Some more recent local sky views:
On the pro side, our family camp out Monday and Tuesday provided lots of great scenery, sun, and exercise. We all climbed and hiked like crazy, including the baby. The temperature was perfect. The landscapes were majestic. The together time was fun.
On the con, a huge wind storm blew dirt in our faces and broke my biggest tent. The fabric ripped, half the poles snapped, and the metal hardware that connects the poles to the tent fabric was actually broken in half! Never seen anything like it. And we got orange sand all over our stuff. Guess Anakin Skywalker was right about that junk after all.
On balance, a great experience, though!
“We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and Titanic features….We need to witness our own limits transgressed.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I took these pictures with my phone’s camera during a spontaneous family vacation this last weekend.
I did have to order it. Here are the passages I marked:
I don’t know what it is, but there is something about steady manual labor like this, alone in the fields, that gives one a curious deep satisfaction. I like the sense of doing hard work that is also useful work. One’s mind at first drops asleep, except for the narrow margin relating to this or that repetitive process. One lets go, calms down. For hours, sometimes, while at such work, I came near the point of complete mental vacuity. The mind sets itself the minute task it has to do and goes off somewhere to its own high pastures, serene uplands, to rest and play. The hours pass magically: the sun that was low when the work began rides high in the heavens—and suddenly the mind comes home again. It comes home refreshed stimulated, happy. I always know the exact moment of its arrival. Yesterday it did not return until I had nearly finished my work in the field. It seemed to cry out: “What, asleep! Listen to the bobolinks.”
I straightened up quickly and realized that I had been working for several hours without hearing or seeing much of anything—this literally. The whole world now became flooded with delightful sounds, not only the bobolinks, but a hundred other voices both of nature and human nature, so that I had a deep and indescribably friendly feeling towards all things. I thought it good and beautiful to be there and to be alive. Even the grass clinging wetly to my legs as I walked seemed consciously holding me close to the earth; and the shovel held warmly, even painfully in my blistered hands, was proof that I had at last become part of a universal process. These sensations, even as I set them down, seem difficult to express, but they were there, and they were true and sound. (11-12)
Steve had been working all day, harrowing and fertilizing his tobacco land, and should, I suppose, be properly tired. But the weeds in the onions are growing! Down on his knees he went and began weeding. A moment later his wife was at his side. The children cried a little, for they were tired and hungry and wanted to go home, but soon whimpered down. I wondered what an American family I know of, which keeps a nurse for each of their weakling children and a second girl to help the nurses, would say to this way of “raising” children! These two little Poles are magnificent physical specimens, and the boy, when clean, is really beautiful. At eight-thirty when it was too dark to see, the family trailed homeward, Steve carrying the little boy in his arms. Can these people be beaten? (86-87)
Took several of my children hiking at Red Rock Canyon this morning. My favorite pictures of the landscape are these two, showing mid-morning sunbeams streaming down over a lush desert vista, rolling out in layers. This view is facing southeast from the highest point of the Keystone Thrush Trail.
Of course, the whole family’s favorite view of the hike was this little critter. I’ve lived here my whole life, and this is actually the first tarantula I’ve seen out in the desert:
Some of my favorites as I review the contents of my tablet from the last two months:
I noted these in a biography I read last year:
“The sun shines not on us but in us, as if truly part and parent of us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing…” –journal, 1872.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.” –journal, (1888?)
“The American forests, however slighted by man, must surely have been a great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted. The whole continent was a garden, and from the beginning it seemed favored above all the other wild parks and gardens of the globe.” –first line of “The American Forests,” Atlantic Monthly, 1897
The word “art” is related to words like “artifice” and “artificial,” which reminds us that art refers to things people create to represent beauty and other ideas. All human art is, by definition, artificial.
But God’s art is natural. A great example is below. This is the photo used for the cover of the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. It’s a shot of Yosemite, California. On our left is El Capitan, a vertical cliff well over half a mile high. In the central distance is Half Dome rock. On the left is Bridalveil fall, one of the most beautiful and popular falls in the U.S.
In this photo, mist covers the forest of the valley floor as the dawning sun first touches the highest points around it.
Each of these was taken around a quarter after 6 A.M. This is what I see on my drive to work.
A couple of weeks ago, my oldest son and I tried hiking to the top of Mt. Charleston, which is 20 miles northwest of Las Vegas and at nearly 12,000 feet is the highest peak in southern Nevada. We only made it halfway, but a few days ago I went back and did the whole thing.
