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[travel] My mom, on where the flowers went

, a/k/a my mom, spent three weeks at the beginning of this past autumn traveling around the West, much of at the Grand Canyon doing trail maintenance and habitat restoration as a volunteer. When she returned to Portland, she began writing up her days as a sort of irregular journal. The emails were so delightful that with her permission, I’m going to post them here as guest blogs — meditations on people, travel, nature and the American West.

This is her fifth installment, from an email dated September 24th, shortly after her return.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Greening of the Grand Canyon. This was the name of the Sierra Club service outing I signed up for. To work with the revegetation crew restoring native plants in disturbed areas.

A little context here…there are a couple thousand year round residents of Grand Canyon, most living near the South Rim in hidden residential areas. Many more in the summer months. There is a K-12 school, a well stocked grocery store. A clinic and ambulance service. There are the law enforcement rangers and the interpretive rangers. Also the backwood rangers who work with the wildlife. Someone has to haze the nuisance bears and, if necessary, tranquilize and export them. There are the employees of the concessionaires and the various service providers…like the camper service shop with showers and laundry.

And a few scientists. I think there is a geologist, and anthropologist, an astronomer, and I know from experience that there is a horticulturist and a couple other botanists. The revegetation project is part of the science and restoration management bit of Grand Canyon stuff. They try to preserve the area in as nearly a natural state as is consistent with visitor use. This is a balancing act, of course, 9 million visitors a year are going to leave a lot of footprints. Even though the average length of visit is 2 hours. That’s right, two hours in the park, a few minutes looking over the rim, a few minutes in the gift shop buying a t-shirt, and an hour in the lodge having a meal. Some walk around stepping on plants and planting used Pepsi cans. Others walk delicately and carry their garbage out in their pockets.

But I digress. Back to the reveg crew. They run a large multigreenhouse nursery. They gather seed and propagate them in the nursery for eventual transplant to disturbed areas. They salvage plants from areas which are about to be disturbed (new roads, quarries, expanded buildings, etc.). Those plants are held in the nursery till they know which will survive, then planted back where they are needed. (New traffic islands, places where there were roads which have now been removed.) They remove invasive non-natives like our old friend the tumbleweed. None of the botanists likes the tumbleweed, it is just too aggressive to the detriment of more fragile natives. They even move trees around…a new parking lot is under construction at the main visitor center, they have taken out a few dozen junipers and bristlecone pines and have them in huge wood boxes ready for transplant.

Lots going on. And we the Sierra Club volunteers donned yellow vests, grabbed picks, trowels, spades, and went to work. I watered, I salvaged cactus, I transplanted both into the ground and in the nursery, and, glory be, I gathered seeds. That was my favorite job. I gathered with Matt one half day, and with Christi for a half day. I learned 18 or 20 plants, by common name and code (first three letters of genus and specie). I came to love the cliffrose and the apache plume. I delighted in finding a paintbrush with seed ready…most were still in full bloom. I giggled at the rattly little penstemons and the Boucor…a nice grass with seeds hanging off the stem so they could be gathered with one quick sweep of one hand. I think its a sort of oat grass. I was the absolute queen of Hetvil, the yellow aster. I gathered bags and bags of those seeds.

The labeled seed bags go straight into a freezer for a few days at least. Then they will be sorted, planted, and eventually, those which take will be put back with a mile or so of where they were gathered.

It’s a wonderful project, and one which forces a personal interaction with each little plant. Just lovely to think I helped some of the flowers stay right where they belong.

The most unexpected thing I did was salvage cactus. As a thirty year resident of Texas, I never expected to be tenderly and lovingly digging up and replanting prickly pear. Its a funny old life, isn’t it?


‘s previous installment, I’d Like to Get to Know You”, is here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

[travel] My mom, on getting to know you

, a/k/a my mom, recently spent three weeks traveling around the West, much of at the Grand Canyon doing trail maintenance and habitat restoration as a volunteer. When she returned to Portland, she began writing up her days as a sort of irregular journal. The emails were so delightful that with her permission, I’m going to post them here as guest blogs — mediations on people, travel, nature and the American West.

This is her fourth installment, from an email dated September 22nd, shortly after her return.

I’d Like to Get to Know You

The Sierra Club sponsored and organized and provided all the logistical support for our week of volunteer work at Grand Canyon. All we really had to do was get there and put up our tents and provide our own eating utensils. Bruce and Larry managed the rest. All we knew about Bruce and Larry was that they are life partners and coleaders of Sierra Club outings such as this one. This much was made clear in the info sent out prior to the trip.

