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Tuesday, September 27, 2011


One week ago at this time, I was walking through the Sierra High Country carrying my backpack and thinking about Mount Whitney, our next high pass objective. And, a truly high pass it is. At 13,700 feet, I think it’s safe to say it’s probably the highest pass in the continental U.S. There might be one or two higher in Colorado, but it doesn’t seem likely. Weather had been iffy the previous night. More than a little. I’d sat in my camp near Wright’s Creek and watched the Sierra Crest turn absolutely black as thunder and lightning storms rolled through for over three hours. Truth be told, I was worried the storm had been so bad it might have cut off our exit route over Whitney. That’s a narrow trail and I’d opted to leave my crampons home to save weight. My husband told me not to worry. Turned out he was right, as he so often is about mountain-lore.

Anyway, last Tuesday dawned bright and clear as we made our way to just below Guitar Lake. There was another electrical storm, but it didn’t dump on us, just made lots of noise. I think what I like best about backpacking is the sense of self-sufficiency. Between the 30 pounds of food and gear in my pack and the 40 pounds in Bob’s we can live for a week. It’s life at a pretty basic level, but I appreciate not being hounded by my iPhone’s constant dings. I pulled it out to look at it at the top of Forester Pass (13,200’) and was unaccountably thrilled to notice the battery had died.

Roll the clock forward to Wednesday night. Having conquered Whitney one more time and moved on down the 99 switchbacks from Trail Crest to Trail Camp, we’d decided to continue on down the mountain. Night found us stumbling into Outpost Camp at around 10,500’. I’d remembered Outpost Camp as a pretty dreary place, but it looked surprisingly like Nirvana last week and we decided to call it a day. Or, rather, a night. We’d been moving since 6:30 that morning and it was twelve hours later. For those of you who don’t know, there are only two allowable camping areas on the east side of Mount Whitney. Trail Camp and Outpost Camp. There have been serious cutbacks in the number of Rangers patrolling, but there are reasons why the Forest Service does things like that. Over 20,000 people visit Mount Whitney each year. There have to be some rules, or it would look like a garbage dump. As it is, I hauled out a respectable wad of other people’s trash.

By Thursday last week, we were in Lone Pine eating lunch. And by Thursday night we were home. Sometimes I feel like I have two lives: the uber-simple one in the mountains and the other one where I worry about whether or not the carpet needs vacuuming. (It almost always does; that’s the penalty for having three large, white dogs.)

And then Sunday I found out that Psyche’s Prophecy, my debut novel is a finalist in the annual 2012 EPIC e-book award contest. The awards ceremony will be aboard a cruise ship next March and I started thinking about what it might mean to go. Keeping in mind that any sort of cruise-based vacation is VERY low on my radar system, I started to really think about why other people seem drawn to cruises.  What I came up with is that they are the ultimate pampering vacation where everything is done for you. Contrast that with backpacking—my favorite escape—where nothing is done for you, and you’ll understand my dilemma. It feels intrusive to me when I stay in a chi-chi hotel and the maid shows up to turn down my bed. If I’m in my room, I always send her away. Until I’m old and infirm, I can turn my own bed down, thank you very much.

So, I’m still trying to find reasons why I should go on the EPIcon cruise. I know it would be good for networking. And it might help my fledgling writing career. In any event, the jury is still deliberating. There seems to be lots of time—five months to be exact—for me to find a clear path.

In the meantime, I think there’s probably still time for at least one or two more trips in the High Sierra before winter closes in. Think I’ll take advantage of the wonderland in my back yard!

Monday, September 26, 2011

EPIC Annual E-Book Contest Finalist!

Psyche's Prophecy is one of three finalists in the fantasy category for the 2012 Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC) e-book award contest. Winners will be announced next March on the EPIcon cruise. Whether I win or not, it's quite an honor to be in the top three of this year's fantasy books submitted to this well-known contest. I'll blog more about this in the next few days once the wonderful news has had a chance to percolate

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Looks like a Zen motif for this blog post! Maybe because I've been doing so much work around my house trying to prepare for the winter to come. That's sort of how it is when you live in the mountains though. The last gasp of every winter, people just sort of lay around congratulating themselves on having survived another one. Then, as the days warm, there's a flurry of activity. Shingles to repair, driveways to resurface, wood to gather (and split). Then there's that morning when you get up and it's cold outside. This morning, for example. It was chilly enough I was sorry I didn't have my gloves when I walked the dogs at 7.

