Ramblings on Mono Lake

Monday, 2004-09-20; 02:04:00

Busy past month...

So I guess this past month I haven't been to keen on updating my blog, but I have been quite busy. I left on the 30th of August to go to Mono Lake, which is going to be my field area for my honors thesis. My advisor and I had decided to change one half of the project from mapping block and ash flows to mapping a pumice deposit on the edges of Mono Lake, since identifying the block and ash flows turned out to be harder than my advisor originally thought.

The mapping project at Mono Lake wasn't hard by any means, but I found out that I wasn't too prepared for the field work. I had neglected to get a Brunton compass from the department (which would've been helpful only in a few cases), I didn't have a portable tape measure (which I needed for measuring the size of the pumice blocks), I didn't have a good protective map case, I didn't have sample bags, I didn't know how to accurately locate myself on 1:24000 scale maps, and I was forgetting a lot of stuff at the hotel room for the first few days. Needless to say I didn't put up a very good performance for my advisor, who was investing a lot of time in this project for my sake.

My advisor stayed with me at Mono Lake for one and a half days before she left. We stayed in a hotel while she was there which was nice, since I already had a lot to think about and lodgings just added something on top of the pile. On Tuesday, we rented a boat and went out to the islands in the middle of Mono Lake to see if the pumice deposits were present. (I stupidly kept forgetting to bring samples with me; while not being a terribly bad mistake, it would've been nice to have those samples to analyze in more detail back at Stanford.) I slowly learned to identify where I was on the maps of the region that I had, and we mapped the shores of the island that first day. The next day, we drove to a few spots on the north shore of the lake to check for pumice deposits, and so my advisor could show me what data to collect. She left that afternoon, and I used the rest of the day for some logistics and to map a few spots on the north shore of the lake. (My advisor had remarked that day that she was impressed with how fast I had learned to locate myself on the 1:24000 scale maps, and she also said before she left that she had confidence that I could do the mapping job. I think that really helped.)

Basically, I had to use the roads around the lake to get access to the shore, and walk a kilometer or so in each direction to assess whether certain pumice blocks were present on the shore (my advisor has dubbed it the Giant Pumice Horizon). Then I would mark on the map using colored pencils whether or not pumice was in that location. If the GPH was present, I would note its composition, the thickness of tufa encrusted on it, a random sampling of the size of the blocks, and any other notable observations. I also marked locations that I visited on the map with points, especially if I had taken a sample of the GPH from that location.

It basically took the rest of the week (until the following Tuesday afternoon) to finish mapping the whole shore of Mono Lake. It's a pretty big lake, and the fact that many of the roads didn't actually go down to the lake shore made it much more strenuous; oftentimes I had to walk more than a kilometer from the road just to get to the shore. I also had to actually visit most of the lake shore rather than interpolate or just look down the shoreline to get the data, so it involved a ton of hiking. When you're in the hot sun and walking on loose sand for the whole day, you get really tired out, believe me.

My birthday was the 23rd, which was actually one of the days I was out there at Mono Lake. Instead of spending my 20th birthday alone, though, my parents came out that Friday night and stayed until Sunday morning. I took Saturday off from mapping, and we took a hike to the lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite instead. We had dinner in Bishop at a Chinese restaurant which wasn't too bad, but not the greatest I've ever had. The ginger ice cream that the restaurant brought me for my birthday was really, really good; the lobster, on the other hand, wasn't anything to rave about since it was a bit tough and a bit flavorless. No matter, I just really appreciated having someone around on my birthday. Sunday morning, I showed them what I was doing at Mono Lake and then they left around 11.

One of the funny things that happened that day dealt with the vehicle that I had driven up to Mono Lake. I had reserved one of the geo department vehicles for the project, specifically the only manual stick-shift vehicle. It didn't have air conditioning, and it also didn't have an FM radio (which was particularly disappointing because I couldn't use the FM transmitter with my iPod to listen to music while driving). More importantly, however, it was a monster suburban. Man, I have never driven something so huge. It had pretty dismal gas mileage too: it's around 10 mpg. Apparently, though, the thing is a workhorse and can do things like drive up steep inclines that other vehicles (even newer ones) can't.

