Saturday, June 21, 2014

Celebrate :: In Print!

This is a fun post to put up!  My first article in a national magazine!  

Here are some pics of the spread.  You can find Scholastic Parent & Child in your pediatrician's office, or you can order it online.  

The cover looks like this:

Not much to say here, except, that the fact that this happened at all had everything to do with stepping across an imaginary threshold.  On one side was the version of me who walked into Books Inc in Palo Alto one day, looked at all those books, and decided the world did not need to hear from one more person.  There were too many books already, what point was it to try to write, and who was I to think I had anything to say anyway.

There was no pit in my stomach, no adrenaline pumping up my heart rate, none of the body sensations that come to mind when you think of fear.  But it was fear all the same.  It was a quiet, peaceful resignation. It was maybe even a certain kind of hiding that slinks behind an unskillful understanding of what "zen" might look like.  

There is a part of me that feels sad about that moment, that decision to turn away from a dream I had harbored.  But there is a bigger part of me that is grateful for the girl who gave up.  Because what came out of giving up was writing for myself, writing because I love to write, writing because I am a creature who figures out her world by words.  I gave up (turns out temporarily) the dream of publishing, but the writing never stopped.  

Then one day I started blogging, and friends and family started to hang out here with me--I think some of you started thinking of me as a writer before I even thought of myself that way.  Thank you does not say enough for how much your company around here has encouraged me. 

This past January, in a coaching session with Sherri Lassila, I woke up again to the dream of professional writing.  This time there was the heart rate pumping, the pit in my stomach, all the embodiment of fear.  

I wrote about my fear here, here and here and then I stepped across the threshold and stopped being afraid to try.  

Having crossed the gate I was able to get practical about what it would take to move forward in this job called professional writer and decided to take a class called Writing about Parenting that was taught by an actual editor (I realized--a professional writer needs to know editors!).   I wrote this piece while taking that class.  For those of you that are publishing, you should know that Scholastic Parent & Child has just launched a new personal essay section of their magazine and they are currently taking submissions (the key for me was going to the beach in February while they were planning their June-July issue!).

So much for not much to say...ha!  That's what you get for hanging out with a writer.

PS  The editors picked the headline for the piece, and if you haven't read it already, the post in which I wrestle with what it feels like to be the author of an article called Badass Moms, you might want to check it out.  It is my most popular blog post yet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What do you have for lunch the day your hero dies?

What do you have for lunch
the day your hero dies?
May 28, 2014

You settle on a hard boiled egg.
Smack the brown shell against the counter top.
Crunch its sharp bits beneath your finger tips.

Yes, Maya must have one day
eaten a hard boiled egg.
She must have felt the smooth curve
of the white in her hand.
She must have spread it open
the white, then two halves of the inside sun
and eaten them with salt.

But today it is you
eating the egg,
you taking each bite slow
you becoming the woman you will be
without Maya.

Thinking this
you look across the mountain
of breakfast dishes
still in the sink.
At noon, a heap of tiny

What will you do now
that she is gone?

First things first.
You will get the dishes done.
You wipe every bit of
crumb and scum out.
You stack the load neatly
and start the cycle.

Then you look out the window
to the green trees
And beg pray promise her, 
Maya, that you will try
in your however small way
to continue her work

to say the thing that cannot be said
and get up the next morning
to rise.


And Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Shivering Chrysalis

When I went into Eloise's classroom on Monday I saw something I had never seen before.  The class is hatching Painted Lady Butterflies.  The ladies have been in their chrysalises for awhile now, and everyday at drop off we check to see what's happening.  Most days it's looked like nothing.  The sack hangs there looking dry and lifeless.  

But on Tuesday one of them was tremoring, shivering, shaking.  It looked to fall right off it's perch--alien moves threatening violence on a tiny scale.  I watched for what felt like a long time (how does three or four minutes feel so long when I'm just watching and sitting and breathing and waiting).  And it kept right on shaking.

The next day, Tuesday.  There it was, but now stock still as if nothing had happened.  I had hoped that at night, she would fly out.  But no, there were more long days of waiting.

We all know how this story ends.  We've known since preschool after all.  This thing that alternates between appearing lifeless one day and shaking violently on another, will eventually emerge a Painted Lady, rich with browns and orange.  She will fly off like grace itself.  The kids will celebrate.

