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To my friendslist [Jun. 11th, 2009|08:03 pm]
So, a couple weeks ago, while I was at the mall with theinimitable_l, I ran into one of my old friends from high school, and we started talking, and saying how we should keep in touch, and then Facebook came up.  And then I remembered--I have a Facebook!*  I acquired it back sometime in 2004 or 2005, while I was going to Smith, way back when Facebook was exclusively a college thing, and I didn't quite get the point of it, but everyone had to have one back then, so I signed up and did some stuff with it and then forgot about it for the next four years. 

And then, today, after I finally managed to remember a five-year-old password, I logged in again, and poked around, and ...

WOW.  A lot of you are on Facebook. 

So anyway, I have been finding all y'all, and sending out friend-requests (I think...I am new to this and don't know what I am doing) and possibly doing everything wrong, and possibly all you people also only signed up for Facebook accounts because of college peer-pressure five years ago and never go there anymore, but if you still hang out there, maybe you can tell me how I can find you and demand to be your friend and the like.  

* Even though I am not sure if 'Facebook' works the same way, grammatically, as 'LiveJournal' so maybe you can't correctly say 'I have a Facebook!' like you can say 'I have a LiveJournal!'  I don't know.  Because I am clueless about that, too. 

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Yosemite, part 2. (A loquacious account, with illustrations) [May. 28th, 2009|11:16 pm]
Recall, if you will, that last week I mentioned that my brother and I made a visit to Yosemite, the occasion for which was my mother desiring to attend a ten-day meditation retreat at the Seriously-Scary-and-Possibly-Cult-Like Meditation Center somewhere in the Sierra Nevada. B and I being dutiful children, we cheerfully deposited her there last week, and then, ten days later, I went back up there to pick her up.

Actually, it was nine days later, because her thing ended at 7:30 in the morning and it takes about five hours to get there from home, more if one gets stuck in traffic trying to get the hell out of Los Angeles, and I was not all that keen on getting up at 2:30 in the morning and driving up there and then turning around and driving back. So what did I decide to do? I decided to go a day early, and enjoy the scenery and go hiking and have adventures and that sort of thing.

It still involved getting up at 2 o'clock in the morning, though. I wanted to spend the portion of the day lit by the sun frolicking outdoors rather than driving, and also, since shoving my way through a herd of people who are walking slowly to the base of Yosemite Falls is not my idea of a good time, I thought it might be best to do all my waterfall-communing early in the morning, when most visitors are asleep in their tents/trying to start fires to cook breakfast/chasing away bears/still driving to Yosemite. So my plan was to leave home at 2:30 a.m. and drive through the night, get to Yosemite at seven or eight, spend the day hiking, and then drive back down to Bass Lake in the evening and spend the night there, since it's only about ten miles from where my mother was staying.

Driving in the middle of the night is great; there were hardly any cars on the road, and within an hour I was already driving up the mountains north of the city and coasting down all the hills at ninety miles per hour, and by 4:20 I was past Bakersfield. By then the road was very flat and straight, and I was driving rather fast, because I was all alone, the only car on the road for miles--I could see the red lights of the cars miles in front of me and the gold lights of the cars miles behind me, with me all alone in between. It was very peaceful.

I stopped in Fresno around six in the morning to get gas and breakfast. The sun was up by then, lighting up the land so that it seemed to glow, and I drove north through a beautiful country of green trees on yellow hills. I got to the south entrance of Yosemite at seven, and I reached the Valley around eight. Stopped at Tunnel View to take pictures, because I simply cannot pass by that place without stopping to take pictures. This annoys my brother. He's always like, "Why do we have to stop? Do you realize that this is the sixteenth time that you have stopped to take pictures from here?" But he wasn't here this time (afraid of camping) so I got out and snapped pictures to my heart's content. Here's one of them:

Tunnel View, May 2009

I like this one better than last week's Tunnel View picture.

After that, I looped around the Valley. Waterfalls were falling all over the place: there were these huge torrents gushing impressively over cliffs--the waterfalls that exist for most of the year and thus have proper names--and also lots of minor little streamlets trickling down thousands of feet, which will be gone in a few weeks. I walked to the base of Bridalveil Fall--the waterfall featured in the picture above, and it was wonderful. The water was pouring down with such force that when it hit the ground a substantial portion of it flew back up in the air, throwing up so much mist that it looked like a cloud had fallen from the sky and was sitting at the base of the waterfall. And when I walked through it it was like walking through a rainstorm.

I drove around to Yosemite Falls after that, and had much the same experience, so I was thoroughly drenched by the time I got back to the car. on the way, took this picture of Yosemite Falls. Collapse )
That hike up to the Middle Cascade has got to be fabulous, walking right along where the water gets thrown back up. Anyway, when my waterfall-touring was complete it was after nine, and the Valley was beginning to fill up with people, so I figure it was time to flee up to Hetch Hetchy, which most visitors to Yosemite don't know about. Sure enough, as I was driving out on 120 (to get there you have to drive out of the park and then back in through another entrance), I passed this huge line of cars all waiting to get into the park--I think it was about a quarter of a mile long!

The road to Hetch Hetchy is kind of awful--potholes everywhere, no actual lane divider so cars are always driving on the middle of it--but there were hardly any cars so it was OK. After that not-so-harrowing adventure I made it to the Hetch Hetchy entrance. Finally. B and I had actually planned to go when we went last week, and hike along the Hetch Hetchy reservoir to some waterfalls, but after that Panorama Trail hike that left me unable to walk downhill I just wanted to go home and lie in bed and not stand up again for a couple of days. So we settled for a nice flat exploration of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias before driving back to Los Angeles.

Before I set out for the waterfalls, though, I decided to hike to Lookout Point, from which, I was told, one might see a magnificent vista of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and the O'Shaughnessy Dam and Wapama and Tueeulala Falls.

