Child care chaos talking toll on working moms

It’s being called the “she-session,” the “mom penalty” and the “mom-demic.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of women in the workplace has dropped by 1.8 million since the start of the pandemic, with the number of women working hitting its lowest level since 1988.

The reasons include a lack of child care, including changes in policies at those facilities, and increased fees.

Back in 2020, when school was supposed to start in September, 863,000 women left the workforce. Men did, too, but only 168,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The choice to walk away because of child care needs and the disproportionate loss of jobs was more predominately female than male,” Robert Eyler, an economist at Sonoma State University, said of decisions being made in the wake of the pandemic.

Melissa Parker, 27, of San Rafael didn’t have the choice to stay unemployed. The single mother was determined to work in order to care for her 3-year-old daughter, Katalina Jaraillo.

Pre-COVID Parker was a self-described entry level worker at an accounting firm. Even though she had been there two years, the company laid off everyone except the higher ups.

She said she was suddenly out of work and without day care because it temporarily closed at the onset of the pandemic. When the center first reopened only children of essential workers were accepted; Parker didn’t qualify.

She adapted, but said it was awkward at times having to interview for jobs virtually when her toddler could be seen standing behind her.

Parker now works for a plumbing company. However, in October she used up all of her sick time to stay home when Katalina was ill. Even though she is at the same day care facility in her hometown, it changed the rules by not accepting any sick kids, even if it’s just a cold.

Even with vaccines for more children expected to soon, it’s anyone’s guess if the “no sick child” rule will be permanent or if infants and toddlers will be allowed to be inoculated against this virus. More rigid rules have consequences. It means parents unable to go to work. It means employers coping with fewer workers on any given day.

Parker’s job requires her to be at the office and she can’t leave a toddler home alone.

Working part time isn’t an option for most people. Besides the loss of income, it can mean losing an employer’s health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid time off, as well at the potential of not advancing in their career.

“Women with children under age 6, who made up 10% of the pre-pandemic workforce, account for almost a quarter of the unanticipated employment loss related to COVID-19,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Policy Hub reported in September. “This research, along with supporting evidence, suggests that day care limitations, rather than school closings, appear to be a constraining factor on the availability of workers to fill open positions in the current economy.”

Marin County, where Parker lives, has some of the highest costs of day care in the Bay Area, according to Aideen Gaidmore, executive director of Marin Child Care Council based in San Rafael. The average price for full-time infant care in the county is $2,000 a month, with $3,600 the highest. It costs about $2,600 for preschoolers, and $700 a month for after school care.

Pre-pandemic the organization had 5,588 child care slots. In March this year that number was 3,327.

Parents may pay a hefty price for child care, but statistics show the workers, mostly women, don’t make much money.

“Our community really needs more (child care) teachers. Unfortunately, more people are leaving the field than coming in. A lot of it is wages. They don’t make enough money for a community where it’s expensive to live like Napa,” said Erika Lubensky, executive director of Community Resources for Children in Napa.

The most recent data the organization has reveals that as of January this year 11 small child care sites in Napa County which cared for 120 children had permanently closed since the government mandated shutdowns started in March 2020.

“As of January 2021, while the state of California was experiencing a closure rate of 30% for child care centers, Napa County’s closure rate was closer to 25%, thanks to government support and private philanthropy,” Lubensky said.


Melanie Dodson, executive director of Community Child Care Council, said Sonoma County lost 62% of its child care slots since the pandemic started. She knows some will come back, but no one knows if they all will.

“With child care we’ve seen increases in costs because of cleaning and staffing is hard to find. Even the providers who are open have not been able to go back up to their full capacity so they are having to charge parents more because of the few spots they have,” Dodson said.

While child care in the United States has been a fractured system for decades, the pandemic exposed the cracks in the foundation.

The Council for a Strong America released a report in January 2019 — so pre-pandemic — titled “Want to Grow the Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis.”

