Monthly Archives: July 2015

The General Sherman Tree


The main reason I decided to visit Sequoia National Park was to see the General Sherman Tree for myself.

For weeks I’d been answering visitors’ questions about the location of the General Sherman Tree. No, the General Sherman Tree is not here. It’s in the Sequoia National Park. It’s about three hours away.

A lot of people wanted to see the tree, and I wondered what the fascination was. At first I chalked it up to the American obsession with superlatives. We want to say we saw the biggest, oldest, tallest, heaviest. But it wasn’t just Americans who asked about the tree, and I got curious. What was it about the tree that caused so much interest?

I first saw the General Sherman Tree from a distance. Even from a distance, the tree is obviously big.

The General Sherman Tree from a distance.

The General Sherman Tree from a distance.

However, the General Sherman Tree lives in the Giant Forest. There are big trees all over the place. (Four of the five largest measured giant sequoias live within the three square miles of the Giant Forest, which was named by John Muir in 1875.)  I didn’t fully appreciate the tree’s size until I got close to it.

Close to the General Sherman Tree. It was difficult to get a shot of the tree without tourists standing in front of it. There was a nearly constant parade of people standing behind the sign so someone they were with could take a photo of them with the tree. I was alone and didn't want to ask a stranger to take a photo of me standing there, so I have no photo of me standing in front of the tree. You'll just have to believe I was really there since I have no photographic evidence.

Close to the General Sherman Tree. It was difficult to get a shot of the tree without tourists standing in front of it. There was a nearly constant parade of people standing behind the sign so someone they were with could take a photo of them with the tree. I was alone and didn’t want to ask a stranger to take a photo of me standing there, so I have no photo of me with the tree. You’ll just have to believe I was really there since I have no photographic evidence.

I don’t even know how to describe the size of the General Sherman Tree. Start with big and multiple by massive. Contemplate immense. Imagine tilting your head back, back, back in order to get a look at its crown, then keeping your head leaned back until it starts to cramp. I have no words to adequately describe the tree. And photographs? My little camera is certainly not capable of capturing the majesty of this tree.

Measurements of the General Sherman Tree were made by the American Forestry Association in 1975. Here’s what they reported forty years ago:

The height above the base of the General Sherman Tree was 274.9 feet.

General Sherman’s circumference at the ground was 102.6 feet.

The diameter of the tree’s largest branch was 6.8 feet.

The height of the first large branch above the tree’s base was 130 feet.

The General Sherman Tree is as tall as an average 27 story building. Its first significant branch is as high as the 13th story of such a building.

If the General Sherman Tree were placed in the middle of a California three-lane freeway, it would completely block all three 12-foot-wide lanes.

It’s ok if you can’t comprehend the tree’s size from reading these facts and figures. I stood right in front of the tree, looked up into the sky to see its crown, walked all the way around it, and I still can’t quite comprehend its size. It’s big. B.I.G. Did I mention massive? Have I used the word “enormous”?


That really big log? That’s a branch from the General Sherman Tree that crashed to the ground some years ago. A branch!

There’s a wooden fence around the General Sherman Tree. It’s more of a psychological barrier than a physical one, since most folks in reasonable shape could easily get over the fence. It’s to keep an honest man honest, as my father would say. (Of course, at the Grand Canyon, a ranger had to give my father a stern talking to when Dad climbed over a wall that was obviously meant as a barrier. Perhaps the fence around the General Sherman would not keep my father and his ilk honest after all.)

This one's for Dad.

This one’s for Dad.

The fence is there to protect the General Sherman. It’s there to keep millions of visiting feet from compacting its root system and/or eroding the surrounding soil and exposing its shallow roots. It’s there to keep idiots from carving names and initials into the tree’s bark.

I understand why the fence is there, and i wouldn’t do anything to hurt the General Sherman, but I was a bit sad that I didn’t get to hug that tree. I did walk around the tree slowly, silently, trying to block out the chatter of the other visitors and feel the tree’s energy. (Luckily, I visited the General Sherman early in the day when there were relatively fewer people around.)

The other side of the General Sherman Tree. Notice the large fire scar.

The other side of the General Sherman Tree. Notice the large fire scar.

I’d like to be able to explain how it felt to be in the presence of a living being of such age and size, but really don’t have the words. I hope someday you can visit the General Sherman Tree and have your own experience.

Here's one more look at the General Sherman Tree.

Here’s one more look at the General Sherman Tree.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Much of the information in this post came from the booklet The General Sherman Tree by William Tweed. I picked it up for 99 cents at the Giant Forest Museum gift shop. It was money well spent.

To read more about giant sequoias and the Giant Forest Museum, go here:

Sequoias and Redwoods Are Not the Same Trees


One of the most frequent questions I am asked in the line of duty (meaning when I collect money in the parking lot) is What is the difference between a sequoia and a redwood? Related confusion is exhibited when visitors refer to the trees they are about to see/have just seen as “redwoods” or when people tell me they saw sequoias north of San Francisco. I feel it is my duty to correct such mistakes. The company I work for may see me as nothing more than a money collector, but I see myself as an educator.

When I visited Sequoia National Park, I bought an oversize postcard explaining the differences between giant sequoias trees and coast redwoods. The postcard’s copyright belongs to the Sequoia Natural History Association and has a date of 2009. I bought the postcard so I’d have something I could show folks in order to alleviate their sequoia/redwood confusion. As a service to my readers, I will summarize the information on the card (as well as information on a handout I was given by a Forest Service employee) and alleviate any confusion you may have regarding these trees.

The trees are in the same family, but we know they are not the same because they have different scientific names. The scientific name of the giant sequoia is sequoiadendron giganteum The scientific name of the coast redwood is sequoia sempervirens.

The easiest way to tall a giant sequoia from a coast redwood is location. While both grow naturally in California, coast redwoods live on the northern coast of California, and giants sequoias live on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains between 5,000 and 7,000 feet elevation.

(Instead of referring to where trees live, in the case of the giant sequoias, we must talk about where the trees occur naturally and/or reproduce. While reading the book Giant Sequoias by  R.J. Hartesveldt; H.T. Harvey; H.S. Shellhammer; and R.E. Stecker, I learned giant sequoias live throughout Europe, although the trees currently living there did not occur naturally—people planted the seeds the trees grew from—and the trees are not reproducing naturally there. I am unsure if coast redwoods grow—naturally or otherwise—anywhere other than the coast of California.)

Another difference between coast redwoods and giant sequoias is size. Coast redwoods are taller than giant sequoias. In fact, coast redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, reaching heights up to 367.8 feet. The tallest giant sequoia is “only” 311 feet. Giant sequoias, however, are wider, with widths up to 40 feet, compared to the widths of coast redwoods of up to 22 feet. Giant sequoias are the largest living trees; they contain a greater volume of wood than any other trees, due to their height and great width. Giant sequoias weigh up to 2.7 million pounds, while coast redwoods weigh up to 1.6 million pounds. Part of the reason for the weight and volume difference is the thickness of the bark of the trees. The bark of giant sequoias can be up to 31 inches thick, while the bark of coast redwoods can be up to 12 inches thick.

Both giant sequoias and coast redwoods reproduce by seeds, although coast redwoods can also reproduce by sprout. (Giant sequoias don’t reproduce by sprout.) Coast redwoods have seeds that look like tomato seeds, while giant sequoia seeds look like oat flakes. Both trees produce cones in which their seeds grow, but the cones are of different sizes. The cones of giant sequoia trees are about the size of a chicken’s egg, while the cones of coast redwoods are the size of an olive.

Giant sequoias live longer than redwoods. The oldest giant sequoia is thought to be 3,200 years old, while the oldest coast redwood is believed to be 2,000 years old.

Finally, all giant sequoias are protected by law from being harvested, while coast redwoods can legally be harvested and used for lumber.

So now you know the difference(s) between coast redwoods and giant sequoias. My work today is done.

I took this photo of a giant sequoia. Unfortunately, when I visited the coast redwoods, I didn't have a camera, so I don't have a photo of one of those magnificent trees to share.

I took this photo of a giant sequoia. Unfortunately, when I visited the coast redwoods, I didn’t have a camera, so I don’t have a photo of one of those magnificent trees to share.

International Tiger Day


It’s International Tiger Day!


I took this photo of one of the tigers at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona. Unfortunately, I can’t remember her name, but I do remember that one of her parents was an orange tiger and the other was a white tiger. That’s why she’s orange and white.

In 1913, there were 100,000 wild tigers. In 2014, tiger experts estimated there were only 3,000 tigers in the wild.

International Tiger Day is held annually on July 29 to give tigers worldwide attention. It is both an awareness day and a celebration. It was founded at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010. The goal of Tiger Day is to promote the protection and expansion of wild tiger habitats and to gain support through awareness for tiger conservation.

