Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Her tour to the Lakes was now the object of her happiest thoughts..."

"And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone -- we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations..." - Pride and Prejudice

August 22-29, 2008

Computing in Cabin

It's always fraught trying to get away, because I never know quite what work will send me for the weekend. Since things are slow in August, and I already did one big book this week, I thought it was possible they wouldn't send me anything for the weekend...or something small. But no, it was a 550-page manuscript on Friday evening, and we were to leave for Mammoth on Saturday! I figured I'd read it Friday night, and do the write-up from the hotel where we were staying at Convict Lake on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, since they said they had broadband. Fortunately, though, the book turned out to be a very fast page-turner, young adult fantasy/science fiction (a genre in which some of the best writing in the US and UK is being done now), and I read the manuscript through, enthralled - and was done reading by midnight. So it occurred to me, why not write it up, and then be able to leave on Saturday with my work all finished and behind me. So that's what I did, and was done and in bed by, well, er, 6 AM. Slept till 2 PM, then Paul (who had a pulpy SF book for work, but with no pressing deadline) and I went to Amelia's for Italian sausage soup and cappuccino. No need to pack, since I'd done that earlier in the week; Peter, Paul and I hit the road by 4 PM and had a very pleasant drive, arriving at Convict Lake, 300 miles from L.A. and a little south of Mammoth, by 9 PM. Of course it was too dark to see the lake, but I've seen in many times - a dark blue deep crater lake, with a beautiful forest of trembling aspens around it (next month, it will turn all golden). There was some historic desperado gun battle in the canyon back in the 1880s, which is how it got its name.

Convict Lake, by artist John Budicin

I've always wanted to try staying at one of the tempting-looking cabins there, where there's a fine restaurant. It turned out, though, that the cabin was just OK, not great: you do feel deep in the back country, the stars were amazing, and there was a nice porch, but the accommodation itself was a bit bare bones. We didn't sleep very well, but next morning, after a cappuccino in Mammoth, got on the road to head for May Lake in Yosemite by noon. Stopped for breakfast at Tioga Pass Resort where they make great berry pies. May Lake is a bit past the Yosemite entrance, and we reached the trailhead and put on hiking boots and got ready for the mile and a half climb to the lake. Disappointingly, after only a little way on the trail, Peter felt dizzy from altitude and decided he didn't want to push himself or take the chance. This was sad, but he was certainly wise; May Lake is at 9,300 feet, we hadn't had much time to get acclimatized, and with his problematical health he has to be sensible. This was sudden, though, so we had to do a quick rethink. We decided to take him to the nearest lodge or motel where they had room, and he could stay there while Paul and I went back to May Lake. Peter would be safe and comfortable, and he likes nothing better than a couple of days alone in a pretty place with his books anyway. (On this trip he was reading the Argonautika by Apollonios Rhodios, and E.A. Abbott's A Shakespearian Grammar. And I was reading the perfect book for a lake holiday, the charming and fascinating Unruly Times: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Their Time by A.S. Byatt. Also started The Wit in the Dungeon, a biography of Leigh Hunt.)

Peter with his books

We backtracked to Tioga Resort, but they only had one expensive room, for one night. So we drove back to the pretty little town of Lee Vining, at the junction of Tioga Pass Road and Mono Lake, about a 30 mile drive from May Lake. I remembered a motel where I once stayed with our friends Mike and Leelee - the Gateway, comfortable and a bit old-fashioned, with windows and porches looking over the desert and the big blue salt lake, a very evocative view. And what luck, they had a room for two nights, at a very reasonable motel price! Peter was simply delighted, he could be comfortable and very happy there, and we were all very much relieved. We settled him in quickly, and incidentally Paul and I were able to lighten much of our gear, since we were carrying his stuff too. We turned back toward May Lake around 4:30, reached the parking lot by 5:30 - and without Peter, we literally ran up the uphill trail very quickly, Paul got to the top in half an hour, I did it in 40 minutes - and we were at the lovely lake in time for the 6:30 dinner! We were so glad the reservation wouldn't be wasted, and we'd all have a good and safe time, in our various ways.