That study states, “Examining the economic impacts of the nation’s child care crisis on working parents, employers, and taxpayers describe the consequences. The verdict: an annual economic cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue.”

With care for youngsters being such a huge problem, the Biden administration is considering human infrastructure such as child care in its overall infrastructure bill. In this last legislative session California lawmakers earmarked more money for early childhood schooling—classes before traditional kindergarten.

According to the U.S. Treasury, “The United States invests fewer public dollars in early childhood education and care relative to gross domestic product than almost all developed countries; ranking 35th out of 37 countries tracked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.”

Lubensky with the Napa County child care nonprofit likes the prospect of additional pre-kindergarten programs. But when they are only for a few hours a day, that doesn’t solve the child care needs of workers. Most can’t leave work to take their child somewhere else.

“What our families need is full-day care and appropriate care for the age,” Lubensky said. “(Child care) was a system that was broken before the pandemic.”

Higher wages, mental health counseling, and flexibility for parents are all things that Professor Sarah Lee believes needs to be incorporated into the workplace.

“In some ways the pandemic has really disrupted the status quo, which is a great opportunity to look at what we define as the standards for work and reset some of our norms,” said Lee, of the Barowsky School of Business at Dominican University of California in San Rafael. “I think there are a host of different policies and programs that could be put in place to help employees. These issues are not new, it’s just that the pandemic is amplifying some of these issues that have been underlying for a very long time.”

People are using the upheaval of the pandemic to hit the “re-do” button on their work lives. Some are leaving their jobs permanently, many are changing careers, while some are furthering their education.

This time period is being called “the great resignation” because of the number of people quitting their jobs. In early October, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 4.3 million people, or 2.9% of the workforce, quit their jobs in August. This was a record.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported 309,000 women age 20 or older voluntarily left the workplace in September. This means they quit their job or are no longer looking for one.

Hello Alice, a firm that helps entrepreneurs launch a company or build on what they have, has experienced a substantial uptick in business since the pandemic started.

“We are seeing the dynamics of the women joining the platform change. What we have seen this year is they haven’t started a business yet, but have a really good idea or are in the launch stage. That dynamic is more present with females than males,” Megan MacDonald, vice president of marketing, said

“As it relates to industry level data, we see more women in beauty and self-care on a percentage basis in the launch phase than last year, and similar with arts-entertainment-recreation,” MacDonald said. “Our owner growth from 2019 to 2020 was up 1,100%.”

As of the second quarter this year, more than half of the women using Hello Alice were at least 40 years old, with three-quarters of the women with a small business being mothers.

“We heard loud and clear early on that people used the destruction of COVID to do lot of self-reflection to decide if what they were doing for work was what they wanted to do for work in the future,” MacDonald said.

Women more than men have a history of having jobs that don’t pay well. Brookings Institution found that in 2018 46% of all working women and 37% of men work in low-wage professions, with the median hourly wage being $10.93.

Employment recruitment platform ZipRecruiter reports people want out of retail and hospitality and into work that can be remote.

Housekeeping at lodging properties are jobs often filled by women. While travel came to a screeching halt for much of the world and hotels laid off staff, the return of tourists and business travelers doesn’t mean the jobs have returned as well. Chains like Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt are offering daily room cleaning for additional fee. Guests are saying no, and that means fewer housekeepers are needed.

Then there are those with the means to retire sooner than expected.

Goldman Sachs estimates nearly1.5 million people retired since the pandemic hit. In large part they were able to because of the skyrocketing stock market. In August, the S&P 500 doubled in value from its pandemic low of 2,237 in March 2020.

A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Caldor Fire’s scar a reminder of nature’s fragility

Tell me granite can’t burn and I’ll show you the remnants of the Caldor Fire.

So many people, people much more knowledgeable about fire than me, had said the granite in the Sierra Nevada mountains would act as a natural fire break.

They were wrong. So, very wrong.

The Caldor Fire scar goes on for miles. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was the second fire in history to cross the Sierra Nevada range. It did so Aug. 30. The first time this occurred was just days earlier, on Aug. 18, when the Dixie Fire that wiped out half of Lassen Volcanic National Park crested the Sierra.

