I am quite poor at rehabbing wildlife.

I had to let Phil go early to let him get established before termite tenting.

But he doesn’t yet know how to build a nest for shelter and warmth.
And it’s raining, his first rain. He has been sleeping out in the open on the highest, most sparsely-covered fork of the pepper tree.

When a tiny squirrel bobs at you with hopeful eyes, knowing that as a mammalian baby, his absolute favorite pastime is snuggling, do you let him into your hoodie despite his status as Rehabbed Wildlife / Go Forth and Be Free and Unadulterated by Human Contact?

Yes. Yes, you do. Because it’s cold outside, and wet, and you could keep him warm and know that he is at supreme peace.
Look at this face and tell me you wouldn’t want to give this mammal child warmth, too.

But one heartfelt, questionable decision led to another.

I snuggled him for a little while this evening, sitting on my porch, but dusk was approaching, and so was Phil’s window to climb the pepper tree to his sleeping spot. I had to squeeze my hoodie pocket from left to right like a toothpaste tube to squish him out despite his protesting grunts. I gently plucked him off of me, set him on the top of the cage that is still sitting on my front porch, and gathered my things; then, I again plucked him back off of me, and set him on the top of the cage, then carefully rushed indoors to wait out the waning light and give Phil time to go to bed.

Thirty minutes later, when a good twenty minutes of darkness had passed outside, I gathered my purse, phone, and keys to head out to grab dinner. I opened the door into the darkness and was gutted to find myself face-to-face with a damp squirrel baby shivering in the dim porch light, standing crouched with his tiny hands clasped in front of him, at the very edge of the cage closest to the handle of my door. He tilted his head and fixed a glistening eye squarely upon me. He had waited for me where I had left him.

A tiny, furry, barbed dagger of guilt lodged in my chest.

The very moment the screen door was open wide enough to permit his passage, he leapt onto me and rooted for my hoodie pocket. I gently dislodged him, placing him into the nest in the cage, and walked swiftly away and down the driveway. I was startled by a flurry of movement on the ground to my right, barely perceptible in the dark; he had followed me. I let him catch up and hop on, then walked him back to the cage, wrestling him into the nest before locking him in for the night. I then turned the porch light out completely.

When I returned with dinner, all was quiet in the cage. I snuck past while he hopefully stayed asleep.

Bringing him back into the apartment is the worst thing I could do with the impending termite treatment. I don’t want to give him any reason to try to find a way in while the gas is present.

But it’s so hard to know he’s out there alone in the rain. It’s the only reason why I hope that we get a break in the rain soon. Little Phil needs to learn to build his own shelter.

In the meantime, though, makeshift mom will have a nest here for him. Outside.

That moment when

…while sipping tea on your front porch on a fine Friday evening, you happen to glance over and catch a field mouse ever-so-nonchalantly cruising into your apartment via the very-slightly-ajar front door. You ever so subtly lean over to pick up your camera, which is your constant sidekick, but not subtly enough. Mouse sees you and books it back in the direction from whence he came. You quietly rise and tiptoe over to the alcove, following in its tiny footsteps, completely honed in to catch the slightest sound or movement amid the patter of raindrops….so very carefully, so very quietly…and then, out of nowhere,

WHAP!

you are pelted hard in the neck with a sharp, furry, half-pound grunting beanbag.

And you realize that you are in search of the source of months of rodent-caused destruction in your apartment with the help of an eager juvenile rodent.

Had you asked me a year ago what I thought I’d be doing on April 8, 2016, no, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have answered with this.

And yes, I jumped five feet and dropped my flashlight.

WTC Snow Camp.

Two weeks ago, my Wilderness Travel Course group headed up to the Mt. Waterman vicinity on a very warm (~65degF) Winter’s day to practice techniques for traveling cross-country safely in snowy conditions.  This was officially known as our Snow Travel outing.  It was a time for students to get used to snowy conditions, and a time for leaders to evaluate how the students were doing, and whether gear was sufficient.

