Scotch mist trail

April 17th, 2007

Today I took the well-travelled (by the at least slightly fit) trail to Vernal Fall and the onwards and upwards to Nevada Fall via a series of seemingly endless stairs. I now have a new mental image of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. The path is called the Mist Trail, but to be honest a more accurate description would be the extremely heavy drizzle trail. Admittedly the wet bit is only around the base and side of Vernal Fall, but I got completely soaked. Fortunately it was a sunny day, so I quickly dried out at the top.

I think I was there at a particularly good time - the sun was at the right angle to give a double rainbow in the spray from the fall.

But those steps leading to the top of Vernal Fall - were they designed for basketball players or something? Who else would have legs long enough not to struggle? I suppose the exercise will do me some good.

I then made my way on to Nevada Fall, which is well worth the (short but occasionally steep) trek. The final ascent is up a more-recently-maintained path with more human-sized steps. There’s a viewpoint on one side of the fall where you can safely look over the edge, but in other places there’s nothing between you and oblivion - I’m sure if one of our health & safety people visited the park, they’d have a fit and want to close it down.

One thing I managed to do for the first time (though I still found it hard) was looking over the edge straight down. I know that from now on when I fall in dreams it will be at Yosemite. There are worse places to be in dreams.

Beauty as well as bread

April 17th, 2007

I’m reminded of what Bill Bryson said of Yosemite in the Lost Continent (from memory): “When you arrive in Yosemite, your first thought is that you have died and gone to heaven. Your second thought is, that means you are going to spend eternity with a lot of fat Americans in Bermuda shorts.” But don’t despair - this is only true in the height of summer. When I was there at least the FAIBS contingent was far less in evidence, and indeed even when they are thronging the flat paths in the valley floor and packing out the shuttle buses, move more than 200m from a bus stop and they are already thin on the ground (nice that they can be thin somewhere). Climb more than 50m above the valley floor and they are nowhere to be seen.

It is the most improbable of landscapes, the most beautiful of places (wasn’t that the name of the pyramid complex of Unas?). No photographs can adequately capture the massive scale of the cliffs and falls - unless you could blow you photos up to 300m high. And even then they would still be small reproductions of the real thing.

I’m told that the average length of stay for a visitor to Yosemite is three hours. Which means that the vast majority stay for less than that - I was there for 86 hours. What can you see in such a short time? You can stare in awe at the cliffs and walk to the base of Yosemite Falls - then back to the car or the tour bus. Or you can follow the advice a Ranger offered to one such visitor, and just sit and weep. Three days, three months, three years would hardly be sufficient to explore the beauty of Yosemite. We all have so little time here it is too tempting to rush from one experience to another, just checking off the various famous sites from the list, eyes down, focused on the trail and forgetting to look around. But it is not a race. Perhaps the best part of being in Yosemite is when you just sit down and soak up the sights, the sounds, the peace and the beauty, trying to fix it in your mind forever.

[The title of this post is a quote from John Muir]

Toddling in John Muir’s footsteps

April 16th, 2007

One day, perhaps, I shall arrive in Yosemite during daylight, and really experience the drive into the valley. This time, as last time, I arrived in darkness - seeing nothing beyond the road ahead picked out in the car’s headlights. Yet in some ways this is the ideal way to experience the valley - to simply awake the next day and find it’s just there, all around you, as if it had been constructed overnight for your benefit. To walk outside the door first thing in the morning, to be suddenly in the middle of it, surrounding by that overwhelming landscape, is a magical experience in itself. To be there at all is to feel yourself to be a supremely lucky person. But to be staying with someone who lives and works in the valley - well!

Last year I had only one morning free, so took a short walk to Columbia Rock. I say short, but it took me two-and-a-half hours to get there. But only just over half an hour to get back down to my meeting. This time I had more free time to explore, but I thought I would ease myself into things by first taking a look at the Yosemite Museum. Once again it was the time for the Yosemite Renaissance exhibition. Last year there were a couple of wonderful textile pieces by Bonnie Peterson - one of which won the first prize. This year, well, perhaps there is a theme emerging, as it was a large textile piece that won first prize again - and very nice it was too.

After that, and having prepared a lunch to take with me of almost Muirean sparseness - two small pieces of bread and butter and a flask of water - I took the trail round Mirror Lake. I will admit that as I walked the path I occasionally laughed out loud at the thought that my job could bring me to such a beautiful place. But don’t worry, I was punished later.

The Mirror Lake trail is pretty flat and just circles the lake (which was pretty low so much of the area was already in “summer meadow” mode), but it’s a pretty location in its own right. What makes it spectacular is its location under Half Dome. To lie down in the meadow in the warmth of a Spring sun and look up at that enormous lump of granite looming over you - who could ask for more?

If you’re wondering about the punishment - I left my black woolly hat at Shuttle Stop 17. I put it on the seat beside me, and when the bus came I got up and left it there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t there when I came back to look, nor was it handed in to ‘Lost and found’ (as Americans call “Lost Property”). Oh well. No great loss I suppose - but it was a hat I bought in New Zealand, so I was sentimentally attached to it. Rats.

Seconds out / second thoughts?

April 14th, 2007

OK, just half an hour or so before the session with my presentation starts. Am I afraid? Well, yes, I am a little apprehensive. But it’s too late to back out now! At least everything seems to work and I’ve run through it all severall times. Fingers crossed.

UPDATE: It all went fine. even using a laptop with an Italian-layout keyboard.

SF story

April 11th, 2007

After the morning session on museum blogging developments, I went out for a walk to get some fresh air and a bite to eat. Bought a really nice bacon sandwich and a coffee and sat in the little park behind the Yerba Bueana Center for the Arts. It’s a beautiful warm day (rather like June in Scotland*) today - hope I managed to avoid burning!

Two sights you wouldn’t see in the UK: two policeman on bicycles (what a strange reversal that is); and Scientologists soliciting victimembers.

Sleepless in San Francisco

April 11th, 2007

‘Well, I’m back’, he said. And in San Francisco, in the hotel and ready for Museums and the Web 2007 (now with added me). The paper is online, the presentation is (pretty much) done, and I haven’t slept for over forty hours. I went to bed at 11.30pm on Monday (UK time), but just could not get to sleep - and I had to get up at 3am anyway to make the first flight down to London from Edinburgh. So I’ve been awake since about 10am on Monday and my clock (and body) think it’s now 2.20am on Wednesday. You may think this is all my own fault - couldn’t I have slept on the plane? I’ve never been able to do that, somehow. Still I did see a number of films, including Night at the Museum which was really rather fun. And we had the added excitement of the San Francisco police coming on to the plane when we landed before anyone was allowed to disembark. Immigration and customs though was much quicker than in Chicago last year, and it was just a quick trip on Bart and a short walk to the hotel. I can hear the clanging of the cable car bells outside - which reminds me: I must set the alarm on my phone. And so to bed.

Pepys show

February 9th, 2007

I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while now, but better late than, etc. I must recommend the Pepys Diary blog project, now in its fourth year. I happened upon it by sheer chance, and have been hooked ever since. It’s a simple concept - each day the diary entry for the same day, annotated by readers in the comments. The project began on 1 January 2003 with the first diary entry for 1 January 1660. It’s a compelling read, and although I was vaguely familiar with the general outline of Pepys’s life, I never had got round to reading the three volumes of Bryant’s biography that my dad had (and which I guess are now in New Zealand with my brother), nor had I ever encountered the diary itself (which has been published several times over the last 200 years or so). The diary can be pretty explicit, but it’s been a brilliant window into Restoration London and also into the mind of the diarist. Have a look for example at his witnessing of an execution or when he fears his wife will need surgery (and his relief when she does not). There’s a catch-up summary for latecomers like me.

Great stuff. Go read.

Now it’s your turn…

February 8th, 2007

Another of these silly what [x] are you quizzes [via]. Apparently I am Isaac Asimov. Is that good or bad? Scarily, I do have quite a lot of his books.

I am:Isaac Asimov

One of the most prolific writers in history, on any imaginable subject. Cared little for art but created lasting and memorable tales.

Which science fiction writer are you?

Pity about the clunky cut’n'paste code, though.

The quick and the deadline

February 4th, 2007

Well, I did get may paper for Museums and the Web 2007 in on time - right on the deadline 30th January, though I had calculated that since it was being submitted to somewhere in Toronto I would theoretically have until 5am on the 31st… and at times it seemed like I might need the extra five hours. I’m not sure what it is about deadlines, but I often seem to need the threat of their imminence not only to get going, but actually to work well. This is a worrying character trait, but hey, at least I’m good under pressure. Just as well as I also had a grant application to be written up and in on the 31st (for a new post - fingers crossed).

The strange thing about writing this paper was that when I first sat down to work on it, not having done anything like this for - well, let’s just say a long time - I wondered how on Earth I could write 5,000 words. After all most of the writing I’ve done since university has been about keeping things short - the 150 word exhibition panel, the thirty word (if that) object label, or the short article for a magazine (even the professional ones don’t want too many words).

That however was several weeks ago. When I went back to my research and actually began writing I’d forgotten what the word limit was, and didn’t check back on the mw2007 site. I just sat and wrote. It was actually pretty easy because I knew what I was talking about and what I wanted to say. By the time I got round to doing a word count I was at 7,500 words, and I hadn’t finished. Oooops. So the last couple of days were a severe pruning job - a lot of stuff about other countries disappeared at this point, and I had to tighten up what remained. I think (though who am I to judge?) that this actually improved the paper a lot. We shall see. Now I have to work on my presentation.

I wonder if my jokes will travel?

Papiere, bitte

November 22nd, 2006

My proposal for a paper for Museums & the Web 2007 has been accepted! I am overcome with excitement … coupled with a terror that I now have to write the damn thing. I don’t mind talking about it - public speaking doesn’t worry me at all - but the writing somehow terrifies me. On the other hand, I’ve been thinking about this for months, so maybe it won’t be too hard. No choice now, anyway, and no-one to blame but myself - it seemed like a good idea at the time!