Every section of the Pacific Crest Trail has its joys and sorrows, its highpoints and its lowpoints, but section e, jeez. Not a lot of highlights, unless you count the industrial:
Which I don't. Or unless you count camping by the Los Angeles Aqueduct, built back in the l920's by the famous/infamous William Mulholland/Noah Cross.
Which I actually sort of do. For twenty-five hard dry desert miles the trail travels with the aqueduct, which claims to be extremely dangerous.
Headed north through land about as barren as the PCT gets, in my experience. Does have some trash, which a wildlife manager for Tejon Ranch I encountered complained about. People use the desert as a dump, he said. Was a helpful guy named Eric who gave me great advice on where to camp. Told me to go to the base of the mountains, and hunker down low, to avoid the winds of the Tehachapis.
But that was for when I reached mile 540. The day before I camped at mile 523, after an approximately fifty-mile detour around a massive burn scar left in the region last year by the Powerhouse Fire, seen here in a picture from Reuters from June 2013.
A fire official at a station at mile 478 told me much of the trail through this section has been completely destroyed, hence the detour, which involves a country road known as N2 north from Lake Hughes.
Take that about fourteen miles north to Highway 138, turn left for Hikertown, turn due north, and keep on until evening. I camped on the furthest edge of the city, on public land land few even know exists.
This really was a highlight, and actually -- as the desert often is at night -- utterly lovely and sleep inducing. Still, perhaps the most urban campsite on the PCT.
Even compared to the super-dry Mojave that follows in section f, this 112 miles from Agua Dulce (north of Los Angeles) to Hwy 58 (north of Mojave) this section is a trial. For one, it's desert, but not wilderness, and you have to walk on the hard roads and around the huge burn and with never enough water to understand what a difference that makes.
Eric and two other reliable sources assured me there was water to be had at a faucet at Sycamore Creek at mile 535, shortly before the trail splits off from the aqueduct and heads north towarde the mountains. I had a couple of liters, but was really counting on that, and had every expectation that it would be there -- after all, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said so.
But when I turned the lever, no water came out. Gathered what I could from a couple of old plastic bottles people had left around and headed north, hoping to find a spring alleged to exist at mile 542. Pretty barren campsite.
That's at 540. Pushed on next morning to 542, called Tylerhorse, which also allegedly had water, Encountered some rare locals by the trail.
At mile 542, blessedly, came across a tiny spring-fed pool. Don't have a picture of the elusive denizens of this one, but did come up with a way to remember it:
invade the silence
with a whirr, flutter, cheep
birds of Tylerhorse
Loved this site, but could not stay. Had about four liters and twenty-five miles of mountain to go.
It's not a super-hard trail, but it's about 2200 feet in about ten miles, with no water for at least sixteen miles. (In fact, with one exception, there proved to be no water for the rest of the entire section, to mile 568, or about twenty-five miles.)
Hard traveling, as Woody Guthrie would say, through a horribly scarred landscape, but two saintly trail angels -- in the midst of all this devastation -- had left a tiny oasis.
I cannot tell you the relief. I tried to depict in a selfie, thinking of my mindset before the water, and perhaps succeeded a little too well. (Sorry to post again, but seems part of the story.)
But at that point, even though I had about a day and a half to go, I knew I would make it, and could relax a little. Life -- and the wilderness -- have no shortage of surprises.
Though I had to camp amidst the burn and the windmills, which I didn't like, no matter how photogenic.
Trail had some freaky obstacles. Every hiker has encountered dead trees fallen in inconvenient ways across the path, but never have I seen one quite like this.
Here's a representative sign near a spot at mile 558, which was also said -- on the map and in the official PCTA trail notes -- to have water.
Also did not. Hoo-boy. Happy to see Hwy 58 and the end of section e.
On an election night sure to plunge us into yet more political discord and disputation, tonight might be a good night to mention the record of the year, sez here, Lucinda Williams' Where the Spirit Meets the Bone.
The record begins with Williams' musical version of a poem by a man who happens to be her father, the simply great Miller Williams, here in its entirety:
Simple, no? Actually, no, not really -- but still, when Lucinda sings it, in her cracked voice in its warped frame, the seemingly simple poem deepens, broadens, stands repetition, becomes a song.
Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don't want it -- a reporter's creed. I hope.
In Night of the Iguana, a play first performed in 1961, but evolved out of a short story over a period of about fifteen years, Tennessee Williams expressed anger at our species for ruining our planet.
In the movie of 1962, starring Richard Burton as a disgraced priest, his character, at the end of his rope, spits out his frustration at "Man's Inhumanity to God."
The pain that we caused Him. We poisoned his atmosphere, slaughtered his creatures of the wild, polluted his rivers. We've even taken His noblest creation, man himself, and brainwashed him into becoming our product, not God's. Packed, stacked, and canned.
