Saturday, June 5, 2021

What Pandemic? May 2021

Tunnel Viewpoint, mid afternoon
Tunnel Viewpoint, morning
May's highlight was a chance to spend a few days in Yosemite to visit friends, Lee and Elaine, and hike. There were no rooms available in the valley but we managed to find an Airbnb place in West Yosemite. While technically in the park, it is a 30-minute drive back to the valley and most of the places were wanted to visit.

Entering the park from the north on Highway 120, we stopped, as recommended by Elaine, at the first view of Half Dome. Seeing Half Dome in "person" instead of in a photo was exciting. It seemed to me that everyone else who had stopped to capture selfies with Half Dome in the background felt the same exuberance. We took a photo of another happy couple and they obliged by taking our photo as well.

First View of Half Dome
It was Mother's Day so we didn't drive the Valley Loop but headed south toward West Yosemite with a detour to Glacier Point and its view.

Glacier Point Panorama with Yosemite Falls far left and Nevada and Vernal Falls far right

Most of the park features had been named by Indian inhabitants before European Americans renamed them. Half Dome looks different from every view. In this view, the rock looks like a woman with her head covered. Tisseyak which means "woman turned to stone" was their name for the feature later renamed Half Dome. Tisseyak features prominently in an Indian creation story our friend Lee told us about.

Glacier Point is above the south wall of Yosemite Valley. It is 7214 ft (2199m) above sea level and 3200 ft (980m) above the valley floor. The Overhanging Rock at Glacier Point is barricaded to visitors but it was the place to be photographed in the early19th century. Below my photo of the Overhanging Rock with Yosemite Falls in the distance and a similar view from approximately 1904.

12 Lindo Lake, July 31, 2013 ideas | lindo, lake, jacobs

On our first full day we drove back to the valley, parked at Curry Village, and walked to Lee and Elaine's RV site in one of the campgrounds. Lee is a park volunteer. Our friends led us on a short walk to Mirror Lake and we continued on the Valley Loop Trail to Snow Creek and back down to their campsite. 

Mirror Lake
The Cairn Morgue

Elaine generously fixed a lovely hot lunch. That lunch was the best meal we had in Yosemite. It was either fast food or take out only at all the dinner locations, there were no places to eat in West Yosemite, and Wawona had yet to open. That first evening we bought some frozen dinner items to supplement our food provisions for our last two nights stuck in West Yosemite.

On our second day in the valley we decided that since it was spring and the waterfalls were full we should see them. Our plan was to hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls (4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 1,279 feet). We only had water with us because we didn't plan to do more than the 4 miles. Just before getting to the Mist Trail a volunteer directing trail traffic encouraged us to go all the way to Nevada Falls because it was just 1.3 miles farther.

With Vernal Falls running so fast and full, you get quite wet along that part of the Mist Trail. The morning sun made rainbows in the mist--even double rainbows.

At the top of Vernal Falls we decided to continue the additional 1.3 miles to Nevada Falls. There was a steep rise of another 1000 feet in that 1.3 miles. It was hard, but we made it.

View of Nevada Falls on the way up
View from the top of Nevada Falls
Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail
It was a long, hot day and we were hungry when we walked the additional one mile back to our parking spot. The total walking distance for the day was over 9 miles. We were slow, and it was more of a stumble than a hike. I kept thinking about John Muir's quote about hiking, “I don't like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not 'hike!' On the way down we enjoyed the beautiful dogwood blooms of May.

The last time we visited Yosemite, we didn't have cell phones or other devices so we had no idea that cell coverage is almost non-existent in Yosemite Valley. That must be why at the campground Lee and Elaine were at had actual pay phones. The best cell signal was at the top of Nevada Falls but that's a long way to go to make a cell phone call.

This was the only bear we saw in the park. We saw a few deer but nothing else.

Don't Leave Food in Your Car!
Merced River and Yosemite Falls
Bridalveil Fall
Our last day as we drove toward home we stopped at Tuolomne Grove to see the Giant Sequoias. It is a short hike into the grove, but all uphill on the way out. We saw the Tunnel Tree. It was the hunt for gold in the 1850s that led European Americans into the Grove and prompted the building of Big Oak Flat Road as a route into Yosemite Valley in the 1870s. In 1878, as a tourism gimmick, a stagecoach-sized hole was drilled in a dead sequoia. 

