Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Portrait of a closed California State Park

On Memorial Day, I hiked at Castle Crags State Park in Northern California. The park was one of those slated for closure in July, but the sector superintendent had to close early due to lack of funds. He let go nine seasonal employees (one of whom had been there for 12 years), and built a gate where none had been before, but closed gates didn't keep people out.

The couple on the left drove down from Oregon. The father and daughter team on the right were on their way to Tahoe where she was starting an internship to model earthquakes. The four in the lower right were up from Red Bluff, and the couple in khaki moved from France to San Francisco three years and joined the California State Parks Foundation. The young girl watching a caterpillar crawl across her hand was one of six kids in a large family that hiked to Castle Dome with a 2,200-foot elevation gain.

We found the district supervising ranger, C. Brett Mizeur, emptying trash and refilling toilet paper at the only pit toilet open in a park that covers 5,000 acres, and is surrounded by 14,000 more. He is leaving it open as a courtesy. He threw the garbage bags into his truck, which he would drive back to Burney Falls.

"I always tell my wife, if I win the Mega Million lottery I'm gonna save Castle Crags," said Mizeur, the only peace officer in the entire wilderness area other than sheriffs and the California Highway Patrol.

I heart California State Parks!

With its wide trails designed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, its blooming dogwood, inspiring towers, and sweet-smelling pines, the park instantly became one of my top five hikes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Golden Gate Bridge is ready for her close-up

“What do you want me to do, start with the Golden Gate Bridge?” asked James Stewart in the opening scene of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the first movie of 25 that I watched to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I had to do something to commemorate her birthday. The bridge is like an elegant elderly aunt to me, and always there when I need her.

After watching several films (and fast forwarding though a few of them), I began to look for the "Golden Gate Bridge" in the opening credits. Why not? The bridge has a body of work like other movie stars. She establishes place, is heroic in her survivor skills, serves as a metaphor for relationships, and provides an emotionally familiar site for the climax to occur. Sometimes, like a movie star, she only has to stand there looking pretty, like in Murder in the First when she serves as a respite for the viewer after warden Gary Oldham repeatedly tortures prisoner Kevin Bacon at Alcatraz Island.

For me, X3: The Last Stand takes the Oscar for best use of the bridge when Ian McKellen, head honcho mutant, uproots the 887,000-ton span from its abutments and drops it between San Francisco and Alcatraz so that Juggernaut doesn't have to wet his toes.

Another Oscar goes to Rise of the Planet of the Apes for its use of the bridge as a swing structure for the juiced-up apes to head towards Muir Woods and world domination. Austin, my 28-year-old stepson, liked Monsters vs. Aliens best (how did I miss that when it came out!). Dave, my husband, gave his Oscar to Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

After 9/11, I feared for the bridge's safety, probably because it is so often destroyed in movies. As Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart travel to the inner core of the earth to get the mantle spinning again in The Core, a solar wave zaps the bridge into ash. Another giant squid breaks the bridge after it climbs the south tower to avoid electrocution in It Came From Beneath the Sea.

Even without stalled molten cores and giant squid, the bridge has longevity issues. With its 1.2 million rivets, new acrylic paint job, and the improved bracing it got in the 1950s, the bridge has so far withstood high winds and earthquakes. Knock steel.

When asked in 1937 how long the bridge could last, engineer Joseph Strauss said, "Forever!" That might sound like a proud parent talking, but Andrew W. Herrmann, current president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, agrees it is possible as long as the needed maintenance and rehabilitation is done.

The creators of Star Trek envision the bridge lasting at least another 300 years. It still stands in stardate 2286 when Kirk beams a humpback whale through time and a cosmic storm. Star Trek creators didn't include the iconic bridge in three movies and a handful of episodics because they were certain of its lifespan. They put it there to help us feel safe as we envision the future. In that way, it tethers us to a world we know as we consider a future we don't, complete with cosmic storms, giant squid, and hopefully, humpback whales.

Top picks in our house: