batman the dark knight, before it is too late, camping, camping alone, Colorado, death, decisions, dreams, Glacier National Park, grandchildren, gratitude, happiness, innocent people, inspiration, listening to the rain, living, living in the moment, movie theatre, murder, photography, son, sudden death, swiftcurrent lodge, the dark knight, The Dark Knight Rises, tragedy, travel, vacation, writing
Three news alerts covered the screen of my iPad this morning, all saying the same thing – people dead, wounded, movie theatre, Batman, The Dark Knight Rises….Indeed a dark night rose and I’m sure that in his mind, the shooter thought of himself as the dark knight. Delusions, anger, paranoia, drugs, power, recognition…whatever his case might have been, the man shot innocent people – men, women and children – in a movie theatre. Their lives ended without even a whisper.
adventure, bliss, bridge, campfire, campground, camping, children, Deby Dixon Photography, forest, gratitude, Half Dome, memories, Merced River, national parks traveler, nature, nature photography, night, night photography, outdoors, photography, pines firs cedars, sissy husbands, tourism, travel, trees, vacation, writing, Yosemite National Park
The campfire shouted heat into the cold Sierra evening and I pulled my camp chair up close, allowing my body to warm and my mind to wander into the flames.
Thoughts of freedom and choices flooded me and suddenly I felt like the luckiest wanderer/photographer/writer/human that I knew. To be able to spend three months amongst the tall pines, firs, cedars and even a sequoia, listening to the creatures and breathing the fresh mountain air is one thing, but to have the good fortune of my trailer and utilities – well, bliss comes to mind.
A group of young people in a camp site behind me were having troubles getting their own fire going with the wet and green wood and they kept looking over at mine. I want to help them but tell myself that their fire woes are theirs and not mine and so continue to luxuriate in my bliss just a little while longer. Until I can no longer stand their furtive glances…the fire was also meant to be their cook stove for their ethnic foods that consisted of meat and vegetable kabobs, which, by the way, had smelled good earlier in the day. I load my arms up with dried sticks and twigs and take the pile over, showing them what would burn best. Earlier in the day they had attempted to blow up their mattress using my bicycle pump.
I am good at camping, having done it for a life time, except in the years when I didn’t. When injuries, illness or sissy husbands who didn’t sleep on the ground interfered with my passion for the out of doors. It was only one husband who was a sissy. During the intervening years I remembered the gourmet meals cooked over the campfires, the quiet solitude, the laughter of my children, the hiking in the forest and the animals. Most of all the s’mores. I remembered the s’mores and would sometimes make them grandpa style – in the microwave for thirty seconds, before the marshmallow exploded, leaving a sticky mess.
My first husband, my sons’ father, taught me everything that I still know about camping today, 30 odd years later. He also taught me about fishing. Over the years I’ve prided myself on those one match, one light, campfires, the proper soap, how to pitch a tent and how to eat like queens and kings in the forest.
With in a month after leaving husband number three (that was 18 years ago) I bought a Jeep Cherokee, a German Shepherd, and the tent, sleeping bag, pad, etc., that I still have today. And went camping and fishing in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. Finally then, I was back to myself. When my sons, David and Brandon, came to visit we loaded down that Jeep with camping gear and mountain bikes and went camping out west of Cherokee. I took along books about the ghost stories of the Blue Ridge and the kids, and others that they met, stayed up around the campfire the entire night, reading those stories. I remember that trip as one of the best I’ve ever taken, even though David called me a sissy when I walked the bicycle up hills. Hey, by that time I’d already proven my toughness and decided there was nothing more to prove.
I walked around the campground and checked on some new arrivals before sitting back down at my fire. One of the young ladies from “next door,” brought me a plate of different meats and grilled asparagus on skewers and asked me to please have it. That food lit up my eyes but I felt awkward also. I knew that it would be considered rude to turn down her kindness and so gratefully accepted the plate and sat down at the fire to eat. Each bite brought groans of pleasure. Some people know how to eat!
