Navigation Lessons: 5-6-2020

When asked if he’d ever been lost Daniel Boone replied, “I’ve never been lost, but I was mighty turned around for three days once.” I’ve been turned around myself – might have even called it lost:

  • Ended up in the parking lot after hiking six miles in a hail storm. Had a map. Needed a compass.
  • Went up the wrong chute on Lucy’s Foot Pass last summer and couldn’t get over to the other side. Had to bail and hike back down.
  • Hiked around Red Devil Lake instead of directly to it inciting panic in my husband when he found me missing.
  • Followed a creek eastward for about a mile alone on an after dinner saunter only to look up and face the western setting sun. My first thought: God moved the sun, not that the creek curved.

Other times to prevent getting lost I’ve gotten hints of intel from others, like the time a ranger atop Kearsarge Pass told us which side of the creek was easier to bushwhack through in Gardiner Basin. I’ve used Secor’s book, High Sierra Peaks, Passes, and Trails to plot many a cross-country Sierra adventure. Other times I’ve wandered lost in a dense mountain forest following others I’ve trusted. (Thanks Rolland for introducing me to cross-country hiking.)

I’ve even taught map and compass lessons to my clients. My most valuable lessons: Stay found. Know where you are. Know where the trail goes. Know where the water is (it’s in the low places just like in the bottom of your water glass). Keep an eye on what to expect and note it as you pass. Know which general direction your car is (baseline), so you can get back to it. Know your drainages (handrails). Like Muir said, “The creeks and rivers are the streets of the Sierra.”

But I’ve never stepped onto a tail or path or into the wild with neither a map OR compass, an idea of where I would be going, what to expect, or without friends for support and to argue our way toward the correct route.

This path through cancer is new territory and I have no map OR compass. Even though this is a recurrence of the original invasion from twenty years ago, which was also uncharted territory, metastatic cancer (I hate to even be associated with the words) is a whole different animal. You can’t just cut out the tumor, radiate the lymph nodes, and fry the rest of your body with chemo and hope you got it all. (Been there. Done that.) It’s all over. It has to be managed like a smelly tent-mate you can’t get rid of and you hope he doesn’t stab you through the heart in the middle of the night.

Afraid of the information I’ll find, I try to stay away from the internet. I’ve even told my doc that I’m too scared to know some of the statistics. I don’t want to know how steep and rocky the passes will be, how terrifying the stream crossings, how harsh the dry spells, or how this trip will end. What I do have are the creeks and rivers of my heart that I follow with confidence and friends and family to support me as I bumble my way along. (Thank you all for the cards, emails, texts, phone calls, food shopping, and surprise watermelons!)

Where does one learn how to navigate the landscape of their life? I don’t know. I suppose there are those who are taught by loving parents. In my late thirties I found myself as a blob of mud on the riverbank – formless, rootless, and more than a might turned around. Over time I fashioned myself with hands of love and compassion into the shape I was meant to be. I found myself most comfortable without a roof. I discovered that more than anything, I wanted to wander the Sierra. I found that being myself was my greatest gift (who knew!?), that friends were gold, that being gentle with myself was my path, and that my heart was my northern star.

I did not learn this from my mother.

My mother, always the martyr, would tell me things like, “Yah, I was in the hospital six months ago with a heart problem.” I’d respond in shock, “Why didn’t you tell me!?” her answer, “Well, there was nothing you could do.” In her eighties at the time, I knew my mother. I knew she muscled through her heart adventure alone and afraid, no map, no support, and saved up the telling for just the right moment, when she was guaranteed the biggest reaction. I was aware that this was a dance. I was tired of it AND I was hurt that my presence and support would mean nothing, that my shocked response was more important, was the attention she craved. The more shocked I was, the more she felt she mattered.

I have since wondered what neglect my mother suffered as a child that made her come to believe that shocking people with news of past drama was the closest she could feel to connection. Of course, in me it only created a momentary reaction that quickly turned into hurt, anger, and despair at my impotence over past and future events – probably everything she felt as a neglected child growing up as the “surprise gift” to older immigrant parents, over-worked and overwhelmed managers of a nineteen twenties speak easy in the Midwest. And no map provided except for what the nuns taught her: fear, shame, and suffering. If she survived by manipulating people into making her feel that she mattered, well, one does what one needs to in this big scary world to feel found.

