Friday, December 21, 2012


Was told yesterday about a man, who while being a successful man of business, with wife & children, for three months out of every year would turn the business over to his wife, bid his family farewell, and "ride the rails" like the stereotyped hobo's of the Great Depression era. Did it for fun. For the freedom. Freedom from what? To live like a bum with no home? To beg for money and food as a means of survival? Not my way of enjoying freedoms. But maybe he wasn't really searching for freedom. Maybe he did it ascetically as a means of experiencing suffering. To endure suffering, as the Buddhist monks preach, to the level of homelessness, begging for your sustenance. So that one may experience this on one's path to enlightenment. Well, the Polar Express comes to mind as the greatest movie for the time of the Yuletide. And it is the Christmas season. A time of celebrating the birth of the one who suffered for all of humankind. This hobo of self inflicted suffering also made me think of Kerouac. That student of Zen Buddhism. That Dharma Bum. That voice of the beats and birther of hippies. That rider of the rails as a means of free travel and escape. That rider of the Midnight Ghost from L.A. to San Francisco. Freedom was the only thing on his mind, even while he was not in his right one. I also learned this morning that Kerouac's "On the Road" is opening in theater's nationwide today. As I have not yet read the book, it is waiting for me on the bookcase shelf in my house. A novel about freedom and suffering. Not only in one's life, but freedom of the bounds of literature. Written on one giant, continuous roll of typing paper, free from form, and free for continuous thoughts to be spewed forth onto the page. Writing is a joy. A freedom. Funny that I am just beginning to enjoy this freedom on a day which the World Is To End! Funny how this movie of freedom begins on a day when we may all be freed of our Earthly bounds. Or maybe it's the Earth which will be free of us. Maybe Jesus will return in this time of the Yuletide. Or maybe Jack's movie will finally be free for us all to view. So a toast to Jesus. A toast to Jack. A Merry Christmas to all of you. And a toast to Jerry Garcia who told us.

"I wish I was a headlight, on a northbound train. I wish I was a headlight, on a northbound train. I'd shine my light through that, cool Colorado rain."

and what song comes on the radio as I turn it on right after writing this...............Freebird. I shit you not. Good night.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fall's Finally Arrived!

Autumn usually takes its sweet time traveling down the canyons to the base of the Sierras into California‘s central valley. What begins in late September at 10,000 feet, takes a couple of months to make it down close to sea level. Around here, leaves don’t start changing until the beginning of December.

The cooler temperatures are not the only thing to be creeping down the river canyons this time of year. What during other times of the year would bring life giving water, to be spread out across this land, the river’s gift has been lazily meandering downhill, to slowly explore on it’s own the long way home. The Kaweah River, the river that generates the most in my life, spreads out in a broad alluvial fan once it breaks loose of the gravity of one of America’s steepest watersheds. Imagine pouring honey onto a piece of toast. Same sorta’ effect. As this water spreads out into many water courses, creeks, ditches, & sloughs, on it’s way to the old Tulare Lake bed, over many millenia an alluvial fan was created. A spread of nutrient rich soil that has built up over time. Some of the best agricultural crop growing land in the world. All this from granite dust and water. Well, before the plow was introduced to this soil, the land supported a broad jungle of sorts.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not some discussion about wilderness vs. the plow. I like milk in my cereal. I like cheese on my burgers. I like cotton on everything that’s comfortable. Don’t forget about bacon! But I also enjoy tramping through land that was left alone to produce at it’s own will. Luckily there is a preserve on this alluvial fan of the Kaweah where the river jungle is allowed to breathe. This land was my destination one rainy day in early December, as the sycamores and wild grapevines were the first to be aged by autumn’s touch.

Visiting here is kind of similar to stepping back in time to when the ancients, the Yokuts Indians, roamed the jungles and grasslands and mountains, and harvested and gathered from the wilds on their own terms and scale. This was the land of the Wukchumne and Yokodo. The Gawia and the Wolasi, and the Choinok. These bands of Yokuts all shared and thrived in and around these jungles. The celebrated researcher and author Frank F. Latta, who in his works describes these river jungles in his book “The Handbook of the Yokuts Indians”:

“Persons who have not lived along the San Joaquin Valley rivers prior to the time when they were cleared for farming and running cattle and sheep upon their bottom land, will scarcely believe the stories told by pioneers about the wild plant growth along those streams. As late as 1900 some of this growth still existed along the Merced River and along the nearby San Joaquin, but only enough to suggest something of its previous rank nature. This jungle consisted not only of trees, but of wild grapes, several varieties of tule and willow, wild blackberries, nettles, grasses, and many other plants too numerous to mention.

It was not until the fall of 1925 that I became familiar with the last remaining jungle along the Kaweah river, which I was assured had been almost destroyed at that time, but which was even then beyond the belief of many persons who had lived for years within a few miles of it.”

