The elusive Fish Canyon waterfall

All unknowing, on Monday I walked into a controversy that’s been raging since the 1980’s. I set out for a hike, and ended up driving over to Duarte and up a likely-looking road, then finding a trailhead marked “Fish Canyon.” There was no route map, but I was prepared with hat, water, snacks, and camera, and enjoyed the idea of striking out into the unknown. Plus, someone had signed the log book ahead of me and noted that they’d come for the waterfall — an excellent enticement!

I started up the trail, which switchbacked up and up and up a rather steep hill. I began to be glad I’d started in the afternoon, because the trail was on the east side and therefore protected from the direct glare of the sun. I saw a lot of blooming flowers and thistles, and lizards were everywhere, affording lots of photo opportunities. Although there were a few other cars in the parking lot when I arrived, the trail itself was delightfully deserted. I climbed along in high spirits and, over a mile later, crested the hill. The trail then undulated over much greener and wetter terrain, resulting in a severely overgrown path. A few times I wasn’t sure I was still on the path, since I couldn’t see it, but I kept going as the grass and mustard bending over the path rose to my waist, then my elbows, then my shoulders. I pressed on and reached the top of the ridge, where the path parallels a fenceline, and then climbed past it to a view down into the next canyon west (Van Tassel Canyon). By that point the sun was starting to go down, and I’d had a good climb, so I let the waterfall go and headed back down.

At home, I started poking around to figure out what trail I’d been on, and to learn more about its elusive waterfall. The background reading on this area is fascinating. It’s worth browsing the details, but as a quick summary it seems that originally there was a beautiful, shady, gentle path up Fish Canyon to the waterfall, which was enjoyed by many residents. Then Azusa Rock moved in and created a rock quarry that blocked the path to the waterfall. Instead, a new trail was blazed: up the mountain, along the crest, and then back down the same mountain, simply to avoid the quarry! The new trail has been criticized for being too steep, treacherous, full of poison oak, and badly maintained, to boot. Plus, it involves 3000 feet of elevation change, compared with the original path’s 900 feet. It is now also twice as long (10 miles round-trip instead of five). Good thing I turned back where I did (not even halfway there), and before running into any poison oak.

More research informed me that Vulcan Materials is now offering a shuttle service on some Saturdays to take hikers through the quarry and let them out on the other side, to hike the remaining 2 enjoyable miles to the waterfall. (This may be in response to the protests from locals over losing the original trail, which was starting to lead to trespassing, quarry equipment going missing, and grumblings over environmental impact of the query itself.) Here are all the details of the true hike to the waterfall, which is described in glowing terms. Contrast that with the same hiker’s description of the trail I actually hiked which includes the words “ridiculous,” “brutal,” and “absurd.” Of course, there was also much beauty. I’d like to see the waterfall itself someday — but shall I go shuttled (and likely crowded) or take the high, hard road?

Hapax Legomenon: a word alone

In the course of reading a delightful book called Lost Japan, I came across the term hapax legomenon. It defines a word that occurs only once, uniquely, within the written record of a given language, or other large body of writing (the Greek term literally means “once said”). While being interesting for their rarity, such words also present an often insoluble puzzle: if that single occurrence does not also include a definition, then later readers may never be able to determine its meaning. Alex Kerr, the author of Lost Japan, cites examples in Japanese of the form “The vessel shone with the color X,” where X is the hapax legomenon. We’ll never know what that color was.

But hapax legomena are not restricted to Japanese. The wikipedia article provides several other examples. I think my favorite is “flother,” a pre-1900 English word for snowflake that appeared once, in an 1275 manuscript (apparently titled “The XI Pains of Hell”, which seems a curious location for a flother). Except that now that I (and wikipedia) have committed it to the written record, perhaps it has mutated into a dis legomenon (“twice said”), or even a tris legomenon. A google search returns over 16,000 hits for “flother,” including many uses of it as a proper name, and a few pages (like this one) pointing out its hapaxity. Google also claims no hits for “hapaxity.” Could I have coined a hapax legomenon myself?

My first day at the library will be May 22!

Today I attended a volunteer orientation at the Monrovia library. There were about 15 of us, mostly women, and mostly much older than me, but all very friendly and motivated. The volunteer coordinator is a warm and enthusiastic leader, and our first activity was a tour through the brand-new library. As we walked under the entrance arch and the ceiling opened up above us in the main circulation area, I felt a shiver of delight. The library was empty of people, but filled with an expectant air, awaiting its grand debut on Saturday. All of the books and tapes and movies and CDs and computers were in position, seeming almost eager for new hands and new uses. We walked past the stacks, and I tried to stay focused forward, but there were books on every side, calling out for attention with colorful covers and intriguing titles. I could dive right in and swim happily through this library for days on end.

We came back to Earth after our tour and discussed what our duties will be. Their prime need right now is for greeters (referred to as Library Orientation and Support Technicians, or “LOST” volunteers, I kid you not) to guide patrons to the right areas of the new library, answer basic questions, point the way to the restrooms, and so on. After doing this for a few weeks, we can keep doing it or move on to other volunteer needs around the library, such as sorting and mending books, helping out in the Friends of the Library bookstore, literacy tutoring, etc. The great news is that I can immediately start as a greeter, while they are still processing my application and figuring out when best to inject me with tuberculins. The other jobs await full application review. We passed around a signup sheet, and my first stint as a volunteer will be 3-5 p.m. on May 22.

I learned that:

  • The new library offers both computer workstations and (free) wireless access (library card required).
  • There are self-checkout machines!
  • Volunteers agree to a minimum of 5 hours per month and a 6-month commitment. Not a problem, as I’ve reserved all of Fridays for as much volunteering as I like.
  • There is a confidentiality requirement in library assistance; you are expected not to share what questions a given patron has asked, unless you anonymize the query. Good to know.

I’m very much looking forward to the library’s grand opening on Saturday. Not only is Ray Bradbury speaking at 3:30 p.m., but they are also holding a children’s spelling bee at 11 a.m.! I’m tempted to go along and see what kind of words show up at this one. :)

The quick brown dogs jump over the lazy hurdles

Today I attended a dog agility competition for the first time, tagging along with my friend Wendy. It was a beautiful sunny day (despite significant fire-induced haze along the mountains) and we drove out to Rancho Cucamonga to Chaffey College for the show. We found a grassy field surrounded by tents and umbrellas to provide shade for the dogs as they waited for their events. We took our seats and watched quietly as a voice said, “Go,” and the first dog and handler pair came out.

There were two courses: “standard” to the left and “jumpers” to the right. Unlike ballroom dance competitions, the dogs seemed to be grouped in descending order of advancement, so first the “excellent”, then the “open”, and then the “novice” dogs competed. The Standard course included a ring to jump through, several low jumps, weave poles, a tunnel, a seesaw, an A-frame (to climb up and then down), a table (on which the dog had to sit for 5 seconds), a dogwalk (raised platform with a ramp at either end), and a chute (like a tunnel but with one end collapsed so the dog has to escape blindly). It was particularly fascinating to watch the dogs traverse the weave poles, which are spaced closely enough that the larger dogs end up hopping with their back legs held together in a complicated slalom to make it through. Very impressive. The Jumpers course was all jumps, plus weave poles and two tunnels, and generally looked easier to my untrained eye, but the dogs seemed to find it more difficult. I also think they had to clear the jumps without touching the bars, while touching I think was permitted in the Standard course (it wasn’t always clear when and for what reason faults were being called). Ultimately I believe these runs were being judged based on time (rather than style, faults excepted), but the times and the final results were never announced, so this is surmise (plus wikipedia research — and of course corrections are welcome!).

It was fascinating to watch the interplay between dog and handler. Some had a degree of synchrony that seemed almost psychic, or as if the dog didn’t even need a handler. Others would be going along fine and then the dog would just break focus (often for no apparent reason), leaving the frustrated and/or embarrassed handler to dance around, calling instructions, until giving up and carrying the dog off the course. Some handlers had a calm clear voice and others shouted continuously, sounding angry (but apparently investing energy in the voice helps communicate a need for speed to the dog). Some dogs would randomly run in the wrong direction or off the course — mistakes that would leave you wincing in sympathy.

Overall, it looks like a great way to spend time with your dog (and get exercise with yourself), and from what I saw, the dogs in general were very well behaved both on and off the course.

Loners de-unite!

I have read and re-read and savored Anneli Rufus’s wonderful book, “Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto.” The author defines a loner as one who actually enjoys time spent alone — as distinct from those who are lonely (which is the state of being alone and wishing you weren’t). Being a loner doesn’t mean that you hate other people (misanthropes claim that distinction), but that you just don’t need them around all the time, and you rather hope they can understand this and not take it poorly. My full review of the book goes more into its scope and ideas, but here I wanted to record some of my favorite quotes:

  • “We are at our best, as Orsino says in Twelfth Night, when least in company.”
  • “Anything done alone is discredited, demeaned, devalued, or at best, simply undiscussed. People talk about other people, and of the things they do with other people.”
  • On phone calls: ”Being home alone, they presume, could not possibly also mean being busy. Or contented exactly as you are. Unwilling to be interrupted.”
  • “Loners have nothing against love, but are more careful about it.”
  • “But loners, no matter our taste, eat many meals, if not most, alone. At home, this affords the essence of choice and spontaneity […] Jell-O eaten from a toy pail with a toy spade while taking a bath? A beef-tongue omelet? Why the hell not?”
  • “Unmoved by the mass hysteria, immune to the contagion by which nonloners spend fortunes just proving they like a certain song or style, we do not give the entertainment industry what it seeks.”
  • “Time spent alone has a way of winnowing the inventory of what we need.”
  • “For some loners, a paucity of friends is a matter of time. There is simply too much to do alone, no time to spare. Shared time, while not entirely wasted if the sharer is a true friend, must be parceled out with care, like rationed flour. And time shared, even with true friends, often requires loners to put in extra time alone, overtime, to recharge.”
  • Quoting Sasha Cagen: “For the quirkyalone, there is no patience for dating just for the sake of not being alone. On a fine but by no means transcendent date we dream of going home to watch television. We would prefer to be alone with our own thoughts than with a less than perfect fit. We are almost constitutionally incapable of casual relationships.”
  • “The solo expedition, traveling beyond reach, is a big thing still and will always be. To the loner, such an adventure promises epiphanies, wonders never to be forgotten, elemental challenges, confrontations with the ultimate and the self.”

If that’s not motivating, I don’t know what is.

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