Here it is, Christmas morning, 23 (degrees F) outside and still working hard after two hours to get up to 60° inside. There's snow outside, but not falling. This was the first year I saw it snowing below 20;° usually it has warmed up to 30° to do that. Something new every day! Let's see if I can "comb any other wisdom from the chaos" of the past year, to borrow a concept from my mother's philosophizing cousin Arthur (who might have quoted it from some earlier writer, but he didn't say). I've been reading Art's last annual collection of essays this morning as part of my annual rite of Christmas. This letter has become, albeit more sporadically, another such "write" that some of you eagerly anticipate; I've been thinking of it for months, wondering what would be the trigger that set it into motion. Cousin Art has at last provided the jumping-off place.
http://www.inei-re.org ..... http://www.glcoherence.org/ ..... http://www.firethegrid.com/.....http://www.fungiphoto.com.....http://www.expectwonderful.com/
I was combing the Facebook "search" option for his daughter's name a few months ago when I came upon the wonderful published obituary tribute to this quiet, thoughtful man, once the librarian for the Oakland Tribune, and earlier, a caretaker for my teen-aged mother while her university-professor father took care of professional callings. Google can lead to treasures, then--even family ones! Now I'll write to his wife, cousin Rachel, our nearest known tie to our Minnesota kin--doesn't everyone have those? My friends-circle here certainly thinks so, as one of them IS a Minnesotan, and another used to live there!
Yes, we're all fortunate to have any family and friends we can claim...mine sometimes miss me, as I'm out with other circles instead of with them. Even today, I'm pulled among two or three...right now I'm enjoying the "pumpkin spiced" (I'm allergic to pumpkin, but not its spices!) fake eggnog gifted from my best friends, now holiday-ing in western Washington; soon I'll be sitting down to dinner at the home of my outdoor adventure buddy; and later on I'll be joining the Minnesotan and associates for some table games---having missed all of it on Thanksgiving because of a cold. I also enjoy other groups, like the photography club, the native-plant enthusiasts, and the birdwatchers, all of whom also party on occasion.
First Saturday Photo Safari" has been a fun way to gather friends on a fairly regular basis. We began it last year, and continued enjoyably for several months of 2009. I creditably got out of being a photo club officer this week by promising to continue leading these outings. We never know where they'll take us, but we know it will be within about an hour of home, and it will end before mid-afternoon--so we have time to empty our cameras into our computers and play with the results before whatever's happening that evening! My favorite image from these sorties, one that always comes to mind, is just a bit of feather-fluff snagged on a weed, taken last December. It reminds me of the glorious, full-bodied beauty in transience itself, and the insignificance and fragility of all our lives.
I'd like to celebrate here the arrival in Pocatello of a mixed-product recycling program similar to what I've seen at my sister's in California for several years. It is so darned SATISFYING to be able to keep my few tin cans out of the landfill that I gladly add to them the myriad types of plastic bottles I find on the streets while I'm walking to work and back, and the oodles of junk mail that flow in continuously, and the cardboard I used to save for cash. I still stockpile aluminum, picking up flattened cans along with those bottles on nearly every walk, and will eventually fill a car with those bags for a trip to the recycling place in order to reap maybe one month's worth of the city recycling program's fees. And I still (grrrrrr) have to take my glass to California, as Idaho has no program for that. And yes, I still do worry considerably about the MOUNTAINS of waste from around the world that I've seen photographed in 3rd-world countries, where people collect and dismantle things in utterly horribly harmful conditions to gain whatever pittance that affords them. I've asked where our stuff goes, and am told it really does get sorted here--not nearby, but at least in this country.
It's the last hour of Christmas day now, and the outdoors has returned to the temperature where we began, having risen in late morning all of two degrees. I've returned from the second gathering, having eaten to bursting at the first and continued to nibble at the second while playing two easy card games. I've read about half of Arthur's essays and now finished Donna's writing group's collected stories and poetry, always a treat because I know some of the writers and can see them or hear their voices while I read. I remembered at Donna's to thank her once more for the biggest reading project of my year: five of the six volumes of the story that began with Clan of the Cave Bear. I don't know why I didn't catch on when everyone else was reading those--maybe I was just waiting to get the whole story at once. What a powerful, deep-rooting set of images that brought me, as Ayla traveled through her life and through pre-Europe at the same time, meeting new peoples, and learning new ways to cope with life, at every turn. It isn't written as a story for young people, I don't think, but what an amazingly powerful example of human potential it could be. What young-teen girl today could ever spend three years outdoors alone, through all types of weather, alongside all manner of herbivorous and predatory beast, using a well-taught store of botanical lore, disciplined, self-developed hunting skill, and practical craftiness in daily encounters with survival issues? I am awed and humbled to think of the care with which this epic was researched and written, and I do fervently hope the final volume is still something we can look forward to reading.