Lookout Point is totally not worth hiking to. No one's lying; you do get a nice view:

Lookout Point

But you can get pretty much the same view from the road while driving down to the dam. Without having to hike up a thousand feet on a rather rough trail when it's ninety degrees outside. On the other hand, there's no place to stop and take pictures on the road. But anyway, the point is, I hiked up a thousand feet to Lookout Point when it was ninety degrees outside. It was hot. So whenever the trail passed by a stream, or crossed a creek, I just tramped right through the water. My shoes got all soaked. It was nice. But when I got back to the car, my shoes were all soaking wet and muddy, and I pulled them off and threw them somewhere and put on my sandals instead. Then I drove down to the dam to walk out to those two waterfalls. The wispy piddling one on the left is Tueeulala Falls and the gushy one on the right is Wapama Falls. I was promised a footbridge across the base of Wapama Falls, upon which one could stand and get absolutely drenched by the waterfall, at least at this time of year. It was, by that point, about a hundred degrees, and I was looking forward to it.

So I set off still in my sandals, because it was hot and I wanted to be able to splash my feet around in any convenient waterfalls that I might find along the way. Now, obviously, everyone knows that hiking is Serious Business and you have to Respect the Wilderness and not go frolicking around in flip-flops, but this was not exactly a true wilderness experience where you go off in solitude to commune with nature.  Sure, not many people visiting Yosemite make it up to Hetch Hetchy, but of the ones that do, just about everyone is there to hike to the two waterfalls, or to the backcountry further along the same trail.  There were hundreds of people on the trail, which generally means that unless you do something insanely reckless (slide over waterfalls, etc.) you probably won't die of exposure or starvation or rattlesnake bites, because, chances are, you'll run into someone who was less of an idiot than you and who has matches / extra food / water / wilderness first aid training. 

Anyway.  The hike was very nice.  Picturesque.  Good views all along the reservoir, and the trail was pretty flat and smooth and wide--I had no problem negotiating it in platform sandals. 

Until, of course, I ventured off the trail to get a better view of the water, and, on the way back, had to cross a mucky and swampy patch of ground.  My left foot made it out okay.  So did my right foot.  And the sandal strap that was wrapped around my right foot.  The rest of the sandal, alas, was not so lucky.  It stayed in the swamp.  I fished it out, but the strap had been entirely yanked out and there was no way to fix it back in.  

So I was sitting there by the side of the trail, unable to walk, rummaging through my backpack in search of something that might affix my sandal to my foot again, at least temporarily.  I thought I might have some string or something in there.  I did not.  I thought I might have a rubber band or elastic hair tie.  I did not.  Backpack proved entirely useless.  Then--I looked at the skirt I was wearing!  It was a wrap skirt, that tied with a ribbon which was decoratively long.  Success!  I could cut off a length of it and use it to tie my sandal to my foot.  All I needed was a knife to cut it, and I thought I might have a Swiss army knife in my backpack. 

I did not. 

And, frankly, the passers-by I encountered were similarly useless.  No one had hair-ties or string or even a knife!  And here I thought I lingered rather near the bottom of the Hiking Responsibility Gradient.  Apparently I was far closer to average than I thought, which reflects--well, which doesn't reflect very well on anybody, actually. 

But being, nevertheless, a plucky and resourceful girl, I determined to sacrifice my camera strap to the noble cause of Allowing Self To Walk Again.  It was rather crude, since I couldn't cut it and had to make a rather elaborate yet unstable series of knots and wrappings to hold it on, and in the end it did not prove to be an adequate solution, but it served its purpose: it got me to a minor waterfall several hundred feet down the trail, where I encountered a Boy Scout troop. 

And now, all due credit and homage must be given to my personal lord and savior, Vincent the Boy Scout.  This is how it happened:  The troop was resting by the waterfall, having gone to Wapama Falls earlier that day and returning now.  The scout leader, having taken the motto of the organization to heart, did indeed have upon his person a trusty knife, and I sorrowfully prepared to mutilate the beautiful blue ribbon of my wrap skirt.  But then, Vincent the Boy Scout came to the rescue!  The scout leader may have been a minor acolyte at the holy shrine of preparedness, but Vincent was surely its high priest, for on this two-hour trip, this four-mile hike over level terrain, on a well-marked trail trod by hundreds of feet per day, he had seen fit to bring with him three lengths of climbing rope, in case circumstances warranted some impromptu mountineering.  Anyway, he let me have one of them, and I tied it around my foot.  My experimental design seemed to work pretty well, but I didn't want to cut it until I was sure that it would work out, so I held the trailing end of the rope in my hand as I walked, rather in the manner of a leash.  It was like I was going on a hike with my pet foot. 

It actually worked out rather well; I thought there might be problems negotiating the steep stone steps near the waterfall with sandals and the rope, but I didn't have much trouble.  Wapama Falls was great--it was around a hundred degrees on the trail, but as I got near the waterfall the flow was so great that there was a cold wind in the air, and mist everywhere.  And when I stood on the footbridge at the base of the fall, I got entirely drenched, and not just from the mist; there was so much water that it was falling directly onto the bridge in a violent cascade.  It was wonderful--I was actually cold and shivering when I got off the bridge.  I rested there for a while, darting back onto the bridge whenever I started to feel warm again, and got good and soaked one last time before heading back.  And it was actually so hot out that I dried off within a mile, and had to find another waterfall to hang out under along the way. 

On the way back, at the same minor waterfall where I encountered the Boy Scouts, I met two backpackers on their way to Rancheria Falls.  They noticed my rope and asked if I didn't want something a bit more practical.  And so I sat on rock and they duct-taped my foot to my sandal.  It was nice to have the use of both hands again, very convenient for taking pictures.  Like this one. Collapse )

It was around 3:30 in the afternoon when I got back to the car.  And then I drove pretty much all the way through Yosemite, back to the south entrance.  On the way, while I was taking 120 into the park again, I stopped at this gorgeous overlook, high above the Valley, with a good view of Bridalveil Fall:

Bridalveil overlook

This is actually the same spot where I saw Yosemite Valley for the first time last summer, when B and I stopped on the way to Oregon, and I remember that I squealed and cried for him to pull over when I got that first glimpse.  It looks much better now; back then there were forest fires and there was so much smoke hanging in the air. 