May Lake

Dinner was pleasant, turkey and sweet potatoes and blueberry cake, but we had the feeling, as before, that these Yosemite High Sierra camps simply are not as nice as our beloved Bearpaw in Sequoia, which is much smaller, more remote, yet more luxurious. May Lake is a lovely location, but too many people walk these Yosemite trails, and the camp holds 36 guests, which is simply too many. Our tent cabin slept six, three cot beds against each wall, with candles for lighting, and a wood stove. That meant we had to sleep with three strangers. The other family was very sweet - a computer software guy around 60 from Wisconsin, his park ranger wife, and sweet 16 year old daughter, who ran cross country and was interested in biology. Lovely family, but it's a pain to have to make small talk and try desperately to make NO noise during the night! Paul and I were thinking that Peter really would not have been comfortable or liked it at all. Last year when we went to May Lake, we had a 4-person tent all to our three selves, and that was a very different thing. As a matter of fact neither Paul nor I could sleep. Every time you tossed and turned the cots creaked and you knew you were waking everybody else because their cots creaked too! Awful.

Paul at May Lake camp

Finally around 2 AM Paul got up with his flashlight and tiptoed out to go to the bathroom and I followed him, since two leaving didn't make any more noise than one. We sat by the lake for half an hour, and this was gorgeous: there was no moon, but a blazing Milky Way thick with stars, and we were both astonished to see something we had never seen before - the stars were reflected on the glassy black water! I never even knew stars could *do* that, I thought only the moon! Gorgeous. I googled to see if there was a word for the phenomenon, but couldn't find any, though Peter did mention that he has used "acker" in a poem that's in his book: the word means a ripple, a furrow, or disturbance of the surface of water; a cat's paw. (OED)


Pale green's last gasp before slate grey: treeline:
An azure cirque set in a strand of aspen
Deepens and deepens till half nine
A sickle moon highlights the ackers on the blue-black lake:
Glimmering light on moving water;
Shimmering water and a dancing silver snake.

(This poem has complex indentations, but I'm sorry Blogspot does not permit me to replicate them! To see it properly, you'll need to buy the book, Nature, Nonsense, and Foreign Parts, which can be obtained by sending $12 to Parchellan Press, P.O. Box 184, Santa Monica, CA 90403)

We went back to the tent and slept eventually but were pretty groggy at breakfast. I couldn't even eat much because I had an altitude headache, but I took aspirin and after our tent mates left (they were hiking to Glen Aulin, another of these Yosemite loop camps), both Paul and I went back and hit the sack till 11 AM.

Paul in the meadow below Mt. Hoffman

Feeling much better, we then did the hike I'd been looking forward to, and climbed up to a beautiful meadow below Mt. Hoffman. It's dry and sere this time of year, grasses all russet, but sprinkled with asters and the striped gentians I'd been particularly longing to see again, remembering them from last September. Little white trumpetlike flowers with black stripes, they weren't fully out yet and took some searching for.

A Striped Gentian

The meadow was so beautiful and peaceful with songbirds and the freshest sweetest breeze. Perfect. Then we walked down, and sat by the lake for awhile; had a piece of blueberry cake and tea, and I left the camp around 2:30. I really didn't want to endure another night like that, and missed Peter. Paul, however, stayed at May Lake. He figured he'd enjoy being at the beautiful lake alone, he was going to read his work book, make chitchat with nobody, enjoy the chicken dinner, sleep as best he could, and then we'd meet him at the May Lake parking lot at noon the next day.

Denny in Meadow

So I hiked down to the lot in half an hour, then did the gorgeous drive through Yosemite over Tioga Pass to Lee Vining, with vertiginous stunning spectacular mountain views all the way. It's about 30 miles, and the drive took a little under an hour. I drove up to the motel about 4 PM, knocked and went in - and there was the dear Peter, his surprise and happiness at seeing me writ all over his face! It was worth driving down just for that. He was quite happy, having had a good sleep and done some nice reading. I'd come down because I was anxious about him, but I wasn't expecting the lovely afternoon and evening we did have - really like a romantic date! I drove Peter back to Tioga Pass for mixed berry pie, since he'd eaten almost nothing the whole time I was gone, and then we went for a small stroll by the lovely navy blue stream at the bottom of Saddlebag canyon. The altitude was still bothering him, so just sitting by the stream was enough outing for him really. Then we did the lovely drive back to the motel. I hadn't felt like using the wretched primitive freezing communal May Lake camp shower at all (they give you one wash cloth that's supposed to serve for a towel), so you can imagine how I enjoyed a major soak in the motel tub; and then after being reunited with broadband, we went out to a superb dinner at one of the most character-filled places in the Eastern Sierra. That, improbably enough, is the famous Mobil station at Lee Vining, where they have a spacious and wonderful casual restaurant overlooking the lake. I had the special, rack of lamb with a kind of mustard pistachio crust, garlic mashed potatoes, and spaghetti squash - absolutely the best lamb I've ever eaten, bar none - and Peter had a sensational seafood jambalaya. Such a good dinner, while watching the fading pink sunset over Mono Lake. Then we drove back to the motel for more reading and comfort and a good sleep after so much driving.