Learn more about  International Tiger Day here:

Chalet, the white tiger from Out of Africa wildlife park.

I took this photo of Chalet, a white tiger from Out of Africa Wildlife Park.

Fire Restrictions


On the 6th of July, very strict fire restrictions went into effect. Up until that time, fires were allowed in fire rings in campgrounds; folks doing dispersed/primitive camping could not have fires. On July 6th, fires were banned even in campgrounds. Any smoking became restricted to inside cars with doors and windows closed. Use of camp stoves with an on/off switch was not banned, but a fire permit is needed to legally use them.

Signs were posted on the sides of roads throughout the forest, as well as on the information board in campgrounds, including mine.

For almost two weeks, no one tried to have a campfire in my campground. Whenever I checked people in, I immediately told them the most important thing they needed to know was NO CAMPFIRES. At my supervisor’s request, I started writing “no fire, wood or charcoal” on camping permits, near where the camper signs his/her name. On the copy of the permit that hangs on the pole at the front of the campsite, I was instructed to write “NF” (No Fire) so that if a ranger or company employee comes through my campground and sees a camper with a fire, the permit shows that I’ve informed the camper of the fire restrictions.

Of course, I don’t sit in my campground all day long waiting to tell campers about fire restrictions and watching for unsanctioned fires. I work at the parking lot three, four, sometimes five hours a day. That’s a lot of time for people to be in the campground with no one to make sure they don’t build a fire.

Before the restrictions, I would climb into my van between 7pm and dark and hang my curtain and take off my uniform. If campers came in after that, I’d write their permit and get them to sign it the next morning. Now, if I hear people come in early enough to possibly build a campfire, I get out of the van and talk to them about the fire ban and get them to sign their permit so they can’t say they didn’t know they couldn’t have a campfire.

Almost two weeks after the ban on campfires, I left the parking lot precisely at 3pm. As I pulled into my campground, I saw I had new campers on sites #1, #2, and #3. After parking the van, I grabbed permits and car passes and walked over to that side of the campground. The tent on site #1 was zipped, and although there was a car parked on the site, I didn’t see any people moving about, so I went to site #2.

As I walked up, I saw the folks on site #2 were preparing food to cook.  After getting their basic information, I informed them of the no campfire rule. As I looked over to their fire ring, I saw large shish kabobs sitting on the attached grill. I also noticed several pieces of purchased firewood near the fire pit.

What I didn’t notice until I took a couple of steps up higher into the campsite so I could see the license plate on their vehicle was the fire already burning in the ring. I’d just told them absolutely no campfires, but they somehow thought it would be ok to have a campfire until their meaty kabobs were cooked.

I told them I was sorry but we were going to have to put the fire out. They wanted me to wait until their dinner was cooked, but I said no. No way was I going to allow campers to have a fire for five minutes while the whole forest is under a strict fire ban. I apologized again and said I’d get a bucket of water.

When I got back with the bucket of water, I apologized so many times while I extinguished the fire that the woman told me to quit being sorry because I was only doing my job. The man never raised his voice at me or got rude, but I could tell he was angry. He said he’d made the reservation two months ago, and there had been no information about fire restrictions. I told him the fire ban had only gone into effect on July 6th, and it was the Forest Service that called for the ban, not the company I work for. I also told them there was a sign announcing the restrictions at the front of the campground. (Of course, they said they hadn’t seen the sign.)

The man thought he should have been sent an email when the ban went into effect. He was upset that he’d bought firewood he couldn’t use and that his barbecue plans had been thwarted. I was sympathetic and told him I would get him a comment card if he wanted one. He said he did want one, so I got that for him as well as the phone number to the local office and a fire permit to make the use of their camp stove legal.

Upon thinking on the situation further, I think the reservation company would have to contact campers to alert them of such changes as a fire ban, as it is the reservation company who has contact info for people who have reserved campsites. In any case, if the unhappy man pursues his complaint, someone higher than I in the chain of command can explain all that to him.

By the time I got back to site #2 with the second bucket of water needed to extinguish the fire completely, it had started raining. There was never a torrential downpour, but over the next several hours there were varying degrees of precipitation from drizzle to steady rain. Maybe Mother Nature would have accomplished the dousing of the campfire, but I wasn’t about to take any chances.

To read more stories of campers and fire restrictions, go here:, here:, and here:

Tan Man


The parking lot was still pretty full, so I was telling folks to find a place to park before they paid the fee.

