavy metal thing that's taller than me, with a thin flat spade-like blade at the tip. The job was basically to use that thing to bust up hills of clay that had dried to near rock-hardness in the kiln-like Oregon summer, then use the shovel and rake to redistribute the smaller pieces around the lot, thereby creating a flatter surface.

After awhile, the site leader took pity on me and offered me a job inside painting, but I'm stubborn and egotistical, and I was going to win. Which accounts for the fact that, twenty-four hours later, I still can't stand up completely straight. And because I'm a big whiny baby, I've been emitting little yelps and moans all day while moving around.

What all this means, of course, is that I haven't done a real day's work in about a decade. I won't say I've never done it; during college I pulled plenty of double shifts as a waitress. But as annoying and grinding as the law can be, I never had to push my body to its outer limits on a daily basis.

I'm going to do it again, of course. There are too many people living in crappy housing to whine about how hard it is. John goes about once a month, and we agreed that I'd go along from now on.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Uh, dude, there's a marmoset on your head

Of course I love this:
A man smuggled a monkey onto an airplane Tuesday, stashing the furry fist-size primate under his hat until passengers spotted it perched on his ponytail, an airline official said.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

We have before us a photostream

You know how I'm always babbling about my photography but I never post anything but snapshots? Well, as you can see from the flashy-thingie on the right, I've finally created a flickr account. Click on it if you want to see more of my stuff.

The first page is a bit boring so you'd do better to venture into the other pages or my photo sets. I'm going to be uploading my new stuff to this account as I get it, and I'm still - still! -- working on scanning my slides in for posting. So it's a work in progress.

Glacial Recession V

I'm starting to channel the Friday the 13th franchise with my serial glaciering, but this one's the last.

The final day we hiked a bit along the Highline Trail, looking at excellent examples of the U-shaped valleys carved by glaciation and generally just winding down from the day before. Jeff will likely offer the seminar again next summer, and I'll probably go again, as he plans to hike to other glaciers in the park next time.

The entire seminar was just great. I learned a great deal, not just about glaciation and the effects of climate change on the park, but about geology in general. Mr. T was a geologist before he became a bidnessman, but I had always glazed over during discussions of faults and synclines and formations, until I was standing in front of the real thing with someone explaining it to me. I can be a stickler for technicalities, particularly when dealing with terminology (imagine that!), and that was tripping me up a bit. Or rather, I tended to approach geological terminology with an overly literal mindset.

But really, I have to plug the Glacier Institute now. I mentioned to Jeff during class that I thought there was a good chance I'd become an Institute junkie. Just look at all the classes and seminars they offer. I could spend ten months just taking class after class, and I'd never get bored. The neat thing is that many classes allow kids as young as six to attend. So I think The Kid and I might take some seminars together in the coming years.

Finally, there are a slew of crevasse photos in my photostream here. (There are a few mountain goat shots in there, but the bulk of it is the Grinnell Glacier.) Perhaps you'll be able to get a sense from those images how unnerving it is to be hiking around them.

And sometimes, unnerving is good.

Monday, August 06, 2007

If you add thirty pounds and bigger boobs and change the sandals to a decent pair of hiking boots, we're about there

My Yahoo avatar:

Yahoo! Avatars

It should be noted that my own husband did not recognize it until I told him to mentally add the items in the title. And if I'm honest, there probably ought to be a few wrinkles added as well.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I call this the pull-it-out-of-your-ass phase

Actual conversation in the car tonight:

The Kid: Mommy?

Me: Yes?

The Kid: Do you want to make brown sugar mustache cookies?

Me: What are those?

The Kid: They're cookies that you make with brown sugar, and they're hard cookies, and if you eat them you'll never get sick, ever.

Me: Oh really?

The Kid: Yeah. And they're really big. But you can't eat too much, or you'll get sick. (Pausing to realize he just contradicted himself.) It's only if you eat a little bit that you'll never get sick. They have good sugar in them, not the kind that makes you hyper. You want to make them tonight? They're really, really yummy.

Me: I see. Have you ever had these cookies before?

The Kid: Yeah.

Me: Where?

The Kid: At the Logging Restaurant. You know what that is?

Me: What?

The Kid: A restaurant with logs on it. There are three. One in Montana, one in Portland, and one in...[thinks for a long time] Kalispell. [Of course, Kalispell is in Montana.]

Me: Huh.

The Kid: You guys have to try these cookies. They're yummy. Do you want to make them tonight?

Mr. T: Well, not tonight. It's bedtime when we get home.

The Kid: How about tomorrow? Do you want me to show you how to make them tomorrow? Because you both have to try them. They're super yummy.

Me: Yeah, sure.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Glacial Recession, Part IV

A few months ago I wrote this post but never published it, as it just seemed entirely too navel-gazish:

I think it may be time for new boots. I've had these for almost nine years. I bought them at a small outdoor store in Greensboro, North Carolina just before my first backpacking trip, on the Long Trail in Vermont. I was in my last year of school, and I didn't have the money for them until two days before I left. There was no time for a breaking-in period, but the boots never left a single mark or blister.

