The Further Adventures of Smokey

If my battery holds out, I hope to share two more camping anecdotes. Probably won’t be near civilization to post them for at least a couple of days.
I am back in the Kern River Canyon after a 10 day hiatus during which I took some friends who were visiting from Michigan to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and a short trip down the coast. But that is another story…
We got back here the other night and found a campsite to the east of our previous one and much closer to the Kern River. These two anecdotes both concern my 7 year old Blue Heeler, Smokey. I am not neglecting my senior Aussie, Shadow, but she is wise enough not to start fights with rattlesnakes or the other brash (foolhardy?) things which follow. If I were to write camping anecdotes about Shadow they would all be a variation of “we went for a hike, Shadow stayed close and didn’t cause any problems.”
Smokey is a cow dog, when in the car she barks at every cow she sees. Until last month she had never met a cow in person. Since she had adapted so well to our life of travel I decided to let her meet some cows as a reward. So last month I tracked down some cows in the national forest and turned her loose on them. She instantly knew what to do with them, she circled to their far side and gently pushed them to me. I circled away and she nipped at them and they turned to follow. I eventually ran away and called her along (did I mention that I am afraid of cows?)  That is the background for the first anecdote.
This morning the dogs woke me up at about daybreak to let them out of the tent. Which I did and then I lay back down contented, just loving life. It wasn’t long before Shadow started growling…a rumble low down in her chest that tells me she is serious. She is 11 and this was only the forth or fifth time that I’ve heard her do it.
I grab for my glasses and the tent zipper at the same time and i hear a crashing sound from outside. I get the tent open just in time to see a half dozen cows come careening down a 30 foot sand embankment and into camp, with Smokey at their heels. Three cows, two calves and a bull. One cow lets out a bass “mew-oo” that I could feel in my bones. Evidently she had become separated from her calf. I scrambled out of the tent shouting and trying to get them out of camp while scrambling up the embankment away from them. They left out the drive and down the road, the calf-less cow continuing to call out and thankfully Smokey let them go. I am dismayed that Smokey thought it was a good idea to round up a small herd of cattle and run them through camp first thing in the morning. Incidentally, I saw the wayward calf slink around camp to join its mother about 15 minutes later.
I am blown away by how innate this behavior is in Smokey. Shadow, a sheep dog, would herd people when she was young, but without reinforcement, the behavior was extinguished by the time she was 2. The behavior has to be stored in their DNA, what other explanation could there be? It is totally amazing that Smokey would just naturally know what to do with cows. And, while I know that I am anthropomorphizing, I am certain that she had a self satisfied look on her face.
That was a frightening start to the day, but nothing compared to the fear I had for that dog late this afternoon. Like I said earlier, we are much nearer the river in our current camp. So this afternoon we bushwacked our way down to the river. It was difficult to get down to the river because much of it is cut through rock and has a 20 to 30 foot sheer rock embankment. We eventually found a spot that we could get to with about 20 feet of dirt only 2 or 3 feet above the river. Shadow generally likes the water while Smokey avoids it at all costs. I stripped and put my feet in but the river was too cold and fast to get in. Evidently too fast for Shadow too, as both dogs were hanging over the bank getting a drink. Smokey lost her footing and into the river she went. At first I laughed as that dog hates the water. But my schadenfreude was quickly replaced with fear as she was quickly carried down stream. 20 feet and there would be rock faces and she would not be able to get out. While I wasn’t afraid of her drowning, I don’t think dogs drown very easily, I was fearful that it would be difficult to find her or that she might end up on an inaccessible rock or who knows what. I was terrified for that dog. Somehow she ended up on a rock 20 feet from shore. She didn’t stay there long but made a jump for shore and swam strongly to the embankment where she couldn’t get out of the water. I scrambled over the rocks and got a hold of her collar and pulled her out of the river. She was not a happy dog and there was nothing remotely self satisfied on her face. She spent 15 minutes shaking and rolling in the sand before she wanted anything to do with me or Shadow.
I would imagine that she likes the water even less than she did before. Keep in mind that this is the same dog who canoed with me 350 miles down the Missouri River and never once got wet. Coming up from the river we had to traverse a field of poison oak, I can only hope I don’t get a full body dose of itchy rash, both dogs are covered in it and we will sleep in a pile tonight.
I both love and hate Smokey for her bravery. While I admire her heart, I fear that it will be the death of her.

I still hope to write this trip up in depth when I get access to a keyboard, tapping it out on my tablet is a serious drag.

Just to add, I was only gone from here for 10 days but during that time Spring ended and full on Summer started. The flowers are gone and the grasses are dying. It is 15 degrees warmer and we will have to move further up into the mountains soon.
I am coming up on 6 weeks of off and on camping and each day I feel less like returning to the bay area. I am so over traffic and the hectic lifestyle and the opulence and poverty that exist side by side. The chorus for a song that I recently wrote begins: “This concrete ain’t no jungle, it’s a prison don’t you see.”