Now and Then, April 15, 2020

Facebook can be cruel, unintentionally cruel, but cruel none the less. It seems like every morning Facebook presents a “memory,” usually a picture from some previous year of me out hiking with friends. I look at the picture. I see where I am, who I’m with, what flowers are blooming – and I say to myself, “That’s when I was healthy.” I haven’t seriously hiked since I went up Mt. Diablo to Juniper Campground on Burma Road January 14. The downhill painfully jolted my spine and I figured it was from my ice skating fall the previous week. I didn’t find out it was due to the possibility of something else until January 19. I say possibility because I didn’t believe the cancer marker test result I’d just seen in the John Muir Portal while sitting at my desk, alone for the weekend; or the repeat test. It wasn’t until I saw the bone scan on my doc’s computer screen – a skeleton lit up like the Milky Way with fast growing invaders, that the truth of the matter broke through my denial. I still asked my doc, “This isn’t from an injury is it?” She said, “No,” and I collapsed.

I’ve been trying to compare and contrast my new life and old life along with reconciling and accepting the change, even as my situation is fluid and changeable daily.  This time last year I’d wake up around 6 am on Tuesdays, get dressed, have breakfast, and head off to meet hiking friends at Peets Coffee in Walnut Creek before our 8 mile round trip, 2800 foot ascent and descent of Mt. Diablo on the steepest trail in the Bay Area, Burma Road. On Thursdays I’d do the same preparation and at 8 am meet friends at the Old Briones Road Trailhead here in Martinez for a ten-mile loop in Briones Regional Park. Friday would find me joining the Friday Hikers at some East Bay Regional Park that Larry Fong would pick and lunching with them afterwards. Occasionally, I’d join hikes on Mt. Tamalpais across the bay. Even during the Covid-19 quarantine, many of my hiking friends are still doing solo hikes or hikes with the correct social distancing.

On the other hand, at present I wake up at some undetermined time, depending on how well I’ve slept, stroll over to the kitchen, eat some Cheerios (now that I can eat) to keep the “morning sickness” at bay from the anti-estrogen shot I get once a month, and go back to bed and stare at my phone. I make sure my stomach is settled so that I will keep down my main anti-cancer pill and then wash it down with a few more Cheerios. After lazing around my eyes will get heavy and I’ll take a nap for an hour and a half. By now it’s noon or later. I’ll get up, wander around, and work on my next big job of the day:  bathing. Often I’m too weak to stand for a shower so I’ll take a bath. Afterwards, I’m so exhausted that I head dripping wet to the towel I’ve laid on my bed. After a while I’m up and dressed, having lunch and looking out the window to the back yard, contemplating a walk among my blooming poppies and lavender. Sometimes I just sit on the edge of the deck and take in the colors and feel the warm sunshine on my skin. Other times I walk around the back and sit down watching the bees. Today was a big day. In the evening I held onto Rick’s arm as we strolled to the end of the court and back. This is my day. I completed 20 bouts of radiation a week and a half ago and they tell me I’ll get better.

So it was in the spirit of comparing and contrasting my two lives that I found myself thinking about my nights and how I now tend to wake up nightly in a puddle of my own sweat. I like to think that these night sweats are due to intracellular toxins released by dying cancer cells, not hormone shifts from the Faslodex injection I get once a month. Having been dropped into menopause by chemo for my first bout of cancer twenty years ago, I never experienced hot flashes and night sweats. I’d rarely had them with the flu or when a fever broke but never every night, not to the point of needing to sleep with a towel.

The whole idea of waking up soaking wet stirred a memory from the summer of 2016 with me waking up drenched in my sleeping bag in the backcountry, usually a very bad thing.  It was a special trip with friends – special for the first reason because it was a mistake. I requested the permit from Inyo National Forest six months in advance but mistakenly put July as the entry date instead of August. But a wilderness permit for ten out of South Lake on the east side of the Sierra should never be wasted so I sent out an email to a bunch of friends: “I am in possession of a wilderness permit out of South Lake and into Dusy Basin for July 19. Who’s with me?”  The emails immediately started pouring in:  “Count me in!” “Hell, ya!” In no time the permit was full and the trip was on.

