Never Regret (3) from Child Grower Annita Woz

“But to get all this into words is a hopeless task.  The leanest sketch of of each feature would need a whole chapter. Nor would any amount of space, however industriously scribbled, be of much avail. To defrauded town toilers, parks in magazine articles, are like pictures of bread to the hungry. I can write only hints to incite good wanderers to come to the feast.” – John Muir in meditations of Chris Hagland’s compilation called Nature’s Temple.

 a s feet looking up at giant sequoia

Starbucks Coffee Proudly Brewed Here says the sign above the twin silver coffee brewers at the lodge. I am so pleased.

I have had a no-coffee morning since traveling is a challenge enough with three kids without numerous trips to a restroom! I have had some hotel lobby parking lot shuttle coffee, sprayed into a styrofoam cup.

I’ve had some airline coffee that bit my tongue worse than a Chilean wine at a NGG wine club tasting.

And I had tried some Vegas decaf to get me through one last walk to see the light and fountain show at the Bellagio on the strip in Nevada, the state that my young daughter tells me is known for gambling and women who don’t wear any clothing. Decaf was not what I wished I was drinking when she followed up that comment with, “and I think when I grow up, I want to live in Vegas.”

And yes, I had tried a cup of hotel room coffee- brewed in a 4-cup system that someone once told me airline stewardesses were taught to use to steam clean their panty hose while on a layover from a redeye.

To say I was relieved to see this Starbucks sign in the middle of the mountains, right here, free for the taking, any time of morning, any time at all, was an understatement.

I walked up and introduced myself to the machine, lovingly lifted the lever of the fresh brewed blackness, and added a healthy dose of 100% whole milk from the dispenser rather than spend any time opening the tiny vials of half-and-half and could not believe how content I was, right in this moment,  right in this place. 

As though I was at Tuvalu drinking Mayan Super Dark from a fresh-brewed caraffe, I half-turned to see if my friends were walking through the door ready to share a little story,  their latest mean mommy moment, their small hurdles, their latest treasures of wisdom.

My only lacking was family. 

Yes, my own were here, but I felt like this was a place where the cousins and the grandparents should also be. I wanted to fly them all to the mountains to participate in reverse camping – camping in the snow-  in a lodge in the wintertime instead of our normal ninety degree cabins and pop ups that we dragged to our summer weekend reunions.

This was a good place.

When there wasn’t a meal being served on the buffet, the kids could always go into the kitchen, grab a bowl and some cereal.  Families could make and eat toast and jam all night long if they wished.  If soup had been served at the noon meal then there would be more sitting in the crock, ready for any family who had spent the day sledding or fort building in the snow.  Hot chocolate, fountain drinks, milk and juices, and of course- coffee, was available all day long. 

The cousins would have loved it here! And so would Grandma Dorothy and Grandma Billie and Grandma Sue! cont after the photo

mountain-top-snowball-fight1

We laughed at a family from San Diego who had just come in from a snowball fight. They had not worn gloves! The youngest had swollen red fingers, wet jeans up to the knee level and her parents put her socks on the hearth to dry. Her big brothers were laughing and picking clumps of snow out of their collars, and one smaller sister, with hair as white as an angel’s reminded us of cousin Lakken and my girls took time to play with her while the grown ups lounged in leather couches, well worn by the resting readers who had plunked down in this same place in years past. 

We dutifully looked at the evening program posted on the bulletin board near the front where the upcoming activities are announced.  We thought we should just go to the bunk beds, but the roaring fire drew us out of the lodge to a circle of logs, cut half-length and made into benches around a roaring fire.  As the kids got into a snowball fight we were lured to the campfire songs and one of us to the s’mores.   The sounds of amateur musicians who had the foresight to bring their guitars and one violin in their trunk, already bursting filled the space between the fire and the snowcapped mountains that were lit by a bright moon with song.

I could see steam rolling off the small outdoor jacuzzi and even with the music, could not miss the squeals and shrieks of the kids who were jumping in, settling down for one second, and then climbing out to repeat the circle.  My little guy told me that he was going to grow up and live in the mountains. I told him I would visit him so much that he would have to ask me to live there, too. 

Could it really be this good? It was.   

