You Can’t Take a Picture Of What You Can’t Take a Picture Of

(None of the things that mattered on this trip were photographed)

“You know it’s a good trip when there aren’t any pictures taken”—Robert

July 7-10, 2022

Wheeler Gorge, Ojai

Site 55

Now that we are back from our camping trip with friends and dogs (many dogs), we are working on clean up. The camp dishes are in the dishwasher, the clothes and bedding and towels are in the laundry, and we have taken much needed baths. While we are happy to return to running water and flush toilets, and to see the moon rising from our porch, we still miss the trip.

I thought about calling this post “What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been” or “Trippin’” but the title actually captures the lesson of the trip. All trips have lessons, but the thing is you must learn them.

Lesson #1: It hasn’t been just one trip with these friends, but many, and in the end they all braid themselves into one trip, the trip we are all still on, together even when we are apart, and for this I am thankful beyond words.

Lesson #2: Harold the demon puppy is a water dog. He needs water like we need our indulgences, media or reading or playing games or air.

Lesson #3: The pack will come together. The last night we took the beach-tired dogs for a last walk, and everyone fell into step and their places. We walked the road next to the canyon cut face, moon rising, stars above, and we were one. That kind of oneness doesn’t happen every day, and it is a gift worth recognizing.

So, then, what of the trip?

            It started like many of our bus trips with a ride past Cal State LA to the long downhill on ramp to the 10 freeway—the Bus likes a running start—and then out to the PCH. It was a perfect day for driving the Bus, not too hot or cold, the water sparkling, the traffic light. After a stop at Trancas for cookies (the salted caramel chocolate chip ones are Robert’s favorite), we let Harold the Puppymonster out to pee, ate our packed sandwiches, and headed for the 101. Before we knew it we were winding on Highway 33 out of Ojai and towards Wheeler Gorge. As we made our way past the avocado farms, I checked in on things: the same sycamores, a new avocado stand, an honor system wood carving stand, the cars pulled to the side to swim (we saw folks with towels), and I made mental notes to check out all of these places. I never did, but it is important to leave things un-done for future trips.

            Of course, I was plagued with the familiar anxieties of a camping trip, wondering if I had forgotten anything, if the site would suck, if the reservations had gone through, if my friends would like this new campground (new to them but not to us), if the outhouses would be especially stinky, and if there would be water in the creek. I was also worried about the cut on my hand, a gift from some extra sharp nail clippers that removed part of my nail, nailbed, and, well, thumb. I shouldn’t have worried, for some campgrounds have a soul and a feeling and they welcome you. As we pulled in to talk to the camp host—the same one? new? the years blend—and with Harold throwing a fit, I felt the shade of the oaks, smelled the dust and duff of the campground, and knew I was home.

            The campsite—55—wasn’t the best of all the campsites, but it had shade and creek access, and yes, the water was running. We worked together to discover that the stupid collapsible water bag had ruptured and drenched the back of the bus, to take Harold to pee, to set up rudimentary things that would likely be changed (kiwi umbrella, I’m looking at you). I peeked over the cliff under the oaks at the stream, heard the gurgles, and finally could stand it no more. “I’m going to check it out!” I told Robert as I slid down a passage I never used again on my butt, trying to keep my injured hand clean. With much scrabbling and reaching of toes and pretty undignified behavior, I made it to the land of the creek.

            When I was a child and I played in Lithia Park in Ashland, Oregon, we had these rocks called the Mermaid Rocks. They were large boulders in the stream bed, just below an old swimming hole, and we spent hours there pretending to be mermaids. My friend’s daughter and I had played mermaids on the rocks above Los Prietos, so I was delighted to see that our campsite abutted a shallow pool with not one but three waterfalls, and a perfect meditation rock. I cooled my mosquito bitten ankles (thanks, blood thirsty insects of Oregon) and watched the water strider spiders on the surface, just as I had in Oregon the week before and many years ago. This creek had tadpoles, and while I sat there listening to the three different voices of the trickling water, two scrub jays came to harass me. I sat a few minutes more, and saw two dragonflies, and I felt like I was high from just being there.

