Sunday, October 19, 2014

Walking Past Rattlesnakes

The rattlesnake lay partially coiled on the right side of the trail, still making faint sounds of wariness and irritation when Miho started hiking again. "Do you want me to go first?" Elizabeth asked as I hesitated.  I looked up at her, then promptly turned and walked past the snake as it slowly slid around the small boulder and descended the hill, making its way out of sight.

We were about halfway through our 5-day backpacking trip along the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. We had started from White Wolf and would finish at Tuolumne Meadows. It was late July. It was hot. It was rattlesnake season. The El Portal Fire was still burning through thousands of acres though we didn't see much evidence of it in the sky. We were a group of eleven women of color from age 22 to 53, brought together by Balanced Rock Foundation for this backcountry journey, on the tenth anniversary of these women of color trips. The claim is that it is the only trip of its kind in the country.

I know that there are women of color leading other women of color on trips in the backcountry in the United States, but it seems that the Balanced Rock trip is indeed the only institutionally-led and supported one.

Maybe it's because I grew up in an immigrant household-- not only an immigrant household, but a refugee household-- that I had not considered working in the outdoors, or even backpacking recreationally. It was never in my range of vision. I didn't see it as a possibility for me. From outdoor exploration camp in sixth grade to team-building high ropes courses through college and beyond, I cannot recall a single counselor or instructor who was a woman of color.

That's not unusual, of course. Everyone has different interests, different vocations, different ways that they recreate, different places they want to spend their leisure time. The practice of carrying 30-40% of your bodyweight across long distances in remote places is understandably not commonly appealing across any demographic. And taking such journeys is far from the only way to recreate outside, nor is it necessarily a more valid way of experiencing nature than to spend an afternoon in a regional park.

I don't think everyone should go backpacking. I don't think everyone needs to try rock climbing. But what I recognize now that I think about my journey into outdoor education is that these activities were on the edge of my subconscious. Like the students I watched walk back and forth in front of the LGBT Resource Center office at UC Irvine, apprehensive about walking in. But I knew that I could walk into the LGBTRC. I saw people like me in there. And for most of my life, I didn't see people like me backpacking, I didn't see people who looked like me climbing.

The journey to finding these things that are so important now (camping, climbing, outdoor education) happened in small increments. I could say it began with a roommate in college who instigated a camping trip. She was Vietnamese American, and really really into camping. Her excitement was contagious. A bunch of us went car camping somewhere south of Orange County, along a river. We slept under the stars, cooked over fire, and, because we were in college, drank quite a bit. And though I didn't do much camping until years after that, I think of that experience as the first time I realized that camping was not just a white american thing. (There's a lot to unpack there about growing up perceiving myself as not ah-khaing, not American, associated with this as well.)

Despite a lifetime of exposure to American ideals about individualism and following bliss and doing what the heart truly desires, I am coming to understand how the smallest spark of encouragement, the smallest invitation, has a profound effect on expanding what I believe is possible for myself.

(To be continued.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

In which I get very worked up about water in California

I took a road trip from Los Angeles to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest last weekend with Di. On the way back down the 395, we noticed a Crystal Geyser plant. We were incredulous that this plant existed in a hot basin just a couple of hours west of Death Valley. Practically all we could see on either side of the highway was dry, parched grass.

Yesterday I saw a link to this article about East Porterville on Facebook, a town whose wells have run dry and who now have to resort to using bottled water. The photo for the article showed boxes of Crystal Geyser being distributed to residents.

East Porterville is on the western side of the Sierra, at very close to the same latitude of a Crystal Geyser plant.
I've fallen into a vortex of links about the drought and about Crystal Geyser in the Eastern Sierra. In 2012, the plant in Olancha alone proposed to pump and profit from the equivalent of nearly 4,000 individuals' water usage: about 120 million gallons per year. There have been concerns about this plant since it was first proposed in 1996: Corporate giants slurp up a tiny town's pure water.

That Sierra granite makes California water taste so good. Except now there's no snow on the Sierra.

Crystal Geyser is only one of many companies profiting from drying up California, in large part because "California happens to be the only Western state without groundwater regulation or management of major groundwater use. In other words, if you're a water company and you drill down and find water in California, it's all yours."

The more I read about the drought, government policy, and the bottled water industry, the angrier and more frustrated I get. The idea of allowing people to buy the best-tasting water essentially privileges those who have the economic access to buy water over the public's right to have potable water out of the tap.

I haven't been able to find any information about business regulation in relation to the drought. Is it just not being covered, or is it not happening? I imagine that the economic impact of restricting business' water use is a concern, and it is often cited that "reclaimed water" is used for corporate lawns and golf courses rather than potable water, but it just doesn't make sense to see huge expanses of green while individuals are urged to let theirs go brown or face possible fines.

I make the the drive between Los Angeles and the Bay Area often (which I recognize is also environmentally problematic). Along the way, there are long stretches of dry, dusty land displaying signs that say things like "Congress-Created Dust Bowl," "No Water = No Jobs," "Water = Jobs."
Image source
From reading Cadillac Desert, I've gathered that agricultural operations in California should never have grown as immense as they have. While the Central Valley has incredibly nutrient-rich soil, California doesn't have the water to support huge export agribusinesses (which aren't sustainable even when there is sufficient water).

Water in California is complicated. The majority of the us live in a desert, but we do not live or do business as though we are. This drought is not our first wake-up call. Whether we're going to answer in any meaningful ways is yet to be seen.

What the report about East Porterville made me realize is that the small rural towns without immense political and economic capital are going to suffer first, while our populous urban centers will be able to keep putting off the very real consequences of this drought for some time. We get to think about this drought in the abstract, when it is not at all abstract.


Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower came up in our conversation on the roadtrip, as it often does when talking about California and drought and climate change. The book's starting point is just 10 years from now, and we were dumbstruck by how easily we could imagine the world looking the way Butler describes. More on that in another post.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Visions. Are. Legendary. // Circus Returns to National Queer Arts Festival

On Friday, June 20, Topsy Turvy Queer Circus returns to the Brava Theater as part of the National Queer Arts Festival. Thanks to the overwhelming demand for last year's show, another performance has been added; there are two nights now instead of one.
I'm housemates with a performer and the amount of work that is going into this thing is no joke. Rehearsals, travel to rehearsal spaces (finding rehearsal spaces!), sweat, tears, exhaustion, endless stretching, training, choreographing, costume design-- these performers are working hard.

The acts last year ranged from flat out physically incredible to poignant to playful to jaw-droppingly hawt (and often, some combination thereof). Tidbits from last year's show:

Tickets are available on a sliding scale basis ($15-20) here or via the links below. 

And if you, like me, made a critical online-ticket-purchase error
last year, fear not-- no more drop down menus in this year's ticket buying process!
Topsy-Turvy Queer Circus: Visions. Are. Legendary.
India Davis and Indi McCasey

Brava Theater
2781 24th StreetSan Francisco, CA 94110

Friday, June 20th at 8pm: Buy TicketsSaturday Matinee, June 21 at 2pm: Buy TicketsSaturday Night, June 21 at 8pm: Buy Tickets

I just double checked my confirmation email. Yup, I bought a ticket for the right show. Phew.