Now July in the eastern Sierra is a magical time and place. There’s still snow in the peaks, the sapphire lakes are “warm” enough to swim in, the wildflowers are at their peak, and the mosquitoes should be abating. Most of this group had roamed this cross country area before and in the whole 400 mile long range, it’s one of our favorites. This was to be an easy trip, a stroll.  I’d just completed a twenty-two day trek of the whole John Muir Trail with my sister the week before and, while I was still acclimated, I could use some rest. So for me, rest on this trip included carrying my pack over 12,000 foot Bishop Pass and a cross-country wander among granite boulders and wide open fell fields around flower-dotted crystal clear lakes with my tribe of hiker trash. There were no big mileage days, no exploratory loops into points unknown, just strolling and swimming and sunning on big granite slabs like lizards and catching up with each other.

The previous April I’d been sitting in a lawn chair around a campfire in Yosemite Valley when I blurted out to my two young friends: “So when are you guys getting married?” The future mother-of-the-bride sitting next to me playfully swatted me with her hand and then conceded, “You can say that but I can’t.” I knew that. I took full advantage of my unique position and put it right out there. Regina responded with a frustrated: “I’m waiting to be asked!” while Banning slunk in his chair, lowered his chin and quietly redeemed himself with, “I have a plan.”

Well, the night before we left for the Dusy Basin trip, Banning phoned my husband and warned him that he would be proposing on the upcoming backpack trip. We didn’t know when or where but it was going to be on the trip and it would be a surprise.

Our second backcountry lake was a high nameless one at 11,400 feet, that I call Big Beautiful. With a swimmer-friendly granite entry surrounded by some of the Sierra’s highest peaks, we had all swum and sunned, our pink, naked hairless, bodies splayed out in contrast on the sharp granite. Dinner was cozy in a granite amphitheater overlooking the lake. There had been circulating the notion that the question was to be popped after dinner when we would all go for a walk, with our cameras, toward a peninsula that jutted out into the lake, ostensibly to capture the sunset. We all kept our distance and set up our tripods for “the sunset” as the couple wandered toward the peninsula. Then suddenly, with gasps from all of us, the knee hit the granite, shutters clicked away, and the globe rocked a bit on its axis. That’s the second reason that this trip was special.

Big Beautiful Lake
Amphitheater Kitchen
The Knee
The Ring
The Alpenglow at Sunset
Moonlight on the Lake

We were way above treeline so I slept on my pads in my husband’s tent and not in my hammock like usual (no trees to hang it from). But not before we stayed up to watch the full moon crest the peaks to the east and spread spangles across the lake. The next day I suggested we drop down a few hundred feet into the trees so that I could sleep in my hammock.

Lemons Paintbrush along the way
My hammock below the Palisades

You may now be wondering what this story has to do with night sweats. Well it’s a long winded walk down memory lane to when I had the one and only time that I thought I’d, unbeknownst to me, peed in my sleeping bag overnight – another kind of waking up in a puddle. Even in summer, high altitudes in the Sierra can get cold at night – really cold, frost-on-your-bag, and ice-in-the-puddles cold. Especially because I’m swaying in a hammock, surrounded by air, hanging in the Universe under a spray of stars, I can be colder than the others even if they’re cowboy camping on the ground. To mitigate that I’ll often boil water in a pot on my stove and fill a plastic one-liter Platypus water bag with the hot water and place it in my sleeping bag like a hot water bottle. This is what I did that night. For twenty years this method had kept me toasty without one leak. Well, I awoke warm and cozy in the morning sunshine, but damp. Had I peed myself? A quick look at the Platy revealed an empty vessel. There was relief of a sort that I didn’t need the Depends that I thought I might, but also a deep worry because if this had been a very cold rainy day coming up, I might not be able to dry my sleeping bag out. As it turned out it was another hot, sunny day with more swimming, sunning, and drying out of the sleeping bag.

So, the lesson in comparing and contrasting my present and past life is that, no they aren’t so different after all. Maybe if I can just pretend that my night sweats are as annoying as a leaky Platypus in the backcountry with a sunny day ahead to dry out, I’ll feel better about the whole thing. Just thinking about this memory makes me happy. I have a LOT of those kinds of memories in the bank and instead of seeing them as a cruel reminder of a happy past, I’m committing to treasuring every one and counting myself blessed to have lived them.