But what I want to remember today is the quivering--the stopping and starting.  And it's partner, the quiet ghost sack that hangs there looking more than half dead.  And the strange unattractiveness of it all--the icky weird pouch and the raging vibration of life stuck inside its shell.  I want to remember that this is what it takes.  Stopping and starting, shaking violently, being a little weird and ugly.  All that comes before being a butterfly.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday May 16, 2014

"Maybe children wake to a love affair 
every other morning or so; if given the chance,
they seem to like the sight and smell and feel of things so much.
Falling for the world could be a thing 
that happens to them all the time."

--William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Time for a cup of tea

Every afternoon last week I looked up around 4PM to see what was going on.  Clouds streaked across the sky racing toward an invisible weather front.  And although each day started off calm and still, by late afternoon the strangest wind had hunkered down on Palo Alto.  It blew in incredible gusts tinged with the premonition of fog.  Trees bowed and their leaves flapped against each other with such frothy vigor that it sounded like we were in the middle of a hard rain.  Dust swirled, lawn chairs tipped over, tennis balls blew sideways across the court.  And still, the California sun continued to cut it’s harsh blinding light across the end of the day.

Like it always does, the weather touched everything--there was such motion and commotion that it was hard to keep track.  Camping trip, dance performance, track meet, possibly a new school for Eloise, Graham’s work, school volunteering, a send off for my long time buddy, who had the same stuffy as me a thousand years ago, and who will drive back east for good at the end of the month.   

This past week was a whirlwind in an actual whirlwind.  And I chalk up the galloping feel of my last post, at least in part, to what it felt like to be riding that energy last week.

This week the wind has died down, and it is a relief.  

It feels like time to sit down for a cup of tea, want to join me?

Friday, May 9, 2014

What It Means To Be a Badass Mom

Photo credit:  Peter Olivetti

My friend Anne and I are about to be outed.  On June first we will be presented very publicly as Badass Moms.  And truth be told, badass was Anne’s word and then I wrote it down, so we brought it on ourselves, but it started off as one of those funny things said between two friends, something that popped out on in the wake of a small adventure between two stay at home moms.  The word showed up as a surprise to us, which is what makes the piece fun and funny and probably why after writing for awhile in a cozy between-Facebook friends kind of a way, a decent scrap of my work found its way to a really good editor at a national magazine.  

That said I never imagined showing up anywhere in public as a badass.  In fact, when my mom read a draft of the piece she said, “It’s great.  It captures exactly how badass you are,” meaning, of course, in agreement with the piece itself, just barely.  

And in the time between submitting and reviewing the final proofs I’ve had to think about what it means to be a Badass Mom, not a nice mom, not a loving mom, not a good mom--not that there is anything wrong with those aspects of momming--I hope there are moments when I rise to the occasion of all of that.  But life is about to dub me a Badass Mom, which feels a little weird (and according to my fourth grader, slightly inappropriate).  And so it’s something about myself I’ve had to ponder.  I have had to try it on for size, to stand in front of the mirror, to squat down, to look at myself and think, can I wear this thing?   

What I’ve decided is that it fits--it fits me and the things about motherhood that move me and amaze me.  Badass fits the feats I see my mom friends pull off in the everyday and in the most extraordinary of days.  It fits the moms, like my own mother, who dress in suits, or the ones who throw on jeans, it fits the moms who didn’t shower today, or who were on air at 5AM, or who stay in their pajamas writing or who wear uniforms of any kind that demurely conceal their secret strength, their jaguar, their wolf, their diva, their wizard, their high priestess, their collection of experiences that has wizened them and made them ready for the anything and everything that will happen today or tomorrow or in the far future.  

Being a badass mom means you had a baby.

By accident, right on time, or after years of trying.  After countless days of peeing on sticks and poking in the belly, in the middle of a settled life, in the month your husband left you,  before the right partner showed up, or the year your grandmother died, you did it.  You lived through morning sickness and spotting, anxiety, and losing one or two or many along the way.  You survived the seven month fetus, the five month fetus, the one you pulled out of yourself alone on a hospital bed.  Badass means you counted chromosomes and kidneys, you listened to the tiny timpani drum heartbeat thrumming, while you laid on the table your own heart  full of hope or dread, or most of the time both.