A few hours later, had just barely finished raking and bagging combustible yard debris for the dump--a task that's dragged on for days here--when the first thunderclap of the day resounded. After that it rained almost all afternoon. Not just sprinkles either. It hailed a couple of times. Since I was on a roll, I washed the kitchen floor and did a bunch of laundry. As the light is leaching out the the day, I'm watching the first fire of the season blaze cheerily in the woodstove and am reminded of how simple--and pleasant and uncomplicated--life can be.

What a contrast to late last week when I spent three days at my "real" job, the one I'm trying to retire from. First there were budget hearings to prep for, then another department tried to steal, uh, sorry, that would be misappropriate, the snowblower I just bought last year, then there was an appraisal to deal with on some property we're trying to sell, a staff person in tears, then another one. And the beat goes on. What I became aware of through all that was the resurgence of a simmering undercurrent of irritation that's finally starting to fade as I spend more and more time away from the workplace. Try as I might last week, though, I simply couldn't lay hands on a peaceful place. Well, three days of back-breaking labor in my yard fixed all that. We'll see if it holds as I head back to my desk tomorrow. Fingers crossed that it will.

I suspect anything that narrows one's focus to essentials and pares down energy output to things where you can actually have an impact--as opposed to simply stewing about something--is conducive to inner peace. That's very Zen. Focus on the now. It's why people meditate. More pertinently, it's why I've meditated practically every day before work for years. Except I stopped once I officially retired. Seems that was an error in judgment.

It might have helped if I would have been a later born child in my family rather than an only child. I see that difference between myself and my husband (4th born). While I think I have to solve every problem, he's confident someone else will come along to solve things for him. Well, in his family that happened. In mine I just got nagged a lot. Heh! We truly are products of our origins.

Trying to plan one last week in the Sierras before winter sets in in earnest. Had planned to leave Wednesday, but will probably not head out till Thursday or Friday. I'm waiting with baited breath to see what our local real estate guru cum weather maven has to say about the week after the ten days of thunderstorms. He's usually right on.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sierra Ramblings

Just got back from an idyllic week in the Sierra backcountry. Saw a lot of beautiful country and had quiet time to think about the world and my place within it. I think that's what I like best about long backpacking trips: the solitude. We have friends who want to turn every backcountry expedition into a social event. They're certainly stronger than I am since they usually show up at the previously-agreed-upon campsite at least an hour ahead of me, but when I do get there, they're in their tent. I only spend time in my tent at night. The rest of the time I much prefer to be outside looking at things, taking pictures or simply communing with the natural world. (Unless it's pouring, then I too prefer shelter.) But, different strokes make the world go round. And the wonderful thing about the wilderness is that it meets people's needs in different ways.

As I type this, big, fluffy clouds are rolling past reminding me that summer is fleeing. Gee, it only got here about six weeks ago. The wood pile in front of the house has an asbestos tarp over it and my husband is doing the final shingle repairs on our roof. Mammoth Mountain sent out reminders that they'll be open here in just sixty days or so. And so it goes. The seasons roll past and life is what you make of it.

I am hoping to get in at least one more week in the Sierras before winter closes in. There's a self-sufficiency to backpacking that's reassuring. By that I think I mean it makes me feel good to know I can get by with what's on my back for at least a period of time. And, I've gotten more and more spartan as the years have passed. I have one set of day clothes and a pair of long johns for night time. If I get cold during the day, I can layer those under the day clothes, zip my shell over everything and be pretty cozy. Sure things get dirty, but Americans are uber-obsessed with everything being pristine. I find I have two standards: one for home and the other for the trail. Not that one is better or worse than the other, they're simply different.

One of the surprises last week was the number of wildflowers that are still in full bloom. It's September and there are still flowers. Of course, there are still mosquitoes too, but they weren't all that bad. Ray Jardine, a pioneer of minimalist long range backpacking used to claim that if you meditated effectively, the bugs wouldn't bite. I tried that this trip and it seemed to work. Of course, there was that day when I cheated and sprayed my legs with Naturpel. It was hot and I really wanted to zip off the bottoms of my convertible pants! I can certainly see, though, if every ounce counts, that you might be tempted to skip the bug spray.

There's a timeless element to the mountains. They feel like old friends as I visit them, and visit them again. There's nothing like standing on a remote pass where I've been before and seeing that the vista is unchanged. Or on an equally remote peak. Mountains are the bones of the world. They'll prevail long after all of us are dust. It feels honest and humbling to share space with them. I hope I'm blessed with many more years to wander the local landscape. The memories are incomparable. They warm me and help me believe there will be something left after the politicians in Washington get done tearing the country to shreds. Sometimes it's better to be conciliatory, to work for the benefit of everyone (not just one's constituency) and to hold a sense of peace. Of something greater than ourselves. Mountains have always been my way of doing that. What's yours?