Second page, second day of writing. 20 degrees and projected to drop to 0...well, I'm very glad I'm indoors, thanks very much! But let me talk about the times this past year when I was glad to be OUTdoors! I enjoyed two of those times at different spots on a single mountain range that I've mentioned before in these letters. In early August, I luxuriated in an entire, leisurely day of walking uphill from my Thomas Creek camp spot in the Ruby Mountains southeast of Elko, Nevada. My method is to take only a few steps, and then look around, aiming not to get anywhere in particular, but instead to discover what is right there. Looking with my camera, it isn't long at all before I enter a different kind of space, where I can completely lose time (or, as I mentioned on my website, maybe it is when I find the way to forget about time that the different kind of space surrounds me). There is a trail there to keep me guided, and the landform there kindof precludes getting lost--it's a straight, simple, single glacial valley where one can see in all directions--very safe. Oh, I suppose once I climb high enough to wander out of that valley, I might find a way to get lost, but that's for another year. Check out those discoveries in the Thomas Creek gallery, one of the ones in the first line of photos below. It's possible to camp there after Labor Day; the weather's still nice, the aspens are turning gold, and the restrooms are still open a little while longer. Who'd like to join me there in 2010? At another corner of the same range, I explored the Angel Creek and Angel Lake camp areas above Wells, Nevada in mid-August, and returning a month later, a girlfriend and I trekked around the lake and reveled on a windy, mountain-mahogany-forested ridge loaded with probably thousands of ball-shaped cacti (I counted at least 700!). That photo gallery is full of goodies, too. From here, that trip is the shorter one by an hour and a half. Another time, I'd like to explore the other trail we found on the way to the main attraction there. It led out through a dense, low, deciduous forest, and went to a wilderness area higher up, if I remember right.
I didn't know it yet, but being on the south side of Elko puts a person outside of the wind-plume that carries unconscionably high concentrations of mercury vapor northeastward. Fish in a broad swath of southeast Idaho's waterways are unsafe to eat because they collect the mercury ingested by the smaller life that they eat. The mercury falls from the air after traveling in the wind from huge smelters using super-thermal processes to separate gold and other metals from ore that naturally contains mercury. Another great reason to be in the Ruby Mountains as often as possible!
The weather at our end-of-winter, start-of-spring transition period this year kept me home; Marijana and I were to have camped in south-central Utah's red rock country somewhere, but on departure day, snow and high winds throughout the central Rockies kept us tethered here. I guess we've both learned over time that discretion and valor may be intimately related. It was the second time in four months that I had missed an outing; a several-state ice storm had persuaded me to think better of driving to Hood River for a week-long year-end retreat. But Marijana remains optimistic; she found and gave me the Desert Southwest volume of the Sierra Club's several-volume guide to America's national parks, cast off after gentle use, so I've begun reading that to prime our imagination for new travel plans, and she and I now possess complementary copies of the updated hot springs books covering both the northwest (mine) and southwest (hers) states. I really want to go back and see more of Great Basin National Park; that needs to wait until August or September. It's open all year, but the elevation keeps the camping colder than Marijana likes til later. Maybe we can find a way to go for a week or more and see others among the six parks that are in that region.
What homeowner can't tell a plumbing story? Mine has been hitting happy, triumphant notes recently, as I've finally found ways to channel all of the basement leakings into the drain. One short hose cut into two pieces and anchored together neatly with the washer's drain hose solved two long-standing annoyances. Now I have to take up every ounce of courage and tackle replacing a water heater element again. A friend's son a few years ago made it look so easy the last time...but he's a guy, and they can unscrew things more easily. Thank goodness it's just the element and not the whole tank!
Okay, this day is officially finished now, and maybe the letter is, too. There's just not as much bubbling up as there has been some years. So, accept that blessing along with all my warmest wishes for your year ahead! And let me know how it goes! We're here for one another, and one person's enlightenment may help illumine another's path.
All the best, Ruth