LONE PINE

LONE PINE
Posted on June 25, 2014

I drove down to little Lone Pine, population 2000, one last time yesterday.   The one shady parking place on the main street was available, hallelujah.  I got out of the car and stood for a moment in the shade, wondering what it is that makes this unassuming town so compelling.  It certainly isn’t the town itself, although the tiny library is right up there on my list of favorites.  It certainly isn’t Lone Pine’s main claim to fame, the Movie Museum, although it was fun to reminisce about all the westerns that were shot right here, movies that I watched down at Times Square back in the 50s.  It isn’t any of the restaurants scattered along the four or five blocks of the main street, though they all serve good solid unpretentious food. It certainly isn’t the one grocery store, “famous for our meats;”  I studied that meat counter and could find no basis for such a claim.  There is one curious thing about the town: there isn’t a single art gallery or hand-made jewelry store to be found.  Unusual.  No creative people here?  Is it a staid conservative town?  (Not Kathy, the librarian, that’s for sure).  

As I stood there in the shade it suddenly came to me.  It isn’t the town at all, it’s that the town just happens to be right at the crossroads of four Big Things. 

To the west stand the mighty Sierra Nevadas, the craggy peaks cutting through the clouds. I’m camped seven miles straight up from here, and Mt. Whitney itself greets me each morning as the light from the rising sun across the valley starts at its peak and flows slowly downward to Earth.

To the east stand the rounded, warm-colored White Mountains.  They don’t get much press, though they’re as tall as the Sierras and downright voluptuous during rosy sunsets.  No-one pays much attention to them during the day, but come sunset their soft beauty is irresistible.

To the south the floor of the valley is chalky white.  There used to be a lake here, a huge lake, fed by the crystal-clear waters rushing down from the Sierras.  Where did the water go?  To LA, that’s where.  Battles were fought, deals were made, laws were passed, canals were built, and in no time the water disappeared.  I can’t pretend to understand the complexities facing us about water distribution.  Maybe taking that water away from this sparsely populated valley and giving it to the thirsty people of LA was a good decision. Maybe not.  From my campground I’ve been looking down at that dry white powder covering the valley, and what I’ve been seeing is our arrogance and sense of entitlement, writ large:  we are the most important beings on this earth and therefore our thirst, our needs, are dominant.  What happened to the thousands, maybe billions of plants, birds, animals, insects, all the living beings that lived for eons by that lake?  Did they get a vote?  Where did they go?  Did anyone give them a helping relocating hand?

Lastly, to the north.  This is the hardest of all.  Now all you can see is acres and acres of wild high desert with a stellar museum standing in the middle.   But for three years, 1942 to 1945, it was Manzanar, a War Relocation Center, where 11,000 Japanese Americans, over two thirds of them U.S. citizens, were rounded up and imprisoned in crowded barracks, with one bare light bulb per family.  It was our very own government, in fact President Roosevelt himself, who ordered them there after Pearl Harbor.  In a scene in the film the museum shows, made up of actual news reel clips, we see FBI agents, looking like FBI agents in old 40s thrillers, walking stiffly in their suits and fedoras down to the docks of some little coastal California town and nabbing all the Japanese American fishermen as they come in at the end of the day with their catch.  They are ordered to get their families and get on the bus.  No time to pack anything, no time for goodbyes.  They are told that this is being done for their protection.  As one woman says in the film:  “We believed them until we got there and saw the chain-link fence and the eight guard towers with men holding machine guns, pointed not at the outside world to protect us, but at us.” 

Walking through that museum I was first overcome by all the horror, but gradually, learning more, what started filling me with excitement was the way the inmates lived for those three years.  I felt the human spirit soaring higher than Mt. Whitney and was humbled and amazed.   They made their barracks homey, making furniture from whatever bits and pieces they could find;  they hung curtains;  they decorated their walls. They made gardens, flowers and vegetables; in fact, they grew so many vegetables that they gave the extra to the people of Lone Pine, carried out past the chain link fence by the guards;  they made shady places for the children to play and small parks for everyone to enjoy.  All this with the machine guns aimed at them.  

I left my shady spot and walked over to the air-conditioned library to use the wi-fi and to say good-bye to Kathy.  As I sat there reading my emails I listened, once again, as she gave her attention so patiently and respectfully to everyone who came in.  They all seem to want to talk to her, some more interestingly than others, some downright hard to make sense of.  Her kindness and gentle humor never waver.  The town of Lone Pine should elect her Woman of the Year every single year. 

Advertisements

FINALLY!

It happened suddenly, early this morning. It seemed to come out of the blue. I certainly didn’t expect it, especially after the events of yesterday afternoon.

God what an afternoon. It started with discovering that the fancy new marine battery on the Scamp was dead as a doornail. How could that be? It was fully charged when I started out on this trip, it was charging away as I drove the 600-some miles to get here. I had actually hoped that the string of challenges with this brand-new Scamp had ended.