Fascinating that Williams chose that metaphor to describe our destructive actions. Occurs that this is one industrial practice that has become a word in our language. "Canned" refers not just to fish, but to music, too, and thought -- the fact has become a verb. Become a past tense.
Thought of this when just yesterday I came across a passage in Thomas Pynchon's pretty hilarious recent novel, Inherent Vice, on pretty much the same theme, in a completely different style:
Let me set it up. Our anti-hero is a mediocre long-haired private eye named Doc living in Southern California in the l970's. He isn't afraid and might have Sam Spade potential if he would just stop smoking so much weed. He like Spade of course is after a complicated woman who might have a thing for him but is trouble. But she's hard to find, and meanwhile he's hanging out with an attorney friend who happens to like a particular soap opera. An ad for a brand of canned tuna comes on the televison. Our anti-hero's buddy, Sauncho, who's a little obessive but not stupid, kind of flips out. Doc happens to be in the bathroom pissing. He hears Sauncho screaming and comes out.
"Everything cool?" [Doc says]
"Ahh..." [Sauncho] collapses on the couch. "Charlie the fucking Tuna, man."
"It's all supposed to be so innocent, upwardly mobile snob, designer shades, beret, so desperate to show he's got good tase, except he's also dyslexic so he gets "good taste" mixed up with "taste good," but it's worse than that! Far, far worse! Charlie really has this, like obsessive death wish! Yes! He wants to be caught, processed, put in a can, not just any can, you dig, it has to be StarKist! suicidal brand loyalty, man, deep parable of consumper capitalism, they won't be happy with anything less than drift-netting us all, chopping us up and stacking us on the shelves of Supermarket Amerika, and subconsciously the horrible thing is, is we want them to do it..."
"Saunch, wow, that's..."
"It's been on my mind. And another thing. Why is there Chicken of the Sea, but no Tuna of the Farm?"
Might help to see the character from the commercial:
Pynchon's novel, by far his funniest in my experience of his work, will be on a few movie screens this year, in a film directed by P.T. Anderson, featuring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, and Benicio del Toro, who might deliver the rant above. Could be fun.
Last week, in his un-ostentacious but no bullshit way, Nicholas Kristof of the NYTimes wrote a great column on the joys of being on the PCT. I'm not going to quote it, because it's hard to know which bit to choose, but encourage you all to take a look.
Today, in a similar vein, but in a more beautiful and more poetic style, Katie Lei, a thru-hiker of a year ago, publishes on her marvelous Doodles page, a beautiful poem/drawing called This Feeling.
Lei writes about being in the wilderness at the beginning of her adulthood, and about looking back on "this feeling" from the future. Reminiscent of another young poet, at the beginning of his career:
Alex Ross of The New Yorker is by acclamation the most loved of classical music critics today. This spring he gently lauded a new pianist, Igor Levit, for his playing of Beethoven at his most natural.
In his words I heard an echo of an idea from Carl Jung about the connection between introspection and nature. In a previous post I quoted a passage from Jung's memoir in which he revealed how he found himself, or, to be exact, a part of himself. He found "Personality #2," a character he liked more than his social self, when alone in nature. Ross discusses a fascinatingly similar idea in the context of this pianist's performance of a solo piano sonata from Beethoven, a composer who voiced nature as much as any other.
The New Yorker site is a nightmare to work with as a blogger, for reasons I am too hick to understand, even as a registered subscriber who knows his password. Lord knows why this is necessary for a publication as rich in resources as this pre-eminent magazine, but let forge on as best we can, for those who would search to understand the experience of nature in prose:
For context, here's a portrait of Levit, a publicity still, which I will frame with Ross's eloquence.
A few months ago, the arrival of a debut recording...had me in a skeptical mood. The cover showed a well-dressed young man leaning over a piano, languidly dragging his fingers along the keys. The program contained the last five sonatas of Beethoven: two hours of sublime riddles, the realm of...erudite masters such as Maruizio Pollini and Mitsuko Uchida. What prematurely hyped whippersnapper would introduce himself in such a fashion? After a few minutes, I was transfixed. Here was playing of technical brilliance, tonal allure, intellectual drive, and an elusive quality that the Germans indicate with the word Innigheit, or inwardness.
In the ethereal theme-and-variations movement that ends Opus 109, Levit revealed a...gift for cantabile playing, for spinning out a long, lyrical line. Younger performers often have troubling falling into the kind of mood that Beethoven describes as "Songful, with innermost feeling." It is the tempo of walking in the woods, of humming to oneself, of finding the slow pulse of nature. Whether or not Levit indulges in such antiquated behavior -- his tweets make no mention of it -- he has an uncanny ability to let the music amble away into a summery haze.