After I got out of the park I drove to Bass Lake.  I didn't get there until seven, but it wasn't very crowded.  I found a nice campsite, and was proudly surveying my domain trying to decide where the tent should go when I realized that I was providing dinner for a veritable swarm of mosquitoes.  Hopped back in the car, got some bug spray, returned, slaughtered them.  But not before I got about thirty bites.  Anyway.  Pitched the tent, threw all my stuff in it, had dinner, got bored by the lack of entertainment when the sun went down, went to bed.  It took me a surprisingly long time to fall asleep, considering that I had been up since 2 o'clock that morning. 

I woke up pretty much with the sun the next day.  The meditation center my mother was staying at was only about ten miles away from Bass Lake, so I had a pleasant time driving there extremely slowly in the morning sunlight.  I met up with my mother, who was, shockingly, not malnourished and traumatized from her ten-day ordeal, but rather all chipper and enlightened. 

Since it was yet early in the day, I proposed an expedition to Glacier Point before we headed back to Los Angeles.  In support of this proposal, I pointed out that, in explanation of her ten-day absence, my mother had told her acquaintances and co-workers and, yea, even her very mother that she was going on a "vacation to Yosemite," and, having said this, would it not be better to actually set foot in the park, so she would not be entirely a liar?  (My mother was reluctant to tell her co-workers about the meditation thing because, I think, she thought that they might think it was a bit odd and unfamiliar.  And she can't tell her mother about her interest in Buddhism because, rather hilariously, my grandmother converted from Buddhism to Christianity when my mother was four years old, and my mother doesn't dare inform her of this apostasy.)   

Anyway, we drove up to Glacier Point.  It was very impressive.  I took this nice picture of Half Dome:
Cut for gigantitudeCollapse )
And then we drove home.  That went pretty well, except I had to drive barefoot the whole way because my real shoes were still all soaked and my sandals were held together with duct tape and anyway my feet were all bruised and abraded from the duct tape and the hiking so it hurt to wear shoes. 

The End. 

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Quantum of Solace, or, the standards of behavior at the opera house have rather declined of late [May. 22nd, 2009|04:27 pm]
I have finally, belatedly gotten around to seeing Quantum of Solace.  I understand that the general consensus is that it is not as good as Casino Royale, but for my part, I am of the opinion that this second chapter offers more fun. 

With that said, I shall now proceed to complain about it. 

About a third of the way into the movie, there is a scene in which the members of the Vast World Conspiracy deem it necessary to hold a sort of conference so that they might further their wicked plans.  They choose to communicate by radio with these nifty little earpieces while they are all attending a performance of Tosca, as they are all seated separately at different points around the arena. 

But let us set aside the general ridiculousness and impracticability of this idea, and accept it on its own terms.  What do the conspirators do next?  Why, they sit patiently through about an hour of opera before they begin their radio-enhanced plotting.  While they are all talking pipelines and coups with each other, the performers on stage are at the very end of the first act of Tosca, when Scarpia is emoting about how hot Tosca is and all the priests and townspeople are gathering to sing the Te Deum because they think Napoleon has been defeated. 

For which I am rather annoyed at them.  The finale of Act I is the best damn part of the opera, and they talk all through it!  Why aren't they all being viciously elbowed in the ribs by their disgruntled neighbors? 

On the other hand, perhaps their bad behavior is justified.  The production of the opera is not quite up to snuff, what with the performers leaving out lines whenever singing them would inconveniently disrupt the flow of the soundtrack, to the point of even mangling the sacred Te Deum (upon listening again: some blasphemous sound editor has definitely cut out the 'omnis terra' in the second line).  And then, after Act I has concluded with much pomp and fervour and Bond revealing himself to the conspirators, causing them to run out panicking, what does the opera house decide to do?  Do the lights come up for the intermission, as would be decent (but potentially hampering the gunfights now being staged by the escaping conspirators)?  No!  Instead, whoever was directing the opera has apparently thought: "Ah!  The finale of Act I!  What shall I put on the stage directly after that?  Oh, I know--how about the finale of Act II?"  Because less than a minute after the end of the Te Deum, while villains are still spilling out of the arena, Bond in hot pursuit, there Tosca is, right there on the stage killing Scarpia. 

Frankly, I'm shocked.  Why haven't the patrons (well, the ones who weren't just there to plot destruction, the ones who were actually there to see Tosca) revolted at this shoddy production?  You would think that they would express some outrage at having been cheated out of hearing Vissi d'arte, at least.  Unless, of course, everyone there was only attending to have their own nefarious conspiracy-plotting sessions and consequently no one there knew or cared about the plot of the opera anyway. 

In other news, the ice cream truck is playing music from Swan Lake.  I approve. 

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In the Valley of the Yosemite [May. 20th, 2009|05:54 pm]
Some time ago, my mother, for some unfathomable reason, decided that she would like to go to a 10-day Buddhist meditation retreat somewhere in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.  Now, you might be wondering: what, precisely, is so daunting about a 10-day meditation retreat?  Is it not a rather fashionable sort of activity these days?  Wandering off to the woodlands to seek the inner self and attain enlightenment and so forth?  Didn't you, emilya, in fact wander off to a Buddhist meditation retreat of your own last year? 

Well, yes, I did.  But that was one of those mild and peppy one-weekend things, the sort of place where, although you have to get up at 5:30 in the morning to go meditating, you get to spend most of the rest of the day writing silly stories about reckless driving and going on moon-viewing expeditions and socializing with people.  This thing that my mother went off to is a Serious Scary Meditation Retreat, where you aren't allowed to talk or even make eye contact with the other people there, and the information packet they send you has this big long list of ITEMS which IT IS FORBIDDEN TO BRING, which includes cell phones, cameras, reading materials, writing utensils, and food.  (You are only allowed to eat what they give you.  And also, apparently dinner is banned.  You get to have tea or water at 5 p.m. every evening, and if you are new and need indulgence, you are permitted to have half an apple or banana.)  And you have to get up at 4 in the morning, and spent, like twelve hours of each day sitting and meditating, and when you are not doing that you are listening to taped lectures by some famed Indian mystic, and frankly by this point it was sounding to me like one of those cult initiation things, so... when my mother asked if I would like to join her I told her that it seemed a bit too regimented and deeply terrifying for my free-spirited and frivolous soul. 

