Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Tule Elk at Pt. Reyes, CA
In the Cal Shakes Theater's program that we received at the recent run of Pygmalion (outstanding performance!), there was an article entitled "From Mansplaining to Leaning in: Shaw's Feminism Today," by Kaya Oakes. It was an eye-opener, and I learned a new term: Mansplaining (Man explaining). It's not new to the world however, according to Wikipedia, "the term quickly gained wide recognition, and in 2010, The New York Times, named it as one of its 'Words of the Year.'"

In her article, Oakes refers to an earlier essay entitled "Men Explain Things to Me" written by Rebecca Solnit in 2008. Mansplaining as described is that propensity, exercised more often by men, Solnit and others believe, that leads them to pontificate to women. It's especially galling when this happens to a woman who knows more about the topic than the man. This "presumption...makes it hard, at time, for any women in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard...." (Solnit)

I try to avoid pigeonholing people, but some make it very difficult to not fall back on stereotypes: men do this/women do that....  Like I think most people do, I accept the fact that most people--whether men or women--have some irritating personality traits (I know I do, too). I try to ignore these petty annoyances and focus on the positive aspects of our friendships.

Having recently read about mansplaining, however, I am finding it increasingly galling when a man tries to "educate" or inform me about something I already know. I see it happening everywhere (like when you buy a new car and then realize how many other people around you are driving the same kind). I find myself wondering how often I have seen it happen in the past, but not put a name to it. Or am I seeing it where it doesn't exist? Am I now super-sensitive to it? Maybe. I have been told that this is "just making conversation," but I am tired of just letting it go. 

Couldn't people just ascertain if their "audience" already knows something before they begin to lecture? 

Feel free to register your opinion below. 

Website: Cal Shakes Theater (California Shakespeare Theater, Orinda, CA

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fall color is the best medicine

I've just posted an article on, click here to read, based on a media release from John Poimoroo, who maintains a blog called With the information that Poimiroo posts, you can find out quickly where fall color is in various locations around the state. 

If you go to his site today (Sept 11), for example, you'll read that the aspen at 8,500 ft on the east side of the Sierra--at such spots as Lake Sabrina and North Lake--is really beginning to present a beautiful yellow and gold show. This can be a spectacular time to be hiking and backpacking in the high country, but it can also be a time with rapidly changing weather. If I wasn't still dealing with a leg injury, I'd be chomping at the bit to get to Highway 395 to see the color firsthand. 

However, I know that it's only a matter of time before we in the Bay Area start enjoying our own color show. Although many of the deciduous trees growing here don't make the display that those in the mountains do, I've noticed that there are already a few pockets of trees here and there glowing red, and although the liquid-amber and ginkgo trees in our yard are still bright green, I am eagerly awaiting their autumnal changes. I am sensing that all of this color is healing on many levels.  

More about Poimiroo's fall color report: why and where fall color happens
Susan's previous fall blog: An abundance of acorns
Fall 2013 Foliage article: Last report of 2013

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

In a Fog

I feel like I'm in a fog both literally and figuratively. It's gray outside; I think it has been grey outside in the mornings for the last month. For the most part, I don't mind that--it keeps the heat down and it usually clears by afternoon, but today it is getting to me. I sit here, still unable to go for a walk, and remember many beautiful foggy days on the long trails.
As I wrote about a couple of blogs back, I am dealing with what my doctor has diagnosed as "muscular-skeletal strain" probably brought on by a hike that I did four months ago. He advised me to stop hiking and I've been trying to compensate for the loss of that form of exercise by doing some dancing, swimming, Pilates, elliptical trainer, etc. All of this is going fairly well; most of it is more than moderately pleasurable, but, I now realize, none of it takes me outdoors.
Ralph and I have already had to cancel a couple of hiking trips. There was no John Muir Trail backpack trip for us in August. And tomorrow, we won't be flying as planned to Barcelona and then on to Northern Spain for a 200-mile stroll on the Camino Norte. We are both okay with being grounded as it were--we've enjoyed the sense of vacation without leaving home. We've had more time to spend with friends, and we've completed some household projects that were rewarding.
Sometimes, however, like today, the inability to take a walk whenever I want to bothers me. After seeing the doctor again yesterday--and hoping to get some encouraging words, I did feel better. He pointed out that my right side was now okay, so he expected that my left side would also heal. He did, however, seem to feel that the few short walks (3 miles) we have done may have delayed my full recovery. He also pointed out that when the pain does completely disappear from my legs, I will have to very gradually increase the length and intensity of my hikes. It has been suggested by a few people close to me that patience is not my long suit.
While I continue to work on both my patience and alternative exercise program, I now recognize that I need to look for some activities that take me outside on a regular basis. More gardening, some kayaking, and maybe my bicycle?
Have you, reader, had similar setbacks in your hiking (or other) outdoor pleasures? Link to "Where does one find answers to vagaries of life?"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why the wall-to-wall acorns?