Bruce was our liaison to the park staff, Larry was keeper of the commissary, chief cook and shopper. Both were in charge of safety and sanitation. The only rules they had for us were to drink lots of water, use hand sanitizer before touching communal food, and go in groups of at least three when tipping the rim. Nice phrase, isn’t that? Everything else was by mutual agreement.

The first evening as we gathered we agreed to their suggestion that we not talk to each other about how we made our living… or how we had done in the case of the many retirees. We decided we would reveal all on Wednesday at suppertime.

How do we know who to salute and who salutes us? We determine age, gender, and occupation/education of our new interlocutor, then we know our relative status. I aint sayin’ this is right or good, just that its what we usually do. So here we were pretty much in the dark. Well it was pretty obvious everyone was well educated, a little conversation was all it took. It was pretty obvious everyone had a lot of varied interests…Jim played baroque music on his recorder in the evenings. Jane took close up pictures of plants. Tom and Rich liked to sing 60s songs. Larry cooked up excellent meals to suit every possible dietary requirement of a group largely made up of folks over 60. Sarah went out early by herself to maximize solitude and opportunities to see the wildlife. Mia was on her way to a bug show after we were finished. She had driven her classic VW bus (a mid sixties model) from Ontario, and was going on to a VW rally where she expected to win in her class.

On Wed evening we all looked forward to knowing more about each other, but we already had made friends and knew we liked each other, and who we liked best. (Jane, and her husband Ira in my case… a couple in their 70s) So we did a truth and a lie and tried to figure out whether Marshall was a producer of adult movies or a radiologist. Whether Larry was a tax attorney or a slumlord. Jane claimed to be either a garden photographer or a scuba instructor. Jim’s wife Pam was either a museum curator or a small business owner. Sue was a salesperson at the largest Mercedes dealer in LA or else a medical administrator. Jessie was a high school teacher or a jazz singer. Sarah was a linguist for the State Department or a fact checker and copy editor for a major scifi publisher.

Turned out we all sort of mixed up our truths and lies, much like I did. Neither was actually true, but both had to do with my background and interests. They voted me a linguist because I had worn my Sofia shirt with Cyrillic letters, and no one believed that scifi needs fact checking. Hehehe. And I won a goth baseball cap with GCNP spelled out in rivets for telling the most interesting lie. Wheeee!

Then we all actually did introduce ourselves in a more ordinary way. We had a professional gardener who runs her own business, retired doctors and lawyers. A hospital administrator, teachers, social worker, college professor (Ira, of course). And dear Jane, who was born in the blitz of London is actually both a garden photographer and a scuba instructor and underwater photographer who works with Scripps.

About who you would expect on a trip that requires a certain sort of financial resource and a certain worldview that is larger than the block we live on.

Nice people, nice week, good for the Sierra Club.


‘s previous installment, “On the Kindness of Strangers”, is here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

[travel] My mom, on the kindness of strangers

, a/k/a my mom, recently spent three weeks traveling around the West, much of at the Grand Canyon doing trail maintenance and habitat restoration as a volunteer. When she returned to Portland, she began writing up her days as a sort of irregular journal. The emails were so delightful that with her permission, I’m going to post them here as guest blogs — mediations on people, travel, nature and the American West.

This is her third installment, from an email dated September 22nd, shortly after her return.

The Kindness of Strangers

Theres me, huffing and puffing up the very steep switchbacks at the end of Navajo Loop toward the rim of Bryce Canyon. I was actually doing ok, my legs were fine, but my breath was certainly audible. A Chinese woman started tracking me. She stayed within a few yards ahead or behind. Her daughter was along, but still playing down among the hoodoos. She handed me a mint. She gave a couple of grins and thumbs up. She reached to top a little bit ahead of me and waited till I came out before she moved away from the rim. I approached her and thanked her in Chinese for watching me. She told me she was from Taiwan. Her English was no better than my Chinese, so we weren’t able to say much to each other, but I was able to thank her and she was able to acknowledge me and the beauty of the place. I felt like I’d had a guardian angel.

On that same path, just before this nice taitai took me over I stepped up from the path slipped and slid just a little coming back down. A hand appeared before me, I grasped it and was helped back down to the path. Then I looked up and it was a Chinese man. I said “Sye sye nin”, and he grinned and said “But I am Korean” His English was pretty good and we laughed about my mistake, and wished each other well.

