Monday, June 29, 2009

Illustration Friday: Worn

It was very hot this weekend and swimsuits were worn most of the day. (I know, a bit of a stretch.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Illustration Friday: Drifting

Driving along the coast into San Francisco we saw a whole fleet of hang gliders drifting along. I was amazed because there didn't seem to be a hill high enough to launch them. But then where I come from hang gliders jump off the 10,000 foot high mountain and cruise down into the foothills at 5,000 feet. I guess sea level and sea breezes make a difference in lift.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Illustration Friday: Unfold

Amazing how a new born foal is able to unfold his legs and run with his mother within an hour, while it takes us humans 12 months or so to learn to walk.

Mustangs: A living legacy

I took a four day horseback pack trip in the Inyo National forest lead by Craig London of Rock Creek Pack Station. It was an amazing four days in high sierra desert seeing wild horses in small family groups and larger herds.

June 5, 2009
Of course an exciting trip like this would be fraught with travel complications. My husband, who would be looking after the kids for the six days I would be gone (four for the trip and two days of travel on either end.) Got called on a business trip to E3 at the last minute. He arrived home Friday morning at 10:15. At 10:30 I was on the road heading east towards Benton Hot Springs where I would spend the night at a B and B there.

I had a good book on CD, plenty of snacks and a sandwich. I was a bit confused when computerized signs for Tioga pass through Yosemite said, “Closed. Due to snow.” The website said the pass had opened May 19th. But I figured these signs might be more up to date and headed for Sonora pass—which the green signs indicated was open. I was a little nervous when I saw some signs saying “Chains required.” Having never used the chains in TX they didn’t make the move. But even though it was a little foggy there was no sign of snow or any other precipitation. I drove on, and on and on. I’d been winding through pine forests for about two hours when I came to the big “Road Closed” gates shut over the road (and still no sign of snow.) I panicked. When I turned around my GPS wanted me to make a U turn and go back. I stopped into a little mountain general store where they told me that the pass over Hwy 4 was also closed! But they said I could take 88, up by Lake Tahoe.

So I did. I was able to get across on 88 and pulled into the Benton Hot Springs B&B at 10:30 pm. A six hour trip that took 12. Thank goodness it was a really good book on CD! I’d had about 15 minutes of cell phone coverage on the other side of the mountain where I was able to tell the B&B I would be late, and tell my husband what was going on. I didn’t have cell service again for 5 days. Amazing how we get dependant on these things.

June 6, 2009
The pack station met us early Saturday morning on the patio of the B&B. There were nine guests: seven women and two men. Three of us were named Heather. Later in the trip one of the men, the ESL instructor, declared he’d changed his name. We should now refer to him as “Heather 4.” So H-2 and I decided everyone needed a Heather name. She was traveling with her mother. Mom could be “Heather Maker.” The Norwegian Actress in the tent next to mine and across from Heather’s was “Heather Neighbor.” The Korean sailing instructor with his camera always out: “Heather Photographer.” The guitar teacher who labeled herself as a “Quazi-vegetarian” would be “Quazi Heather.” The third Heather was traveling with her cousin: “Heather Cousin.” And of course there was “Heather Cook” for the camp cook, and “Heather Wrangler” (except there were several wranglers—so we had to have Heather Leader and Heather Follower.” And Cody the dog got to stay Cody.

We caravanned our cars out to River Spring, where horses were waiting for us in a lava rock corral. After piling our dunnage: duffle bags, sleeping bags and the like; on a tarp for loading in a 4-wheel drive truck, we were assigned our horses. I was on Mud: a beautiful tri-color pinto, with “metabolism issues,” that was like riding a sofa and walked about as fast as one. With my competitive trail riding training—where you were docked points for riding too close to the horse in front of you, riding in the nose to tail pack string was a strange experience. But there are mountain lions in those hills waiting for stragglers. Better to be safe, even though mountain lions rarely take on an adult horse. The lions are the reason the horse herds in this area are so special and the subject of numerous studies. With natural predation the populations are stable and are not managed with round ups the way other herds are.

There were two wild horses just up the hill from where we were parked. They were very hard to spot, blending into the hillside and moving slowly up the hill. But with some instruction, “there right by the power pole, not the one on top of the hill, the other one.” We were able to see them. As we rode along the ridge above the jeep road wending our way towards camp we had our first dismount and sneak through the bushes drill. We rode in silence. Human voices alarm the horses and send them into flight mode. There are some lead mares old enough to remember a time when Mustangers were rounding them up and a person on horseback means danger. For the younger ones, voices are not part of their known environment. The wild horse MO is run first, ask questions later. So we had to pay attention to a series of hand signals from the wranglers. That first attempt was rocky—as was the rest of the terrain. None of us knew the special knots to tie the horses to the trees—so by the time the wranglers had tied up the horses and we started clattering across the rocks, the horses we’d hoped to see were long gone.