It is startling to see areas along Highway 50 where the land and rocks are black. While granite is one of the hardest rocks on the planet and can’t actually burn, it is not immune to being scarred by the wrath of a wildfire.

The trees behind Holiday Market in Meyers are now blackened. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In Meyers the fire’s path is easy to see. The same is not true from the heart of South Lake Tahoe. Behind the Holiday Market (the former Lira’s) the hillside is more black than green.

So many hiking/biking trails will be forever changed. Yet, at the same time, Tahoe Rim Trail Association and TAMBA officials have been assessing their assets, and are eager to make them accessible again. As with any destruction that includes the loss of vegetation and infrastructure, rebuilding, regeneration and renewal are immediate as well as time consuming. Dealing with the aftermath of the Caldor Fire will be no different.

A fire hose near the Mount Ralston trailhead. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In the end, the Caldor Fire consumed 221,835 acres. Only a fraction of that was in the Lake Tahoe Basin—9,885 acres. Of those, the soil burn severity in the basin was categorized as:

  • 271 acres severe
  • 4,193 acres moderate
  • 3,903 acres low
  • 1,512 acres unburned/very low.

Black granite stands out while heading down Echo Summit. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A few chimneys are visible when driving, but nothing to the extent that was first described by some news outlets. That doesn’t make the loss of someone’s home any less sad or the experience any less harrowing just because I could not see the damage.

Most of the houses reduced to ash were farther off the main highway. The fire destroyed 1,003 structures, and damaged another 81.

An army of firefighters, winds blowing in the correct direction and a bit of luck prevented the Tahoe basin from losing any structures.

The sun is a reminder life goes on after a fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Five people were injured in the fire that started Aug. 14. No cause has been released. It was fully contained Oct. 21. The Caldor Fire got its name from the old logging town of the same name and a road with that name.

Lookie loos are not allowed at Sierra-at-Tahoe. Only those with a delivery or an appointment are allowed to drive up the road to the ski resort. Too much damage to the ski area’s infrastructure and precarious trees are preventing it from opening in 2021, but officials aren’t ready to write-off off this entire season.

In so many locations stacks of trees are piled not far off the highway, looking as though the forest had been clear cut. Perhaps they can be salvaged and turned into something other than mulch.

Thousands more trees will need to be felled. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

At the Mount Ralston trailhead on Highway 50 the devastation is immediate for hikers. About 100 feet from the parking area numerous granite boulders are now black instead of gray.

Traffic is slow going through American River Canyon, at least it was on the Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. It’s one-way in multiple locations. In some ways it felt like a funeral procession. I was mourning the loss of the forest, the destroyed habitat, the demolished homes, the lives forever changed. Vehicles were not passing each other even when they could. Most of us drove below the posted speed limit. This pace allowed for reflection, sorrow and tears.

It’s time to put the kibosh on material gifts at the holidays

Gift giving at the holidays is a wasteful, crazy sham.

What is the point of gifts at Christmas and Hanukkah?

Some consider the Christmas ritual tied to the three wise men bringing gifts to baby Jesus. What that has to do with today’s hoopla is beyond me. Let’s be honest, giving me a gift or me giving you one at Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. This holiday gift giving is a bizarre custom.

How much stuff do people really need? (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Another reason I’ve been told there is all this holiday gift giving is to show the recipient you like them, care for them, love them, they mean something to you, blah, blah, blah. If the only way you know someone cares about you is through some material item wrapped in colorful paper, that isn’t much of a relationship.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to give and receive gifts. I just prefer to give a gift on someone’s birthday—to make it all about them. Though what I hear about children’s birthday parties these days makes even those occasions seem steeped in materialism and the parents trying to outdo each other. Sad.

I love gift giving at some random time because I saw something that made me think of that person.