“Here” is Lone Pine Campground, set on a high plateau at the foot of Mt. Whitney. I’m surrounded by craggy beauty. The campground is small, 38 sites set into an indentation in the land. A stream rushes through it, ushered along on both sides by a narrow band of thick trees and bushes. From my bed I can look directly at Mt. Whitney, and in the early dawn I watch as it gets rosy before any of the other peaks, proving that it’s the tallest one.

It was early afternoon when I learned about the battery. I don’t use the Scamp’s lights or I would have known sooner. I have a solar lamp that cannot be improved upon, so it hadn’t yet occurred to me to turn on a switch. It was when I lay down to nap yesterday that I looked up and noticed the Fantastic Fan over the bed and decided to see just how fantastic it is.

Along with all my other knowledge gaps, I know nothing about batteries. Would it ruin it to sit there uncharged? Would it affect something else? Was it just the tip of an iceberg of some even worse difficulty? There was no-one around, everyone must have been off scaling mountains or visiting the Film Museum. Even the campground host was gone. Otherwise, I would have had immediate answers to all my questions, and known exactly what to do. I love that about campgrounds: I have my privacy, yet there’s always someone at hand to help, no matter what the problem, no phone calls and waiting necessary. And reaching out almost always leads to an interesting connection with someone, of one sort or another. Definitely my kind of social life. I tried to call Mike in Tucson, but I couldn’t get phone reception.

Nothing for it but to drive the seven miles down to the town of Lone Pine. I got in the car, which was new in February and had already twice given trouble at the gas station with a stuck-closed door to the gas tank. I could not, absolutely COULD NOT, disengage the emergency brake, no matter what I tried. So here I was, no phone, no car, no people. I got out of the car, stood to face mighty Mt. Whitney, arms out wide, chin lifted, and shouted at top volume all the swear words I know (sadly, only two that satisfy). It was so enjoyable I kept it up for quite a while. I suddenly laughed, remembering a time Mike and I stood on a cliff as the sun rose, our arms out wide, doing the Buddha belly laugh as hard as we could. This made me think about the new craze, Laughing Yoga, and I decided to start a new franchise: Swearing Yoga (no mats required).

A man stepped out of a camper that I had assumed was empty. Wouldn’t it have been fine if he had just walked over, put out his arms, and joined in on the Swearing Yoga? But he did something much more practical: he offered me the use of his phone, which does get reception up here. I used it for almost an hour, first calling Subaru road service, which said a truck would come from 148 miles away. Then AAA said their truck would arrive “within the hour.” I cancelled Subaru, but then realized the possible towing charge with AAA, which will cover only 100 miles, so called and cancelled them and then called and reinstated the truck from Subaru. It went back and forth like this for a number of increasingly convoluted phone calls. I’ll bet the road service people at both Subaru and AAA were regaling all their friends at dinner that evening with the story of the crazy lady in a campground. After listening to me through all this, the generous phone owner suggested I ask Subaru if they have a mechanic there who could help me over the phone. Duh! Why didn’t I think of that? I asked, they did, he helped. It turns out the electronic emergency brake occasionally, for some reason, needs to be pushed in (to engage) at the same moment you push it out (to release) in order to release it. That is so counter-intuitive, how would I ever have known? Oh my god, that’s right, I have a manual in the glove compartment, it never once occurred to me to look at it. Clearly the thin air up here is not getting enough oxygen to my brain. The phone owner and his wife and I had an enjoyable friendship for the rest of their stay.

Down in Lone Pine, I drove a number of times between Miller’s Automotive and Gardner’s Lumber.  Here’s what I learned: UHaul had failed to install the required charging line that goes along with the 7-prong electric plug that is part of the hitch that they installed, and which had already given me all sorts of problems before I left home. Is Murdering Yoga too much of an oxymoron? The nearest place that I maybe can find someone to install it is an hour’s drive away, and it was already almost 5pm. It’s good I don’t need to use the battery; the refrigerator runs, chillingly, on tiny sips of propane.

So after all that, what was it that happened so unexpectedly this morning? Here it is: sitting up in my bed, with a book and a cup of tea, looking around my little room just as the sun rose, something in me snapped, and suddenly, just like that, I was filled with love for the Scamp. I know it’s just an object, but it’s so cheerful inside, full of light and breezes. The bed is comfortable, the cupboards ample, and it’s a space that’s a true pleasure to be in. There are four different spots to sit and read. It’s always right there, at the ready. It’s solid and protective, it will follow me wherever I take it, and even though it demands that I change (more of this in my next post) one of those changes has already turned out to be right and good for me. A ray of the rising sun must have hit me just right, and so, little children, the fairy waved her magic wand and pfft! The Tent Soloist was turned into The Lady and the Scamp. Now go to sleep.

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

This new relationship of mine has begun badly.  Very badly.  I would have ended it after a few weeks but I was stuck.  

I had gone online and pored over each picture, comparing looks and descriptions, and finally found what looked like The One.  A meeting was set up.  No, not a man found on a dating website;  it was my new little Scamp trailer, found on an RV website.  