            Then the arrival, two cars of precious cargo, four people and four dogs arrived. Harold knew these people, knew these dogs from the before pandemic time, another trip, but back then he had weighed 30 pounds and now he is 80, a sleek black muscle of an animal. As readers or friends know Harold is not an easy dog, and he has trouble with others as he doesn’t appear to speak dog. “Snouting is good! When they growl, it means they like you!” are two of his cardinal rules. We had the muzzle ready, but lots of leash pulling and sits and treats seemed to work. So the humans set up camp, and the dogs peed and pooped, which is their way of setting up camp.

            We got the lights up, and one hammock halfway, and the fire set (and the tents, washing station, stove, dishes—all the things you take for granted in a house), and then we were tired, so we slept. Well, I tried to sleep, but Puppy Boy was up all night, standing on my spleen or some internal organ with 80 pounds of force, unable to settle, afraid of missing out. In the night Bill heard a predator—big, by the sound of it, and close—and he was thinking “Wolves? Bears? Sasquatch?” but when he looked there was nothing to be seen…just one less sealed chip bag on the table. Shining his light to the creek access, he saw it: a raccoon feasting on the hippie crisps from Trancas. In the morning he told me over coffee and found the bag,   neatly eviscerated and empty. Then Bill made us a bacon and egg breakfast that couldn’t be beat, as he always does, and Robert did the dishes, as he always does.

            In the way that things are decided on trips, Friday was Town Day, so we made our ablutions and headed to Ojai. We had two objectives: find the bookstore and go to Rainbow Bridge. The bookstore, Bart’s Books, is a place I heard about but never found, but maybe that is because I don’t have a cell phone. Rainbow Bridge when I first knew it was a dog/hippie store, but now it is a natural market and deli, too. We found a nice park, took turns going into these places, and I had one of those serendipitous moments that let you know you are on a good trip: standing at then outside book stalls by Bart’s Books, I saw a book by Kim Stanley Robinson (The Ministry of the Future) that my very same camping friend had told me to read. I have loved this author forever, but what with life and so many books, I hadn’t read it, yet, so I took it as a sign. After the capitalism, we headed back to camp. Tina had to leave, so with hugs and fond farewells, we wished her on her way, sorry to see her go but understanding. Later Bill’s son arrived, so the pack was complete again.

            Harold was restless and it was hot, so after some nap attempts, we headed for the creek, with the dogs, this time. Lily the Jack Russell was fine playing with sticks, and Roxanne surveyed all with her inestimable grace, while Lila seemed to be saying “I didn’t sign up for a water trip!” but Harold the Pitbull-lab mix was in his element. His element, we learned, is water. He is a Pisces, after all. Harold came down the creek like a whirling dervish of black fur, his webbed feet splayed out, plunging into pools, chasing underwater sticks, and trying to catch every tadpole and strider. I think the denizens of that section of the creek are very relieved that he has left the campground.

            Bill made us a fabulous dinner that couldn’t be beat, and I gave Harold some drugs with his Kong and peanut butter and we settled in to sleep, and this time I did sleep, for so did Harold the Puppymonster. The night was undisturbed by raccoons or Sasquatch, and in then morning we woke up all new people, trying to decide what bird was issuing a 6 am alarm call that sounded like: a bullroarer, a New Year’s Eve noise maker, or an annoying bird depending on whom you asked. After a fantastic breakfast cooked by Bill that couldn’t be beat (Soyrizo, eggs, spinach, cheese), we all knew it was beach day. Well, maybe the dogs didn’t know. The dogs were busy barking at people (Harold and Lily, talking to you), greeting people (That’s you, Diamond), and being dogs (thanks, Roxanne and Lila). But the beach was calling, and we were headed that way.

            I could have met Bill when he visited my hometown, Ashland, or where he grew up, Pacifica, or at UCSB, but I actually met him when he moved into the other half of a weird duplex in SIlverEchoParkLake. Because we both went to USCB and because the I.V. beach is one of the best dog beaches, we always go there when we are in the vicinity. And it is a bit of a hoof from Ojai, but it was worth it. From the moment Harold smelled where we were, he remembered from the before time trip. And then we were off, five humans, five dogs, all on the beach path heading to the ocean.