3-24-20: Jell-O Should Not Hurt

I haven’t posted in awhile because I’ve been waiting to feel better before I simply whine all over the page. It’s been a hellish two weeks suffering what I call the torment of the damned. My throat and esophagus were so burnt from the radiation to my spine that I could barely dribble down some water and no food. Rick dutifully collected all my little spoons and bowls of odd soft foods that I’d attempt to eat and then abandon all over the house. Jell-O hurt. Milkshakes hurt. Applesauce hurt. Water hurt. Burps hurt. I told them that radiating someone’s esophagus should be outlawed. I ended up receiving IV hydration at the hospital Monday through Friday last week. The pain was like a hot pipe inserted down my throat all the way to my stomach. It felt like the little chartreuse green radioactive brick that Homer Simpson tossed out his car window on the way home from work at the nuclear power plant ended up in my throat. If my esophagus looks anything like the radiation burns down the center of my back, it would explain why it hurts so bad. The pain keeps me up but before it wakes me I have two favorite moments every night. The first is that delicious fleeting moment upon rising out of sound sleep when I’m barely conscious but there is no pain. The second moment is the one that immediately follows: just before I remember that my body is riddled with cancer.

I’ve been quarantined except for hospital visits for two weeks now. I cannot afford to get Covid-19. Rick has bleached all washable surfaces – counters, door knobs, handles, my car’s steering wheel. IBrance knocks down white blood cells and red cells leaving my immune system weakened. This mountain woman has rarely thought of herself as fragile. Alas, I am only human and this mortal flesh is getting heavily bombarded in the name of extending my life. I’m currently on my second ten-day stretch of radiation, this time where the tip of my hip screw is screwed into a cancerous chunk of bone in my pelvis and an especially painful lower right couple of ribs. They’ve assured me that the beam through the hip is not hitting any painful internal organs and the zapping of the ribs is a tangential glancing blow across the bow. I keep trying to remember that I’m investing in my future – a future where I can play with my grand babies, watch them grow and become their own unique people, and witness my children’s pride; a future where I sit by a mountain lake sharing a meal with friends; or sit in the sand by our cove in Mexico sipping a Margarita with Julie and Marty.

The radiation has left me exhausted. I can walk about 20 steps. I walk to the kitchen and put my head on the counter. I walk to the living room and toss myself onto the couch. I nap three times a day. Where is that woman pushing her way up Lucy’s Foot Pass in Kings Canyon last August? The danger in being a Clinical Lab Scientist (married to a PhD in Biochemistry) is that I know a lot of things that can go wrong and I pester my doctor about all my hunches to explain things. Thinking the exhaustion is due to frying my thyroid while zapping my spine, I had a TSH done. No, it’s fine. Thinking my red cells got too low, I had a CBC done. No, my hemoglobin’s an 11, fine. Crap. I guess I just have to weather this.

So, bottom line: I’m now able to eat some and drink, although it’s still an effort and a fight against pain. I nap my day away and wonder if this is my new normal. On a stormy ever changing sea, I’m trying to see what this journey ahead will be like and I get worried that this is it. With the preciousness of life never more evident, I feel like I’m wasting it.

But, one thing’s for certain, the cards and texts, flowers, calls, emails, and even homemade cookies! have sustained me and put a smile on my face. Thank you all. Banning and Regina, and others, are shopping for us. People are supporting Rick in ways that I don’t even know. And Rick has been there from badgering me to drink to holding the bucket when I lose it. I could not have done this alone. And even as the stock market crashes, what’s really important has never been more evident.

3-11-20: New Journey. Big Mountain. No Summit.

The Short of It:

Diagnosed in late January with metastatic breast cancer: spine, ribs, pelvis, shoulder blades, spleen, liver. It can be managed but, at this point, not cured. I will have good days and bad days. This is a big mountain I’m climbing with no summit.

Rules of Engagement:

Do not ask me, “How’s YOUR cancer?” (I’m not taking possession of these wayward cells. I’m trying to get RID of them.) DO say, “How’re you doing?” “What are they doing for you?” I’ll give you as much detail as you’d like or no detail at all.

Do not ask me how long I have to live. (I don’t know. IBrance is only 6 years old. )

DON’T say: It’s God’s will. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.

DO send cards, texts, emails, phone calls.

DO tell me about your trips and adventures.

Be prepared for hearing how shitty I feel and don’t try to fix it. (They keep telling me I’ll feel better.)

DO let me cry if I need to cry. Hugs are welcome.

DO ask if there’s anything you can do. Mostly staying in touch is the best medicine.

I thought I kicked breast cancer 20 years ago with a mastectomy, chemo, and radiation. Apparently, at least one cell survived and has decided to party. I’ve lead a very healthy active life since my initial “cure” and this diagnosis has filled me with shock, sadness, and a bit of anger.