The expectations of what one hopes will be under the tree, in a stocking or at the daily candle lighting is off the charts. The problem is when we expect a gift. And to think we indoctrinate children into these rituals in their infancy, then perpetuate the nonsense each year until perhaps one day some adult realizes the fallacy in this gift giving.

According to the National Retail Federation, the amount of money people spend on Christmas gifts has been increasing, with 2020 being an exception. The annual average expenditures were:

  • 2016 … $589
  • 2017 … $608
  • 2018 … $638
  • 2019 … $659
  • 2020 … $650.

That isn’t where the spending stops. It goes on with decorations, specialty foods and cards.

Financial services company Tally Technology reports, “In 2020, a MagnifyMoney survey found the average shopper took on $1,381 in holiday-related credit card debt. Just five years earlier, they took on just $986 in holiday debt. That’s a 40 percent increase, despite spending only $45.22 more on average in 2020—$952.57 in 2015 versus $997.79 in 2020.”

When people go into debt to buy gifts for any occasion, well, something is terribly wrong with our priorities.

The number of gifts given or received should not be an indication of how much someone cares about you or you about them. Stop the gift giving—even for children.

I realize numerous businesses of all sizes make a substantial percentage of their annual revenues in the fourth quarter. This means if the buying frenzy were to abruptly stop, it would have serious economic consequences. But what if we dispersed that spending throughout the year?

What if we spent some of that money on doing things with people instead of buying things for people? I know I have more life lifelong memories of experiences than I do of material objects.

A true gift this holiday season would be to say no to material gift giving. Give your family and friends, even your community, your time. It’s much more valuable and meaningful than anything you could ever wrap.

Time to rethink the celebration of Thanksgiving

How much of what I learned in school was the truth? It seems like every year there is another startling lie that comes to light.

While disclosure of the truth is a good thing, I wonder how much more I have to unlearn or learn for the first time.

It’s not news that romanticizing the pilgrims and Indians breaking bread as friends on the first Thanksgiving is rubbish.

Maybe I hung onto the lore of Plymouth, Mass., because as I child I had been there. I remember my elementary classes dressing as pilgrims and Indians. It was all friendly. We were equals. It was a happy, festive time.

I learned this is what it was like in Plymouth as well. It’s what I believed for decades.

That first Thanksgiving—400 years ago next week—in 1621 wasn’t anything like what I was taught. Turkey likely was not on the menu, or any of the desserts associated with the traditional meal today, or even many of the sides.

And it definitely wasn’t about friendship.

It was the Wampanoag Nation who shared that first meal with the white Europeans. But the story is that they were not invited. They showed up when they heard gunfire, which turned out to be the shooting of guns by the white people in celebration of their feast. It wasn’t until learning this was a harvest feast that the Indians chose to participate. After all, harvest feasts were something native Americans had put on long before white people thought of doing so.

The Wampanoag tribe still exists. In fact, their story is told in a tiny museum 30 miles south of Plymouth. But most visitors to Plymouth (1.5 million a year) don’t make the trip to Mashpee to learn about the Wampanoag. That museum gets about 800 people visiting each year.

Maybe it’s time to erase Thanksgiving from the calendar. While that doesn’t change history, it does stop the celebration of what was really the beginning of the demise of a tribe that may have numbered 40,000 people at one time. Today there are about 2,800 Mashpee Wampanoag.

Or maybe we begin to celebrate the indigenous people of the United States. Maybe we should give thanks to them.

When you celebrate Thanksgiving next week, think about what you are really celebrating. I’m still wrestling with it.

Meet the author at annual Tahoe holiday faire

I will be signing and selling copies of my three Tahoe outdoor books at the 25th annual Valhalla Holiday Faire on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe on Nov. 19-21.

The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes is $15, Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks is $10, and Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks is $20. The latter is a combination of the first two books. Bring cash or pay by Venmo.

I’ve done every hike and snowshoe in the books. Each excursion is rated for scenic quality and difficulty. Most are in the Lake Tahoe Basin, while some are outside of it in places like Alpine County and the Carson City region. Get one for yourself, put one in the guest room, and give them as gifts.