It was my first time touching snow, let alone cutting steps into a steep snowy slope!  The falling/sliding aspect was a bit freaky, but I managed not to slip on any slopes in snow…

Since it had been so unseasonably warm up there, much of the landscape’s snow had eroded, leaving soft, pillowy soil layered with pine needles upon pine needles.  I actually had to use the same movement techniques for the dirt that I had to use for snow to avoid falling on slopes.  Coming down one 45-degree gully on the way back to the parking lot at the end of the day, the soil gave and I slipped and slid downhill some yards.  It felt like I was on a pillow.  I was sliding at a glacial pace, but getting leverage to stop was useless as the soft soil kept giving.  I glided ever so gently into a tree, my foot barely touching the trunk was enough to stop momentum.  It was the most comfortable fall ever.

We did manage to find a snowy clearing large enough to don snowshoes and tromp around with much more security than we’d had when kicking into snow with waterproofed hiking boots alone.  The best part of practice was a snowshoe relay wherein we formed four teams of four students each, lined up in single-file.  The first person in line stepped into a pair of snowshoes, prompting the others in line behind them to form a “pit crew” to secure the straps on the snowshoes as quickly as possible, and once secure, the snowshoer RAN across the clearing and back, and when they returned, the pit crew had to remove the snowshoes ASAP so that the next person in line could step into them and get secured to race.  My team managed to get all four people across the clearing the fastest!  It actually wasn’t too bad running in the shoes as long as I didn’t let my feet pigeon-toe, leading to a faceplant.

AND… most importantly, in the clearing, I got to make my first snow angel, and a tiny snowdude.

I completed the Snow Travel outing feeling reasonably good about being able to handle snow.  My gearing was almost complete, my feet stayed dry despite being ankle-deep in snow and kicking repeatedly through ice, and carrying handfuls of snow around was FUN despite the searing freezing pain in my joints!   So while it didn’t absolve all of my anxiety about the finale outing for the wilderness class — backpacking in the snow in the Sierra Nevada — it helped quell my fears a bit.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This past Friday, the class met up at 11:30am at the same Park and Ride at which we boarded buses for Joshua Tree last month.  I agonized and spent four hours straight on Thursday night packing my 70-liter backpack with everything I’d been told I’d need to survive the cold.  Between agonizing, stomachaching, packing, preparing instructions and supplies for my parrot and squirrels’ babysitters, and general fidgeting, I got about three cumulative hours of sleep in.  I hoped that I might sleep on the bus as it headed 4.5 hours north, but no such luck.  Oh well, at least exhaustion would help me sleep better in a cold tent that first night, I figured.

Upon departing the bus at our destination in the early evening, we donned our packs and snowshoes, and proceeded into our first campsite to set up for the night, about a 100-yard snowshoe trudge from the bus point.

The forecast for the night was 16 degrees Fahrenheit before windchill, with high winds all night, gusting up to 60 miles per hour.  Once our tents were up and staked so very securely in the constant wind, we gathered for a group night hike up the road about a quarter mile.  The leaders wanted us to get moving to battle the bitingly unfamiliar cold that was eating through our layers.  We realized that we were all suffering to some degree from altitude sickness, which I had tried to stave off by hydrating myself generously in the week prior.  Nevertheless, though I managed to keep headaches and nausea at bay, I was extremely short of breath.  It was disconcerting to only make it up a few steps on a very shallow incline before having to lock a leg to rest and heave for a bit.

After the hike, in my three-person tent with two tent-mates (a snug fit), I fell asleep finally feeling fairly warm with four layers on top, three layers on bottom, a beanie, and my hood from my hoodie up — in addition to my sleeping bag around me, which is rated for 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

I awoke an hour later to the feeling that someone was actively cinching a wide band around my chest.  I was breathing, but felt like I was getting no air.  I knew that it was all in my head, but I just suddenly wanted to get out of the situation — NOW.  I couldn’t stretch my legs out fully because I had stored my stove fuel canister and boots in the bottom of my bag to avoid the moisture in them freezing in exposure.  I rushed to unzip my sleeping bag and sat up, trying not to hyperventilate.  The chill outside the bag hit immediately.  I needed to pee.  I needed to get out of the tent.  I wanted to go home, so badly that there aren’t words.

The severity of my needing to pee escalating exponentially as I started to panic, I hurriedly thrust my feet into my still-cold boots, laced them haphazardly, and crawled out of the tent into the pitch dark, avoiding the trouble of putting snowshoes back on since time was at a premium.  I lurched toward the campsite’s restroom a hundred yards away in the light of my headlamp, trying to stay on a path already beaten by other feet to avoid sinking into fresh snow.

The cold air in my throat and lungs jarred me out of my immediate panic, but I didn’t want to get back into the tent to be cooped up with strangers, forced to jam myself back into a cocoon.  But the cold… the wind kept cutting.  My face hurt.  My hands, in insulated gloves and covered again by overmitts, hurt from the chill.

I crawled slowly back into the tent, trying not to wake my tent-mates as I rustled toward that wretched sleeping bag full of inanimate objects that needed to snuggle with me to stay warm, too.  But my miserable quiet sobbing in making weak attempts to subdue panic eventually awakened the next person over, who tried to console me and tell me that it would be okay.  But in my mind, she was a stranger, and I was so far from home.  And cold.  So very cold.  I told my classmate that I thought that perhaps I would feel better if I ate a snack, so I reached into my pack and grabbed a Larabar. Since I hadn’t stored it in my full sleeping bag, it was frozen solid, so I gnawed on it forlornly, sitting up with my legs in the bag, torso cold, but at least I felt unsuppressed.

I ended up removing clothes until I was down to two layers on top and two on bottom, sleeping bag half-unzipped so that it only enclosed my lower body.  I was quite chilled, but felt like I could breathe again.  I spent about an hour measuring my breathing at a very, very slow rate to force my nervous system to relax.  My external misery eventually forced me to turn inward, and once it slowed, my mind wandered in twilight.  I drifted into fitful sleep, the howling wind jarring me awake as it battered the tent walls.  I had fever-dream-like visions of little squirrel Pip on the sidewalk where I found him, and in a forest.  There was no snow in the visions, just sunlight beaming through endless branches like stained glass.  He was older, and very confident.

Our class spent Saturday backpacking in to Rock Creek Lake to set up camp for the night.  My awe at the sublime surroundings was shrouded in exhaustion from trudging through new snow and old for miles, heavy snowshoes on my feet, and 37 pounds of my belongings on my back, with strangers who needed me to keep up a fast pace to reach the new campsite.  I exhausted the water supply I brought from home, so I grabbed handfuls of fresh snow and dropped them into my water bottles, only to find in dismay that the weather would permit them to stay frozen as blocks of ice, only chilling me more if I drank the water that happened to thaw out.

Setting up camp at Rock Creek Lake was time-consuming and tiring given the continued wind.  I was trying to keep a chipper exterior, but was internally raw from being out with other people (albeit very nice, supportive people) for an extended duration.  I made it through the day’s activities and managed to participate at the campfire rituals at night, but this night was a far departure from the last.  I had spent the day actually looking forward to being “alone” in my space in the shared tent, since I had enjoyed the meager calm that I had eventually found the night before, and hoped to expand on it after the strain of getting through the trip in daylight.

As soon as the campfire activities dwindled, I hurried toward the campsite’s porta-potty, which formed a line before I could reach it.  The thing about this trip is that we had to stay ever hydrated to avoid worsening of altitude-sickness symptoms — but the moment I took even one sip of water, I had to pee due to the cold.  So any greater volume of water meant a greater need to pee, and more quickly.  And I had earlier downed almost 32 ounces of freshly-boiled stream water to keep myself hydrated.

When I saw the line at the porta-potty, I ran to my tent to grab a handy stand-up-peeing device that has been a godsend on my hikes.  I found an inconspicuous place at the edge of camp and rushed to use it.  As it turns out, my urgency and the cold combined to compromise my device-seating skills, and I discovered much too late that I was halfway peeing on myself.  I tried to stop myself midway to rush to the restroom if I could, but my exhaustion won out, and I outright finished peeing despite my best efforts.  I peed through the three layers I was wearing.  As I stood in shocked, miserable contemplation of my situation, my legs began to get very, very cold as my wet layers started to freeze.  I turned and ran/walked to find a pre-stomped path to get back to my tent safely, to avoid sinking into any soft, untrodden snow lying between me and my supplies.

I entered my tent as my tent-mates had just set down for the night.  Desperate, I gently awakened the classmate immediately next to me and told her flat-out that I had just peed through my warm clothing due to a wardrobe malfunction, and asked if she had any extra layers.  Thankfully, she had a pair of wool leggings that she didn’t need.

I spent much of the trip resenting my heavier-than-necessary pack, but here’s one place where I was glad that I came overprepared.  I had bought a largeish package of biodegradable bath wipes and stuffed the entire thing into my pack, just because I like to have the means to feel clean.  In the cold tent, I at least that the means to clean myself up, an extra trash bag to pack up my soiled clothing, and dry clothing to replace that which was lost — the wool leggings from my classmate, and a thin pair of wicking leggings that I had stuffed into my bag but not layered/worn due to my claustrophobia.  I was chilly in only two thin layers, but it had to do.  I arranged myself in half of the sleeping bag as I had the night before, and laid on my back, staring into the dark.  The wind roared, endlessly pummeling the tent, but it was actually comforting.  I activated my entire body in Mountain pose to help keep me warm, and I repeatedly drifted into and out of an easy, comfortable sleep.  I spent many hours awake, contemplating openly and blankly as the tent shook and yawned against the weather, but oddly, I felt quite rested when I finally awoke in the daylight.  I had just felt so little, out in Nature.  It was terrifying the first night, but calming and peaceful, and even warm, on the second night.  In the pitch dark, I just imagined the motion of the wind across this vast landscape that we had traversed, and the snow blowing off of the nearby peaks into the nylon tent wall inches from my face.  I recorded some of the wind noise, but in listening to it, I had to turn my computer up to maximum volume to get it to sound anything like it did in the tent:

All of my whining aside:  It was stunning and picturesque up there.  I felt so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the things I saw, even as I carried a heavy physical and mental load.

We packed up camp on Sunday at Noon, and eager to leave the cold, hiked back to our bus pickup point at a fast clip in snowshoes.  There were loud sighs of relief, hugs, and a few tears of relief shed upon arrival back at the parking lot.  Half of us napped and half chatted merrily as we left the mountains and stopped at a pizza place to stuff our faces, then got back on the road for another four hours toward home.   Exhausted and a bit slap-happy, and looking for entertainment on the bus if we weren’t busy sleeping, many of us whiled away the hours by exchanging fart, poop, and pee stories.   Emboldened by hours of hearing others stand up on the bus to share true confessions of times they couldn’t hold it on the trail, I got up and shared the tale of my recent a-pee-calypse in the frigid Sierra.

And if you had asked me eighteen months ago if I thought I’d be living on my own, parenting a baby squirrel, scrambling rock in Joshua Tree, backpacking in the snowy Sierra Nevada with a bunch of strangers, and regaling these strangers with tales of when my 34-year-old self peed my pants at camp, I most likely would have said No.

I got lucky today

I recently started a course on wilderness travel — basically, How to Not Be a Moron in the Outdoors.  Tonight’s the second class session, so there’s a whole lot of material yet to be covered.

In preparation for a day-long (~15-mile, ~4000ft elevation gain) group hike that’s coming up in two weeks as part of the class (as well as the outings that will follow), I have been gearing up per the course instruction thus far, and set out yesterday morning to climb Mt. Wilson for conditioning.

I had my new daypack on, full of the basic essential hiking items listed by the course instructors.  I even went out at the last minute on Sunday night to pick up a light waterproof rain jacket at REI, and rolled it up and stuffed it in the pack with my other gear, since yesterday was going to be “overcast with a light chance of drizzle in the afternoon” in Sierra Madre.

I left my home at 8:00am to walk to the trailhead and start the hike.  Before I left the trailhead, I texted my sisters to let them know where I was going, which trail (just this one up and back), and when they could expect to hear from me again.  I told them that I wasn’t sure how far I‘d make it up the trail, but that Iexpected to be back off the mountain around 4:00pm at the latest.

