Sunday, August 27, 2006

Mirrors Are the Bane of Civilization

Steve & Ryan apres fish
Originally uploaded by suzipaw.
Have I really not blogged since the 13th? Oy. Well, I've been away from electricity recently as well as consciously trying to stay away from the laptop during this, my vacation week, a difficult feat if you live with the blog-obsessed being I do. But it's helped me thing of other things besides my job, which I desperately needed to do. I nearly checked my work email today, and decided against it, that's how badly I needed a break. So as my vacation comes to a close, let me recount to you my late summer story of late:

Camping at Iron Canyon was once again wonderful. The trip up was uneventful and the scenery eerily unchanged despite our two-year absence. In Big Bend, which must refer to the Pit River rather than the town since there are just a few buildings and a couple hundred inhabitants, Cecil Turner's stage was still set (more about Cecil later), the trio of men were still gathered under the oak tree on the way out of town surrounded by piles of debris, and the horrifically trashed and crumbling homes just beyond were in even worse shape if such a thing could be possible. Cows still grazed contended and handsome in the irrigated pasture overlooked by the rustic mansion at the turn-off to Iron Canyon reservoir, and we passed several logged areas, which always makes me sad. The road had been improved, which made us a bit nervous--would there be more people at "our" campground now?

We pulled in late Friday afternoon just after my mom and stepdad arrived and despite several other groups already there, were able to secure our favorite sites. We were a little worried about so many other campers, particularly the ones with the quads and penchant for firing paintball pellets, but everyone was actually reasonably quiet. Plenty of other dogs off-leash so Rex's reversion to wilderness mutt went smoothly. After Monday, all the other campers cleared out, and we had the place to ourselves for nearly two days. Just doesn't get any better.

The one unfortunate thing (and there always has to be at least one)--the lake temperature this year was too cold for swimming. It's always been cold, but this time it was downright uncomfortable, even though the air temperature was a little hotter than usual, which would normally make swimming an even greater imperative. But I couldn't handle it, though dreaming of floating for hours on an air mattress in the middle of a sugar pine forest had sustained me back at the cubicle for months.

And hence my title for this blog. Without a daily dip to remove at least the top layer of dust and camping grime, and without regular interaction with human who bathed, I could feel my appearance priorities changing. We needed ice after the second day, so M and I went into Big Bend for supplies, and I actually was seen in public (well, just by the cashier, but still) sans makeup, bra, special facial moisturizer, or deodorant, and with dust-crusted feet and fingernails. I hadn't brushed my hair since leaving Santa Rosa. I think I was wearing a hat at least. According to "Deadwood," everyone leads a dirt-filled life out in the wilderness--I guess after a while you just get used to it, but I was surprised how quickly I adjusted. I didn't have access to a mirror, so why care? It was my companions' problem if they were horrified by my appearance. What was life like before there were mirrors in every bathroom, cities with reflective panes of glass everywhere, compacts, rearview mirrors? What would life be like if you could only see yourself through the eyes and reactions of those around you? What would that do to your self esteem?

It was such a relief to ponder that and not be preoccupied by work.

It was funny that so many little things kept me so busy during our camping trip that I didn't have time for the knitting or reading I brought (I'm deep into "Julie and Julia" now, however, and have to force myself to stop reading every night so that I don't finish it off in one fell swoop). There was lots of sitting by the lake or wandering along the shore to be done, and morning camp chores like breakfast and clean-up and discussion of the evening meal and then the actual cooking of said meal. We eat like kings when we camp, that's for sure, as does Rex, who not once touched his kibble, to the delight of the squirrels. M and I picked blackberries one morning for the Dutch oven cake that never quite got baked. My brother and his son were with us for the first two days, and my stepbrother and his gal came up one night for dinner and fishing, so we had visiting to do. There was water and ice to fetch. And the one miserable attempt to swim.

Mom and I had a nice ritual of taking our chairs and glasses of wine to the lakeside every evening to watch the sun go down and the reflection of the trees on the darkening water grow more intense, waiting for the men to return from their fishing forays. On our last evening, we saw not one but two bald eagles flying across the reservoir. We saw an osprey one morning too, and deer running along the opposite bank. No bears or other carnivores were sighted, thank goodness.

One of the afternoons, M and I took a field trip to Burney Falls, something I'd wanted to do for a while. I'd been there before, but read that the "nose" might pop off at any time. It's a beautiful falls, and so cool at the base.
Rex Takes in Burney Falls
The trip out was a good reminder that civilization was still spinning around us, but we still had a little time to hide out. We listened to NPR for about 20 minutes on the way back, just enough to get pissed off, and then turned it off to better focus on the forest we were traveling through.