Anyway, my parents had rented a motel room for the two nights that they were there, and I had parked my vehicle (hereafter referred to as 783) across the street. The morning of my birthday, my dad told me that I should move it to the motel parking lot, which I proceeded to do. In the process of parking in one of those spots, though, I didn't check the clearance of 783 on the left side, and ended up knocking off the mirror of a motorcycle that was parked in the next spot over.

I really freaked out, because I had never damaged anything while driving before, and the owner of the motorcycle had come down out of his room to check out what had happened. I had visions of having to pay a few hundred dollars to get the thing fixed: the worst case scenario, of course. The owner ended up realizing that the outside casing of the mirror was what had fallen off, and the mirror was designed to do that -- he snapped the casing back in place and everything was fine. (I had my dad park 783 back over on the other side of the road after that.)

Of course, it took a while for me to calm down from the situation, but after a few tears, a few minutes, and a bit of food I was fine. (No, I wasn't bawling or anything, just a few stray tears here and there and a bit of hyperventilating. :) ) My dad pointed out at the breakfast table that I could've knocked the mirror off of some much tougher-looking biker dudes that rode up, which luckily didn't happen.

One thing that baffles me a bit is why I started crying, even if it was just for a little bit. I'm pretty sure I've handled worse situations before without crying, and the tears came AFTER I realized that everything was going to be fine and I wasn't going to need to pay a bunch of money to get the motorcycle fixed. I seem to cry at the weirdest things sometimes, with no regard to the seriousness of the situation. I remember one time at Bryce's house a few years ago when a neighbor's large dog started bounding up to me and I freaked out and started crying. I also remember a time freshman year at Stanford when I sat down at an unstable table for lunch, spilling my drink all over my food and almost upsetting the lunches of two other people at the table; that time I didn't cry, but I was really close to it. I don't know what it is, but certain situations that aren't really that serious at all just set me off and I have to really concentrate to calm myself down and suppress the tears. Besides these rare incidents, crying is something that basically never happens.

Anyway, I even had a few frightening experiences when I was by myself (which I handled without getting close to crying). One time on the road going around the southeast shore of the lake, I parked on a cliff and walked down to the shore to do some mapping. When I got back, I tried to drive the car off the parking spot and back on to the road, and found that underneath the crust of the cliff's surface was just sand. For about 10 minutes there, the wheels of the car just spun and I was really afraid that I was going to be stuck there and have to call for help (my dad had lent me his cell phone for the trip, and it usually worked out there around the lake). Luckily, with a combination of four-wheel drive, wedging anything solid that I could find under the wheels, and using inertia from the little leeway I had in the rut, I managed to get myself back onto the road.

The other incident that happened while I was by myself was on the northwest shore of the lake. Apparently, most of the winds on this lake come from the southeast, making the northwest shore the most murkiest and muddiest. At one place, I hopped over a spring that was emptying into the lake to check out a part of the shore that was obscured by marsh plants. (This was the afternoon on Tuesday, and I was anxious to leave for home.) After looking around for a bit, I decided to come back the way I came to drive to another location on the shore. However, when I came back to the same spring I had hopped over before, I put my foot in the wrong place...

... Instead of solid ground or even soft mud, I plunged chest-deep into watery mud.

I'm sure you can imagine my thoughts at the moment. Everyone's heard of horror stories of people being off by themselves, stepping in the wrong place and drowning or getting scalded by hot springs. I was scared for my life for about 5 seconds, as I scrambled to get hold of something on the banks of the spring to get myself back up onto solid ground. Fortunately, the spring was not hot (none of the springs feeding into Mono Lake are), and I was able to pull myself up onto the marsh weeds on one of the banks. It seemed for a bit that the mud was sucking me in like quicksand, but I managed to get out relatively easily.

I stood there for a few seconds to catch my breath and get a hold of myself, and then I freaked out again. One of the most important things had been in my pocket and was unprotected: my iPod. I had been using it as a watch (since I've been without one for about half a year now) as I was completing the mapping of the GPH. Since I was wearing shorts and not the camping pants that had zippers on the pockets, my iPod could have easily slipped out of my pocket and been anywhere in that watery mud. There'd be no way I could go and retrieve it, not only because I would be risking my life again but also because I wouldn't even be able to find it by looking.

I reached into my pocket and breathed a half sigh of relief: my iPod had remained in my pocket. Whether it would still function was another story entirely. As I walked back up towards 783, I decided to just wipe the mud off and not turn it on until I got to the vehicle.

That's when I freaked out again. The other and probably more important thing I had in my OTHER pocket were the keys to the car. They were much lighter and therefore could've slipped out of my pocket much more easily. (It should probably also be noted that I have a sort of compulsive habit of locking everything, which exacerbated the disastrous possibility.) I once again dove into my pocket to find that the keys had stayed where they were. Phew.

I got back up to the vehicle and wiped my iPod off again. After a few seconds, I unlocked the hold switch and pressed the center button. It turned on.

I'm still very impressed that my iPod survived that incident. It was partially protected in my pocket, but since that moment happened so fast I don't remember how much of it was covered with mud when I first took it out of my pocket. The FireWire and headphone ports still work perfectly fine, and I haven't had any problems with it yet. It would've been horribly tragic to trade $300 for one misplaced foot.

In hindsight, I think it's quite amusing to know my train of thought as I walked back up towards 783. I guess the thing I value most after my life is my iPod. Imagine that! :p

(The only other thing I had to endure that day was a smelly stench from the mud. But that was a small price to pay for getting to keep my life, my iPod, and the ability to get access to the car and drive it.)

All the mapping work I had to do notwithstanding, being at Mono Lake by myself for a few days was really unnerving. I've never really been somewhere by myself for an extended period of time, and dealing with it was a bit of a challenge. There was nobody to talk to, nobody to spend time with, and nobody to provide some relief from the slow ticking of time during the day. That's hard to endure for multiple days at a time.

The time alone also gave me a kind of reality check on what I feel with regards to not having a girlfriend; instead of having the feelings all bottled up inside like I normally do, I experienced a more literal kind of loneliness that mimicked my deeper feelings.

If you don't know, you might as well -- I haven't yet had a girlfriend. It may seem a bit shocking seeing as I'm 20 years old, but I really wasn't interested until my third (and final) year of high school. It's really been this past year that I've realized that I can't expect a relationship like that to just happen; I have to actively pursue it and put my heart on the chopping block, rather than just immerse myself with schoolwork and expect someone to notice me. I guess my deeper feelings of loneliness have started to get a bit more stinging, and given that I don't know how much longer I can take this, I want to end it sooner.

It's kind of pathetic sometimes, actually. Have you ever watched a movie or listened to some music just to try and get a taste of what it's like to be in a relationship with someone? You know, like those movies or TV shows where the high school kids are dealing with all the drama of being in a relationship or having a fight or breaking up. Sometimes I find myself watching those and clutching at anything to just get a feel for what it would be like. It's like watching the trailer for A Cinderella Story or downloading episodes for Everwood just to see if the guy and girl get together at the end, even though it's another teen drama. I catch myself doing that all the time, and I feel simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by what I'm watching.

It's really frustrating, because I like being independent and I wish that I could be satisfied with myself without having someone else to "complete me". Why is it that I have some deeper, inner instinct that tells me that I need someone else? It causes me so many heartaches and many moments of depression, so why can't I just make the feeling go away? Problem is, I always come to the conclusion that I need to have experienced at least one relationship before I can begin answering either of these questions. And that just brings me back to square one.

I was hoping to get a little bit of clarity at the place we camped around Mono Lake freshman year for the introductory seminar in geology that I took with my advisor. Mono Mills was the place where we had slept, and one of the evenings before it got dark, I had walked down through the trees toward the lake and lied down on the sand for a few minutes. It was those few minutes that I had been at peace with myself like never before.

Unfortunately, when I went back to the Mono Mills area the week I was at Mono Lake, there was more vegetation on the ground and the place just wasn't as I had remembered it. It probably had more to do that it was me that changed, and not so much the landscape, so I didn't get the feeling I so badly needed.

Funny, because it all seems strikingly familiar to what I've written before. And I guess that's not really surprising, since my situation is largely unchanged.

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