Waiting for something monumental to happen

It makes sense. I was explaining to a couple friends that there were lots of students in town, being dropped off by parents and moving into the dorms with computers and swivel chairs and an extra pair of bed sheets bought at the local Target, even though classes at the Colleges wouldn’t start for a week or so.

I actually wasn’t sure what day classes were starting, but I knew it was time for the freshmen to start orientation. It was getting to be late August, after all, and classes usually start shortly before or around Labor Day.

According to what I have heard and read in past years, I told my friends, the students spend about a week at orientation. It is more than taking assessment tests and getting to know the campus. The students also go on camping trips, do service projects, and even read a book together (last year, the book at Pomona College was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). It is a total immersion thing, so that the students have a bond, or at least know each other to some extent, by the time classes get underway.

My friends agreed that this is a good idea, that it “makes sense.” That way, one of them commented,  the freshmen “can concentrate on their classes once they start,” instead of also worrying about trying to fit in and get along with each other, much less making friends.

At least, that’s the theory. No doubt the freshmen and also the rest of the students will take most of the rest of the school year figuring out the social thing, perhaps spending considerable time and energy stressing over it. And the orientation week, with being thrown into social situations and having to get along, no doubt wasn’t easy for some (it certainly wasn’t easy for me, as shy and awkward as I was, even with the orientation at UC  Riverside being much shorter and less intense).

Then there’s the fact that the colleges start classes before or around Labor Day, not to mention the Claremont schools starting more than a week before Labor Day, during one of the hottest few days of the summer.  Although this has been the case for several years and much longer at the longer at the colleges, I still can’t get used to it—not when I grew up with school starting after Labor Day. And school starting in early August, in the dead of summer, in Pomona and Montclair is something I may never get my head around.  It is all the weirder—school started even earlier‚with Labor Day coming so late this year.

So even though it’s late, with school well underway, there is still Labor Day coming up, and I still have two camping trips lined up. No, summer isn’t over, no matter what the school bells bode.

And if those freshmen did go camping during their orientation week, where did they go? I’m wondering.  I’ve been going camping mostly up the coast, north of Santa Barbara—the Central Coast. I am going to try a place near Lake Arrowhead, but otherwise, I’m going a few hours away.

I don’t want to go any further; these camping trips are supposed to be short, inexpensive getaways. It would be great if there were nice places to camp in the shady, cool mountains that are near us—say,  up on Mt. Baldy, not far from the village there, or along the creek above Azusa. Unfortunately, there aren’t, or at least there aren’t places that look attractive for camping.

Or for anything, really. I used to enjoy going on the easy, paved trail along the creek in the mountains above Azusa, but I got tired of seeing all the graffiti on the rocks and trees and the junk floating and stuck in the creek, not to mention people doing their wash there. (I also went during the week, which got to be difficult, because I heard that it was “so crazy” there on the weekend.)

From what I saw in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, things aren’t much better now. On the front page, there was a picture of plastic bottles floating in a stream and another of a sign all but obscured by tagging.

Such is the case nearly a year after President Obama designated the mountain range from Rancho Cucamonga to Santa Clarita. As Abby McCrea, a 34-year-old marriage and family therapist who rides her bike in the mountains at least once a month, is quoted as querying, “New monument? Where is it?” Indeed, the article by Louis Sahagun, which opens with descriptions of “overflowing trash cans, broken marijuana pipes, graffiti and roadkill” in the area, along with “broken beer bottles and other blight…present in abundance,” is headlined, “In the San Gabriel Mountains, they’re asking: What monument?”

Activists and elected officials who lobbied for the monument status are concerned that when Obama signed the declaration last October under the Antiquities Act, it was just window dressing, “largely a ceremonial act,” as Tim Brick, managing director of the nonprofit Arroyo Seco Foundation, put it. There is disappointment that there is no new federal money allocated for the mountains and that the US Forest Service doesn’t plan to change the way it manages the 346,000-acre wilderness. 

Jeffrey Vail, the monument’s superintendent, counsels patience. He said that although the monument doesn’t have its own budget, he has secured $3 million from other federal sources to help pay for California Conservation Corps work crews and to hire additional staff, including half a dozen “field ambassadors” to patrol tourist hot spots.

“Sometimes there’s a misperception in terms of how long it takes before a new national monument can be fully formed,” Vail said. “We need to be somewhat realistic about creating a management plan that is in line with contributions.”

The same advice is given by Daniel Rossman, senior representative for California at the Wilderness Society, pointing out that Obama gave the Forest Service three years to come up with a management plan for the monument and that “only the first round of public comment is complete.” This means there is still time for “the Forest Service to listen to the many voices calling for a better management plan, one that includes cleanup of trash and graffiti, improves trails and offers education programs.”

“Why belittle the great achievement of permanent protection, won less than a year ago when our backyard mountain range became a national monument?” Rossman admonished in his letter.

Here’s hoping that he and Vail are right and that the government critics and Tea Party types, with their crying out about unfunded mandates and not treading, are wrong and that the “San Gabriel Mountains National Monument” is more than window dressing, more than a sign on the highway. Let’s look forward to being able, after making our concerns known, to enjoy a cleaner and safer wilderness, not only to cool off in the summer but any time we want a pleasant, quick getaway, in another couple years.   

 Meanwhile, with classes well underway in Claremont, including at the Colleges, there may well be something monumental happening here in the coming months.


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