Thursday night, I officially hated camping. I was in Yosemite, yes, near Yosemite Creek. But where was I really? On hard earth, with a broken sleeping bag, the zipper useless, cold air rushing over my body whenever I shifted position. My backpacker's mat was no softer than the bare, sloping ground. My daughter had taken my pillow, which disappeared, along with her entire body, under her sleeping bag. To get here, I had driven hundreds of miles of highway, stunning landscape I couldn't look at because I was the one driving and the road was hairpin turns and steep drops, the long drive finished with a flourish -- a drive over four miles of rough road, scraping the undercarriage of my car, probably destroying the transmission as I sought to save the brakes. The reward for making it to the end of this so-called "road" was an undignified scramble to get the last camping space before a couple in a graphite-colored big SUV decorated with skulls did, a high-altitude adjustment headache, and then dinner of instant noodles and, now, pure physical discomfort. There was no shower, and we didn't bring one. I have never been much of a camper.
But ... Friday morning. Despite the sleepless night, my mood improved the next morning. We found a better camp site -- next to a babbling brook, which should have been a gently singing river except this is a year of record dryness and everywhere you went in Yosemite, the big news was a question: where is the water? It's a year of record drought. Still, the new camp site was beautiful. And the pressure of acquiring it -- or a better one -- was gone. There were amazing hiking trails right at Yosemite Creek. Trout leapt for flies (real flies) in the rock pool near our tent (the poor fish were captive in barely seven feet of water). And my husband had brewed fresh, good coffee. Sometimes it doesn't take much to turn things around, for a human with a car and a cooler full of food, that is.
Of course, we were thinking about bears. A visitor could be forgiven for thinking that all of Yosemite was an installation whose purpose was to exhibit pictures of bears. Don't feed the bears. Don't drive too fast: "Speed kills bears." Don't talk to bears. Don't leave food in your car -- bears! Don't go into caves -- bears! Put your toothpaste into a big metal bear-safety box -- bears! What's the fire danger today? A big bear. And then there are the postcards, the cups, the stuffed teddies. All I wanted to do was not see a real bear.
But I did see a real one. S/he was munching green apples at the Ahwahnee Hotel.
On Friday afternoon, we drove the car-wrecking, rutted four miles from the campground back to Hwy 120 and then down to the crowded, but magnificent Yosemite Valley floor. The waterfalls were all dry, except for a trickle down the rock faces. One woman said to me, "If I had known there wouldn't be any water in them, I wouldn't have come!" But I didn't share her disappointment. Even without the drama of the falls, the valley floor is beautiful in a way that calls for a new name for beauty. It's a natural cathedral, if you've been fed and are feeling safe. Mid-summer, there are still lupines and blue daisies, all kinds of blooms in the meadows. And plenty of shade, which is a commodity in Los Angeles and most places at just a couple of thousand feet lesser elevation.
It was my daughter's birthday on Friday, so we went to the Ahwahnee Hotel for cake and civilized celebration in the afternoon. While we were having cake, the bear wandered onto the Ahwanee's grounds and climbed one of their apple trees. We hurried out to the wedding lawn to see him/her, feeling safe-ish because of the presence of other humans. On a hiking trail I never would have gone toward a bear I knew to be present. But this one was up a tree, and the presence of other people reduced (statistically, at least) the chances of our being the ones mauled should such a thing occur. S/he was brown with golden points (though s/he was a black bear by breed) and seemed content chomping the apples. About fifteen people stood at what we thought was a reasonable distance from the tree, except for a pair of children in bicycle helmets whose parents allowed them to stand at the base of the tree for a better view. I was so absorbed by the sight of the animal feasting on apples that I didn't even notice the kids until a hotel employee ran out and yelled, "whose children are these?" (Which is a lot better than "whose children were those?") -- causing the bear to drop some of his/her apples on the ground. The kids pointed at some adults in the very far distance, and the guy with the name tag went toward the adults, calling out, get your kids (or something like that), while the children returned to the tree.