These boots have squelched through the mid-summer mud in the Adirondacks. They've taken me on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia and Georgia, along Lake Superior and the rest of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, atop ridges in the Olympic range and to the edge of cold lakes at the base of Mt. Rainier. Last summer they helped me peel off a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon.

These boots groaned under my pregnant weight while I was photographing prairie dogs and antelopes in the Badlands in South Dakota. They've hugged my feet while I hiked hesitantly around blind corners in Glacier National Park yelling "
hey bear!"

They've been a part of most of the deeply gratifying moments I've had in the last ten years that didn't involve parenting -- and some that did. Not to be too maudlin, but giving them up feels too much like the end of an era I'm not ready to close out yet.

Maybe they'll make it another year.

Turns out they didn't.

We hiked about twenty miles over the three days of the seminar, or perhaps a hair less. The second day's hike to Grinnell Glacier constituted the bulk of the hiking, at 12 miles. It was hot, and I worked hard. The first day we hiked to the Hidden Lake Overlook off Logan Pass. On the way back, I felt a sort of odd flapping near my toes. The sole had separated from the boot. It was annoying, but I bought some rubber cement that night and applied it liberally to the detached sole. Then, for good measure, I wrapped the hell out of the boots with copious quantities of duct tape that Jeff had obtained from one of his innumerable park friends.

So we got up to the glacier on the second day, and I saw this standing between me and my glacial experience:

(This person, as you have no doubt astutely surmised, is not me.)

Welp, there was no way I was going through that with my compromised boots. Yeah, 33 degree water and sharp rocks -- just the thing to undo the duct tape and glue. Fortunately, though, I'd brought these along:

But let me tell you something. Until you've had to painstakingly navigate a slippery rock bridge in water just above the freezing point, on feet that are all but completely bare -- well, then you can't possibly understand why I was such a big whiny baby about it. The moment I stepped in, I could literally feel the warmth draining from my feet. (Yes, there was actually a draining feeling.) There were three of these bridges to cross, and I did each one coming and going. By the time I was finished each time, it felt like a thousand needles were pricking my feet.

It hurt. Waaaaah.

Once the pins and needles subsided, it took me about ten minutes to get the feeling back in my feet. Anyone who was completely immersed in that water would die quickly.

Anyhoo, it did the trick. I kept my boots dry, and they didn't blow out completely till there were only three miles left on the hike down. The sharp rocks of the glaciated landscape made perfect striations on the duct tape, and the soles completely detached. But I donned my sandals again, which have a lovely rugged tread on the soles, and continued on.

It was an odd day of temperature extremes, but delightful all the same.

Part V to come -- Wherein I finally shut my trap about this trip, put in a plug for the Glacier Institute, and post miscellaneous pictures.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Glacial Recession -- Part III

The thermometer back at the campground says 95 degrees, but the temperature near the edge of the glacier is at least twenty degrees cooler. In front of me is a massive, grinding river of ice streaked with deep crevasses and powerful enough to chew up mountains.

I’m a little apprehensive about stepping onto this beast, but our workshop instructor, Jeff, is exuberant. He’s already testing the strength of the glacier with his ice axe, listening for hollow, weak ice that won’t support our weight. “Stay to the left of that crevasse,” he advises as he builds a cairn, or pile of rocks, to mark our way. “Oh, and avoid that gray ice over there,” he adds as he moves ahead. Uh, okay. I follow his steps exactly.

Jeff leads us a short way onto the glacier. It’s not safe to go any farther, he says, as the tips of the crevasses extend only a few feet beyond where we’re standing. I look down. The ice beneath my feet seems almost iridescent. Rocks of varying sizes are liberally strewn on and embedded in the ice, accounting for its slightly dirty appearance from afar.

I stay rooted to my spot. Even with the cairns, I’d have an incredibly difficult time finding my way back across the ice safely. Two or three years ago, a day hiker ventured alone onto the glacier while his friends waited, and fell 35 feet into a crevasse. After much grueling work, the Park Service managed to extricate him from the crevasse, but he died shortly afterward.

Jeff talks about glacial formations and characteristics. He points out a moulin, which is a vertical shaft that runs down into the glacier. He reminds us of the discussion in An Inconvenient Truth about lakes forming beneath glaciers, and tells us that moulins like this facilitate the flow of water beneath the ice sheet.

This place is not quiet; different noises punctuate Jeff’s speech. You can hear the loud rush of water somewhere below, and once or twice a thunderous sound interrupted our discussion. Cracking ice.

Even though this glacier is a fraction of the size it was 150 years ago, it still seems just massive. I try to imagine this entire cirque covered in glacial ice, but it seems incomprehensible. But later on, when Jeff shows us how much of the glacier has disappeared just since last summer, the ice appears a good deal smaller.

My son may be lucky enough to see the park’s glaciers before they disappear entirely, but it’s unlikely his children will. The drop dead date for these glaciers is 2030; after that, like the snows of Kilimanjaro, they will be gone.

Part IV, coming soon: Wherein a tragic hiking boot blowout requires me to place my feet, for extended periods of time, into water that only a short time before had been ice.