But anyway, my mother still needed some way to get up there, and since she doesn't like driving long distances and the place was five or six hours north of Los Angeles, I offered to drive her up there.  And then my brother and I decided that so long as we were up there, we might as well spend a couple of days at Yosemite. 

Yosemite is absolutely gorgeous right now.  The high country is still under snow, but the valley is all green and blooming, with wildflowers everywhere, and the waterfalls are great, these huge rushing torrents you can hear from miles away.  B. and I drove up to Glacier Point in the morning, and I took this: 

Glacier Point

See how, though the mountains in the background are still covered in snow, the lower ground is all dry and clear?  I took a long look at it and thought, "I could hike down to the Valley from here!"  And then I turned to my brother and I said exactly that.  And then he expressed horror and then, right after I said, "It's only nine miles! You want to come?" he told me in no uncertain terms that a nine-mile hike was not precisely his idea of a good time, which in retrospect was rather convenient, because if we both wanted to go then we would have to hike down to the Valley and then hike back up, over four thousand feet back up, in fact, to get back to the car.  So we decided to split up: I would hike the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley, and he would take the car and drive down to the Valley and hike up the Mist Trail, hopefully meeting me on the way. 

This is a picture I took about fifteen minutes from the start of the hike:

LJ-cut because I have, like, nine pictures to postCollapse )

The trail goes down for quite a bit, crosses a waterfall you can't see because it's off to the right, and then climbs back up and goes along the top of the cliff at the right of the picture.  It then descends again and goes across the rightmost waterfall, Nevada Fall, at which point it joins the Mist Trail.  That trail follows a lot of rocky steps that go down the left side of Nevada Fall, then goes through the woods along the river until it gets to the other waterfall, Vernal Fall, and basically stays along the river until it ends in Yosemite Valley about a mile further along.  B was going to climb to the top of Vernal Fall and go a little ways along the river, and we were going to meet at Silver Apron Bridge, which you can't see in this photo but which is somewhere in the forest between the two waterfalls. 

Also, that's Half Dome in the upper left, looking much less iconic and recognizable than it did in the first photo, even though they were taken less than a mile apart.  During my hike, I walked almost halfway around Half Dome, and saw it from a lot of interesting angles. 

The trail was quite passable--all the snow on it had melted already, though I saw a few patches hiding in the shade.  However, it was wet.  Quite often, I had to ford little streams where the snow was melting into miniature waterfalls that fell on the trail.  Some people were carefully crossing on semi-submerged rocks or logs, but I was impatient and just plowed right through and got my shoes all wet. 

A little further along, the view looked like this picture.Collapse )
That's Half Dome, except you can't quite see the Half part anymore.  A bit after this was the waterfall I had to cross.  It had this hilarious sign warning people not to go swimming in the inviting little churning pool right before the waterfall plunged over the cliff. 

After the waterfall was the only uphill part of the trail.  About halfway through the climb, there is a little spur trail leading to Panorama Point, which, according to some people, is the whole point of hiking the Panorama Trail.  It's certainly scenic, and I stopped and had lunch there, and took these pictures, which I have smushed together for your panoramic viewing pleasure:
Cut due to serious panoramaCollapse )
Nice view of the Royal Arches and North Dome and Basket Dome, and that's Half Dome on the right, still not looking very half. 

As the trail leveled out again, I could see Yosemite Falls through the rocks and trees, and also this.Collapse )
Last picture of freakin' Half Dome!  I promise! 

Anyway, I reached the top of Nevada Fall about three hours after I started.  I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't snappier, because taking three hours to walk five and a half miles is a pretty pathetic pace, but on the other hand I kept stopping to take pictures and had a rather leisurely lunch at Panorama Point.  But I wanted to meet up with B at Silver Apron Bridge fairly early on, because before we split up we had worked out this elaborate system of meeting points and times and exactly when we would give up on meeting each other on the trail and descend to the Valley seperately and when we would start badgering rangers to send out search-and-rescue parties.  So I was at the top of Nevada Fall, and I had a choice to make, because there were two trails that would take me to Silver Apron Bridge: the Mist Trail, which is much shorter but also steep and rocky, and the John Muir Trail, which has lots of switchbacks and is generally considered easier to descend if you are some old person with bad knees and the like, but is longer.  I was young and foolish and in a hurry, so I opted for the Mist Trail, blithely confident about the state of my knees.  

Well, as it turns out, my knees did not like slamming down several hundred uneven stone steps, not after they had spent the entire afternoon walking downhill.  I had climbed down around 3000 feet by that point, and I kept having to stop because my legs were shaking and trembling.  But I made it to the base of Nevada Fall without, you know, dying or anything, and I met B at Silver Apron Bridge as planned, and despite all the uncontrolled variables we actually got there within five minutes of each other, though nowhere near any of our carefully Designated Meeting Times.  We hung around the bridge for a bit, because I couldn't walk, and then, since the Mist Trail and the John Muir trail meet again very close to the bridge, we debated which way we should go back down to the Valley.  I moaned about my knees, so we started off on the John Muir trail.  And then B saw the sign showing how long it was to the footbridge at the base of Vernal Fall, where the trails meet yet again.  The Mist Trail got there in three-tenths of a mile.  The John Muir trail took a mile and a half to get to the same point.  That was when B said we were taking the Mist Trail.  