I was contemplating the trees when Tan Man walked up to pay me. He was at least 60 years old and was not wearing a shirt. His skin was darkly tanned and beginning to look leathery. I didn’t really want to look at his saggy nipples, so I tried to avert my eyes while taking his money and writing his day pass.

There was a guy with Tan Man. The second guy was tall, with a belly so large it held his orange t-shirt away from his body. I was sitting in my chair, and from my vantage point, I could see the expanse of his belly exposed between his t-shirt and his shorts. I didn’t really want to look at that either, so I was glad when they went off toward the trail.

Some time passed, but I’m not sure how much. I’d been reading my book, writing day passes, collecting parking fees, not really paying attention to the time. I looked up, and Tan Man was standing in front of me again.

He asked me if I’d seen the guy he’d been with earlier. He said they’d been separated.

I said I hadn’t seen him, not adding that I’d had my nose in my book and hadn’t really been watching the pedestrian activity.

Tan Man got very animated. He told me he’d lost the other guy. He told me that he’d left the trail and hadn’t been able to find the other guy when he returned to it. He told me the other guy was from New York City and really stupid. (Tan Man had some sort of East Coast accent himself, but I didn’t really want to talk with him, so I didn’t ask him where he was from.)

He said he’s been back to the car and the other guy wasn’t in the car. He asked me if he should drive off and leave the other guy. It seemed like a weird question, but I thought he was just joking or being melodramatic.

I said, NO! That would be really mean.

He said he thought maybe the other guy had hitched a ride out of there. He said he thought he (Tan Man) should maybe just leave without him.

I told him I doubted the other guy had hitched out. I told him if the other guy had come to the parking lot, gone to the car, and found no one there, he probably would have asked me if I had seen his friend. I also said that if he’d hitched out, he probably would have asked me to tell his friend that he was leaving.

Tan Man seemed reassured and calmed by my thoughts on the matter. He thanked me for the advice.

He told me that he’d made friends on the trail, that he makes friends wherever he goes. He told me that someone had filmed him on the trail.

About that time, a young man walked up to put trash in the garbage can. Tan Man told me this was the guy who’d filmed him. Tan Man greeted the young man, and when the young man responded, I heard that he had an accent. I couldn’t tell where he was from by his accent, but I guessed that he was from somewhere in Europe.

Tan Man asked the young European man where he was going next. The young man named some places, ending with Las Vegas. Tan Man told the young man how much he was going to like Vegas, then asked the young man how old he was. The young man said he was almost 16. Tan Man was concerned that the young man might not be allowed in casinos. Then Tan Man started telling the young man about some amusement park ride in Vegas that he would really like. The young man was grinning, but I couldn’t tell if his expression was one of amusement, discomfort, or confusion. Finally, Tan Man ended the conversation (which was more like a monologue) by telling the young man If you like women, you’ll like Vegas.

Tan Man told me he was going back out on the trail to look for his friend, to tell him to wait at the car if I saw him.

More time passed. I heard yelling but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I identified the yelling voice as Tan Man’s. He was yelling the words, Stay right there! Stay right there!

Tan Man came running into the parking lot. He said he’d found the other guy on the road. He thanked me for my help. The last I saw of Tan Man, he was zooming out of the parking lot in his car, racing to pick up the other guy.

The next day I was telling my co-worker about Tan Man. I wasn’t far into the story when I realized Tan Man was chemically altered! I don’t know if he was jittery on coffee or tweakin’ on crank, but in retrospect, I don’t think he was in his natural state. The main indication that he was not in a rational state of mind was his quickness to decide to leave the person riding in his car 40 miles from the nearest town just because they’d been separated on the trail. That’s not a reasonable decision within the time frame involved.

I’m glad I was there to talk some sense into Tan Man. The guy with the big belly probably doesn’t even realize how lucky he is that I was there. It’s not like he could have hailed a cab to take him back to his hotel. If I hadn’t been there, Tan Man might have left him stranded in the forest.

Marijuana in the Workplace


Most folks who pull their cars into the parking lot have had their windows up during their journey. When I step up to the car, the driver typically rolls down his/her window to hear what I’ve got to say. (Sometimes in an unintentional slapstick moment, the driver accidentally rolls down the window of the passenger behind him/her, and confusion briefly reigns.)

Shallow Focus Photography of Cannabis PlantOccasionally, when the window goes down, my nose is invaded by the strong aroma of marijuana. I want to say, It smells goooooooooood in here! However, I try to maintain a professional demeanor and pretend I don’t know that everyone in the car has been toking all the way up the mountain and is higher than the trees they’ve come to see.

The other day when the window came down, the smell of pot hit me right between the eyes. It wasn’t just the smell of pot. I was hit by the feeling of pot. I felt my brain bounce. This was a high grade medical contact high.

I couldn’t even talk! I tried to say There may not be room in the parking lot for your car. What I actually stammered was closer to There may not be room in your car. I walked away feeling like an idiot, but the people in the vehicle were probably too stoned to notice any weirdness on my part.

I don’t smoke weed, but I sure enjoy the smell of that secondhand smoke.

Image courtesty of



Cows in the Meadow


Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn.
The sheep’s cow’s in the meadow…

For my day off on Tuesday, I went halfway to civilization where I pick up my mail. The post office is in a building with a restaurant, bar, general store, and gift shop. The building has internet access, so on my days off when I don’t want to deal with the heat and people in Babylon, I go twenty-five miles, buy a cup of coffee and a meal, and spend eight or nine hours using the internet. The food is decent (not great, but decent), and there’s one booth with an electrical outlet next to it. I’ve gotten friendly with the woman who’s the waitress and the cook all morning, and we chitchat a little when she comes by to see if I need anything. There’s never been a crowd any day I’ve been in there, so no one seems to mind if I take up a whole table for a whole day.

It was after five o’clock when I packed up and headed out on Tuesday afternoon, so it was close to 6pm when I got to my campground.

The first thing I noticed upon arrival was that the half of the gate still standing at the entrance to the campground was blocking half of the road. I stopped the van and got out to investigate.

Sometime back (I don’t know when exactly), a huge tree fell and smashed half of the gate, which is meant to block the access road when the campground is closed in the winter.


This photo shows the tree that fell and destroyed half of the gate into my campground. The brown metal pieces are the remains of the gate. The gate seems to have been made of strong and sturdy metal, and the tree just SMASHED it when it fell onto it.


This photo shows the side of the gate that’s still standing and is tied to a thin-branched bush with yellow plastic “caution” tape.

To hold open the half of the gate that’s still standing, someone had tied yellow plastic “caution” tape to the gate and to a thin-branched bush.

What I found when I surveyed the scene was that the “caution” tape had broken and allowed the gate to swing across the road. I swung the gate out of the roadway and managed to tie the remainder of the tape to the gate, holding it out of the way.

I’d only driven a little ways down the road when I looked to my left and in the meadow saw faces–cow faces! By cows I mean cattle. I’m guessing they were females because I don’t think bulls usually run around with the ladies, but I did not check bovine genitalia.

There seemed to be a lot of faces staring at me, but I didn’t get a head count.

I had an idea that if cows were in the meadow, their people must be in the campground, but when I got to the campground, I found it deserted.

I wasn’t sure what to do. Bovine invasion had not been covered in our training. Was it ok for them to be in my meadow? Did I need to report their presence, and if so, to whom? I figured my best course of action was to drive the three miles back to the neighboring campground and ask the other camp hosts what I should do.

The other camp hosts didn’t seem worried about the cows and said I didn’t need to report them to anyone. The man half of the camp host couple said he’d worked on a ranch. He told me these were half wild mountain cows who don’t see people much. It seems like they’re turned out to fend tor themselves during the dry summer months, then are probably rounded up for the winter. These are probably some of the same cows I’ve seen on the road on my way to and from the hot springs.

The camp host man said I shouldn’t let myself get between a mamma cow and her calf. He said a mamma cow separated from her calf could be as dangerous as a mamma bear separated from her cub.

He also said if the cows were bothering me, he’d come and chase them away.

The cows were not bothering me. I just needed to know if I should report their location. And I’m not scared of cows! My uncle raised cows when I was a kid, and I’ve been around cows, petted them above the nose and between their eyes. I’ve even been licked by big sloppy cow tongue. And while I wasn’t going to trek into the meadow to try to pet a half-wild mountain cow, I think I could make enough noise to scare them away if they came up to my van and bothered me.

The cows are actually rather shy. I wanted some photos of them to include with this post, so I grabbed my camera. Like reclusive Hollywood stars, they turned their faces, then shuffled into the trees on the perimeter of the meadow. Like a paparazza destined for failure, I gave up after a few blurry shots.


