Friday, November 29, 2013

Letting Biodiversity Get Under Our Skin

I found this article from Conservation magazine really interesting, and I wanted to share it with you.

“Some aspects of dirty living can be healthy. A new study posits that the decline of plant and animal diversity in cities may be linked to the recent surge of allergies and other chronic inflammatory diseases.”  Read the full article by Rob Dunn HERE.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 7 — Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Fork River

The sky was all sunshine as we hiked southeast along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.  A bit of haze still hung in the air but the wind had shifted, a gentle breeze moving towards the fire, blowing the smoke away from us, and I hoped it would stay that way.

Lyell Canyon proved to be my favorite section of trail to date.  We spent the day passing through a long finger of meadow pocketed with wetlands and scattered rock, bound on both sides by steep, forested hills.  The river meandered lazily beside us, sometimes slipping playfully over small falls and gliding across slick slabs of granite.  We spotted deer, marmots, squirrels and countless birds.

Around midday, we stopped for a lazy lunch of trail mix, jerky and snack bars.  The kids played in the river while Pam and I waded out to sit on rocks in the middle and soaked our feet in the cold water.  I felt more peaceful than I had at any point on our trip, and I let that feeling sink into me along with the sun’s warmth, knowing this was what I’d come for.  This is what it was all about.  I was finally slipping into trail mode, a way of being that I hadn’t experienced in too many years, and I’d missed it.

We camped that night near foothills at the base of Donahue Pass, pitching our tent in a cluster of trees near the river.  From our campsite, a shelf of granite ran out to the river, forming a small cascade that spilled into a perfect swimming hole.  I stripped and lay down in the water, hooting a few times at how cold it was before I was able to scrub the trail grime from my skin.  Afterwards, I lay in the sun, letting my body dry while the kids explored a long section of the river.  They pretended to be some sort of monkey creatures, hunched and hopping, and I closed my eyes and listened to them grunt, snort and laugh.

That night we ate dinner atop clustered boulders, looking down at the river as light from the setting sun blazed orange and pink on ridges of the Kuna Crest.  The boys and I decided to sleep outside the tent, so after brushing our teeth and securing the bear canisters we spread our sleeping bags on a flat rock and read The Hobbit by the light of my headlamp.  Eventually we turned out the light and lay on our backs watching stars emerge.

Noah put on his glasses so he could see the stars better, everything about his face alive and awake.  Kai on the other hand, looked completely exhausted, and I actually though he’d already fallen asleep when he muttered, “Dad, will bears come right here while we sleep?”

“No.  We did a good job keeping camp clean and putting everything away.”

He was quiet again for a long time, and once again I thought he’d fallen asleep when he suddenly stirred.  “Dad, can I get in the tent with Mom?”

“Are you sure?  You can scoot right here against me if that feels better.”  I reached out and pulled him into a cuddle.

“I think I’ll just get in the tent.”

“Okay.”  I got up, helped him move his stuff and Pam snuggled him into the tent.

As I got back in my sleeping back Noah said, “Shooting star!”

“Really?”  I hurried onto my back and looked up, hoping there’d be a second.  I’d only waited a few minutes when another shot right above us, leaving a bright, long tail across the sky.

“Cool,” we both said.

And the meteors just kept coming.  We saw at least ten more before I finally got too tired and had to close my eyes.  I was almost asleep when Noah said, “Thanks, Dad.”

“Thank you,” I answered, and I scooted closer to him.  It gave me the happiest feeling, just knowing that he was laying there beside me soaking up a sky full of stars and feeling alive.  I’m not sure how long he stayed awake watching the sky.  I dozed off long before he did. 

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Are Your Kids 'Vitamin N' Deficient?

I enjoyed this article by Julie Bawden-Davis, and I wanted to share it with you.

