Saturday, October 26, 2019

Larch Madness

You might be forgiven for not noticing them most of the year.  In the summer they blend in with the other evergreens, contributing to the sweep of green on a mountainside.

Just wait till fall.  The larch is an evergreen tree that loses its needles for the winter.  But before that, they turn golden.

My employee and I drive out to clear a non-ambulatory hunter road.  Knowing the larch will be spectacular, I make him stop at strategic points where I can attempt to capture the blazing hillsides.

Some of us think the larch are more spectacular this year than usual.  Is that possible? We aren't sure, but it seems that way.

We might not have the fall colors of the Midwest where I grew up, and the needles are already beginning to fall.  In my yard they are everywhere: on the porch, in the hot tub, in my house.  But there is usually a price to pay for beauty, and I'll gladly pay it, to see the mountains full of golden fire.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The importance of doing (almost) nothing

If you were to believe some people's social media feeds and blogs, they never sit still. They're certainly never home.  They're out having big adventures all the time, traveling the world, running ultramarathons, hiking up mountains.  The phrase "home on the couch" is disparaging, meant for the weak and lazy.

This weekend I was felled by an awful cold.  Blaming one of my minions, I shuffled home on Friday and collapsed into some blankets.  In the past, I've tried to ignore these symptoms.  Sometimes it has worked out okay; most times it has prolonged the illness or led to bronchitis.  This weekend I gave myself permission to not do much at all.

The truth is, I like my house.  It's cozy.  When I look out I see my garden and larch trees that are now turning yellow.  There's a hot tub.  There are even trails down the street, if I want to go for a walk.

I might feel differently if I worked from home, or if I were retired.  Then I might want to get away more, even when sick.  But with the job I have, I'm gone for a minimum of nine hours at a time, and sometimes sixteen days if I'm on a fire assignment.

On Sunday I was ready to venture into the world, and back to the gym.  I didn't feel bad about staying home though and having no spectacular mountain pictures to show.  I needed the downtime.

It's okay to be "home on the couch" sometimes.  There might be nice dogs and cats there who miss you.  Maybe you're sick, or just tired, or have a good book to read or a friend to catch up with.  Everyone needs some balance.  Now I'm ready to get back out there and hit the trail.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Transition Season

It's allegedly fall, but it feels more like pre-winter here.  Recently the east side of the park received about three feet of snow in a winter storm! The tops of the mountains here on the west side are white; some trails are snow free and others are covered by about a foot at the higher elevations.  Here, fire season is over, not that it really began.

This time of year can be hard.  There are a lot of endings.  The helicopter flies away, and most of the employees leave.  This isn't a bad thing, just a change.  Meetings and conference calls replace smoke patrol and lookout projects.  There's more time available for hiking and to see friends, but the weather has taken a hard turn: no more shorts and tank tops, more rain and snow showers.  Some people I know even hauled snowshoes on a 12 mile trail just in case; they didn't end up needing them, but it's always possible.

I'm always cold during this time, my body not adjusted yet to the chillier temperatures.  It was 13 degrees at 8 am.  That's not terribly cold in January, but it is in early October.  "It's so cold," is often heard at work as we rush through our uninsulated building toward a room with a space heater.  N., a seasonal employee from California, bundles up like Nanook of the North his last week of work.  Not having brought a parka, he buys one from the thrift store before he flees for warmer climates.

It's time to take a step back, to move from being constantly alert to a slower pace, from being outside to being at a desk doing administrative work.  It's always an adjustment, but a necessary one.   Now it's also time to think about travel.  Arizona? Hawaii? I dream about warmer days, as summer turns into winter in the mountains.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The people you meet at meetings

By remaining in a field-going position, I manage to avoid most meetings, but there are times when they are unavoidable.  When this happens, I sometimes amuse myself by observing how the cast of characters never really changes, even if the actual people are different.  Here are a few of the regular players:

The pot stirrer:  This person is mostly silent, and rarely engages.  However, out of the blue he will suddenly speak up, usually on an issue that everyone has mostly agreed how to resolve.  He will put his two cents in and then sit back and watch the resulting drama unfold.  Does he really care about the problem or does he just enjoy watching the show? Nobody really knows, because he rarely speaks again.

The big cheese:  She is way too busy and important for your little meeting, but she shows up, at least for awhile.  The whole time she is looking at her phone, stepping out to talk to someone, or flipping through paperwork.  Finally at a crucial moment she flees, saying she has to get on a conference call.  Yet if decisions are made without her, she gets annoyed.

The space case:  This person just can't seem to get it together.  He shows up late, or has to be rounded up from somewhere he has wandered off to.  He's the one who forgets to mute his line, hasn't brought critical documents, or isn't really listening.  He's sort of lovable though so nobody really gets mad.

The backstabber: She has all the critical information on an important issue before the meeting, and could easily head your proposal off at the pass, but chooses not to.  She has lulled you into complacency by being your buddy, but as the meeting continues, it's clear that a buddy she is not.  She crushes your hopes and dreams and makes you look like a buffoon, just because she can.

The folder:  This person always has your back, until the chips are down.  Then when you look over at him in the meeting, he studiously avoids your eye and says nothing, or sides with the majority.  Suddenly you are out on a limb with no backup, and the limb is cracking beneath you.

The subject matter expert:  You think you know your stuff going in, but then you get a sinking feeling.  There sits the SME with her elephant like memory.  "Well, actually..." she corrects you on your faulty facts. You just can't win with the SME, so don't even try.

The overachiever:  This person lives and breathes the job.  She schedules meetings for Fridays at 4 pm, the week before Christmas.  She can't understand why people want to break for lunch, because she's fine with eating a granola bar and continuing.  Worse, she likes "working lunches." You can hide out in the bathroom, but she will find you, and volunteer you for a committee.

The reluctant warrior:  He would rather be anywhere else.  He stares out the window when it's snowing and says, "Powder day!" In fact, his skis are in the car for a quick getaway.  If he can get away with it, he will sneak out at lunch, never to return.  Reluctant warriors are great to have in your meetings, because they will agree to writing papers and "looking into it" just to be able to leave.

Do these characters seem familiar? Did I miss anyone?