Being a badass mom means that one day, hugely full and weepy to the touch, or slow and stubborn, or way too soon, or way too late, or alongside the life of some other woman, you traveled to the edge of the great primordial soup to pull life’s heavy chain across your gunwel.  Badass means you bloomed like a flower, or passed out under the gas, or flew to China, or shat on the floor, or kneeled on all fours or sank into the bathtub at home.  Badass means you were cut open or cracked open or torn apart or dried up.  You are a badass because for one second, or one minute, or forty-eight hours, you were the parted red sea, the space that makes way for life’s progress.

Badass means that after all that push and gush, all that blood and effort, all that unknowing, there came a moment of absolute clear staring silence. Badass means you touched the softest thing.  You held in your arms a piece of you who is entirely not you, the one you pulled through the portal, and is now wrapped in swaddling, breathing tiny breaths that smell as sweet as fresh cream.  

You had a baby.

Being a badass mom means you suddenly realize you are a living Russian Doll, and every age of yourself is cupped around the age before it.  Your baby cries and cries, and somewhere down in the wordless tiny version of you, you remember what it was to be a stranger on the planet, how terrifying the light after darkness, how very cold or hot or dry this place is compared to the place before. Badass is the tenderness that coos when you are at your wits end, that pats and pats and pats, or rocks and rocks and rocks, that sleeps standing up and walks all night long.

A badass mom hears her child scream like a banshee for the one-and-only-purple-sippy-cup, the guitar shirt, the giraffe lovey, the torn up blanket, the socks that don’t feel weird, the warm milk, or the cold milk or the milk that comes from a box, and remembers her own shirt that had an itchy tag, or the sniffle snuffle socks she liked that squeezed her ankles just right and made the perfect sound when she ran her fingernails across them.  A badass mom remembers the feel of her thumb pressed against the roof of her mouth, as she sucked against the night, imagining Mommy was just right there on a night she was out of the house.  A badass becomes a giant bowl, wide enough to catch the tears and tantrums and the sometimes tsunamis of our children.

For every badass mom there will come a day early on or later in the game when things take a left hand turn, when feeling every age of yourself makes absolutely no difference at all, because this kid is not you.  You wake up to the fact that your child is on a journey of their own, with a limp that will never go away, a disability, a scar on the eye, a relentless anxiety that shoots off like a gun, that keeps them up, that keeps you up and has you on the hunt.  A badass mom searches outside herself, she leans on wise friends, and sometimes on experts who teach her about her child, this animal she thought she knew so well.  She stands in the wide gulf of not knowing, her heart breaking for all the things that will never be, for the life she imagined that is never going to come.  A badass is fierce enough to love across the divide, when navigating the distance between the apple and the tree might as well be a trip to the moon.

As a badass mom you are also an old dog who can learn new tricks, or a new dog who can still do the old ones.  You run marathons, you run fifty miles in the dirt, you run 13.1 miles across the Golden Gate bridge, you run across the street to help the neighbor.  You sit silent and still in a room with strangers and feel like you’ve jumped naked into a cold pool.  You get on the plane with a xanax.  You pull a tarot card.  You’ve accepted Jesus into your heart and you post the most beautiful Scripture on Facebook.  You learn to make your mother’s best dish and you record the stories of your ancestors.  You buy four scooters and scoot across town with the kids.  You lead a team who dresses like superheroes and a team who invents the self driving car.  You empower patients.  You buy a thousand different gift tags at Michaels and learn to quilt.  You take your story from A to Z and back again.  You learn to surf and how to write like a motherfucker.  You remember who you are.

Remembering who you are means you never forgot that this whole story started with the starlight in your pants, that hides, under the fly of your jeans, tucked in the Lululemons, right behind the crease of your black Armanis.  In a moment's notice, or after an hour of foreplay, or a month of help with the dishes, or a year of nursing your first child, you can be fifty shades of gray, you can sext your husband, or you can do a lap dance or a strip tease or be on top of your partner because of the way it makes you tingle from the inside out. A badass mom has figured out, that in this chance of infinite lifetimes, having been born in human form, you’ve won the ticket to the ultimate ride, and you get onboard and slide into love over and over and over again.

