Eternal Yosemite

Yosemite-6I went to Yosemite Valley, for the day, a couple of days ago. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed, because I wasn’t, it was a lovely, warm spring day and the Valley was Yosemite Valley at its best; majestic, serene, lots of water, and the dogwoods were blooming. It just wasn’t surprising. I’ve been reading alot of geology lately, about the Farallon Plate diving – or, subducting if you prefer – under the North American Plate and pushing mountains up all the way to the Rockies, and I’ve started to visualizing the change taking place in an relatable time. But, in real life, the change is taking place so slowly that we can’t see it – although we do feel it occasionally – and this Yosemite is the same Yosemite I first saw as a child in 1948, even if I don’t remember much of it.

About twenty years later, I first saw El Capitan – El Cap – as a sentient being and it hasn’t moved one inch from my first picture. And the best places to photograph El Cap haven’t changed either, the meadow where you can watch the climbers, looking down valley from another meadow across the river, the aptly named El Capitan View turnout, or the Tunnel View turn out. The pictures below, right and bottom, were taken on a trip to The Valley with Michele’s cousin, Marion Kaplan, during the Rim Fire when the sky was full of smoke and the valley somber, and the upper left on a drive through The Valley, late in the day, shuttling a car from the west side to the east side of the Sierras. The sky has changed but the walls have not. When I raise my camera to take a picture, I am struck by how many times I have taken the same pictures, most of them now sitting in Kodak Carousels in storage somewhere. That is not to say that, today, now, The Valley isn’t still screaming Take my picture!; it is. It still is one of the most stunning places I have ever been, even when it was smoked in, looking and feeling like Mordor. But it does raise the question, What is the point of taking pictures of Yosemite?   20130911-IMG_2320-EditI’ve sort of come to the conclusion that the only reasonable answer is To get a Selfie. Really, think about it. There are already hundreds of millions of pictures of Yosemite and the world probably does not need another one, but maybe, just maybe, the world needs a picture of us, either indirectly by showing our own interpretation of a place, or directly with a portrait. Either way, the picture is witness to our visit to The Valley, something to bring to show and tell.   IMG_6744-Edit-2This day, when I got to Yosemite, they told me that Glacier Point had just opened for the season and, since that is one of my favorite view spots, I went there first. I was amazed at the volume of water in Merced and Nevada Falls… Puma-2

and I could almost hear Yosemite Falls across the valley, it was just like old times. YosemiteIt was 59° at Glacier Point – which is amazingly warm in the sun at 7200+ feet – there was still snow on the ground, and, more importantly, the view has not changed in the last sixty years, so I went back down into warmth of the The Valley. One picture that I did want to repeat is of the boardwalk across the road from the Yosemite Valley Chapel and across the valley from Yosemite Falls. As an aside, now that I am walking around Yosemite, I remember two things that have changed during my memory. One is that there used to be a great view of the church, with Half Dome in the background, from the meadow next to the church,  now trees – which I understand the Park Service planted – have grown up to block the view. The other is that Mirror Lake is now a meadow most of the time. End aside. Once I got to the boardwalk, the natural thing seemed to just walk across The Valley to Yosemite Falls, to hear its powerful roar and feel the mist. To simply let The Yosemite Valley of the Merced entrance me.  IMG_6745-EditIMG_6763-EditIMG_6778-EditYosemite

Not a bumper year for bumper stickers

Bumber stickerMichele has been counting bumper stickers  just because there are so few of them. My contribution is that, when I see one, I’ll tell her so these are really aggregate numbers. So far, she has counted 17 Bernie stickers, 1 Trump, 1 Ben Carson – on a Subaru Brat driven by a woman who looked like Miss Wormwood, Calvin’s teacher, 1 for Jesus, and 1  VOTE THEM OUT. It reminds me of Peggy Noonan – Reagan’s former speech writer and now a Republican strategist and pundit – in the worst possible way. She was shocked when Obama beat Romney, she said she had been counting yard signs and there were way more Romney signs than Obama signs. That somebody, with that much experience, could be so deep into the bubble that she didn’t believe the data, isn’t all that shocking, we want our beliefs to be true.

I feel the same way about Bernie, there are lots of bumper stickers, but Hillary, I fear, is going to win this primary thing. As Ed Cooney, my personal political sage, said, “I’ll keep voting for Bernie as long as I can” and I’ll keep sending him a couple of bucks each month. I am consoled by the fact that he pushed the Party back to the left and, with a yuge war chest, he can continue to get his, our, message out. And, please, anyone who thinks I am wrong, please talk me out of it.
Candorville by Darrin Bell says it well.

Bitterwater, 58, 33, then darkness cont.

Highway 33Leaving the Carrizo Plain, driving east on Highway 58, I drive over an unnamed pass – at least an unnamed pass for me – in the Temblor Range and drive down into the Great Central Valley. The Temblor Range is parallel to and just east of the San Andreas Fault and up until I started writing this, I thought it was the Trembler Range (for what I think are obvious reasons).  But, a half an hour later, I found out that temblor means earthquake in Spanish so it turns out that this is sort of Trembler Range after all.

The range itself is an uplifted section of an old seabed called the Franciscan Complex. To quote Roadside Geology of Northern and Central CaliforniaThe Franciscan complex is one of the world’s grand messes. It is a wild assortment of sedimentary rocks, deposited in seawater at many depths and in widely separated parts of the ocean, along with generous slices of the basalt ocean floor. Between 24 million years ago and 5 million years ago, or so, continental North America ended east of here, but the continent and the North American Plate are not the same thing and the plate, which included most of the continent of North America, also included a slice of the shallow sea to the west. In the picture above, the layers that are now almost vertical, were laid down – underwater and horizontally – in that shallow sea.

Sometime around 5 million years ago, the Farallon Plate, which was being pushed east by the Pacific Plate, crashed into the North American Plate which was being pushed west by the spreading Mid-Atlantic  Ridge. By way of background, the plates under continents, the parts of the earth that are high and dry,  are lighter and are floating higher on the Earth’s mantle than the underwater plates. When two plates with continents crash into each other, like India and Asia, they form mountains, like the Himalayas.   When two plates, one heavier and underwater and the other higher with dry land, the heavier plate dives under the lighter plate. So, when the Farallon Plate crashed into the lighter, North American Plate, it dove back down into the mantle and slid under the North American Plate. Over the following millions of years, that shallow sea bottom to the west of North America,  was then raised up, a little like a bow wave on a boat, by the  Farallon Plate sliding under North American. I love that. The earth is just so alive, it is not just the stuff living on the earth that is alive, the earth, itself, is alive. This part of the world, that was once underwater, is now a low mountain chain, and that makes a very drivable section of road as it winds down through, first scrublands, and then grasslands, dropping into the Central Valley.   Highway 33-2Highway 33-4

As the road drops, I start seeing abandoned oil fields that are being reclaimed by cattle ranchers. Going by, I wonder how toxic these fields still are and think that, while the cattle might not mind, they are probably concentrating the toxins, unbeknown to the final user, probably a human eating a hamburger.  Highway 33-3

When I reach Highway 33, I turn north and start driving through miles of abandoned and refurbished rocking horses as well as lots of new pipes and towers.  This is the  Midway-Sunset Oil Field, the largest oilfield in California. It was discovered in 1894, and, so far, has produced about 3 billion barrels of oil or, to put it another way, that is very, very, roughly 390 million tons of CO2 depending on the oil’s end use. Highway 33-5This is not a very pretty place and it smells slightly of sulfur but it is part of the cost of our world and I do not want to demonize the pusher when the real problem is the addict and the society that made that addict. I am one of the addicts, I drove down here after all, chugging through the hydrocarbons. Of course, I don’t want to blame myself for this place, but that would be disingenuous, this place is here because we want the nicely packaged energy. Way back in the 70s [right, Gail?] when President Jimmy Carter turned the White House heat down, put on a sweater, and told us to do the same – and we found out that the country didn’t want practical Mr. Rogers when Harold Hill, in an immaculate dark suit, was telling us “It’s morning in America” – way back then, a friend of mine said “This isn’t going to end well, nobody wants to give up their toaster.”