I went up the south trail, and down the north trail. Those are about eight miles each, and with the short hike up the highway to get back to my car, the whole trip was 17 miles. That took me ten hours (5.5 hours to get up, 4.5 hours to get back down). I drank seven water bottles during the hike, FYI. Here are some pictures I took along the way:
I went up to Lee Canyon, near Mt. Charleston, last week to do some bike riding. I didn’t go far, so I didn’t take many pictures, but here are a couple of views.
First, two shots near the end of the road, by the ski resort; the sun had just risen over another peak, and was shining between a couple of huge pines.
Also, on the way down the mountain, I saw a couple of burros on the side of the road. It’s hard to tell here, but the one on the right is far larger–a parent. It’s possible that one or the other was on its way to deliver mail to Boys’ Life magazine. The big plants in the middle ground are yucca plants,which are everywhere in this part of the country. Joshua trees are a kind of yucca.
A couple of big falcons flew around my area, but they were far too fast for me to get a picture, and I couldn’t identify the exact species. I also say a cute little kit fox, but he ran off before I could get a picture, even though I pulled over and tried to find him. A pretty good day for spotting desert wildlife.
Last Saturday, to beat the heat here in the depths of the Las Vegas Valley, the Hustons retreated to the bucolic splendors of the nearby Mount Charleston area. I looked for a trail to hike that wouldn’t be too long or too short, or too easy or too hard for our children (and whose porridge would be neither too hot nor too cold…oh wait, that’s something else). Also, parking and access to the trail had to be free.
We settled on the Fletcher Canyon Trail, which is just under four miles round trip, and which has a gentle but noticeable slope. I also liked that trail because it offered so much shade, going well into the forested area, as well as a stream and sheer cliff faces overhead at the end, boxing you in with 200 foot walls on either side.
The hike offered plenty for us all to gape at: a few deer on the drive up, a huge spider’s nest in a tree hanging over the trail, large trees fallen over a dry part of the stream bed (suitable for daredevil stunts), a lizard in the bushes, bats that thought nothing of flitting around us and then landing still on the closest tree (ready for close inspection by curious youngsters), and the stream itself, which was crystal clear and ice cold, and which was apparently good for dunking our heads in, and for pouring on each other. After cooling off in that water, a couple of us bottled some to take home, boil, and enjoy.
Incidentally, there was a picture on the front page of the Nevada section of the Review-Journal yesterday that showed exactly the same thing–two kids on the Fletcher Canyon Trail playing in the stream. Weird.
A great few hours all around. One of our more successful hikes, and one of the most scenic since the Great Snowy Valentine’s Day of 2009.
Although I often complain about how hot and dry my desert is, and how much I’ve always wanted to live somewhere green and
rainy, there is one thing that I truly love about living here: sunsets in the Spring.
There’s something about the atmosphere here. I don’t know if it’s related to the wide landscape, or to the jagged layers of mountains to our west. Maybe it’s all the air pollution. Whatever causes it, we have the most colorful, evocative, pristine sunsets I can imagine. For some reason, they’re especially brilliant this time of year: a hundred hues of the palette bleed in and out of each other from the rocky horizon out across the sky far back into the darkening east.
I think it would be great to find a scenic spot on the east side of town (maybe around the temple?) and take a picture of the sunset from that same spot, every day for a year. The range of effects would be impressive over that span of time, the surprising array of variations on the same simple background would be sublime. It would make a fantastic book.
Even better than the sunsets themselves is the longer dusk: that magic hour after the sun sets until it starts getting really dark. It’s already fairly warm by this time of year, and the moment the sun retires, everything instantly gets much cooler. You can almost feel steam rising off the world. Two years ago, I went camping out in the desert and had to sit with my back to the sun to get any kind of relief. I knew without even facing west that the sun had gone down because the pressure on my back was suddenly ten degrees lighter. I turned around for the physical confirmation: the glowing, liquid gold outline along the top of the mountain ranges; sharp, bold streaks of grade-school art sunlight shooting through the few clouds that squatted near the edge of the sky.
That dusk hour in the Spring is truly a heaven, a pleasant oasis of perfect proportion: the temperature is like floating in clear, cool bathwater, the light still visible enough to be day, but subdued as if a silk shade had been drawn over the blaring, garish sun. For about sixty minutes between the fierce heat of day and the dark nothingness of night, we float in a peaceful dreamland of celestial comfort.
In my heaven, the weather would be like that all the time.