Exactly how the acorns fell
Even though the mystery of my leg problems remains elusive, Ralph and I are still managing to find lots of wonderful things to do other than hike. One of the amusing things we are enjoying right now is watching the squirrels in our yard. This time of year is always an active time for our little friends—they chatter at us and the neighborhood cats. They chase each other wildly through the upper branches of our largest oak tree and then run and jump from fence, to roof, to another tree. We can look up and see the branches dip and rebound with the weight of our little friends and then a small litter of oak leaves drifts down to the ground. A few acorns hit the deck with a dull thud.  

Playful squirrels in October 2009 
It is a mystery to me, however, is why are there so many acorns this year. It almost seems that they are wall-to-wall under the large oak tree. The squirrels play a part, of course. They pull the acorns from the branches and drop them in order to store them for later on. The squirrels often forget where they have buried their food supply and months from now I will still be finding many acorns buried in the ground and flowerpots, and I'll be pulling out oak seedlings that have no room to grow. 

This year's crop of acorns, however, is largely due the oak tree itself dropping its seeds. I know that this is a natural process--but still... and why in August? Is this a natural cyclical event--heavier one year than the next--that we just haven't noticed previously because we are often gone in August? Is the drought playing a role? Is the tree failing? 

I don't have the answers; I still searching for some. Meanwhile, I may have to start wearing a hardhat whenever I work in the yard under the tree.  

Have you noticed differences with your yard, or outdoors? Is fall coming earlier where you are? I am hoping that we have a "normal" winter here and that our oak tree remains green and beautiful, but then we all know that climate change is upon us. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Where does one find the answers? The vagaries of life!

This is a difficult blog entry to make--one that I have put off writing for a couple of months because I thought, or at least hoped, that my condition would improve. Actually I expected (on my good days) that the  pain that I am having in my lower body would disappear entirely in a matter of days. It has been three months. 

In the good old days, one went to the doctor, and he (yes, "he") gave you a diagnosis and some pills or a shot and all was better. Nowadays, you are expected to sort through all the advice given by various specialists and figure it all out by yourself. In some respects I wish things still operated in the old way--someone that you thought was more educated and experienced than you figured it all out. However, I know that this can be a naive point of view ignoring many realities--such as the fact that doctors are not omnipotent.

The problem: The pain--in my hips, thighs, calves, and ankles--all started after taking an 8-mile hike in the hills near where we live. This is a hike that Ralph and I have done dozens of times, but had not done for three weeks because we had been traveling in the Galapagos (where hiking opportunities are limited). We were active while in the Galapagos--kayaking, snorkeling, and some short walks, but not as intensely. 

The diagnosis: My doctor initially suggested spinal stenosis, but an MRI showed no sign of that. Now I'm told it is "muscular/spinal strain" most likely caused by the hike. I was told to stop walking and hiking. So I seriously reduced my walks--and am now doing Pilates; some water walking; swimming;  elliptical trainer sessions; and dancing--pretty much anything that doesn't seem to aggravate the situation. 

The search: I started seeing my chiropractor every other week (not seeing much benefit). I went to a physical therapist and got instructions for a few exercises focusing on the abs (stabilize the core). I went to a physical trainer at my new gym (where the pool is) and got instructions on the foam roller. 

Things have shown some improvement in the last couple of weeks--
the pain on the right side has all but disappeared. Now I am focusing on getting rid of the pain on my left side. I thought I was seeing progress there, too, but then some simple exercises I did set it all on fire again. So is it two steps forward, one step back or one step forward, two steps back? 

Where to go from here: I have been trying to link all of this advice together and make progress, but I don't know that I have a clear picture of what is causing this to continue and if I am doing the right things to get well. 

The research: Living as we do in the Internet Age, I have spent a great deal of time surfing the web trying to find answers to my problem. Is it this, is it that? It is daunting to read about all the things that go wrong with the human body. It is sobering to learn about the pain and suffering that so many people go through on a daily basis. 

Some perspective: One of the specialists that I saw offered that maybe this was a lesson in disguise. I didn't like hearing that, but it did give me pause. The reality is that my life would be quite rich even without my normal hiking and backpacking routines. It would be different, but still quite wonderful. 

Have you ever had to face a lifestyle change that sent you reeling? If so, I'd love to hear about it. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

How many hikes will you take this week?