            When we got to the beach, Harold dragged Robert into the foul stream from the lagoon just under the campus bell tower, and I reminded everyone to” keep Harold out of the lagoon” as now we had an inkling that he was a water dog. We found our spot, and the dogs crashed in the surf and chased the ball, but Harold was not allowed off leash, and he stood chirruping and driving everyone crazy. I set off on my search for rocks with holes to make mobiles, as this beach is good for that and they are hard to find, and still I could hear Harold crying.

            Finally, Bill’s son Andre offered to take Harold to the ocean in case that was what he wanted, and oh, boy, it was. Harold was biting waves and slamming into the water like he was a Labrador (which he is, but half). Soon enough Robert was out there with him, jumping waves and body surfing and dogpaddling (Harold, not Robert). I worried Harold was ingesting seawater, but his joy was so complete, his fearlessness so fearless, it seemed a shame to interrupt it.

            I put on my excellent sun hat (thank you Paula and Bree), then wandered to the shore with Squishy and Diamond the Best Dog Ever as company. I was singing songs to Squishy and doing another round of “Diamonds are Girl’s Best Friend” when Robert and Harold approached. “He just had blast ass,” Robert said, and then, “Look!” So, I looked. Harold was barking, barking, barking at the ocean, wanting to go back, and with every bark a shot of…clear water? Sea water?  Whatever it was, it was clear and it shot out of his butt at high velocity.

“Shit,” I said, and Robert didn’t comment, but I could see he was upset.  “Bark, squirt, bark, squirt,” Harold said. For all the crap we talk about Harold, we love this  monster, so I came up with a plan.

            We left with Harold after administering copious amounts of water, and he seemed fine. Still, we were nervous, and Robert told me to get some Pedialyte. “It’s a 7-11 and they won’t have that!” I said, but Robert reminded me we were in Isla Vista, and sure enough they had electrolyte water and regular water and the whole team converged on the bluff and touched noses, then headed off for lunch.

            If you find yourself in Isla Vista and you need to pee, head for the Starbucks! Also, the guy at “Sam’s To Go” deli is the same guy I remember from my years at UCSB and the sandwiches are exactly the same—and I mean exactly—time warp sandwiches. As I walked around IV, I had that familiar nudge: things have changed, but not very much. The houses on D.P. (Del Playa) are still ringed with trash—vodka bottles, a few sad peaches, boxes—and I found myself thinking, “This is what it would look like if raccoons took over!” and then I thought, maybe they have…maybe in the case of I.V. they always have.

            So, we went back to the campsite, Bill cooked a leftover dinner that couldn’t be  beat, and before the campfire we took a walk. All the dogs, Roxanne, Diamond, Lila, Lily, Harold fell in line, and we walked up then hill cut to see the stars. “The pack has come together,” I said. The dogs walked, peed, were dogs. In my dorky way we all burned sage and gave thanks, and then in the morning we had a lovely time letting Harold once more disturb the creek dwellers (OK, twice more), and packing up the campsite. Harold and Diamond shared a pit-ness, and Lily was grumpy, so everyone gave her space. Finally, as always happens, we got all the shit back in the cars and we drove away. Another year, Another trip…

And also moonlight and bats!

            But depending on your understanding of time and the universe, maybe this is just one long trip? And maybe we need this time to come together as a pack? And maybe Harold needs water but also needs to learn to not drink sea water (or bite it). And maybe, just maybe, this is what life is all about?

Camping spots:

55=OK maybe with 54 across or 58

**One of these campsites, I think 57, is a hellsite with just bathrooms, stink, and nada***


Old fave 18 (solo) 18 &19=group

27 (not so good for Bus)

So get 26,too?

34=OK maybe first come/first serve



40&41 (camphost likes 41)


Bart’s Books

Sam’s To Go:

4 Comments Add yours

  1. theswad says:

    What wasn’t captured in pictures is now beautifully memorialized in words. Well done! Hat tip to Arlo. -Bill

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jenny91030 says:

    Thank you, Bill, and I forgot to say THANK YOU in the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lollie Ragana says:

    I finally got a chance to read your latest edition of your Bus stories. I relish them all and so enjoy what you share and how you share your experiences. You are a contemporary, female Jack Kerouac! But much better! XO

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jenny91030 says:

    Thank you, Lollie! These stories help me make sense of the world. I would love to read a blog about your life!

    Liked by 1 person

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