On our way to Burney Falls, we stopped off at the hot springs in the area. It's a beautiful spot on the Pit River, with a series of rock and concrete "tubs" of varying temperatures built into the bank, overhung with trees for blessed shade. Hot tubbing in the heat was a little odd, but without swimming prospects, I was determined. When we arrived, we were the only ones there, but our delight at a bit of privacy was short lived--a family arrived before we'd even taken our first dip, and another couple arrived soon after that. It felt so good to be surrounded by water! I actually had the courage to submerge myself in the river flowing by the hot pools.
Hot tubs on the Pit River
My last full day there was spoiled a bit by a stomach bug that never got to the vomiting stage, but nevertheless made it hard to be active. And maybe it was just fine that all I could do was swing in the hammock with my arm over my eyes for a few hours that afternoon. It was a hot day, which didn't help, but M rigged up a shower in the afternoon, and those five minutes with hot clean water and a little soap went a long way towards healing my bug.

On the last morning, I was the first one up, and while it was still cool, Rex and I took one of the kayaks out for a little paddle around. Rex enjoyed it quite a bit, and it was nice having him for a companion. Except for the part where he scrambled onto the top hull of the kayak while we were still mid-lake. I was so worried that he'd lose his footing on the slippery hull and take a tumble into the chilly water which would mean part of the journey back with a cold, soaked dog, at best--what if I somehow capsized the boat while trying to pull him in? Anyway, that didn't happen--I paddled as smoothly and quickly as I could to the nearest shore, which is exactly what he wanted. He hopped off and we wandered around for a bit, though I think we both were a little spooked by the strange rustling in the bushes, made by a creature who didn't care about being heard. Hadn't my brother seen a bear here a few years ago? We hightailed it back to the kayak

On our way out of town, dirtier than ever after packing up, we finally stopped to say hello to Cecil Turner. Cecil has one of the loveliest houses in Big Bend, and in the front yard is a covered stage filled with sound equipment and flanked with large painted posters of him, one of him at a fairly advanced age on a skateboard, and another with his "singing strings." I've wanted to stop ever since we first started going to Iron Canyon, but never took the time. Til now. I approached the stage with my camera, and he came out from behind an enormous speaker to greet me. M pulled in and got out too and we chatted a bit. Cecil seemed to be on the far side of 80. He told us a little bit about his life, how he was an engineer and helped to build the dams in the area as well as highways in Southern California. He had fifty acres and didn't have a car or utilities--he apparently was able to generate his own power. We also were treated to a little proselytizing, which I wasn't too keen on. When we told him how we'd wanted to stop for years but never were able to find the time, he did mention one bible story that I was unfamiliar with (there are many, however)--that busy people were like the stampede of hogs running over the brink, suspended in space, falling for eternity. Or until Judgment Day, I suppose. He veered off into how the scriptures were coming true, inferring that the end was nigh. We listened politely for a while longer, then took our leave, hogs over the precipice.
Singin' with Cecil

But the dirt experience of camping was not left behind upon our return to civilization, oh no. M had suggested that we have the carpets cleaned while we had a few days off together, and I agreed. And while we were at it, we should pull out the appliances, clean and reorganize the closets. And god help me, I agreed.

One thing I've noticed about getting older--I just don't have the stamina I used to. The first day went pretty well, yanking everything out of our house and wiping down the walls and vacuuming frantically before the carpet cleaning technician arrived. The neighborhood construction on two fronts has really driven in the dust--I'm considering only opening the windows on weekends from now on! I'm not sure whether to be glad or sad that all of our earthly possessions can easily fit onto our back deck. The carpet guy was two hours late, so by the time he was done, it was dinner time, and since the carpets had to dry, we caught a late movie ("Talladega Nights"--no bad if you like Will Ferrell). Back home by midnight, we moved in the bed, left clothing, laptop, firearms and the like out in the fresh night air and fell asleep.

The putting-back of our crap has taken twice as long, partly because we're really trying to clean it (when was the last time you cleaned *under* your furniture? Exactly!) and partly because we're judging it. Is it worthy to be in our clean new home? The area rug I purchased five years ago is not making the cut. It's pleasant enough a pattern given how cheap it was. But, as M put it, it has a lot of cat barf embedded in it--not to mention dust, pet hair, etc. We've also resolved to join the 21st century, getting rid of the videotape machine that doesn't really work and the blank video tapes. We have a few recorded ones that we'll keep but not many. Likewise I had resolved to ditch my audio cassettes, but I was just looking at them and now I'm wavering. All those mix tapes from my college days, song titles written in the hands of my friends…they have a history. And it irks me that if I want the music I'll have to re-buy digital copies. Well, I'll have to sleep on it. In my lovely, nearly dust-free home.


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