Friday, August 27, 2010

Roadtrip 2010: Day 3 - Lassen National Volcanic Park

We went to Lassen because The Barracuda has been so excited to learn about volcanoes. Lassen National Volcanic Park has at least one of each of the four types of volcanoes - shield, strato or composite, cinder cone, and lava dome. What a better way to learn about something he already loves than to hike all around and actually see them.

Well, you might notice from the complete lack of photographs in this posting that we did not wind up seeing much of anything.

The Junior Ranger program was bolstered so much and our experiences had been so good, that we completely forgot how to be effective parents and told The Barracuda how he could earn another one at the "volcano park." Only, we didn't check first. Highly excited, child was very eager.

When we actually got to Lassen it was late, so we awoke early and then learned the only way to acquire a ranger patch was to go to a ranger program. Very normal. Only this program was almost 2 hours long and required our son to be instructed (lectured) to all about volcanoes.
It was brutal. There was much parental anger as we sat rather than actually seeing any volcanoes at all. Cool places were missed as picture cards were shown and read to our child who is thoroughly capable of reading himself. He was talked down to in a "baby voice" and not even allowed to write his own name on his ranger booklet. I was seething and had to excuse myself a couple of times or run the risk of becoming my father. A slew of choice words and names were spoken to Jules, who excused himself in under 15 minutes since he is the father and has no qualms with losing it. Needless to say, we will be going back to this National Park because it looks incredible.

Ranger patch in hand, the child was giddy.

The only good thing which came out of our ventures in Lassen was a very clear picture of why we wish to homeschool our child. Rather than sit in some classroom and be spoken to like a child, we would much rather experience the world. This was equally agreed upon by both Jules and I. With convictions firmly in hand, we left Lassen on a trip down to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Road Trip 2010: Day 2 - Crater Lake

From Long Beach there was a quick stop in Portland, Oregon and then a straight shot down to Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is one of those places that looks like a postcard everywhere you look. An extinct volcano (a caldera if you're getting snooty) whose crater has filled with snow and glacial melt, Crater Lake is not only a beautiful place, but a great choice for any child who is as fascinated by volcanoes as ours is. (Volcanoes were added to the homeschool curriculum list this year due to his extended excitement.)

After the Ranger showed him a brief, interactive presentation about the formation of the volcano, how it erupted, and its eventual collapsing in on itself (which makes it a caldera), The Barracuda was completely sold. Apparently, "caldera" means bowl in Spanish - The Barracuda was over the moon! Spanish, and Volcanoes, and Ranger Patches and Hiking! Not only that, his questions were answered without him being talked down to or treated like a kid (always a great bonus). Junior Ranger patch in hand, we set off to hike down to the water.

Hiking the Cleetwood Trail down to the water was only 2 miles round trip and only a 700 feet elevation gain, but it stretched our legs and burned off the jittery car energy. Moreover, it relieved our stress. Being able to get out, move around, exert ourselves a little and then relax to wonderful views allow moments together that were once clogged with work. So much of our lives this last year have been about working that it seems we had forgotten until now just how good it felt to relax together as a family. Hiking became a staple of our trip so much so that we have decided to do at least one hike every Friday afternoon to keep the tradition going. It is our hope that The Barracuda will not only be able to identify local flora and fauna because of our ventures, but also gain a sense of joy for the walking meditation of hiking.

Shoes came off, rocks were grabbed, and much throwing/skipping into the water ensued. This is something I will never understand because I do not contain a Y chromosome. However, after speaking with a number of males from various walks of life, I am aware of it to be a major male life development. So, I lay in the sun and point out the erosion lines along the crater, enjoy my feet going numb in the snow melt, and generally bask in our family enjoyment.

Had the mosquitoes not been the worst in years (literally swarms) and Jules' allergies weren't freaking out for unknown reasons, we might have camped a day and just enjoyed the magic of this special National Park. As it was, however, camping wouldn't have been a very positive experience so we drove on to Lassen National Volcanic Monument.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Road Trip 2010: Day 1 - Long Beach, Washington

July began in Long Beach, Washington for the annual 4th of July festival. Every year our family beach house is occupied with close friends and family in fluctuating numbers. We walked out to the boardwalk and filled in with the crowd to watch the exceptionally loud booms and bursts over our heads. They were beautiful and quite impressive, but even The Barracuda asked to go home before the show was over. As far as our family was concerned, fireworks weren't the best part.

