Sunday, August 26, 2012

Big Bear Weekend - Camping Escape - 25-26 August 2012

Sometimes the desk life demands a mountain escape...but it can be hard to find vacation time or the ability to take a day from the office.  Fortunately for Southern Californian residents, San Bernardino National Park is only a 2-3 hour drive away, providing a nature retreat achievable in a weekend.

Two cars full of friends, gear, and food set off after work Friday evening (24th) and rolled into Heartbar Campground around 10:30pm.  After a bit of excited chatter over cookies and lantern light, we laid out our ground pads and sleeping bags for sleep, eyes grown heavy from star gazing.

On Saturday morning (25th), we rallied as sunlight slowly filled the camp.  You fight it a while, but as you begin to cook in your sleeping bag, you rise, with deep breaths of crisp mountain air.  After breakfast we decided to take a drive to Big Bear Lake, about 20 minutes from the campground.

Unfortunately, the weather turned a bit cooler, making most of our group disinclined to swimming in the lake that day.  The greater dissuading factor for a swim, however, was the difficulty in locating a swimming location.  I had researched this issue a bit before departure, and two online travel articles had recommend Boulder Bay.  Upon arrival, we were greeted with a sing that sang aloud to us "no swimming."  Perhaps the article was more dated than I realized, and this spot had only recently converted to a more touristy area, only suitable for boating.  Maybe there was a secret swimming whole off-the-beaten path we missed. Whatever the cause, we loaded back into our cars and drove to the only other swimming area we knew of McDill Swim Beach. 

This location, however, was no victory either.  The nicer beach & swimming area was fenced off, with $5/person charge for entry.  Instead, we went to the free "swimming area" which consisted for a very narrow beach (if it could be called that) with water overrun with all types of water plants.  A few of the boys in our group braved it, the rest of us opted out.  Still, we had lunch there and just enjoyed time together...accepting the lake-day failure.

We hit a comic shop on the way back and then returned to the Heartbar Campground.  Half our group played games and the other half went on a short hike.  Adjacent to the campground is a small meadow, which makes for a 30-45 minute hike (out and back).  Although right near a main highway, it feels like you have escaped to somewhere more remote.  The meadow was filled with sage-brush type shrubs, cedar, evergreens, and long yellowed grasses.

After a dinner of pasta, marinara sauce, Cesaer salad, and garlic bread toasted over the fire bit, we settled in for a campfire.  The evening was full of S'mores (*note: for a twist on the traditional S'more, try a toasted marshmallow between cinnamon sugar pita chips - think of it as a Snickerdootle S'more) and campfire stories (some ending in humorous puns and some of the more eerie variety).  When the firewood ran out, the cold beckoned us to our sleeping bags and sleep.

On Sunday (25th), we rose (in shifts) with the increasing light.  Three of us were woken by the sound of Stellar jays pecking away at our chip bags.  Too cold to care to "shoo" them away, we assumed no harm had been done...since the bags would have been rather hard for them to peck through.  When we did finally rally to investigate any possible damage, we discovered the birds at out smarted us.  Instead of the chips, they changed course to the more easily accessible homemade coffee cake, which had been feebley secured under foil.  The birds had pecked a few places, and sole an entire corner before we rose to derail their plan.

We packed up camp and a few of us went on a short trail run.  Then we loaded our cars and headed to Forsee Creek Trail (*Note: be SURE to get an Adventure Pass before beginning your day hike.  If you park your car and begin a hike without one displayed on your windshield, you'll face a $100 fine upon return.  There is a visitor center just pass the turn to the trail head where you can purchase the $5 Adventure Pass).  The weather was great, warm but with a hint of a breeze.  The trail branches about three quarters of a mile up, leading you either to Jackstraw Springs or John's Meadow.  We elected to go the latter direction.  The first part of the hike is mostly climbing, but the rest is a mixture of subtle inclines and downhill sections, only a few switchbacks, and patches shaded by trees.  We stopped for lunch at a large creek and then turned around for home, making a short stop at an A&W in Mentone...I will argue root beer floats taste best after a taste of the backcountry over a weekend of 'vacation' without actually taking any leave from the office.

More than anything else, the mountains and forested land is a great place for fellowship and to commune from with the Creator.  Being outside 24/7 and disconnected from our routines is a reminder of the beauty of stripping one's life down to necessity, and of the blessings to be found in a slowness to life.  Going with friends with time free to be filled with good conversation, is a gift packaged simply, but holding value immeasurable.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Beethoven's Greatest Hits @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine CA - 12 August 2012

Last night was "Beethoven's Greatest Hits" at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine, CA.  Forgive me if I seem overly poetic in my report of the outing, but it was my first true taste of a symphony orchestra performed live, and it was a rather emotionally engulfing and moving what may come off as intentional hyperbole is just a true pouring out of my perceptions of the event.

August has been exceptionally warm, and Sunday was no different.  Pulling into the amphitheatre parking lot felt like we were somewhere deep in the desert.  Luckily, the concert started at 7:30pm, so all the seats were veiled in the shade of the setting sun.

The show began with the sunset, but darkness quickly closed in, causing the glow of the stage lights to become ever more entrancing...our attention drawn to it like a moth to a flame.  The summer heat blanketed the audience together, fusing us into the ooze of symphonic sound seeping out from the stage below.  Looking out over the heads below and around me  - slightly lighted orbs evenly spaced apart, a silent sea of listeners - the music hits you like a gentle wave.

Not normally a fan of heat or sunshine for that matter (that oddity a topic for another blog at another time), I must admit that the weather couldn't have been better for an outdoor symphony concert.  It was cool but with an aftertaste of afternoon heat, and a dash of breeze that would sweep over you just when you might consider yourself getting "warm."  Off to the right, a lightning storm stirred over the mountains, a compliment the the sensory experience of the show at hand.

Part I of the concert was Symphony No. 7 in A Minor, Op.92.  I think I had forgotten just how much my soul connects with this piece, especially the Allegreto portion (terminology fails me here).  I don't know how to describe it other than with the most cliche wording possible: your soul takes flight.  I could listen to that section on repeat for all eternity, it speaks to something deep inside you, creating the sensation like the deliciousness of a drawn out sigh.

After a short intermission, Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 was performed by the orchestra and piano virtuoso Gabriela Martinez.  Watching her play produced nothing short of speechless amazement.  All I could do in response was periodically whisper "wow" in response to the magic she performed with the ebony and ivory.  She made it look as effortless as breathing.  She played with the keys fluidly, as if changing them from a solid to liquid with her will, molding them into sound.  She was lost in the music herself, in a personal conversation with the notes, an internal discussion publicized between her fingers and the piano for all to see.

The encore (chosen by text vote) was Moonlight Sonata.  That song has also long been a favorite of mine, and it was played to perfection at the amphitheatre.  Under real moonlight, listening to it there created a ambiance akin to a communal dream, every audience member drawn in to the sound rising from the stage.  The song has always seemed to me like a encapsulation of weeping that escapes unbidden from an effort to stifle emotion, I think this is why it speaks to me so much, being a melancholy soul...

At the end of the night I wondered how I'd gone so long without attending a symphony concert...I eagerly await the next.  The experience makes you forget the time, makes you forget where you are, as you are organically fused with the wafting of wordless sounds that speaks volumes of individual messages to all who attend.