More than 30 vendors will be in the Grand Hall during the three-day event. That Friday the doors are open from 5-8pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10am-5pm. There is no cost to attend. Masks will be required of vendors and guests.

If you can’t make it to the faire, area retailers carry the book, they are available at local bookstores (or they can order if they are not in stock), or email me at kr@kathrynreed.com.

Federal, local lawmakers need to give people what they want

Twenty-five years ago this month the voters of California became the first in the nation to green-light the sale of medicinal marijuana. It would take another 20 years before recreational pot was approved by voters.

In only four states—Idaho, Wyoming, Tennessee and South Carolina—are all forms of marijuana still illegal.

Then there is the federal government, where marijuana is still a Schedule I drug—the most restrictive class. This is the definition per the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.”

What really seems criminal is this federal classification of marijuana.

Maybe that will change. After all, the House Judiciary Committee in late September approved a bill to decriminalize and deschedule marijuana. The Marijuana, Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

This means the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws would be eliminated. A federal tax would be implemented, criminal records for just about everyone except drug kingpins would be expunged, and money would be provided to communities severely impacted by the war on drugs.

I don’t use pot in any form, but I think it should be available legally to those who want/need it for whatever reason. States have proven it can work. It’s time for the feds to unshackle this plant and let it grow legally. Yes, regulate it though; have age restrictions, driving while high consequences, product specifications and a whole list of rules.

Maybe by the time the feds make it legal Chico will have gotten its house in order to allow dispensaries in the city limits. While the council in August 2020 approved recreational dispensaries, the process has been stalled. In the meantime, dispensaries from outside of the area are delivering goods to residents who want their product. The black market still exists and home grows are common. Why Chico isn’t capitalizing on this product is baffling and stupid.

Holiday season a crapshoot for retailers this year

The shipping container-supply chain conundrum is adding stress to many retailers who often depend on fourth quarter sales to produce the bulk of their income for the year.

Ordering product early and more of it, while being innovative are ways store owners hope to finish the holiday season in the black.

Chaos in the supply chain could mean empty store shelves this holiday season. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“We have actually had to order three times what we normally do for Christmas because we are probably only going to get 25 percent of it in,” Amber Blanc, owner of the boutique Farmer’s Closet in Fairfield, said.

On top of limited quantities, it is costing more to get the goods onto the shelves.

Blanc said shipping containers have gone from $2,500 to $17,000, with expedited orders costing an additional $3,000. While her distributors are picking up those costs for now, she said, “The consumer pays for it in some way.”

Hengameh Rafii, owner of The Holiday Shoppe in Sausalito, said it is costing six to seven times what it has is in the past to bring goods to California’s ports. “This has been the most difficult time in the 34 years I have had the business.”

Asia is the main region where U.S. retailers get their product.

According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, “The United States is the largest goods importer in the world. U.S. goods imports from the world totaled $2.5 trillion in 2019. China ($452 billion) was the top supplier of goods to the United States, accounting for 18 percent of total goods imports.”

Sharon Christovich at The FolkArt Gallery in San Rafael said, “To have less merchandise, but make it look like we have the same amount is a creative challenge. People have been shopping with us for 30 years, so the product has to change. The fourth quarter is definitely critical for us. It’s probably 40 percent of our business.”

Right now the sentiment for many is getting something from a supplier is better than nothing.

“A lot of times in the past vendors would not send it if an order was not 80 percent complete. Now they send it at 40 or 50 percent, which is good because we are able to get product in,” explained Debra Knick, co-owner of outdoor clothing retailer Sonoma Outfitters in Santa Rosa. “We probably do at least 25 to 35 percent of our business in November and December, so it’s really important we have a good holiday season.”

The outdoor company is anticipating people will be returning to shop in person, thus creating an even greater need to have plenty of merchandise. Knick said reordering product is not likely to be an option. “If you see it, get it now” is her mantra because it could be gone if you wait to buy it.