But down in Adobe Valley, under the high voltage power lines running off into the distance, was a set of brown dots. It might have been the power line herd. We ate lunch, which had traveled along with us on back of a mule, and watched the dots through our binoculars elated. Day one and we had seen horses.

The camp at Pizona was a huge surprise. A giant mess tent stood over an organized kitchen and camp cook already at work on our gourmet dinner: chicken burritos with two types of cheese, salad, Indian beans and corn, marinated beef and some kind of potatoes. Set just off from this were the showers—with hot water! A hot water tank was rigged to a propane cylinder and plumbed with hoses to two PVC and tarp shelters each with a garden sprinkler attached overhead. And the privies, while nominally a big hole in the ground, had tarp shelters around them, and a big wooden box with a seat. Not bad for roughing it. Even more surprising was the evening lecture. This was a UCLA Extension class. Craig is a vet with connections to the UC system. A white tarp was hung at the end of the mess tent. And with the help of a small generator, laptop and projector we got a PowerPoint presentation. Many of the photos had been taken by a Czech woman, named Ivana, who joined us on day two. So we learned about the multiple organizations with authority over this region, The Montgomery Pass Wild Horse Range. It spans two states and multiple agencies—there is a group that was formed to have a consistent management policy for these horses. We also learned about the basic structure of wild horse bands, what sort of terrain they prefer and some history of the area.

The Pack Station provided the tents. We each got our own “two person” Coleman job. (Except for those who brought their own tents.) I was a little worried about my tent since it had quite a bit of water inside it when I was setting up my gear. But it rained twice since we’d gotten into camp—and they said a few of the packed tents had accidentally been left out. My tent stood up well and I stayed dry even though it often rained in the late afternoon or at night for the whole trip. Craig passed out extra sleeping bags, and rain ponchos when we’d laid out our dunnage. It was needed. At the 7000 to 8000 feet altitude it got down into the 20s at night. But with my sleeping bag inside the extra I was quite toasty each night.

June 7, 2009
I was relieved last night when Craig said he’d made some horse changes and I was assigned to a horse named Tex. Mud was pretty, but I feared for my legs if I’d had to kick him the entire day. These horses go out pretty much on back-to-back trips. Tex had been carrying riders out from camp as I was riding Mud in. So Craig rotates the riding list to rest horses at certain times. It was also a relief that I got to ride Tex for the rest of the expedition so I didn’t have to get used to a new horse each time.

After a pancake breakfast, we rode out about 8:30 along Pizona creek. Not too far out from camp we spotted a family group, a stallion, mare and young foal, slipping over the next hill. Then we rode for quite a while in silence. Taking in the smell of the sagebrush, the dry caliche dirt and the warm sun on the black volcanic rock. We’d just remounted after a leg stretch and squat in the bushes potty break when Collin, the wrangler in the lead made the dismount sign. We crept through the sagebrush on foot to the edge of the hill we’d been on. Three faces with up pricked ears stared back at us, barely visible above the tall sage. Another family group with foal, (or was it the same one as before? So hard to tell.) They watched us watching them for a few moments and then turned to lope across the short valley and over the next hill. They behaved a lot more like deer than I’d expected from wild horses. Really hard to spot, standing stock still and then easing back into the background with little fan fare.

Lunch was on a hill of black rock overlooking a valley. There were petroglyphs on the rock. One looked like an alien with three legs wearing a space helmet. We’d seen some other with squiggly figures on an outcropping that seemed to also have a mountain lion den. Tex was about 16 hands (over 5 feet at the shoulder), which gets much taller after lunch when you’ve been in the saddle all morning. I was maneuvering him to a rock for mounting when I stepped off and went sprawling in the dirt. My knee stung and I figured I’d bumped it on a rock. It wasn’t until I was in the saddle that I noticed there was a hole in my pants that was starting to turn red. I dismounted so I could take off my gaiter and roll up my pant leg. I called for a band-aid and Kaylin, another wrangler, was right there with one. I was a little worried my knee might swell in the night—but the bump stayed on the surface.