Though we were too late for the passing out of the music books with the lyrics, I became more grateful for the useful life skills taught to me and my siblings by my father, the faithful and talented singer, songwriter, guitar loving player who had prepared me for this connection of mountain and music.  His years of plucking guitar strings and singing in the car with us were times well spent as I was able to remember and then sing out around this campfire, with confidence,  the lines of Puff the Magic Dragon, Michael Row the Boat Ashore and Let It Be. 

Hugging my girl to my hip and rocking back and forth, we turned to gather into our circled arms the rest of our family.

### by child grower- Annita Woz.

Never Regret (pt 2 ) by child grower Annita Woz

three kids feet in sequoia grove hike Photo of the three kids at the base of a smaller grove of sequoia trees in the Sequoia National Park.  More photos have been added at the end of this post as of 5pm on April 20th, 2009.

The Lodge

We only looked like we didn’t know what to wear in a snowball fight. 

We wore our Vegas flip flops and our family was still in summer attire from a sunny morning departure out of Nevada.  It was now about 4o degrees and dark.  This was our spring break and an escape from five months of ice and snow.  Other lodge guests, many residents of the desert and warmer western climate,  visibly shivered while looking at my bare toes in sandals.   In their heads they were laughing and we knew they were subconsciously wiggling their warm, wool wrapped toes inside their own felt-lined boots.

The wide barn doors we had opened at the top of the stairs of the lodge, introduced us to a long room with a small check-in desk tucked on the right.  To our left, two mission-style brown leather seats held onto a table and balanced a leather bound book that safeguarded the signatures, the messages, the simple lessons revealed to previous guests during their time on this mountain.

Most everyone wore winter boots and snow pants while indoors and many had pushed up the sleeves of their thermal underwear to their elbows.  After satisfying their curious glances at our arrival, all returned their attention to the board games they had started during dessert.

Looking comfortable and cozy, with fleece layers unzipped and glasses holding the last few swallows of red wine, they refocused on their own family time.  Some wrapped hands around a final steaming cup of coffee and spooned up the crumbs from a piece of chocolate cake while we thought how our extended family should really be here.  Surely this kind of reverse camping, camping in the cold winter,  was best done with cousins and brothers, who would make even a game of scrabble a little bit rowdy and a long game of Kings Corners seem a little bit wild.  I wished I could bring all of our family here to be a part of this.  

We settled in to our first home style meal that is served at the lodge, three times a day, on a strict schedule, at round wooden tables held up by old barrels.   Montecito Lodge, elevation 7,000ft, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of the Sequoia National Park was a family run lodge that hosts people like us for a few days and offers weeklong, even summer-long getaways for anyone who can escape their real lives to be there.

We had not seen real mountains until today.

We had not witnessed the face of green and jutting rocks meeting the road only to shoot skyward as though we were standing at the base of an IMAX theatre screen playing a tribute via film to a mountain side.   One green screen disappeared and another rose, a new, bigger wall of green taking the last one’s place,  as we wound around the mountain road with few guardrails but many marked photo op stops.  We took over two hundred photos on this leg of our trip alone, each one a view we could not pass up and each one cementing in our memories something we feared we might not take in again with our young kids.

The light air of the climbing road had sapped our energy and our ambition for making any real discoveries or taking any more tours now that we had finally arrived at the mountain. After five hours of travel, begun at 3,000 ft., we had driven across the Mohave desert and ended in the orange groves where we took the most direct GPS route to shave minutes off an already long day of driving.

We looped toward the mounting via the working roads that wind through the orange groves in the outer edge of the town of Visalia and got too close to the massive dairies that contributed to California’s growing reputation for milk production.

We considered buying a box of oranges for eight dollars that called out to our mouths for consideration on hand written signs leaned up against a road side stand.  We quickly admitted that we just couldn’t eat them all and that some would not be allowed to make the airplane trip back home.   In our minds, we dismissed the temptation but admitted we had to talk ourselves out of reaching through an open minivan window, to pluck a few sweet giant oranges right off the tree as we sailed by.

We had finally arrived at Sequoia National Park and as grown ups, we were ready for nothing more than a stretch, a walk across a room and a bit of space from offspring and a spouse, space that had been so clearly lacking in the roomy minivan we had rented. 

