Wednesday, May 28, 2008

We survived the ten-day retreat...

Andrea and I just did a group retreat in the desert with a bunch of friends. This was at Diamond Mountain, up in the sanctuary area, so there were no buildings in which to stay, including our trailer. I'm a major princess, and not really interested in tent life, so I decided to build a wooden platform up at our site so we'd have a level floor, and then I hauled a mattress and comforter up the hill from the trailer and set those up inside of an 8x8' pup tent.

The system worked pretty well - we had a very comfortable place to sleep, and it only fell down once, when a knot I'd tied slipped and the guy line protecting the back side of the tent fell down. We had two severely bent tent-poles, but once I'd guyed everything properly, it all held up. Sort of.

By the time the retreat was over, the tarp I'd been using as a windbreak was shredded. Every night when we went up to the tent I had to re-place several stakes that had been pulled up by the wind. The wind literally ripped several bungee cords to pieces. I was down to the last bungee tie when the retreat ended - if it'd gone on for another two days with 50mph wind gusts, I would have run out, and the tent would have fallen.

The weather was exciting - there were two days of sweltering heat - on the second day of heat, it was so hot that all we could do was lie about like beached whales sweating and hoping for breezes. The breezes came from time to time, and each one was like a little taste of bliss, accompanied by wild swaying and flapping of the tent.

So we were pretty much praying for cooler weather, and the weather obliged us - the temperature dropped about thirty degrees from one day to the next. So of course that brought two days of intensely gusting winds. The winds in the desert are funny - you are sitting there in your tent, and you hear a sound like a freight train approaching, and then suddenly your tent is flapping and shaking and swaying like a giant is battering it with his fists. And then it dies down again. This repeats about once a minute for several days.

After a while you learn to keep the pillow over your head when you sleep to cut the noise, which is pretty intense. When it isn't gusting where you are, the wind in the distance sounds like a rushing river, which you really wish it was, because then it would stay in its banks.

Anyway, fortunately the weather changed again, and the winds calmed down a bit. So instead we had torrential desert rain for a night and a day. The tent handled it well - the only leaks were at the zippers for the rain flap that covers the no-see-um vents. I was worried for an hour or two when the rains first started because none of our bedding was remotely water-resistant, but after a while I was able to get to sleep and stop worrying. When it started hailing the next morning, Andrea and I got pretty punchy, because I'd been predicting snow.

But the difficult weather passed, and we survived it, and the last two days of the retreat were just kind of quiet and sweet, kind of like that movement in Beethoven's Pastorale after the storm has passed. The whole thing was a lot of fun. I don't think we'll be having another group retreat like this one at DM anytime soon, but it was a really nice experience for both of us.

Oh, there are some more pictures of the retreat area here (I shot them after the retreat, because during the retreat you're supposed to be retreating, not taking pictures):

Friday, May 09, 2008

Back in the day, I used to be really into hiking, but haven't had a lot of time to do it recently. Which is kind of odd considering that I spend more than half my time these days about a mile from Fort Bowie - an old U.S. Army Fort from the days of the Pony Express.

So recently I've gotten my act together and done a few hikes. I brought a camera along for one of them - here are the photos. Beware - even if you just go through the slide show, the pictures are about 800k each. I haven't figured out how to get iWeb to produce both the high resolution and intermediate resolution jpegs. I kept the high resolution because you really don't get a feel for the fact that these are shot up on the mountain until you look at the full resolution images.

If you notice a lot of what look like fallen trees from logging on the distant slopes, don't panic. These are just fallen agave stalks. They get to be quite tall, ten or twelve feet, and then once the flowers go to seed the stalks just fall over. I imagine they help to slow the runoff when it rains, but people also collect them and use them for fencing material.