This year, our annual camping trip to Mono Hot Springs was chalk full of adventures, joyful moments and one swollen San Joaquin River! The water was so high that the original campsite we had reserved was flooded. Luckily we were able to sneak in to another site, and enjoyed the river from high ground. The weather was hot so we spent much of the time in dappled, pine needled shade making bakeries full of tasty sand cookies, washing clothes or other domestic play. However, we did manage to slip in a few Boy’s Almanac activities, none of which were planned and all of which mirrored the imagination of a child and the discovery of the High Sierra.
Seth spied some concrete along the river from which rocks had been dislodged and exclaimed, “Look Mommy, Ohlone grinding rocks!” All year long his teacher has taken the kids on hikes, half of which seem to have acorn grinding rocks along the way. It was nice after a long year of preschool to see that Seth had picked up some useful knowledge that could be applied to his life in the wilderness. At first we looked for pine nuts to grind, but found that the only way to get them loose from the cones was with the pliers on a leather man. This proved far to labor intensive. Instead, we sacrificed some squirrel pillaged walnuts to the pestle. The work of grinding walnuts took a long time, all the while the local squirrel was waiting patiently. Although it is not campsite etiquette to purposefully feed the local wildlife, we did have lot’s of fun watching him scurry and bury with with a fury.
We started reading the Chronicles of Narnia in the spring. Wither the books have peaked Seth’s interest in swords and weaponry, or wither this is just part of being a little boy, we spend much of our time in sword play. Drawing seems to be a good way to calmly channel this energy. Seth is perfectly happy to stop mid battle to sit down and draw. He has a “book” he is working on. Making drawings for the story is great way to give his knight in shining armor some down time, and allow mommy dragon to get dinner prepared.
Last year I wove little reed mats for the kids out of cat tails (rafts). I stumbled across Seth making this funny thing out of reeds. When I asked him what he was doing, he told me he was making a raft. I was mildly surprised that he had made this connection, and it was pleasant to watch him manipulating the reed and getting a feel for the material. In the end it was a tangled pile, but the process seemed fruitful, and one step closer to understanding the basic principles of weaving organic matter.
This year we took the water taxi from The Vermilion Valley Resort on Edison Lake. I was hoping that we could make it the 1.4 miles in to the John Muir trail, but we only made it about half way (Seth is a binary hiker and that day was a 0). After the whining abated we spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the streams in and around the mouth of Mono Creek. This turned out to be perfect, because there was a mama Merganser and babies who were hanging out too! There is nothing better than having a legit excuse to use your binoculars for hours of elapsed time. Returning to view your subjects at your leisure every few minutes. The babies were having lots of fun speeding along the shore, waddling as fast as possible around the granite, and getting into all sorts of trouble. The cutest part of all was too far for the camera to capture. The clouds rolled in and we heard concentrated chatter from across the river. Mama duck was squatting feathers splayed with all the babies underneath. All you could see was a cuddly pile under her “floofed” wings that wiggled and chattered while she napped in the breeze.
The Mono Valley is filled with non poisonous water snakes. The kids kept a keen eye out for them because they seemed to pop up everywhere. Seth even fashioned a snake “fishing pole”. It consisted of his pocket knife with the blades out, attached to a piece of twine. He could be found lowering it into all manner of water “fishing” for snakes.
The perpetually busy Dragon flies were our constant companions. Other creatures were busy in the midsummer too. The Violet Green swallows were hard at it on the river dipping for insects or a drink (I could never figure out which). Swallow Tail butterflies flitted all about the hot spring mud. We slipped along behind them, examining the wings of those who had expired with relative interest and relishing the joy of those in the peak of life. The most examined creature of the trip was the lady bug. For several days there was a swarm of ladybugs at the start of the road to Dorris Lake. Although we get to handle ladybugs at school, Seth was riveted none the less and grabbed bug after bug from the wild roses for a closer look.
We did a fair amount of casting, but this trip was really about feeding the fish. Once the kids discovered that the fish liked peanut butter and jelly crusts the frenzy was on. The masses of minnows provided a super hands on “fishing” experience as the kids tried to catch them with their hands, gleeful in the wildness of the situation.
The most sentimental phenomena of the trip was the return of the camping fairy. Last year the camping fairy had come in the night and left some nature maps and a fishing pole for Seth. It was supposed that her house was under a Snow plant near our campsite. This was confirmed by the presence of the Snow plant on the “Plants of the Yosemite Valley” field guide. This year Seth was quick to point out every snow plant and announce happily that another camping fairy was near by. In our attempt to reach real back country and the John Muir we saw camping fairy houses galore. At one point Seth saw a little one and a big one and exclaimed, “look, a mommy and a baby camping fairy house!” ~ little boys are the best @%#!
Enthusiasm was inherent on this trip, as evidenced by Seth performing his California Grizzly impersonation below. I hope your summer camping trip is as joy filled as ours was. Until next year Mono Hot Springs!