Mountain Storms

Posted by Theresa on Mar 24, 2011 under House in Yo West, Yosemite Updates

What an exciting week this has been!

Our planned trip to the East Side to visit a friend in Bishop was a catalyst for being on the outside of a whole bunch of crazy that has been going on in Yosemite. The stay in Bishop was wonderful. Ahough we didn’t get in as much skiing as we had anticipated, we enjoyed hanging out and being out of the valley.
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Ladybug’s Picnic

Posted by Administrator on Mar 13, 2011 under Yosemite Updates
Clusters of ladybugs

Clusters of ladybugs

Re-inspired by some questions from a couple from LA at the Visitor’s Center a few weeks ago, I decided I really needed to know more about lady bugs.

Turns out, ladybugs huddle together during the winter. This supposedly accomplishes three things. 1 – they stay warmer, 2- it’s a great time to meet other ladybugs and get it on, and 3- ladybugs are supposed to release some foul scent that deters predators, especially when they’re all crowded together. Whatever their reasons, seeing these masses of ladybugs is a pretty amazing sight.
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Ahwahnee Fire and Life Safety Renovations

Posted by Administrator on Mar 9, 2011 under Yosemite Updates

Sometimes there are great perks to my job.

I got to go on a tour of The Ahwahnee Hotel while the building is temporarily closed for renovations, and see first hand some of the amazing work that is being done there. There is so much going on! The whole place is buzzing with purposeful activity as teams of people are working on getting the renovations completed before the the hotel re-opens.

We have to be very careful of what is said about the project, because the PR people are watching everything like hawks, but I can honestly say that I was impressed by the amount of work being done, the attention to detail, and as they’re starting to reassemble various rooms, a very promising finished product. (Sorry for the lack of pictures, I don’t know which of them are approved.)

I can’t wait to see what it will look like when the tools are stowed, and the doors re-open in just over a week! It’s amazing how much will be accomplished in such a short time – so many different contractors working in parallel, trying to keep every aspect of the project moving forward in concert without getting in each others way. A very big round of applause should go out to the folks that are managing it! Some things will probably be obvious to the casual observer, like the remodeled public bathrooms. But there is also a ton of stuff going on behind the scenes, things like replacing ancient wiring, fixing leaky pipes, and adding unobtrusive fire alarm systems. And then there are all the environmental decisions (recycling and reusing carpet) and historic decisions (getting the original light fixture manufacturers to return to rehabilitate and refinish the dining room chandeliers, or preserving stenciling) that I hope will make the rounds as full stories in their own time.

I’ve always been more interested in stories of the natural Yosemite outside the doors of buildings, rather than inside, but these are times when the unique history of the building itself really comes to the fore, and walking through, I was struck with the feeling that we aren’t just observing history from the high and mighty seat of the present, but also actively participating in the ongoing story of that place.

Fun with Renters

Posted by Theresa on Mar 9, 2011 under House in Yo West

Tom and I have been renting out the downstairs apartment in our house since June of last year, and it’s really been a wonderful experience so far. Our renters have been remarkably conscientious and have taken great care of our place. Plus, it’s been fun to meet people.

When we first started renting, I thought people would want privacy, and might even resent it if the ‘landlord’ dropped by, but that hasn’t been the case at all, in fact almost exactly the opposite. Most people have been happy to meet us, and sometimes take advantage of our experience in the Park to help plan their trip. This winter, we even had snowball fights and went sledding with one set of renters when a Sierra storm gave us all a snow day. That was a really fantastic day. Adult snow days come with shoveling in addition to a day off from work/school, but even so, they are an unexpected gift.

It’s such a good thing that Tom has such a naturally generous and outgoing nature. I think if it had been just me, I might have mistakenly hidden out upstairs trying to be inconspicuous instead of making the trip down to greet people.

Yosemite Forum – GIS in SAR

Posted by Theresa on Mar 8, 2011 under Yosemite Updates

A small group of us went to the Yosemite Forum presentation today by Paul Doherty on using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help aid Search and Rescue operations. These once-a-month forums are a chance for the community, and the public at large to learn about some great ongoing Yosemite research.

Today we learned about how researchers are using GIS to try to facilitate Search and Rescue operations. GIS is a system of overlaying complex information on maps that allows you to plot relationships and visualize patterns over a geographical area, and make predictions about the behavior of populations. As a technology, it is already being used by a wide variety of researchers, and policy makers, as well as by fire management teams and rescue personnel. Paul’s preliminary research covers creating systems that will help rescuers anticipate how far a person might have traveled since they were last seen, and plot out a search strategy within that range, (GPS units can then also reveal exactly what ground rescuers have covered.) Finding safe landing areas for helicopters when they are needed for rapid evacuation, and trying to look for patterns in where people are injured and when to help manage resources.