John Muir Trail thru-hike. Ralph Alcorn
This is prime backpacking season for most of the country. The thru-hikers of the Pacific Crest, Appalachian, and the Continental Divide (our three best known national long-distance trails) are generally well into their journeys at this point. It's also prime time for hiking the John Muir Trail (CA), Wonderland Trail (WA), and down into the Grand Canyon (UT). But perhaps you are just back from, not yet leaving for, or just not going to do a signature backpack trip this year.

What to do? No need to feel left out or that you've missed out--because you haven't! The Bay Area has hundreds of trails we can enjoy while getting healthier by the minute. You can, of course, always go solo, but if you want someone else to do the route-planning and would like to have company, there are options galore:

Here are a few hikes coming up soon:  

1. Lafayette Hiking group: 
Thursday, August 7, 2014. San Francisco walk--Golden Gate to Sutro Heights. Meet at the Lafayette parking lot, 941 Moraga Road at 8:30 AM. Participants will take BART to San Francisco, then a shuttle bus to the Presidio, and then walk from the Golden Gate Bridge along the cliff tops and beaches enjoying great views of the bridge and the ocean. Enjoy walking through ritzy
Seacliff and Lincoln Park to Sutro Heights. Bring BART pass or money for public transit; lunch (or cash to buy) or snacks, water, layered clothing, good walking shoes, sun protection.
Moderate with some steps and hills, about 4 miles, or 8 miles if you wish to hike back to the Presidio. Leaders: Alison Hill and Joyce Tse

2. Golden Gate Audubon group: 
Friday, August 8, 2014. 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM. Richmond, Point Isabel Regional Shoreline. Birdwalk. You'll be looking for early returning shorebirds. Spotting scopes would be very welcome. Dogs will be present. Restrooms and water at the start. Meet at Pt. Isabel at the end of Rydin Road, off of Central Avenue exit of I-80.  (map). More Audubon events at Free. Leader: Alan Kaplan, or (510) 526-7609 

3. California Parks Conservancy:
Saturday, August 16, 2014. 8 AM to 1 PM. China Camp State Park, Marin. Rather than just hiking, this is a hike and work project (trail maintenance) with a bonus--free tent camping on Friday, August 15th. Registration required. Please visit to learn more about each project and sign up today!
Oak in Mount Diablo State Park

4. Save Mount Diablo:
Saturday, August 16. 9 AM to 12 PM. "Hike the property proposed for a cemetery." Learn about this threat to open space while enjoying the scenic wonders of the area. You'll walk near the sites of a proposed Creekside Memorial Cemetery and Tassajara Parks development projects. RSVP to or (925) 947-3535.

Enjoy hiking the shorelines and mountains of the greater Bay Area!

Happy trails, Susan "backpack45" Alcorn

Monday, June 9, 2014

Unique to the Galapagos

Galapagos Cormorant (flightless). Susan Alcorn
The Galapagos are volcanic islands that were never part of any continent. That meant that what flora and fauna was there before humans arrived got there by swimming, floating, or flying. Some of the animals we now see are very different than their ancestors--they have evolved in unique ways in order to succeed in their unique environment.

Cormorants are not unique to the Galapagos, but the flightless one is. The Galapagos Cormorant (Phalacrocorix Harrisi) is found on only two islands there--Isabella and Fernandina and its numbers are estimated to be in the 900-1600 range making it one of the world's rarest birds.

The Galapagos Cormorant shares some of the physical and behavioral features of other cormorants. Its four toes are joined to form webbed feet--enabling it to swim well. Its legs are powerful. Because its feathers are not waterproof, it dries them by spreading its wings. Its wings, however, are much smaller than other cormorants--and about a third the size that would be required for it to fly.

The flightless cormorant evolved at a time when there were no enemies on the islands. Like most of the other animals in the Galapagos, it is quite tame compared to others of its genus because it evolved well before there were any humans around that might hunt or otherwise hurt it. However, as people began to inhabit the islands and bring along dogs, cats, and pigs, the birds became increasingly at risk. The Darwin Institute and others periodically assess the situation and conservation measures have periodically been undertaken--such as removing predators from the islands. Another continuing threat to the flightless cormorant is from human activities. They may get caught up in nets used for fishing and they are helpless in case of an oil spill.

When visiting the Galapagos, look for the birds in the waters near the shoreline. We were best able to see them when kayaking or riding in the Kodiacs out from our sailing ship, the Mary Anne. If you're there July to October, look for nests in the rocks above the high-water mark. The nests are usually made of seaweed and sometimes "decorated" with offerings of bottle caps and such brought by the admiring males. The female flightless cormorant can have three clutches each year--let's hope this enables them to flourish in spite of the risks it faces.

Previous Galapagos blogs: