Self-Isolation Play List Recalls Travels

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_16ceI enjoy a weekly podcast of BBC Desert Island Discs. I just finished the Daniel Radcliffe episode. I’ve also noticed that the some people are creating self-isolation playlists and sharing on Instagram. Satellite Sister Lian Dolan created two with the themes of survival. We may as well have fun with it while we are waiting and looking out for one another by staying home.

I haven’t created a playlist since I dropped my youngest child off at UC Santa Cruz. And I don’t listen to as much music as I once did. So when I imagine being interviewed by the BBC presenter on Desert Island Discs, I think of the songs inspired by my travels.

My first big trip outside the United States was to Catrine in Ayrshire with Teen Missions when I was 16 years old. I came home at the end of the summer and discovered that My Sharona by the band The Knack had completely taken over the airwaves. My high school pep squad and student body adapted it to our school name, “La-Si-er-ra” and yet I had not heard it once! While I was in Scotland we sang a lot of Christian songs but weren’t allowed to listen to the radio; however, I did develop a real soft spot for bagpipe music and all things Scottish. Later I fell hard for the twins from Edinburgh, The Proclaimers. I have every album recorded by Charlie and Craig Reid and the disc I want in my COVID shelter in place is The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues.

My next travel adventure was to study summer school in Cambridge, England. First my then husband and I drove around England, Wales and Scotland. I loved Paul Young’s Wherever I Lay My Hat That’s My Home, and was bummed to find out that it didn’t reach the same popularity in America.


I didn’t travel much while I raised my children–annual trips to Yosemite were more the norm. So when I was newly divorced I gave solo travel a go. Except air travel to meet up with a friend or group, I had not had complete control of an itinerary before and the rebel in me loved it. I chose London and Dublin for my first solo foray and I fell hard for Ireland.  That trip I was mad for Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping.  (And for the record, I apologize for linking to some truly bad videos.)

Within a few years I was semi-regularly volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Northern Ireland in Belfast. I even marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Downpatrick. There were many songs that I enjoyed singing as we enjoyed the culture in NorIreland. On one of my last trips a young builder who was apprenticing at the site shared with me his favorite song at the time: Voodoo Child by the Rogue Traders.

I discovered New Zealand through Habitat for Humanity as well. I met a group of Kiwis on a Jimmy Carter Build in Cambodia and the next year led a team to Wellington, New Zealand. Music was a big part of the build and I discovered Brooke Fraser. One of my favorite songs is Something in the Water.

I have returned many times to New Zealand and I like many other Kiwi artists besides the obvious–the phenomenal Lorde. I was briefly obsessed with Gin Wigmore’s Black Sheep. I have memories connected with the New Zealand National Anthem and the Rugby Union theme song for the Rugby World Cup, World in Union. Sometimes I would discover a song on Kiwi road trips that was a hit in New Zealand but not yet in the United States, such as Glad You Came by The Wanted.

The biggest connection with a song on any of my adventures was summer of 2014 when I followed the Tour de France from Yorkshire to Paris. For part of the tour I joined a Thomson spectator tour in the Alps. Our bus driver had a great playlist including Enrique Inglesias’ Bailando. If I only could take one song to my desert island it would be this one.

Working at home all day and then spending all evening at home is not quite as isolating as being stranded on a desert island. I have Facetime with my grandson and daughter and phone calls and texts with colleagues and friends. Still, there is a growing sense of the end of the world as we know it.  Just as 9/11 ushered in a different set of priorities, so too will this pandemic.




Celebrating USA Public Lands!

Yosemite NPLDThere are many different types of public lands in the United States, including local parks, state parks, national forests, and national parks. Yesterday was National Public Lands Day and I didn’t want to step past it. So much of my identify as a daughter of the West is associated with the open space protected by various public land covenants, especially those by the federal government.

I have ridden a horse on the public trails in the Sierra Nevada, walked and hiked among the redwoods and douglas firs of Yosemite and Redwood national parks. Our sensibilities around public access to the coast and to the sacred natural spaces is under attack. There are always people ready to exploit it for personal profit. I am so thankful that even something as small as the Effie Yeaw Nature Study Area in suburban Sacramento preserves a little bit of the wildness of Sacramento Valley and still remains for me and my grandson to enjoy. We only saw the fresh deer poop, not the deer themselves, but the potential remains to see something wild a short 20 minute car ride from his house. I do not want to take this for granted.

I also just learned from a father of a 4th grade student, that the National Park Foundation gives 4th graders and their families free park entry throughout the year. I hope all families with children around this age take advantage of this gift.

I’m going to sign off now and look at my calendar to find a time to visit Yosemite!