Not a whale but a giant sequoia with distorted cell phone panorama perspective
After Tuolumne Grove, we visited Hetch Hetchy. It was a long, slow drive but neither of us had ever been there. We had hoped to do a short hike to a waterfall but it was quite warm and the trail was entirely exposed. We had lunch from our ice chest instead. The reservoir provides water to the four-county San Francisco Bay Area. 

We have long avoided Yosemite because it is one of those National Parks that has been over visited and way too crowded. This short visit has rekindled our desire to visit again. Next time, we'll stay in the valley and visit at a less congested, if that is even possible, time.

One of the other interesting events for me was the partnership between Viewpoint Gallery and the Crocker Art Museum for a juried show at the Museum. My entry was accepted. The show is available online at: 

I took the photo last year in Western Utah as we headed home from our Minnesota/Ohio road trip. 

Hieroglyphs and Smoke
In May we had only a few flowers: roses, clematis, and our beautiful but short lived peony flowers. We had strange weather with several days of weather cold enough to have a wood stove fire followed by many 90+ days to end the month.

Pandora and Syd are still hunting lizards and we are still trying to get them released without harm.

With more of our friends being fully vaccinated, we've returned to meeting friends for restaurant lunches and dinners. Pre-pandemic life is coming back gradually.

Mid month the CDC said their research and declining positive cases showed that fully vaccinated persons no longer needed to wear masks or social distance. Masks and social distancing mandates have definitely disappeared in El Dorado County with very few exceptions even though fully vaccinated persons are the minority here. Short memories and as if there was never a pandemic!

There were an additional 331 positive Covid cases and 1 more death in May. The cumulative totals are10295 positive Covid-19 cases and 113 deaths. I believe El Dorado County entered the yellow or moderate tier. No matter, social distancing and masks have mostly disappeared around here despite there being a mere 38.9% of us that are fully vaccinated. The percentage of people who have received at least one dose is 47.5%. Appointments are available and many go unfilled.

We're headed to Eastern Washington state mid June and Tanzania (fingers crossed) June 28.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Navigating Out of the Pandemic Shell: April 2021

April got off to a somewhat ominous beginning when I was awakened on April 1 at 4:00 am by Syd growling downstairs. I found him growling at a very large raccoon who was standing on the other side of the sliding door. My appearance spooked the raccoon who shuttled off the porch and headed down the hill of our backyard. Syd followed along inside going from window to window until he was satisfied that the four-legged trespasser was long gone. The rest of our April nights were quiet although sleep doesn't always come easy to me. 

In April our daily lives moved toward a more normal level of activity. We celebrated Easter with my brother Leonard, his wife Kristin, and their youngest son Wesley (18 now). They came up from Antioch on Saturday evening so we could spend more time together on Sunday. What a joy to be able to do something as simple as having family visit and celebrate a holiday together again. They hadn't begun their vaccinations at that point but have since.

Syd gradually introduced himself to this part of the Clark family and made himself the center of attention. Pandora lived in our closet both days. Besides Kathy, their cat sitter, they haven't had interaction with other humans for more than a year.

We took a number of drives to enjoy spring wildflowers. After seeing a photographer friend post photos of California poppies, we headed to Jackson (Amador County) to see for ourselves. We found them but getting decent photos involved walking up a very steep driveway (the land was for sale and no gate) to get to the top of the hill. 

The view from the top

Several days later we bought tickets to the vintage Crest Theater in downtown Sacramento to see the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. We saw five absorbing movie shorts and spent 2-1/2 hours in the theater. Tickets were limited to the first 100 persons but there were only about 20 of us present and distanced on that Sunday afternoon. We began the day with brunch. Brunch and movies - that's definitely a bridge crossed. 

A couple of months ago I had two photographs in the Humor in Photography show sponsored by Yolo Arts and Viewpoint Gallery. As a result, I was invited to an Art and Ag Farm Visit to Hungry Hollow Olive Ranch in Capay. Capay is about 1-1/2 hours due west from where we live. It is almost to the coast range. With the Art and Ag Farm visits, artists are given the run of a participating farm two mornings a month. Dan came too and we enjoyed being in an area we've never before visited. 

The olive trees are still young but they were in bloom and stretched almost as far as the eye could see. Meadowlarks sang from the tops of the olive trees while we looked for interesting photographic subjects.

The colors were soft and there was a little moisture in the air that further softened the colors. 

We concluded our trip west with lunch at the Alamar Restaurant on the Sacramento River. When I was younger, stronger, and had a friend with a boat, I waterskied this part of the Sacramento River on many summer afternoons with a group of work friends. It was a nice memory.

Between our wildflower wanderings I did a few freelance photo jobs for our local paper the Mountain Democrat (the oldest paper in California). The first two were people events: the Fishing Derby for kids under 18 and an Earth Day Celebration. The last assignment was to photograph the glorious lupins blooming at Folsom Lake State Park with the caveat that I take some photos of people enjoying the lupins. We visited the park at Peninsula campground at the end of Rattlesnake Bar Rd on the day after a much anticipated "storm" that yielded a disappointing 1/10 of an inch of rain. Happily, the sky was filled with lots of fluffy clouds and we were the first to visit the lupins. We took photos. I took one of Dan enjoying the lupins just in case we never saw another person. We hiked and took more photos of lupins. When we finally returned to our car there were a handful of people in the lupins. I took their photos and got their names for the paper. None of the lupin peepers were local. A group of four were from San Francisco, and there were two women photographers one from Banff, Canada, and one from Arizona. Success and a memorable day of purple haze.

Folsom Lake is currently 64% of normal for this time of year when the lake is waiting for the snow melt to bring the level up. Unfortunately, our snow pack is about 45% of normal and this is our second drought year. The present lake level is about 1/3 of its capacity. The water is so low that from the normal beach one must walk about 200 feet to get to the water. The boat launches are high above the water level. Boats that do get into the water are restricted to 5 mph due to the lake's low level. While our water does not come from this lake, the western edge of El Dorado County does get some of their water from Folsom Lake. We are already having "red flag warning" days because of the dryness of the vegetation and high winds. 

Stranded driftwood at a former high water mark
Clumps of Lupin growing on the newly exposed shore below the boat launch

As a consolation, the lupins have carpeted much of the area that would/should be covered by water in a normal rainfall year.

One Saturday we enjoyed a lunch hosted by one of Dan's former co-workers. Also invited were several other lawyers whom Dan once worked with from the U.S. Attorney's office. We were all fully vaccinated. When will we no longer care about vaccination status?

When at home our lives still revolve around our cats, walking them twice a day, our yard, and photographing the changes in both. Walking cats is not like walking a dog. There is a lot of time for photographing, weeding, listening to podcasts/audiobooks, and searching for your cat after your attention has strayed to something more interesting. I've documented an entire year of cats and yard and it is getting boring.

Pandora and our yard lupins
Our yard is at its best in April when spring bulbs are still in bloom, the purple wisteria blooms and as it begins to wane, the white wisteria takes over with its waterfall of white. Between the wisteria and the lupins, the fragrance is heavenly.

At the end of April we began making plans for future travel. The end of June, we're going to Tanzania for 12 days. Our fellow travelers on this trip have been vaccinated. That is not the case for the people of Tanzania. Presently, there are no travel restrictions to get there. Of course, that could change before the end of June arrives. We haven't been on an airplane since the pandemic began so this is another big bridge to cross. 

Committing to travel internationally led us to consider returning to our local gym. Last week, we returned to gym exercise and yoga for me. We are going during the less busy hours, but our friends who returned well before us said that the gym is never very busy anytime now. Working our way back to normal and staying healthy involves so many leaps of faith and luck. So far, we have been.

There were a total of 9964 positive Covid cases and 110 deaths at end of April. April's increase in positive cases was 516 and there were two additional deaths (65+ category). Our county managed to slip down into the orange-moderate tier from the red-substantial tier. Our governor has floated the possibility  that California's tier system will disappear mid-June ready or not.

In April, the City of Placerville managers voted unanimously to "lose the noose" from the city seal and stationery. Those not in favor of this move have begun a recall campaign to remove all five managers. There have been protests against the removal of the noose, and those who insist that Placerville is ignoring its history, but the noose is not part of the city's history. The 1849 miners who came for gold named it Dry Diggins. After 3 men, rustlers or claim jumpers, were hanged, the city became known as Hangtown. In 1854, the city name was changed to Placerville because the residents didn't want to live in a town called Hangtown. The noose didn't show up until the 1970s as a way to attract tourists. 

I like the words of the Vice Mayor: “I know a lot of people want us to stand up and fight this battle against change, but our job at the city is not to fight change — but to navigate it. The welcome to Placerville/Old Hangtown sign will remain. Seems like an intelligent compromise.  

Navigating our future-carefully.