Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “climate”

Freeway Free in Florabundance: My Spring Garden

My father used to say that we lived in Paradise, and in springtime in California, despite threats of drought, global warming, and wildfires, this is still true. I just got back from a week away (which I will write about later, never fear) and found that my garden is in full flush of bloom. So don’t expect travel tips or social commentary this week; it’s all about the pretty pictures.

I ‘m not an assiduous gardener. There are weeds, and a lot of volunteer plants in places where they shouldn’t be. Fortunately, roses despite their beauty are very forgiving of neglect – so I have a lot of them.

I also have geraniums because they just grow, nasturtiums because they reseed themselves, and jasmine which invades from the neighbor’s yard and competes with the roses for fragrance and a basket of miniature petunias which I bought last year and has thrived on neglect.

And to top it off, my mother’s orchids, tucked away in remote corners of the yard for most of the year:

After hours in sterile cars, airports and airplanes, this was such a fantastic welcome I had to share!

Freeway Free at Lake Tahoe: Besides Skiing…

Hiking boots still damp [See two posts ago] we decided ice skating would be the best option for an afternoon. . C started phoning.  One place had a disconnected phone – probably not an option.  We decided to check out the outdoor rink at Heavenly Village. 

HV is a skier’s Disneyland.  The gondolas leave from the middle of a pseudo alpine village with outdoor musicians, an ice-covered fountain, and various boutique shoppes and eateries.  But the rink was dinky – smaller than the San Jose rink beneath the palms.  so we tried Edgewood Lodge – sorry, not open to public. then the inside south Tahoe city Ice rink – reserved for hockey team practice and lessons except for Th-Sun. c thinks she might go on Friday when she is here alone – she brought her skates!

We were inspired, though, by the sign showing where those gondolas ended up – far up the mountain and on the other side of the ridge was the true Heavenly Valley. So we drove up the Kingman Grade (N-207) to HeavenlySki Resort. The gondola that goes up from the Village on US50 ends at a cluster of condos and cabins surrounding a take off point for several busy ski runs. This is literally another side of the Tahoe area, invisible from the Lake.  We were hoping for some impressive lake views, but too many trees.

Nowhere to walk in the resort unless you were carrying skis over your shoulder on the way to one of the lifts, so we descended the Kingman Grade again, parked next to HWY 50, and took a walk along the South Tahoe bike way, then went down to the snow-covered beach and made our way back to our car.  As we returned the sky turned blazing peach and pink and purple, celebrating our explorations.  You can always count on Lake Tahoe to take your breath away, one way or another.



Freeway Free Around Tahoe: Through the Ice

Trail to Emerald Bay is under there somewhere!

C and I deliberate about how to spend our first day in Winter Wonderland, and decide to go hiking at Emerald Bay, maybe down to the bay from the trailhead, maybe on the “moderate” trail up to Eagle Falls. After some wrong turns with me driving, we finally plug in the GPS and find the right road, skimming along on ice-free pavement between six-foot snowbanks on either side of the road – until we get to the ridge where the side of the road simply drops away on both sides and I dare not take my eyes off the asphalt to look at the stunning views in either direction for fear of plummeting to our doom.

Bridge is under there!

Six-foot snowdrifts means that access to the trail down to Emerald Bay is blocked by snow, so we default to the “moderate, 400 ft elevation” Eagle Creek loop.  The hike to falls would be easy if the path and all markers were not obliterated by piles of snow.  We struggle, using existing footprints as toeholds, to the bridge, which is covered with a two foot cushion of hard packed snow (fortunately not in the sun, so not slick or icy).

On the other side, it looks like a path has been blazed to go down and cross the creek at a narrow spot, less steep and icy than either the way we had come or the longer loop back to start – so we try it. C goes first, with no trouble until we reach the narrow place where it seems others had crossed the creek.  She gets across but with one foot through the ice bridge down to water.  “That looks dicey,” I thought. “I’ll try a different route” – bad idea!  I break through the ice bridge with one foot in the creek down to my ankle. As I struggle the other foot breaks through also, and suddenly I’m up to my knees in icy water, with the surrounding snowpack almost up to my waist, and me on my back with my backpack sinking into the surface.  Fortunately, C manages to get to solid ground and grab a hand, and I finally flip over and manage to get a knee onto fairly firm snow.  Yes, the way back is less steep and less long, but I squish at every step. 

Next week: Plans B and C

A Piece of My Mind: Groundhog Day? Groundhog Decade?

It’s become a cliché to compare living in the year of COVID-19 lockdown to the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character is doomed to relive the same day over and over until he gets it right.  I’ve certainly had that feeling, as Laundry Day seems to come around faster and faster, and the only difference from week to week is what color sheets I put on the bed.  

But hey!  We’re getting through it, right?  I’ve been waiting for the New Normal for a while now, with the anticipation of looking forward, rather than looking back at How Things Used to Be.  But this week I had an unsettling discovery which challenges that anticipation.  

