Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Photo Time: East Mojave National Preserve

I've written about the East Mojave before, but we were back there in March, and since I've shared photos from the Death Valley part of the trip, here goes the approximately 20 hours in the Preserve. If you pick the right 20 hours, you can have a nice time, though I recommend a longer visit! We were pin-pointing a couple of things we wanted to enjoy and photograph.

1. Joshua Trees. The Cima Dome in the EMNP hosts the most spectacular Joshua tree forest in the world. Or the universe, though I suppose we could argue that anything that can evolve here might occur somewhere else in a more or less infinite universe. Anyway, we targeted the Cima Dome for dinner and a walk among the trees, with photos at sunset.

We had to wait for the good light, so made ourselves a little pizza dinner.

The forest on the Cima Dome is as thick and forest-like as any dry-country forest. The underbrush--grasses, sages, cholla cactus, etc.--was substantial as well, and provided a home for many hares and rabbits.
One of the more impressively tree-like Joshua trees I've seen.
The cherry trees in DC bloom in the spring, and so do the Joshua trees. The yucca moth pollinates them.
A Joshua tree reaches an arm down to show off its blossoms.

Once the sun sets, the trees get together to gossip and wave their arms around.
The jet trail adds a certain something, if only a reminder that this wilderness is under the flight path east from LAX.
You can see why we like to be among the Joshua trees at sunset!

Once the show was over, we drove the 50ish miles on through the Preserve to the Kelso Dunes. We had it on good authority (my in-laws) that the desert primroses were in bloom there a week before, and were crossing our fingers that they would still be. Even arriving in the dark, we could see that we were in luck.
Flash photo of the primrose next to our tent.

In the morning, we got up early, meaning to be the first atop the main dune (in the background). But we got distracted within yards.

The main dune is about a mile off and is about 700' high.

As the blossoms fade, they turn a beautiful shade of pink/purple. You can also see the buds ready for the next night's bloom.
 When the flowers die, the stalks curl up and form a "bird cage." This was the only one we could find, a reminder that the last 2 or 3 years have seen almost no flower in bloom at all.

It takes some care to avoid crushing the flowers while shooting the pictures, but with an ever-increasing number of people coming to the dunes, it's all the more important.
Photographer in heaven.
The flowers grow only in a narrow area where a wash meets the edge of the sand field. But there are more grasses and things on the long approach to the dunes, and therefore more animals and more tracks.
Kangaroo rats were here. Note the drag marks made by their tails.
With others already atop the main dune, we walked west along the lower, but untouched, secondary ridge.
The Providence Mountains are silhouetted behind the main dune.
To the NE, you can see the very gentle curve of the Cima Dome rising in the distance.

On another day we might have wandered farther out into the secondary dune fields, but we had an 8-hour drive to get back home, so left it for another visit, and counted ourselves fortunate to have seen another major primrose bloom at the Kelso Dunes.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Middle Grade Review: Summerlost, by Ally Condie

What? Monday again? I'm lobbying for an extra day to be inserted between Sunday and Monday, because I never quite seem to get to Monday morning on time.  So, just a few hours late, here's my Monday review!

Title: Summerlost

Author: Ally Condie 
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016, 272 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
It's the first real summer since the devastating accident that killed Cedar's father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.
My  Review:
This book has a beautiful cover, and in many ways the book is just as beautiful. Well-written and engaging, it caught me up quickly in the young narrator's struggle to recover from a devastating loss. I liked the easy friendship with Leo; the two join forces quickly and smoothly in the way kids sometimes do at summer camp or on holiday. That includes not asking many questions about each other, so that it takes Cedar some time to even think to wonder what makes Leo tick. (Utterly irrelevant aside: I really like the name Cedar. I could have put that on the short list if we'd had a girl.)

I liked that once Cedar gets started, we find that Leo has his own depths. Not tragic, like hers (which he knows about; Iron Creek is a small town and everyone knows about her loss), but he's a fully-rounded human with his own struggles. This makes their friendship feel real, not just a convenience for the author or for Cedar. The pair are certainly motivated, and if I'm a little dubious about the legality of 12-year-olds holding a regular job, (very minor spoiler alert!) the kids and the author know that their extra business is going to get them in trouble, as it does, so that part is realistic enough. The kiddie employment was one element that made me at first think this book had a historical setting, but it doesn't seem to (though come to think of it, the kids don't have cell phones or computers, so maybe it does hark back to a little earlier time. The author makes no effort to nail down a sense of time, and the small-town setting helps it feel like anything from the 50s up).

Probably my only issue with the book was my jaded sense of "here's another kid's book about death and loss," due to a recent run of books on those lines. That's scarcely the book's fault, though I do think the trope is getting a bit overused. Oddly, there was an autism element in this one, too--the lost brother was autistic, and that adds an interesting layer to Cedar's grief, without being a story-line gimmick. It's also interesting to see how Cedar, her mother, and her little brother Miles all deal with their loss. Though Miles seems a fairly static character through most of the book, in the end we see that he, too, is working things out. Nor is there any magic healing at the end. Grief isn't a process with a finish line. These three have simply made it through another summer.

Perfect for ages 9 or 10 and up. The language is good, the writing, as noted, is excellent, and I think the story is equally engaging for girls or boys. It's not a tear-jerker--that grief is in the past--but it is certainly a moving book as well as at times a lot of fun, with kids who are taking some responsibility for their own lives.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Summerlost out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Friday Flash: They Fight Crime

This week Chuck Wendig found yet another great random-idea-generator, and sent us all to They Fight Crime. It was pretty fun, so as so often happens, I hit the button a bunch of time, picked what I liked best, mixed and matched, and then shifted genders around because they were all "he...she" combos and that's sooooo 20th Century. Chuck just wanted us to play with the characters, not necessary have them fight crime, but that's what mine decided to do. He also gave us 1500 words, but I only used a bit over my usual 1000. What I got, by the way, was:
He's a patronizing scientist with a love for bananas.
She's a mistrustful barbarian with a taste for style. 
I made them both female because why not? Here, for your Friday distraction, I give you Susan and Maga.