“Lets go look at the stars!” said Matt, the seed gathering tumbleweed at our thank you picnic for the GC park staff. We walked away from the campfire toward the rim for the best viewing. I realized that I was walking in starlight only not more than a few yards from the rim of a mile deep hole in the ground. And feeling secure and cared for. We looked at the stars.

The Utah map showed a road 153 across the Tushan Mountains west of US 89, headed toward Beaver Utah and Nevada. I couldn’t determine its condition from the map, but it looked more interesting than #20 which would have got me to Beaver easily. I stopped at the Forest Service ranger station to ask. The lady at the desk looked at my map with me and told me that was in a different forest, and they didn’t monitor the roads over there. I thanked her and was prepared to leave. But the district ranger came out from his office and asked if he could help with something. I told him my question and he immediately instructed the receptionist to phone the district ranger’s office in that other forest and find out for me. I went off to the restroom while she made the call. When I got back she was able to tell me that the road was gravel the first half, but well maintained and suitable for my little sedan if I went slowly. That I would come to a Y at the top and should take the right fork for the the best road back down to Beaver. She was pleased to have the good news, I was pleased to get the good news, and the road was sensational, topping out at over 10K feet with views to treasure in memory.

And to keep the kharma flowing there was Annie… I was driving up a small road in Nevada on the way out when I saw a woman of my years walking along with a water bottle in her hand. It was very hot and she was just plugging along. I stopped and asked if I could give her a ride. She accepted immediately, climbed aboard and asked me to take her to the jail. I started up and asked where the jail was. She said just to the next town about ten miles away. Her car was in the shop, had been promised for yesterday but wasn’t ready. Meanwhile she had promised to visit her friend in jail. And you know, she said, when someone is in jail and you said you’d visit, you’d better visit! I took her to the jail. We chatted along the way, she’s always lived in rural Nevada. I agreed not to tell her children she was hitchhiking if she wouldn’t tell mine I had picked her up. As she got out I advised her that next time she stopped someone for a ride maybe she shouldn’t start the converstaion with “please take me to the jail”.

I enjoyed Annie.

There were others…the campers I met, the Sierra Club people, the service people…You go for the rocks, then you meet the people. Life is good.


‘s previous installment, “Rocks of Ages”, is here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

[travel] My mom, on rocks

, a/k/a my mom, recently spent three weeks traveling around the West, much of at the Grand Canyon doing trail maintenance and habitat restoration as a volunteer. When she returned to Portland, she began writing up her days as a sort of irregular journal. The emails were so delightful that with her permission, I’m going to post them here as guest blogs — mediations on people, travel, nature and the American West.

This is her second installment, from an email dated September 22nd, shortly after her return.

Rocks of Ages

One reason for my love of the southwest is that the rocks are right out there for me to look at, touch, smell, listen to. Arizona and Utah are particularly spectacular…though Nevada aint bad.

Early afternoon one day I found a little red rock canyon in a state park in Utah. It was small, jewel like, perfect. There was a trail up to the rim, but it was about 95 degrees out, and I passed. Sigh.

Grand Canyon’s kaibab formation…the limestone capstone. It has fossils…we found one looking for seeds. It protects lots of softer sandstone below it and keeps the canyon from eroding even faster. And the redwall formation…couple layers down, and mostly sheer vertical walls. Lovely indeed. And the basement rock in the inner canyon. The Vishnu schist. I have not seen it up close, but hope to some day. Long to some day. Intend to some day. We got no basement rock in Oregon, we are much too new.

Then there’s Bryce canyon. Where I went down among the hoodoos. Hoodoos? Yep. First day there I walked for a few miles along the rim and looked down at the strange standing pillars and spires and chess pieces all made of beautiful pink rock. Some with white caps on. The second day I marched right down into that canyon…in one amphitheater to a depth of about 600 ft…in another to 900 ft. I strolled between rock walls where I could barely see the sky. Out in the open at the bottom where the trees and shrubs eke out a living from the small runoff. In creek beds where the rocks have rocked and rolled. My heart sang of the ages. Bryce is quite young, but it still speaks of the ages.

Coming off the basin and range province and up Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park. I topped out at about 10K ft, and could look back to the east over the ranges and into the next basins. It felt like looking all the way across Utah to Colorado. Rocky ranges, flat valley floors.

And Crack in the Ground. In the center of Oregon the ground has cracked open for a couple miles. Fifty or sixty feet down in the Crack I knew I was close to home because I was entirely surrounded by black basalt. Oregon is pretty much made of black basalt as far as I can tell.

