Archive for month: August, 2012

Llama Drama: An Opportunity for Practice

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Family, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Meditation, Mindfulness - Tags: , , , ,

All Black Llao Llao Grazing by Matlock Lake

Arriving in bliss with the llamas and our dogs, high in the John Muir Wilderness, we chose a relatively off the beaten path lovely lake to set up camp for our week.  While the Kearsarge Pass trail gives access to both the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail and thus sees lots and lots of backpackers this time of the summer, Matlock Lake is a hidden gem.  We are the only ones here.  It is in a basin surrounded by gnarled weather bent White pines and granite outcroppings against a backdrop of jagged minarets.  From here we can explore Flower Lake,  Gilbert Lake, Heart Lake, and Bench Lake.

Packing with llamas gives us some luxuries backpacking must deny, such as a commodious tent, extra thick sleeping mats, a hammock, a table and two low Crazy Creek chairs, my small inflatable boat the “H.M.S. Sassenatch” launched summers ago on Crabtree Lake into Bench Valley, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and other delectables.Feeling immeasurable gratitude for all their exertions in making this possible, I wanted to offer the llamas something in exchange.  Down by the banks of the lake I saw a wonderful garden of fresh green bunch grass, their favorite.  I could liberate them from their stake out line, up the required 200 feet from the lake, and let them enjoy an hour of grazing while I paddled across Matlock Lake in my little boat on a reconnaissance mission.

Paddling H.M.S. Sassenatch with Beau and Tashi on Matlock Lake

Jim had warned me that that he had seen Kalmia Polyflora,a toxic form of heather,  the same noxious neurotoxin that had killed Llao Llao’s grandmother Hopi on a pack trip many years ago.  I had seen a bit of that plant down by the lake but felt that there was so much good bunch grass available for the llamas that they wouldn’t eat it, especially if they were only allowed to graze there at the lakeside for an hour.

Last night we climbed into our tent early, read for awhile, buttoned Tashi and Beau into their bright red fleece sleeping jamis and fell fast asleep.  That is, until I was awakened by my muse to write ” The Zen of Llamapacking in the Wilderness” as Jim and the dogs snored on.   I finished writing just before turning out my headlamp to go back to sleep.  But not quite!  I heard a disturbing noise.  Was it a llama choking and sputtering?  I knew it could be the worst.  Terrified, I pulled on my camp mocs and jacket, and rushed out of the tent to discover my worst fears realized.

Llao Llao was frothing at the mouth, just like his grandmother Hopi had done before succumbing to paroxysms of neuromuscular trauma and death.  OMG.  At least this time I had fully stocked our llama emergency first aid kit and was prepared with activated absortive charcoal, a camelback and tube for intubating a poisoned llama, as well as an injectable bio-sponge to absorb toxins from the gut.

At first, so chagrined that I had not heeded Jim’s admonition, and dreading the inevitable “I told you so.” I hastily mixed the granulated charcoal in water in the camelback and tried to administer it by myself to the downed llama.  As soon as I approached Llao Llao with the hose to intubate him, he got to his feet and I knew I couldn’t wrestle 325 lbs of even a sick llama by myself.

I had no choice but to swallow pride and wake up Jim for help. Torn between terror about losing Llao Llao and dreading Jim’s reprisals, I called out imploringly to him.  Aroused, he snarled, “I knew it!” but pulled on his pants and shoes and came to my side.  Realizing we had to figure out a way to immobilize Llao Llao’s head and incredibly strong neck, I haltered him and led him to a large granite rock, pulled his head down onto it, wrapped the lead rope under and around the boulder and handed the rope to Jim to immobilize him while I tried to get the hose down his throat and into his stomach, not his lungs.  Not easy at all, as naturally he fought with all his might and when I did snake the tube in he tried to grind it up with his molars.  He didn’t try to bite my hand inside his mouth per se, but I did get some cuts but somehow managed to pump quite a bit of the bladder full of charcoaled waters into him.  We released his head and watched for awhile, until we figured there was nothing more to do for him but pray.  Charcoaled water all over my clothes and feet, I looked like a refugee from a coal mine.

Jim couldn’t resist telling me that I had shown way too much hubris.  Meekly, I replied that I thought it was misguided compassion more than stubborn pride. Nonetheless, deeply sobered, I realized it was definitely time to practice, to breathe, to meditate, to embrace humility and calm, not get feisty and defensive.  So, exhausted, we returned to our tent and fell back into deep slumber.

The following morning at daylight we checked on our patient and to great relief found him standing and even tentatively chewing his cud.  To be extra safe, remembering Hopi,’s prolonged fatal poisoning ordeal, we repeated the procedure this time with the orally injectable bio-sponge.  The whole drama was such a practice opportunity!  Breathing in my humiliation, breathing gratitude that a potential tragedy had been averted, and that Llao Llao would not die, I realized that compassion and gratitude must be tempered by good judgement and common sense.