I enabled GPS on my phone and started up a hiking app, recording my hike time on the trail.

At ~11:30am, with much of the 4700ft elevation gain behind me, I was very winded, but otherwise okay — no muscular issues, etc.  But I didn’t factor in how much colder it gets as you get higher… I‘m quite new at hiking, and quite devoid of common sense.

I reached the summit at 12:00pm.  The fog was so thick that when I stepped onto the summit, I couldn’t see more than about 20 yards in front of me.  And it was cold.  Very, very cold for a naive sunny-foothill-dweller like me, wearing thin synthetic hiking pants and a UV-rated longsleeved t-shirt.

About this cold:


Oh nothing, just some glaciers in the parking lot at Mt. Wilson Observatory.

And then, it started to rain.

I found cover in a picnic area on the summit, and sat down to eat, drink more water, and lace my boots tighter for the descent to avoid smashing my toes (three of my toenails are still on the way out from smashing them into the Mt. Wilson Trail in December…I only went halfway up at that time).
I dried off with a small towel in my pack, and put my rain jacket on over my tee — luckily, it’s the “cheaper” kind of waterproof that doesn’t breathe, so that started to warm me a bit.

Feeling miserable at the prospect of NOT being able to magically teleport myself back to my warm home, and instead having 7 miles of cold, probably wet trail ahead of me, I started back down from whence I came, hoping to get down and away from the summit and into warmer temperatures ASAP.
(It did cross my mind to call for a taxi to drive me back down from the summit…. but alas, no signal.)
My phone’s battery had been drained to less than half due to the hike tracking on the ascent, so I powered it off to conserve power in case I needed it later.

I got a decent way down from the summit, where it began to get warmer.  However, I started to feel like something was up when I didn’t re-encounter a section of the trail where I had to scramble sideways for a few steps across rock face with a steep dropoff on the way up the mountain (quite memorable for someone afraid of heights like me, though oddly, it didn’t scare me).

I powered my phone back on and logged back into the hiking app to locate myself on the trail.  I wasn’t on my original trail.  I had made a wrong turn, and was now far east in the middle of nowhere in the satellite map view.
I looked back up the trail from where I‘d come.  It had been a series of very steep descending switchbacks…. I doubted that I‘d have the energy to go back up and find my way back to up the original trail, given that the 7-mile ascent up the mountain in the morning was relentless.  My legs were very tired.

I checked the hiking map and found that Chantry Flat to the east looked like it was the destination for this trail that I was on.  I was vaguely familiar with Chantry, having been there when I was…six years old.  Okay.  I continued down the trail, descending.
My phone’s battery was at 14%.  I powered it off to conserve power.

Forging along in a determined yet clueless manner, I was soon overjoyed to hear human voices coming from ahead.  I passed the hikers on their way up the trail, and asked them if I was headed in the right direction to hit Chantry.  They confirmed that I was.  So I continued…

Some time later, I hit a junction with a sign that pointed me in the direction of Chantry Flat… that way… three miles.  I looked at my watch.  It was 3:15pm.  Ihad told my sisters that I would text them around 4:00pm.  I had no signal here in the mountains…
I took off, powerhiking as fast as I safely could down the trail.

I hadn’t ever hiked this trail before.  It was beautiful.  The sun even broke through the clouds a bit.  I even passed someone sitting near the trail, playing a Native American flute.  It was haunting, and beautiful… the notes alighting upon my ears, but not quite absorbing, as I tried not to panic, speeding along.

I reached the trailhead at 4:00pm.  Turns out I was on the Upper Winter Creek Trail.
I could see the Chantry parking lot nearby, and started to head over, half-jogging as quickly as I could on exhausted legs threatening to cramp.  I powered my phone back on:  12% battery life remaining.  Absolutely no signal.

I reached the parking lot at 4:10pm.  Still no signal.  7% battery life.