Like many people, I keep a stack of unread magazines in the bathroom which I am going to get around to reading sooner or later. During lockdown, I made a lot of progress.  This week, near the bottom of the unread magazine pile I found an issue of Time from summer, five years ago.   

There was a two-page photo spread showing a scorched playground swing among the smoky ruins of a school, one of at least 2400 homes and businesses in a community destroyed by a wildfire. 

A lead article talked about how to achieve equity and inclusion for black students at colleges and universities, using the line “Black Students Matter”.  

Another article featured edible cutlery as a way to keep plastic waste out of landfills. 

An op-ed article discussed how to help your children interact with and understand artificial intelligence. 

A second op-ed article worried about how the aging of the Baby Boomers would impact our society, especially if they are siloed in retirement communities and lose engagement with their communities. 

The lead articles discussed the need to reform our tax system in order to narrow the wealth gap and the lack of political will to address our crumbling transportation systems.  The entertainment section featured an article on the retreat of movie and television drama into endless fantasies where magic and superpowers prevail over reality.  

In short, if you changed a few political names, updated the titles of the books, movies, and TV shows, and overlooked the lack of mention of pandemics, there was almost nothing in the magazine that couldn’t have been written this week.  I have the horrible suspicion that once I am out of lockdown, the New Normal could just be 2016 over and over again, until we get it right.  

There are still a few magazines in my pile, even older than the copy of Time from 2016. I’m going to wait a bit before I look at them, though.  If we are stuck in a Groundhog Decade, I don’t think I want to know. 

Freeway Free in Texas: Take Me Home From the Ball Game

          It’s 6:30 am and we are off to Kyle (touted by Wikipedia as the fastest-growing town in Texas, which also makes it a strong candidate for the ugliest – lots of big box stores and pop-up housing.) My nephew’s team, the Texas Gunners, will be playing the Triple Play in the Battle of the Basement. (Winners get to sleep in. Losers play at 8:30, and the team meets for warm-ups an hour earlier) The Gunners have beaten Triple Play in two previous games but we must not be overconfident.

          We arrive at the ball park.  My nephew and brother stride off toward the dugout with the duffel bag full of gear.  My sister-in-law and I note the rain spangling against the windshield and decide to huddle in the SUV for a few minutes longer.

          Twenty minutes pass.  The rain is still spatting against the windows, but we unfurl ourselves from the SUV, add a couple of layers of warmth from the back seat stash, and make our way to the bleachers, happily sheltered under a tin roof. The other parents are cuddled in sleeping bags, or afghans, or double layers of fleece. One family has brought a tent, which is pitched under the tin room for added protection.

          First inning.  The wind picks up. And up. The sky grows darker. And darker.  My nephew distinguishes himself as pitcher during the first inning, and the second.  Rain continues. Wind increases.  25 mph, says the weather app on my smartphone.  It is now the third inning, and my nephew’s  pitches are getting wilder.

          “Will the game be called on account of rain?” I ask my brother through chattering teeth.

          “Nah.  Only if there’s lightning. If there’s lightning they have to stop and wait for a half hour since the last thunder clap.”

          As if on cue, there is a bright flash of lightning. A long roll of thunder.  The umpires blow their whistles.  The teams retreat to their respective dugouts. The parents shiver beneath their blankets.  The kids seem immune to cold, not even donning their team sweatshirts as they wait out the interval.

          A half hour passes.  No more thunder. The teams resume the field.

          Bad news:  My nephew’s team loses again. They are eliminated from the tournament

          Good news: They don’t have to play again.  We can go home and get warm.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 25: Getting Hotter

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Not enough to be locked down by fear of the virus. For two weeks I have been locked in, surrounded in my bayside bubble by wildfires raging out of control to the north, to the east, to the south, and to the west. The outside air has ranged from Moderately Unhealthy to Hazardous, as a high pressure dome presses down on our region, keeping the sea breezes out and holding the ash and soot in.

The beginning of the maelstrom was a week of record-setting high temperatures, punctuated by a freak lightning storm which lit over 600 blazes in tinder-dry brush. We had a week of relief from the heat, and then it returned, with temperatures a full 25 degrees above “normal” for this time of year.

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September 7,2020

At the same time, in other parts of the country the most powerful storm ever to make landfall made its way from the Gulf to the Atlantic shore. The Weather Service is all the way to Rene in naming tropical storms, and the hurricane season has not reached its peak.

How can anyone look at these events and not be afraid, not for their own personal well-being, but for our planet? I have grand-children. Scientists have warned for a decade that what I live through in these weeks will be the “new normal” if we are not able to change our destructive patterns of life.

If no other good comes from it, the pandemic has shown us that, if forced and if fearful, we CAN cut carbon emissions by 7% a year. We CAN move out of cars and onto bicycles or our own feet. We CAN live without the latest Something New.