But children, as children do, were expecting the adventure to finally begin.

They believed there was much waiting for them on that first night. And, in the same way as a child’s curiosity and enthusiasm has the power to overlook fatigue and food, the agenda of the evening and the need to introduce themselves to the other lodge children took over.

Their young spirits were not dampened by the numb feeling in the hips and backs of the adults who drove them across the dry ugly desert for the past hours. All was  just as it should be. 

They had dismissed the earlier wonder at seeing pastured cows balanced on the mountainside, tossed aside the realization that the cows were actually unaware that one half of their awkward hooved selves were putting all their weight on the legs standing on the lower side of the mountain, while dutifully munching on the grasses and plants, somehow able to defy becoming an avalanche of white and black. 

Our children had quickly forgotten the caged homesteads and businesses we saw on the beginning of the drive where every property was separated from the next or perhaps they were fenced to intentionally defend the owner and their possessions from contact with the outside world.  We didn’t know the answer,  but we certainly felt like were in a different era.  Some kind of fence- picket, wrought iron, simple chain link, elaborate rock – strangely surrounded each house, rural or town, cramped or sitting on acreage.  We drove past and wondered about what was on the front porches, old machines, boxes, and rusted metal that sat piled outside of doorways.  We hoped these saved machines and boxes of whatever were only waiting there for trip to the recycling place.  But it didn’t look promising. 

The kids were no longer marveling at how the estimated distances didn’t add up when we thought the next hill was right in front of us, or how the images of the wind turbines that greeted us on the outside of Bakersfield announcing that the wind was harnessed here, waved a welcome to us with bladed arms.

The turbines, with blades  turning above towers that seemed too spindly to hold more than a gentle breeze faced us in a formidable line across the ridge. There seemed to be hundreds and all were paced tight and orderly.  We played a game to see which towers we could spot that did not have turning arms.  They whispered reminders of how electricity had been gathered for decades out here when in contrast the idea was so remote when we considered all the buzz this practice caused in the Midwest.   Today’s headlines were old news to these areas where reclamation and of the west and the pollution of the coastlines had advanced energy and conservation issues years ago. 

At the lodge, we took in the sight of the loaning wall where trading books was the expectation.  Novels, epic tales, some cards, some coloring books and some puzzles had been deposited there, all  brought and left by travelers like ourselves, who were thankful for an opportunity to dutifully comply and thereby gift in a most satisfactory way,  a little treasure to the lodge.  The give and take was not without a little celebration, as the contributors had one less book to lug home in luggage. 

We noted the game cabinet in the side room was flung widely open by the last set of entertainment searching eyes.  We described to our curious kids how the teardrop shaped netting and leathers that hung on the wall were crafted and called snowshoes.  We took a minute to talk about the weight displacing capabilities of the old snowshoe design and how it hadn’t changed much even with the modern design and materials available today.

And that is when even these grown ups started looking forward to the next adventure.  After shedding suitcases and having eaten a lodge meal, we were as ready as the kids for tomorrow, where we were to meet and make new friends-  this time with some very old and very wise trees. 

We had come here to see the groves of Giant Sequoias, the redwoods and the sugar pines- standing or fallen- and we expected to be both respectful and rewarded at the sight of these ancient observers of the mountain.

### by child grower Annita Woz

Additional photos for part 2 of Never Regret trip by A. Woz.

 

mountain-no-guardrails-ca-trip

Driving down the mountain at about 4,000 ft. elevation. No guardrails! Notice the snow. We had about 18 inches over night on our last night at the lodge (at 7,000ft) and as we drove down, it disappeared. By 3,000 ft at the base in Visalia, CA there was no snow to be found. We took off our tire chains that are req’d for driving on mountain roads til May as soon as we could. THey were so loud, our heads were aching from the constant whack of metal to ice/road. We were singing, “we’ll be coming down the mountain and we’ll be deaf” at the top of our lungs on the way down.  : )

 mountain-foot-view 

A mountain is not a triangle on the horizon. I’m thinking there really isn’t such a thing as  A mountain, but rather,  mountainS.   There are numerous valleys and smaller mountains that make up the range that we could see on this trip. We stopped at a lot of turnouts to take pictures. The kids really thought they would go rolling down the mountain if they were too near the edge and were wary whenever we asked them to get out for pics.  By the last days, they were more comfortable and actually got out and had a snowball fight at one stop. We truly were in awe by the size and the beauty of this part of our country. I admit, we had to sing a few lines of “This land is your Land, this land is my land, from California to the redwood forests, from the gulf stream waters to the…”  We just couldn’t help singing out. It was like our bodies and minds had to put to use all the gorgeous words that came to our heads as we took in our surroundings or they would be forgotten and left behind.

