A Mind Step Away

Have you ever had a moment when you feel as if you are far away and just touching life?

The clouds spinning across the sky in lazy waves. You observing them. Touching them with your mind but not part of the same world.

This is how I felt as the questions continued and decisions were made about securing my ankle. I was just there a mind step away, looking at it. Observing. The team deciding to splint my ankle. The sound of the cardboard being torn. The towels being wrapped around my foot to pad it. My wince as they shifted my foot for the first time. The partially empty water bottles tossed on the ground by the thirsty rescue team. Me wondering if they were going to pick them up. (Of course they did, these are forest people.)

They offered me fentanyl. Joel had a funny look on his face when he offered it, and I had a funny look on my face I guess as well. I didn’t know much about opioids, since I hadn’t had one since I was a teenager when my wisdom teeth were pulled, but isn’t fentanyl the drug they lace crack with that kills people? Is that what I want right now?

 My assessment was correct, when google later told me it’s about a hundred times stronger than morphine and fifty times stronger than heroin. Maybe I was the only idiot who didn’t know or care what it was. I was still high on natures natural pain med, adrenaline ripping through my body.  I recalled the last time I took an opioid, spending an uncomfortable afternoon vomiting with wisdom teeth stitches. I had never touched any kind of drug since then. Some life lessons are not to be forgotten.

I looked everyone in the eye and casually declined the pain med. I wasn’t really there anyways. The trees were floating and the adrenaline was still having a trauma induced party with my body. I didn’t think I needed to add anything to the mix. I’m not sure I imagined the grudging respect in Joel’s eyes. I guess most people don’t turn down pain relief when offered. (I mean fifty times stronger than heroin?!) Although, a few hours later I would possibly “pity the fool” who turned down the gift of modern medicine.

Two of the team gently splinted my leg, wrapping my foot in soft towels and then surrounding it with cardboard, taping the whole ensemble together. There was chatter on the phones (I’m guessing they had the same service as 911?!) as discussions were had about how to get me the hell out of there. They had arrived on site with a mono-wheeled litter. Imagine a fat ATV tire with a red plastic stretcher precariously balanced on top. Now I was officially scared.

The team had hiked up the slow, steeply pitched switchbacks of Dragon’s Back Trail, and now they were discussing how to get ME down it. I was resolutely staring at the litter, trying to make amends with it, when I overheard one of them ask if it was possible to take me up instead of down. “Yes, yes!” I interrupted, excitedly. “There is a cabin road directly above us, you can drive to it from Lake Mary Road.” They were as happy as I was about this. I couldn’t imagine going down that steep hill in the stretcher, and I’m sure they were equally stymied as to how to do it safely. Not to mention there was the one guy who kept complaining about his back….

Joel hopped on with the ambulance driver, who my friend Jen had discovered at the bottom of the trail. The location info was relayed, but concerns about the Lake Mary Road gate access were raised. Why don’t they have all the gate codes I thought to myself? Seems like a mandatory safety measure for the county EMTs. What if someone was bleeding out? I again interrupted, “You don’t need to access through the main gate, if he takes the Twin Lakes Loop Road past the general store towards the art gallery, the secondary gate there isn’t closed.” I truly felt like a small town mountain gal now. 

The moment of truth had arrived as the litter was placed next to me on the sloping hill. I took one look at it and realized my ordeal had just begun. I was considering asking if perhaps gin was an option instead of that heroin-ish drug? **Note to self, add a bottle of London Dry to the future safety kit.

“Okay,” Joel explained with an intake of breath, “We’re going to pick you up in tandem and scooch you into the stretcher and then we are going to lift you onto the wheel.”

I put my game face on as hands were placed under my arms and around my legs as I was gently shifted into the litter. That wasn’t so bad I thought to myself, right as I went airborne. It’s hard to describe the feeling of floating on one wheel while a bunch of strangers hold you in place. “It’s quite the exercise of trust,” Joel smirked at me. I wasn’t feeling so confident of my fellow man after the hiker abandoning me just minutes before, but these guys knew what they were doing. 

I gripped the sides of the sled as they started rolling me over the uneven terrain. One of the benefits of the mono-wheel is that they could roll you over boulders and logs. Sounds FINE right? NOPE. The litter pitched from side to side as each of my rescuers stepped and climbed about the rocky slope. I was fully and unapologetically white knuckling the red plastic of the stretcher as we climbed up the rocky terrain, each little jingle jangle sending an electric bolt up my strapped in leg. I had my eyes peeled for ice, imagining the rescuers slipping on that same stubborn culprit and taking a second spill down the slope.

The guys were huffing in the altitude, one even asked to stop and switch sides, our fellow with the tweaked back was having a hard time of it. I felt bad and a bit guilty, but also glad I was a five-foot-five woman instead of a six-foot-four man. I can’t imagine that scenario is pleasant for either party.

There was a collective sigh of relief when we reached the cabin road. I will never take a level surface for granted again. The ambulance was spotted a short distance ahead and I realized I was about to take my first ever ride in one. I was loaded in, the doors were shut, and I watched the forest drift past through the foggy windows.

The EMT had a clipboard and more questions were asked as we approached the main Lake Mary Road gate, and stopped.

Another very definitive road block as calls had to be made again, and another gate code secured. I tried to tell the EMT they could just go back the way they came since I had the code to the campground gate, but alas we sat and waited. Again, a conversation definitely needs to be had about gate codes and who has them, I can’t be the first emergency ever to happen when the gates are locked for the season. Or am I?

The hospital arrival was a bit stressful, Covid protocols, paperwork, the cabin, my car all running together in my head as the adrenaline started to wear off. Jen met me at the hospital and waited with me while I was examined. I had gotten in touch with my boyfriend and we were trying to figure out how to get me and my car home. At this point I was thinking, well I’m pretty sure it’s broken, but if they cast it maybe I can still drive? Wow, that was a serious walk down delirium fantasy land.

One thing I will say about hospitals in mountain towns, everyone is fun and cool and all outdoors enthusiasts. The X-Ray tech had me laughing, and determined pretty quickly it was broken. Three bones, matching those three pops I had heard on the trail. I had also managed to dislocate it and tear some things. Ya know, go big or go home

At this point I’m still thinking, okay get the cast on, head back to the cabin with Jen’s help to pack up and close, and then can possibly drive home in the morning, that’s about the time the surgeon showed up.

He introduced himself and started walking me through my injuries ending with “We’d like to take you in for surgery immediately.” Hold the phone, SURGERY? Oh jeesh. It was a trimalleolar fracture, pretty much the worst thing you can do to your foot. Again, well done Michelle. He and his physician’s assistant quickly walked me through the process. “What about my insurance?” I asked. “Do I need to get approval before getting surgery?” I was worried about it being out of network, and boy was I right to be, more on that later. It was Sunday night so no one could get through to my provider.