Junior Rangers, Lewis and Clark, and comic books won out. Fort Clatsop is quite close to Long Beach and we ventured across the Oregon border to visit the Fort Clatsop and hike the short 6.8 mile Fort to Sea Trail which was often traveled by the explores. Cape Disappointment was also hiked, along with visiting an amazing interpretive center.

Jules is a history buff. He finds the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and general stoic nature of early explorers and wars to be wonderful life lessons. I spent years as a Pacific Northwest elementary schooler learning all the ins and outs of Lewis and Clark. Now, in homeschooling The Barracuda we can incorporate both of those skills into teaching him not only about some of the greatest explorers and grandest hikers since our nation's inception, but also to stress the resourceful ingenuity they had to rely on to stay alive. By incorporating hiking into the process, The Barracuda (as well as Jules and I) are having to experience the knowledge and really walk the walk. The Barracuda took the 6.8 miles in stride while my father (a previous Forest Service Hot-Shot) and I got to explain all kinds of native vegetation (my environmental studies course work is coming in handier every day!) Homeschooling curriculum for the year began to take some shape.

It was Fort Clatsop where we learned about the Junior Ranger program. Now, I don't know how many of you out there were forced into family trips involving National Parks or Historical Monuments, but I was one of those tortured ever-so-lucky youth. We got a little passport thing that could be stamped as we traveled. Well, these days stamps cannot compete with the times. These days kids complete activity books and get really neat embroidered patches. After completing a series of tasks from picking up trash and visiting various other areas of the park to word searches and essay questions, they are sworn in as official Junior Rangers. The kids have to promise to not only protect their National Parks, but to inform other friends and family about the things they have learned to keep our heritage alive (how cool is that!). The Barracuda found this most incredible. After all, we were making him learn all sorts of stuff just for the heck of learning; now patches were involved!

The rest of our vacation became geared around staying in National Parks and completing Junior Rangers patches as a great incentive to keep The Barracuda interested in pushing through 600 mile days. His Osprey pack has become quite covered and National Parks have become even more desirable vacation spots. All National Parks and Historic Sites are involved in the Federal Junior Ranger Program so go ask if you have kids between the ages of 6 and 12. It is honestly pretty cool.

On the way back to the beach house a comic book shop became another must see stop. Jules previously owned a comic book collection that was quite extensive, as well as expensive. Nine-hundred square feet doesn't really allow room for such things, but the zest for super heroes is still there. Now that The Barracuda is desiring to read for more than just information, comic books are a wonderful transition as well as rite of passage. I didn't know it then, but trips like these would set the tone for a whole new chapter of our life as a family.

Comic books in hand, The Barracuda promptly passed out. We headed home to do laundry and pack up our car. Crater Lake and Lassen National Volcanic Monument were in our sights.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We're Baaack!

We are back, the trip was great and highly insightful. There is nothing quite like leaving your life for a month to be able to stand back and really look at it.

For quite a while the focus of this blog, and also our lives, has been on the infrastructure needed to support a carbon free, slower paced lifestyle. Rather intensely, we have pursued a myriad of things necessary to changing the cultural paradigm we knew so well. We love it and it has worked wonderfully. The carbon footprint of our lives has greatly diminished and the purpose of our existence has improved significantly. From killing our TV to now killing our dryer, the changes seem to finally be slowing down a bit as we fine tune the process of actually creating a life rather than just moving through it. Finally, it seems, there is some breathing room to look back, enjoy all that has come to pass, and to really see one another as the family we have become.

With that in mind, there will hopefully be a bit more narrative involved in days which follow. The groundwork of practicality seems to have been well laid and now I go about being more of a mom, partner, and person rather than a slightly psychotic hippie.