At which point, two park rangers arrived and made everyone, ourselves included, go away from the wedding lawn and its bear. It was a good thing no one was trying to get married there on Friday afternoon.
I slept better that night, though not nearly as well as I would in my own bed. I listened to the brook. Saw an unbelievable array of bright stars dripping down to the horizon. I knew better than to listen for bears -- a ranger had told me you don't hear them unless they're getting into your food. If you hear a big animal, she said, it's mule deer, or it's other campers, stumbling around in the dark, trying to get their bear safety boxes opened or closed. The ones you hear, they're the ones who can't sleep.
Bear photo via ncrs.fs.fed.us.
July 14 was quite the holiday in Echo Park this year. For over 12 hours there were events celebrating the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie, who was a resident of EP back in the day (Preston Street, where Steve McQueen once also lived). At El Centro Del Pueblo's pretty campus, there were bands, free food, free admission, sign-making workshops, organized by the Trailer Trash organization.
My daughter and I arrived late in the day to find an astonishing and delightful feast for our senses in the form of Superbroke. The 15-member band played South American, Irish, and other songs in the manner of New Orleans marching bands. They had five horns, a washboard, guitars, lots of drums, and, perhaps breaking from tradition, a theramin. Its members were dressed as original-character superheroes. Bicycle Man, Super Pickle, Boss Man in scuba mask on saxophone, Veggie Man on bass. Serving the superflow of the universe, fighting the anti-groove. According to the Boss Man, "wherever the superflow needs us, we will go." This means peace gatherings, Hen House studios in Los Angeles, and Woody Guthrie's birthday party in Echo Park.
It might have been merely goofy showmanship, healthy politics and fun, if they music hadn't been so good. Chicken Corner loved every minute of their show. At 6, the group led a march to the Echo on Sunset Boulevard, where a Woody Guthrie celebration show raised funds for a group called Skid Row Art and Activism. According to the doorman, all of the proceeds were to go to Skid Row Art. Scheduled performers included Pete Anderson, Michelle99, Jake and The Americans, Michelle Shocked, and OLMECA.
Meanwhile, the restaurant Taix was setting up to remember the storming of the Bastille with a special menu by Chef Hugues Quintard and the Musical Talents of "Elsie and her Strolling Accordion."
This traditional celebration may have been anti-groovy, but it most definitely was not "anti-groove." Taix knows how to throw a good party.
Speaking of radical, here are some of the verses from "This Land is Your Land" that the kids don't usually sing in school:
As I went walking I saw a sign there/ And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."/ But on the other side it didn't say nothing,/ That side was made for you and me.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,/ By the relief office I seen my people;/ As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking/ Is this land made for you and me?
Nobody living can ever stop me,/ As I go walking that freedom highway;/ Nobody living can ever make me turn back/ This land was made for you and me.
We watched from Park Drive in Echo Park, on the edge of Elysian Park. The Dodger org announced it would be keeping the pyrotechnics close to the stadium, but even from our remove of maybe 1/2 mile the display was worthy of patriotism, appealing to Chicken Corner's and most everyone else's desire to be part of something big. And it was, literally, spectacular. Rainfalls of fire, baseballs (really!), the globe. Genuine, unprimed oohs and ahhs. Thank you, Dodgers! Seriously. If only a Marine Band had gotten lost in Echo Park we could have sung some John Souzas. A crowd of maybe 30 shared a sliver of the park where a full-ish view was possible. People brought their dogs, who were glad to be with their guardians instead of cowering at home.
Earlier in the day I'd been talking to friends and acquaintances about where -- and if -- they planned to watch fireworks. Chicken Corner belongs to a flock of birds who want their fireworks free and easy: free views, free parking, easy in and out. Everyone has their favorite freeway overpass for the Rosebowl or their favorite Chinatown rooftop for the Dodgers' show, or sliver of park. So we were in our free zone, public property, celebrating the official birthday of the United States -- and grateful that we could do it without a ticket for entrance, or a ticket for parking where we shouldn't.