But the next morning, at the overlook above the dam on the Deschutes that impounds Lake Simtustus, I got close up and personal with a layer of what seemed to be white mudstone and cross bedded sandstone. Far below the caprock, and between layers of basalt. Ash? Mud? Seabottom sediment, blowing sand? Once more I wished I knew enough geology to tell myself a convincing story.

I always wish I knew enough geology. Reading the books is just not enough once I’m out standing next to a rock.

What I do know about rocks is that they whisper to me of time. Of change. Of renewal. Gotta love a rock.


‘s first installment, “Tumbleweeds”, is here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

[travel] My mom, on tumbleweeds

, a/k/a my mom, recently spent three weeks traveling around the West, much of at the Grand Canyon doing trail maintenance and habitat restoration as a volunteer. When she returned to Portland, she began writing up her days as a sort of irregular journal. The emails were so delightful that with her permission, I’m going to post them here as guest blogs — mediations on people, travel, nature and the American West.

Her first installment, from an email dated September 21st, immediately after her return.

Tumbleweed, Russian Thistle, Salsola tragus, Saltra.

This icon of the west is a non-native. According to the botanists at Grand Canyon it is an invasive non-native. The narrative they seem to have agreed upon is that the seeds arrived rolled up in carpets along with immigrants from Eastern Europe or Western Asia. Why not rolled up in work pants cuffs? I dont know.

Another way to look at tumbleweeds…amazingly successful and adaptable organisms that do fine far from home.

Like C—. C— is an exercise physiologist by academic training, and a botanist by profession. She is 26 years old, from Michigan. She was a competitive skater in high school, has run several marathons, does yoga and rides a bicycle over thirty miles at least once a week…as well as to work every day. She weighs about 95 pounds. She swings a pick and makes it work. She climbs rocks and rappels down cliffs. I am convinced theres nothing she cant do. She is at Grand Canyon as a temporary worker. This is at least her fourth or fifth gig as a temp working outdoors in the west, teaching herself the habits of the plants all the while. She would love a permanent job with benefits. She is cheerful, positive, committed and energetic. She appreciates and enjoys the volunteers she works with.

When I stayed at her house for a few days I learned that she was in a car accident a couple years ago. No insurance, of course. She is still paying the hospital for the xrays they took that showed she needs surgery for two compression fractures in her vertebrae. She cant afford surgery, so she manages the pain as best she can, and puts up with what she cant manage.

Like M— who is 53 and has been a field ranger and a biology teacher. Once upon a time he was even married! Now he goes from temp job to volunteer job, to temp job. He wants to stay outdoors in the west. He is on a six month gig gathering seeds for the revegetation program. He reads Kant for fun. M— turned down housing in favor of camping for his time at the park; he likes to look at stars.

Like A— who single handed manages the huge nursery at the reveg program. they have a full time nursery full of plants of all ages and stages staffed by a single temporary employee. He is on an eleven month contract, and hopes he will be renewed. He is a very young man, just out of college. He is tender and respectful of his charges, plants and humans. One of our Sierra Club volunteers, a woman my age from NYC, sort of collapsed of dehydration while working in his nursery. He was on the spot, and what he didn’t know he found out in a hurry, including that it was covered by workers comp and she should not worry about the charge for the ambulance to take her to the clinic.

(Did you know they have a clinic and ambulance service in the park? And a helicopter to transport the gravely ill or injured to Flag? Did you know they have already had forty-nine deaths this year, two while I was there?)

Like all the young people who keep the park services and many other services going for us. The river runners, the ski instructors, the pack trip guides, the food servers and pump jockeys. All those human tumbleweeds that make our vacations a sort of paradise on earth. Let me never take them for granted, or call them invasive non-natives.

The final tumbleweed…my car. I bought my little used low mileage Hyundai almost on a whim about five months ago. I wanted it for road trips, I do most of my local rolling about on public transport, feet, and bike. I have not been sure it was a good idea. I have not been sure I even like the car all that much. Now I am sure. I have developed quite an affection for her because she is uncomplaining, dependable, and willing to try anything. She didn’t even wince when I dragged her through the juniper shrubs trying to avoid the worst of the washboarding on the gravel road to Crack in the Ground. It came to me that she is one more tumbleweed, and now that is what I call her. The first thing I did when I got home today was to unload her and take her for a wash and vacuuming. Tomorrow I shall take her for an oil change. She is a fine car and Im glad she’s mine.

What tumbleweeds have drifted through your lives?