The doctor explained “Look, we could splint your ankle as best we can, give you pain killers for the five hour car ride home, but by the time you get home the swelling will be so intense you will have to wait for a week or two before the swelling reduces enough to operate.” As if that wasn’t enough of a reason, he continued, “There are also two dangers associated with ankle fractures, one is the potential for blood clots that could potentially be fatal, the other is that if your pulse is lost in your foot and not treated immediately you could lose your foot.”  Umm, yes excuse me sir where do I sign? The physician’s assistant continued, that since I was being admitted through the emergency room that my insurance HAD to cover it. Would stand to reason, right?

While we were having this discussion and I was filling out the consent form and getting admitted to the hospital, a more emergency case came in and stole the sole anesthesiologist. Now I was going to have to wait till the next morning for surgery. I berated myself for being worried about my health coverage and it made me sad that as Americans our first thought isn’t our own health and safety, but will the insurance I pay a billion dollars for cover it.

I was moved to a room, the nurses awkwardly trying to manage me, my hiking pole, and backpack. Hiking poles really have no place in hospitals. Jen offered to run back to the cabin and get me some things, as well as pick me up some dinner.

I settled in, the nurses offering me pain killers through the IV, again like a complete idiot I turned it down. I was managing the pain okay and was still terrified of getting nauseous. My night nurse came in and introduced herself and asked what had happened. As I made my way through the ordeal and came to the part of the hiker who left me, she was completely astounded. She left the room and came back a couple minutes later and exclaimed “Did he really just LEAVE you there? You were in extreme shock, you could have died!!”( Another non-fan of the most disliked man in the Sierras.) 

At this point I had never thought for a moment my life was in danger, but after reading up on shock a bit I stand corrected. I also thought I was in good shape at this point. I was settled in and finally been allowed to use the bathroom after seven hours of holding it. A plan had been made for surgery and my return to LA, pizza was on its way, and while uncomfortable and in pain, it was all reasonable. Mischief had been properly managed. What is it they say about not getting too comfortable?

Pizza had just been delivered and I was about to bite into a slice when the nurse came in on her rounds. She checked the monitors, assured the compression device on my leg that was used to prevent blood clots was operating properly, and then checked for the pulse on my foot, and got NOTHING. She switched devices and positions, and again nothing. Another nurse was called in, nothing. She left the room in a hurry and told me not to eat any of the pizza yet. I recalled what Joel had said on the mountain, “If you don’t have a pulse in your foot, you are on a helicopter to Reno.” Mischief decidedly not managed.

The doctor came in in a rush dressed in a parka, the cold emanating off him, his face red from the pre-blizzard temperatures outside. He had been called in from home and was in a word, furious. He checked for my pulse, and checked again. “I told them to splint her in the ER before sending her up,” he pronounced exasperated, “I had a strong pulse in her foot in the emergency room.” 

The reason now became clear as to why I was told not to eat, if they couldn’t get my pulse back, then I was going to be heading straight into surgery. Not something that anyone seemed to want at this late hour. I certainly wasn’t keen on an exhausted surgeon having to operate at 11 p.m. after spending all day at the hospital. Not that I thought he couldn’t handle it, but let’s just say conditions weren’t optimal. Thank heavens I didn’t get in that car back to Los Angeles! If this had happened on the drive with us unknowing, I could have lost my foot. It was eerie to think back to that earlier insurance conversation, what if I didn’t have any savings and couldn’t risk the insurance and had to drive home? Thus, dooming myself to a possible amputation.

The E.R. team sheepishly came up with a splint. I sense words had been had. The doctor told me what happened next was really going to hurt, the nurse held my hand as the surgeon took my big toe and yanked. I surprised myself by screaming, I had never felt anything like this. I also considered having words with the E.R. team. 

The pulse was back, thank the hiking gods. You could see the relief in the surgeon’s face. He explained that my veins had possibly seized from the trauma or possibly been twisted or compressed, hence why he had ordered the splint to keep me immobile. I’m not sure why at this point I didn’t ask for morphine. I was now in intense pain and knew sleep was going to be impossible. The splinting was over at least, and now I just had to get through the night.

The hospital became quiet. I kept trying to sleep but could never get comfortable. The loneliness set in and I realized how much of a comfort having Jen there earlier had been. The reality of the situation became apparent. I was going to have my first surgery and I was completely alone, far away from home. I realized at that moment I was finally scared. 

I must have dozed off as the next thing I remember is the nurse coming in and waking me. Surgery was happening shortly and they needed to change me into a gown and get me prepped. I barely had time to check in with my boyfriend and make sure he was all sorted and clear on the crazy plan for the day. They had told us the night before that the need to get me home as soon as I came out of post op before the block anesthetic wore off was crucial, as I would be in excruciating pain once that happened. To continue with the adventure movie events, there was also a massive blizzard hitting that night, so if we stayed in town we would be trapped there for a few days, and moving me then would be a much more painful journey. 

The plan itself was a bit crazy. I had my car which needed to be driven back to Los Angeles, so a last minute one way car rental to a small town needed to be secured after hours on a Sunday night. The earliest car rental near our house opened at 8 a.m. The latest car rental return in Mammoth Lakes was 1:30 p.m. which left us only a half-hour window. Not ideal on a five hour drive. It also meant he had to get in and out of the rental car vendor in Los Angeles in minutes, and we all know that was never going to happen. After turning in the car, Jen would pick him up and drop him at the cabin, where he would have to pack up all my clothes, food, and other belongings, basically going on a scavenger hunt around the cabin to see where I had left things, and close up the cabin for winter. Closing up the cabin for winter means not only closing shutters, emptying the fridge, and cleaning, but also disconnecting the water system and freeze proofing the pipes. THEN he had to run around town picking up the various prescriptions as well as lunch for the drive home, since they advised him not to waste any time getting back. He then would have to load me in the car and drive straight back to LA, then get me into the house up a flight of exterior stairs and a flight of interior stairs. It felt a bit like a Mission Impossible or Ocean’s 11 plot with the amount of planning and layers of things that could go wrong. What if my post op recovery took longer than expected (it did), what if the blizzard came in early (it didn’t thank heavens), what if he missed the rental car return window (he did but he called and they waited for him).

I was thinking about all this as the gurney made its way down the hospital hallway. I was counting the overhead fluorescent lights as they passed by, blinking in the harsh glare in an attempt to calm my nerves. My main fear was the oxygen mask, claustrophobia being my lifelong enemy. I expressed this concern as I was moved onto the operating table and shifted into place. The anesthesiologist was definitely the cool kid in class, he said “Don’t you worry I have something for that…”, and before I could even get uncomfortable, I was out. 

When I awoke it felt like moments had passed, not the several hours the surgery had taken. I was groggy and confused, the nurse coming over right away. The brightness of the room was startling, like coming out of a deep dream onto a lake of sun reflected ice. The first thing I was surprised about even with the block anesthetic, was how much my foot already hurt. Initially with my fear of opioids they had discussed giving me something milder, it became quickly apparent that I was going to have to move on from my nausea concerns. Bring on the Percocet! 

I was shown my post surgery scans and all my fancy new hardware. I tried to read the operative report but I was already feeling quite nauseous, still not sure I’ll ever be able to read the whole thing without my stomach turning over. I think I got as far as an incision was made. There is the term they had me at hello, and for me it was they lost me at incision.

I could tell you all about the rest of the day and the long car ride home, the awful process of getting up two sets of stairs in excruciating pain that night as the block wore off, and the long weeks that followed, but mostly I want to mention that almost a year later my emergency surgery insurance claim is still in appeals. 

After being denied by my insurance, as well as my medical group for being out of network, I am still fighting the battle to get it covered. While my E.R. and hospital stay were immediately covered under my emergency room deductible, for some reason the hospital coded the surgery as an outpatient visit. Because you know, I chose to drive five hours away from my house, deliberately break my ankle, only to be able to have an outpatient surgery at an out of network hospital. Gotta love the U.S. healthcare system!

Defying Gravity….or not.

“Hello, you’ve reached 911, how can I help you?” “Oh hi, I’m Michelle, I think I just broke my ankle on a hiking trail in the lakes basin and my phone is about to die…”

The cold was seeping into the gap between my jacket and jeans as I leaned back into the hillside, rocking back and forth with my hands cupped under my knee in an attempt to keep the pressure off my lifeless ankle. It was approaching the three quarter hour mark since my 911 call, and I was getting more nervous and scared with each tick of the clock. I resisted the urge to keep checking my phone, the bright red low battery light taunting me. I knew if that went, then they would have no way to reach me. Not that I had service anyways. I was lucky the 911 call connected. “Why didn’t I pack my external battery?”, I kept asking myself over and over again. The mantra of this competing with the “Why did I remove my shoe spikes?” 

In reality I knew I had removed them because I hadn’t been near a patch of snow and ice for a mile and a half. There was just this one small two foot section on the connector back down to the cabin. I have a bad history with ice and Mammoth Lakes. A fifteen-year battle with a recurring shoulder dislocation was my penance. With this past history in my mind, I was being careful. I, in fact, was in the process of going around the patch, making a low duck under a tree branch, its green needles brushing gently against my cheek, when my heel caught on an edge of black ice and sent me spiraling down the steep terrain. I heard my ankle pop three times, like champagne corks going off simultaneously on New Year’s, then saw my foot flop limply in the wrong direction. This imagery that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

I have always had a problem with gravity.

It had been one of those perfect Sierra mild winter mornings. The sun was a hard diamond in the sky above Lake George as I sat on the dock watching the water shimmer in the late morning light. It’s thawed depths miraculously clear and ice free on this early December morning. I had almost stayed at the cabin to read outside in the sunshine, but with a storm approaching and winter finally deciding to join us, I knew this was my last opportunity for a hike to the upper lakes before next summer. If I had only stayed at the cabin. Another endless stream of self- blame battering across my brain in time to the throbbing of my foot. 

I was calm when it happened. I knew immediately that it was broken. That flop coming again to my mind’s eye, causing my stomach to roll over in sympathy with my ankle.

 I had noticed a hiker in the distance as I started down the hill, and immediately started screaming for help at the limit of my vocal capacity. My hoarse cry, alarming to my ears in its desperation. If only I had a whistle.  Another litany of “what ifs” plaguing my pain addled mind as I quietly hoped for a responding call. I had water and a fleece layer, which I immediately covered myself with, the shock already setting in with uncontrollable shaking. I’m not actually sure my teeth had ever chattered before. My knees certainly on a ski run in Chamonix, but my teeth? It’s funny how so many experiences you read about that you can’t actually picture, are surprising in their accuracy when it happens to you. I tried not to panic. They were coming. 911 had been reached. I had also finally gotten a text out to my friend Jen who lived in Mammoth, and my boyfriend back in Los Angeles, so they at least knew where I was, if search and rescue failed to find me. 

It’s all going to be fine.

It was right around the hour mark that I started to get scared. The low winter sun had made its way behind the mountain and the temperature was dropping. It had to be around forty degrees now. My gloveless hands, still in a death hold on my knee to keep it steady, were ice cold. I heard sirens approach up Lake Mary Rd. Finally, I screamed in my head, the calvary have arrived. Until, I heard them head off in the wrong direction. “You’re fine, you are FINE.” I breathed to myself softly. Hearing anything, even my own exhausted voice was soothing. 

I decided to carefully scooch myself down the hill to the actual trail. I wanted to make sure I was easy to see for the emergency team. I heard something coming from the direction of the trail. A soft whisper of movement. Please let this be the team and not a late season bear I thought to myself! 

What does one do if one is immobile on the ground and a bear turns up? I’m not sure that has been covered in any wildlife literature I have read. Does one just stay quiet and hope they don’t notice? Does one call out “Hey bear!” to make sure they see you? But in calling out “Hey bear” what do you do if they do see you, start moving in your direction, and you can’t back away? What if the “Hey bear” surprises them and they charge you? Does one then roll into a ball? 

This wasn’t a very healthy line of thought for someone incapacitated, so imagine my delight when I saw a hiker coming around a downed tree a little way down the trail! What luck?! I couldn’t believe more than one person was out hiking this random trail in winter. His expensive clothes and gear pack lending to an experienced hiker. I called out to him “Hello, excuse me!” I was beyond excited to see a person. I hadn’t, till this moment, realized how the aloneness of the situation was wearing on me. No matter that I knew people were coming, and knew others knew where I was, I had that thought of finally I am saved!

 He casually sauntered over, no surprise or alarm in his bearing. I hastily explained to him, “Hi, I fell and broke my ankle and am waiting for the emergency responders, did you see anyone when you came up the trail?” “No,” he answered in a put out German accent, “But, it’s only like ten minutes to the bottom.” I was taken aback by the tone of his response. Implying that somehow it would be no problem to make my way down a steeply switch backed trail, alone, with a broken ankle. I’ve slipped and fallen on that trail with TWO working feet! 

“Oh,” I flustered, “It’s just that it’s been over an hour since I called and no one’s come and my phone is almost dead.” This was greeted with a blank stare. Obviously not my knight in shining armor. I realized at this moment that he had no intention of offering me aid. I shifted tactics.

“How long are you hiking for?” I inquired. Since this was an unpopular trail, and also completely off season, I knew he couldn’t be going far, although his gear implied a journey of expedition level. He said he would just be hiking for an hour or so. “Okay,” I responded, “would you mind coming back this way in case they haven’t found me? That way you can at least let Tamarack Lodge know where you saw me?” He begrudgingly said “Okay.” and then continued on like he had never come across an injured hiker alone. I think he possibly broke every hiker code ever invented. It was almost laughable, although at this moment I didn’t find it very funny. Neither did search and rescue when they eventually found me. 

This was the first time in my hour on the mountain that I got really upset. I couldn’t believe he had actually just left me. The feeling of abandonment was overwhelming. No inquiry if I was okay, needed anything, wanted him to call 911 again. NOTHING. I understand not wanting to interrupt your big hiking plan, but this was an uninspiring off season trail, not Mt. Whitney! The tears were right there as I saw his back retreating into the dense woods. Panic was sitting right next to them holding their hand, both ready to leap off the cliff of hysteria together. I knew crying wasn’t going to solve anything. I tried to shift into anger at the unempathetic hiker, but in the end, I was only angry at myself for landing in this situation. 

The woods were silent after he left. The loneliness setting in as the chill crept into me from the frozen forest floor. I started to think about what I would do if I wasn’t found. Could I realistically crawl my way down the switchbacks and somehow drag myself to the cabin before dark? I had closed someone’s under deck storage doors on one of the cabins above me as I passed earlier, their broken latch secured with a pine twig. Could I drag myself up the hill the shorter distance and take cover in there? I had seen a tarp. Would that provide enough warmth and protection for overnight freezing temperatures? Even though the day was mild, it was still winter in the Sierra Nevadas.

I knew it wouldn’t come to this, Jen was on her way and knew exactly where I was, if search and rescue didn’t beat her. But the producer in me felt better making a plan, instead of sitting there thinking about the ankle and its unnatural angle.

I heard voices. Several of them. I saw the leader coming around that same fallen log, his large pack and uniform confirming these were finally the emergency team.

“Over here” I called out to them quietly as a bolt of pain shot through my ankle. Their arrival somehow signaling my foot that it was now perfectly acceptable to let all the hurt loose. “Are you Michelle?” a rugged man calmly asked me. He introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Joel.” As the rest of the team made their way up the final slope, their breath coming fast with the exertion of carrying packs and a stretcher up the vertical terrain. 

“How long have you been waiting?” one of the mountain rescue team asked between large inhales. “Around an hour and a half I think….” I muttered through chittering teeth, while trying to do the math in my head, even that slight movement sending a bolt through me. He was very disappointed and apologized, “911 sent us to the wrong location, we thought you were over by Panorama Dome.” “Really?!” I exclaimed. “I gave them super specific info about the trail and where to access it from.” He was pretty exasperated when he responded “They didn’t give us that, we finally pinged your cell phone and figured out where you were.”  Thank the gods for technology I thought. This was another lesson in how even 911 isn’t infallible. It also unleashed another dive into self-loathing. If I had had my battery-pack I could have stayed on the phone with them. That probably cost me about an hour on the frigid mountain.

There was a hurried scramble as the rest of team gathered. Backpacks were placed on the needle covered floor, and the red litter was set down nearby. The questions began… “What’s your name?” “How old are you?” “Can you explain how you fell?” 

My answers were coming in a jerky chattering speech I had never heard before. I kept apologizing. “I’m sooo sohhray, I donnnn’t know why myyy voooice is shaaaakkking soooo much.” 

“It’s perfectly normal, you are in shock. You are okay.” 

I’m okay. I’m okay. They are here, you are fine

The boot removal was not okay. I had untied my shoe as soon as I fell, knowing I had broken it. I thought about taking it off immediately, but what if I had to drag myself down the hill? As they inched the stubborn leather off my foot and I gasped, I realized it didn’t actually feel as terrible as I thought it would. I was just, well, terrified. Adrenaline is a miraculous thing. It is amazing how our body has these little built in escapes for dealing with trauma. “This isn’t bad” Joel comforted me, “I’ve had to remove ski boots from broken ankles before.” I thought back to my lifelong struggle to just get my ski boots on. Wincing and twisting and pushing. I can’t imagine trying to remove that stubborn pile of plastic from a broken foot. 

The sock however was a different matter. They discussed pulling it off, I stopped them immediately. “Jussst cuutt ttt it” I chattered. “Are you sure?” I believe Joel responded. Never in my life as a procrastinator has a decision been made so clearly and precisely. 

They examined my foot while I steadily looked in the other direction. The pulse was the important part they told me, an X being marked with a sharpie where they located it on my foot. “If we didn’t find a pulse,” Joel explained, “then you would be heading out on a helicopter to Reno.” I learned a lot of things about ankle fractures that afternoon. One of them being that if you lose your foot pulse you could lose your foot. I was to learn a lot more about this later that night….


As the summer of social distance expanded from our packed cities, into nature’s trails and rivers, and as we now move into the fall of discontent, what is the etiquette for existing outside of our overrun earth and fishing banks as we move into an isolated winter? Nature was our punching bag this summer. We brought our angst and emotional uncertainty to its gentle valleys and pristine shores. But what will happen when winter brings its white blanket and another potential lockdown? 

I watched from the normally peaceful confines of our cabin this summer, the sheer disgrace of humanity as it’s discarded garbage piled up on our trails. Felt anger, as the trees and signs were graffitied on our quiet little tract in the woods. Then the unthinkable; uncontrollable forest fires raging across the entire region.

The Creek Fire coming so close, that I went so far as to organize a plan to remove family heirlooms and precious antiques. This massive fire, that burned over 379,000 acres, still lies smoldering on the other side of Devil’s Postpile, just a few miles from the cabin. 

You think you know what’s coming for you in life. You imagine things that you thought were important. Am I going to land that next project? Will I be able to pay my bills this month? Am I keeping in touch with my family enough? Is my mom’s health ok? Am I getting enough exercise? Eating too much sugar? Flossing enough? You don’t think “Will there be a global pandemic that will destroy all of my plans for the next eighteen months?” Maybe kill my relatives. Then add to that; a historic wildfire and hurricane season, murder hornets, riots, record heat waves, and one of the most contentious elections in history.

I remember thinking as the fire crept closer and closer to the cabin, that if the cabin goes what is left for me? This place that has brought me so much joy, peace, and purpose in the five years it’s been a part of my life, may suddenly not exist anymore.

I started obsessively watching the daily Creek Fire incident reports like other people watched Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Casey the Alaskan Team Chief became my Kim, Brian the Division Chief my Khloe, Fireman Dan my Kourtney. I studied the map with an anxious brow, while calculating how many miles of forest it would need to burn through before cresting the hill above the cabin. How many roads it would need to jump. Hoping the burn scar of the Lions Fire would check its destructive path towards our little nook in the Sierras. The unknowing and uncertainty were excruciating.

But aren’t we always living in an uncertain world? Is anything in life for sure? Are you leading the life you imagined in your childhood? Is it better? Is it worse? I guess for most Americans, it is probably better than most, even in the worst abused depths of our society. But is any level of abuse acceptable? Is that just a human problem that has been around for centuries? How do we deal with the human problem of now? Are these problems of the body or the general mindset? Does one problem feed the next? Civilizations have toppled so many times, did they know when it was happening? Will we? 

What if it’s now? What if Trump is Nero. Floyd is Jesus. Derek Chauvin, Pontius Pilot. Does it matter in the end? Violence begets violence. Ignorance begets hate. Cain killed Abel. Martin Luther was assassinated. Jon Benet was abducted. The ark floated. New Orleans sunk. Does it matter when a microbe comes for society? Did we create it in a lab? Did the animals we have subjected for a millennium give it to us? Is it the final justice for humanity?

Probably not, but can we learn from it? Have we finally evolved enough to understand real compassion? Do I have a right to hope? Or should we just absolve ourselves to the righteous bunker of social media, instead of the internal work we all need to do? If so, let’s just all pray for aliens. 

Commuting with Nature (Excerpt included in the July 5th, 2020 LA Times Op-Ed)

As the mileage ticks on the odometer and I hear the bwap bwap of a motorbike, my Subaru’s tires hugging the road around another tight rocky curve, for just a second I’m cruising along the heart-stopping road into Cinque Terre. A trip from a former life and a different world. I’m not in Italy. It’s locked down, just like the City of Angels I choose to call home.


The reality of this alternate universe we’ve stepped into is starting to hit home. The local trails in Griffith Park, near my 1920’s apartment in Silver Lake, have just closed. My early morning diversion is not an option anymore. The running trail around the Silver Lake Reservoir, that the Spanish style townhouse I reside in sits upon, is now overrun. Everyone is here. Some wearing masks, but most not at this point. The Great Mask Wars of 2020 are just starting to unfold under the aged French doors of my lake facing bedroom.

I decide my daily walks around the lake are too dangerous to proceed with, so I look to our local forest. When I first moved to Los Angeles twenty years ago as a young New Orleanian, I was fascinated by this wilderness within the county lines. Having grown up below sea level in a flat expanse of swamp and river, the reality of having a mountainous wilderness within a half-hour of home was unfathomable. I spent every weekend that I wasn’t working on film sets as a production assistant, exploring. I would proudly display my Angeles Crest Forest Adventure Pass on the dashboard of my late 90’s Dodge. But somehow over the last two decades and the expansion of my California journey, I forgot about this passport to another world, right in my backyard.


My first trip out I played it safe. The forest is legally open and only some large trails are closed. I find my way to a locked gate, leading to an obscure track on the Silver Moccasin Trail that I so often explored in the early spring season with my first roommate. The dirt trail led to a favorite campground, then to the peak of Mt. Hillyar. I had my gator, I was using as a mask, around my neck, ready for any trail interactions. In four hours, I saw no one, except one mountain biker I crossed on the campground road.



A couple days later I went back. I did another low use area, and then another. I dug out my ragged, twenty-year-old Trails of the Angeles book, and started diving deep. Modern Hiker’s website became a pandemic essential for me. Mt. Hillyar led to an obscure Charlton Flat hike. Charlton Flat led to Mt. Williamson. Mt. Williamson led to Mt. Islip. Mt. Islip led to Cooper Canyon Falls.


Every other day I was escaping to the Angeles Forest to cope. My morning commute became a cell-free drive down an empty canyon road to a five to seven-mile hike. For the first time in my career I wasn’t worried about missing a work email, because there was no work. I didn’t stress about missing a call from a director or client. I just checked out into the empty forest every couple of days to explore a new trail. The excitement of seeing something new in the forest became the therapy I needed to survive so much uncertainty. Financial stresses, endless unanswered calls to the unemployment office, bill juggling, trips canceling, projects disappearing into the Covid-19 abyss. None of that mattered on the trail. There was just the winding road and motorcycles whipping past me on the way to another soul cleansing, thigh-burning hike.


The foggy, chilly mornings from early in the pandemic, became blazing hot spring days. That raw smell of California chaparral heavy in my nose as I climbed from one rocky mountaintop to the next. My skin chapped and wind burnt from longs hours on exposed ridges. The paleness of my arms and legs, transformed into tan limbs normally not seen till summer. Socks wet from crossing streams laden with spring’s runoff.



The soft sounds of bird chirps were my new conference calls. The crunch of boots scrambling on rocks and dirt had replaced walkie chatter and shouts of “action”. Instead of a color correct playback monitor, I was staring at expansive vistas. Identifying peaks, instead of issues with product placement or logos.


I do miss the adrenaline rush of our rapid work lives, but maybe this pause is also a lesson. If an email isn’t immediately answered that’s ok. If an after-hours text is missed because you are putting your kids to bed that’s ok. If you are offline for a minute because you went for a walk, that’s ok too.


It’s a reminder that we are all humans and not machines, and the world doesn’t end if the wheel stops spinning so fast. How do we take these lessons and move them into our future? How do we make the amazing technology that we’ve been given work for us, instead of us working for it?

In the meanwhile, I’ll be on the trail searching for answers….


Social Distancing

I hadn’t realized I had been unknowingly practicing social distancing since I bought the cabin four years ago. This hadn’t been in my consciousness until it became a government mandate, and as I watched all of my friends trying to figure out how to adjust to this new reality. Suddenly thrust at home with their partners and children on a twenty-four hour a day basis, I observed them trying to figure out how to handle work amidst the constant disruptions, and their lives without social distractions.


Nothing had really changed in our house. My boyfriend and I both worked from home and were used to being in each other’s hair all day. I wonder if couples with out of the home jobs, were now dealing with the inevitable “Stop talking to me I’m working!” that was a daily occurrence in our lives. Our biggest adjustment had come in having to deal with the run on grocery stores, and the sudden need to make meal plans that didn’t involve just walking down to the store to pick up food for a couple days, now we were trying to make sure we were covered for a couple weeks.

When the news struck of the coronavirus, friends across the country reached out to see if we had “Escaped LA” to the cabin. I had always jokingly referred to it as my zombie apocalypse plan, I had no idea it was a pandemic that would send people running for the hills.


The off-grid winter cabin has always been the ultimate exercise in self isolation, and as there were very few takers each year (including my boyfriend) to spend time in a snow-covered igloo with no water and an adventure minded folks only compost toilet, I had had lots of practice in complete seclusion and self-entertainment.



Being that it was snowshoe in only in the winter, with no road access, we always fully stocked the cabin at the end of fall. There was plenty of bottled water, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, and TOILET PAPER! I could probably rent it out right now for a fortune just for its healthy supply of those items.


I loaded up on food supplies in LA, so I wouldn’t have to visit any stores in town and could just go directly to the cabin. I was very conscious of the fact that Mammoth was a small mountain community and planned my trip with that in mind, although in so many ways I considered myself more a part of the Mammoth community that I so loved, than the one in Los Angeles. I guess that happens when you live in three cities and don’t spend your main time in any one location, but Mammoth has always felt like my special place.


What’s ironic is that while I was busy making sure I made no impact or contact, as I drove through town without stopping on my way to the cabin, I was surprised to see the lakes basin exploding with cars jostling for position along Lake Mary Road. It seems as if the town had come to me. The mountain was closed for skiing and boarding so everyone had flocked to the lakes to get into the back country. As I trudged my way to the cabin through the feet of fresh powder, I was impressed that someone had already carved a trail through the snow. When I got to the cabin, I found out why. As I was loading in, a half dozen snowboarders passed by dragging their boards after skiing down the hill behind the cabin. Here I was trying to be respectful and keep my distance and now my yard was basically a ski slope!


If it was a different time, I would have put out a coffee station and some backcountry craft service.

In the end though, with the mountain closed, our area had become an out of bounds playground, culminating in me having to have some gentle words with a group of boarders who were doing jumps off my neighbor’s roof. After explaining that they were privately owned residences, they apologized and went on their way.


While isolation has been stressful, I wonder if we all needed this time out in a way. A time to get perspective on our lives and where they are going. With the lack of cars on the road, LA was suddenly almost smog free, with crystalline blue skies. Maybe this virus was nature’s way of saying “Hey, the Earth needs a break too…” “And this is what the world could look like if you all took better care with her.”


But, we should all take better care of ourselves as well.

The sun was shining this morning after the beautiful snow storm of the afternoon and evening before, so I elected to take a snowshoe down to the waterfall outlet. The sun was beaming brightly down on me, and as I joyfully inhaled the blast of vitamin D and looked back across the frozen, snow covered lake, I took a deep breath, and then another. I decided to do some gentle yoga in the middle of that vast expanse on the edge of the lake in my snowshoes. Right as I peeled myself down into my first forward fold the clouds came in, and large fluffy snowflakes started falling, like someone was dumping feathers out of a box in heaven. As I finished with some deep breathing and gently opened my eyes and took in the vast beauty around me, I felt warm tears sliding down my icy cheeks. Maybe in our overworked and over stimulated world, self-quarantine is something that should become part of our yearly habits, instead of just a sojourn in crisis.


As I write this, the snow is falling softly outside, the flakes so repetitive that it feels like a glitch in the Matrix, the fire is snapping in the background, and I’ve got a hot water bottle tucked under my knees on the lace covered sofa. I needed this break away from the news, the worries about how we film freelancers are going to pay next month’s rent, and the fear of someone close to me getting ill.


I also needed to step away from the anger and anxiety that was trickling in through the window every day from the reservoir jogging path outside our window. I had already heard people screaming at each and almost getting into fist fights about social distancing etiquette, which reminded me of school yard bullying. It felt a bit like the entire world was becoming a high school cafeteria; complete with finger pointing, shaming, and general mean girl / guy behavior. A friend, who is a nurse, was getting harassed so heavily at grocery stores for wearing scrubs and masks, she had been forced into tears on multiple occasions. In the face of stress and catastrophe there will always be people who step in with kindness, offset by an equal amount of people whose base ugliness shows itself.

But out here amidst the cleansing snowfall I’m reminded that the virus is just another part of the natural world and natural order of things, and nature always resets itself. This isn’t the first time it’s delivered up something terrifying, and it won’t be the last, I just hope this is a short sojourn in the unknown and that we all take this time to make our tomorrow’s more meaningful and rewarding.




I Guess the Fridge is Working

I’m gazing at the fire and yet unaware of it.

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After four weeks of perpetual motion and three shoots stacked on top of each other like a game of gin rummy, I can barely monitor my thoughts. Yesterday a friend asked how I was, I said I didn’t know. I hadn’t talked to myself in weeks.

Having time to think felt like it would fall under an “Act of God” in the production insurance claim. We live such busy lives where even trying to see a friend requires the skill of a chess master and here, I was, hosting my first cabin Thanksgiving in less than a week.


After back to back shoots with child influencers who make more money in a year than I am likely to see in a lifetime, I had decided to race the weather and on my first almost day off in a month, fly up to the cabin with some last minute supplies before the snow set in.

On the list; a large roasting pan for the turkey, a rug my mom had bequeathed me that I dragged back from New Orleans to protect the new floors on this, their first winter, half a case of holiday wine, a festive wreath project, brown sugar and butter for my required “Queen of Yams” dish.


We had shot on Friday and Saturday, so Sunday was spent in a coma with minimal emails to deal with. Monday was busy playing catch up, and Tuesday as I jumped in the car was almost preternaturally quiet.

I had gotten lucky.

As the 395 north unfolded under the wheels of my tires, I managed to have only one work call and a couple of easy emails.


I slipped into the Limetown podcast as I was curious about the new Jessica Beil show, and then eased my way into one of my boyfriend’s “Frame & Sequence” podcast episodes. I was so behind, but wanted time to absorb each thought expressed, understand each careful question. The joy of the Eastern Sierras, my old friends, welcoming me as I went from advanced bio tech drama, to the skill of a paintbrush, the eye behind a photograph, the creative mind of a magazine empire.

I arrived in Mammoth as the first tendrils of the storm started whipping through the brown, desolate, late fall town.


The padlocked daisy chain on the gate was done properly, which I can only imagine was due to my neighbor Greg’s diligence, and the storm hadn’t quite hit as I rolled through the deserted campground.

It felt a bit like one of those clown car scenes from the old circuses where every door springs open, and bodies and props come flying out in every direction. It did seem like a fire drill as I threw open every car door and started hurling things into the cabin.


I had a mental checklist I was working through as the first barrage of sharp sleet starting hitting me in the face, the wind creating medusa like tendrils out of my hair.

First, get the food in. Drop the shutters. Turn all the heaters on. Unload the new rustic bench and vintage folding chairs I had discovered in the little town of Clovis. Return the borrowed table to the mudroom. Close all the faucets in the cabin. Run up the hill and reconnect the water system. Load in extra drinking water and clean towels.


It was a sprint, and as I finished the first soft snowflakes started to fall. I didn’t want to risk my car getting stuck inside the campground if they closed the second gate, so raced to dash back to the lodge and back before the storm worsened.


My timing was at once amazing and also a little scary. One-hour delay and I wouldn’t have made it. But I was in and all was well.


I step outside with a glass of chilled Rose, tis the season. The snow settles on my closed eyes as I turn my face to the sky. I breathe in the cold air, it drenches me. Calm finally. There is yoga and there is cabin.

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And then there is cabin.

The fridge isn’t working.

Was it broken? Did I make a mistake buying it off of Craigslist? Is the breaker tripped? Could I get anyone out here to fix it before the road was buried? Did the endless, much publicized, fire prevention power outages by Edison break the Italian fridge?  I mean it was of “Good Italian quality” after all!


By morning my milk was frozen. As well as my salad.

I guess the fridge is working.

Happy Holidays!


Spider Murder

The opening of the season was upon us. The snow was finally melting excluding a stubborn four-foot patch over the fire pit on this the 1stof July, and the chores were many. Sheets to be washed, power to be restored, spiders to be murdered. Many, many spiders.

With so much late season snow, the mountain was still open for skiing, high trails were buried under a stubborn white blanket, and Christmas in July was an actual option this year in the Sierra Nevadas.


I was in the midst of the many summer opening chores before the first guests landed for the 4th of July holiday, when as I reached to fling open a window and let the fresh mountain air wash into the cabin, I inserted my face right into the middle of a nauseating, fly filled spider web.

My grandmother always told me “Spiders mean money, don’t kill them.” If spiders mean money than the cabin must be built upon a yet undiscovered gold strike.

