several months back, andy'd emailed me and chris to ask if we'd be interested in helping open up a cabin owned by the california academy of sciences up in the trinity alps. i'd arranged to squander some vacation time, and to collect andy in berkeley around 8am on friday morning, then to head north-east to davis to meet chris. in the hustle to leave, i left the sleeping bag behind, only realizing this after 20 minutes on the road while stuck on 880N in a traffic jam with the consistency of a particular gelid can of molasses. by the time we got to davis, it was 10.15am, but this was ok since chris was going to be late -- with 20 minutes to spare, we stopped at the local big5 to get a replacement sleeping bag (coleman, kinda crummy but magnificent value for money at just $14.99). we finally got on the road at 11, and arrived in coffee creek after stopping for lunch at a subway in weaverville (in case you are tempted, i tell you now to resist the lure of a freshly-toasted tuscan chicken sub -- despite the luscious photography, it is dry, mealy, and a waste of $5.95) 4 hours later. the road after coffee creek turned first into packed earth, then gravel, then big hunks of rock. the last 15 miles took just under an hour, so it was with great relief that we turned in at the pile of concrete blocks at the north end of the big flat. in total, we'd been on the road for over 7 hours, not including the time spent waiting to cross a bridge under repair -- it was pretty lame.

steve c had arrived just minutes before, and we began to open up the cabin. when we took the winter covers off the doors and windows and made our way inside, the air was heavy with the sharp smell of chlorine. bears hate the smell, so leaving a bucket of water with a chlorine tablet in it is a good insurance policy against break-in. the two chlorine buckets were periwinkle blue down to the chlorinated water, and then a milky, chalky white. in one of the buckets, a mouse floated brown against the green water. the winter had left the plumbing in feeble condition, and i spent an hour squished into a crawlspace under the house replacing a compression fitting that had come loose and was soaking everything in sight. when the sun finally went down and we'd dealt with the most pressing plumbing problems, we retired inside and lighted the gaslamps and made ready for dinner. earlier, steve had lighted the gas-powered refrigerator, an ancient servel with no moving parts (updated models easily purchased today). no one could explain how the thing worked, so i've just looked it up and, let me tell you, it is fascinating stuff, although usually badly explained. the principle is to use a gas that vaporises at low temperatures -- heat is absorbed in the process of evaporating this gas, thus cooling the fridge. absorption cooling requires a second coolant fluid, and in the servels, the coolant pair is ammonia and water. the ammonia evaporates and cools the fridge and then is condensed by mixture with water. this ammonium hydroxide solution is heated gently to release the dissolved ammonia, which then cools and condenses in a big heatsinky thing, and returns to the evaporator to begin the cooling cycle again. the genius of it all is that there are no moving parts -- this is a elegant heat pump that relies only on a source of heat to move the coolants around.

in any case, the servel appeared not to be working, so we left the food (steve's wife had clearly gone to town at costco) in the chillers and cooked up all 10 of the inch-thick pork chops on the friday night dinner menu. when we opened up the biggest chillcase, we found a set of dinner menus in those plastic document holders documenting the progression of feed over the weekend -- jewel is a very organized woman. pan-fried at low heat, these chops were crusty brown on the outside, a gentle pink on the inside, and covered in a lush brown gravy. i've never been this successful at cooking pork chops before, and they were mighty tasty with roast potatoes and sauteed zucchini. after dinner, we unloaded all the beer into a laundry sink full of icy coffee creek water, and kicked back to talk about life in panama for a bit. steve had been a serviceman in panama in the 50s or 60s and had met his panamanian chinese wife there. he'd been to boquete too, in fact, has in-laws who own property there, so he told us about cafe ruiz and esmerelda, the best coffee in the entire world. boquete, in case you forget or are new to this, is the fabled city in the panamanian highlands with the sweet franciscan nun/staff and the combination dulceria/heladeria featuring giant dessert-dispensing fruit.

around 10, made some tea, unrolled the sleeping bag, and fell asleep as, outside, the winter constellations rose in the sky.