Surely Jung would understand. And although Igor's performances of this sonata cannot be found for free on the web, justifiably, here's a very nice live playing of Beethoven's PIano Sonata #30 in E Major from Aaron Wajnberg on Soundcloud, to give you an idea of the piece. Above Ross talks of the third movement.
A funny thing about climate change: contrary to popular opinion, individuals can make a difference, here and there, for other people and other species.
Example? The Monarch Butterly. Ask the experts at Monarch Watch, the leading conservation group devoted to this iconic species:
In California, Monarchs aggregate in more than 25 roosting sites along the California coast each winter. In the coastal forests, Monarchs find forests with all the right characteristics for overwintering. Many people, however, would also like to live along the California coast, which raises property values and increases the pressure to build, remove trees, and otherwise develop the land. With this in mind, conservationists created the Monarch Project in 1984. The Monarch Project works to protect California overwintering sites, most often through conservation easements of land. In a conservation easement, landowners set aside a portion of their land permanently as protected Monarch habitat. Often, conservation easements come about due to the collaborative efforts of the Monarch Project, government officials, land trusts, parks, public agencies, scientists, developers, and conservationists. In 1988, Californians gave this process a boost when they passed a bond for $2 million to buy Monarch sites. The Monarch Project has also worked to include information about Monarch sites in zoning laws and land-use plans, especially in areas such as Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz where large aggregations gather each year. Although there has been some progress towards protecting Monarch overwintering sites in California, high property values and the resulting pressure to develop land along the coast continue to threaten Monarch habitat.
In other words, habitat -- and the species of milkweed they depend on -- matters as much or more than climate. Plant milkweed, experienced SoCal gardeners say, and the Monarchs will show up to feed on it.
Frankly, I didn't believe it. But within days of planting -- whatdya know.
Jim Hansen, an icon himself as a climate scientist, has been tracking the fate of the Monarch, which on the East Coast is in a frightening decline. He speaks about this often, mostly recently at MIT, as notes from a student show:
As long-time gardeners know, climate zones have been consistently shifting Northwards. Previously, this shift is now happening at the rate of a few kilometer per year, making it very difficult for many species to react. Hansen used the Monarch butterfly as his example of species extinction pressure, talking about his personal experience over the years with Monarchs on his small PA farmstead. The pressures on Monarch butterflies are not only climate but the elimination of one of their primary food sources, milkweed, although climate change is certainly one of the reasons for the diminishment of their habitat, both here in the US and Canada as well as Mexico.
But one can create habitat for these wonderful creatures, for almost nothing, and yes -- magically, they will appear. Or such has been my experience.
From C.J. Jung's "Memories, Dreams, Reflections," chapter two ("School Years"):
Nothing could persuade me that "in the image of God" applied only to man. In fact it seemed to me that the high mountains, the rivers, lakes, trees, flowers, and animals far better exemplified the essence of God than men with their ridiculous clothes, their meanness, vanity, mendacity, and abhorrent egotism -- all qualities with which I was only too familiar from myself, that is, from personality No. 1, the schoolboy of 1890. Besides his world there existed another realm, like a temple in which anyone who entered was transformed and suddenly overpowered by a vision of the whole cosmos, so that he could only marvel and admire, forgetful of himself.
This one from the wondrously succinct Kay Ryan speaks to me of spring:
A tree is lightly connected
to its blossoms.
For a tree it is
a pleasant sensation
to be stripped
of what’s white and winsome.
If a big wind comes,
any nascent interest in fruit
scatters. This is so different
from humans, for whom
what is un-set matters
so oddly—as though
only what is lost held possibility.
May I say on this spring Sunday that wisteria too is lightly connected to its blossoms -- and it's lovely how they fall.
When an atmospheric river reaches California it's often a beautiful sight, especially in an infrared image drawm from NASA's AIRS satellite, explored in depth in this backgrounder from the Sacramento Bee:
The exciting part is that -- according to Duane Waliser, a lead scientist at the NASA-backed Jet Propulsion Lab -- five-day forecasts of these "Pineapple Express} storms are now as skillful as three-day forecasts a few years ago, and as skillful as one-day forecasts a decade ago. The hope and expectation is that in time scientists will be able to forecast atmospheric river impacts three weeks into the future.
“In certain instances, we’ll be able to have a little bit more foreshadowing – as in weeks-ahead notice,” Waliser said. “However, we’re just learning that capability, but this holds promise for that.”
But the real news for Ojai locally and yours truly is that something important happened for the first time in at least a year and a half:
Sisar Creek began to run.
Which raises a question: How many these "ARKstorms," as the USGS calls them, does it take to recharge the aquifer? Not how many inches. How many big storms? And is there a rating system for the size of these storms?
To be reported out...