One of my blurry shots of shy cows.

On Friday evening, a couple of young women (who were perhaps a couple) checked into the campground. I told them about the cows (which I had seen over the ensuing days but had failed to photograph). As the women headed to the meadow on a late afternoon walk, I heard noise from the area. The noise was too loud to have been caused by two skinny humans, so I figured I must be hearing the cows. Sure enough, when I looked that way, several shy bovines were hustling into the trees, but one bold black one stood out in the open and stared at the two young women.


A bold black cow. (I took this photo a few days after the events written about in this post.)

As we all stood still, an amazing thing happened. Cow after cow came out of the trees. They strode away in single file. The cows in the line walked away slowly but purposefully. Where they were going, I don’t know, but they seemed to have a destination in mind.

I didn’t dash to get my camera. I was afraid sudden movement on my part would cause cow consternation, and I didn’t want to upset anyone. Maybe I’ll get another chance at photos. Or maybe we’ll only have a couple of blurry cow photos to look at.


I took this photo of cows in the meadow a few days after the events written about in this post occurred. There were about twenty cows in the meadow when I took this photo. I had to  use the zoom on my camera to get this shot. I could not get close enough to the cows to get better photos. Whenever they heard my footsteps, they looked up at me. If I got too close, the cows moved farther away.



Two bold cows. While most of the cows in the meadow were black, there were a couple of light brown ones. Some of the black cows had white faces.



I saw a lot of cow butts much like this one while I was trying to take these photos.


All photos in this post were taken by me.

All photos in this post were taken by me.

I Know You Understand


Around 7:30 on the Wednesday night before Independence Day Weekend, I got two sets of campers within ten minutes. I’d thought I’d have an empty campground again, but suddenly I had company.

The second camper pulled in before the first group had settled on a site, before I could collect money from them or write a permit.

I walked up to the car parked by the sign board where the driver was probably looking for the amount of the camping fee. I said hello and asked if she (for the the driver–the lone person in the car–was a woman who appeared to be in her 50s) was looking for a place to camp for the night.

She said she didn’t want to camp–she didn’t have a tent–she wanted to park–she slept in her car.

I was confused for a moment, but then I realized we don’t have rules against car camping. It doesn’t matter to me if a camper sleeps in a tent or in a car or on the picnic table as long as s/he is quiet and doesn’t burn the place down or cause other trouble.

I told her it was fine if she slept in her car, that the campsite fee was $20. She told me she was happy to pay it.

Then she told me she was here to be with the sequoias. She said she’d had open heart surgery six weeks earlier to repair a birth defect. She said she was recovering from the surgery and had decided that the most important thing she could do for her health was to be with the sequoias. She was planning to go to the trail the next morning and spend the day with the trees.

Then she looked directly at me and said, I know you understand.

Yes, I told her, I do.

I believe these trees are deeply nurturing and deeply healing. I know they are ancient, and I believe they are wise, in a tree way, although perhaps not in a way that humans can truly understand. I believe these trees can heal mentally and emotionally, so why not physically? Our mental, emotional, and physical states are all connected, so healing one state should help heal the others.

If I’d had open heart surgery recently, I’d probably want to sit with the sequoias too, and let their healing powers flow through me.

I did understand, but how did she know I did? I’m kind of undercover here in my camp host uniform, not exactly letting my freak flag fly. Somehow she took one look at me and knew I’d understand her. Being recognized that way was a wonderful feeling; it’s such a comfort to be known.

I saw her at the parking lot the next day. I arrived at work just as she was preparing to leave. She remembered my name. She said she’d been with the sequoias all day.

As she was about to pull her car out of the parking lot, she called me over and offered me one of her (delicious!) breakfast cookies.

I said, Hang on! I have something for you too!

I intended to grab a piece of rose quartz that’s been bouncing around on the floor of the van since before I left the city. Instead, remembering a lesson I learned about giving the best I’ve got, I grabbed my really lovely chunk of rose quartz from the console in the front of the van.

I took this photo of the piece of rose quartz I gave away.

I took this photo of the piece of rose quartz I gave away.

I handed it to her through her driver’s side window and told her it was rose quartz, the stone of unconditional love and infinite and peace.

She said, I know what it is.

She said she was going to sleep with it on her heart. I told her I’d done exactly the same thing with it. I told her it has really good energy, that sometimes I’d put it on my forehead to calm me down when I was too agitated to sleep.

She was crying and she said, You gave me this to heal my heart!

