The absolute best thing in the world, on some mornings at least: Oatmeal. It’s warm, it’s tasty, it satisfies the hunger morning often brings. Pour in a little milk, add some raisins: Manna. Breakfast for the groggy of the world, it clarifies your worldview and gives you soluble fibers, which help stabilize blood sugar and (and, ladies and gentlemen, and)  lower cholesterol, according to some person on the Internet. Oatmeal gives you the kind of open, contemplative frame of mind that only a warming fire, a good book and a pliant cat can normally provide.

I ate oatmeal when I was six years old; I ate it when I was 60. Still good. Say, why not have a bowl right now? I’ll wait.

The last time I was thinking unhurried oatmeal thoughts was at the Bug. Our friend Tom told us about The Bug. We asked him about it. What, you may be wondering, was the question to which “the Bug” was the answer. Here it is: “What’s a good place to stay near Yosemite Valley?”

For Christmas, my fine wife gave me a trip to Yosemite, complete with three days residence at the Yosemite Bug, which is its formal name.   (The Bug is named after the Horned Pine Beetle, which is not the same as the mountain pine beetle — see below). We expected that we’d be walking through snow up trails to see frozen waterfalls and around meadows where the rising monoliths of granite appear mysteriously out of the fog. It would at least be relatively unpopulated; Yosemite is not known for its downhill skiing or wilderness ice rinks. But we reckoned without the miracle of global warming.

I’ll get to Yosemite in a moment. I wanted to show you fabulous photos, but Tracy was unhappy with how the photos came out. She wanted me not to use them at all, but I persuaded her by promising I would be very careful in my selection process. I think you’ll approve; Yosemite does not need to be gussied up.

Iconic Half Dome

But first, the Bug.  We had a private room with bath (or bath en suite, as the English say), which is top-of-the-line accommodations at the Bug. You could get a shared bathroom, or a hostel-type dorm room, or tent cabins — it’s that kind of place. You can eat at the large warm dining hall, which has excellent dinners (portions too large for me, but I’m not a big eater of meals after sundown) and very fine coffee and organic whatevers and, as I have mentioned, oatmeal. And a view of the pines and bays and lots of familiar California vegetation. In fact, the Bug is a familiar California kind of place, simultaneously laid back and alert. Think Zen, only without the incessant sitting.

The Bug is a 40 minute drive along the Merced River from the park entrance. It was February, so there was no line at the ranger’s kiosk. Indeed, there were no traffic jams anywhere in the Valley, despite the network of insanely complex, under-signed roads. It’s almost as though God didn’t want cars in Yosemite at all.

Temperatures hovered around 70; T-shirt weather. The waterfalls were flowing freely because the snows above them were melting. California had a wet winter in 2017, and everyone said “Phew. Long showers again!” Alas. But good news! Warm winter weather and mighty waterfalls are adding to the California lifestyle.  Kids splashed in Mirror Lake, which is now more like Mirror Creek.

At sundown, we found a deserted meadow with views of El Capitan and Cathedral peaks. We sat on a log and gazed at towering granite peaks,  the darkening sky, the peaceful meadow. I thought about the Indians who first saw the place 8000 years ago. Game and fish were plentiful, the meadows were fertile; the weather moderate even at its 4000 foot elevation. Imagine turning to others in your exploratory band and saying, “you know, guys, correct me if I’m wrong, but we could…” Untold generations later, John Muir arrived and, through no fault of his own, started the process of fucking up the place. Yet, it has survived all attempts to despoil it. So far.

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Majestic El Capitan

This is the way we live now, or at any rate the way I live. Searching for peace and natural splendor, I used up a tank of gas to drive to a famous valley hundreds of miles away so I can sit on a tree trunk and contemplate serenity in a partially paved natural wonderland, after lunch at a hotel that is mired in a naming dispute characterized by stupid greed on both sides. I have a damn backyard; I have a wilderness park a mile from my house, but no, I’m going to satisfy my urge for simplicity using all the tools destructive modern capitalism can give me.

At least I’m not putting holes in El Capitan so I can climb to the top and feel manly. You want to overcome obstacles and conquer fear? Go live in Aleppo.