People come and go so quickly. I become a little attached and they are gone. There was the family from Wyoming – the woman’s best friend is the mom of a photographer I met in the Tetons last year. The three men from Canada with their sexy Canadian accents and questions about things to do. The group who were looking for a wedding spot, the quiet couple who stayed for a week in their camper…the list is already growing long. Last night I simply called for the weather report to appease fears of RV pipes freezing for a German couple and their daughter, who was in a second RV. Later they brought me a delicious chocolate bar that came all of the way from Germany! I am just being nice, trying to add to their experience….
And there was the Lewis family. A particular delight. A family of four in a small, hard-sided tent shaped pop-up. They had their share of learning experiences – no water, dead battery, etc., and I was able to help them some. I watched them go from being over-whelmed to staying an extra night and having their first campfire, which was one that anyone would be proud to make. They left this morning and promised to be back in June. Those are the kinds of stories that I love – the type where people overcome, conquer and then come to love being in the out of doors and want to come back. Because we all own a slice of this thing called nature and all owe it to ourselves to enjoy it – and mostly to become good stewards for its continued survival.
Until a minute ago the campground was empty, except for myself. Another family just arrived and are camping close by.
During some of the nights I have stolen away into the valley for some evening and night photography.
I hope that you are able to derive some joy and excitement over my stay in Yosemite National Park, and that you too will want to visit someday.
adventurer, bear boxes, bears, California, camping, invisible layer, mystery world, national parks traveler, nature, new adventure, outdoors, photos, pine needles, snow, solo traveler, trailer, travel, Yosemite, Yosemite National Park
******I wrote this post on my first morning in Yosemite. Will update when possible – internet is quite difficult to find, without a long drive and gas prices are over $5 a gallon.
Before I opened my eyes this morning the sound of wind brushing through trees assaulted my senses. Where was I? The sound was dense, high over head, like an invisible layer protected the earth and the wind could not penetrate its boundaries. I am in the forest. The tallest trees tower over me. I am in Yosemite. I am alone. Only the sound of the wind, nothing else. No voices, no cars starting up, no doors slamming, no phone service or internet – I am truly alone in this mystery world.
The quiet is nearly deafening. Enjoy it now because it won’t be long before the surrounding campsites are full and the voices will be drifting to you all during the night. Engines will start up in predawn hours and speed off to see sunrise in the valley – a place I’ve not yet been. Campfires will crackle and foots steps in the pine needles will crunch towards the bathrooms and back again.
The campground is small, or tight, I should say. The sites are nearly stacked on top of one another and I have two tent sites close by. The other host site is wide and open with the hookups in the proper place. I, on the other hand, backed my trailer between two trees and then cut it into a curve so that there would be an outdoor space that is not obstructed by the power poles and such that are at the front right corner while the sewer is at the back. I backed the right side up onto a couple of blocks and to my amazement everything was level! It was quite the solo feat. I carved out a nice little spot where my awning can go up, unobstructed, except for possibly by a bear box. I have three or four bear boxes at my site, presumably to place the belongings of wayward campers who do not obey the food storage regulations. But, also for myself.
When I left Big River, CA the sun was beating down and the day was warming quickly towards 90. From the heat of the Sonora desert to the cold, wintery weather of the Sierras. I believed that it would take three days to get here but driving was a breeze with my new trailer and I covered 475 miles on that first day, ending up in an empty parking lot in Merced, CA.
Only 15 minutes north on I95 and I had tossed my head back and smiled over the freedom of traveling. My fears vanished.
There were only brief periods that were scary, when the winds were high at Tehachapi Pass and the car moved slowly, which was fine with me. Some of the drivers were scary also, cutting in very close to my front bumper in a show of ass. There were two lanes and I was going nearly 55, which is the speed limit for those pulling trailers. Because of the few, I reasoned that getting through Bakersfield and Fresno at night might save me some traffic headache problems and am sure that it did.