I hadn’t thought it out and decided I’ll give this woman a piece of rose quartz to heal her heart, but rose quartz is healing, and it is all about the heart, so I guess she was right.

Sometimes I’m blessed with understanding I don’t even know I have.


I took this photo of a giant sequoia.

To find out how I came into possession of that piece of rose quartz, go here:

Coming Back


[amazon template=image&asin=0985781408]Of everything I read in Marta Maranda’s book What It Looks Like (of which I’ve written before), the concept that gave me the most hope was that of “coming back.”

Maranda introduces the concept first in terms of her meditation practice. She writes of times during meditation when she “simply cannot quiet [her] mind.” She recounts asking the facilitator at a group meditation session “how many minutes out of his daily sitting was he where he wanted to be.” His answer was not one of minutes.

He said there are times–after work, the kids, bills to pay, and chores to do–when just making it to his cushion at the end of the night was the strongest part of his practice. He explained that it is the “coming back” that defines any process. It is coming back to your cushion to meditate when you would rather sit on the sofa and watch television. It is coming back to breath number one after a thought or feeling, once again, interrupted you before you had reached breath number ten. It is coming back to being an observer after you attached too long to a thought or feeling you should have let pass. (p. 338)

The next words written by Maranda are the ones that really hit me.

And it is coming back to your commitment to living an honorable, compassionate, and forgiving life after you reacted to something or someone in a dishonorable, angry, or vengeful way. Every errant step gives us another chance to come back to love, healing, and truth. (p.338)

Maranda writes more about the idea of “coming back” and how that idea relates to enlightenment.

Ironically, the concept of “coming back” is essential to enlightenment. Most imagine enlightenment to be the ultimate goal. One that, once achieved, transforms a human being into a perfected one free of all anger, fear, pain, ego, judgment, and difficulties, who lives his life in complete surrender, and radiates pure love and truth…However in his book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Jack Kornfield explains, “There is no such thing as enlightened retirement.” (p. 338-339)

Maranda goes on to quote Jack Kornfield:

Enlightenment does exist. It is possible to awaken. Unbounded freedom and joy, oneness with the Divine, awakening into a state of timeless grace–these experiences are more common than you know, and not far away. There is one further truth, however: They don’t last. Our realizations and awakenings show us the reality of the world, and bring transformation, but they pass… (p. 339)

Maranda wraps up her thoughts on “coming back” by writing

With awareness comes the realization that there are times of deep compassion, great wisdom, boundless joy, and ultimate freedom that coexist with times of fear, pain, struggle, and brokenness. By refusing to acknowledge and address the shadow that accompanies life, we never receive the gift it yearns to give us. The physical world, with all its pain and problems, is not here to thwart our enlightenment, but to strengthen it. With every satori, or enlightenment experience, we come back and hone what we’ve learned against the challenges in our lives and in the world: we come back to show others what love, healing, and truth look like in a world of anger, pain, and dysfunction. (p. 340)

This idea of “coming back” has really encouraged me, given me hope. I’ve often thought that if I’m not always a 100% perfect person, then I’m not a good person. When I get to a place of serenity, I can maintain it for a while, but I tend to slide back into gossip; petty, snarky thoughts and comments; irritation with friends and strangers,; general grumpiness; lack of gratitude; and jumping to ugly little conclusions about people. I thought all these negative ways of reacting to people meant I was a bad person with a negative attitude, but maybe these negative reactions mean I’m just a human person trying to live in this really fucked-up society that we call home.

I think the answer is NOT to think, Oh well, I’m human. We live in a fucked up world. I am what I am. Can’t change now. I think the answer is in this idea of coming back. Maybe the better thought process is I didn’t handle that situation the way I wanted to. What can I do better next time I find myself in a similar situation? How do I make amends for what I did?

The idea of coming back means my life is not an all or nothing proposition. It means I don’t have to see myself as a bad person just because I didn’t act or react the way I wanted too. I can still see myself as a good person, even after a failure, as long as I come back to the thoughts and behaviors that define the person I want to be. [amazon template=image&asin=0553378295]

Nice Campers


The nice campers stayed in my campground several weeks ago, but I’m just getting this piece edited and posted.

I had some nice campers this weekend.

One little family was Mom, Dad, and a young daughter, maybe five or six years old. When I went over to write their permit, the little girl immediately handed me a drawing she’d done of the trees. Sweet!

The whole family was nice, and I talked to the parents about what they might want to see in the area. Later, after they’d visited a nearby trail, I asked them now they’d liked it, and they said they’d had a really good time.

On Saturday evening, I saw the dad walking up to my campsite with a saucepan covered in foil.

He asked if I had eaten yet, and I lied and said no. I wanted whatever food he was offering, just to eat something different from the things I always cook for myself. Turns out he was offering me homemade cauliflower-spinach-leek soup. I grabbed a bowl and had him pour it all in as I thanked him profusely. As he was walking off, I took a bite and called out after him, This is amazing! It was so good! I haven’t been eating many vegetables out here, so my body was so happy to get some really delicious ones in that soup.

Before the soup, when I returned to the campground after working at the parking lot for four hours, there was a tent set up and a car parked on site #9, the site right next to mine. There is nothing separating my site and site #9. Since I’ve been on site #10, three times people have chosen site #9 when there were other sites available. I don’t understand why campers would want to be right next to the camp host if they could avoid it. Maybe they like the flatness of site #9. Maybe they expect the camp host to observe quiet hours. Maybe they think I am going to protect them from bears or other campers. In any case, I had next door neighbors.

Before I could even get out of my van, a middle-age Asian man was standing next to it looking at me. When I got out of the van, I greeted him and said I’d be right back with the paperwork to check him in.

Turns out he is a linguistics professor from Seoul, Korea who taught at UCLA fifteen years ago. Currently, he and his young wife and her mother are traveling in the United States. We had a pleasant exchange. I checked them in, then I went to my campsite and went about my life.

On Sunday morning, I was sitting at my picnic table, writing. I looked up and saw the grandma-age Korean woman (the mother/mother-in-law) standing next to my van. Then I saw her looking in the open passenger side door and thought, What the fuck! But I smiled and said hello and she said good morning and I said good morning.

I said, Do you need some help?

She said, I don’t know, which I figured meant no or (more accurately) I don’t know what the hell you’re saying.

She moved closer to the van’s open side door, but then she turned her attention to me and made a gesture that said May I look?

I nodded and said yes. I don’t really mind people looking, but asking my permission to look is very important to me.

So she looked into my van and said, Your house very nice.

I thanked her.

She wandered off, but soon came back with her son-in-law. He said she wanted him to tell me my home was very nice.

I thanked her again.

The woman kept pressing the palms of her hands against her cheeks and looking at me. I wondered if she were trying to tell me my face was dirty.

But the son-in-law translated that she thought I was glowing because  of this beautiful place where I was living and working. It was a lovely sentiment, although I suspect my face is more likely to be dirty than glowing.

Then the mother-in-law saw the eleven little beaded stretchy bracelets I’ve been wearing since Madame Chile sent them to me. She took my arm and pushed up my sleeve so she could see them all, ooohing and ahhhing the whole time. Then she pushed up her sleeve and showed me the chunky silver bracelet she was wearing.

The linguist started asking me about hiking trails, so I pulled out a map and spread it on the picnic table, and his mother-in-law wandered away.

After the professor left, I decided I wanted to give the mother-in-law one of the hemp bracelets I made. After a few tries, I found a bracelet with a carnelian stone that fit her. I fastened it around her wrist. Her fat little arm with soft, delicate old lady skin made me think of my grandmother whose skin had the same qualities in her later life.

Once I gave her the bracelet, the woman was definitely my friend. First she came over because she’d gotten a splinter in her hand. I grabbed my tweezers and pulled it out, all the while wondering if camp hosts are officially allowed to perform first aid on campers. Then she came over to my campsite to get water from the jug on my picnic table to clean whatever she’d just spilled on her jacket. When the water alone didn’t clean the spill to her satisfaction, she poured some of my Dr. Bronner’s soap onto the paper towel she was using to scrub up. In a little while, she came back to pour water from my jug into her bottle. When she came over the last time, I think she put some Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap on her toothbrush. (I wonder how that worked out for her.)

The whole time she was coming over to use my supplies, I was trying to cook pancakes. While it was very sweet of her to want to interact with me, it was also awkward because we couldn’t talk to each other. She tried to communicate, asking me You middle age? and You single? I had to answer yes to both of those questions.

I got the feeling her daughter and  son-in-law were ignoring her, so she was coming over to me for attention.

Before they left, the daughter came and told me that her mom said my house was cozy, and I told her that he mom was a nice lady.

I felt lucky to have two sets of friendly campers in one weekend.