“Even when children eat right and dutifully swallow multivitamins, they often lack a critical nutrient, because its absorption is blocked by the typical life most kids live. Called “Vitamin N” by some of the nation’s top pediatricians, this prescription doesn’t come in a pill: the N is for nature. Exposure to the natural world is considered a cure for various childhood health threats.”  Read the full article HERE.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 6 — Rest Day at Tuolumne Lodge

I woke early in our tent cabin, snuck out the screen door while the others slept and went to get a coffee—a coffee for which I didn’t have to filter water or light my stove, a coffee that tasted like a cup full of heaven and ran down into my belly like some  liquid bear hug.  I carried my warm cup to the Dana Fork of Tuolumne River and hopped out to a flat rock in the middle, the water rushing playfully all around me.  And for a long time I just sat there in the chilly morning air, letting the cup warm my fingers, watching the world wake up.

Finally I dug out the maps and journal I’d brought with me and started planning our next few days of hiking.  We weren’t regimented about where we camped each night.  Most days we didn’t have a defined location that we felt we had to make it to.  Rather it was a matter of figuring out approximately how many miles we had to hike each day to make it to our next food supply before we starved.  Then I looked for places on our map that would give us enough mileage and were likely to have a water source, and we made those spots our goals.  Often, though, we’d stop somewhere other than our map goal because we’d spot the perfect swimming hole or a view we could never soak in sufficiently… or because we were just so darn tired.

After breakfast, we all showered again and spent some time washing the dust and grime from our clothes, hanging them on a rope outside our tent cabin, giving it a certain hillbilly aesthetic.  Then we rode the shuttle back to the grill and ate another huge lunch before picking up our resupply box from the tiny post office.  It was like Christmas when we returned to our cabin and I tore into the box.  Pam and the kids went to play by the river, and I spent more than an hour sorting through the various food items:  freeze-dried meals, nutrition bars in the most colorful packages, dried nuts and fruits, hot chocolate, coffee, oatmeal and large chocolate bars.  Most of it wouldn’t have excited the average Joe, but I’d been hungry for several days, and to me it was the most wonderful assortment of calories!

It was also a heavy assortment of calories—enough food to last us nine days, and it felt like it.  I loaded our packs, bent to heave mine onto my shoulders and groaned.  Then I bent to try Pam’s and groaned again.  Uh oh.  In two days we’d be slogging our way up Donahue Pass, our first pass over 11,000 feet, and it was going to be a struggle carrying these beasts!

After packing, I walked a mile or so to the ranger station to ask about the Aspen Fire.  Although it had improved for a couple days, smoke still hung in the air, moving in from the south, and it was obvious that flames still raged in that direction—the direction we’d be heading tomorrow.  From talking with rangers and other hikers we’d passed in the previous days, I’d learned that the Aspen Fire was burning in the Sierra National Forest, not far from a section of the trail we planned to pass in about a week.

When I walked into the small cabin that housed the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center, a ranger with tired eyes looked up at me.  “Can I help you?”

“Yeah.  I’m just hoping to get an update on the Aspen Fire.  Are they getting it under control?”

“It’s burned more than 14,000 acres and it’s only thirty percent contained,” she answered as if she was a recording that had relayed the same message a thousand times.  Then she started shuffling papers.

“Darn.”  I stood there for a minute, trying to soak in what that meant for us.  “We’re heading south on the John Muir Trail.  Is there any other info you can give me?”

She kept moving the papers.  “It’s going to be smoky.”

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Benefits Of Ecotherapy: Being In Nature Fights Depression, Improves Mental Health And Well-Being

I read this article on Medical Daily and wanted to share it with all of you.

"Green therapy, also known as ecotherapy, is gaining the attention of researchers, nature enthusiasts, and people in search of alleviating symptoms of depression. Being in nature has long been associated with being mindful and meditative, but only recently has the scientific community researched the mental health benefits of outdoor immersion."  Read the full article by Lecia Bushak HERE.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 5 — Cathedral Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows

When we woke, the boys and I sang happy birthday to Pam.  She was forty-two, and she smiled at us.  I kissed her forehead and crawled out of the tent.