But of course I’m raging against myself. It’s me that’s using the resources, taking the shortcuts, living the way nest-egg-adjacent white Americans have lived since Teddy Roosevelt. People need the system. Satirists write satire in order to eat; anarchists join organizations so they can afford the rent. Some retired liberals go to work for a year in Chad or Haiti, then come back and resume their lifestyle. It’s just something that happens; if I could change that, I’m not sure I would. Life is sweet when you can afford olive oil from Italy and saffron from Spain, which is really saffron from Iran.

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Shimmering Bridalveil Falls

 In the forests I can see from the meadow, more than half the trees are dead because of an infestation of mountain pine beetles, often described as “about the size of a grain of rice.” The beetles are always there, but when it’s dry, the trees begin dying, and the beetles feed on the weakest. No one knows the number of dead trees in the west; all the National Park Service can say is “millions of acres.” Those dead trees are really great tinder for wildfires, which grow in size yearly.

The forests are weakened by drought, monoculture farming and the suppression of forest fires, all three caused or invented by human beings. Beetles don’t kill trees; human beings kill trees.

And so forth. I didn’t used to think dark thoughts when I was staring at glorious mountain vistas; on the other hand, the environment was in better shape back then. Man-made climate change is real, as are school shootings and endless wars and lunatic misogynistic politicians.

Apparently the redwood trees are doing fine and the red-tailed hawks are thriving. Also ravens and rats. We love the creatures endangered by climate change, but we dislike the adaptable survivors. Liberal guilt is not pleasant in person; it’s hypocrisy with just enough conscience to make you feel bad. But there it is.

After 10 minutes or so of self-trashing, I slid my butt down onto the moist earth and felt the wind on my face and watched the dying sun illuminate the west end of the valley. Might as well enjoy this before nightfall. Then we’ll drive back to the Bug and, who knows, order up  another bowl of oatmeal. Life is good, except for the stuff I just mentioned.

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The Merced River (note lack of snow)


Photography by Tracy “Oh yeah? Prove it.” Johnston

Useful info from Michelle Mizera


54 thoughts on “Beetlemania

    1. Nothing is ununintentional.
      except the nothing. That was a glitch in the margin editor. But we stand by it


  1. Apropos of nothing at all, there is a piece in the NYT today called “The Pain of Loving an Old Dog.” It — and its attendant comments — are a real weepfest for those so inclined, and I commend it to them. Catharsis is good for you. Have a towel handy.


    1. But you have to add a dash of salt to bring out the full oaty wonderfulness of the oatmeal. Personally, I insist on blueberries (frozen acceptable), but others may differ.


  2. Thank you for this!

    Nicole Katano

    On Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 10:54 AM Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: “The absolute best thing in the world, on some > mornings at least: Oatmeal. It’s warm, it’s tasty, it satisfies the hunger > morning often brings. Pour in a little milk, add some raisins: Manna. > Breakfast for the groggy of the world, it clarifies your worldvi” >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Something interesting about the trees and those beetles is that the trees are under stress, due to heat and drought and such. Trees under stress “scream” at a frequency we do not hear, but the beetles do. So the beetles look for screaming trees.

    The happy side of this is that the beetles use sound for many other things, too, such as finding mates, so it is possible that their mating cycle could be disrupted by sound rather than by pesticides.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Not everyone likes oatmeal.
    I tried.
    Had to, out of “politeness,” but no matter what, to me, it tastes like it looks – grey and of a certain consistency.
    Now, Cream of Wheat, Hot Ralston, and the no-longer-available Roman Meal… Yumm!

    And, decades ago, someone said to me: “Do your part for wilderness – stay out of it.”

    Still, I cannot argue with the succour it provides – (wilderness, not oatmeal!)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. my aversion to oatmeal is life long and so strong I can’t even read your piece… you might as well try to convince me that a bowl of warm vomit is yummmy!



    1. I’m no culinary expert, Rene, but my venerable dog happens to love the occasional bowl of warm vomit…especially her own.