Saddlebag Lake resort, Mt. Dana in background

Paul on Saddlebag Lake boat

Waking up on Tuesday morning, we decided that Peter would wait at the small resort at Saddlebag Lake while I fetched Paul from May Lake. So we drove out before 11, it's a dozen miles to Saddlebag, and it was lovely at the lake, though dizzying, being over 10,000 feet. Peter settled on the porch with boysenberry pie and sun brewed iced tea, and I drove the additional 20 miles through Yosemite back to the May Lake parking lot, arriving only five minutes late. There was Paul, and he told me all about the remainder of his time at the lake. He mostly read his work book by the lake, and had a little climb to the ridge; he shared the tent with a soldier and another family, all of whom were nice, but we've decided we don't want to go to May Lake (or any of the other Yosemite loop camps) again; it's just too awful sleeping in a tent with perfect strangers, and there are just too many people tramping through those camps. Paul did go out again in the middle of the night and saw the starshine on the lake, even better than before. Then at breakfast, a couple had caught a few trout, pan cooked them and offered them to the guests. Not many people wanted any, which Paul thought surprising since the super fresh trout were incredibly delicious. But the girl who caught the fish with her boyfriend said she could never eat anything she'd seen wiggling a few minutes before! Paul wanted to retort, why don't you catch tofu fish then, but didn't, and contented himself eating them instead. Paul and I drove back to Saddlebag to meet Peter, and had pie and sun brewed iced tea. Then we all drove on to Mammoth and checked in at Tamarack Lodge.

Peter at our Cabin

Pretty quilted bed

Looking out of the cabin

Oh, it is so beautiful at Tamarack, the lovely little luxury cabins by the pristine blue lake, and ours is the prettiest little woodsy dollhouse ever! It's a dear little wood-paneled cabin, with an extra big king size bed with a pretty patchwork quilt, windows looking out at lake and mountains, a wood burning stove, a nice kitchen with three windows looking out into woods. Wonderful bath and shower too - and a porch where you can sit out and breathe in the beautiful air. It's simply paradise. Peter and I are staying at the cabin, while Paul has a nice room in the main lodge building. So we spent a few hours just enjoying the place, and then around 7 drove back to Lee Vining to the funny Mobil restaurant, to show it to Paul. He said it was even better than he thought it would be. I had elk chops, just fantastic: all the elk I've ever eaten has been like hockey pucks, but these were thick succulent chops, perfectly cooked pink inside, braised in a delicious pepper and berry sauce, simply to die for, with the garlic mashed potatoes and spaghetti squash. Peter and Paul had the superb spareribs. We enjoyed every bite, and then stopped in the bookshop at Lee Vining and bought some cards of local scenes by Chiura Obata, a Japanese artist and professor who was interned in WW2. Then we drove back to town under the stars, and stopped at the market for bottled water, iced tea and things to put in our cabin's kitchen. Now Peter and Paul are internetting in the lounge, catching up on the convention, and I'm in the darling cozy little cabin.

The Mobil restaurant

Peter at the Mobil

Wednesday. Slept in, didn't get up till noon, then went to the bagel shop and brought back lovely onion bagels and whitefish salad and cream cheese/lox shmear; we ate it in our pretty cabin kitchen, and then we all went to the local coffee house for capuccino and more internet. When we'd had enough of sitting indoors, we drove through beautiful wild Lundy Canyon, where a dirt road winds through thick canyon forest. Peter sat in the woods while Paul and I did a quick walk to the lake, saw a beaver dam, and turned back. Then we drove back to Tamarack Lodge and relaxed and read until a glorious celebratory dinner in the Tamarack restaurant: Peter and Paul had escargot and I had onion soup; then I had Tasmanian trout and Peter had filet mignon and Paul had a beef dish - followed by Grand Marnier sherbet with chocolate sauce!