I wasn’t going to be able to text my sisters to let them know that I was okay.  I wasn’t going to be able to call a taxi.  I wasn’t going to be able to use the Uber app to get a ride the rest of the way home.
I figured in a worst-case scenario, I could walk down Little Santa Anita Canyon Road from the parking lot to Sierra Madre proper, and walk home.  I wasn’t familiar with how long the road was into town, but at least I knew where it would go, since I drive past the big US Forest Service sign at Grand View and Santa Anita all the time…and I had a headlamp to get around in the dark…and my rain jacket was still keeping me pretty warm, albeit sweaty.
I had also made a conscious decision to go for a visible (light grey, almost white) color of rain jacket, figuring visibility is good in the wilderness…

Then, I turned and saw a family piling into a van parked in the lot, ready to head home.  Desperate, I started to approach the mom getting into the driver’s side, but stayed back a bit (because I feel like everyone is paranoid about people soliciting help…or at least, I can be), and yelled to ask if she had a phone with signal.  She turned to check her phone and her daughter’s, and said no… and then she got out of the car and ran up to me, and asked if I needed help.  I must have been pale as a sheet, having just realized that I was in real trouble.
“Do you need a ride out?”

I hesitated for a split second, due to my own complex about weirding people out and taking advantage of others.  But then, I just nodded, my pair of trekking poles shaking in my hands.  “I don’t need to go far, just down to where this road meets the neighborhood proper, where I‘ll have signal to let my family know I‘m okay.”

She rearranged her kids, husband and dog in the car to make room for me, and we set off down the road.  It took 20 minutes of driving to get out of the mountains and back into my neighborhood.  That would have been a long, incredibly dangerous walk down a narrow, winding mountain road… in the dark.
I looked it up in Google Maps today.  It would have been about 1.5 hours walking.

I asked her to let me off once we reached the first intersection at the mountain’s edge, when I got signal on my phone.  “No–” she looked at her husband. “No, we will take you home.  It’ll only be few minutes out of our way.”  Overwhelmed, I wanted to cry, but was just numb.  I just kept thanking her, and them, and my hands were shaking so hard that I nearly jabbed her daughter’s foot in the backseat with my trekking pole.  They dropped me off right in front of my apartment.

I didn’t ask for their names.  I wish I had.  I wish I had done something other than act oddly cool (but profusely thankful) considering what they had saved me from.  I just felt weird asking about them, when I was some hitchhiker.  The first time I‘ve ever hitched a ride.

I got very, very lucky yesterday.  I didn’t freeze at the summit, or slide off the wet, rocky, narrow trail.  I managed to get across a wholly different trail at a fast clip despite my exhaustion.  And by the grace of timing and someone or something looking out for me, or just sheer dumb (and I mean…very dumb) luck, I did not end up dragging myself down a winding mountain road in the dark after a 17-mile hike.

It could have gone so very badly at so many points.

I was so very grateful to return to my warm bed last night.  I have some aches and pains, but they will serve as important reminders.

My class session tonight will focus on navigation using a compass and topographical map.  And not a moment too soon….

signed,
Moron

Ninjabread Poop Cookies, Part II.

I owe a formal (weak) apology to gingerbread.  I badmouthed it as a relative baking newbie.

Second time around, I used SO MUCH powdered sugar to prevent stickage during rolling.  It totally didn’t prevent stickage, but it helped.  I was too stingy the first time.

The second time making the dough went much quicker thanks to my new, fancy, $15 electric hand mixer!  Having to mix things manually the first time contributed to my bad mood….

However,
with the first batch,
I didn’t try to make royal icing.

A haiku:

Meringue powder, soft
Sweet smell
Coats lungs like drywall.

Another (freeform) haiku:

Electric hand mixer
False sense of security
What is this concrete

Once I got the icing into a freezer bag and cut the tip off, though, I managed okay.  Of course, I didn’t really get the hang of piping until the very last cookie.

Here’s the outcome of the second batch:

1224151447b01_zpsoq9urxyj.jpg

and then I had some extra icing, which was good because I wanted to doll up the “normal” gingerbread cookies that I made once I ran out of energy to make more men

1224151603a02_zpsjhkc8xi2.jpg

I’m supposed to go eat a polite dinner with my family very shortly, coming off of having poison-tested a crapload of these…. please send help