The lake was glassy, reflecting Tressider Peak, ghostlike wisps of mist rising from its surface towards a clear sky.   I stretched a few kinks from my back then went to retrieve our bear canisters and filter water, which I put on the stove for coffee, hot chocolate and oatmeal.  We ate on rocks and then sat holding our warm beverages until the early sun warmed us enough to begin the morning ritual of breaking camp.

It was a good day of hiking.  The boys stayed happy and kept a great pace, which I fully attribute to the fact that they knew hamburgers, soda and ice cream waited for them in Tuolumne Meadows.  They stopped frequently to take pictures of marmots, deer, butterflies, chipmunks and lizards.  When we reached Tioga Road we went straight to the grill and shoved food in our faces until our guts were stuffed.  Then we sat there, greasy-faced and smiling for a while before hauling our packs onto a shuttle and riding a short distance to Tuolumne Lodge, which isn’t really a lodge at all but a gathering of old-fashioned, canvas tent cabins beside the Dana Fork of Tuolumne River.

We all took showers, which Pam claimed was the best birthday present we ever could have given her, and in the evening we went to the dining hall for a celebratory feast.  Pam and I gorged ourselves on meatloaf, mashed potatoes, salad and beer, while the boys scarfed macaroni and cheese and several plates of fresh fruit.  We sang happy birthday to Pam again before desert arrived, and afterwards we sat enjoying the simple pleasure of being stuffed full of good food.  The stream danced across rapids just outside our window, and everything felt right.

That night we read another chapter of The Hobbit, brushed our teeth at a real sink, peed in a real toilet and slept on real mattresses.  I can’t say for certain, but I think it’s a safe guess that we slept with smiles on our faces.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Why I Prescribe Nature by Robert Zarr, MD

Courtesy of Children & Nature Network and Robert Zarr, MD
I read this great article on Children & Nature Network and wanted to share it with all of you.

“What in the world is a doctor doing writing a prescription for Nature?  With our nation’s current epidemic of obesity, asthma, ADHD, and now Nature Deficit Disorder, it’s time that we doctors prescribe time outside, in Nature, for all our patients.”  Read the full article by Robert Zarr, MD HERE.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 4 — Sunrise Mountain to Cathedral Lakes

I rose before Pam and the kids and sat on top of a boulder in the cool morning, watching the sun rise over a long granite escarpment to the east.  Nearby, lightning-struck trees burned orange in the early sunlight, and birds cut through the air below me.

Once the sun was fully in the sky, I gathered our water bottles and walked to the narrow stream where I sat filtering water and chewing on the mild-tasting stems of swamp onion.  It grew it great clumps along the water’s edge, hundreds of pink blooms bright and cheery as the morning.  The boys emerged from the tent, all tousle-headed and dirty-faced, and they brought their stuffed animals over to share an adventure beside the creek.

After breakfast we hoisted our packs and set out across Long Meadow towards Cathedral Pass.  Ground squirrels poked out of holes and scurried through the clumped grasses, and we stopped often while Noah and Kai pointed them out, laughing and struggling to capture images of them with their cameras.  Robins sang and dozens of butterflies floated past us in the air.  Pam and Kai spotted a sooty grouse in a wildflower meadow, and then Kai found a tiny frog alongside the trail, picked it up and gently held it for a while before letting it go on a clump of grass. 

Eventually the trail started climbing again, lodgepole pine trees growing stunted and twisted around us.  We stopped for lunch beneath a large outcropping called Columbia Finger, the land falling away to our east with wild views of Echo Creek’s Cathedral Fork and the jagged Matthes Crest beyond. 

Unfortunately, lunch itself was less than satisfying, and that was my fault.  I had been so concerned about weight as we planned and packed for our trip that I’d underestimated the amount of lunch and snack food we would need.  By this time, our supply was running really low, so I let the boys eat the granola bars and limited myself to a few handfuls of trail mix and dried apricots.  Then I closed my eyes and leaned back to let the sun warm my face, dreaming of all the hamburgers and ice-cream sandwiches I would eat once we reached Tuolumne Meadows.

