Fire Danger: Extreme

(Talking About That Thing That Everyone Is Tired Of Talking About But That I Can’t Stop Talking About…and camping)


For those who don’t know, when I was a little girl, I thought my father was Smokey the Bear because he worked for the Forest Service, wore a similar outfit, and reminded me of a bear sometimes. Because of my father, I will always love Smokey the Bear. Across from Wheeler Gorge, Highway 33, near Ojai, Ca. 

October 5, 2018

Talking About That Thing That Everyone Is Tired Of Talking About But That I can’t Stop Talking About

We left last Friday, September 28th, for parts unknown, or unknown to us. The news last week had left me feeling poorly. For those who just want to read about the Bus and our adventure, scroll down…I promise I will get there, but I need to explain how I felt to describe the trip, and I have some thingsto say that need to be said.

Last Friday when I left to teach my classes I didn’t know what was going on with the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. Jeff Flake had not made his deal yet, and truly the whole time we were away, we didn’t know what was happening. That was a blessing, and when we came home to find out there was an FBI investigation, it seemed like a good thing.

But last Friday when we were leaving, I was not in a good mood. In fact, I wrote in my journal that I was “incandescent with rage.” Really, I felt like we could have plugged the Bus into me and I would have given us all the power we needed for our trip. The week before, watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I was riveted. For one thing, she was so clearly someone I recognized as a type, an academic, and I thought that in the same situation, I might have responded in a similar manner. After all, I know the meaning of collegial goes farther than merely working in a college, and I have been trained to please people my entire life.

In truth, my connection to Dr. Ford was much deeper, and the whole saga had been emotional for me. When I was in college 3 of my 4 roommates were raped or sexually assaulted in our first year. It was 1988. In every case, alcohol was involved. Nothing was reported. Those are the facts. The Kabuki spectacle of the hearings and the news reports reminded me not just of those events, and my own personal experience, which led to PTSD and long term emotional trauma, but the coverage reminded me why I’d kept my mouth shut. I did not envy Dr. Ford taking that uncomfortable seat in front of America, but I was impressed with her courage and honesty. I still am.

But that day when we were leaving, it wasn’t just the political events that were distracting me. I was also nervous about the trip itself. We decided to take the Bus on the 10 freeway, a wide and fast and flat freeway, but a freeway all the same. When Robert picked me up and I hopped inside, Joey the Chihuahua on my lap, I was afraid. When I got scared, I looked down at Joey or the floorboards of the bus, and then soon enough I could see the elegant bridges that cross the LA River out the window. We were rolling, again. I gradually got more and more comfortable—the traffic helped because it slowed everything down—and we had our new magnet on the back “SLOW VEHICLE,” which Robert said helped keep the cars away. Still, there were people riding next to us, taking pictures and flashing thumbs up. Even on the 10 freeway, seeing the Bus makes people happy.

By the time we hit Highway 1, or as it is known there, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), I was feeling much better. Once we hit 35 miles an hour, Joey conked out. Buddy the pit-bull was in the back with a wide grin. Robert was right nest to me, piloting the Bus, and I felt my mood lighten just a bit. Maybe, I thought, maybe it would be OK. I didn’t know if I meant the trip, or the politics, or the world, or all the stresses I was running away from, but just seeing the beach out the windows as people waved at the Bus made me feel better.DSCN7844

By the time we were heading to the 101 near Oxnard, the fog was lifting as we sped across the fields. The sun was peeking through the clouds, and I felt a concomitant rise in my mood, too. “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder!” I thought to myself as we made our way through Ventura. We were headed for Wheeler Gorge, a federal campsite near Ojai that we’d basically picked out randomly from a map. We had never camped there nor spent time in the area, so we had that sense of adventure if not the familiarity and comfort that comes from going to a known place. The road to the campground was a geologist’s dream; twisting through canyons with oaks, the first yellow light of fall upon us, narrow walls and tunnels built in the 1930’s. We came to a place where workers were trying to hold back the high rock walls with wire and piles of more rock still, and all I could think was what my father would have known more about the site that I could never hope to understand.


When we pulled into the campground at last, the camp host met us. She had a great space all decked out with blue lights and CDs hanging in the trees, twirling in the light breeze under a gigantic oak. “ You have site 41, “ she told us, “but you should really check the place out. There are some cool sites up there, and we are pretty empty.” We drove through the campground slowly, as the bus rolls slowly, and there were great sites hidden under the massive oaks. We could see the scars from the recent fires, but we also crossed a still running creek a few times. The place was perfect (details for campers and our future selves at the end).


We ended up in site 27, under an oak, near the creek, and the dogs were thrilled to get out of the bus and sniff around. We popped the top, pulled out the stove and chairs, and then we were there. The air was silent and still, and so was I. All the roiling fears and anxieties of the past week seemed to slip away, and after a walk through the loops of the campground, we made dinner and spent time not watching TV but waiting for the stars.