Eternal Yosemite

One of my favorite places on all the earth is Yosemite National Park. Lots of other people say the same thing. Hence every year someone writes the following headline: The People’s Playground: Will Yosemite’s popularity be its undoing? (Sunset, January 2016)

I understand if you visit Yosemite in the height of the summer season when hoards of tourists are bussed in and the line at the entrance is over an hour long, you might wonder: is this wilderness?

And then you drive through the tunnel from Fresno and gasp.

Gigi Johnson photographer, January 2016
Photo from vista point near tunnels. Gigi Johnson, January 2016

Yes, Yosemite suffers fools. And yet, Yosemite cannot be undone. Thank you God.

Giant Trees in Mariposa Grove

Within Yosemite National Park is the Mariposa Grove–an excellent grove of giant Sequoia trees. It is an easy drive from the Narrow Gauge Inn in Fish Camp and not far from Wawona Hotel. UK Sarah loves trees so we made sure to find time to walk in the grove before we drove back to Sacramento.

UK Sarah hugging a Sequoia
UK Sarah hugging a Sequoia

You can walk about a mile and see several terrific specimens, including the Grizzly Giant and the California Tree. It is a little steep in places, but there are lots of places to stop and admire trees, tree roots, tree rings, chipmunks and robins.

The grandfather tree is the Grizzly Giant, aged 1800 years. He has obviously survived multiple fires, and if he could talk he would have lots of stories to tell. Giant Grizzly

The California Tree has survived a cut out and is clearly a “tourist attraction.”

Cut out in a living tree in Mariposa Grove
Cut out in a living tree in Mariposa Grove

There is a lovely atmosphere in the grove, and a great diversity of admirers. We spoke to people from Holland and Germany. Everyone is in a good mood–taking turns of taking photos of groups, remarking on the majesty of the trees.

Not everyone is as in awe of the trees as we. One woman stepped over the barrier to sit on a stump to smoke a cigarette, in spite of the extreme fire danger. We were so stunned we did not say anything, but wish we had later.

I never understand how someone can see the galaxy of stars, or a Sequoia grove and not see the divine. I am not saying one must enjoy the grove in hushed reverence. At least show respect for the rules the National Park has set for reasons best for the trees.

We strolled back to the car park and drove back to quickly shower off the dust before going to the Tenaya Lodge spa for massages. It made a lovely, lovely day.

Magnificent Yosemite National Park

How easy it is to take for granted the treasures in our own backyard. How wonderful when we show a guest the place and see it as if for the first time through their eyes. Such is my recent experience exploring Yosemite with my friend UK Sarah. She was stopping over on her way home from UK to Auckland.  We left Sacramento on Wednesday afternoon.  Driving down Highway 99, we turned off in Merced and through Mariposa. We were aiming for Fish Camp and we missed the Google Map direction to turn off on Highway 49, so we went into Yosemite National Park through the Stone Arch Gate, then through Wawona, and into Fish Camp from the eastern side. I bought the yearly pass that gives me unlimited access to all national parks for a mere $80. A real bargain.

Mule Deer alongside road.
Mule Deer alongside road.

Along the way we saw practically tame mule deer along the road.

Plus we stopped at the vista point for the wonderful view just before the tunnel.Yosemite Valley from end of tunnel

We stopped at the Wawona Hotel to eat dinner at the dining room, but the wait was 30 minutes–the same amount of time to drive to Fish Camp–so we pressed on to eat at the Narrow Gauge Inn. We checked into our room and dashed to the Narrow Gauge Inn dining room for a delicious dinner. The service was terrific and we met Lucy who makes the “puddings” so we had to try dessert. The carrot cake was divine.

Narrow Gauge Inn, Fish Camp near Yosemite
Narrow Gauge Inn, Fish Camp near Yosemite

The next day we set off early for the Yosemite Valley. It was fun to witness Sarah’s reaction to El Capitan, the puzzle bark on Ponderosa Pines, the birds and other wildlife.El Capitan

We parked by Yosemite Village store and visited the main visitor’s center before taking the bus to the Mirror Lake trail. I remember when the Mirror Lake was much larger; eventually it will be a meadow. This year in the drought it is not much wider than a small river. We hiked the horse trail side and enjoyed seeing woodpeckers, butterflies and trout. Surrounded by the grandeur of the granite walls and blue, blue sky, we delighted in our walk. We continued on to look at the Merced River tumbling over boulders near Happy Isles. Quite refreshing on a hot June day.Mirror Lake

By this time we had finished our water and were ready for a cool drink on the patio of the Ahwahnee Hotel. I kept reassuring Sarah that we would get a good look at the Royal Arches once we were at the hotel. And we did. We paused long enough to read a little and enjoy a truffle from the gift shop.Ahwahnee Hotel and Royal Arches

After collecting the car, we stopped and walked to the base of lower Yosemite Falls before heading back to Fish Camp. So much beauty in one day!