We do try not to murder them unnecessarily. Although I have been known to throw a shoe or two, and have a special high-pitched shriek I make that always translates to SPIDER. They were everywhere, and seemed to build new hair catching webs overnight. If I ever find a word written in one I will probably call an exorcist. Or buy a pig.




But spiders weren’t the only creepy crawly that liked to shock me into fits of nerve wrenching screeching. Most recently I pulled the sheets back on the bed and found a cricket sitting snugly in the middle of my freshly washed sheets. At least the aerialist Pika hadn’t been back again. Cabin life did have such joys!

And oh look….

There’s a bear in the yard. Again. One of many that have been present this season.


As a group of French tourists with very large cameras inquired “Where did he go?”. I pointed the path to the waterfall and suggested maybe not following him into the brush. He was a very big fella, and well, no photo op was worth being cornered on a muddy path by a large clawed mammal.


I had watched one charge a camper who was trying to scare him away from breaking into an old, beat up mini van. I observed as he methodically tried all the door handles with his paws. The neighbors at Cabin #1 had a mama and two babies in their SUV after forgetting to lock a door. My boyfriend sitting on his favorite boulder behind the cabin, had one ten feet away who acknowledged his presence, and then casually scratched his tush on a tree for ten minutes. Then there was the bear family that made it’s way along the shores of Lake George happily enjoying the dinner the local fisherman had unknowingly caught for them as these anglers scampered out of their way. These Mammoth Lakes bears were smart and knew how to work their territory!


I had never seen so many bears in the neighborhood. I mean the neighborhood was the wilderness, but still, this was quite a lot for a season!

Spiders, and crickets, and bears oh my!


If the elements weren’t busy enough keeping us on our toes the critters were there to take up the slack. It was bordering on ridiculous to be shoveling snow in July, and not just a little tiny bit of icy whiteness, but several feet. The cabin elevation being around 8,700’, meant that the snow often came early and left late, but this year was a little unreasonable. We managed to clear the mound burying the fire pit just in time for the holiday festivities. This was a fitting start to what ended up being a summer of endless chores.


The cabin purchase had come with a lifestyle that hadn’t factored into my original plans. I had imagined cozy nights in front of the fireplace, mornings kayaking on the lake, long afternoons reading Hemingway in the forest with a chilled glass of champagne. While all those things were a part of cabin life, I didn’t expect that the homesteading aspect of it would be so all consuming.


I also didn’t expect how much I would love it.

Maybe there is a secret lumberjack hiding in all of us? The sheer exhausted pleasure of working with your hands and being able to see your work unfold in front of you. So many of us spend so much time blindly typing endless emails that lack the satisfaction of watching a pile of chopped wood grow around your splinter covered boots and sweat soaked face.




As the summer wore on we had a carpenter from Louisiana that came out to stay and do a work / trade for summering at the cabin. An escape from the heat was a good motivator and on our end we had some help with chores that had been loitering about since last season. The demolished cabin door being chief among them.


After a trip to the mill in town, the door was sturdily constructed, and we spent hours applying coats of Tung oil to hopefully seal it for the quickly approaching winter.






New shutters were created for the large front picture windows, and the original floors were sanded and refinished. The amazing red Smeg refrigerator Craigslist find was standing by waiting to be installed, replacing the massive white box we had been squeezing by in the galley kitchen for four years.










But yet we were still waiting. 

Last summer’s project of sourcing vintage Douglas Fir shiplap floors and then taking a mad dash late season road trip across the pass to Heritage Salvage in Petaluma had been a fun adventure. But, after a year of curing the wood in the cabin rafters we were anxious to get the install done.





A local flooring company had come out the previous fall, surveyed the project, and told us they would put us at the top of schedule for the next season. As June bled into July and we were assured they would get us on the calendar for sometime that month we were cautiously optimistic.

Optimism while trying to get any project done in a small mountain town is often a very futile concept. August rolled around and the company’s owner had completely ghosted us like a bad boyfriend at a bachelor party. What now I thought?

I did not want to endure another season with stacks of wooding literally hanging about, or the dirty kitchen linoleum and dilapidated sisal rug with fifteen years of filth encrusted on it in a hantavirus dreamscape.


We had also managed to get our water system working properly after four years of playing Russian roulette with the pipes. Thanks to our Neuroligist friend who in his spare time had designed a water collection system that actually worked. If you ever see “gravity fed water system” in a reality listing run, don’t walk.


The water finally flowing properly though came with it’s on set of problems. Now that the water was actually running a leak had materialized in the bathroom wall. The Murphy rule of cabin life, fixing one problem created another. The wall was pulled out. A delightfully disgusting array of dead mice were found. The plumber was called and the pipe was repaired. Hallelujah!

Unfortunately, a few days later water was on the floor again. Heavens. Kevin the plumber kindly came back out again, only for it to be determined that this new water was from the rain storm and coming in through the wall. As mentioned, each problem that is solved creates another! Murphy reigns supreme.

As Kevin was departing and I looked down at the shabby sisel rug I was suddenly inspired to ask him if by chance he knew anyone who laid floors and was looking to pick up some work?

Cabin miracles do happen. Enter Kevin the plumbers good friend Mark. He came by the very next day to have a look at the floors.

Mark’s 12-year-old daughter was in the top 5 downhill skiers in the West. Mammoth Mountain, under new ownership, and no longer having the patronage of original owner and developer Dave McCoy, had inflated the ski teams costs so much that it was pricing local kids off of the team. Mark reminisced as a former Mammoth instructor, that when Dave McCoy was involved he always made sure talented kids could be on the team no matter what they could afford. Mark was looking to pick up projects on the side to make up the difference and our timing was perfect for him.

Within two days we had a plan in the works, all my flooring dreams were about to come true……










April Showers Bring May Powder?

As I sip my steaming espresso in front of the raging fire I’ve just started in the wood stove in an attempt to take the deep chill out of the cabin’s wood paneled living room and watch the blizzard unfolding outside of the large picture windows I can’t help but think “This can’t be normal”.


It’s Memorial Weekend and five short days away from June.  As everyone else packs up their bikinis, umbrellas, and unicorn pool floats to head to the beaches and warm lakes I’m here in a tattered wool sweater, fleece pants, and using my hot coffee mug to warm my icy fingers.


Being fairly new to mountain cabin life I wonder “Well maybe this is normal?”.

I came up this weekend after a grueling travel and shoot schedule to get a jump start on summer chores and to start prepping the cabin for my mother’s visit at the end of next month- Check the snow level, retire the compost toilet for the season, walk out the bedding to be washed for summer.

Having arrived at the cabin to my compromised door (high on the list of the repairs for the season) metal latch having snapped from the snow pressure and the door having collapsed in on itself yet again I wondered if my mother’s June 29th arrival was going to have to be a hike in?  Having advised her against her original plan of coming in May she had settled on late June as that seemed “safe” for having an open road.  As the snow keeps pouring down this late May morning I wonder if end of July is even safe…


I think about the early settlers of this area and how depressing it must have been to have had a couple of brief peeks of summer sunshine to then be buried under multiple feet of new powder and realizing it was too early to retire the snowshoes and start planting their summer vegetable gardens.

I thought ahead for a moment to our 4thof July guests this year and that they may also be faced with the situation of wading through the extra river that comes after a big snow season for the second time in three years.  I heard the mountain reported is was the snowiest May on record.  It certainly was some of the best conditions of the season when I took my last spin along the slopes and delighted in the clear skies and Memorial Day powder.


If this isn’t the old normal, I wonder if along with so many other global warming repercussions this was the new normal.  I mean was Christmas in July going to be an actual thing now?

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My Canadian guests after an initial moment of PTSD having just recently moved to sunny southern California to escape from the snow, took the high snow levels, power outage, and broken door in stride.



At least we could use the inside toilet!  Having opted to retire the compost one before it warmed up too much and became rather unpleasant we decided to just roll the dice on inside plumbing with melted snow and ample doses of anti freeze.  Fingers crossed come the thaw this was a wise decision!  As with all things cabin it is always a game of risk versus reward!



But the rewards are always ample so mayhap the risks are worth it….


You Can’t Be Here Right Now

“You can’t be here right now” the snowcat driver hollered at me over the purr of the engines.  Ain’t that the truth I thought to myself as I struggled the last quarter mile to the cabin in the dark with a fading headlamp.

Why in God’s name did I let my 5pm before dark quick dinner escalate into a 4 course meal with a total stranger?  A lovely total stranger who I had met at the chef’s table at Skadi, a local Scandinavian restaurant tucked into a strange business park on a residential street in town.   We poured through stories and courses and before I knew it deep dark had settled into the snow covered streets.


As I was huffing along the snowy path, my freezing breath exploding out of me as I tried to race my headlamp’s battery reserve to the cabin, all I could think about was the story I had heard recently from a friend that Mammoth’s hills were covered in mountain lions and that they were more to be feared than the healthy local bear population.

I was pretty sure I had been stalked a couple winters ago on a very similar night.  That night I sung “hey bear” loudly for the entire half mile walk to the cabin, being careful not to run or appear panicked.  The next day when I saw fresh tracks littered around the back side of the campground I knew I wasn’t just scared of the dark.


I was relieved to see that snowcat and it’s glaring headlights cutting through the pitch black of the campground.  It felt so alien seeing such a large vehicle in the middle of the backcountry trek to the cabin and I had a momentary flash to The Shining and Dick Hallorann barelling his way to the Overlook Hotel.


I crossed the track well in front of the cat to make sure the driver saw me and wouldn’t inadvertently knock me into a snow bank.

I can only imagine what was running through his mind as he opened his door to reprimand me.  As I explained to him that I was just trying to make my way to my cabin he grinned and exclaimed “That’s your cabin back there with the lights on?”.   As I explained yes, I am the idiot trying to make my way in the pitch black after a 4 course dinner to an isolated cabin alone, he responded “Well, yes you are allowed to be here!”.


I explained to him I was rarely out on the path after dark and that it was good to know what time they normally groomed now, since in three years I had never even heard the snowcat on the snow muted cross country ski trail.  As I wandered forward into the night I was grateful to have had that brief contact with someone.  To know I wasn’t “Alone, in the night, in the dark” to quote a line from one of my favorite scary movies.


The isolation of the cabin in winter is one of it’s greatest advantages but at the same time is also it’s greatest disadvantage when alone.  Every time I take that walk back in the frigid dark alone and terrified I ask myself over and over “What were you thinking?”, and every time I awake to a pristine, silent, snow covered lake and take my first step outside to the hush of the winter forest I remember it is all worth it.


Ghost in the Machine

The rain is pouring and hitting the tin roof with a rhythmic patter as a light rumble of thunder breaks over the red mountain who’s name I still don’t know for some reason.

I slip another savory bite of buttery salmon with a delicate snap of citrus into my mouth and take a sip of the chilled cremant bubbling in my glass.  If a deer or bear walks casually by the window I think I’ll call Disney because this can’t possibly be real life.  (I won’t of course mention the fact I also got a splinter in my foot walking to the kitchen in my socks, they don’t need to know these things.)


I think back to two summers ago when I was just another sweaty Angelino sleeping on a cot in front of a fan suffering through another record setting heat wave in a city where air conditioning is rare.

Here I am now in a sweater watching the rain fall, debating if I should start a small fire in the wood stove, and thinking with all of it’s headaches, spiders, bruised legs, lack of oxygen, and the occasional rodent boarder today at this un-sweaty moment what a delight it all is.


I got a late start this season with so much work travel and non-cabin adventures that I was dreading the list of chores that were piling up.  The biggest one being an actual PILE of wood that had taken over the whole yard and half of the driveway.


Five trees had be downed as falling hazards and not a moment too soon since a couple of them were positioned to freefall directly onto the cabin.  Normally in this case the tree removal company would haul them out and sell them to a lumber company, but being that our cabins were across a historic wooden bridge with a minimum weight load they couldn’t truck them out.

We organized a wood splitting day with our neighbors and an old timer named Cliff who does some handy man work on the cabins in our tract.

In our society of ease and leisure it’s hard to imagine that splitting wood could actually be FUN.  I don’t think the smile left my face for six hours.  I now completely understand why men love power tools.

The smell of the engine oil, the rhythmic hum of the blade chugging up and down, the ripple of my shoulders as I muscled another log into place.  That distinct joy of simple purpose and camaraderie.



I recently had a conversation at a friend’s book signing for a book he wrote about empathy.  We discussed how many people are constantly questioning their existence, their happiness, are they accomplishing enough, are they living their best life.  My theory is that because everything is done for us now and we no longer have to work to just survive like our forefathers did, that this idleness of time has led to our deep questioning of everything.  The simple act of chopping wood and feeling purpose and accomplishment has been lost for our generation.

There was an addictive rhythm to the splitting.   A desire to keep going.  Push harder.  Roll in more logs.  Bigger logs.  An amazing satisfaction to hurling the split logs into the ever growing wood pile.



Then the next day the stacking.  (Which is actually a lot more challenging than the splitting. ) We had some spills and thrills.  Bruises everywhere, skinned legs from my habit of throwing myself in front of runaway logs.  But the pain seemed somewhere else.  I was in the zone and it didn’t matter.



My boyfriend likes to sing this little song “Chores, chores, Michelle loves chores…”  And I do!

It quiets the mind.

We have these amazing souls and desire to be something.  Sometimes being something is just being.

That same boyfriend had the same stupid grin on his face everytime I looked up from the splitter.  He was talking to the old timer about birds and trees, while they shimmied up the biggest logs with a crowbar and rolled them down to the splitting pile where my neighbor Greg and I were manning the machine.

Aren’t we all manning the machine in the end.  The machine of our minds.  Our constantly questioning and searching minds.