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Camping Anecdote

So I am still camping in Southern California. The Mojave became too hot so I migrated to the Sequoia National Forest East of Bakersfield. I am on the rim of the Kern River canyon, maybe 1200 feet above the river itself. I think these are the Piute Mountains. At some point I when I am near a keyboard I will summarize the trip. As of now I am tapping this out on my tablet, so a short anecdote will have to suffice. Probably won’t be back in civilization to actually post it for 4 or 5 more days.
I took a 4 wheel drive trail off of highway 178 and slowly navigated about 5 miles up to the canyon rim, bumping and scraping my way along. I found a pretty little knoll with gnarly live oaks, wild flowers galore, buckeyes, and not too many cows, and with lots of squirrels for Smoke to chase (my fear being that that dog will chase one off a cliff.)
After setting up camp and making coffee, I kicked back to relax and enjoy the bird songs and the view. Not too long later I hear a motorcycle putting up the hill. As he nears camp I wave and he puts into camp. As he pulls his helmet off, he says, “Dude, you totally ruined my whole day.”
Somewhat takin aback I inquire what I could have done to ruin his day?
And he replies, “I bought this trail bike for Christmas, today is my first real ride. I loaded it on my truck this morning and drove as far as I could up this hill, then I unloaded the bike and continued up the hill. I’m riding along thinking this is really getting away from it all, I’m riding where very few people get to go. Then I come around a bend and what do I see? A f*#king Toyota Yarris. The only way you could have made it worse was if you asked where the nearest Starbucks is.”
I pointed out that I already had coffee or I might have. I offered him a cup, which he accepted, and we talked for maybe half an hour. Then he said he had to get up the hill a ways so that he could at least tell his friends that his new trail bike made it further up the hill than a Toyota Yarris did.
I didn’t see him come back down the mountain so he must have found another way down, or he’s still up there.

Just to add before posting: got 2 or 3 inches of rain Tuesday and Wednesday, it came with 35 mph winds with 75 mph gusts. Holy cow, I think hurricanes sustain 72 mph and above. It was some crazy wind, but the tent withstood it.

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Saved That Dog’s Life

Generally I don’t swear when writing, but here I’m attempting to capture the moment.  If you have sensitive ears you may want to read elsewhere. You’ve been warned.

Background: I am currently camping down in the Mojave Nature Preserve,  tapping this post on my tablet. I won’t have Internet to post this for a few days.

I was hiking a wash at the edge of the Cinder Cone Lava Bed. I was hiking the wash because the lava bed is hard on the dog’s feet. Shadow (my senior Aussie) was earning her name faithfully at my heels. Smokey (my feisty Blue Heeler) , as is her wont, was 30 feet out on my flank looking for jack rabbits.
Most of my hiking is early in the day or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat. But today was different as we had been to town for supplies and Internet. So it was a hot sunny hike. I had just found a desert tortoise shell and stopped to photograph it, wishing I was on BLM land so that I could take it with me. Shortly after resuming our hike, Smokey started barking. I called for her to come, but her bark became more shrill, more insistent, more a yip then a bark. I scrambled up the wash’s bank to see what her problem was,  I could partially see her behind some scrub creosote. As I rounded the bush I saw that she had something cornered at the base of a mesquite tree. Just as it registered that it was a coiled snake, the snake struck. Smokey pulled back and still yipping went back after it.
“Holey Shit!  Did that snake just bite her? ”  Running now, I close the last few feet and grab her by the back haunches and jerk her away. My mind was racing, ” fuck, how long do I have?” 2 miles back to the car and a solid 80 miles to the nearest vet in Barstow. The snake is coiled and rattling as I back away with Smokey in my arms. The snake was green!  Who ever heard of a green rattlesnake?
As I ran from the snake with Smokey in my arms, Shadow noticed the snake and went to investigate. I frantically call her away and thankfully she listens. I run maybe 50 yards down the wash, somehow sure the snake was chasing me. Once safely away, I knelt and searched Smokey for signs of a bite. She has a double layer coat and even though I could find no sign of a bite, I couldn’t be sure. I decided to carry her back to camp, keep her heart rate low and watch for symptoms once back at the car. I used to carry a snake bite kit in my back pack but it had long since dry rotted and been discarded. Not that the suction cup would work on a hairy beast. I think cutting the bite to suck out the venom only works in the movies.
I set out jogging… and remembering. Before I had left on this trip I had mentioned to a friend that I have seen a bunch of rattlesnakes in my life, but had never run into one when the dogs were with me. Did I jinx myself? I don’t believe in magic, only coincidence. And what is up with a green rattlesnake? I’ve seen Western Diamondbacks in the Western deserts and Timber Rattlers in Appalachia, but never heard of a green rattlesnake.
My luck changed as I neared camp. I ran into a naturalist studying the desert flowers. She asked what was wrong with the dog, and I explained between huffs as I fought to get air into my lungs. She advised that it was a Mojave Rattlesnake and that they are indeed green. She had me put Smokey down and asked how long it had been. I told her 20 minutes or half an hour. She laughed and told me to quit worrying, had Smokey been bit she would be showing signs by now. She went on to explain that the Mojave Rattler is the most aggressive and deadly of the rattlesnakes (it wasn’t clear if she meant all rattlesnakes or just the three species that reside in the Mojave desert.)
I gave that dog a hug and she growled at me and I knew all was right. Freaked out by the experience, I was seeing snakes in every shadow. We packed up and moved camp 5 miles north.
Moral of the story is to keep a better eye on that dog.

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Waldeinsamkeit is an untranslatable German word translated literally as “forest loneliness”, but it has a deeper meaning (which is what makes it untranslatable).

Roughly pronounced: vad-ein-sum-kite

Waldeinsamkeit means the feeling of being alone in the woods (nature), but it also implies a connection with that nature. The transcendentalists understood it, Thoreau claimed to need “the tonic of nature”, while Emerson wrote a poem (see below). It was a major theme in the German literary period known as Romanticism (1800-1850), who often wrote of returning to the glory of nature.

While obscure, even to German speaking peoples, I think it is an important part of keeping us human. While not named explicitly, waldeinsamkeit is a major theme in Christian (and other religious) history. In today’s fast paced hectic lifestyle, full of car alarms and bleating horns construction sounds and sirens, we could all use a little more waldeinsamkeit. Even a brief respite from the modern industrial milieu can aid in the restoration of calm and connectedness. As promised, here is Emerson’s poem:

by Ralph W. Emerson

I do not count the hours I spend
In wandering by the sea;
The forest is my loyal friend,
Like God it useth me.

In plains that room for shadows make
Of skirting hills to lie,
Bound in by streams which give and take
Their colors from the sky;

Or on the mountain-crest sublime,
Or down the oaken glade,
O what have I to do with time?
For this the day was made.

Cities of mortals woe-begone
Fantastic care derides,
But in the serious landscape lone
Stern benefit abides.

Sheen will tarnish, honey cloy,
And merry is only a mask of sad,
But, sober on a fund of joy,
The woods at heart are glad.

There the great Planter plants
Of fruitful worlds the grain,
And with a million spells enchants
The souls that walk in pain.

Still on the seeds of all he made
The rose of beauty burns;
Through times that wear and forms that fade,
Immortal youth returns.

The black ducks mounting from the lake,
The pigeon in the pines,
The bittern's boom, a desert make
Which no false art refines.

Down in yon watery nook,
Where bearded mists divide,
The gray old gods whom Chaos knew,
The sires of Nature, hide.

Aloft, in secret veins of air,
Blows the sweet breath of song,
O, few to scale those uplands dare,
Though they to all belong!

See thou bring not to field or stone
The fancies found in books;
Leave authors' eyes, and fetch your own,
To brave the landscape's looks.

Oblivion here thy wisdom is,
Thy thrift, the sleep of cares;
For a proud idleness like this
Crowns all thy mean affairs.


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Higher Oath

In an article concerning Edward Snowden’s exile in Russia being extended, Senator John McCain is quoted as saying: “Mr. Snowden violated an oath, and that is a fact…”

Since I am old enough to remember when McCain was still considered a patriot, I would like to remind him of an oath that he, himself, took:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God. (emphasis added)

I am not sure if NSA contractors take a similar oath, even if not, it is all of our civic duties to uphold the Constitution against enemies, even domestic ones working under the color of authority. It can certainly be argued that Snowden upheld this oath, even as McCain does not.

Figures such as McCain, Feinstein, and even Obama (an alleged constitutional scholar) could learn much from the patriotic actions of Edward Snowden.

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American Nations by Colin Woodard

Just a quick book recommendation. “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America” is a 2011 book by journalist and author Colin Woodard.

The book begins with the Euro invasion of North America and continues to the present day, with a dash of futurism in the epilogue. While I don’t agree with 100% of the book’s conclusions, it does offer an apt paradigm through which to view national politics.

Here is a map of the 11 (cultural) nations discussed in the book–click on map to make larger.

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Season’s Greetings

Another year over, and a new one about to begin. A time of  assessment and of contemplating the past as well as the future. The year was dominated by the Snowden leaks, while personally it was one of the more boring years of my life. Still exiled to the island of California, that restriction is still 11 months from being lifted.

Whatever your views and beliefs, I hope you have a most enjoyable holiday season. May your paths be warmed with laughter and may happiness light your way.

I am leaving Friday for a 10 day camping trip to Death Valley. Me and my dogs as well as my brother and his dog. This will be my 3rd Christmas at Death Valley (not in a row) and I am looking forward to it. I haven’t seen any of my family in nearly 2 years, so some good quality time with Mike will be much appreciated. The dogs are looking forward to some good  back country time (I am hoping Smokey doesn’t beat up Fido).

So, for all who are reading this; friends, family, and friends I have not met yet; hope your holidays and great and I am looking forward to quality time in the new year!

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John is a self emplyed technologist living in Berkeley, CA. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, camping, travel, and exercising with his dogs.

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