In Chowchilla I found a Starbucks and mocha, and oatmeal, and internet. But I only checked my emails and did nothing else. In Modesta I found a Trader Joes and coffee, honey, produce, long lines filled with pregnant women – with youth – and families. I’d been snow birding for too long. The line that shot through the lettuce section was long and not a place where one could linger long. Health conscious. I wanted some green coffee bean extract to melt my belly fat away. The little people were so cute and the mothers wore their pregnancies with pride. I was in suburbia.
After Trader Joes I went into some clothing store where women were feverishly digging through the racks. Wow, people have money to spend. But then I looked at the prices and they were discount – the new way in America, looking for a bargain. I found Costco and a landline telephone and a blue ray, DvD player, some little sample snacks, and almost fell for the Easter basket of kettle corn that came in different flavors. Boy, that stuff was good. But Zebra kettle corn didn’t fall within my new guidelines for being healthy.
Finally there were no more stops, just Yosemite. They told me that there was a long hill, about 7 miles, that I would have to climb, but I think that they downplayed it some. Up, up and up, around sharp curves, the hill never ended. I was proud of the Nitro because it climbed with vigor, amazingly so. It wasn’t until nearly to the top when I finally found a place to pull over and let a few cars pass, that I ran into trouble. People here, are good about saying thank you with a wave when they pass by and I felt good about that. But, the starting up again was difficult on the transmission because I’d lost momentum and couldn’t get it back. Shortly a heat light came on and I quickly pulled over and grabbed the manual. It was the transmission light. The book said to let it idle in neutral until the light went off, which happened quickly. But, it came on again.
I stopped at PJ’s in Groveland to let the engine cool and to grab some food and a phone card. Who would have guessed that there was good Chinese food in this little mountain town. One gal told me that she had lived there her whole life and hated that drive up the mountain. I can’t imagine what that must be like.
Finally inside the gates of Yosemite and into the campground. An empty campground. At my site there was a pole that was covered with a plastic bag and a note that read, “No Power.” What? I was supposed to have power upon my arrival. This unsettled me. They couldn’t get anyone up here to turn it on. But, I am a bit clever. My extension cord just happened to reach to the outlet in the men’s bathroom and to my trailer door – barely. And so I can run a power strip for things like a lamp and charging electronics and outside I hooked the trickle charger up to my battery. No microwave and the fridge is operating on gas but there is heat and hot water if I want it. Though no water, except the little that I left in my tank. It works. And I’m always quite proud when it comes to overcoming an adversity – to using my ingenuity to figure things out.
Now the wind is really blowing, it is much lower to the ground and bits of tree blow up against the side of the trailer.
As a winter storm enters, I am in the company of the wind and trees. I am here.
adventure, camping, camping alone, decisions, exes, following a dream, Grand Teton National Park, national parks, nature, no regrets, passion, photography, single woman, Tetons, traveling, traveling alone, woman, Wyoming
My heart leapt ahead to the Tetons but I had no clue about how the trip would come together. There was a dog to make arrangements for, finances to work out, equipment difficulties (which weren’t as bad as the ones that I created while trying to “fix” the problem), packing and just where was it that I was going to and what was there. The first thing that I did was to look at photos from the area, which led me to a photographer who seemed to be familiar with the Tetons, Jeff Clow. I contacted Jeff and as luck would have it he had just finished writing a photography guide to the Tetons – “The Dirt Cheap Photo Guide to Grand Teton National Park,” http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffclow/5861570206/in/photostream – and was getting ready to e-publish it. For the dirt cheap price of $10, Jeff sent me a PDF of the book and once that arrived I felt certain that the trip was something that I could do.
I travel and camp alone.
For a moment I will regress and tell you the history of my camping and traveling alone. Back in 1993 I left a horrendous marriage situation, took up cycling and shortly afterwards was injured in the line-of-duty as a city police officer. The timing is important because even though the husband had good income, property and strong financial support (things I did not have), if my injury would have happened just a few weeks earlier, before the separation agreement was signed, he would have taken part of my small pension. This baffled me, how low he would go but I am really regressing and will get back on subject.