What I liked about this talk, was that Paul has real in-the-field experience, and blends that nitty gritty academic interest with a very practical interest in giving search and rescue teams tools that give them the best possible chance of finding someone and getting them out safely. He pointed out a couple of times during the talk that Yosemite is lucky to have some amazing expertise, people who, after decades of experience, are shockingly good at SAR strategy, but those people won’t always be around, and these new tools can help even some of those with less experience make smart decisions in the field.

Meditation Seed

Posted by Theresa on Mar 7, 2011 under Goals

A friend returned to work today after taking a 10-day meditation retreat at nearby Dhamma Mahavana in North Fork, CA still reeling from everything that she had experienced there… and I don’t necessarily mean in a good way. Her description of what she went through pretty much terrified me. Correct that, terrifies me. Present tense. She was talking about pain – emotional and physical. Nearly beyond endurance.

So, after talking with Tom this evening, if I can get the days off, I’m going to sign up.

Maybe it’s a birthday challenge appropriate for a milestone birthday.

Maybe it’s something that deep inside I know is just what I need – even if it is excruciating to get there.

OK – but this can’t just happen in isolation, right? Time to start meditating now. Tom suggested 40 days of 40 min of meditation just prior to the retreat in a sort of birthday challenge style, but I feel like I would need to build up to even that.


Plastic into Oil

Posted by Theresa on Mar 2, 2011 under Environment

We have a problem with plastic trash, and a fuel shortage. What if we could just take all that trash and turn it back into fuel?

Akinori Ito from the Blest Corporation has figured out a way to turn plastics back into oil, using a tabletop machine that allows you to feed plastics from the trash into one end and get burnable fuel out the other. At one point in the video, Akinori Ito is holding a bag of what looks to me like plastic recycling, and tells us that he doesn’t see garbage, he sees treasure.

It got me wondering if suddenly the North Pacific Gyre (aka Great Pacific Garbage Patch) is suddenly the new Saudi Arabia. And if the people and organizations trying to clean up that mess are buying up these machines left and right. (Did you know that you could take a working cruise to see and help clean up the North Pacific Gyre with Algalita?)

And if, like me, you wondered if this was too good to be true, Steve Machan, mentions in his blog and in an article for Technorati, a second machine that does the same thing – the Environ Oil Generator.

Is there hope for us (and our environment) yet?

Snow Day

Posted by Theresa on Feb 18, 2011 under House in Yo West, Yosemite Updates

When I looked out the front window, I saw a whole family running back and forth outside our house – sliding happily down the street in their plastic sleds. They’d been at it for an hour at least, and didn’t show any signs of stopping soon. Snow brings so much joy to the mountains! I consider shouting to them that there is an even better sledding street around the corner, but they’re having so much fun, I decide to just let it be.

Snow also brings some travel headaches. My plans to get up early and catch a quick ski in the morning before work, turned into an hour of shoveling and snow-blowing, only to find out that the road to Badger Pass is closed for the day due to snow. Unfortunately, when we get a heavy snow like this, the plows just can’t keep up, and they focus on keeping the main roads clear instead. Even so, Hwy 41 was listed as R3 for most of the morning, meaning that all vehicles were required to use chains, even those with 4WD (rare!), and Hwy 120 was closed entirely for snow removal.

If only the snow had come a week ago, it would have been perfect. As it is, holiday travelers are struggling to get into the park, or making decisions to stay home instead. I hope the family renting our downstairs apartment make it here safely! The conditions are going to be fantastic.

A Day at the Visitor’s Center

Posted by Administrator on Feb 11, 2011 under Misc

This Saturday, on a perfect 50 degree sunny day in Yosemite National Park, instead of relaxing, enjoying the park, going skiing or rock climbing, I’m going to spend about 8 hours volunteering to stand in the Visitor’s Center and answer questions from visitors – mostly the same question, which is some varient of "Here I am, what should I do now?"

Seems like I am often asked why I would give up a weekend day (about twice a month) to volunteer in the Valley Visitor Center. Well, there are plenty of reasons to volunteer in a National Park. Some people use volunteering as a way to live in and enjoy Yosemite for longer than the allowed week in the summer time, but I’m already here. Others use the volunteer program as a stepping stone to future employment, but that’s not my goal. (Love my job, even when it’s driving me crazy.) There are also many people who come from all over simply to give back to a place that they love. That one applies.

