Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Hike

Somehow, hiking at Sibley Regional Park seems to be a good way to spend a sunny Christmas Day, when my various physical issues allow it.  My photo site shows that I did this in 2009, too.  Last year, no, but this year the new knee is doing great, the ten year old knee is cranking right along, and the weather is clear and cold.  And smoggy, sigh - we haven't been able to have a fire in the fireplace for days.  You can see the smog obscuring Mt. Diablo in this photo from Volcano Trail:

I set out to hike around the Lafayette Reservoir, always a pretty trek; but when I got there I couldn't park.  On Christmas Day, of course, there was no human taking money for parking; and the machine was apparently taking people's money and not producing a parking voucher.  By the time the 3 of us in line realized this, the last of the coin-metered spots was gone.  Phooey, I thought, I'll go to Sibley; it's on the way home anyhow.

I've recently learned how to get into Sibley the back way, up Old Tunnel Road to the Quarry Road.  Here is the Quarry Road:

This looks flat, but I assure you, it isn't - the Quarry Road is roughly a 10% grade, and you climb it for a 390 foot elevation gain in about 3/4 mile.  This takes you to the beginning of the Volcano Trail; and it took me 50 minutes, mainly because I kept stopping to pant.  (Asthma.)  Sibley has several dead volcanoes and I've never gotten up to them before, so I was determined to do it.

The back end of Sibley is astoundingly silent.  You can hear small birds rattling around in the underbrush.  Way off in the distance you hear a dim roaring sound that represents the rest of the Bay Area; but for much of my 2 1/2 hour hike there was nobody there but me, and no sound but my steps and my breathing.

There were other people there; in the first half of the trip I ran into roughly a dozen people and 4 dogs.  This is dog walking country because for much of it you can let the dog run off-leash.  I was leaning over putting my jacket in my backpack, when suddenly I had a tan muzzle in my face - somebody's friendly mutt.  The owner apologized; no harm done.

There were more people (and dogs!) around in the second half of the trip - they came in from the main park entrance on Skyline, where you don't have to climb a continuous mile to get anywhere.  There had been horses quite recently but I could only see their traces.

I walked part of the Volcano Trail (another 75 foot elevation gain for a total of a little over 450 feet), stopped carefully at all the numbered points of interest and read the descriptions in the park map.  There's no steaming caldera, these are dead volcanoes.  There are several very dark red tuff formations (heated by the lava, says the map):

There's no great philosophical message here, just a pleasant three-mile hike on a brisk day.  I got some nice bird photos at the beginning of the Volcano Trail, here's one:

You can see the rest of my photos in my new gallery Christmas Day at Sibley 2011.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Interpreting A Christmas Carol

During a recent online discussion of whether Dickens' A Christmas Carol is really a "great activist story for the Working Class" (imagine an adaptation inspired by Occupy Wall Street), I was asked offline to post my opinion of the book, by someone who isn't familiar with it.  This seems a reasonable thing to do on Christmas Eve.

For those not familiar with the story:  Ebenezer Scrooge is a very rich and successful Victorian businessman, not noted for his philanthropy.  ("Are there no prisons?  Are there no workhouses?")  On Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley - who tells him that he (Marley) is damned forever, and he (Scrooge) will also be damned forever unless he changes his ways.  Marley has arranged for Scrooge to be visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, as a way to encourage him to change.  In the course of the visits he does change, and the book ends happily.  Terrible synopsis.

First of all, if you really have never read this book, read it.  It isn't long, it's available at every library, and it's a world classic.

Second, although the book is full of poor working people being treated poorly by the rich, the book isn't about them.  They're there because that was the world Scrooge lived in.  If you want a slightly different take on the same period, read the detective stories by Ann Perry, especially the ones about William Monk - they're set in the 1860s, about 20 years after Dickens' book, but it is the same world.

The center of A Christmas Carol is Ebenezer Scrooge, who has great wealth, but no happiness and no friends, at least in the sense we usually speak of friends.  He is tolerated at best and feared at worst, even by his relatives.  All his adult life he has focused on himself, his wealth, and his mastery (he's clearly proud of his skill at business).  At the peak of his career, that's all he has.  The ghostly intervention of Jacob Marley is meant to give him a second chance - a chance to reconsider whether his wealth and power are really so valuable that he should devote all his attention to them.

The three Ghostly Visitors show Scrooge events from Christmases in his past, from the Christmas being celebrated at the time by people he knows, and from a Christmas which may be celebrated in the near future.  In the course of all this, Scrooge changes his mind about charity and compassion - as Dickens means him to do.  In changing his mind, he changes his present and his future, and is happily absorbed into a society that values him for his willingness to be charitable.  I don't mean that he's willing to give away money, although he does; I mean that he comes to view other people, poor people, as human beings like himself ("fellow passengers to the grave"), worthy of his compassion and his help.  In Dickens' day, people still understood "charity" as being derived from caritas, or altruistic love of others.

The real statement of A Christmas Carol is that the worst of us can change.  No matter how evil we are, if we truly choose to do so, we can become something better.

I'm on thin ice here, because I haven't reread the book yet this year; but the really interesting thing about it is how "non-Christian" it is.  I don't recall that Scrooge changes because he's what we would now call "born again."  There's no mention of accepting Jesus as his savior.  Jesus is mentioned, if at all, in passing as a model of how a compassionate man would act.  Scrooge is "saved" because he chooses to change, and does change.  It is a story of personal redemption, after what must be the weirdest intervention in fiction.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bears, Oh My

No lions or tigers, I'm sorry to say.  Almost the first thing we did in Whistler was to go on a "bear viewing tour" led by one Mike Allen, a local self-taught bear researcher.  This involved driving around Whistler Mountain and then Blackcomb Mountain in an SUV, looking for bears, and stopping to take photographs when we found them.

I think there may have been some misunderstanding about the best time to find bears; we found I believe one bear on Whistler Mountain in over an hour of searching; then we drove over to Blackcomb Mountain and found four of them - two hanging around the luge track (Whistler hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics)!  Wilderness bears, right.  Nonetheless, it was a very interesting afternoon, Mr. Allen was extremely knowledgeable about bears, and we saw places we'd never ordinarily get to.

This is the best bear photo I got, if not the most handsome bear:

This scruffy soul was foraging around uphill from the luge track - in fact, on the luge track platform.  The photo is sharp because we were only about 20 feet from him; he never even looked at us.

It's harder than you think to photograph bears, especially on an overcast day.  You have to use telephoto, which reduces the light available for the shot, which makes it grainy; and you're pushing the limits of the image stabilization (I refuse to carry a tripod around), so it's also kind of fuzzy.  This one, of the "matriarch of Blackcomb Mountain," came out pretty well:

Mr. Allen said she's lived there over twenty years.  The other good shot I got was this guy, a yearling who was foraging around below the luge track, near the road:

The rest of my bear photos are at my gallery Bears!.