Scans, tests, and a liver biopsy later, I’m on an Estrogen blocker and IBrance, a cell cycle disrupter for E+, Her2 – disseminated breast cancer. I recently had my spine radiated for 2 weeks to remove the ice pick of pain out of my back. Unfortunately, my throat was in the way and now I can hardly eat or drink. Imagine Chernobyl in you esophagus. I’m getting an IV of fluids here as I type.

My doc is wonderful. She remains “optimistic” and says I have years. I want at least 30.

My husband, Rick, says that our failed attempt at Lucy’s Footpass in Kings Canyon last August cannot be my last backpack trip, although there’s a spot in my pelvis where a screw tip for my titanium hip will have to be radiated and grow new bone first. The Grand Canyon rafting trip is off. Doc doesn’t want me breaking vertebrae in the bottom of the canyon. Darn.

While calls, cards, emails, and texts are my lifeline of connectivity, this will be a good place for current updates and insights on my journey – medically, emotionally, and spiritually. I told God during the initial bout that I was willing to learn ALL the lessons I needed to because I was NOT going to do this again. Well, apparently there is more to learn. Follow along. It’s gonna take a village.

Where are you from?

Little K

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am from swimming, competitive swimming
Alone but on a team. Head in the water. Chlorine in my veins.
From swimming because my mother couldn’t.
Breaking ice on the deck in winter an hour before school
And two hours after, after homework,
Because I was also an A student
Because my brother wasn’t.

I am from the salt of the ocean
Where I swam free
With waves up my nose
and crunchy salty hair when it dried
And sand everywhere else.

I am from a single white sunbeam
That pierced the hard cold glass of the big front picture window in the living room
Where I lay enveloped in warm radiant love
Lying on the waxed hard wood floor
Behind the big old overstuffed chair.

I am from Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best,
Mousketeers, Moose and Squirrel, the Twilight Zone.
The Flintstones, John Wayne, the Addams Family, All in the Family.
Laugh-In.
The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan,
A Land Called Hanalei,
The smell of napalm in the morning, and “One giant leap for mankind.”

I am from sudden loud voices.
Freezing like a rabbit.
From sudden movements and belts not used for pants,
“Everybody knows that,” and “I’m ashamed of you.”

I am from the mud of the riverbank
Where I created myself anew from what was left
And grew tall and strong like the Sierra Nevada still growing,
Held in the bony arms of my adopted parents,
Mother Maclure and Father Lyell in the Yosemite High Country
And became acquainted with my relatives up and down the 400 mile range.

I am from the tiny flame that first ignites the tinder,
The roar of the wind as it penetrates the forest only to caress me
And surprise me with its gentleness as I sway in my hammock.
I am from lightening and hail and the wildflowers they oversee.

I need to remind myself that

I am from the blood red stripes on the sides of Golden Trout
As they swim up the crisp clear stream and
Flounder in the sharp gravel beside gentle grassy banks
Laying their eggs
And moving on through the land
As if they knew how to live their life so perfectly.

Copyright Jan.17, 2014 by Karen Najarian.

Life Lesson in the Garden

She was hanging on for dear life. She’d slide backwards downhill a bit and then muster enough energy to grab onto something that I couldn’t even see and hang on again. Her head was down in defeat. Her arms and legs were motionless. I pitied her. And of, course, she was a she. She was a worker honeybee lost and spent of energy on a leaf – a leaf, a nectarless leaf – in my pre-flowering rose garden.

I knew how that felt. Many times backpacking I would hit that wall where I’d run out of calories and stand motionless asking for candy, and then, when offered it, ask my friends to unwrap it because my hands were too uncoordinated from lack of calories to function. Over the years I got pretty good at preventing that but even last year on the first day of the highest mileage (per day and collectively) trip I’d ever done, I hit that wall about a half mile before camp. Luckily, Nadia was there asking if she could do anything. It’s not pretty when this happens. I’ve shakily unwrapped my own candy and greedily popped it in my mouth like a starved animal. I’ve sat on a rock and cried, not sure what was wrong. I’ve gotten bitchy and threatened to drop my pack where I stood and make camp, even if it’s rudely in the camp of another group. There’s a joke among my guides: When she’s hungry, throw candy and back away slowly.

I’m not diabetic. I have no metabolic disorder. It’s just that when I backpack, I can easily burn calories at a rate beyond what I replace by eating. And I’m eating big calories all day long: spoonfuls of Nutella and peanut butter, salami and cheese, Cliff Bars, etc., etc. My hiking companion last year Carolyn, had to stop mid-way in Mammoth Lakes on her 450 mile hike to buy a smaller size skort. My other hiking companion, Rich, because of his shrinking posterior, was having trouble keeping his pants up. I just kept candy close at hand and tried not to be a nuisance from crashing and burning and making a scene.