Every type of store seems to be suffering in some way.

“One of my vendors who makes finger paints for children told me they are in danger of not being able to produce their No. 1 product because of a shortage of pigment colors. Everyone is dealing with the fallout from COVID,” said Nancy Putney-Abernathy, owner of Blackbird in Calistoga.

It’s hard to give a holiday gift of chocolates without a box. And boxes for chocolate are hard to find. The 10-year-old Kollar Chocolates in Yountville opted to pay more to expedite the shipment of boxes to ensure it would be here for the holidays.

November and December are the busiest months for Kollar Chocolates so the owners knew they had to do what was needed to ensure sales were not interrupted.

Kollar Chocolates was nimble at the start of the pandemic by realizing virtual chocolate experiences could be a good team building experience for corporations. Google and others agreed. Those are continuing this holiday season with more than 1,500 Google employees expected to participate; with about 100 people per session. Chocolate tasting kits are sent to a company so everyone gets to sample several confections. Kollar leads the groups in the tasting, educating them along the way, and taking questions at the end.

Sales are going so well at Kollar’s that another production kitchen has been secured.

            At the Nut Tree Shopping Center in Vacaville Jennifer Ramser, assistant property manager, said once the center opened in June after being closed for nearly a year the foot traffic has been great. Occupancy is at 95 percent with 65 retail and restaurant tenants.

At Retroactive Records & Games in Suisun City there’s a 50-50 chance of having what a customer wants because the supply chain is out of whack. To ensure there is product on the shelves for holiday shoppers store manager Trisha Cooper is putting aside duplicates instead of having all of the merchandise out now.

Brett Overshiner, a salesman at the Outdoor Pro Shop in Cotati, said basic items like fishing poles are back ordered for months—and that’s what sells well at the holidays. In summer it was hard to get anchovies, the common bait used for salmon fishing, because the supplier had trouble getting packaging material.

With the holidays around the corner, this full service fishing tackle store is constructing ways to be more customer oriented. In prior years everything needed to fish for tuna or go crabbing was sold separately. For an additional cost gear is now available fully assembled.

While early birds are out holiday shopping now, for bookstores the bulk of purchases are made between Black Friday (Nov. 26) and Christmas.

At Copperfield’s Books instead of each of the nine stores in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties having to find space for inventory, they can keep it at the central warehouse in Santa Rosa.

A toy shortage could produce tears of sorrow instead of joy on Christmas morning for youngsters and adults who are hoping to unwrap that special gift.

“We’ve been encouraging people if they see something they like, to get it now because we don’t know what will happen in a month or two,” Jenee Haviland, manager of The Toy Shop in Sonoma, said in early October. “We are expecting everything to be out of stock from the companies in the next month.”

Most toys in the United States are sold in the fourth quarter. With so much product sitting on cargo ships instead of store shelves, the forecast the $32.6 billion toy industry is grim.

“The fear among many is if things don’t move, retailers will cancel. So that forces them to have product linger after the season,” said Adrienne Appell, spokeswoman for The Toy Association. “We’ve heard stories of people not even bringing product from Asia because they are not sure it will get here in time. It is a real problem and I don’t expect it to get better any time soon.”

At Toy B Ville in Petaluma the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is equivalent to four months of sales the rest of the year. Besides not knowing what merchandise will arrive and being saddled with shipping surcharges, owner Darren Turbeville is having to pay for product upfront for the first time in his nearly 20 years in the business. He used to make an order in January and not have to pay until Christmas.

Turbeville and Stan Houston, who owns toy shops in Benicia and Livermore, agree that it’s a bit of a guessing game to know what customers will want.

“The worst thing you can do is have empty shelves. The second worst thing is to have full shelves and 20 to 30 percent of the product is never going to sell,” Houston said.

