fleming meadow

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Outdoor excursions don’t have to be gorgeous. Sometimes they satisfy the initial craving, the taste for some tall trees and clean space absent of concrete. A hike might unclutter the brain and retrain your eyes to look upward. Perhaps you get a few shards of sunlight striking your skin, and you snap a few photos but they turn out ho-hum. You tuck your phone back into your pocket, instead watching your dog bound up the trail and wonder how you’ll find your car again. That’s essentially how this weekend went — it was both exactly we needed and nothing to write home about.

Living in a city is convenient. Groceries, booze, entertainment, and work are all within walking distance (or a short drive). And yet, cities are chaotic. Brake dust, honking, sirens, unsavory people and smells are also within walking distance. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve enjoyed the past few (many?) years of city living. My stint in the Bay Area was probably the best in terms of urban existence. I biked on a rusty Schwinn to work and class, walked past wisteria-bedecked homes for morning buns and coffee, or hiked up the trails that took you high above the city in less than half an hour. But cities thrive on romanticization, which I’m prone to. Having grown up in rural California, urban environments have always been thrilling and exhausting.

So, we drove east. Up past Placerville into the pine trees, through an irrigation district and past a man-made lake that quaintly framed the snow-capped Sierras. You guys, there is SO MUCH SNOW this year. It’s the middle of May and here we are with a winter storm warning and ski resorts that will be open through July 4th. I’m thrilled and nervous about the backpacking and camping trips I have planned this summer (whoops). All that to say, should you find yourself needing a respite from loud ripe odoriferous places, take a drive to the mountains for an hour or two. And then have a beer with some men in kilts.

Fleming Meadow Loop

  • Length: 2-5 miles (depends on how lost you wanna get)
  • Time: 1-2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Trail: I’m not sure which trail we followed and we never saw a meadow (we kept following the blue 8 markers), but this USDA map has a bunch of spurs from the parking lot we found. Don’t be deterred by the stripped van at the turnoff – we didn’t see anything sketchy at the trailhead. I’d like to come back and do the whole loop, but the doggo was hot and the husband wanted beer. So it goes.

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fleming meadow

phantom falls

Phantom Falls
C/O: Ferretti Photography

When my sister was about eight years old, she encountered nature’s wrath in the California foothills. It was summer, waves of dry heat radiating from the gravel in our driveway. The sky was bright blue, an occasional buzzard flying overheard and nary a whisper of wind in the oak trees. She had been flitting back and forth between the house and trailer with a friend, doing what eight-year-old kids do. A couple moments after their Kool-Aid detour to the kitchen, my mother suddenly heard a loud wail from the porch: “Snaaaake! I got bit by a snake!” Every parent’s worst nightmare, at least in our neck of the woods.

With inhuman speed my mom tore outside to find my little sister rocking on the ground, cradling her foot. She always had a propensity for drama, and at first my mom didn’t believe that the pin-sized puncture was actually a snake bite. She bent over to examine what was likely a stubbed toe, when she heard the heart stopping chh-chh-chh. A young rattlesnake slithered under the deck and out of sight, blending right in with the weeds and gravel. Wide-eyed, my mom told the friend to head home and threw my sister into the car. Living 40 minutes from the nearest hospital meant that risking a speeding ticket was far better than waiting on an ambulance. After four days in the hospital (two in ICU), my sister was pumped full of anti-venom and sent home to recover, watermelon-sized ankle in tow.

As hikers in the West, we (hopefully) all know the shape and sound of a rattlesnake. A slithering brown critter with a diamond back warrants a change of course, particularly when help is far away. I’ve never been bitten, but my sister’s experience forced constant vigilance whenever I’m out in the woods. Twice in the same backpacking trip we had close encounters with some very angry, very large rattlesnakes and realized just how far help was. (The snakes were 10000% scarier than the bears we saw on the same trip.) All this to say, when we went hiking a couple weekends ago in the green hills near Oroville, I jumped off the trail as a small, diamond backed reptile skittered in front of my toes. A caveat, should you decide to try this hike yourself.