But this bee had no fellow bee to offer a flower and without a source of energy I knew she would finally slide off the rose leaf to the soil below and die. I thought of picking her off the leaf with my hands and placing her on a flower but thought she might have just enough energy left to sting me. I started to walk away sad at her impending demise, attributing it to the ways of nature as much as baby grizzlies can be lost downstream crossing a spring melt swollen river. Then I thought of the worldwide tragedy of collapsing colony disorder, a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. The cause is not clear but it is clear to me from what I’ve read, that this is a man-made condition. So, suddenly feeling a sense of responsibility, and a hitting-the-wall kinship, for this bee who’d flown beyond her calorie intake, I pulled off a nearby blooming lavender flower, held it out for her to crawl onto and transferred her to the flower on a blooming lavender bush. Her proboscis soon found a tiny flower on the side of the main lavender flower and then another. (If you look closely you’ll see that lavender flowers are covered with many small flowers.) Soon her previously motionless wings were buzzing and she was flitting from flower to flower. I was glad to be the one to offer her her trail candy and walked back into the house with the sense that this world would be a gentler place if we all cared for each other in the ways I’ve found on the trail and in my garden. I wish us all happy buzzing.

© Karen Najarian, March 24, 2014.

 

Image

What does it mean to be a backcountry guide?

  • Returning from Costco, again, with a 4Runner full of granola bars
  • Fumbling in the garage for a screw for a pot lid knob that’s missing
  • Cleaning out bear cans,
  • Washing plastic baggies out of guilt for using so many
  • Buying new boots every two years
  • GoogleEarth shows gear drying on your driveway
  • Being asked at Walmart if you’re on a tuna diet when you buy up their entire stock of tuna packets
  • Wearing the same thing every weekend
  • Keeping a nail brush in your purse
  • Having dog pads on the bottom of your feet
  • Being asked if you’re having a party when you show up at the Sams Club register with 10, 2 lb. salames in the cart
  • Watering the lemon tree in the backyard for 2 days because you forgot about it
  • Encouraging those that need encouraging and honoring those that decide not to scale the dome
  • Modeling self-care
  • Reading body language
  • Telling stories that teach backpacking lessons as well as life lessons
  • Listening… LOTS of listening. Everyone has an amazing story
  • Having the best pictures at the end of summer
  • Hanging with the best of folks, which are your hand-picked crew of guides
  • Making new friends every weekend
  • Having your guides bring you hot chocolate in your hammock at 9500 feet
  • And having a “job” that you love, even though you’re tired and cranky sometimes.

What Yosemite has Taught Me

Barefootin' through Cathedral Meadow.
After hiking and guiding in Yosemite National Park for over 30 years I have come to learn a few things.  Yosemite, with its grand monoliths, peak-piled panoramas, and intimate gardens, holds a metaphor for every corner of the heart. These are the lessons that Yosemite has taught me as I’ve passed through her and she has passed through me.

Descending the outlet off-trail from the Mildred Lake outlet is a lot like life: overwhelming if you look at it all at once but by staying in the moment, carefully choosing one step at a time, in a serpentine fashion, one can negotiate the steep and varied terrain.

The Cathedral Lake outlet which spills over a few granite steps before it tumbles down around the side of Pywiack Dome teaches me that not all baptismal fonts are in churches. Likewise, the Cathedral Lakes Basin teaches me that some Cathedrals have no pews.  And a sunset last summer at Lower Cathedral Lake taught me that even God blushes.

The panoramic view from Glacier Point, where the roof of the Park stands out in waves of peaks like a choppy sea, reminds me that sometimes you need some distance to see the big picture.

Half Dome has taught me that sometimes what seems impossible from a frontal assault isn’t impossible at all if you find the easy way that circles around the backside.

Standing on Clouds Rest as my fellow guide, Mike, stood there speechless with his hands on his head and tears in his eyes, I am reminded of the sense of awe and gratitude that Yosemite has taught me for all things.

Yosemite has also taught me, that while the grandeur of the landscape is overwhelming, to not forget the pockets of beauty right at my feet.  I hiked the Yosemite Creek Trail for many years before I discovered the tiny pink Steershead flowers, only half an inch long, in the moist soil at my feet.