  6. With a tad more energy you can have your oatmeal/raisins and a couple of eggs too. Just add two eggs, beaten, to the oatmeal while it’s still warm, plop some butter in a frying pan, and voila! An oatmeal-egg pancake. Maple syrup, whatever — blueberries, raspberries heated in the syrup. Bruce the Bald


  7. Going camping end of next month to soak up what you so wonderfully wrote about! Cross my fingers , it doesn’t snow! I love oatmeal , Quaker Oats with raisins & walnuts !!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Amen to all but the hiking but especially for the oatmeal. Eat mine with semi dried figs and dissolved blueberries….steel cut in a microwave. Just looked at Rags photos of your wedding. Nicely done. Lovely family. Hope everything is fine. Best, Shalmon
    PS Did we have a relationship besides being next to each other? ….in Rags that is


  9. you bring it close to us, we birds-of-your-feather.
    just emailed you rebecca solnit’s piece re climate in harpers from jan 2018.

    xxx judith a

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Since I don’t own an automobile, I’ve only been to Yosemite a couple times in the 45 years I’ve lived in California, but I felt I was seeing it for the first time with these photographs. A photographers “eye” can be a wonderful, and surprising, thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. As a scot–I like this quote about oats: “Doctor Johnson proposed to define the word ‘oats’ thus: ‘A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’ And I replied: ‘Aye, and that’s why England has such fine horses, and Scotland such fine people.’
    —James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., ch. 14 (1791)(Don’t tell anybody I gave up salting my porridge many years ago!) (source:
    But — please don’t tell anyone I gave up salting my porridge years ago!! I’m with you on the sweet life!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oatmeal with raisins sounds like a great breakfast— not exactly up there with Fruit Loops and Sugar Pops, but filling. What the heck, I’ll give it a try some day.

    Ma, if you read this, just kidding.


  13. Just reminded me what a wonderful dinner Oatmeal can be. On it now. I married into a family that will never allow oatmeal be served – too many bowls as kids on the farm, they say. More for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I like my oatmeal savory, think jook or cheesy grits or polenta. I cook it in chicken broth with onions, garlic and any veggies I have on hand. Sometimes I season with garlic, ginger and soy sauce. Mmmmmm.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Love your writing, Yosemite, oat meal, and managed disorder. However. Tourism started in Yosemite Valley at least 50 years before Muir first arrived (you recall, of course, that it was established as a preserve by Lincoln). And virtually all climbers — especially in Yosemite Valley — stopped drilling holes almost 50 years ago. What, you don’t have the fact-checking resources of the New Yorker? Oh, I get it, that’s what your readers are for. You’re welcome.


  16. Oatmeal,(steel cut),walnuts,blueberries,cinnamon and a little vanilla almond milk……heaven
    Eaten while in Yosemite …priceless
    Great to hear your voice again!


  17. I love you Jon, the way and how you write. You feel and then express what many, I hope, of us do.
    Thank you.
    May I please copy and share the Sorry photo? Is it Tracy’s? I would give credit. Thanks.


  18. I have converted to cooked Oat Bran cereal made extra thick (Bob’s Red Mill) — it is super smooth and gloppy, very mellow and warming with melting butter and brown sugar, warmed blueberries and whole milk… ahhhhh!

    And I love the irony of your photos… Tracy won that battle, yup…


  19. To be fair, climbing in Yosemite does not involve drilling holes anymore. To be fairer, even if it did, how would that minuscule deterioration compare with the eight gazillion tons that recently fell off of El Cap onto a hapless tourist.


  20. The puctures of the mislabeled Yosemite dites were incredibly sad. Well executed , Tracy! But were very evocative of the grief of those left .behind. I’m very sad these days dwelling on the losses in my life. That maybe why the pictures of Yosemite’s sites moved me so. It home, Tracy! Thanks! J


  21. As a native Californian of 67 years, I must hang my head in shame that I’ve never been to Yosemite. Well, family legend has it that we went when I was 3 years old, but being a decidedly unsentient being at the time, that doesn’t count. I’ve avoided it mostly because I really hate crowds, especially in the cathedrals of Mother Nature — crowds belong to the city, not in the woods. Still, I see by Tracy’s photos that crowds are no longer a probem in Yosemite, and that Ansel Adams must have taken a wrong turn somewhere before setting up his camera back in the day.

    Who knew?

    And yes, oatmeal, especially steel-cut with raisins. No sugar, but accompanied by wheat or sourdough toast drizzled with honey and slathered in peanut butter, it’s a winner. To each his own, the saying goes, but this one works for me.

    Wondeful column, as always. Thanks!


  22. I like my oatmeal in cookies. I never got over the disappointment of Malt-O-Meal after hounding my mom forever to get some thanks to the TV ads. Only worse disappointment food-wise was ordering Sweet Breads at a Chinese restaurant expecting to receive something like cinnamon rolls. Oops. BTW have now deactivated my Facebook account after the Cambridge Analytical kerfluffle.


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