A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Fire damage cannot extinguish magic of Sierra-at-Tahoe

Brothers Ray and Floyd Barrett opened Sierra Ski Ranch in 1946. Vern Sprock purchased it in 1956. In 1993, Fibreboard bought it and renamed it Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort. It has been owned by Booth Creek Ski Holdings since 1996. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This ski season was supposed to be all about celebrating 75 years of schussing down the slopes at Sierra-at-Tahoe. Unfortunately, the resort doesn’t know what lifts will spin this winter even though opening day should be a few weeks away.

The Caldor Fire that ripped through the Eldorado National Forest in late summer/early fall caused significant damage to some of the lifts and many of the trees.

Sierra threw a big party for Jamie Anderson, Maddie Bowman and Hannah Teeter after they competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“We do know that the trails + area accessed by West Bowl Express will be inaccessible this season, as we restore that section of the mountain for seasons to come,” Sierra-at-Tahoe said on Instagram Oct. 24.

Even though the ski resort’s insurance company brought in private firefighters before the flames reached that section of Highway 50, fire has a way of doing what it wants. Most of the buildings were saved, but the cables on some of the 14 lifts that are scattered across 2,000 acres are the problem. So are all the damaged trees.

Sierra’s restaurants serve more than traditional cafeteria food. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

On the resort’s website is a Q&A about what to expect this season. It gets updated as more information is available.

In part as of Oct. 25 it said, “We are still conducting a thorough evaluation of Sierra’s lifts and trails to understand the full impact of the fire. That evaluation will determine what operations look like for opening the resort for the 2021/22 winter season. Repairs, routine yearly maintenance + annual inspections continue on Nob Hill, Short Stuff, El Dorado + Easy Rider Express, as well as mitigation for fire-damaged trees along ski trails accessed by these lifts. The operating status for individual trails accessed by each of these lifts is still unknown as they undergo inspection. In addition, many of the in-bound tree skiing areas, such as Jack’s + Avalanche Bowl, will likely be closed for the season. Grandview Express’ haul rope, which suspends the ski lift’s chairs, was damaged during the fire and a replacement cable is currently in production in Switzerland. Due to these challenges, Grandview Express will be delayed and we currently do not have an estimated date for allowing access to this lift.”

This video from KCRA-TV shows the damage:

The fire changed a lot of things for a lot of people. And while it might be trite to mourn the damage to my favorite South Shore ski resort when whole towns (Grizzly Flats and Greenville) were leveled this year, the loss is wrapped up in so many wonderful memories of skiing at Sierra.

I’ve never been a huge tree skier, but I loved the trees at Sierra. I loved that I could find stashes of powder a day or two after a storm. The special events were fun. The food was good.

Kae Reed, left, as a special guest judge during the annual salsa competition.

Sierra has always had a friendly, non-corporate vibe. It was welcoming.

And all those Olympians it has produced.

There is a reason the lift that accesses this vista is called Grandview. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I skied there with friends and family. I skied for work, I skied just to have fun.

None of those things will change as the resort repairs the fire damage. It’s possible Sierra will be even more magical for having endured this significant setback.

Good thing the keys were not left in the snowcat. (Image: Sue Wood)

Sierra has weathered many storms—ownership changes, drought, rain on snow, a pandemic, short seasons, lack of personnel, road closures, and so much more. Resilient is what this resort is. It takes some pretty special people—from the GM to the lifties—to create this sense of belonging.

The fact that the resort seems to be so honest via social media about what is going on makes me like it even more. Transparency with guests is going to get some converts to the slopes even with limited terrain this season.

This isn’t just a ski resort; it is a community. It’s a place that will always be special to me.

Research Proves The Importance Of Dog-Human Bond

“We are in constant conversation with our dogs.”

Oh, how true this is.

AJ has many soft places to put her head, but in Mexico gravel was a favorite resting spot. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This is a quote from Alexandra Horowitz, a dog cognition scientist and professor. She runs the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College of Columbia University and has written books about dogs.

Dog cognitive science is a real thing, though it wasn’t when Horowitz was getting her undergraduate degree. As a recent speaker with the Aspen Institute she spoke about the bond humans and dogs have.

