Friday, December 31, 2010

Where Should we Ring in the New Year?

We didn't expect to have a choice as to where to spend New Year's Eve, but we did. The original plan was to remain at the cabin and to ring in the New Year with the town of Markleeville and all it's 200-300 residents or, more likely, by the comfort of the warm fire in the cabin, just the four of us.
Then, news came of another storm approaching. It would arrive during the night of the first day of the New Year and bring steady snow throughout Saturday in the mountains, and rain in the Bay Area. As much as we wanted to stay, we didn't look forward to hauling all our stuff out of the cabin, through a half foot of fresh snow. Packing and unpacking in the snow and rain was not the way we wanted to celebrate the New Year. So, we took our time today, getting our last look at blue skies and trees covered in beautiful, white snow. It was hard to leave knowing that the kind of rest we get at the cabin is hard to come by at home. And the scenery in our little piece of the Sierra Nevada? Unbeatable!
It was a smooth ride home with no delays except for a little traffic heading into the city on the Golden Gate Bridge. Looking at all those cars coming in to celebrate the New Year in the city, we tried to remember the last time we partied on New Year's Eve. We couldn't remember...


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hot and Cold

In my previous life, when I lived in Japan, I learned the art of bathing. Those who know me may question whether or not I learned anything at all because I'm not exactly the cleanest person around. Doubt me not, faithful reader, I tell no lie. While in Japan, I fully embraced the cultural ritual that is the taking of a bath.
It's hard to explain what this ritual entails to those who have not been to a Japanese bathhouse or hotspring but like any ritual it involves a series of almost esoteric actions and movements. I came to love bathing so much that I tried to visit a rustic, mountain onsen (hotspring) every weekend and was a regular at Tokyo's best neighborhood bathhouses and spas almost every night of the week.
The sure sign of a good bathhouse is that it has not one, but two, three or even more distinct pools. I have bathed in all kinds of pools, each rich with its own unique blend of minerals or scents. Green tea baths, electric baths, I've tried them all. Still, the two essential pools at any respectable bathhouse are the boiling hot pool and the icy cold pool. To go from one to the other is like no other experience. Freezing my body into stasis then reviving it in scalding waters was something I grew to love.
Over here at Grover Hotsprings, there is no cold pool. There's a swimming pool, but it's waters are warmed to a comfortable 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, those who seek the icy cold experience need not look any further than the hot pool's edge where, in the winter, the benches are covered in snow. Hot to cold, cold to hot. With temperatures under 10 degrees Fahrenheit, it was cold enough outside to freeze Mom's hair -- wow! With our visit today, we feel completely revitalized!

A Perfectly White Christmas it Has Been


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let it Snow!

It's December so there was snow at the cabin when we drove up but, surprisingly, it was less snow than when we left during Thanksgiving week. Apparently, snows are heavy here but all it takes is a few warmer days to melt a lot of it. During the winter, though, if we're here for more than just a few days, we are pretty much guaranteed a fresh snow.
Yesterday evening, the snow began to fall and continued all night long. Throughout the night, we could hear echoing thuds as snow fell from the trees and onto the roof of the cabin. These mini-explosions shook the cabin and had us sitting up in bed more than a few times.
Then, this morning, a familiar scene: white everywhere. The entire valley was covered in snow. Even tree trunks that were brown yesterday were white and frosty now. Incredible and yes, our car impressed us by driving easily through a fresh foot of snow! We are not missing that Nissan Sentra too much...



Wally's Hotsprings

The warning we give anyone considering a visit to our cabin in the winter time is this: the water is turned off during the winter months. This means no running water which translates into: no showers and no toilets. Anything leaving the body has to be carried out. For some, this is reason enough not to visit during the winter. We're okay with it because although we may not have hot water and showers, there's plenty of hot water nearby. Grover Hotsprings are just a few minutes out our door and lots of other hotsprings, rustic and resorty alike, can be found north and south of us.
This time, we decided to try the fancy Wally's Resort in Genoa, Nevada. With a history dating back to 1862, we had very high expectations. The Nevada Historical Marker at the resort gives one an idea of just how luxurious these springs once were. They were built for an astounding $100,000 back in 1862 and had 11 baths, a ballroom, and gardens. For some reason, the spa resort sold for only $5000 in 1896 and functioned as a hotel until it burnt down in 1935.
Maybe we would have been impressed if we had visited the West's first hotspring resort back in 1862 but the 2010 version left us underwhelmed. Rai enjoyed the pool and kiddie hot tub, Ko took his first dip in hot waters, and the moutain scenery was beautiful. Still, we expected more. We'll stick to our rustic, local spot: Grover Hotsprings!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