 big-tree-falls-up-a-hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This tree is a giant sequoia that fell up the hill years ago. We found giant 10 inch long pinecones (from a sugar pine! )  and learned that the tiny pinecones actually carry the seeds of the Giant Sequoia.

big-trees-smaller-grove-with-kids

 

While Bob and I were newlyweds,  the joke when he was leaving for work was, “Where are you going?” and was followed by, “Californ-aye-ay.”  Now, two decades later, we are there.  Bob has always wanted to see the redwoods and he has visited them alone on work trips, but this family visit to the Giant Sequoias is better than we had imagined. 

It is one thing to explore and travel, it is another thing to do it with our kids. They are reading everything they can get their hands on, they are really paying attention because they just cannot miss this impressive sight. It is so large, they cannot avoid looking at it!  They are happy to smile for a million pictures and say “spaghetti” a hundred times so we can get the shot.

Standing at the bottom of this photo are the kids.  Standing, for hundreds of years are the children of the giant sequoia.  There is a lot of growing to be done.

The trees have a large amount of tannins in their bark which gives them the red color and also protects them from insects, pests, infestations, disease and even forest fires. Many of the sequoias we saw wore battle scars of past fires, most still stood tall, still growing even though their centers were burned. Many still smelled like charcoal even though there hadn’t been a fire here in years. 

big-tree-with-two-at-base1 

We felt like we were standing in a the movie Terabithia and that these trees would pick up their rooted feet and begin to chase us off this mountain if we didn’t respect the moment. We tried to be silent but the urge to yell and hear the echo was very strong for the youngest. We tried to do no harm but we felt so small and thought that our presence would easily be as unnoticed by this grove of greatness.  I was intentionally disconnected on this trip, no laptop, no cell phone, no checking wordpress, facebook, cnn or email. We thought about our friend who was celebrating her 11th birthday but couldn’t call her in the middle of this nowhere that we wished was everywhere. I prayed to the nature god and thanked Muir for reminding me that the time wasted to build a temple from these logs, should be better spent worshipping, silently, splendidly, at their rooted altars.   

 

big-trees-with-snow-storm-coming

After traveling to see General Sherman tree, Grant tree, the Two Sisters, and many more unnamed pathways and hiking trails and another hundred pictures later, we learned of a snow storm expected to begin later that evening. We watched the clouds roll in, and the photo opportunities we had on the drive there disappeared into the fog that left us looking at nothing but white. Where  minutes ago, there were tunnels of standing pines that looked like long hallways ending in sunlit snow covered mountain top doorways, there was now nothing but the concern to get back to our lodge before the roads became unpassable. The weather while hiking had been about 55 degrees and perfect. Within minutes, it dropped to the 30’s and began dropping the fullest flattest leaf size flakes on our windshield and in our hair.

part 2 in pictures of 2009 CA trip that Grandpa Larry says we will never regret.  I’m starting to see what he means…

You’ll never Regret It, says Dad- by child grower Annita Woz

HooverDamToesPhoto of the alien welcome  area at Hoover Dam. Yes, seriously- the artist felt that the Hoover Dam would be visible from space and that if explorers should arrive, they should be greeted with this welcoming memorial and other astrological signs incorporated into the design.  

From John Muir, “A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.  Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fibre thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves.  No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord. “

I was reading Muir’s musings on spring break,  on day four of a trek across what our family now refers to as “our great country.”   I had read this as a meditation, as instructed by author Chris Highland, while sitting in a lodge in Sequoia National Park in the mountains of California.

I was not ready for all of the elements, natural and unnatural, to come together so clearly.

My dad and his wife had taken their kids on a similar adventure over ten years ago, and as I called him from the road  he shared some of his own trip stories and admitted that even though they had seen a lot, they still had missed so much. 