In part she talked about the importance of dogs during the pandemic. So many adopted four legged companions in the last 18 months. They provide emotional support and licks. Horowitz talked about how when we weren’t supposed to be in contact with others, these canines became that substitute with a head on our knee, allowing us to pet them whenever, and to be cuddled.

Researchers believe the human-canine bond started at least 14,000 years ago. They know this because of dogs being buried with a human.

She talked about how people can get a rush of oxytocin when they interact with dogs, which is similar to a bond parents create with their infants.

I completely related to her description of how people talk to their dogs. I talk to AJ all the time. When I leave I always tell her I love her. We have full on conversations. We talk about the past, the present and the future. I’m sure she understands.

“They’re very sensitive to changes in our emotional state. And there has been interesting research. I mean, a lot of people might assent that when, if you’re upset, say you’re crying, you’re sad, that often a dog will come and provide comfort,” Horowitz said.

She also talked about how dogs can detect illness. My friend, Joy, shared with me how AJ (her dog before she died, my dog now) didn’t want to be near her when smelling her breath while she was getting chemo. When I first became AJ’s mom she would smell my breath at random times. I always assured her I was not dying. Eventually, she figured out I was here to stay for her whole life.

“We know they remember. They remember people they remember places they remember routes, they remember components of things that have happened that we might not have been aware of,” Horowitz said.

This has been true of AJ. She was able to escape the day care place she was staying at in South Lake Tahoe and made it home by herself. When I was gone for more than five months from by black Lab Bailey she was ecstatic to see me; I had been worried she would not remember me. It was good to return to being her mom.

Horowitz’s one piece of advice was, “The more that you can on your walk let them sniff the thing that they want to sniff once in a while, let them get close to that other dog and sniff that other dog because that’s how they say hello. I think the better life they will have.”

Escaped bear causes LTWC to lose license to care for bruins

The state has revoked Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care’s permit to care for bears after a cub escaped the South Lake Tahoe facility in August.

“Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care currently has a CDFW Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit to conduct care and rehabilitation of native wildlife, excluding big game species such as deer, elk, and black bears. The facility does not have a current agreement with the department to rehabilitate black bear cubs,” Peter Tira with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said. “In response to the escape of the Tamarack bear cub, they are required to make improvements to their facility enclosures and fencing. Upon completion, the department will perform a site inspection and evaluate the request to renew their agreement to temporarily possess and rehabilitate injured and orphaned black bear cubs.”

Tamarack before escaping from Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. (Image: LTWC)

Tamarack, named after the fire that started south of South Lake Tahoe last summer, was brought to the center July 26. On Aug. 3, LTWC put out a community alert on Instagram hoping people would help locate the animal.

In part the message said, “The 6-month-old black bear Tamarack has escaped his enclosure and managed to tunnel under an electric fence. He is not in immediate danger and is not a threat, but we need to locate him as soon as possible. … be on the lookout for a small brown bear cub of about 25 pounds. He might have bandages on his front paws.”

Tamarack had all four paws burned in the fire.

While he was spotted, or at least people think it was him, officials decided to let the cub stay in the wild because it appeared he was doing just fine.

“We believe Tamarack is still out there, but there’s no way to be 100 percent certain as most cubs look very similar,” said Denise Uptown with LTWC.

The original plan was to care for him until spring, and then release him.

LTWC celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2018. Ground was broken in 2015 on its current 27-acre site at the corner of Al Tahoe Boulevard and Pioneer Trail. Prior to this location the animals had been rehabbed at the founders’ backyard just outside the city limits.

Upton knows of no other animals that have escaped from either location.

“We are currently making improvements to our facility enclosures and fencing, and we will be renewing our agreement with (CDFW) after an inspection to temporarily possess and rehabilitate injured and orphaned black bear cubs. We’re not 100 percent sure how he escaped and by making these changes, we are addressing all potential issues that could of led to his escape,” Upton said.

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