June 8, 2009
Ivana came in last night. Two other wranglers left to go take care of a horse at the pack station, which is across the valley. She’s been here for ten years or so, studying the mustangs. I thought Craig knew an incredible amount about tracking and finding the horses in all that wild open country. But Ivana made him look like a novice. She was very no nonsense with blond hair swept back and an eastern European accent. She showed us a horse skeleton in the lower Pizona spring area. All part of the cycle.
She talked about which bands she’d seen where, and where she thought horses might be today and then we set off in our silent pack string. We rode through an old Mustanger trap. Old fence was still there along the canyon walls and the logs used as a gate were piled under a tree.

Round about lunchtime she spotted a band of five horses. We’d gotten much better at our dismount, tie up and sneak through the bushes routine. The horses were aware of our presence and were about a quarter of a mile off. The stallion trotted out towards us about half that distance—just to see what we were. Then he trotted back and the herd slowly moved along the flat and over a low hill. So we got to watch them for a long time. At first Ivana thought it was a bachelor herd: a group of young stallions that will band together after being expelled by their parents. But after watching the behavior she decided it was a stallion with mares. A bachelor group will “elect” a nominal leader—but all of them would exhibit curiosity about us and approach somewhat when they have no foals or mares to protect. In this case the stallion came out alone and went back lowering his head and laying back his ears at the lead mare to give her the signal to move on.

Later around the campfire Ivana was explaining this exchange and how important the horse’s ears are in communication. She gave a detailed description of different horse expressions and then she said, as matter of fact as the rest of it, “when they put their heads together they are communicating telepathically.” I sat there a little stunned.
One man asked, “How can you prove that?”
Ivana said, “I’ve done it with them.”
Well how can you argue with that? I’ve certainly had moments with my horses that felt telepathic. And I’ve been around alternative horse practitioners that it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit if they said this. But to have Ivana say it with her scientific air and eastern European accent was a bit of a shock.

June 9, 2009
This morning we packed our bags and placed our dunnage on the tarp to be loaded on the truck and then got on our horses. Ivana took us out looking for the power line herd. But when we got in the hills near the power lines, before they run through Adobe Valley, there was little sign of horses. The tracks I saw looked old to me and Ivana said something about the horses not having passed over the ridge in at least a day. She also said the tracks she saw were heading the opposite direction. I guess they’d gone over the ridge but not come back yet.

So she showed us another skeleton. This one had been out for over a year and the scavengers had scattered it quite a bit. The skull was up under a tree while the pelvis and half the jawbone was out in the open. The teeth on the skull and jaw indicated that the horse was quite old when it died, and because it didn’t have the wolf teeth that it was a mare. If the wild horses survive to adulthood they then live quite long lives. About 60% of the foals are killed by mountain lions.

We then saw some horses way across the valley. Again little tiny dots I could barely distinguish as having a horse shape with my binoculars. But at least we’d spotted horses. We could say we saw horses every day.

We rode parallel to the ridge for a while and then stopped. Ivana crept ahead to the edge of the ridge and then motioned us forward. Down below in the River Springs was a herd of 18 horses. We got our lunches and sat and watched them. Three young stallions had a play fight, rearing up and pawing at each other. Some of the horses were taking naps others were grazing. There were also two horses in the River Springs area that were far away from the main group. We were able to watch this herd as we rode back to our parked cars. The herd moved out into the greener area around the springs and came upon one of the lone horses. There was some squealing we could hear and the stallion reared up and then turned and kicked his heels at the lone horse, which then turned and moved away. I guess that lone horse was one of the younger stallions that’d been turned out and was still following the herd at a distance.

It was disappointing to come around the bend and see our cars glinting in the dusty air. The trip was over. But my camera and memory banks were full.

June 10, 2009The passes were open and I had a lovely drive home through Yosemite National Park. Stunning scenery so different from the high desert I’d been in and the bay flats I returned to.
More photos are on my Picasa Album.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Illustration Friday: Adapt

The subject is less about Adapting (although the sea and the shore are constantly adapting to each other as the tides come and go.) But the process of this one does talk about adapting. I didn't do last week's prompt--and I could feel myself veering away from this one as well. A slippery slope of adjusting to not doing art. So rather than start with a thought, that I then translate into an image, and then plan on the paper as a drawing, etc. I started with the word and how it makes me feel. I chose a watercolor crayon from my box at random and with my eyes closed sketched a few lines. When I opened my eyes the wave was there. So from there I decided it was a shore scene. Which I guess does talk about me and my process of adapting to my new home nearer the ocean when I've been land locked the rest of my life.