They did not disappoint, and looking at the Milky Way—why do I think it ceases to exist when I can’t see it? —I felt myself coming back to myself. Cassiopeia, the Pleiades, Mars rising, all were like old familiar friends. I saw part of Orion and realized that winter was indeed coming. That night, all of us crowded into the bed, the pit bull insisting on sleeping with us, and I felt safe and sound in the bus. In the morning I woke early and went to make coffee and read in the misty light for the coastal fog had found us, and I had my first epiphany of the Post Trip life: every trip in the Bus feels like the trip in the Bus, so more than anything, I was able to reconnect with the me I was this past summer when we were rolling down the coast. The same Bus, yes, and the same stove and coffee cup, but there was something more than just the familiarity of the moment. I felt my spirit rising as I walked to the bathroom with Joey and named the plants for him. Joey peed on the plants, but I felt better all the same just sharing the moment with him. All trips will be the trip, I thought, and also of my friend who gave me a turtle to keep in the Bus. On the turtle’s shell it says: “Enjoy the Journey,” and as an anxious person, that has always been hard for me, but that morning in Wheeler Gorge, I was there.


We spent Saturday morning lazing around, getting back in bed and quasi napping, then headed to Ojai to see what the hardware stores were like. We saw another old Bus, our first sighting of a splitty, and someone offered to buy our bus in a parking lot. “He’s not for sale,” Robert told the man. “He’s part of the family.” And there we were as a family, our crazy pit bull wanting to walk more, the Chihuahua seeking a lap, and Robert piloting us back up the windy road to our home under the tree. We went for a nature walk and tried in vain to keep Buddy out of the Poison Oak, and fell asleep looking at the stars through our new window in the roof. It was a perfect day on a perfect weekend in an otherwise difficult time.

Heading home, we stopped at the beach to let the dogs play, and Joey once again realized that he doesn’t like being bowled over by waves. Why does he go so close to the ocean? I guess he never thinks it will catch him. We saw a golden eagle there at the beach being pestered by crows, and it as it flew overhead it gave us a look that said, “Can you believe these guys?” And then we were on the freeway again, and then home. Coming home after any trip is always strange for me because I love our house and our life so much, but coming home on Sunday means getting ready for work, all the things that should have been done remaining in various stages of completion. I felt thankful but afraid, and part of my fear was because I ignored my friend’s advice and checked the news when I returned.


I started writing this post on Friday night, the day I knew for sure Brett Kavanaugh would be seated on the Supreme Court. I am finishing it on Sunday night, tired from a long day of gardening and Robert fixing the turn signal on the Bus (Hurray!). I don’t know if it is appropriate or right to share my thoughts about politics here, but there is no way this would ever be an accurate portrait of who I am if I did not. As I said, I was incandescently angry. That has not faded. In fact, I think it is getting worse, just as I am hearing more media and Republican spin about how women should temper their anger and stop shrieking. Aside from the obvious point for me, uh, really? Really? This is really what you are going with? And aside from a diatribe on my complaints about the media and the false doctrine of “both sides,” I think I can boil my thinking down to one succinct point: if what Christine Blasey Ford says is true, and you believe her testimony, and she has no reason to lie, then we have just placed this man on the Supreme Court, and she has put herself in peril for doing what she saw as her civic duty. If you believe him, then she must be lying. I don’t think she is lying nor do I think she is mistaken. 100 percent sure is 100 percent sure. Of course, they both could be telling the truth: what she said happened, happened, and he doesn’t remember it because he was drunk, but few people seem to be saying that today.

In my own case, at least one of them, I couldn’t tell you my rapist’s name. I doubt he even remembers the evening in the wine bar in Santa Barbara with the naïve college student. I couldn’t pick him out of a line up. I know he was a visiting professor from Spain, so I could likely find him, but why? What I can remember is trying to get out of his car, over and over and over again, and the automatic seatbelts engaging every time I opened the door. I don’t care if anyone believes me because I know what happened, I know it was wrong, and I know it will always be wrong. There are times to choose what you believe in, and this is one of them. I am inclined to insert an apology here, something to soothe any ruffled feathers, to make nice and to not seem partisan, but honestly, I think we are past that point. Dr. Ford’s inherent and obvious niceness was one of the things that most touched me about her testimony, perhaps because I recognized it so well. It is and was what women are trained to be, and it is part of the whole problem, here. And being nice isn’t going to get us past where we are right now, but I will still do my best to be a good person, and try every day to make the world a better place. Tomorrow is Monday, so I will be working with my students on their writing project about registering voters.

Finally, a note on this blog and camping:

  • We are planning a crazy bus trip to the Central Valley for my Aunt Martha’s memorial service in December with (I hope) camping and a trip to a historical site that was an African American utopian community. Stay tuned if that’s your scene.
  • If you find yourself reserving or visiting Wheeler Gorge, sites 26 & 27 are a great pair for a group camp.
  • Solo campers might enjoy the drive through luxury of site 18 (creek view and private), while site 35 showcases the creek from the other side. There is no water at this campground, so plan ahead, and the pit toilets aren’t too horrible. There are no fires allowed until January this year, and we heard there is good hiking and hot springs nearby, but we saved some things for our next trip.


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