Highway 33-6

Even people in countries that don’t yet have their toasters, want them. We live a life of comfort and luxury that is both so ubiquitous as to be unnoticed, and unsustainable. We are burning through resources, not just fossil fuels, but all the earth’s resources, like there is no tomorrow. We like to think that we are the smart animals and that we are different, but we are like any other animal without predators, we are multiplying until the environment can no longer support us. It is interesting to watch, in a terrifying way.

I drive north on Highway 33 and clear the oil fields. It is late in the afternoon, I have the car windows down and the air is soft as I start driving through grasslands that go on for miles. It is breathtaking, and my first, reflexive, thought is This is paradise lost. Highway 33-9Highway 33-8Highway 33-7

Bitterwater, 58, 33, then darkness


I drove south to see the flowers in the Carrizo Plain a couple of weeks ago. It was a little late and there were almost no flowers but I did get to drive on a couple of new, for me, roads in and along the coast range. Surprisingly, it looked like a crummy flower year anyway. I had driven part of the way and then back home, following close to the fault line, a couple of days before that, so I picked up driving as close as I could to the San Andreas Fault by driving down the Bitterwater Road from Highway 41 to Highway 58. It was as rural as any place in the state. BitterwaterBitterwater-2

When I got to Highway 58, it was like jumping ahead a hundred years.Bitterwater-3

Solar panels covered the valley floor. with , thousands of them. California requires that utility companies get something like 33% of their power from renewable resources by something like 2020. I am very leery of changes that take years to change, like the new California minimum wage of fifteen dollars an hour, when it seems pretty easy to make the change faster. Usually, faster is better, like taking off a band-aid. But, in the case of our power mix, making a big change like that will be tough. Right now, the utilities are getting about 44% of their energy from natural gas, we only get 4.2% from solar which is lower than we get from coal. Coal, there is no coal in California! I think we would be better off renting the roof of every possible house and put the solar there, but this is much better than anything carbon based and while not pretty, it doesn’t desecrate the land too much, so I’m not going to complain.

Down highway, 58, there are almost no flowers as I get to the Carrizo Plain, unlike six years ago when I went with Howard Dunaier. Bitterwater-7
Carrizo Plain

Carrizo Plain
Rather than retrace my steps, on a road that is becoming very familiar, I decide to drive drive over the Coast Range into the Central Valley and then go north on another road I’ve never been on, Highway 33. (to be continued)

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Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. Joseph Stalin

Michele and I saw Eye in the Sky the other night and we both were a little rattled by the realism of it. It is the kind of movie that seems very true even though it pushes the boundaries of what is possible right now. Eye in the Sky takes place in a small city in Kenya, two places in England, Las Vegas, Hawaii, an arms-trade conference in Singapore, a ping-pong match in Beijing and they are all connected; in real-time . It is the war of the future, now, and it is about how each of the players, up and down the Chain of Command, sees the world through their own lens. It is about how seemingly connected we are, and how isolated.

I have read reviews that refer to this as a study in morals, but it isn’t. The moral question was decided at an earlier time at a level higher than any of the players in this movie. As an aside, in Objective Troy, a Terrorist, a President and the Rise of the Drone, a book about drone warfare that I have not read – but have read a review – the author, Scott Shane, in talking about how the President has reserved the authority to kill when it involves a terrorist’s family, quotes Obama, “It turns out that I am really good at killing people.” End aside.

The movie does not make judgements, but it does make it very clear that the Drone War – for lack of a better name – has consequences. The pilots flying these Predator drones are safe in Nevada and the targets, in this movie, are unsafe in a house in Nairobi, Kenya but, unlike a F-16 carpet bombing a site, these pilots are connected to their targets. The two person crews, a pilot and sensor a operator, know who the targets are, they have been watching from a drone that has been hanging around the target area. Everybody up the Chain of Command knows who the targets are. Counter intuitively, this is warfare at it’s most intimate.

Eye in the Sky, the movie, is terrific. Helen Mirren is the star and the center of the action, a tough – one could even say battle-hardened – Army Colonel, Katherine Powell, who is trying to manage the situation both up and down the chain of command. Above her is Lieutenant General Frank Benson, played by Alan Rickman in his last role. Barkhad Abdi, the bad captain in Captain Phillips, plays a good guy here and Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman – Aaron Paul – is the drone pilot. I recommend Eye in the Sky to anybody who is interested in what is happening right now, all over the world.


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