He had no regrets and even though he spent three weeks of togetherness with sometimes cranky kids, and sacrificed some retirement savings, I could hear that he was maybe surprised about just how great it all was, and the fact that he had even done it at all.  He assured me that I wouldn’t regret it either and that even when compared to years of raising kids, working and doing the juggling that all parents do, his memory measured the trip against the roller coaster rides they had taken throughout the turbulent adolescent years and he announced that it was one of the best experiences he had shared with his children.   

He recalled the crazy lights of Freemont Street in Las Vegas, the endless highway leading him through the desert, and with a laugh, shared the story of the dam elevator that was broken on the dam tour of the Hoover Dam.  He gave credit to the kids for wisely taking more than 40 rolls of film in appreciation of the Grand Canyon, the Giant Redwoods, and the Pacific Ocean and I think I heard a crack in the voice of his wife when she told us to have a great time during our goodbye hug shared over the cell phone.  

Flooding into my head like the mountain streams we saw on the slow climb up the four thousand foot drive, were all the paths that led me to this minute. I had flashes of my first college English class where after drawing from a hat, slips of fortune cookie size paper introduced me to Thoreau and Emerson. 

I had been touched by the message of the earth, but just couldn’t feel it then.

My thoughts turned to my first home purchase where with a craving to live in the country, but not being a farm girl or even an outdoorsy type, something had influenced a purchase in a rural subdivision where each house is spaced on a couple of acres outside of town and where I could see cows grazing and farmer Davis plowing in the springtime when I looked out the kitchen window.  

My husband is the son of  farmers and he willingly took on the mowing that each year plowed under a little more of the weeds and turned them into growing green play areas for our babies and our pups.  Though laundry is lowest on my list of domestic chores, I still have a nagging need to view real estate listings in hopes of someday living on land that affords me the privacy to hang clothes on a long line to dry, while wearing just my underwear. 

Then, there was my involvement opposing the newest transmission lines for Dane County, another path that was I thought I was leading, but this week learned that that experience was just me following another road that was supposed to lead me to this mountain.  The powerline opposition group had some savvy leadership,  had inspired the involvement of a record number of intervenors in a public service commission process and led a successful but unfulfilled referendum seeking proof for increased energy demand as we entered a recession.  Despite all this,  I still faced this spring’s looming construction of a 138kv power  line just sixty feet from our sort of rural home.

I sat, reflecting on these battles, all planted in surreal fashion, by some force of nature and real life education.  It  jolted me into a personal meeting,  almost forcing me to shake hands with the energy issues that are best faced by forging friendships with the environment,  conservation and sustainable practices.

So here I sat,  looking at trees and snow capped mountains, having a coffee, my oldest child sitting at my side, both of us stretching our legs to gather the rays of sun on a warming, rocky ledge overlooking a valley taken over by the birds of the season. She looked at me and grinned, slipped her hand, nearly as big as mine, into my palm and squeezed a knowing sign that we had just been a part of the best of each day- sunrise.

Amidst all my fighting and fear, the lines were still going up back at home. Yet, out here – yes even here – thousands of miles to the west, I was seeing power lines everywhere, even in the national park.  Though fewer, these lines are still needed no matter how much I don’t want them to be. 

And somehow, in my new perspective, they were looking less visible, less invasive in this mountain setting. 

The visit to the Hoover Dam had given me a sense of the amount of natural power that is available to us.  The waving arms of the turbines that met us from the ridge welcoming us to California had been making wind power for more than 50 years already.  I was thankful that Wisconsin’s coal plants were not powering this mountain or a part of this landscape.  

I put down the small book of Muir on the copper and stone coffee table, and looked into the flames of the massive fireplace and pondered the size of this mountain and the age of the dirt and the wisdom of the two thousand year old trees and humbly accepted the life lessons that led me to this lodge.

I smiled at the notion that not even a power pole could tower over the ancient and still growing Giant Sequoias and I felt finally, that something had put those poles in their place.  Humbly I felt truth rooted even more deeply into me by my short time in these mountains, and a solid belief that it is better to fight for the good than to fight against the bad.

### part 1 of ? on You’ll Never Regret It, the trek of 2009 by child grower Annita Woz.

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