All's Well in Markleeville

It's so good to be back at the cabin and our new car is doing just fine in the ice and snow!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all! We are off to the cabin early this morning and may not return until the New Year! A safe and joyful holiday season to everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Getting into the Spirit of the Season

You know those times you're on the road and, all of a sudden, unexpectedly, traffic slows to a crawl? Then, 10 or 15 minutes later, you see the source of the slow down: a car with its hazards flashing, right in the middle of the road. Every time this has happened, I wonder (out loud even!) what were they thinking? Didn't they know that they were almost out of gas? Or, didn't they know that their car was a beater that was on the verge of complete breakdown? Who are these people that hit the road seemingly oblivious of the fact that their car is not up for the trip?!
Yesterday, we were those people. At an incredibly busy intersection in downtown San Francisco, our car stalled and wouldn't start up again. And, it didn't just stall at the light or by the curb. It stalled in the very middle of the intersection effectively blocking traffic going both ways. It was embarassing and it took a good long while for the police to arrive and some random bystanders to help us push the car out of the intersection, to the curb. Then, the tow truck. And finally, a cab ride home for Ashe and the boys while I rode with the tow truck driver. It's a good thing that Grandma and Grandpa had driven their fair share of beater automobiles over the years. Anticipating this imminent event, they had given us AAA Membership cards for Christmas just one day before. What timing! Free tow, here we come!
Our faithful Nissan Sentra has served us well and we've shared so many incredible journeys together. That Sentra has taken us to places most people wouldn't take an SUV. Really. Ask us about it sometime. We've moved boulders with it to clear forgotten fire or logging roads. We've built log bridges for our Sentra to cross otherwise impassable gulches. This car has done so much more for us than 99.9% of economy cars can even dream of doing.
Still, this event convinced us that it is about time for a new car. It seems we were the only ones who didn't know it. Even Rai saw the need for a new form of transportation. For several weeks, he's been searching for reindeer here, there, and everywhere. Anything, even a flying sleigh without a roof, must be better than this junker Mom and Dad are driving around!
But, it's Christmas and Christmas is all about shopping so we dashed out the door just before noon on this Christmas Eve and did some of that last minute Christmas shopping -- we bought a new car, a 2008 Honda CR-V EX in a great metallic green. We finally have some cargo room and we haven't seen the likes of a clean car interior like this one since 1999.
So, where a short 10 hours ago, we felt betrayed by our Nissan, unable to make the holiday trip up to the cabin, we now are ready for any snow and ice that the Sierra Nevada can throw at us. Markleeville here we come!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

On Christmas Day, 2007, one of the San Francisco Zoo's tigers jumped out of her enclosure, attacked and killed a zoo visitor who had been throwing sticks and pine cones at the tiger. This kind of event, although extremely rare, always provokes discussion on the nature of zoos and whether or not keeping animals in zoos is humane treatment. Aren't we inviting such violent animal behavior by caging them up? Wouldn't every zoo animal do the same if given the chance? Do we have a right to take away an animal's freedom purely for the sake of our study and entertainment?
Searching for an answers to these questions, I inevitably always return to the words of Yann Martel. Early on in his novel 'The Life of Pi' Martel offers a convincing argument in favor of zoos. Life in 'the wild' is a stressful existence for most animals. Their days are consumed with the search for food and the evasion of predators. Every single day is a battle between life and death. In the zoo, food and safety are guaranteed. The two most important and all-consuming issues in a wild animal's life are taken care of for them in a zoo and although they may not have a great deal of space in which to roam freely, this is not something they would do in the wild anyway.
It surprises most to learn that wild animals, in opposition of the romantic notion that they roam freely over great distances, actually keep to very small areas and that the search for food and the evasion of predators limit their movements to something that in no way resembles freedom.
A few days short of the three year anniversary of the fatal tiger attack, we visited the SF Zoo thinking: these animals are happy; we need not worry about being attacked unless we do something to interfere with the stability and calm of life in their enclosures. The polar bear with blood red stains all over his white fur did have us concerned for a moment, though...