A handful of peers from Silicon Valley were among the 56 souls with whom I spent the Christmas holiday in an old ski lodge in the snow-crusted Sierras.
Also over dinner, I met a young man who just graduated from Cal Poly and by a lucky turn of events landed his first job at Lab 126
, the secretive Silicon Valley design center for Amazon’s Kindle family. I also overheard a passionate conversation about RF circuits between a young engineering grad and a seasoned veteran.
I struck up a conversation in the fireplace room with a man I had met on the trail. He turned out to be a scientist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
. Plenty of good science is still being conducted on many fronts at the facility, he said. His department has learned to work with crystals as small as a micron on a side, using x-ray lasers to zap them to unlock secrets of their atomic structure.
The best parts of my trip were two days out in the wilderness a mile or so from the lodge. One day I blazed a trail on cross-country skis around a frozen lake through knee high snow. On my last day, snowshoes carried me over a still-running creek, deep into the forest where a white jackrabbit ran across the trail.
From time to time I would turn off the music on the MP3 player that fueled my efforts. I listened to the lonely sound of the winds caressing the Sierra peaks in the distance.
On Christmas morning, I hiked a mile or so down snow covered Highway 40 to where I could see a distant ridge beyond Donner Lake. I watched as a rosy finger touched the ridge line. Before jogging back to the lodge for a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, potatoes, fruit and eggs I stopped for a quiet moment of gratitude for what seemed to me to be the greatest gift of all—another day of life.