It arrived three weeks ago, driven here to my house in Arizona from the factory in Minnesota.  I waited for it with bated breath – I hadn’t yet seen one in the flesh, this was truly a blind date, though I had studied it on YouTube videos.  Our first meeting was not auspicious.  And what followed just got worse and worse.

The man who drove it here parked it where I pointed, under the oak tree, jumped out of his truck, gave me a quick go-around showing me where everything is, jumped back into his truck and drove away.  I was left standing dazed, watching as he disappeared down my driveway. 

I turned to look at the Great White Thing.  Good lord!   What had I gotten myself into?  I walked slowly around it in wonderment.  So many electrical and water hose openings, valves, and little flaps.   Even the propane tank and battery looked challenging to me.  I’ve never had ownership responsibility for anything like this before, and my knowledge of mechanical things is almost nil.  It made me feel small and intimidated. I stepped inside it.  Ah!  Perfect!  Light and airy and welcoming!  And only one mysterious object, an electrical panel of some sort.  Everything else seemed straightforward and understandable.  I can grow to love this, the inside anyway, I said to myself.  

It wasn’t until the next day that I got up my nerve to back up the car to it.  It was surprisingly easy to get the hitch lined up with the coupler, even though I was doing it alone.  I plugged in the electrical cord and ran to the back to check the turn-signal lights:  nothing.  No amount of replugging made that baby work.  Something was wrong.  I drove my car back down to the UHaul in Tucson where the hitch had been installed, but they said they didn’t see any problems.  Back home I called a friend who has a gizmo for checking these things, and he insisted that the problem was in the UHaul plug, not the trailer.  Back down to UHaul again (25 miles each way) where they again said there was no problem, but this time they didn’t smile at me or even say “have a nice day” when I left.  (Actually, I’m so sick of hearing that expression that I often mutter under my breath “I’ll have whatever frickin’ kind of day I damn please”).  

Back home I called our resident genius mechanic, Peter.  He has become the couples’ therapist for me and the Scamp.  While I waited the three days for him to be able to come I practiced hitching up and unhitching, and because the back lights didn’t work I practiced backing it up right in the little parking area outside my house.  That small space was an excellent place to learn some difficult maneuvers.     

It took Peter three hours to undo whatever had been mis-done.  And then he noticed that UHaul, on top of all its other misdeeds, had not installed an electric brake regulator.   One more trip to them, during which they couldn’t even look at me, and even sent me off without the instruction manual.  Thank god for google.

When Peter and I took a trial run to check the lights and everything else, the Scamp came off the ball of the hitch and the coupler jack hit the ground hard and got smashed.  Luckily, Peter was able to get it all working again, and showed me exactly how to lock that hitch onto the coupler so it won’t ever come off.  

A few days later I realized I’d better get down to the Motor Vehicle Department and get a license plate and pay the taxes.  When I got home I tried to put the license on the little brackets in back but couldn’t get the screws in.  Peter was also unable to do it, even after trying a number of different screws.  A few days later he came back with some super special screws that finally worked.  Good lord.  

I was feeling no love for the Scamp by now, in fact I was good and ready to break up with it and send it back to Minnesota.  My instant pop-up ex was looking really good, I was ready to resume tent camping.  I was definitely not having that joyous falling-in-love racing-hormones experience with the Scamp.  It and I started out immediately in that later phase, the one during which I suddenly discover that there are ways in which The Other is not perfect after all but has some serious differences from me, and it may require a great deal of work to find compromises.  I can only hope that the falling-in-love phase is yet to come.  

I was beginning to feel hopeful after all those troubles, but when I stopped to buy gas for my brand new Subaru Outback the little door to the gas cap would not open.  And this was the second time that had happened in just two months. This felt like the last straw, though it turned out not to be, and I just about gave up and joined an Amish community.  Luckily I still had enough gas to drive back down to Tucson, this time to the Subaru people.  It took two of them seven minutes to get it open.  Even though it had now happened twice, they were dismissive of my fears:  “Oh don’t worry, it probably won’t happen again.”   I insisted on making an appointment to have it fixed, for good, and after they worked on it for an hour it supposedly will never happen again. 

Throughout all this I planned my trip, and started getting packed up.  I had to figure out a whole new way to distribute all the food, clothes, books, and gear between the car and the Scamp, it’s all so different from the old easy days with just my Prius and tent.   I spent a teary afternoon, nostalgic for those easy days, and I realized that what I was doing was finally mourning for that time which is now over, ended, never to be again.  No more Tent Soloist.  

I was almost ready to get going, I was even allowing myself to get a little excited.   A friend suggested I’d better check to make sure the refrigerator works before I leave, so I tried to turn it on with the propane.  It works fine with electricity, but not with the propane.  Aaargh.  I’ve put in what I hope is the last call to Peter, but what are the chances?   

Will the Scamp and I ever roll down the open road together, smiling at each other through the rear-view mirror?