A badass mom understands her place in time, she perceives that she is one link in an infinite chain of life. She is not afraid to open her eyes to the fact that at her most magnificent she is a collection of cells, a whirlwind of atoms, a pinch of stardust blowing through the universe. She no longer fears being anonymous and unknown, because she knows with hard won certainty that this is the one and only route to everything, that being tiny is the only way out of living a small life.  Being a badass mom means you are this fearless.  You have thrown your life into the lot of the devoted ones, the ones who gave it all to disappear into the flow.  You have joined the tribe who knows how let it go, how to dance with it all when it comes and to trust just as much that in the great void you will know exactly how to let it lie.

That is what it means to be a Badass Mom.

If you enjoyed this post, you will love Paradise in Plain Sight, by Karen Maezen Miller, and Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Both books instructed the style of this piece and encouraged me to be brave.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: Paradise in Plain Sight

I finished Paradise in Plain Sight in three sittings.  I read it the way hungry people stuff themselves at an all you can eat buffet.  I piled up the pages, devoured them all, and rolled away round and full.  The meal was that good. 

If you are hungry, if you yearn for the thing that is missing in your life, if you wonder why your life is taking so long or why there isn't more time, if every once in a while you tire of feeling anxious or confused or put upon....This book makes for one delicious, nutritious meal.

As in Maezen's previous books, Momma Zen and Hand Wash Cold, she offers up her life with generous honesty.  When someone asks her daughter what it's like to have a Zen priest for a mom, her daughter tells it straight up, "She yells a lot."  After buying a new house, our guide/heroine experiences that, "peculiar misery that follows as soon as you're handed what you asked for."  Later in the book she describes how she's spent a long stretch of her life living as though there were two versions of herself--one version, the as-is model, and the other version, the much-improved model.  "I am taunted by her perfection," she says. Sound familiar?  The point here is that she's a lot more like the rest of us than her Zen robes might make you think.

And at the same time, she is a sensei.  She is ahead on the path and is shining a light along the way.  Her guidance comes in the form of poetic language, "You have to rely on a sliver of moonlight, because half of every day is night," instruction, "the best place to practice is a place you don't want to be, using time you don't think you have," and straight forward presentation of Buddhist dharma concepts.  

I know, I know, you're not a Buddhist.  But here's the thing, the word dharma is often translated as truth, and can have a capital T--truth kind of a feel to it.  My experience of it is more basic than that.  Dharma feels like firm ground, it is the way things are, it is the stuff that holds steady over time and in every kind of weather.  You know it when you encounter it whether it comes from Jesus, the Buddha or Captain Picard.  So spare yourself wondering whether or not "Lessons from a Zen garden," are for you.  They are. 

With that, I'll leave you with one of my favorite passages:

"Don't worry about a thing.  It's the garden that makes the gardener, not the other way around.  All you have to do is show up."

Monday, April 21, 2014

I owe you this much

Here they are, the three Spencer sisters, invading my nephew's playroom.  August Camillo is not yet two, and my three basically took over his joint for Easter.  There was no golden crown rising, no poetry lesson, no moment of evanescent insight or beauty.  Nope, not this Easter.  There was too much chocolate, a fierce case of the "gimmees" about the too much chocolate, and a lot of grabbing to boot.

The four year old did a face plant, the second in two weeks.  A whole new shiner to explain to the pre-school teachers.  When she wasn't crying, she was lobbing stuffed animals over the side of the loft, aimed directly at my brother's mother-in-law's head.  I'm not sure what you call the mother-in-law of your brother--she is something like a mother-in-law once removed to me or something along those lines. But no matter, what I can call her is kind.  "Oh, I'm fine," she kept saying with a smile on her face as the next squirrel bomb hit her on the head.

And then there was this, Eloise's knock, knock joke to end all knock, knock jokes:

Knock Knock.
Who's there?
Hammer who?
Hammer his penis.

Yep, that happened on Easter.

And then I promptly fell asleep on the couch.  I only woke up because the phone in my pocket was ringing.  It was my Aunt Virginia calling from New York, she'd been trying to get in touch with someone, anyone to exchange Happy Easters, but no one else had their phone on them that afternoon.  "At least there's someone there today who's taking responsibility," she said.  "No one else is answering their phone."

Virginia, thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt.  It was undeserved.

I tell you all this, because, I just want you to know how it really is, and how I really am--falling asleep on the couch.  

I want you to have the whole picture, because the truth is, I see unspeakable beauty everywhere, but you'll never believe me, if you don't know whole picture--how I fall asleep on the couch, how I swear like a sailor, how my kids bicker fiercely,  how one lied to me, and how the first place my mind went was to pin it on her friend--just like that, so swift, "my kid would never do that," so wrong-headed.  I missed an important meeting, I dropped off my kid and someone else's at art class without waiting to see if they walked through the door.  They didn't.  The teacher never showed and I left them there for two hours unattended in the middle of town.  I was responsible for all that.  And that was just this weekend.

You see what I'm getting at? I just want to make sure you get the whole of it.  The golden crown rising was no fiction.

Friday, April 18, 2014

On the Occasion that a Few Olivetti Adventures Eclipse

Cosmic overlap was the theme this week.  In the sky we had the Blood Moon eclipse, and here on the ground in Palo Alto, we encountered our own kind of weird overlap.  I think of it as the Olivetti Adventure Eclipse.

I was going to wait to post about our recent trip to Yosemite until I felt more sure about how to piece it together. But on the eve of hemming and hawing and holding back, the TV show The Amazing Race, featured an Olivetti M20 Scuola as part of a “speed bump” element to the race.  The show was in Rome and two sisters had to pick up the typewriter at the Pantheon and deliver it to the “Typewriter” building, the Altare della Patria.  

Camillo would have rolled his eyes at the idea of his typewriter paired up with a building that most Italians think is brutto and that he, himself, must have thought was an architectural abomination.  But he would have liked the publicity and he would have laughed at the show, just the way he did after a theatre production in Minneapolis in 1893.

“For me, however, the audience made a bigger impression than the show, this childish group [the American audience] is so moved and so identified with this impossible drama that they cheer for the good guys and boo for the bad guys.  It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world from Rome, we were having our own version of an Olivetti adventure.  After 17 years of trying to book a room in Yosemite, I finally succeeded this past January.  I got two rooms at the Ahwahnee for April 8-11.  After a quick fist pump to celebrate my coup, I proceeded to spend the next two months imagining that April, for sure, was a terrible time to go. How else could we have gotten rooms?  Would it rain? Or snow? Or both?   

I should have known better.  

The week before we drove off in our van, my day by day translation revision work arrived at the Yosemite letter.  And I discovered that we would be in Yosemite within a week of when Camillo had been there 120 years ago.  Barring the California drought we would be seeing the same patches of snow, the same waterfalls surging with snowmelt.  I’m sure it could have rained or snowed or both, but it didn’t--not for us and not for Camillo.

I don’t know why I ever doubt this project, but I still sometimes do.  My word for the year is practice, so I practice trusting, but with trust if you’re practicing it, I don’t think you’re actually doing it--but that’s another blog post.

What follows is my best attempt at blocking out the story, mine and his together.  Forgive me. It is a draft and it is long.  I will still be your friend if you decide you don’t have time to slog through it.  But I will love you more if you do ;-) LOL.  I am standing so close to the material it’s like being a nose length away from a Pissaro or Monet--hard to see what you’re looking at exactly--so any eyes that have distance on the work are much appreciated.  

My journal appears in normal text and Camillo’s is in italics.

Thanks to everyone who even as much as glances at the pictures.  Your attention is nothing less than love itself.  Thank you.

April 18, 2014

120 years ago today, Camillo wrote home from Yosemite, CA. It sounds like a long time ago, and I feel that length of time in my great grandfather's absence. And yet at the foot of Half Dome with a piece of paper in my hand, 120 years ago is hardly yesterday. Camillo is gone but he speaks to me everyday. More than that, a few minutes a day, I rewrite his words and become that young man. In Yosemite I hop on a bike and ride through the woods, I smell the pine, I listen for the rushing waters. I stop and wet my feet in the Merced's waters, nearly at his orders, and something of him is so close I can feel it, a voice in my head, a cloak of awareness, and the hum thump of my pulse, a steady beat reminding me that more of my life will be spent in Camillo's form than in the body that I wear today. Most of my life I will be be spent as a figment, an echo, if I'm lucky, a word on a page salvaged by a great-grand-daughter.

April 8, 2014

I had the idea that we would be following right in Camillo's footsteps, up until two days before leaving, when Eloise developed some kind of urinary tract infection, or other kind of "pee pee problem" that had us headed to the bathroom every ten minutes.  We zipped to the pediatrician.   Tests for all the usual suspects turned up negative and we so we headed to Yosemite hoping for the best.  Ten minutes outside of Palo Alto we stopped at Toys R Us to purchase one of those small plastic training potties (ironically, the green one we had for so many years had been sent to Goodwill less than a month ago) and a pair of rainbow/neon light up sneakers I hoped Eloise would agree to wear since lately every single pair of her shoes has been causing cartoonish scenes where the four year old thrashes on the floor all arms and legs and no, no, no.  

We tested out the plastic potty in the van parked in front of Toys R Us.  Success!  And got on the road.  

We arrived in Yosemite at about 6PM after many, many pit stops along the way.  In just the first few minutes arriving in the valley (at least at this time of the year) you get the sense that you have arrived in a magical place--the towering monolithic cliffs, pine trees as big as you’ve ever seen, and many flowing waterfalls.  At the first sight of a waterfall, we pulled the van over to have a look.  We were late for our dinner reservations, but we didn't care...none of us had ever seen a waterfall so big.  Graham and the big girls ran across the road and onto a bridge to get a good look, while I helped Eloise with the potty again, following the rest of the crew a few minutes behind.  The sun was low and threw a shafts of light on the gushing water.  For about a minute everyone was quiet taking it all in--and then it became obvious, in that way that it does with little ones, that it was time to get the family to dinner.  To keep everyone occupied we continued to listen to XM radio--Classic, Are you gonna stay the night, etc were our soundtrack driving into the park--a trip which really would have preferred a good John Williams symphony.

We hopped back in the van and headed to the Ahwahnee where we had booked rooms.  

The Ahwahnee is nestled into the soaring granite cliffs.  When you look at the lodge there is a small, seasonal waterfall to the right, and to the left the massive Yosemite Falls thunder in the distance.  If you turn around and put your back to the lodge, you look across the valley to Half Dome.  At sunset, light painted across the curved dome reaching up into the sky, it was like a fresco of a sunset inside a sunset.  One of my first thoughts was that John Muir made a lot of sense when he called Yosemite Valley a Cathedral.  

For our small crew who went to Disneyland before Yosemite, it looked a lot like God had been copying Walt Disney.

Yosemite Valley, April 18, 1894

Dear mother,

As you can see from the amazing header of this paper, I am in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, in this tiny slice of Paradise that is called the Yosemite Valley.  How did we get here?  This is the somewhat difficult problem that I solved in a rather elegant and economic, if not comfortable, way.  Yosemite is a little valley ten or twelve kilometers long and one or two wide that encloses so much natural beauty that it is one of the wonders of the world.  The valley is 1300 meters above sea level and it is more or less perfectly flat in the length and width of it.  But if the valley is flat, the road that gets you here here is not at all short or flat, it climbs for about about 40 kilometers and then descends many mountains and valleys.  After many comings and goings the road finally falls steeply into the valley.   Because it was built in such difficult circumstances, the road is beautiful, although very dusty.  It’s owned and maintained by a “stage company” that owns a few good hotels along the road into the valley.  In general, travelers depart from Bereuda, a little village on the Los Angeles-San Francisco rail-line, and then continue by train to the last stop, a town called, Raymond.  After an overnight stay in Raymond and two days in the stage, they arrive in the valley where they can stay as long as they want until they head back to Raymond.

There is no other option but the stage company, and they charge fifty dollars for the trip, without accounting for the cost of a hotel in the valley (four dollars a day) in the price.  As you can see, it’s a bit of a hefty fee, so I decided to make my way a little slower (and more economically) with my bike.  Am pleased to say I succeeded quite well.

The road from Raymond climbs slowly at first and then more rapidly ending at a place called Grub Gulch.  The view isn’t great and the soil is more or less dry.  I did the road a little by foot, and a bit by bicycle without stopping much because I was flying trying to find my way to the Ahwahnee, which is a little group of houses about 34 kilometers from Raymond.  I was trying to get there before night because I’ve heard that these mountains are well populated by rattle snakes.  They are are much less terrible than legend has it, because they never attack humans; they alert you with their rattle many meters before you run the risk of getting very close to them.  The only really terrible case is when one unconsciously steps on a snake that is sleeping, in which case one runs the risk of dying.  Otherwise in general they flee or at the very least they don’t ever follow humans.  I did see one about a meter long and it was half dead, probably killed by a vulture.  

I arrived at Grub Gulch around midday.  I had lunch there and rested a bit, then I did another four or five kilometers of climbing to a village whose name I don’t remember.   When I got there I encountered the good news that only two or three miles separated me from the Ahwahnee.  I walked and rode for a half hour, but at the end of the final descent I didn’t find the Ahwahnee, instead I found another climb.  I was disappointed, because I it made me think that the people I met had deceived me.  But despite that, I continued for an hour when I finally ran into a cabby who told me that I had taken the wrong road and I had taken the only road that didn’t lead to the Ahwahnee.  I turned around and finally I found myself in the middle of a beautiful hotel where I devoured an exquisite meal in the company of the owner and two young ladies who lived there.  This hotel is the hotel in which travelers who take the stage eat.

April 9, 2014

The next day we hired a guide to take us on a hike (Camillo never would have relied on someone else to show him around--in one letter he says something like, I've learned the hard way that it's better to get the map yourself than ask someone else for directions).  This is not the first time we've hired a guide to take us someplace, and the moment of meeting the person who is assigned to our rag-tag kid crew can be tense for me.  I always request someone who is good with kids, but sometimes, some places, those people don't exist.  In this case we lucked out, our guide, Sam, had run the children's program in Yosemite last season.  He knew a lot about the park, but more importantly, knew a hiking route that would work for us.  He didn't even seem too surprised when we packed the potty into the bottom of the jogging stroller!

We rambled along the trail to Mirror Lake, making potty stops along the way.  The rule was that we had to be 100 feet away from the trail and 100 feet from the river, so Eloise and I were always leaving the group.  At one point, we headed to the woods and I stopped in my tracks.  A small bobcat was right in front of us.  I had read about the bobcats and mountain lions--and the advice that stuck with me was to keep small children close to the adults.  I quickly grabbed Eloise's hand and backed away, keeping my eye on the cat.  "Guys, bobcat, bobcat, bobcat..." I kept saying.  It was exciting to see it, but a little too exciting until I got back to the trail and could take the wildlife scene in from a safe distance.   I had to chuckle that the plastic potty ended up being the key to our most exciting wilderness adventure yet!

April 10, 2014

On the second day,  we split into two groups.  Graham, Chloe and Gwendolyn took a rock climbing lesson with a guide named Miranda, and I rented a bike with a trailer for Eloise and me.  She and I visited the Lower Yosemite Falls in the morning, and then went into Yosemite Village to buy sandwiches for ourselves and our rock climbing crew.  Our plan was to meet Graham and the girls at the rock climbing site for lunch.

This idea was more difficult to execute than I expected it to be, since the rock climbing location was just a cliff off a trail.  There were no signs, and even the landmarks that did have signs were far from the cliff they were climbing.  Graham had dropped a waypoint using Google maps, but cell coverage in the Valley isn’t great, and so it was difficult to make use of it.  At one point, I realized that we had overshot the location by about a mile (which had all been downhill), and after some swearing, turned the bike and trailer around to retrace my pedaling, now uphill in the eighty degree heat.  

After lunch, Eloise and I continued our bike tour of the Valley.  As we stopped for yet another potty break, I felt deflated.  I had had a fantasy of what it would be like to see Yosemite through Camillo’s eyes.  I imagined some spiritual communion between him and me, that I would hear his voice, or feel his ghost leading me around, and here I was at the potty again.  The difference between him at twenty on his bike, and me at forty with my three kids and husband, felt like a huge chasm--and the idea that it could be crossed felt like naive wishful thinking.

The way was totally uphill for about 12 kilometers, and then was varied with a little uphill then a little downhill.  The temperature was pretty cold and when I arrived at an elevation of about 2200 meters above sea level, there were several feet of snow in the small coves protected from the sun.  I followed the way a little by foot and a little by bike, but it wasn’t bad because the way was superb.  In the middle of the road I ran into the coach that was returning from the valley and the travelers told me about the marvels of their trip.

At two I finished a long ascent near a hut that belonged to a worker who maintains the road.  He told me he lived there for more than 14 years both summer and winter in the company of a magnificent dog.  I had lunch and made my friend very happy with a shot of my fine whiskey.  It’s fair to say that I’ve never drunk as much whiskey in my life as I did in these two days

We did finally get back on the bike for the ride.  I wanted to ride as close to Vernal Falls and Brideveil falls as I could, since Camillo had climbed in to see them.  I followed a route I had charted out on a paper map I was carrying in my pocket.  About half way through, right as I was about to get closer to the falls, there was a sign that said “road closed, shuttles and service vehicles only.”  Huh.  

In what was probably a poor judgement call on my part, I decided to ride carefully on, promising myself that I would turn back if the way seemed dangerous at all.  From what I could see the road was clear and paved.  A shuttle bus drove by and I decided to follow it.

The way was shady and cool, I called back to Eloise to see how she was doing.  I turned to look over my shoulder and saw that she had fallen asleep, and for the first time since being in Yosemite I felt the blanket of solitude wrap around me.  I rode silently, paying close attention for anything that seemed like it could cause danger, but there was nothing.  Just a wide paved road in the woods.  There was the sound of rushing water, the smell of pine needles, and the damp cool of thick shade.  I passed the trail heads to Brideveil and Nevada falls, feeling the tug of wanting to go exactly where Camillo went, but rode on, Eloise sound asleep and quiet.

She woke up when we met up with Graham and the girls.  It had been a big day for all of us.

April 11, 2014

The next morning we left the Ahwahnee to go see the big trees of Mariposa Grove.

It was a bit of a walk from the parking lot to the Grizzly Giant, and the girls were not in the mood.  There was a lot of grousing after a restless nights sleep and the exhaustion of the rock climbing the day before.  But Graham and I forced them along in what was turning out to be an unpleasant march.  At one point Eloise and Gwendolyn “went boneless” and planted themselves on the ground, refusing the march on.  Chloe, who had read about the giant actually wanted to see it, so she and Graham forged ahead.  I stayed behind with Gwendolyn and Eloise.  Part of me was angry and part of me was resigned, so I decided to take a breather.  We played that alphabet game...I went to the store and bought...A-Apple, B-banana, etc.  By the time we got to R, Chloe and Graham returned triumphant.  This made such an impression on Gwendolyn that she changed her mind and rose to the occasion.  Of course, now Eloise was mad that she wasn’t going to get to see the big tree, but we needed to make tracks in order to get home in time for dinner with Nonny, so Eloise will have to see the Grizzly Giant some other time.  

The walk was worth it, and I think that G will remember the sight of the Grizzly Giant for a long time to come.

"The trip went pretty well" I think to myself.

Among trees, the red manzanita with its winding branches and the american pine with its straight trunk take first place.  The road climbs until an altitude of about 2000 meters above sea level and then for about four or five kilometers remains more or less level.  Tiny houses are found along the road, only a few huts and even then only a few are inhabited.  Prudently, I brought my own modest lunch and a small bottle of whiskey, so I didn’t get hungry.  At 2:30 I had done 17 miles and I only had 4 more to go, all descending, when I came to a fork in the road leading to Wawona, my goal for the day.  Wawona is the other to a big park that is home to gigantic Sequoias, which after a few giants in Australia, are the largest on earth.  I had time, so I took the other road and after an hour or more in descent I came to the big trees.  There are about a hundred, a few taller and a few shorter, but all are a respectable size.  The tallest of all rises about 90 meters above sea level, but its trunk is not the most mammoth.

The “grizzly” is the one of all the trees that has the largest diameter (about 10 meters at the base).  However, the biggest impression this live giant made on me was from a much smaller trunk (around 5 meters at the base) that was lying on the ground in its entire immense length.  In addition to these giants Mariposa Hill (that’s the name of the place) has a huge amount of other trees, all of a respectable size.  The forest that covers these mountains made me think of the ones I admired in Washington state.

The same night I took the train as far as Bereuda, where I spent the night, and Sunday morning I left for Sacaramento where I arrived the same night.

The trip went pretty well. The line crosses the Sierra Nevada mountains and the landscape is beautiful at many points, however a type of roof for the snow lined about sixty meters of the way, blocking one of the best views.

Tomorrow morning I’ll go to the Post Office to see if there are some letters and then I’ll close this eternal one of mine which is also addressed to uncle and Emma.

Lots of love to uncle.  Kisses to Emma, Carlo and the children.  Greetings to Ep Tom and all our friends.

Kisses from