Confirming the crisis had passed, I was able to feed and water the llamas then stake them out far from the lake and the heather.  Assured they were cared for, secure and safe, we were able to actually take a great day hike, climbing to the top of spectacular Kearsarge Pass at 11,804 ft.  Surrounded by jagged minarets, we found a new vantage point overlooking our breath-takingly beautiful high Sierra world!

Jim & Me with Tashi & Beau on Kearsarge Pass

 

 

 

A String of Pearls: Summer’s Beautiful Days

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Family, Gourmet, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Mindfulness, Self-Improvement, Spiritual, Travel - Tags:

After yesterday’s potentially life-threatening “Practice Opportunity” with our llama, which, gratefully he survived,  we have had day after day of bliss and beauty.  No Internet, no phones, no appointments , just clouds  to  watch forming and reforming across the Cerulean blue sky, hours drifting  lazily by. Nowhere to go.  Nothing to do.  Don’t do something, just sit there!

Beautiful Summer Days Roll By Like Pearls

Time in the high Sierras, for me, is like the most replenishing meditation retreat. I practically never look at my watch to see what time it is.  I find myself living solely following the rhythms of nature and of my body, awakening to the sun, we nap or rest or swim in the lake  when the sun is high and hot. We go to bed when it is dark, and find ourselves sleeping deeply, like hibernating bears, snug in our den (tent). I wake up, refreshed, remembering dreams more vividly, finding my dreams far more compelling and meaningful at high altitude.  I have time lying in the tent to reflect on them, adding the gift of reverie and introspection as the sun slowly rises.

Swiss Fondue and Fresh Veggies, anyone?

Because this campsite on Matlock Lake is so gorgeous and blissfully private, we decide not to pack up, pull up stakes and move on as we have usually done in the past, but we’ll stay here and take day hikes to the surrounding lakes and passes.  Thus days have a simple routine defined by carrying water for the llamas and the dogs, filtering it for ourselves,preparing meals (grain in each llama’s grain basket, dog food in the dog’s little bowls, making coffee, serving granola and fresh fruits in our breakfast bowls), sitting, meditating, then reading, talking softly, holding hands and intermittently smiling appreciatively, then washing the dishes, carrying more water, sitting again, watching cloud formations magically shift and observing the change of the light throughout the day from bright fresh dawn to the warm alpenglow following sunset.

We hike or fish when it is cool and we feel invigorated.  The days literally glide by according to our own bio-rhythms and the patterns of nature, stringing a sweet Sierra necklace of pearls of each present moment, one after the other.

                                                                            Summertime, and the Livin’ is Easy...

 

The Zen of Wilderness Llamapacking

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Meditation, Mindfulness, Pets, Travel - Tags: , , , ,

This is our 21st summer packing with our Llamas into the High Sierras.  Over the years we’ve had ten llamas: Machu, Pichu, Hopi, Mica and Sierra all now walk the next world; Miwok and Jambo, the parents of Llao Llao and Zuni, and Tio Sequoia are with us now. 

Over the years we have packed into the Lost Coast of Northern California, all over the central Sierras including the Dinkey Wilderness, Black Cap Basin, Red Mountain Basin, Bench Valley, the Silver Divide, out of Florence and Edison Lakes and Courtright Reservoir, and into East Lake out of Bridgeport, commemorating the place Jim and I met 32 years ago, backpacking before we had our llamas.

This summer we decided to cross the Sierras and head in near Mt Whitney from the jagged and dramatic Eastern slope, planning to hike over 12,000 ft Kearsarge Pass into the Rae Lakes Basin.  It sounded fabulous until some of our llama buddies warned us that there is no grazing and no dogs allowed across the pass in Sequoia National Park, only in the Sequoia National Forest on this side of the pass.  We can get along with no grazing as we can carry sufficient food for our llamas, but no dogs?  No Tashi and Beau?  That’s a non starter.  So we decided to stay with the plan to drive from our ranch near Yosemite, south across the Sierras past Lake Isabella, to Lone Pine, boarding the llamas overnight at the Lone Pine High School as guests of the Future Farmers of America.  We would drive north next morning to the 9000 ft Onion Valley Trailhead out of Independence, and trek up toward Kearsarge Pass, but not across into the National Park.  That plan assured maximal happiness for us all: our five llamas, Jim and me, and our two athletic backpack-carrying  poodles, Tashi and Beau, a perfect recipe for the Zen of Packing with Llamas into the John Muir Wilderness!

So it was that we set out three days ago, and so it was that I am breathing and smiling  deeply and broadly here in the gorgeous High Sierras.  What is truly Zen about this experience is that packing up the llamas, each with their colorful packs is a meditative ritual, and setting out on the steep ascent is a devotional exercise.  Jim takes the lead with the two girls, Miwok and Zuni and Sequoia, followed by Tashi, with his own little “Search and Rescue” lime green pack.  I follow with the two boys, son Llao Llao and his father Jambo.  Puppy Beau elects to bring up the rear carrying his own small blue pack of dog food and toys.    Climbing ever higher, one step at a time, slowly, slowly into ever thinner air, we ascend 1600 feet, switchback by switchback over a beautifully maintained trail.  With each breath, I feel Llao llao’s gentle breath cooling the back of my neck.  As we fall into a rhythm, I turn on my iPod and listen to Buddhist chanting, the meditative strains of Avolokiteshvara, and fall into a perfect Zen reverie.