Attraction of Opposites Saves the World

“Maga, can’t you clean up after yourself for once?” Susan shouted her frustration from the living room. “How the dickens can I be expected to do my work when you leave shopping bags everywhere?”

Maga poked her head out of the bedroom. “I like new clothes. And you have to admit I wear them well. You’ll manage.”

“But the furniture doesn’t look so good in the bags, Maga. And I can’t work if there’s no space. Anyway, with all your shopping, did you ever think to pick up more bananas?”

Maga stiffened, her hair escaping the effort she’d made to tame it. “I may be a barbarian, but I do not eat bananas.”

The bickering ran on until a red light began flashing over the door, accompanied by a piercing whistle. Maga uttered a barbaric curse and slipped out of the Prada heels and into her fur-lined boots. She pulled a deerskin tunic over her head to cover the designer dress; too much work to take it off. Grabbing her spear and bow, she headed for the door.

Susan, toting her own kit—a mini-lab in a briefcase—had beat her outside. She was kicking her motorcycle into reluctant life as Maga leapt onto her own mount.

Minutes later, Maga pulled the nimble steppe horse to a halt at the crime scene and swung down, sword at the ready. Susan looked up from the device with which she scanned the scene and scowled. “Maga, if you’d just join the 21st Century you wouldn’t miss all the fun. The perp’s gotten away, but I’ll figure out who it was soon enough, with my brilliant invention.”

Maga tossed wind-tangled hair from her face and answered in the thick accent she used only in public. “I am barbarian! I ride my horse!”

“Well, I don’t see what you can do on this case. The only clue the thief left behind is DNA, which my scanner is analyzing now, and this cell phone with a code only I can break. You’ll have to sit this one out and let the scientist work,” she added smugly.

“Oh?” Maga narrowed her eyes and gazed into the distance. Her vision undamaged by screens and books, she could see the fleeing figure about to vanish from sight. She vaulted back onto the horse, urged it to a gallop, and moments later scooped up the suspect. The stolen briefcase still swung from the woman’s fist.

“Got you!” Maga wrestled the perp into submission and draped her over the horse in front of her. “I like scarf,” she added, removing the woman’s expensive silk scarf and wrapping it around her own neck. It looked a trifle odd with the deerskin tunic, but would go perfectly with that little number she’d gotten on sale last week. They cantered back to the crime scene.

“Done playing?” Susan asked. “I’ve nearly cracked this code and will soon know who the miscreant is.”

Maga ignored her, turning to the suited man who sat on the curb, weeping quietly. “Is this yours?” She handed down the briefcase and the man leapt up. “My case! You caught her!”

“And do you know this…person?” Maga’s accent was so thick now that she had to repeat the question three times.

He squinted at the perp, who glared back, though at something of a disadvantage as she was still face down across the horse’s back. “Aha! My greatest rival! So, Miss Haggelund, you would steal the data that makes my empire greater than yours?”

“Ha!” Maga’s captive snorted, and was allowed to slide to her feet and stand nose to nose with the man in the suit. “You stole my phone and conned these idiots into breaking the code for you! And now you whine that I have your precious briefcase.” She swung to fix her own glare on Susan, who was staring intently at the phone. “Give me my property!”

Susan raised one eyebrow, then the other. “I think not!” She read a little more on the phone. “Maga, keep that briefcase. These two are playing a deep game indeed.”

“Urgh!” Maga put all the force of her barbarian ancestors into the growl, and it had the desired effect. Both suspects, as they now appeared to be, cringed away from her, and she recovered the briefcase with no trouble.

Susan slid the phone into the pocket of her lab coat and put her hands on her hips. “So you think you can divide the world between you and run it all? You reckoned without the greatest scientist on earth. Me,” she added in case they didn’t get it.

Maga kept a closer eye on the two, who now, faced with a common enemy, were drawing together, exchanging plans in a glance and signaling with a nod. Maga caught the woman before she had taken two steps, flung her toward Susan, and spurred her mount after the man. He had reached the motorcycle and it looked like a clean escape until Susan, one arm holding the woman in a neck-lock, pulled a remote control from her pocket and pressed a button.

The motorcycle grew a cage. That was how Maga always saw it, anyway. It was all clever engineering, but she preferred to think of it as magic. Being a barbarian and all.

Susan phoned for the police while Maga rode over to where the man would-be master criminal was whimpering inside the motorcycle/cage.

“They always think they can steal a poor helpless scientist’s wheels,” she said, and the barbaric accent was gone. She dismounted, and Susan pressed another button, releasing the cage. Maga tied the man with leather thongs, knotting them tight. The police would cut them anyway. They always did, and then she had to go find and cure another hide. Zip-ties would have been easier, but Maga had a reputation to uphold.

Explaining to the police that these now-pathetic creatures had seriously planned to take over the world took a long time, as usual. It was well past dark, and a light drizzle had soaked deerskin and lab coat alike before the cops found someone who could understand what the phone and the papers showed. When they left at last, Maga put an arm around her shivering partner.

“Come on. Let’s find an all-night grocery and get you some bananas. Then I want to go home and see if this really matches that dress. I might need a new pair of shoes,” she added dreamily.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!