The trail to Phantom Falls is packed, particularly in late spring when the lupine and poppies and fiddlenecks are in full bloom. Even with hundreds of people perusing the flowers and taking hyper-original insta photos, it never felt crowded. The trail winds through open grasslands with few trees, and includes the occasional cow (and cow pie). After a mile or two of enjoying the fleurs, the trail suddenly pops out on a bluff of volcanic rock to a bizarre and wonderful waterfall pouring over a cliff. It’s spectacular and unassuming – I’d never guess that a waterfall existed in the middle of cow country. Just keep an eye out for snakes, especially as the weather warms up.

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Phantom Falls Trail

  • Length: 4-5 miles (depends on one’s amount of perusing)
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail: The trail skirts along the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve at 2488 Cherokee Rd, Oroville, CA. Plug in the address to your favorite mapping application and it’ll get you there. There’s a small gravel parking lot at the trailhead, but you can also park on the side of the road as space allows. Follow the throngs of people as the trail winds west and down through the hills – it’s well marked. Dogs welcome on a leash (we saw tons). Swing by Chico after the hike and hit up the Sierra Nevada taproom.
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phantom falls

on meaning

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This is not a post on hiking, or anything remotely related to the outdoors. I’ve been thinking (obsessing?) over meaning since listening to Jordan Peterson’s Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories podcast series. He mentioned a story about a man who eradicated a parasite in Africa, and on his deathbed felt content that he had contributed and made an impact during his lifetime. Dr. Peterson insinuated that we should all aim to achieve something like this, something that produces a positive impact on the world. Something like – for lack of a better word – a legacy. This got me thinking (perhaps in a self-indulgent/nihilistic sort of way) about my own job and how I feel about the work I do day-to-day. It’s been gnawing at the back of my cranium for the last few days, a small voice inquiring whether what I do has any impact and if it’s positive. In that space I get defensive and think, ‘Of course it is! I’m helping with the closure of Superfund sites and managing data for clients trying to eradicate chemical hazards from groundwater!’ But I don’t think I would respond defensively if I were satisfied with that truth.

Where does one find meaning, and is it necessarily vocational meaning? Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life etc. etc. Maybe it’s easier belong to this sort of movement within academia. I was thinking back to my time as a graduate student, and how much potential there was within that space. I also recall my diminutive status, feelings of angst and existential crisis about how nothing I studied really mattered in the grand scheme of things. Chickens? The future of poultry farming? Organic and free-range and pasture-raised bougie bullshit? What would I be contributing as a student of farmers, rather than one toiling and providing something of real value? Well, perhaps if I were to return to school with a more concretized understanding of my place in the world, then I would be able to seek a meaningful contribution. But what does higher education provide that I cannot create myself in my current reality? Excess potential? A larger and more encouraging circle jerk¹? Freedom to read and research and study?

You know as well as I do that more time could be spent reading and chewing over ideas than watching Game of Thrones. That’s a whole issue in and of itself. The result of this navel-gazing was that I don’t believe the university is the only place for meaning and potential to be realized, although the institution would argue otherwise. With that knowledge, where do I go from here? How do I make a positive impact through my words and actions? Perhaps I volunteer with youth ministry at church, or go back to volunteering at the farm near my work. Perhaps I throw myself into supporting the husband’s business ideas, and create beautiful things that bring joy and utility to people’s lives. Perhaps I bake bread and give it away freely, or teach people how to make it themselves. It’s a problem that seems massive, and one that does not have a readily apparent solution. A problem of too many possibilities and a fear of choosing one.

Is it better to be stymied by too many paths, or relegated to the one you chose? Indecision has a way of freezing forward motion, making you question what you’re passionate about. I’m a firm believer that work does not need embody your passion (oh, how many age-old tidbits of sage advice are built upon this premise!), but rather doing work and producing things of value can, in itself, supply great satisfaction. A sense of responsibility, as Dr. Peterson outlines. But there must be room for passion outside of the work you are paid for, right? What am I passionate about? There’s a question that leaves me stumped…there are trivial, daily activities that bring me joy like cooking for people, baking bread, physical labor, spending time outside. I’m just not sure how any of that translates to positive impacts at a global scale.

It’s funny that we are coddled and lauded for having so much potential in school, in sports, in college, and once we arrive in the working world and choose a career (as you do), suddenly the beautiful bright beam of possibility shifts to illuminate a younger generation. Potential is a young person’s gift, I suppose. So how do we combat that? How do you stay hopeful and excited in the midst of a windowless office and traffic along Highway 50? Push onward, I suppose. Try something and fail at it. Change your course and fail again. Be less greedy with your time and assist those who want it. Help your husband create a business to sell his lamps and see where it goes. Perhaps somewhere, perhaps nowhere. I think the scariest bit is losing the drive to try. So I shall keep trying.

¹ I’m not trying to admonish higher education – I spent six years there, after all, and learned a lot. The reality is the university does a lot of good, but also a lot of bad.

on meaning

joshua tree national park

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The desert is magical. The sky is bigger and bluer and more desolate. The landscape mirrors it in browns and greys, rocks and roots and ragged edges punctuating the flatness. It rolls and shimmers, tricks your eyes and alters distances. This place attracts all kinds of washed out hippies and hikers, LA bombshells taking selfies on long stretches of asphalt and weathered old men aching to warm up their joints. It’s amazing and terrifying all at once.

On our drive down to Joshua Tree, a monumental storm soaked California, making for dramatic horizons over Tehachapi Pass and through Lancaster. My nerves grew the further south we drove (I did not prepare for a rainy camping trip). The wind whipped our tent across the sand and the squirrels ate all of our Doritos, but we stayed dry, per the desert’s promises. Maybe my point here is be prepared for anything when camping in California in March – you never know what nature will throw your way.

We stayed in Jumbo Rocks Campground, which is basically a huge playground for adults. Take note – I only booked the site a month and a half in advance, which is quite late by California National Park standards. Still, there were lines of people every morning at the front of the campground, waiting to see if a campsite would open up. All you need to do is plan maybe a month out, and you too could have a place to sleep in Joshua Tree! Alas, those SoCal folks can’t plan, and still feel entitled to a campsite. Other notes – no water anywhere in the park and no flush toilets at the campground. Bring a couple 5 gallon jugs, wet wipes, etc etc.

Two of my camp-mates were avid rock climbers, and we spent much of our time wandering around big boulders and pretending we could climb (it’s much harder to boulder outside than in a rock gym). I attempted a grand total of 3 routes, and mostly admired the trees and landscape and wandered around with a goofy grin on my face. The desert does that to people. Some easy good rock climbing spots we found:

The hikes were alright – I think everyone goes to Joshua Tree just to take photos and/or rock climb. That said, when we got our asses out of bed early enough, the desert was beautiful in the early morning light (or late afternoon). Especially after a rainstorm, with big bulbous clouds skittering across the sky. A few fun hikes we did, when we weren’t hopping around the rocks with beer:

  • Skull Rock Nature Trail (1.8 miles) – I know nature trails get a bad name because they are ‘easy’, but this was right outside of our campsite and was a beautiful introduction to the topography of the park.
  • Hidden Valley Nature Trail (1 mile) – see comments above, except in Hidden Valley you get to ogle rock climbers doing insane shit.
  • Ryan Mountain (3 miles) – a short but intense hike to the summit of the mountain, with incredible 360 degree views of the park, San Gregorio and San Jacinto.
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skull rock
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hidden valley
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squad on Ryan Mtn.

Also worth noting are some of the weird ass businesses in the town of Joshua Tree, on the north end of the park. There is a WALMART (!!) (yeah yeah I know, evil megacorp) in JT, which is perfect for firewood and anything you forgot at home (coffee filters and beer, in our case). Other spots we found:

  • Nomad Ventures – outdoor store right next to the Visitor’s Center with sweet hats, watercolor cards, and climbing books.
  • Crossroads Cafe – free coffee refills and killer breakfast burritos. Enough said.
  • Joshua Tree Coffee Roasting – great light roast coffee, but lots of LA attitude. Go sit on the patio and people watch for hours – there are so many amazing desert grandmas that go here.
  • Stater Bros – grocery store with lots of ice and a great beer selection.

We stayed for four nights, which was the perfect amount of time to explore and see what we wanted to see. It’s a long ass drive from Sacramento, but I’m glad we finally saw it. A ‘welcome home’ present to myself after the miles and miles of green on the East Coast. Cheers, friends.

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joshua tree national park

acadia national park: pt 1

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The East Coast has been slammed with wintry storms this season. In March of last year, spring seemed eons away and I was perpetually shuffling around the house in slippers to combat the cold. A few brisk nor’easters hit Delaware in March, just as I was permitting myself to start vegetable seedlings and put away scarves and mittens. Nothing quite so sad as the reality that the snow may last through April, and spring is essentially a rainy extension of winter. As I sit on my deck overlooking the Sierra foothills, basking in sunshine and wispy tendrils of morning fog, it’s very easy to forget all of that. I’m headed to Joshua Tree National Park in a week for some camping and climbing, further embracing California’s dry and sunny winter as my easterly friends trudge onward. Sorry kids, West Coast has you beat.

In the hopes that some can start dreaming of summer adventures, I’m putting together a few posts on my favorite parts of Acadia National Park. Maine is the quintessential East Coast summer destination, in my opinion. Replete with quaint seaside towns, lots of delicious seafood, and messy kiddos running around with ice cream cones. We made the drive from Wilmington to Maine over 4th of July week in 2017, with a necessary stop in Freeport to visit the L.L. Bean flagship store. Despite being caught in the most epic rainstorm of my life, we made it to Blackwoods Campground by midnight and pitched our tent in a downpour. Don’t worry – the rest of the week was sunny and gorgeous. Blackwoods was perfect for easy access to other parts of the park – the free Island Explorer shuttle stops by the campground entrance, and there are some overpriced general stores and paid showers in Otter Creek (0.5 miles down the road). Caveat: reserve your site a few months in advance, since all of the campgrounds in Acadia fill up  when the weather is nice. If you’ve got other camp-y questions about Acadia, hit me up.

One of my favorite (and easy peasy) hikes in the park was Jordan Pond. It’s a tarn buried between some funky looking hilltops mountaintops, with lots of big beautiful trees and vistas at either end. The weird looking mountains to the northeast are called the Bubbles (which is supposed to be a fun hike), and to the west is Penobscot Mountain. Jordan Pond was perfect for an afternoon stroll, and swinging by the Jordan Pond House for some of the over-hyped popovers is also highly recommended. It can be a long wait for a table in the summer, but the beer selection is good and views are nice from the grass. Put your name in early and explore a bit while you wait.

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Jordan Pond Trail

  • Length: 3ish miles
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Trail: Take the Island Explorer shuttle to the Jordan Pond House stop (parking can be a pain in the ass, especially on weekends). Mosey down to the house amidst the throngs of people, and the Jordan Pond trail will be well-marked. It’s a big loop with a nice beach area at the north end, but you can turn around whenever you want. Moose loved this hike, in case you were wondering.

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acadia national park: pt 1

california (again)

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Let’s just pretend that I spent the last 13 months writing books on important things (world hunger! a dishwasher that puts its own dishes away!), seeing the world, and perfecting my sourdough skills. No? Sound spurious? Well shoot. Mom always said I was a bad liar.

2017 was rough. Fortunately, with positive affirmations and a supportive community back home, we left the East Coast in December and returned to our northern California roots. Ultimately our people are out West and our jobs weren’t interesting, leading to ‘fuck it, we’re going home’. A for effort? West coasters through and through.

After a five day road trip in which I drove the dog and the husband drove the cruise control-less car (bless you, sir), we made it HOME. I’m sitting in our little house on a quiet street in Sacramento, drinking coffee and reflecting on the week at a job that I actually enjoy (I make maps and analyze data for a living now YASSS). Later I’ll visit some friends in Oakland, and bask in the miracle that it only takes 1.5 hours without setting foot inside of an airport. The hallelujah chorus is on repeat in my head.