The Mist trail is only 0.3 miles between those points because it is practically vertical.  In those 0.3 miles it climbs something like a thousand feet.  I took this at the top of Vernal Fall, looking down:

Yet another pictureCollapse )
I don't think it comes across so well in the photo, but the left side of the photo is several hundred feet higher than the right.  You can also see the famous Mist Trail mist; as B and I were walking down it we got drenched from the spray of the falls.  It was like walking though a rainstorm.  With really cold rain, since all that water is snowmelt. 

I'm sick of thinking up things to type when indicating that there is a picture underneath the LJ-cut.Collapse )
I took this picture of Vernal Fall on one of the rare level patches between the steps, where I was shivering and really wanted to move out of the spray but I had to stop and rest because it hurt too much to go down steps.  By the time we passed the footbridge, I had started to use B as a makeshift hiking pole, because my own legs couldn't bear my weight going downhill.  B was very kind and tolerant about being used in this manner.  But I still had to stop to rest pretty often, and kept having to tell my hiking pole to slow down and not walk so fast, until I had an idea: I turned around and started walking backwards, and my muscles were thereby tricked into thinking that I was walking uphill, which didn't hurt at all.  I just held on to B's hand and he steered me around obstacles, and we made it back to the Valley very quickly after that. 

One more picture.Collapse )
Because no trip report about Yosemite is complete without a picture of Tunnel View. 

ETA: I figured, so long as I am posting Yosemite pictures, I really should show this one, from our trip in January.  B and I stopped at Yosemite on our trip to Oregon, and we decided to to snowshoe to Dewey Point.  Except we got up really late that day, and weren't at Glacier Point Road until the afternoon, and then we discovered that we could walk just fine on the snow of the unplowed section of Glacier Point Road in our normal shoes, because the snow was packed down pretty well, so we were all, "Screw that, we don't need no stinkin' $18/day snowshoes!"  And so we set off on the five-mile round trip to Dewey Point, and that last remark was only the beginning of the Irresponsible Hiking Behavior that we displayed on that trip.  We set off with absolutely nothing in the way of supplies-- no compass, no knife, no matches, no flashlight, no food, nothing to insure that we wouldn't die if there was a sudden snowstorm--nothing, in fact, but one bottle of water.  And a cell phone that wasn't getting any reception, which we were taking along solely for its use as a timepiece.  The map of snowshoe trails that I had purchased for fifty cents earlier that day said not to expect to go much faster than 1 mile per hour.  We started somewhere around 2 in the afternoon.  It was a five mile trip.  The sun set at 4:30 p.m.  B pointed out that all the math did not quite work out for getting us back before dark, which we needed to do because we had no flashlight, and therefore no way to see the trail after the sun set.  I made the following objections: (1) We're walking way faster than one mile per hour!  (2) Even after the sun sets, we can still see, because there is still light in the sky for about half an hour afterwards.  (3) I think there is some sort of moonlight tonight, and from my extensive research (reading Laura Ingalls Wilder Books) if there is a full moon out, one can harvest crops by its light, and following a path back to civilization totally requires less light than harvesting wheat.  (4) The beginning and end of the hike are on the snow covered, unplowed section of Glacier Point Road, on which it is impossible to get lost, even if it is dark, so we just need to be out of the forest and on the road before darkness falls. 

If this were some sort of morality tale or instructional hiking story, no doubt we would have gotten horribly lost and wandered around after dark and gotten frostbite and hypothermia and required rescuing and hospitalization and at the end we would solemly tell the reader about the importance of Responsible Hiking Behavior and give talks to schoolcildren about the same, but most unfortunately, nothing bad happened to us.  Close to Dewey Point the snow was deep and unpacked and we kept sinking through it and our feet got all wet and cold and I completely ruined my brand new Banana Republic wool socks, but we were back at the car by five o'clock and nobody lost any appendages to frostbite.  And it was totally worth it, because Dewey Point was gorgeous and I got to sit on some rocks by the edge of a cliff and look out at this:

Dewey Point, January 2009

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New computer squealing [Feb. 17th, 2009|04:07 pm]
So, remember how, a while back, I posted that I was contemplating buying a new computer?  And then I was asking whether it was worth it to pay an extra $450 for, essentially, a 15-inch screen rather than a 13-inch screen?  And then I never said anything more about it because I am just the sort of person who leaves all her LJ friends hanging instead of bringing her personal purchasing anecdote to a satisfactory conclusion? 

Anyway, I went back to the Apple Store to have another look and to decide and to think about things, and then something very interesting happened.  I went to the store fully intending to purchase the more moderately priced 13-inch MacBook, feeling all virtuous and frugal (well, as frugal as one can reasonably feel while planning to spend eighteen hundred dollars on a laptop that might cost half that price if it weren't so aesthetically pleasing).  But upon arrival, I made the dreadful mistake of saying to myself, "Well, it can't hurt just to look at that other one, and do some last-minute comparison!  Just to be sure that this is what I want, of course.  After all, this new computer and I are going to be BFFs for the next three years, at least." 

So I sat in front of the 13-inch MacBook for a while.  And then I went and did the same thing to the 15-inch MacBook Pro.  And thought about things.  It sort of went like this:

Indulgent, Optimistic Self: Wow!  This screen is so big!  And pretty! 
Penny-Pinching, Disdainful Self:  And expensive!  Are really willing to pay FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS more for it?
Indulgent, Optimistic Self: Yes!  Pretty! 
Penny-Pinching, Disdainful Self: Well, too damn bad, because guess who has control of the checkbook?  Me!  (triumphantly waves checkbook around in the air)
Indulgent, Optimistic Self: (pouts)
Penny-Pinching, Disdainful Self: (trying to be consoling, aware that she has to live the Indulgent, Optimistic Self, who is a bit of a whiner when she doesn't get her own way) But just think!  Four hundred and fifty dollars is a lot of money!  Four hundred and fifty dollars could buy you a freakin' iPhone!  Wouldn't you rather have a slightly smaller computer, and enough money to buy an iPhone, rather than that larger one, as nice as it may seem?
Indulgent, Optimistic Self: Hmmm... (starts to roam around store, looking at iPhones)  OK! 
Penny-Pinching, Disdainful Self: (feeling rather smug and superior)  I'm glad that you have seen the error of your ways.  Now let's find the nice employee and tell him we want to purchase this nice 13-inch MacBook. 
Indulgent, Optimistic Self: And an iPhone! 
Penny-Pinching, Disdainful Self: What?!!!1!
Indulgent, Optimistic Self: You said that with the money we save by buying the less expensive computer, we could buy an iPhone! 
Penny-Pinching, Disdainful Self: (with nightmarish visions of $70 in monthly fees for the next two years dancing in her head) That was "could" used as a subjunctive, to express possibility!  Not the "could" granting permission, which, properly speaking, does not exist and ought to be replaced by "may."  Didn't you learn this in preschool? 
Indulgent, Optimistic Self: (holding on to the iPhone in a manner that is both protective and threatening) Hey, I agreed to do what you wanted!  I wanted that nice pretty big screen, in the true spirit of compromise, I agreed to get the less expensive one.  And now you're backing out of your end of the deal.  Don't you think that's pretty selfish of you?
Penny-Pinching, Disdainful Self: (sputtering incoherently) But an iPhone--that's--that's $70 a month, two year contract--it's another eight hundred and forty dollars!  We can't afford that!  Put the iPhone back.  Please? 
Indulgent, Optimistic Self: (with a great show of reluctance)  All right.  For the greater good.  (Sadly set the iPhone down.  Smothers a sob or two.) 
Penny-Pinching, Disdainful Self: (sighs with relief) All right, good.  Now let's go buy the computer...
Indulgent, Optimistic Self: (cheerful again) But with all the money we just saved by not getting the iPhone, we could get the bigger, prettier computer!
Penny-Pinching, Disdainful Self: (feels that she has been thwarted, somehow)

And so I am now the proud possessor of a shiny new 15-inch MacBook Pro.  It came in this special white padded case, as if it were a gemstone pendant or other exquisite jeweled creation, and for a couple of days I actually kept it nestled in there just because I liked opening it up and seeing it sitting so prettily in the box so much.  And the screen is all glossy, and the icons bounce when you click on them, and I derive entirely too much amusement from the shapes the windows make when you minimize them, and I have had the greatest fun experimenting with the trackpad trying to figure out all the different ways I could stick my fingers on it. 

It has actually been a while since I bought the thing, so it is not quite as shiny and pristine anymore, because my cat kind of walked all over it (did you know that the computer thinks that a cat stepping on the track pad is the equivalent of a human right-clicking?) and also someone (me) spilled bread crumbs all over the keyboard (in an attempt to get the bread, which the cat wanted to eat, somewhere where the cat couldn't reach it).  But I still stop and stare at it sometimes, mesmerized by how absolutely beautiful it is, and think that it is the most beautiful computer in the universe. 

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(no subject) [Dec. 7th, 2008|12:46 pm]
Before I left on Tuesday, I did neglect to mention that I was going to be in New York for the next two weeks or so.  However, john_j_enright did helpfully (and poetically) inform a full half of my friendslist of my departure a few days ago. 

Anyway, I made a perhaps-misguided decision to take the train, as it was only very slightly more expensive than the plane, and I had six extra days to devote to making cross-country rail journeys, and I was curious to see what the vast portion of empty land in the middle of America looked like from ground level.   So on Tuesday evening my mother and my brother accompanied me to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, where I arrived half an hour before the train left, due to some rather horrible traffic on the 101, which made us decide to leave the freeway and drive around downtown making illegal left turns and observe that if actual human people are walking around on the sidewalks, one is in a bad neighborhood (respectable people in LA drive their cars everywhere, and do not set foot on a sidewalk if they can help it).  And then when we arrived at Union Station everyone was kind of snotty and gave disapproving glances and intimated that I was late and ought to have arrived over an hour before departure. 

The train wasn't full, so I got a pair of seats to myself for the trip to Chicago.  I should explain about the accommodations: the cost of taking the train is only comparable to the price of a plane ticket if you go in coach rather than paying for a sleeper.  Coach class on Amtrak is a much better sort of thing than its airline equivalent.  Imagine, if you will, a first-class seat on an airplane.  An airplane owned by a rather crummy, cost-cutting airline, such that one has a decent amount of space, but the seat does not recline terribly far and is not upholstered in leather and does not come with a handy personal entertainment center and nobody treats you very obsequiously at all and you don't get a free bag of goodies with socks and toothbrushes and chocolates.  Oh, yes, and and that seat is your new home for the next three days, rather than fourteen hours.  Anyway, if you are so fortunate to get the whole row to yourself, as I did, with a fair amount of contortion you can sleep in those things, though I am a picky sleeper and did not manage more than three or four hours of sleep each night. 

In fact, on the first night, I got barely any sleep at all, due to a sequence of occurrences that went like this: 

a play in Three Acts

ACT I -- The first night

The train races away from Los Angeles in the dark.  It is slightly after midnight.  Inside the last car of the train, it is dark and quiet, with only the central aisle dimly lit.  The passengers contained therein are sleeping, or attempting to sleep, and have arranged an assortment of pillows and blankets around themselves.  The only noise is made by the train as it runs over rough patches of track.  Suddenly, the relative silence is broken by... 

A WOMAN TALKING ON A CELL PHONE: Why, hel-lo!  I've been trying to call Carl for three days now!  No, no, I'm his cousin.  No, not that one.  His mother was my father's sister.   He's what?  He's in the HOSPITAL?  What happened to him?  He slipped on a patch of ice and tripped over a stray walrus?  That still happens, huh?  What?  What?  Now the walrus is SUING him?  What is wrong with this country?  Larry H. Parker, huh?  I'll bet his flippers still work fine and he's just faking it.  Now what's wrong with Carl?  Sprained vertebrae?  Oh, oh, I see.  Well, we'll be getting in to Chicago in the afternoon.... (continues in this vein for the next hour and a half, in an extremely loud tone)  

OUR HEROINE: (is sitting in the seat directly in front of the WOMAN TALKING ON A CELL PHONE, and therefore can hear every word quite clearly.  She is, alas, too timid to sit up and look over the back of the seat and give the woman a Cutting Look.   After over an hour of this, she creeps from the seat and walks to the next car, in search of the conductor or some other Person of Authority.  And the next.  And the next.  And then she reaches the lounge car, where the insomniacs are having a jolly party, complete with a guitar and and smuggled alcohol.  No Person of Authority, however, is to be found.)  Does anyone know where the conductor is? 