The Three Graces in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, home to trees 3000 years old, teach me perseverance through the ages.  Fire is as natural a part of the Giant Sequoia landscape as tumultuous times are in our own lives. Giant Sequoias stand tall and proud bearing the scars from many fires during their lives. In fact, they need fire to dry their cones and drop their seeds and they require freshly burned mineral soil for their seeds to germinate.  Upheaval in our own lives can feel like fiery death and destruction but we can use it as fertile soil for new ideas and new ways of being.

Speaking of destructive forces, Slide Canyon, where the Volkswagon size boulders of a landslide go down one side of the canyon and half-way up the other, and wildflowers blooming best after the hot fires in the woodland areas, teach me that some perceived catastrophes leave a new kind of beauty in their wake.

Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite Valley’s sister valley just 20 miles north and still in the Park, flooded under the lake behind O’Shaughnessy Dam, teaches me patience as she holds her breath until the Tuolumne River wanders through her meadows free again.

Snow covered Yosemite, like the lines on a woman’s face reminds me that beauty has no season and camping during winter, I learned that you can make yourself at home wherever you are.

The Milky Way over Tuolumne Meadows on a moonless night reminds me that even on the darkest night there is light to be found.

And mostly Yosemite has taught me that when I’m feeling lonely, the mountains are always standing ready, silently waiting to wrap  their bony arms around me. All I have to do is hike into them.  Join us: sierraspirit.biz.

  Copyright Nov. 2011 by Karen Najarian, links added 12-16-12.

Good Morning 2013

Half  Dome on New Years Morning

Good morning 2013.  Two trees across the street, still on fire from Fall’s flamboyance, welcome me as the cool morning air slams my face on my way out the front door to get the newspaper, my pink nightgown hanging out from under my Mountain Hardwear fleece jacket and over my fleece pants.  (My backpack clothes never seem to get any downtime.)  Birds flee from the dangling ornament-like Liquid Amber seed pods as I gingerly step down the drive.  The exposed aggregate driveway is cold, hard, and nubby on the soles of my bare feet.  The clouds hanging over our neighbors’ roofs to the west still retain a touch of pink and, as I bend over to pick up the paper tossed at the base of the rhodys, their buds pulled in tight against the cold, I see the daffodils are three inches high already.

It’s 7:48 am and Rick hasn’t returned from the search in Marin. He was called into service before our New Year’s toast with friends at midnight last night.  I don’t know any more than that.  Who gets lost in Marin on New Year’s Eve?  An autistic child?  A great grandfather with Alzheimer’s?  A despondent teen?  An angry husband who checks himself into a hotel?  SAR is hardly ever about looking for someone in the wilderness but the reasons people are missing are as varied as the wilderness of the heart.  Whatever the reason you are misplaced, these dedicated volunteers will be there.

The hummers perch and dip at my office window feeder.  I must refill it today.  A friend once told me that since they are the last item on her list of priorities, you can measure the order of her life by whether her bird feeders are full. Today, I find mine empty.

The bird clock my sister gave me chirps eight o’clock in the kitchen and I hear in response Abby-the-dog’s collar tags jangle as she jolts from repose amid the pile of blankets on the waterbed.  Yes, we’re children of the 60’s… still.

The computer has booted (I’ve been writing longhand) and as I click on the Yosemite Association web cams, which I do every morning, I see a snowy Half Dome and Clouds Rest.  Tenaya and Echo Peaks, Mt. Watkins, and Half Dome are lit on one side from the rising southern sun.  Yosemite Falls is frozen onto a brightly lit face of granite like a still out of a movie, it’s winter ice cone rising at the base of the Upper Fall.  John Muir climbed his way up the ice cone more than a century ago and fell through into the hollow rocky abyss within. He also wallowed up the steep snow-covered boulder field of Indian Canyon from the valley floor and descended in an “avalanche of snow stars,” cheating death more times than I can count.

Muir had a purpose, it seemed. And his life refused to let go of him until he achieved it no matter how much he put it at risk.  He won for us National Parks, the idea of glaciation in the Sierra, and the beginning of the conservation movement.  Even his last fight, the defeat of saving Hetch Hetchy Valley from being dammed and flooded for San Francisco’s water tank, solidified the future defense of wilderness as no win could ever do.

So, 2013, what have you in store for me on this new morning in this new year as Sierra Spirit Backcountry Guiding Company continues to awaken people to the comfort and joys of the wilderness?  Yep, there’s work still to do.