And the trusting faces of our children and grandchildren tell us we MUST.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 12 – Silver Linings

I had an eerie experience today.  I drove south on a major freeway at 4:45.  I was driving to a destination about 15 miles from my house. Normally (at rush hour, going in the commute direction) it would have taken me nearly an hour to go 15 miles.  Today – 15 minutes.

I looked up from the road. Today was an unusually hot day, in the nineties. Normally, in that heat, smog would have blanketed the valley I live in.  I would be fortunate to see the foothills five miles away.  Today, despite the heat, I could see the mountains at least thirty miles away.  The observatory buildings at the top of the highest peak in our area gleamed white. No traffic = no smog.

This evening I heard laughter from across the street.  The family whose children are normally in camp or in nanny care while their parents are at work was outside in their front yard,  parents and children playing volleyball with an invisible net.

In hard times, divisive times, there is upside.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 7: Nature’s soft side shows in Spring

Nature has been throwing  us a lot of nasties in the last months – pandemic, killer tornados, smothering snow, torrential rain, and historic drought levels, to name a few.  And then, as if to make up for the tantrums, she sends us a Spring as lavish and luscious as any I can remember.  From native-plant gardens,  to cultivated rose gardens, to bursting containers, everything that has ever thought of blooming in my own garden and my neighborhood is out-doing itself this year.

Above: Poppies, sage, lupine, and blue-eyed grass from a native-plant garden in a nearby park.

Above: calendula, roses, raphiolepsis and orchids in my own garden.

Above: ranunculus border, tulips, wisteria, and rhododendron from a heritage garden nearby.

Above: cultivated roses at a neighboring university campus.

I hope these pix refresh you a bit, especially those of you who are still snowbound as well as lockdown-bound.  Spring still arrives, in spite of everything!

Travels with a Tiny Teardrop Trailer – Day 6 (and conclusion)

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We wake up to sunny skies.  With deliberate speed we fix our breakfast (why does hot oatmeal never taste as good at home as in camp?), pack our gear (so much easier when it isn’t raining!) and amble down to the boat ramp at Schroeder County Park to check out the Rogue River flowing peacefully past. 20191023_110409web

Suddenly the peace is broken by a raucous noise reminiscent of several large garbage trucks operating their compacters and power brakes at the same time. But the racket is coming from over our heads!  It’s a giant straggling flock of geese, all greeting the morning as best they can as they soar past only 50 feet or so above us. (the photo is of a second, less large and less near flotilla which went over after I managed to get my camera ready.)

20191023_145043webAll is well as we head out.  We make a brief stop at Castle Crags State Park, as Sis wanted to show me where we would have camped if we had not been so delayed on Day One. When we saw the campsites in daylight, we thanked our lucky stars.  The trailer sites were sliced into a hillside, and not as level as one would like.  We would never have been able to maneuver the Tiny Trailer into one of those sites on our first night, in the dark, in the rain.  We make a brief obeisance to the stately rock towers above us, and move on south.

We are in California now, and looming ahead is the Mt. Fuji of the West, Mount Shasta, alone in the center of the Central Valley, lightly frosted with early October snow, welcoming us back.    We need to get the trailer back to its berth before end of day. And our husbands are waiting. Sis steps on the gas.   20191023_134727doc

End of our adventure.  Sis and I experienced weather, we dealt with sins of omission and commission, we saw places we had never seen.  But the memories that will live longest are those of family and friends who greeted and sheltered us.  Thanks, Bro, and wife C and Dr. Sam!  Thanks family!  Thanks, Sis, my travel partner!  Now onward!

Travels with a Tiny Teardrop Trailer – Day 4 (cont.)

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After a day  that included a museum tour, retail therapy, and beach walking in late afternoon sunshine, we make our way back to our campsite, looking forward to sitting around a campfire sipping wine while Bro fixes those delayed hamburgers on the Titanic‘s outdoor kitchen BBQ.   We get the fire going strong, the outdoor kitchen is activated, the burgers are ready to go and the wine is poured – and Bro has rolled out the awnings just in case. 20191020_095047(0)web

And a good thing, too.

Almost as soon as we have sat down in our camp chairs, we get another dose of Oregon weather. the sun disappears, the clouds roll down with the event of the day.  This time, it’s hail.  Serious hail.

 

Even Bro’s brave little moppet of a dog is awed by the onslaught.  But thanks to the strategic awning, the Titanic‘s  indomitable propane tank, and (let’s admit) the excellent wine, we are undaunted.  We sip, the burger sizzle, we  eat them inside the Titanic, where we are warm and dry.  The fire is the only thing dampened by the weather.

Will it rain on us all the way home?  Will we be able to reload those bikes we left behind at Bro’s house?   What route will we take back to sunny (we hope) California? Stay tuned!

 

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