THE PARTYING INSOMNIACS: No.  Nope.  No idea.  That way, I think (pointing in the direction of the sleepers).  They're dealing with an unruly passenger.  

OUR HEROINE: Oh.  Well, there is some woman in the last coach who will not stop talking on her cell phone and I can't sleep, and I am too much of a coward to tell her to shut up, so I came in search of the conductor to make him do it for me.  (Stands despondently and anxiously at one end of the car, hoping that some Person of Authority will arrive soon.  An OAFISH NOT-SO-YOUNG, THOUGH HE CLEARLY FANCIES HIMSELF SUCH, MAN detaches himself from the crowd and walks over to her.) 

OAFISH MAN: So I heard you were going to New York? 

OUR HEROINE: (distractedly, and not looking at him) Yes...

OAF: (leers at OUR HEROINE) Well, I think we'll be on the same train, because, you see, I am going that way, too, and... (OAF continues in this vein for some minutes, attempting to impress upon OUR HEROINE her great good fortune to be traveling with the OAF, who then implies that if she knows what is good for her, she will favor him with her attention and possibly sex.)  

OUR HEROINE: I am waiting for the conductor.  Would you be so kind as to direct him to the last car when he comes back?  (flounces off and returns to her seat, where the woman is still talking on her cell phone.  After a few more minutes, she finally finishes her conversation, just as the conductor comes through.  He observes that everything is quiet, and leaves.  Then the woman starts talking again, this time to her companions, explaining the whole saga of Carl and the walrus.)  Aaaaaaugh!   (flees from car)  

Our Heroine finally finds someone in the next car, which is nearly empty, and is permitted to set up camp for the night there.  For about an hour, she attempts to fall asleep.  Just as she is about to drift off, a noise intrudes itself into her consciousness. 

OUR HEROINE: What noise intrudes?  Is it...it sounds like...snoring?  (sits up and frowns, for she has cleverly shoved earplugs into her ears, and they really should drown out noises of this sort.  She eyes the MAN near her suspiciously.)  Obviously, something is wrong with these earplugs, if I can so clearly hear these snores.  I will get some new ones.  (She pulls the earplugs out, and discovers that she has unjustly condemned them, for what she thought was the MAN is in fact THE LOUDEST SNORER IN THE UNIVERSE.)  


OUR HEROINE: (glares at the LOUDEST SNORER IN THE UNIVERSE, who has cleverly positioned himself in the far seat, where he cannot easily be kicked awake)  Why, oh, why didn't I just take a plane?  

Our Heroine creeps back to her original seat, where, miracle of miracles, the loud woman has actually fallen asleep.  After a few hours of tossing and turning, she, too, manages to sleep, and when she wakes up the train is skimming along a picturesque mesa in northern Arizona.  The scenery this day is very picturesque and attractive, as the train climbs through canyons and mountains in New Mexico.  Our Heroine gradually begins to think that perhaps taking the train is not so bad after all. 

ACT II: The Crazy Man

Night has fallen again as the train goes through ... Oklahoma or somewhere.  This time, for some reason, the passengers are more inclined to want to go to sleep soon after sunset.  It is only nine o'clock, and most of them have already taken out their pillows.  Suddenly, there is a commotion near the back of the car.  A CRAZY MAN has stood up, and has started talking unintelligibly. 

CRAZY MAN: Mumble mumble mumble conductor mumble man sitting next to me mumble trouble mumble mumble.  (strides towards front of car, waving his arms in total stereotypical crazy-man fashion.  He walks into the next car, but is back within a few minutes, with the conductor at his heels.)  Mumble mumble that man mumble hasslin' me mumbly-mumble-tums. 

CONDUCTOR: (very loudly at firmly)  That man is not your problem.  That man is my problem.  I will deal with it.  Don't worry about it.

CRAZY MAN: (continues to mumble, and point wildly at the seat next to him.  The CONDUCTOR repeats himself a few times, then gets fed up.) 

CONDUCTOR: I need you to come downstairs with me, sir.  (The train has two levels--the top where almost everyone sits, and the bottom, where everyone enters the train and stores luggage and where the feebler types who can't climb stairs sit.) 

CRAZY MAN: But that man!  Mumble mumble all his fault mumble mumble didn't do nothin'.

CONDUCTOR: Sir, you need to come downstairs with me or I will have you put off this train.  (The CRAZY MAN finally goes down the stairs.  The CONDUCTOR follows him, presumably to give him a stern talking-to.) 

The car is no longer filled with the ramblings of the CRAZY MAN.  However, this episode has ruined the quiet atmosphere of the car, and everyone has started talking again.  OUR HEROINE goes to the next car, which is, again, nearly empty, and strikes a deal with the car attendant allowing her to occupy an empty seat until the train gets to Kansas City early the next morning.  She has some little success in sleeping until a few minutes before midnight, when a man bursts in from her original car, and demands to know where the conductor is. 

MAN SITTING BEHIND OUR HEROINE: I haven't seen anybody who works here for a while.  They're all down there, I think.  (points toward the other end of the train, in the direction of the lounge car, the dining car, the sleepers, and, well, everything else on the train that isn't the last car.  The man exits in that direction.)  

About five minutes later, the doors slide open again.  The CRAZY MAN enters, close upon the heels of another man. 

CRAZY MAN: Mumble mumble this man mumble always hasslin' me mumble mumble do something about it mumble mumble. 