Copyright © by Karen Najarian Jan. 1, 2013.

Everyone’s Gotta be Somewhere.

So I run around like a mad woman, packing, paying bills, tying up loose ends, sending off some last-minute Christmas cards, getting the three dog/house sitters coordinated, and finally hit the hay around mid-night. The alarm sounds off at 5:25 and I’m up to do an abbreviated morning routine before our neighbor drives us to the Lafayette BART station for our one hour ride to the San Francisco Airport. I stare into the mirror hoping I look better when I touch down in New Hampshire to visit with my sister, her family, and my NY transplant son.

All goes well. We’re flying a southern route with a stop in Dallas-Fort Worth and are pleased that we’re avoiding Chicago which has pretty much closed down due to a blizzard the size of my fist on the NOAA website.  The BART train rumbles in just as we reach the platform.  I’m feeling lucky today. Even at the dark hour of 6:20 am the BART car is full of newly groomed but sleepy commuters. Lugging our luggage, my husband and I find separate seats. No problem. I’ll be spending all day on the plane nudging his elbow over onto his side of the armrest.

Was I even through the Caldecott Tunnel when I got the phone call on my cell with a recording telling me my flight was cancelled? I look up to where Rick is sitting and see his body twisted back toward me, his phone to his ear, and his gaping mouth filling the aisle.

In Oakland most folks exit the train and I move up to sit next to Rick to plan our next move. I’m thinking we should just get off, turn around, and go home. Coffee and breakfast at our kitchen table sounds good about now. Rick thinks we should pursue this at SFO. So we screech and rumble on through the tunnel under the bay, which has always given me the creeps, and down the peninsula to SFO. It’s the shortest day of the year, the day the Mayan calendar stops, and there is a hot pink haze burning the sky above Mt. Hamilton to the south. No, the world isn’t ending.  It’s just another day beginning.

Arriving at the American Airlines area, I find an official looking woman in uniform and ask what we should do.  She points to a long line and gives me a card with a phone number on it and says I should call. Now, yesterday I looked at my flight information and noticed I gave my last name twice when I bought my ticket. I called to straighten it out before homeland security straightened me out. I was on hold for an hour and a half. Thank you speaker phone.

We get in line. This is a line of put-off, irate travelers. Maybe they want to concentrate us all in one spot so we don’t contaminate the airport with our angst and frustration bordering on rage. The guy in front of us is there for the second day trying to get to Paris. The guy in front of him is on our flight traveling only to Dallas-Fort Worth. The next flight is Sunday. He doesn’t want to cut two days off his trip and they won’t refund his money. He’s demanding a paid limo home. The guy behind us actually gets through on that number the uniformed lady gave me. So I leave the line to go sit in some comfy chairs and dial the number, myself.

It took awhile to get through and then I was thanked for my patience and put on hold. I was sitting next to an older gentleman who was also on his phone in a conversation peppered liberally with the words “fucking incompetents.” It turns out he was on his second day of travel to some “little town in Northern California” that he couldn’t pronounce, visiting adult children and grand kids, no doubt. I’ve driven to the Oregon border in five and a half hours. I suggested he rent a car… or walk. It would be faster.

While sitting there, I watched a little boy in line just behind my husband, maybe seven years old, put a phone to the side of his head and break down sobbing. The disappointment in the delay to meet someone wrenched his body.  Tears flooded his red, contorted face, he fell to his knees, and his mother dropped to comfort him. They sat there on the floor in line in the airport for at least 10 minutes. The line moved, they both found their feet, but his sobbing continued.

Having finally spoken to someone on the phone and booked on a new flight tomorrow, I joined my husband in line to inform him. But, mainly, I got back in line to comfort this young boy. I wanted him to hear that I was in the same position, that I was disappointed, too, but that we just have to wait, and that it will be OK. It will be OK. Perhaps he was traveling to see a dad he rarely sees. I don’t know. I would have loved to hear this reassurance, that it will be OK, many times when I was a child. But my words were birds that few away. I was no one he knew and my words meant nothing. He remained inconsolable. His disappointment and frustration was painful to watch. It hurts even now as I write this in the comfort of my bear’s nest (my office).  And I find my disappointment nothing compared to his.

Rick and I found our way back onto a BART train bound for home with our neighbor willing to pick us up. We’ll try this again tomorrow.

Copyright by Karen Najarian 12-21-12