Interestingly enough, even though there are hundreds (thousands?) of volunteers in the park each year, when you live here, and more specifically work full time here, it isn’t as easy as you might think to find a way to volunteer on a regular basis. Because there are so many people who are retired, or taking a break and able to offer substantial chunks of time to volunteering, the ‘evenings and weekends only’ opportunities are fairly slim, so when I found out that another co-worker of mine was volunteering with NPS Interpretation, I leaped at the chance.

Volunteering in Interpretation is a pretty good gig, really. NPS is often able to provide some kind of accommodation (for those that don’t already have it), the work is easy and rewarding, and look at where you are! In the Interp department, there are also great side-perks like working with really wonderful people whose JOB is knowing cool stuff about the park. Talk about a great learning opportunity! And talk about suddenly being introduced to exactly the right group of people know when you come across some new thing, curious story, or historical reference and want to learn more about it. Plus, it feels good to be able to help people out, and share my love for and knowledge of the park. For the most part, people are appreciative. (Although during the summer time I also understood the volunteer who prominently displayed a large button saying ‘Don’t yell at me. I’m a Volunteer’ on his shirt.) Last summer, I was allowed to research a topic of my choince and give a short 15 min. presentation, and I was invited to participate in morning Yosemite Nature Club outings that were absolutely fascinating.

So, while there is definitely a part of me that really wishes I could sleep in on Saturday and then spend the day recreating, there’s also another part that is grateful to be doing what I’m doing. If you really want to make my day – stop by the Visitor’s Center and ask me a question that I have to go to one of the reference books to look up. It’s not that I like being stumped, but if I get to discover or learn something new, that makes it all worthwhile.

Learning Interpretation

Posted by Theresa on Jan 7, 2011 under Misc

New things are so interesting!

Because Tom is planning to throw his hat in the ring for a seasonal interp ranger position this summer, and I’m doing this NPS volunteer gig at the visitor center, we’ve both gotten exposed to the Interpretation classes provided at In park parlance, interpretation isn’t translating from one language into another. It’s translating an understanding of the amazing things around us, into terms that other people can understand and appreciate – in Interpretive terms: Connecting the visitor with the resource.

I’ve been kicking this idea of “Interpretation” around in my head since I was first exposed to it back when I was still working at the Mountaineering School, but even though Interpretation is supposed to be all about answering the question, “So what?”, I had trouble putting my finger on the answer when it came to Interpretation or Interpretive Themes themselves. How was it valuable?

The Interpretive Process

One of the things I really liked from the Eppley course was this idea of highlighting emotional connections and meanings from something physical that you experience in the park.

1. You start with the thing, the tangible resource – say, El Cap.
2. Then you look for its intangible properties, some of the qualities or emotions it might provoke (adventure, friendship, exploration, overcoming challenges, fear… whatever), and then
3. try to figure out which of those are universal – something that almost everyone will connect to or have experience with.
4. After taking who your audience is into account you then,
5. Come up with a theme that includes some of those universal concepts that you figured out (something like: The challenges of climbing El Cap forges trust in yourself and your partner.)
6. Develop that theme with information about how tall El Cap is, what the challenges might be, how those climbers get up there in the first place, the skills they need, the communication and cooperation between partners etc. using various techniques to make those facts easy to relate to.

This process is more formalized, but essentially the same in principle as what I learned in my Conversion Optimization online marketing course about tailoring a message to appeal to people who are looking for a certain feeling or emotion, as well those who are looking for facts. In Interpretation, you’re selling people on the idea that this big chunk of granite is important, relevant, and meaningful. Very similar.

One Central Idea or Many Themes in Harmony?

But what if you have a 2-hour walk/talk/program/tour, or something even longer? Is that really a one-theme experience?

One ranger explained that when planning a walk or talk, you want to have a central idea that you return to again and again, something people can take home with them, something that will sink into their minds and become part of the way they see the world, long after they forget how to tell a sequoia tree from a cedar. OK, so I can see the benefit there.

On the other hand, if the Interpretive Process starts from the tangible thing, and then expands into a theme, are you limited to choosing only those tangible resources that are going to be universal across your entire tour? El Cap provokes a different subset of intangible associations than the terminal moraine. Do you have to choose only from those intangibles that overlap them both? Does the requirement of a single theme encourage Interpreters to favor the story that fits the theme over the most powerful stories?

Or, from a different perspective, if I develop a sound interpretive theme about El Cap, and then the tour bus moves on and I develop another sound interpretive theme around the eroded banks of the river, is that any less Interpretive than the single theme which would apply to both?