Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dreaming of Donuts

Using the grocery list written on day 6 and 7 of a back country work trip was not one of my brighter ideas. I guess the theory was that if I wanted this food in the backcountry on one trip, then I would probably enjoy it on my next trip, too. Rationalizing aside, I was a little embarrassed when I got to the check out. Pop-tarts? Hostess donuts? Those pink and white animal circus cookies? The list goes on. I think my inner eight-year-old ran this shopping trip.

Now I am back at my cabin, where that unopened box of donuts still sits on the counter taunting me. I think I will stash it in a bear box at the trailhead as a treat for the end of my next trip. It’s amazing how fast the summer goes by. Today is my last day off, tomorrow I head out in the field for a week, and by next Tuesday I will be back in sunny (warm) southern California. It was sunny and warm up here but that was yesterday and the alpine summer is short.

My season started in June. Even at eight thousand feet the snow clung to road sides and blanketed the shady forest floor. Summer had the lower elevations in its grasp, but in the high country spring was still struggling to take hold. In June we worked at seven and eight thousand feet, watching snow melt and green grow. In July summer moved higher, and so did we to nine, ten and eleven thousand feet. Each step higher is like setting the clock back just a little, holding back the warmth of summer just a little longer. I had 6 months of spring this year, moving higher to greet the newly emerged wildflowers and mosquito hordes. By the beginning of August summer, or what passes for summer, had reached even our highest meadows. Now it is the end of August. In the back country I wake up with frost on my sleeping bag (could be time for a tent). Green is turning to yellow in the meadows and a toad is a rare site to see.

It’s been an interesting season. I have slept on the ground far more than in a bed and hiked miles of Yosemite backcountry rarely seen by us bipedal wildlife. I’ve learned a lot, although not necessarily what would be expected. The biology in my biological technician position is fairly simple. The office folk want to know where the toads are. The data monkeys (yep, that’s us) go fetch the data. Interesting, but not highly stimulating on its own. The good stuff is all in the extras: spending so much time searching for toads that you see the unexpected. Albino tadpoles. Cannibalism (the toad tads, that is). Badger. Bears. Mountain king snake. Parasitic orchids. The observations that don’t have a spot on the data sheet, these are what make the field work worth it for me. There is no check box for alpine glow and they don’t want a description of the view in the site notes.

I missed the openness of the desert when I first got to Yosemite. In the trees it’s almost claustrophobic. Green and woody-ness close in from all directions to make a jungle gym of the forest floor. But, the trees do not go on forever. Above ten thousand feet the world opens up again into vast slabs of granite, slopes of talus, and pockets of meadow. This, I like. Go above tree line and suddenly the whole park sits below you, a living postcard of granite, pine, and swirling cloud. I pick out the landmarks. Cathedral peak: I climbed you. Tuolumne meadows: where the ice cream resides. Tenaya Lake: the local beach. The Valley: from this distance the swarms of visitors and their cars are just metallic specs on a grey ribbon of road. Cloudsrest and Half Dome: climbed those, too. Hoffman, Pothole dome, Tenaya peak, Glen Aulin, Mt. Dana, Pate Valley, the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, May lake, North Dome…. each its own adventure and accompanying story.

Tomorrow I head out on my last trip of the season. That will be it for the Yosemite chapter of this great adventure. Come September 20th the next chapter begins: Graduate School.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010