I, nor anyone else, expected my injury to be a lifetime disability but that was the way it worked out and I struggled with my identity and feelings of worthlessness for far too long, and through subsequent injuries, before deciding to be grateful for a gift.
For a short time after the separation I did the usual man hunting, setting my sights on someone who loved the outdoors and didn’t mind camping. Unfortunately I lived in the part of the country where many people had high tech jobs with soft hands and if they were going to be in nature then a condo at an ocean beach would work. Quickly seeing the reality of my situation it seemed clear that to wait for the perfect partner to enjoy the out-of-doors with could mean that I might grow old and grey without ever following my heart. I made the decision to prepare myself for solo camping trips and quickly traded the Grand Am in for a Jeep Cherokee and went to REI for a tent, sleeping bag, pad and all of the other things that one needs to camp in comfort. Even bought myself a fishing pole and a traveling companion named Casey, a German Shepherd.
My first husband, the father of my children, taught me everything that I needed to know about camping, fishing and survival in wilderness situations and his instruction have endured over many, many years. It feels nice to have fond memories of an ex every time I go camping and light a fire with one match.
The reason that I tell this part of the story is because I have met many single women during my travels who want to have the freedom of traveling alone but are not sure that they can pull it off. When I tell them my story, they often thank me because if I can do it, so can they. I urge everyone, if you have a dream, follow it – don’t wait for the perfect person to come along and share the dream with you and risk growing old and wishing that you had followed your heart. Start now and if that perfect someone comes along you will have more to share with them. If the partner never happens by you will have empowered and enriched your life beyond your wildest imagination and have memories instead of regrets.
As I write this today it occurs to me that I am writing the answer to my own questions about what to do next…More on this later.
And, so, after all of these years of doing things alone, it is second nature. I have tried shooting with other people and absolutely enjoy it on a limited basis – there is nothing like the common bond and network that travel photography creates – but find that my shooting style differs from many people and so it is best, for creativity’s sake, to shoot alone. Though, to be perfectly honest, there are also times of loneliness and wishing to have it all – the photography and someone to share it with. Perhaps some day but I am not counting on finding someone – or even looking much beyond my lens.
Still, despite all of the years of practice, I have some fears that are kept locked inside of me and I push forward and challenge myself. One step-at-a-time. This year’s challenge was to camp at Glacier National Park (I did this last year also), Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park was quickly added to the list. And so I made plans to visit all three national parks, beginning with Glacier and working my way down and then back up before going home. Plans are just ideas though and they are always to be amended if necessary, as you will see during the course of this journey.
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A couple of days before I had finished editing my documentary video, and before the quarter ended, I did something unusual and picked up a copy of the local newspaper. Perhaps a headline caught my attention, it was too long ago now for me to remember the details of this pivotal moment. Which is why I try to journal and commit my memories to paper. Remind me later to tell you what I discovered during this trip about the correlation of my memory and loneliness.
In the outdoor section of the newspaper was a story about research bear 399 emerging into spring with three cubs. The story talked about how 399 had previously raised three cubs near the main roads of Grand Teton National Park and how, five years later, she was repeating this behavior. As icing on the rich chocolate cake, her five year-old daughter, 610, was also raising two cubs near the road. Apparently, according to the article and many people that I’ve spoken to since, 399 figured out that being in close proximity to humans was the best way to keep her cubs safe from predators and she had taught her daughter this same behavior.
Believe it or not, last year was my first real year of traveling and shooting wildlife. I quickly became obsessed with capturing bears but didn’t have much luck in getting good shots with the few bears that I came across. I didn’t have the bear karma yet but felt certain that it would come with time. I also hadn’t had a lot of interaction with bull moose and bull elk but that also changed during the trip.
From the minute that I read the story in the Spokesman Review, I was headed for the Tetons. While finishing my project the trip began to play out in my mind and I had no idea how to pull it off. Except one foot in front of the other. I began packing before knowing that it would be possible to go – possible to have someone look after my dog…my heart knew what my brain couldn’t fathom.
To be continued.