Matlock Lake/ Near Kearsarge Pass

We are back in the high country we both so love, this haven of natural beauty and restorative calm.

Peace Is Every Step.  I have arrived.  I am home.

Guest Blog from Ranger Rick, Kings Canyon National Park

Categories: Adventure, Family, Hiking, Mindfulness, Relationships, Travel - Tags: , ,


                                           One of the Rae Lakes in the Eastern Sierra

Rick Sanger has been a dedicated ranger in Kings Canyon National Park with the National Park Service for almost twenty summers.  As our neighbor Jim Van Verth’s college roommate years ago at University of California at Santa Cruz, in the off season “Ranger Rick” occasionally comes to visit Jim Van Verth in Aptos, where we met him last year.  It was Ranger Rick who, after meeting our llamas, inspired us to plan this year’s summer High Sierra llama trek into the Rae Lakes in Kings Canyon National Park.  So, on August 1,  after driving truck and trailer the day before across the Sierras to Lone Pine from our “Twin Brooks Timber Llamas Ranch” in Auberry, CA, Jim and I will load up Miwok, Zuni, Sequoia and Jambo’s packs as well as little packs on our poodles Beau and Tashi, and head up out of the Onion Valley trailhead over 12,000 ft Kearsarge Pass, giving access to the spectacular scenery of the Rae Lakes , where we’ll spend a week camping, hiking, fishing and refueling our souls with Sierra energy.

Serendipitously, just yesterday, Jim Van Verth sent me this update from Ranger Rick about a 72 year old Sierra hiker which I invite you to enjoy.  I loved it because my Jim Wheeler at 75 has been backpacking in the Sierras since he was 12 when his dad made him a backpack out of plywood and canvas!  That same dad, Doc Wheeler, invited me on my first backpacking trip 32 years ago and introduced me to his son Jim.  The rest is all in Pulling Up Stakes: Stepping Into Freedom.  And I just celebrated my 72nd birthday–so let’s hear it for “Hiking Endless Summers”!

“Hello All!!!  I’ve started my summer season this year, Suzanne and I are stationed at Charlotte lake, a change from the past 3 years.  It is pictured above.  Sorry I don’t have stunning images to send, but I do wish to offer up this story from a hike last week.

On my way up Glen Pass I noticed an older man descending from above me very slowly, being especially careful each time he weighted his left leg.  When we finally were close enough, I asked him if he was OK.  “Oh, I’ll be fine,” he said in a gentle southern accent.  “I’m 72 years old, I’ve been hiking in the Sierras for 60 years, and I think this is just Mother Nature’s way of telling me I should start to slow down.”  We introduced ourselves, Paul Kirk was his name and he thought my name sounded familiar but we weren’t able to place where or why.  He then explained in the most eloquent diction how beautiful the sierras are, and how what he valued most in himself he felt had come from his ventures into these mountains.  “whatever my wife finds attractive in me, I am sure it has come from these mountains.”  He said, “I encourage many of my associates to come and hike here, but I warn them that the person who leaves these mountains will not be the same as that who entered, but will be the better for it.”  

            I really wished I had a recording of his speech, it was so articulate and impassioned.  He then related a story of a book he had purchased when he was 7 years old, a book filled with symbols and figures that he knew nothing about, but he was keen on mathematics and purchased the book for 50 cents along with its book cover “It was 1947, and covers of that sort were quite in vogue at the time.”   He was as curious about the cover as the figures in the book – it depicted a most striking mountain scene, the likes of which he had never seen or imagined growing up in the south.  He asked his mother about the picture, “what mountains are these?  What can you tell me about them?” His mother took a long look at the picture, but confessed she was unable to tell him anything about the picture.  She did offer though, that it could be a painting, and that the artist was perhaps trying to portray the most beautiful mountain scene he could conjure, one with the most perfect proportions – the way mountains should look. 

It was years later, that he began hiking in the sierras.  And it was in Evolution Valley, stepping out of the forest to view McClure Meadow that he stopped in his tracks, instantly recognizing the view in front of him as the very same as on the book cover from many years ago!  “I was with my brother, with whom I’ve hiked throughout my life. But now he has suffered several heart attacks, and I am sorry to say is not doing well.”

            “That” I said, “is where I know you from!  I met you and your brother 10 years ago on the San Joaquin with your wives.  You had a 50 year old picture of the two of you skinny dipping there, appropriately blurred in photoshop of course, and you had returned to the area to find the exact place where the picture had been taken!”

“Yes,” He said, “you are correct. That was me.”

 

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