MAN WHO IS SUPPOSEDLY HASSLIN' THE CRAZY MAN, BUT ONE RATHER PRESUMES THAT IT IS IN FACT THE OTHER WAY AROUND: Help!  Help!  I need some help here!  Where's the conductor?  Help!  Help me!  (starts running down the aisle and goes into the next car.  The CRAZY MAN runs after him, still yelling.) 

The train pulls into its next stop, Dodge City, Kansas.  According to the timetable, the train ought to be stopped here for only a few minutes.  However, it remains in the station for a long time.  From the cars ahead, faint noises and sounds of a struggle can be heard.  A few of the characters who passed through the car a few minutes earlier come back through, followed by a SECURITY MAN.  When OUR HEROINE looks out the window, she can see the CRAZY MAN standing outside, surrounded by police officers.  Eventually they repair to a trio of police cars, and OUR HEROINE goes back to her old seat for a better look. 

In the last car, which is full and where the CRAZY MAN has been sitting for the past two days, everyone is awake and talking to each other.  There is a rather festive atmosphere as everyone compares stories of their experiences with the CRAZY MAN.  The CRAZY MAN has done more to create camaraderie and a sense of fellowship amongst the passengers of the last car than a year of more officially-sanctioned icebreakers could have done.  OUR HEROINE learns that the CRAZY MAN is "crazy," has not been taking his medications, has been uttering vague but disturbing death threats to the passengers seated around him, that the CRAZY MAN is lucky that the WOMAN TALKING ON A CELL PHONE's brother was not on the train, because he would have socked the CRAZY MAN in the nose hours ago, that the CRAZY MAN got on the train in Los Angeles, that that was hardly a surprise as lots of crazy people live in Los Angeles, and that many of the people on the train are glad that they are going to Chicago, which is presumed to have a smaller population of crazy people.

It does not seem like anybody in this car is going to sleep anytime soon, so OUR HEROINE goes back to the other, emptier car, and manages to sleep for a full four hours, until she is woken up by the car attendant, who tells her that the train will be in Kansas City in a few minutes and that she can stay in her seat if she wants, but in that case she will have a seat-mate who is getting on at Kansas City.  OUR HEROINE considers this for a few moments, and decides to flee back to the last car, where everyone is still asleep after being up late participating in the shenanigans. 

At breakfast OUR HEROINE is seated with a couple who have opted for the luxury of a sleeping car, and recall being disturbed slightly past midnight by people shouting for the conductor.  The CRAZY MAN cleverly timed his craziness during the shift change of the train crew, when every single Person of Authority on the train was all the way at the other end, near the engine, and therefore the entire train was woken up by the people from the last car trying to find someone who could deal with him.  The couple, however, had no idea what was happening, and most of the other passengers in the sleepers are similarly in the dark, and OUR HEROINE finds herself in great demand as a raconteur, and relates The Tale of the Crazy Man to the other passengers several times.  The two Amish couples (the train is, for some reason, filled with Amish people) sitting at the table across the aisle look disapproving of all this gossip. 

The scenery this day is flat and dull.  There is snow on the ground as the train approaches Chicago.  In Chicago, OUR HEROINE must wait six hours for the train to New York.  However, she is met at the station by john_j_enright, and after some disapproving looks from the Amish couples and a tussle with the train station lockers, which require fingerprints to open but don't like any of OUR HEROINE's, they go off to climb the Sears Tower
and look at things and have Chinese food for dinner and see snow and have merry time. 

ACT III: Overnight to New York

OUR HEROINE gets on the train to New York, which leaves Chicago at 10 p.m. and arrives in NY about nineteen hours later.  This train, alas, more cramped, because several pairs of seats have signs on them that say, DO NOT SIT.  OUR HEROINE sulks because the pair of seats she has claimed is not positioned very well in regard to the window.  However, it is the last free pair, after which people are forced into the indignity of sitting two to each pair of seats.  OUR HEROINE stretches across the seats.  Then, from a few rows in front of her, she hears...

CONDUCTOR: You can't sit there.  Didn't you read the sign? 

ELDERLY WOMAN: Whine whine whine what are you talking about whine whine whiny-whine-whine. 

CONDUCTOR: Out!  Out I say!  

ELDERLY WOMAN: (after much grumbling, gathers her things and looks for an empty seat.  Spies OUR HEROINE, who, admittedly, looks more respectable than the vast majority of the other people in the car.  And plonks down next to her, complaining of having been "turned out.")  Don't you look at me with that sour face, missy!  We all have to double up here and you won't get anyone better than me sitting next do you! 

OUR HEROINE: (does not say, "Actually, I think I could do considerably better than you as a seat-companion, you old hag.  I mean, I could have had one of the hot-but-disreputable-looking young men sitting next to me.")  Humph.  (takes out cell phone, calls dianthe and has a long, loud, whiny conversation that is calculated to annoy the ELDERLY WOMAN.)  

The train starts to move.  People attempt to go to sleep.  OUR HEROINE stays up and tries to read.  However, when the lights in the car go out, she discovers that the reading light over her head is not working.  OUR HEROINE barges out in search of the conductor, whines and is given a pair of empty seats to herself.  As these are situated much better in regard to the window, OUR HEROINE smiles smugly to herself, and eventually goes to sleep. 

Five hours later:

MYSTERIOUS MAN: Mumble-mumble grumble-grum! 

OUR HEROINE: (opens her eyes, stares, and squints.  She pulls out her earplugs.)  Wha? 

MAN: U.S. Border Patrol.  Are you an American citizen?  

OUR HEROINE: (still completely sleep-deprived) Buh...??

BORDER PATROL MAN: All right then.  (moves on to next passenger)  Are you an American citizen?  (He goes down the car in this fashion, waking everyone up.  The only people who answer him coherently are Canadian, and are made to produce passports.) 

The train is near Buffalo, and it is six o'clock in the morning, and it is snowing.  The rest of the day passes uneventfully, and OUR HEROINE arrives in New York in the evening, where she is met by dianthe and they have an exciting time wrestling her luggage down the stairs to the subway.  


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