Before we left Columbia Finger, Noah got out the thick field guide I’d been lugging along, and we spent some time identifying trees we’d seen in our previous days along the trail—incense cedar, red fir, white fir, and ponderosa pine.  The fact that he so clearly wanted to know the name of every living thing we witnessed made me happy, so despite the fact that the book weighed as much as a brick I was thankful I’d brought it along.

All afternoon the boys walked side by side, sharing dreams about their futures.  They seemed to settle on owning farms somewhere in the countryside, where they could grow hundreds of fruit trees and keep dozens of animals as pets.  They planned to make money selling ice-cream made with ox milk and the fruits they grew.  They also planned to make sodas from the fruits, and then use them to make all flavors of floats.  They would buy an old ice-cream truck, fix it up and become millionaires selling their frozen treats to people at farmer’s markets. 

They were so happy and excited sharing these dreams that Pam and I just smiled, silently agreeing not to spoil their fun by pointing out the economic holes in their business plan.  In fact, their dreams sounded surprising similar to the fantasy life we’d planned for ourselves in the early days of our relationship—the organic farm we talked about buying while we searched under the couch cushions and car seats for lost coins to buy milk.

We told Noah and Kai how much we would enjoy coming to visit, lying in hammocks amongst the fruit trees, sipping plum sodas and riding Friesian horses into the sunset.  And who really knows.  Maybe they’ll prove to have the Midas touch I’ve always lacked and someday they’ll make it work.  As we neared Cathedral Lakes, Kai decided that after a few years of farming he’d use his riches to buy a cozy beach house in Malibu where I could visit him for extended surf vacations.   I was sold.

In the midafternoon we took a short side trail to camp along the shore of Lower Cathedral Lake, our campsite hosting incredible views of Tressider and Tenaya Peaks, which framed the far shore like some backdrop out of a fantasy movie.  I swam out to the middle of the lake and floated there on my back, letting the water soak into me, the sun baking the parts of my skin that rose above the water’s surface.  The boys played along the lakeshore in their underwear, their feet and legs muddy, their voices free and loud and satisfied.

After swimming I sat on a rock and let the sun dry my skin.  Two deer meandered slowly past our camp towards Cathedral Peak.  Chipmunks darted over rocks and around treetrunks, while dozens of little birds chirped from the branches and flitted through the air.  High above all of us, a hawk circled in the blue sky.

Later, when the sun had dropped and the magic of evening hushed the world, we all strolled to a wide slab of rock and lay on our backs, looking up through a kaleidoscope of tree branches to the sky.  A few wispy clouds had eased in during the afternoon, but mostly the sky was a deepening, brilliant blue.  We talked for a long time about what animals we’d choose to be if we could pick just three and spend a day in the skin of each.  We thought about it silently first then shared our choices, and Pam and I amazed each other by picking the same three out of all the thousands of possibilities—a dolphin, a grizzly bear and a crow.  I’d been tempted to include a honey bee, because I’d like to experience what it’s like to be inside a hive, but I settled on a crow instead.  Kai and Noah both wanted to be monkeys.  Kai chose an eagle and a whale as his other options.  Noah decided on a squirrel but never settled on a third choice, instead talking at length about all the dozens of possibilities that would be equally incredible.

After Pam and the kids crawled in the tent, I stood in the dark for a while, looking up at the first smattering of stars and enjoying the cool air on my face.  I thought of my parents, the many nights we’d spent outside when I was a kid and how much I loved those times.  And I thought about my life, how everything seemed to have happened so quickly when I looked back at it now and how quickly all my future days would pass by too—how important it was for me to do the right things with those coming days.  I remembered a quote from the poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“I don’t know,” I muttered to the sky.  “I still don’t know.”  I was forty-one years old.  I wished I had a better answer.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the Author of Coyote Summer.