Paul on the Conness Lakes trail

Last night, as Jane Austen said, "I slept to a miracle and am beautiful today." Our bed is so enormous and comfortable, and the woodsy cabin so silent, that I slept for nearly 9 hours deliciously. I had another bagel and whitefish, but Paul had a hamburger on the hotel's porch looking at the lake, while Peter kept sleeping. He wanted a real rest day, no running around, and Paul and I wanted a real hiking day, so we went our separate ways. Paul and I picked up some cappuccino and left around 2:30 to drive the 35 miles to Tioga Pass - such a spectacularly beautiful mountain drive, I can never do it too often. At Saddlebag Lake we caught the 3:30 boat taxi and were on the far side of the lake ten minutes later. We wanted to walk to the Conness Lakes, but it's an off-trail hike, not well marked at all, and you don't find the lakes as often as you do find them! We didn't find them today, but it was still a most truly glorious hike! Because of the good sleep (and maybe the bagel) I felt exceptionally perky, and we walked alongside lovely Greenstone Lake most of the way, where I enjoyed the asters and paintbrush, and the few little purple gentians that were just starting to come out. An autumn flower; one of my dearest favorites.

Purple gentians

We followed the lake to the end, kept following the stream, and then saw we'd have to climb over a ridge about 500 feet high and over a waterfall to get to the first Conness Lake. It was quite a scramble, the top being a real rock climb, but it was so beautiful and such fun. The entire time we felt so deliciously exhilarated and invigorated and refreshed and exalted - as if walking by mountain streams at 10,000 feet and climbing ridges was what a human was born to do. It was, in fact, the joyful epitome of everything I love most about hiking, and a good reminder of why I *do* love it.

Denny on the Conness Lakes trail

I was also particularly thrilled to find that my skill and delight in rock climbing has not abated an iota - even with a somewhat problematic knee that had arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus a couple of years ago. The knee does bother me when walking downhill, whenever there are large stone stair-like things to jump down, that particular movement of twist and jump is unpleasant for me, but oddly the knee doesn't mind rock climbing at all! At a time of life when one is examining one's physical diminutions, it was nice to feel I was as much of a monkey as ever.

The Ridge we Climbed

We clambered around so much looking for the hidden lake, that we missed our scheduled return boat taxi. We had a choice, to take the last boat of the day, at 6:45, or walk around the lake back to the car, about an extra mile and a half. We did that and a brisk refreshing walk it was - I suppose we did around 5 vigorous miles today altogether - though it was slightly annoying that the boat pulled into the dock just as we did. Then we piled into the car and sped back to Tamarack with the late afternoon alpenglow sunshine painting colors of gold and pink on the mountains. We got back at 8 PM, and Peter was a bit worried as we were so late, but we got right back in the car and drove back again to Lee Vining for dinner at the fabulous kitchy Mobil station restaurant! They both had spareribs and I had prime rib, all with garlic potatoes and spaghetti squash. Great dinner, and we drove back to the hotel in happy spirits. Paul has a play to read and write up tonight, and my work *could* have sent me something, but mirabile dictu, they didn't, and I can enjoy our last evening in the mountains reading about Leigh Hunt...

Long drive home Friday through the Mojave desert - even with air conditioning it's glaring - but it's nice, as always, to be home.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Golden Afternoon: Lunch with Mouseketeer Doreen

Fifty years ago - don't you love stories that start that way? The Mickey Mouse Club was the biggest children's TV show in the country, maybe the world. It was also one of the first, for in 1955 when it began (it ran for three years), most people were just starting to get black and white televisions for the first time. We got our first TV that year, and the Mickey Mouse Club was the first show I watched regularly. When something is new, and you are young, the impression can be indelible, and for me and my friends, the world stopped every afternoon for an hour as we ritualistically settled in front of the TV to see the Mouseketeers. The show featured cartoons and nature shows and serials, but it was the Mouseketeers, the troupe of talented dancing and singing children, who were the whole point. We admired them, picked out the ones we liked best, obsessed over them, and for three years of our lives we watched them grow up. They were like friends, but they belonged to the most enviable club in the world. Any child watching longed to be a Mouseketeer. To be picked out from all the children in the country for your talent, and go to work at the Disney Studios, and belong to a group like that - it seemed unimaginably wonderful.


Annette Funicello quickly became the most popular and famous Mouseketeer. She stood out on black and white TV with her curly black hair, her sweet expression, and her undeniable ethnicity - there'd never been a child star before with a "foreign" name and look. Everyone loved Annette, but she wasn't the most talented: that was Darlene Gillespie. Darlene could sing like a bird, and was the star of many of the musical numbers. Then there was Doreen Tracey. She wasn't as exquisitely pretty as Annette, or as talented as Darlene, but she had a special sparkle, a joie de vivre, an enthusiasm and bounce that made her irresistable to watch. She was the personality kid who epitomized the whole group. For years I dreamed of being a Mouseketeer, and dancing up there with Annette and Darlene and Doreen and the others. They appeared in serial stories too, "Spin and Marty" which took place on the Triple R Ranch, and "Annette," with Annette playing a country girl. It was all pure magic, one of the best (and only) sheerly uncomplicated pleasures of my childhood, and I never forgot one bit of it.

Over the years, I'd tape the shows in reruns - I knew this was a strange eccentricity in a supposedly sane and sophisticated adult, but I never lost pleasure in watching an old Mickey Mouse Club tape. Reassuringly, the Mouseketeers were frozen in time; they never changed. There were no troubles in that world, and it was always amusing to watch the 1950s teenage life, with dance numbers taking place in soda shops. Last year, I was thrilled to get a writing assignment to watch filming of The Jane Austen Book Club, because it took place at the Disney Ranch where "Spin and Marty" was filmed. The ranch is otherwise off limits for visitors, and I loved seeing the rolling hills that hadn't changed a bit since Tim Considine and David Stollery rode over them on horseback. I ended up calling the story "A Golden Afternoon," referring back to the Disney song from Alice in Wonderland (which itself refers back to a phrase in the actual book.) And then, even better, a few months ago, I finally met my first real life Mouseketeer: Doreen.

Doreen as Mouseketeer

It was while I was preparing for the Harry Potter Lexicon trial. I had just met with the nine foot tall lawyer in the pink suit at the Warner Bros legal office, and as I was leaving, I noticed a name plate - Doreen Tracey. Suddenly I remembered reading that Doreen worked at Warners. I'd never sought her out, because there must be 10,000 employees, I'm seldom on the lot, and besides, it would be admittedly a kind of wacko thing to do. But I looked over, and there, sure enough, sat Doreen. She works in Intellectual Property, and when I exclaimed at seeing her, she spoke to me very graciously, obviously used to this happening. When she heard how well I remembered her, and that I worked in the Story Department, she asked me to email her and we'd plan to have lunch. Doreen is now in her sixties, but still recognizably very much herself, perky, vivacious, warm and friendly. We exchanged a few emails, but when I wasn't used in the Harry Potter trial, our lunch got put off.

Until yesterday, when I spent another Golden Afternoon, having lunch with Mousketeer Doreen! And she's wonderful: warm and down to earth and smart and still very recognizable as herself - a gregarious, outgoing, energetic, bright, creative, savvy lady. She drove out from the Valley to come see me, and ran up against the summertime Santa Monica parking snarl, but I rescued her at a gas station and took her to Amelia's, the little Italian family-owned sandwich shop where I have lunch every day. We had cannelloni bean and ham soup, and shared a meatball sandwich and almond torte, with cappuccino. And we talked a blue streak for nearly three hours, just like any two lunching ladies of a certain age with a lot of history and interests in common! She told me some inside stories about the Mouseketeers (wild horses would not persuade me to reveal them publicly, except to say that the Mice are all really good friends to this very day), she signed all my memorabilia, and we talked about our lives, and how she plans to write a book called Confessions of a Mouseketeer. I invited her back to my house to see our books and she was kind enough to buy Peter's new poetry book. I was left with a wonderful feeling of connection with the dreams of my childhood, and that I really do have a friend at last who's a Mouseketeer.

Mouseketeer Denny