Giant Valley Oaks which provided sweet acorns, a major staple of the Yokuts’ diet. Most of them covered with wild grapes which share the oaks’ structure to produce a large abundance of their fruit. The grapes too bitter eaten fresh, but made into a jam to accompany the acorn cakes. Acorn cakes which were made with the grape leaves lining sand basins used to leach out the bitter tannins of the acorn meal. Groundcover is provided by wild blackberry, which is very similar to the cultivated Himalaya variety. Berry patches were a favorite hiding place for the grizzly bear. Summarized from Latta:

- The wild blackberries were an important staple among the Yokuts Indians, who called it mah-mid. After gathering the berries they would lay them out on deer skins to dry. Once dry, they were taken to the mortars and pounded into a course meal, mixed with water, kneaded into a thick paste, and dried again. Thus being preserved, then stored in this state. To make jam when they wanted it, the Indians would again pound it into a coarse meal, add water, and cook in a basket with hot rocks. –

A grove of sycamores, oaks, and giant black willows was on the opposite side of a pasture which once held as Latta explains;

“Two or three varieties of numerous types of grasses which were used by the local Indians in basket making, many of them growing to a height of eight feet or more and so thick that passage through them was made with difficulty.”

A giant gnarled sycamore. Notice my backpack for reference.

Tree Tobacco

Blue Elderberry on the left.

Giant Black Willows.

On the way home, I stopped by Rocky Hill, also known as Chahka Shahna, to gaze at a small rock wall built by the ancient Yokodo. It is believed that this wall was used in antelope hunts as a way to herd them into a trap of some sort.

Couldn’t have picked better weather for a day of being reminded of how this land has provided for us all for a very long time. I know it has past for this year, but Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Looking" for a Winter Camp

One day in late October, with Hunter arriving in a little over a week away, I had the opportunity for a quick jaunt up to the hills to do one of my favorite things while in the mountains. I'm always interested in finding new places to set up a camp which no one has camped before. With winter coming up, I've been interested in finding places to spend a night or two in the snow. So with these things in mind, and a few hours of free time, I was headed up the hill to a spot I have had in mind for a couple of years. My intention was not to go up there and build a campsite, or start a fire, or something like that. I just wanted to check out the area, tune in to the forest and surroundings, and pretty much just "Look" around.

I bring up the subject of "Looking" because that is also one of my favorite things to do while in the woods. Someone brought up that subject a few days ago because he used to "Look" in his younger days, and was getting back into the practice. For him, it involves just looking at things as a sort of meditation. He was not gathering information about what he is looking at, not looking for a specific thing, but pretty much enjoying the visual aspect of Life. Soaking in the subject of his gaze, and burning the images in his mind for enjoyment and the possibility of using the image in the future.

Usually when I am Looking in the woods, I am gathering information about the subject. Tuning in to what I am Looking at or Looking for, so that I can use the information at the present moment and in the future. Seeing, soaking in, tuning into the moment, learning about the mountains, is what I enjoy most when I am on my trips.

I believe good observation skills, reading and understanding the signs, are born and bread into all of us. They come from a time long ago when our ancestors were not so separated from their environments as modern humans are today. It's just a place that some of us like to go to every once and a while. Not talkin' about runnin' around in loin cloths, but getting back to ancient ways - often times with modern gear which allows one to blend into both worlds. It's being in touch with our past and living in the present - in the moment. It's a good way to slow down and just exist.

Few views of the first hills you come to as one travels up higher.

The hike in was about a mile from where I will be able to leave the car in the winter. My destination was across this meadow, through the taller trees at the center of the picture, and up a little creek drainage that feeds this meadow.

Loving the deep forest travel. Tuning in more now as the chance of crossing paths with animals becomes greater.

The creek drainage I was travelling up was dry now. I imagine it pretty much is just a channel for melting snow since there was no spring to feed it. Alongside the creek bed, I found this spot where deer had bedded down sometime in the past. I normally wouldn't use this spot if deer were going to use it for their camp, but they won't be here in the winter. Looking went into full force in this area. Great way to spend an afternoon.

The only thing that concerned me about this area, was that the creek area seemed like sort of a funnel for wind. It was sorta calm on this day, and this ground area seemed protected by the dense tree cover, but there was more than a few broken top trees around. Made me think either it gets pretty windy through here, or maybe it was just an isolated wind event that topped these trees. Well, I'll just have to camp out sometime and find out.

Cave would work for a decent a pinch.   Just don't light a fire as the rock may crack!

On the way home I stopped by to "Look" at Redwood Mountain. I can see how it got its name. Just look at all those Sequoias! Simply amazing. First snow's rollin' in......winter is fastly approacing. It was a great autumn outing, even if it was just for a few hours to Look around.

Ok. That brings us back to the present ;)

Scootin' Roots From A Fare

It was another hot day in mid September. I had convinced my brother to come over from the big city by the bay to do some exploring in the local high places. I had seen on the map a magical mountain peak smack dab in the center of the Kings River watershed where you could look out and see all the peaks and valleys which send their waters flowing down the Kings towards the old Tulare Lake Bed. Well.....most of them anyways. Not only did I want to give my brother a grand view of tall mountains instead of tall buildings, but I wanted to get a good lay of the land. Do some scouting of some routes and trails which I plan to travel in the future. Trails such as up and over Silliman Pass out of Lodgepole. Enter the Sugarloaf Valley out of Big Meadows. Travel Deadman's Canyon and the Roaring River valley. Over Glacier Ridge to Cloud Canyon.

So the first thing I noticed once we reached the top of Mitchell Peak at 10,000 feet and could see the passes and areas where those trails go, was that I would need to be in much better physical condition!

We spent a few hours playin' around on the peak and enjoyin' the views.

The Lower Kings River Valley. Gives you a good idea how the Sierras rise from the West.

Black Kaweah and its glacier.

Below the Tablelands.

That's my bro on the right - good times.