In celebration of being back, our house has been full of visitors. Primarily people and dogs that were seen for fleeting moments when we flew home. It’s been exhausting and wonderful and it makes me weep that our cups are so full. Still, our new home is tiny, so getting out and about when you have 2+ visitors staying for the weekend is necessary. I found a little jaunt about 30 minutes away up at Folsom Lake. This time of year, the parking lot is empty and the view of the Sierras is incredible. I will never, ever tire of those giants protruding along the skyline. Plus, dogs galore. Moose loved loping up and down the trails, looking for sticks and friends. Life’s pretty good out here.

I’ve got some cool East Coast anecdotes to share about Acadia NP and Shenandoah NP. Will try to snap out of my California bliss and dig out those photos/trail maps for you later. For now, take a walk around the lake and bask in those badass mountains. Pinch me.

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Beal’s Point at Folsom Lake SRA

  • Where: Beal’s Point Recreation Area (here)
  • Cost: $12 per vehicle
  • Time: 1 – 2 hours, late afternoon as the sun is getting golden
  • Length: 3 miles (or as far as you want to go)
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Trail: The lake is lower in the winter to account for snowmelt, and Beal’s Point turns into a nice peninsula with sandy spots to wander (perfect for puppers). We walked north on the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail (away from the main dam) until the path became gravel and dirt, winding through the foothills around the lake. Go as far as you want, then turn around and swing by Falafel Corner for a chicken gyro wrap on your way home plz.
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Moose spotted in Acadia, more to come!
california (again)

ice skating in yosemite

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There’s a 60 degree breeze floating through my window while I look over these photos from Christmas. It feels like we never really had a winter on the east coast; meanwhile California has been pummeled with the most precipitation in centuries. Why did it have to wait until after I moved?! Related: I’ve been reading up on the Oroville Dam and other flood hazards (thank you Los Angeles for not maintaining your shit), completely baffled at the quantity of water falling from the sky. After so many  years of drought, the California dirt was not quite ready for the onslaught of wet. Burn scars and dead trees have triggered mudslides, and swollen rivers are pushing families from their homes. All this to say, mother nature does what she wants and it’s pretty impressive.

Meanwhile in the mid-Atlantic, it feels like springtime in February. Groundhogs be damned, I don’t think we will have much more winter weather here in DE. A bit of a shame, since I was looking forward to more cozy indoor things and soup and snow days (aka acceptable ways to call out from work–let me know if you think of others). The warm weather isn’t quite the same when all the trees are naked and the grass consists of brown stubble. Maybe California can send over some of its rain, and we can get some proper flowers blooming out here.

Speaking of blooms, I bought an excessive amount of vegetable seeds this weekend in preparation for SPRING == VEGETABLE GARDEN == DELICIOUSNESS! A friend referenced me to a rad heirloom seed site, and I went a bit bananas over the different varietals (mostly tomatoes). Next weekend’s plan is to set up a small above ground planter box and promptly cover it with chicken wire, because squirrels. Although it looks like thunderstorms on Saturday, so maybe not? Oh you temptress, east coast, keeping your weather unpredictable.

Blathering aside, if you find yourself in the midst of California’s epic winter awesomeness, I hope you are getting into the Sierras to see their unprecedented snowfall. With snow chains or 4×4 or other safe means of transportation, ok? In Yosemite Valley, there lies a quaint ice skating rink in the place formerly known as Curry Village (I don’t know what the hell they’ve renamed it…Half Dome Magic? Sparkling Valley Vista?). Skate rentals are cheap, and if you can avoid skating over one of the numerous children with buckets hobbling around the rink, there’s ample hot cocoa waiting afterward around the bonfire. When the husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas, this was it. Ice skating under Half Dome, breathing in the icy air and watching the sun set over my beloved mountains. Mission accomplished.

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Ice Skating in Yosemite

  • Where: Curry Village/Half Dome Village in Yosemite National Park
  • Cost: Adults $10, Kids $9.50, skate rental $4.00
  • Time: give yourself at least an hour, preferably right before sunset to watch the golden glow hit that magnificent chunk of granite
  • Libations: hot cocoa + accoutrements are sold at the little shop in the village, but if you are headed out through the south entrance, do yourself a favor and stop at South Gate Brewery in Oakhurst for a Sawtooth IPA and some garlic fries.
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ain’t we cute?
ice skating in yosemite