Saturday, October 31, 2009

Going Home

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.
---William Henry Davies, “Leisure”

There have been longer trips. There have been trips more challenging. There have been few that have been as peaceful and fun. La Coachasita provided some moments of concern but returns in good shape with only small wounds to remind me of this northwest adventure.

I saw old friends, old places, and new places, met new characters, had excellent weather and except for the one storm, it remained warm until the end… As I left the Redwood Coast on Wednesday there was frost on the ground and the cold weather was clearly coming. The wind that had been suspiciously absent most of the trip was up, and it felt colder than it probably really was.

It was time to move south. My last stop was in the Santa Yenez Mountains behind Santa Barbara for three nights. It is a favorite place where at migratory birds from eagles hawks, ducks on the lake, and song birds to numerous to catalogue or name can be seen this time of year. The weather turned warm on the last day as the clocks changed and it seemed a good time to go home.

The trip plan, as the poet said, was to find a place I liked “to stand and stare.” It is good for the body and the soul, something we should all do now and then. I have seen television once in six weeks, read two newspapers and generally turned down the cacophony of the appliances of the world to find the serenity that can come with such silence. It would seem I missed little except the continuing saga the news reports of things there when I left and some boy who was and then wasn’t in a balloon somewhere in the Midwest and two Continental Airline pilots-- now former pilots-- who forgot they were en route to Minneapolis.

It is nice to have such wonderful weather to end the trip. Surprising this large and now green park due to the six inches of rain last week is quiet. The fishermen are at the lake for the day, but the campground is largely unused.

There are exceptions. An LA flock of four thirty somethings in a motor home and a trailer arrived on Friday, unloaded two mountain bikes, four bicycles, a remote control plane and a kite of vast proportions. They are affable bunches who yet wear their wireless phone devices even while kite flying. I am not sure have ever seen so many toys come with four people who have spent the last two days either sitting and laughing, or sitting and eating. I was fully prepared for more noise than I thought I would find necessary but so far they have collapsed into the arms of Morpheus early and remained there late. I will no doubt wake them all when I pull out tomorrow from across the wide road here.

The only other constant companions until today was a man and wife who, so far as I could tell, never uttered a word while in camp, insisted on parking in the space next to me (there were many others available) and were actually in the park and awake or out doors for perhaps six hours in two days. At about one today, I came back from the lake and found they had gone. This is not the sort of place that attracts those who park and go off to see the sights. This is the sight they come to see usually as it is miles from any town. While here and out, he wore a sweatshirt advertising a tattoo parlor, a straw hat and smoked a large cigar. When they arrived, she remained in the truck until trailer had been parked and arranged. When it was done, she ambled in and an hour later they left and returned around midnight.

Somehow, this seems all the confirmation I need that I am back in Southern California.

Home will be a good place to be tomorrow. Thank you all for coming on this rather short—for me at least—trip of 2200 miles. I have enjoyed your company, your e-mails and posts on the blog. Spring is the next significant trip with a book to publish between now and then. I will be going I am certain, where is yet a question. North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains have only been cursorily explored and that is in my mind now.

But much will happen between now and then, so we shall see.

There will be pictures later and perhaps some words over the winter. I hope you all stay well and stay in touch.

Monday, October 26, 2009


The will be no championship in Anahiem this year. The Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem lost the American League Championship to the New York Yankees in the sixth game in the first hour of this morning Eastern Daylight Time.

The Angels had won two of the three games played in California and nearly forced a seventh and deciding game in New York. Shortly after huge clock in the outfield struck midnight and while over 50,000 people in the stadium held their collective breath, Gary Matthews Jr., the son of a former major leaguer, took one last mighty swing.

He missed.

"This was a special group," Mike Scioscia their manager said after it was over, "but they were the better team. " Mike reflected on a reporters question about the long season and said that he will not soon forget this group, what they had fought through this remarkable season full of injuries, losing streaks, and a tragedy most had never experienced in their young lives that was so much larger than the game these men play. They are gone now, this team that carried Nick Adenhart's memory and his jersey forward every day and wherever they went all year. Many will leave for other teams and more money, others will be traded, some will retire, and some will come back. As a group, as of today, it no longer exists and will never be together again.

That's baseball.

Eight months ago, in Tempe Arizona, in the warm sun of late February, more than 100 men and boys came together in their odd three-quarter length pants. Scioscia's immediate task was to fashion a team of 25 of them that would stay together through the next eight months as a team and win. There were questions. There was not enough pitching.The remarkable first baseman from last year was gone. The wondrous right fielder with the improbable Russian and Latino name of Vladamir Guerrero, now older and more than a step slower still wanted to play everyday. The gentlemanly left fielder, Garret Anderson, the soul of the franchise in the view of many fans was gone, traded in his last years because he too was now more hitter than fielder. This is the way of baseball. The ebb and flow, the kids and the veterans, the greats, the nearly greats, and the never will be either one, who come to the valley every year. It is up to the Scioscia and the coaches on this team as it is on all the teams there and in Florida to sift through them and decide who stays an who goes and who plays and who sits. A team's complex mixture of chemistry, mental toughness.,and physical ability is an erector set that must be constructed in these busy early days of spring in the desert. It is done in the talented minds of the coaches, instructors, scouts, and ultimately the manager.

When they came away in late March, there were still troubling issues for Scioscia and his staff. There were questions that could only now be answered during the season in the sometimes grim grind of the 164 game schedule in six months before them. The pundits said that the Texas Rangers were good enough to beat this team and win the Division this year. The sardonic Scioscia, as highly respected a manager as there is in the league, gave the stock answer, "We'll see. That's why we play the games."

The bad things came early. Injury plagued the regulars, Scioscia struggled to find others to fill the holes and give them a chance to keep winning while the others healed. He found the answers in odd places. The rookie fist baseman did all he was asked to and more making last years loss of Mark Teixeria (ironically to the Yankees) seem less problematic. Young Erick Aybar became an outstanding shortstop. Pitchers who had been ordinary, became very good. John Lackey took the ball every fifth day and won or kept them in the game. He became the definition of what baseball calls a "stopper," a pitcher who does not let a two game losing streak become three. Then Nick Adenhart was lost to a tragedy so unlikely the team first spiraled and then made him their inspiration for the rest of the year. After his death the team lost a lot until reminded by Scioscia, in an emotional team meeting, that Nick would have expecteded more of them. They apparently agreed and won 23 of their next 30 games and kept going, with Nick's jersey with them always, even doused with champagne when they won the Western Division.Tori Hunter, the young, strong, and remarkable center fielder and team spokesman who had helped Nick acclimate to the major leagues, now made it his personal goal to win the World Series so that Nick's family would have a championship ring.

Yet on this chilled night in New York, eight months and 171 games after they began their quest, they came up short, because they met a team that was better, that had its own inspiration, chemistry, superb pitching, and better hitting to defeat them. There is no shame in that.

They were a special group with a special goal and tried as hard as their talent would allow to reach it. That they failed is not the point. That they tried, and came that close is what should make them proud. They had banished the Boston Red Sox in three straight games to get here. They came within two victories of doing with lesser talent but perhaps greater emotion, what they set out to do when they had gathered those many months before in the Valley of the Sun and were molded into this group that lived, laughed and cried together for the past eight months.

They are gone now. The locker where Nick Adenhart's uniform and baseball cleats resided these last 171 games is gone too. Next year, Mike Scioscia will find a new group waiting for him in Arizona. From them, some from this year, some from trades, some from free agent signings, and others from the minor leagues, he must put the right pieces in the right places once again. It will be a new group, with new talents and new chemistry. He and his staff will mold them, motivate them to overcome the shortcomings of this year and try again to somehow reach that which eluded this year's "special" group by so small a margin.

That's why they play the games.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

From"Casey at the Bat"--- by Ernest Thayer, June 3, 1888, The San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The days and nights spent in the cathedral of the trees and in proximity to the crashing surf, the song birds and the boxing matches among the voles and squirrels are done on the magnificent coast. It is time to move on to new, different things . There was one more memorable morning of fog that lay on the water allowing the rocks to peek above it into the bright sun above. It is a beautiful sight, spiritual in its way and a good way to remember the serenity I have enjoyed.

When Monday arrived it was time to move inland. In order to do that one goes south back to California and the Northeast up U.S. 199 to Grants Pass through groves of Redwoods in the Jedediah Smith National Forest. It was a lovely day once one left the overcast of the coast. As the road winds upward, the weather cools even in the brightening sun. Fall colors are everywhere. The leaves are red and yellow and the rivers one crosses are teeming with salmon . It is time for the fall spawning run. It is an amazing sight. The crystal clear deep pools hold the fish until they are ready to go up the next rapids. One supposes they rest.

After lunch at the side of the road in a park placed here for contemplation of these sights, the ever valiant La Coachasita takes us into Grants Pass and we are suddenly confronted with strip malls, civilization, cars, and people, far more cars than I have seen in awhile. While the life on the coast has hardly been monkish, everyone here seems to be in a hurry. For nearly two weeks, there hasn't been anything to hurry about and now I hurry just to get out of their way.

Once at Grants Pass, it is a short ride down the highway to the Valley of the Rogue State Park. It is a delightful open park like place with fall color all about and plentiful wildlife. The Rouge River runs through it. The Coho Salmon climb the rapids near the campsite and one could probably stand there all day and watch them. I am puzzled by the absence of predators, yet realize the houses nearby and the proximity to the Interstate probably make other areas more desirable, There is a grazing area that draws deer in the evening just before dusk.

My lack of plans are often as much an enemy as a friend especially in area I have covered often before. It leads to thoughts of the trip south and which way to go. I spend the first morning pouring over maps and campsite information looking for a new way, give up after I get an idea where I will be through the weekend, and decide it is too nice a day to spend doing this and go out. My nearest neighbors are nearly always walking. They are accompanied by three dachshunds, all related, the youngest of which is 12. The dogs seem to have parade training as they always seem to be walking in step. They all live just north of Yosemite now that they are retired and are pleasant companions who point out they best vantage points along the river and the best places to see the deer that come down to feed.

This is a different world and I will be here but a while and then back to the Redwood Coast for a few days before going east again and then south. The weather will stay clear if cooler until then.

That's fine. It will give my rain suit time to dry out.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


A few here in the camp have dawdled on the Oregon Coast now for over a week. I will soon head inland to see some of nature's other wonders, some friends, and think seriously about going south.

The storm left us with two days, while quite different, equally nice. The first was a calm day with no wind yet fog the crept in and out tantalizing us all day. It would be impossible to see for ten minutes and then lift to allow the shore to be recognized. It was, in its way, quite lovely. The soft fog, warm temperatures and the surreal landscape of trees that live in a permenant leaning state due to the usual omnipresent wind all give the impression that this is a different earth. The second day was as clear as the previous was not and as the sun rose high. It reached the mid 70 degree mark. It was a wonderful day to walk and visit and just sit and contemplate the birds and the sea.

The following morning it rained hard again and of course it was a day when things needed doing. By noon I was soaked but done and back inside. It was dry three hours later, the park was quiet and the temperature pleasant enough for a fire outside and a glass of wine with the neighbors before dark.

To keep me on my toes, and in keeping with the theme of the trip apparently, minor catastrophe struck the day after the storm when my air mattress decided it had seen all it needed of this world and sagged with a quiet sigh of fatigue. I woke and was certain I was sleeping in a hammock. The getting out was far more difficult than the sleeping which was pleasant enough. By the time I struggled free, I was laughing out loud. This says somethng for the level of serenity I have been able to achieve. A string of oaths would usually accompany such a thing in my "other" world.

Once many trips ago, while making the bed, I slashed a mattress on a sharp edge and had to find another. Since then, I have always carried a spare realizing it was one redundancy that was crucial to life in the van. After rummaging around in the deep hold in the rear, I found the spare, replaced the bed and decided since I now that I had all this laundry I might as well do some of it. There is a laundry here that is as nice as any I have ever seen in a public park. It is franchised to a local sheltered workshop which keeps it clean and well stocked with coins and detergent. By five, I was reading while awaiting for the interminable dry cycle (an hour) to finish .

Two couples arrived at about the same time. As happens with these chance meetings, the one man had grown up 10 miles from me in the East. He spent life after the service as an elevator mechanic in Los Angeles and other places in California. They now live in the Sacremento valley. His wife, a self-described "traditional housewife" is a most kind a gentle person. Their dog "Maggie" is a Golden Retreiver of 12 that came to them last Thanksgiving is equally so. It is their third such senior dog that they have taken after the original owner has died. The two before have lived an average of 3 years and both of them are quite pholosophical about the fact that the dogs do not stay with them long. They are clearly attached to her and will no doubt treat her very well, yet seem to understand they are only caretakers for the animals of others who will have a few happy years with them and then will be gone. They see it as better than the alternative.

We were joined nearly simultaneously by a couple from British Columbia. They were headed home . We were disabused of the idea that they were snow birds headed south when the man, Trevor, explained that "at their age" they were only allowed to travel 30 days out of country or their insurance would be canceled. Their age seemed in the 60's so both my other new friends and I asked when that became the rule. Martha explained that since she was 80 the rules were different.

Well. All of us could have been knocked down with one feather. Trevor explained that he had married an "older women" to which Martha replied was his fault and he would always be trying to catch up with her. Laughing, he admitted it as true as he was "only" 78 soon to be 79. I am certain that I have never seen two people of that age in such wonderrful physical shape or good humor. We had learned all this soon after Trevor had jogged to and from their site to find sufficient US currency to feed the washing machines. I have relatives who do not run that well at less than half the age.

As with most Vancouver people, I found them polite, curious and wonderful story tellers. When asked if the city was ready for the Winter Olympics, they told of their son who has been a volunteer for the effort for nearly three years and would return from Florida for the first time in years to finish the job in January and February. Trevor said that the Candian government had somehow reached the conclusion that there were too few volunteers so were offering all government employees in the Province the "opportunity" to volunteer by giving them six weeks off with pay. He was appalled. They seemed to have many volunteers already and now many would just take the time off with the pay. He had decided that if one could be away from their job for that long n they should be declared "redundant" and the job abolished.

Trevor was not happy with his government before this. Yet, as with most Canadienans I have met their disgruntlement is more philosophical than angry a difference between they and many citizens here. He had been in the English Navy for 10 years and then the Canadiaen Navy for ten more. All the service was creditabe, but those who served prior to the unification of all the Armed Forces in Canada, apparently were not eligible for pension if their service was so split. The fact that he spent all those years in deisel submarines, served in two wars (I assume War II was his first), a most dangerous of professions, mattered not at all to them. It did to me, spending about ten minutes below deck in one of those things back when I was a young Ensign was enough for me. I cannot imagine how he did it.

Martha asked about our health care "problem." We all mumbled something that contained the word "maybe." Ken, the New Jersey born and raised owner of Maggie artfully turned that aside by asking what would happen if they became ill while here. Martha then recounted a trip they made here some years ago when she had been hospitalized three times for influenza. The hospitals and relevant caregivers all billed the Canadian government, Trevor's union insurance and some other policy they retain by virtue of living this long equally and were fully reimbursed by all since none talk to each other. Ken and I found it an interesting concept to remember for future reference since Trevor delighted in telling us that the Canadian government enjoys doing the same when a U.S. citizen gets sick up there.

Too soon, darkness was falling fast as the cold fog was inbound and we all had dinners to eat so we parted. Trevor and Martha left the next morning, another set of wonderful people I can put in my pantheon of the many met on the road.

Monday, October 12, 2009


We remain at Brookings Oregon, deciding it is a good place to ride out the storm coming this evening. Many of the neighbors have done the same. They are a happy and by now familiar buuch so if bad things happen, we all feel we we will be among friends. This morning we all scrambled out for the purposes of finding groceries, gasoline in case we need the generators, covered bycycles, and eliminated our used water, and tied things down.
The weather forecast is not vague. It willl rain by evening after dark and bcome heavy by midnight and totals will be between two and four inches. Winds at the coast will be 20 to 25 gusting to 40 kts with 50 kts in the passes above. The wind warnuings are posted for 3 AM through 2 PM tomorrow. The rain will continiue all day tomorrow and tomorrow night becoming showers on Wedsnesday and then lesser showers on Wednesday.

At present, it is overcast and until about 4 o'clock the wind was calm. It was altogether a very nice day, if overcast and the high 60's is something you can enjoy and I can. As darkness falls, the air is again calm and now is 50. There is a quiet that falls at this time everynight, but only the hardiest of souls are lighting any fires. Most have tied down what we can and are now contemplating the places that will flood and the possible leaks that could occur.

I have been through one other storm on this coast, yet have not experienced the wind in full throat as it will be later tonight and tomorrow. If the gust get as high as expected, how much rocking will depend on the oreintation of the van. I am not wholly sure of that at the moment, but if it remains dry in here I am sure it can't be as bad as being at sea.

La Coachasita is wearing here winter "curtains" over here single pane windows in the rear and closed up as tight as possible. We await the storm, which, if it runs as it is supposed to, should be gone by Thursday morning. The wind will move it quickly if it indeed comes as they predict.

She also awaits a further examination of her electrical system on Wednesday as that issue continues to plague her.

Two bycycling campers, common in this area, came in an hour ago. I admire their tenacity. I believe I would have sought a motel room tonight were I contemplatating a night like this under canvas. They appear seasoned and at least fiegned unconcern when ask. I am sure they know a great deal about this. I trust I will not see them leaving in the morning.

An Ark would be useful about now. We will have to do without.

Friday, October 9, 2009


This is the place I will spend the next four nights or until it starts to rain. I arrived at Harris State Beach last night near dark thanks to some further discomfort of La Coachasita. She is having a rough trip. She is reasonably well now, still a lingering ignition issue which Lyle did not fully appreciate. His fix lasted two days and now there are new symptoms. I believe he was right in his fix, but that the problem is more severe. Until Tuesday, however, I am more worried about whether my bike tire will hold air and whether I will see the sunset.

Brookings, Oregon was the warm place in the state today, reaching 81 degrees. There is a strange wind that effects this place, much like the easterly flows from the mountains in California and it was blowing today and thus the temperature. It is part of the "Banana Belt" of Oregon because of its odd coastal location but lack of rainfall and tendency to be warmer than the rest of the state.

My favorite park in the state is named after an early Dutch settler, the literature tells me, but little more. It is in woods yet high on a bluff overlooking the surf and wonderful rocks of the coast. Orca whales are here, and while sightings are more common after rains, small pods occasionally appear near shore..

The Oregonians seem to have a sixth sense of when the weather will be good. After September 15th this is a first come, first served park. Some came on Wednesday to be first. I was so late last night I took what was left and hoped someone would pull out this morning. A few did and I was lucky enough to get a new spot I know gets full sun through from mid-morning through the afternoon. It is a quiet and peaceful place despite the full house crowd. The sites are large in the area I am in and well screened with wonderful shrubs. and tall conifers.

The forecast here is for good weather until late Monday when two days of some sort of rain will decide for me whether I leave to climb over the hill toward Medford, which will have less precipitation or simply wait until the later part of the week while doing some sight seeing and perhaps trying to find additional help for my companion. Brookings is big enough to have a "Lyle type" in it and it may well be worth the trouble. I can say this has been an eventful trip so far, not all pleasant one's but all the people I have met have been pleasant and there have been a few characters worth remembering.

My next door neighbors are from near Redding California and have been here two weeks. One of those weeks has been devoted to treating a sick dog who, according to the woman whose name I have yet to learn, "got a bad bone" from a lady at a gas station somewhere north of here and has been to the veterinary to treat an intestinal problem as a result. It is a wee thing of undistinguished breed. Whatever its's disability, it still knows how to bark now and then. It has a companion, slightly larger ,which seems to see it as her duty to shut the other one up. Tom, the male member of this fifth wheel tribe is a large quiet and kind man who showed up at my door about eight last night with left over pizza that he claimed he was incapable of eating. This park is like that. I have never met an unkind person here and it has a sense of community which, while not oppressive, can be helpful. I tossed my trash out front this morning to take it to the dumpster once the sun was full up and it was time to see the beach. A man I have never met walked by, picked it up and took it with his own. It is that sort of place.

So we are settled for the weekend.A bike trip to town for a a Sunday paper and some milk may happen on Sunday, otherwise I intend to finish reading a book, listen to ball games and perhaps indulge in a nap.

So, Houston, as it was once famously said, Tranquility Base, here, The Eagle has landed.

Monday, October 5, 2009


The van still rules. You can believe all you want that you plan these trips and that you are the one in charge, but if the van is limping, it is in charge, and attention must be paid.

My departing post mentioned that the ignition was acting up on start. It seemed to believe that it was being asked to start by "remote." which was and add-on installed several years ago to allow one to start the van from outside the vehicle. People who live in very cold places and members of families of a certain ethnicity who live in New Jersey know all about these starters. Few Southern Californians know of them and less about installing them.

I needed this option for a variety of reasons none of which are important enough to repeat here. As I arrived in Morro Bay, it seemed to be getting worse and whether it was doing real damage was a question I couldn't answer.

The proprietor of the RV Park was as usual a font of knowledge and he understood the problem at least as well as I did. He suggested I go see "Pete." Pete ran a repair garage in the center of town which seem fixes everything that run on liquid fuel and is a mode of transportation. When I arrived I met "Lyle," as Pete was busy assuring a customer that no, the key to his trunk would not start his car and that was why it was now stuck in his ignition and he would certainly take care of it.

Lyle, a man of about 20 or 22 years of age approached and I started my by now well rehearsed story about how when I turned the key to start the van in the normal way, it appeared to be starting remotely, as in the lights would blink and the ignition buzzer would go off. If I was fortunate enough to get it running, the lights would continue to blink unless I touched the remote start control start button three times, then it would run normally. It had begun the day before I left, but only on the first start of the day. By the time I had left the campsite that morning, it was doing it anytime the van was turned off.

I, who freely admit that what I know about electricity can be put in my pocket and still have room for my wallet, was sure that the best I could hope for was a "mechanic's shrug" from anyone other than an installer of such devices, but was sure that any mechanic could at least disable it so that no damage would be done and it would no longer make me crazy every time I started the van.

Now I had this young man standing in front of me who nodded his head, asked for my keys, tried to start the van and quickly stopped. he then asked for the remote control, examined it, and pushed one of the three buttons, restarted the van, looked at the dashboard for a moment, turned it off an declared it fixed.

Well. Since I was playing the part of Stupid, I replied, "Huh?"

"Fixed," Lyle said.

"How?"I replied.

"By pushing this little button, this grey one here, next to the yellow start button, which has an unlock symbol on it, I unlocked the remote."

"It was locked?" Stupid asked, mystified.

"Yes," Lyle said casually, "see, it has a button to lock it and unlock it and then one to start it. You lock it so that another radio frequency doesn't start the van and it also acts as an alarm so that the lights blink. They will blink again if you disable it as you did a few minutes later."

"Oh," Stupid said, "How come when they sold it to me no one bothered to tell me that? In fact the previous control, which had to be replaced, had the same buttons. When they gave me that one they told me it was a universal control and I could ignore them since they would only work with an alarm."

"Dunno. But they were wrong."

"Why, after two years, did it 'lock'?"

"Somebody pushed the lock button. Maybe you did when you put it in your pocket. Hard to tell."

"Yes, hard to know," Stupid admitted.

Lyle shrugged, smiled, asked if there was anything else, I laughed, he laughed, Pete--who had now joined us--added to the merriment, said I didn't owe him anything for three minutes work and then actually thanked me for stopping in and gave me a cup of coffee.

Lyle went back to tasks which I certainly hoped taxed his brain more than my alleged problem. Stupid got in his van and continued north on U.S.101 still shaking his head.

I wish there were a moral to this story. There isn't. Lyle is a wise young man. I wish-- no hope--there are more like Lyle out there. We will need them all.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I have decamped. The phrase was more common in the 1880's and in England than here, but I have nonetheless.

Carlsbad is in the rear view mirror once again. The trip began before dawn since it involved driving the Los Angeles Freeways which are known to us that live south if it as the Combat Zone. Getting beyond LA to the north requires one to use their freeways and it is best to pick the day and time one wants to do so before setting out so you can have a reasonable expectation that you will be able to get through and out at the northern end of the San Fernando Valley in under five hours.

La Coachasita and I have found the any north bound travel is best started before dawn. Sunday is a good day to leave as LA people like all others are likely to get a late start that day. This weeks added attraction was the fog and 20 degree drop in temperature and and occasional drizzle as we passed through. Nothing keeps people off the LA Freeways more than a chill wind and a chilly morning. We were in Santa Barbara in three plus hours for which I was grateful , if sleep deprived.

Wind was a factor all day which is annoying when you are driving what amounts to a box faster than you wish. However, we were able to leave the main road and make several stops along the road and still reach Morro Bay by early afternoon. The wind on the beach was strong, but I had lunch there and it was in the 60's so not uncomfortable. It is , as they say "fresher" now and I will be rocked to sleep tonight. The clouds and rain had been left behind and the sun is bright and welcome. The locals are complaining that it is too cold. So far, I have found it quite refreshing. Unlike the spring trip certainly and the forecast for the northern coast is fair and perhaps a bit warmer for the rest the week.

This trip will last about a month. The driving, unlike the marathon of the spring, will be much less. Southern Oregon is the farthest I will go. The Coast will be first and then inland to visit the banks of the Rogue River, Asland, Medford, and then back south to the Redwoods National Forest. That is the plan, as you know, I am not good a keeping with plans, but one overriding desire does exist. I wan to go into the woods and sit and think and enjoy the quiet. The television seems not to work as it relies on one of those conversion boxes that no one here has had much luck with including myself. The Public Radio system in Oregon is good and the satellite radio works so long as it is not blocked by the giant trees or the cliffs along El Camino Real which will be the main route. This is the route of the famous Franciscan Missions, some, now nearly 300 years later, still operating after the Franciscan Friars led by Junipero Sierra blazed the trail to convert the "savages" to Catholicism. Others are ruins. All are interesting. We have been this way before and seen many of them on this, the first route north in California long before it was in the control of the United States. It is also now as U.S.101 and on my return I will travel through the area of California known as the "Lost Coast" since there is no road that runs along the ocean as Route 1, The Pacific Coast Highway does south of Legget. It is an odd, and in some ways an enchanted place of dirt farm roads and great trees as well as farms that run all the way to the surf. Grazing cows are sometimes seen wading in the surf there in warm weather.

So I and my faithful companion are once again off on a grand adventure. All our adventures are grand just in the fact that we manage them and get home. This will be the last of the year with only local trips hereafter. The van has a slight wound now, a glitch in the ignition system that makes the front battery drain in the night. There is a remote starter involved and it seems to be interfering with the normal starting process. It can be overcome, but I would like it to be fixed and as it happens there is a place here in Morro Bay that can look at it in the morning. If they can and it takes some time, I will still be south of San Francisco tomorrow night. That is why itineraries are rather useless. I would like to have it done, just to know something worse is not happening. It is not rocket science. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of electricity and the 12 volt system--I am not in that group--can make it stop, if not wholly repair it. I can live with either for now.

So it will be onward and northward for the next week and a slow pace, a pace this trip seems to need.

If you come along, I will try not to bore you. The places and people of interest are out there as always. I will try to find them and tell you of them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The Los Angeles Angels at Anahiem defeated the Texas Ranger last night in Anahiem. They are now the Western Division Champions.

Somewhere in Maryland, Jim Adenhart was smiling

As with all the alpha male celebratory nonsense that goes along with such victories, they all piled on each other on the field before they headed for the clubhouse and the obligatory loud music, champagne spraying, beer drinking, dancing by themselves and yelling at the top of their lungs.

When they got there, there were two things waiting. The manager, Mike Scioscia, and a jersey that had been in the dugout for every home game this year. Before any corks popped or cans were opened, they bowed their heads.

Before revelry came remembrance.

Kevin Jepsen is a young pitcher on this now this Championship Team. He is a rookie. Rookies are given jobs to do. This year, his was to take the the jersey with # 34 and ADENHART on the back out of the locker next to him and hang it in the dugout before every game. For Jepsen, this was no chore.

Scioscia reminded everyone what Nick had meant to them all and how he would be with them as long as they could make this season last. They owed him their best just as they owed it to each other. He was there all year, that is what teammates do for each other.

The corks popped, the silliness began as it always will in such moments in this game. When that was done, the team jogged en masse to the center field wall where Nick Adenhart's picture remains in mid-pitching motion. Some tapped his the face for luck, some bowed their heads, someone poured beer over the head of their teammate.

They spoke to reporters of what he meant to them this year, how they came out of their grief two months after his death playing badly at 29-29, and on June 11 and lost a particularly ugly game to the Tampa Bay Rays 11-1, the Manager closed the clubhouse and, among other things, ask them if this was how they wanted Nick to remember them? They were better than that.

Since then, the are 63-35.

Tori Hunter, the team's talented and loquacious centerfielder said of the young man he had befriended in spring training, " He should be here celebrating with we are celebrating his name. We're playing hard for him. Trust me. He is here in spirit and in love."

"We 're going to try to bring a ring back for him and give it to his parents. This is the first step."

Mike Butcher, the laconic pitching coach who has talked to the family once a week all summer said he was never the type to use a loss such as Nick's as motivation, but he thought the players did.

"You never know how people grieve," he told a reporter. "but there was someone there for everyone of our guys every day, and that's what you expect of a teammate." As he looked at the larger than life picture of Nick Adenhart, Butcher went on, " That's bigger than baseball."

In a week or so, the Angels will continue their season. They will most likely play the Boston Red Sox in a series that will determine if they get to play for the American League Championship.

Nick would be proud of them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Whither Reamus?

No one has asked, but a short post here will bring you up to date. I have been enjoying being home and finally getting my book edited, reviewed, and now after someone else proofreads it, it will be off to the publisher. There will be more about it here when it finally gets done.

I spend my days finishing that, catching up with some construction projects that needed doing, fighting a rear guard action with the IRS over what is a minor problem but seems to have reached Biblical proportions as we shove various pieces of paper back and forth and can’t agree as to who has the correct arithmetic.

There is a fall trip planned to the Oregon Coast if everything falls together soon. I hope to leave in late September or early October. They actually have some lovely weather there then most years, although after this last trip, I plan to take lots of water repellant clothes.

La Coachasita has spent most of her summer in hospital having various things diagnosed. Nothing serious as it turns out. She was home with me for two weeks but is back now to have a fitting replaced on one of the air ride bags in the rear which developed a slow leak. The fear of steering pump repairs and transmission failures have been allayed and she is wearing her nearly 105,000 miles well. A waxing and a good cleaning inside makes her look like a new van.

As the masthead on the blog here says, this is mostly about the places I go, things I see, and the people I meet, so the words in between are often scarce. When I get back out there amongst them, I will no doubt find new things to tell about and describe.

I hope all of you have had a wonderful summer and a cooler one than we have. This is supposed to be paradise and if it is, it was a very hot one this year, I have recovered now, but life without air conditioning became a challenge for a month or so. Somehow, north of here in the only big fire to date, they managed to burn more square miles than are covered by the City of Chicago. It was mostly in the Los Padres National Forest and it burns still. It is not fully contained some six weeks after it started. When the rains this winter, it will not be a fun time for anyone up there i the hills.

Stay well, do good works, be nice to one another, and you will hear from me from the road in a month or so.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Search for Peace

The California Angels played a three game series with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore this past week. While the Orioles are an unremarkable team this year, in last place in the American League Eastern Division, the Angels continue to rise from the ashes of the early summer and remain in front of the Texas Rangers in the race for a Division Championship.

What made the series more memorable than the Angels winning it was a visitor to the clubhouse, Jim Adenhart.

There are stories that make headlines and then are gone as are the people about whom they are told. They affect for the moment. Others have reminders and affect a group of people for a long time. The story of Nick and Jim Adenhart is one of those.

Some may remember the story of Nick Adenhart, chronicled in many places as well as here: Jim’s son Nick was in an automobile accident with two friends several hours after pitching his first win of the season in April, the second of his young, major league life, and likely cementing a place in the starting rotation for the only organization for which he ever played. Before morning he was dead. So were two of his close friends. A third, a promising young college catcher, was so badly injured he will never play the game he loves so much again.

This weekend, Jim spent an hour or more with the Angel players and coaches. He continues to heal after four months after the loss of his son. Jim still lives in Hagerstown where Nick grew up in Maryland and while he still grieves for his son in his own private way, he saw the same in the team this week. It is the first time since the spring that he has seen them and the first time he has talked extensively about Nick and how he has coped with his loss.

Baseball is business. A place where players are bought and sold for the only purpose the teams exist: Winning. Yet somehow this is different. It is the death of a son, a co-worker, a friend. The Angel players and front office people, too still grieve for Nick. His picture, name, and number are on the outfield fence in Angel Stadium. It is common for players on the way to the bullpen to pat it for luck, or for an outfielder to write his name in the dirt of the warning track in front of it before taking up his position before the game begins. Nick’s locker is as he left it that night in April in the home clubhouse

The Adenharts were by no means a nuclear family. Jim and Nick’s mother Janet are divorced and Nick was Jim’s reason to exist for the past few years. He was invited to the game by Mike Scioscia, the Angel manager and the coaches and players who have kept in touch with him through these four months of what Jim readily admits have been torment. Jim copes with that by going to bereavement counseling and in the four months since it happened reading several books about the grieving process. He says that now and then he feels he has a handle on it but then something comes back from nowhere and sets him back again. This month it is the dreams that started a month ago and always it is the heartache that does not want to leave him. Jim knows there is no blueprint on how to deal with this. He is making his own way, but he is pleased by how much the Angel personnel have made it easier for him. He admits that when he walked into the clubhouse on Sunday he was taken aback to see his son’s locker and uniform shirt at first yet it helped Jim said, when he learned that the equipment managers still designate one in every visitors clubhouse as well. A road uniform, with Nick’s name and the number 34 on it, hangs in it as if awaiting his return. He appreciates how much it means to have the support of the players that knew him and the coaches who made it possible for Nick to dream and then succeed. He believes in the end, it is good that they are keeping his memory alive.

In those horrible hours after “the call” came to his hotel, two men stayed with Jim until he was ready to go home. Jim Butcher, the Angel’s pitching coach and Tim Mead, the vice president of communications are still in touch with him on a weekly basis. They have been super, Jim says, especially since he knows how much they have to think about besides him. They were in the waiting room when the surgeons gave him the news. They were there for support. They were there at the beginning and they still are.

After Nick’s death, the team suffered a series of injuries that left them reeling. The players say Nick’s loss was as hard to recover from as the injuries. They surged in July and August. As they did, Jim found it possible to become a fan again. He says it was hard at first, but he found himself checking the sports section, and then watching games, and now his interest in the team that took the gamble and gave his sore armed son the chance to succeed is rekindled. Jim Adenhart is an Angel fan forever.

Jim tries hard not to relive the past. On Nov 9th the trial of Andrew Thomas Gallo will begin in Orange County California. Jim has no intention of attending. He says he tries to harbor no resentment toward the man now charged with three counts of second degree murder and other charges which could send him to jail for as long as 50 years. Jim believes it was fate and that if it hadn’t been Nick, it would have been someone else. He has no reason to want to relive something he is trying so hard to forget.

Ironically, two weeks after he came home and buried his son, Jim had reason to remember. While driving through an intersection in Hagerstown, his car was hit, as Nick’s had been, by a pickup truck. He was two blocks from home. He suffered minor injuries. He says that something or someone told him to take evasive action, to hit the accelerator so he didn’t take the full brunt of the crash. Jim believes that and that belief helps keep him going.

In his eulogy, Jim said the happiest day of his life was the day Nick was born. To commemorate it, Nick’s home town of Hagerstown will name a Little League field after him this year. Jim says he is sure there will be as many blue crabs—Nick’s favorite food—consumed as there will be fond memories of his son.

Some men live 80 years and never touch as many people as Nick did in his brief life. For Jim right now that is both a blessing and a curse but it is how it is and he is learning to live with that.

On August 24, 2009, Nick Adenhart would have been 23 years old.

Ed note: The background for this piece was taken from the LA TIMES story of August 17, 2009, by Mike DiGiovanna. It is used by permission.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Japanese, idiomatic, translated as:

It can’t be helped” or alternatively, “nothing can be done.” In the common speech of modern Japanese, it is the equivalent of “It is how it is.”

The word is an echo of times past, a word that described the feelings of many after December 7, 1941. It was enunciated by the Nisei and the Isei people of the West Coast of the United States in their language. Yet it also described the feelings of their neighbors of all ethnicities.

The country was in one afternoon clearly, irrevocably, and violently at war with Japan. There was confusion, panic, a sense of moral outrage that another nation could do this to us, and yet there it was. It had happened. We had to fight back in everyway we knew how.


When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor that lazy Sunday morning, some of the fighter aircraft knew they might not be able to return to their carriers. They had been instructed to proceed to a small uninhabited island and wait for a submarine to pick them up. The island was Niihau, and what happened thereafter is known as the Niihau Incident. As told after the war, only two damaged Zero fighters ran low on fuel after being damaged in an engagement with the few American aircraft that managed to get airborne. The pilots went to Niihau. When they circled the island they learned of the first failure of Japanese intelligence. The island was quite inhabited. One of the pilots radioed that he would not land but would return to Pearl, find a suitable target into which he would crash his plane. Yet a minute later, he inexplicably flew nose down into the ocean. Airman 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi, decided that he would land and reach the submarine he believed was there waiting for him.

As he passed over the island again, he found it was better prepared for war than Oahu had been since the level areas in the pastures and other places that looked suitable for a landing were purposely strewn with boulders and other debris. He finally found a small flat area near a house and crashed his plane there.

The islanders, who at this point knew nothing of the Pear Harbor attack, were amazed to see this sleek plane with the red bullseye painted on it’s side as it passed over the island. Niihau was one of many kapu, or forbidden islands in the chain. They were private, owned usually, as was the case here, by an absentee landlord to which they had been given by a previous Hawaiian Monarch. The man who lived nearest pulled the pilot from the wreck and in schoolboy English, Nishikaichi, asked if he was Japanese since to him he appeared to be. He was not although there was several ethnic Japanese living on Niihau. Remarkably the man took him to his house and his wife made him breakfast. Nishikaichi thought that a landing party would be there for him soon from the submarine, so gave little thought to what he said, or did. The villagers even gave him a luau.


The rest of his stay there is a confusing one. He told his story to one of the Japanese residents and his wife, who for reasons of their own did not tell the other islanders all of what he had said. The landlord, restricted from travelling to the island by the military was eventually brought to the island when the residents went to get him after learning that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and they had in their midst one of those who had done it. The submarine had been in the area but had long ago been ordered to Oahu to sink any American relief ships that might try to enter Pearl Harbor. Airman 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi would not be saved. He died in a colossal confusion, one version of which can be found at niihau-incident.htm. There is a monument in his hometown in Japan which is inscribed with what are said to be a version of the events and he is described as having “died in battle.”

The importance of the affair is disputed. What makes it noteworthy at all is that it is thought by some that a naval intelligence report forwarded to the Pentagon regarding the incident stating that the “likelihood that Japanese residents previously believed loyal to the United States may aid Japan” was one of the driving forces behind the decision to establish Military Areas in the United States. The imprisonment of more than 200,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast for the duration of the war followed.


Strange things happened in this time of confusion and panic. Choices were made. Ralph Lazo went with his Nisei friends when they signed up to be taken to the internment camp. They were his schoolmates. They were members of the same social club that had a baseball team that they all played on and if they were leaving, he was going with them. Ralph was of Irish American and Mexican heritage, but the authorities just assumed, in those chaotic days, that he was another of “them.” he was sent to Manzanar in the Owens Valley of California. His friends were sent to a camp at Heart Mountain Wyoming. Undaunted, Ralph became the star pitcher for the high school team in the camp, the “Manzaknights” and was on of the graduates of the Manzanar High School, which existed long enough to graduate a class in 1942,’43 and ‘44.


The interment policy was the choice of the military to control the “yellow peril,” and possible enemies amongst us. Americans were frightened, confused, and panicked. The “Japs” had to be contained or bombs would soon fall on Los Angeles. Indeed, there is a man I know now who lived through those times on the West Coast who still believes it was right. “It couldn’t be helped,” he says to me now, “nothing else could have been done.”


For the Nisei, Japanese who were citizens, it was the worst of times. For the Isei, who were Japanese aliens living here but not citizens it was worse. Initially they were all taken from their homes and businesses and placed at racetracks and stadiums to wait. They were encouraged to move east at first, to just leave. Some did and spent the war in the Midwest or East in relative peace. Most could not because their money and homes had been seized. When the government realized that most had no place to go they needed a plan. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which established Military Areas in the United States and the removal of any person who might threaten the war effort and permitted the internment camps--called by even President Roosevelt “concentration camps”--to be established and they were shipped there, each with a tag affixed to their clothing with the number of their family. By November 1942 the “relocation” was complete. A loyalty oath was asked of all internees and one question asked if they swore allegiance to the United States and only the United States. The Isei were torn, if the said yes, they denied their Japanese citizenship, if they said no they were considered traitors. Most said no. They were sent to a camp at Tule Lake California which had a higher degree of security, a worse climate, and worse living conditions.

The Japanese found varying degrees of comfort at each camp. At Manzanar, they found barracks that had been hastily built by a cadre of Japanese “volunteers” who preceded them there made of wood and tarpaper that leaked wind, rain, cold air, and an arid climate which was alien to them. On the first night there, they were given a sack and told to fill it with straw for their bed. Some of the younger ones protested the treatment, but the elders counseled patience. Shikataganai, they said, it can’t be helped, and there is nothing to be done. In the hierarchical society they were used to, this carried great weight and most accepted that this was how it would be. They settled into life in the camp. They started a newspaper, baseball teams, built gardens in the arid land, sacrificing their own water supplies to water them. They built a cemetery, furniture from scrapes of packing crates and ate in dining halls. There were 10,000 of them on 500 acres with no privacy, sharing rooms, and showers without regard to sex. They did not thrive. They endured the worst conditions of their lives. By September of 1942, 10,000 Japanese were living in 504 barracks in 36 “blocks” at Manzanar. Each block had 14 barracks of four rooms each. Any combination of four people occupied one room of 20x25 feet. A lamp, oil stove, four cots, and blankets were the only furnishing provided. They made the rest.


By 1943, some of the younger men and women from the camps were permitted to join others who had been in the Army when the war broke out. Many of the men were sent to Europe to fight the Germans in the Italian campaign. They fought bravely in a segregated unit, the now famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, as part of the 100th Infantry Battalion which was made up of the Hawaiian Territorial Guard. They were known as the “Purple Heart” regiment for the number of wounds and casualties as well as the medals awarded. Thus, there was the incongruous sight of a blue or gold star hanging on the barracks of a family living behind barbed wire surrounded by guard towers who had either a son or daughter in the military, or one who had died for his country.

One received the Medal of Honor, the highest Military decoration America can bestow on a member if the military. It is, by criteria, given only for an act that a rational person would not find acceptable as a lawful direct order from a superior, yet saves the lives of others. Pfc. Sadao S. Munemori, whose mother and siblings were suffering the cold, heat, and indifference of their fellow citizens inside the barbed wire at Manzanar, performed such an act. He purposely jumped on a live grenade and was credited with saving his entire Platoon.


In 1944, the court challenge to their detention, brought on behalf of the internees, had made its way to the United States Supreme Court. The Court held, in a decision as convoluted as any they had handed down up to that time, that the government had the Constitutional authority to evacuate citizens based solely on national ancestry while separately ruling that loyal citizens cannot be held against their will. The detainees remained in the camps.

The war with Japan ended on August 14, 1945. By November 21st The Manzanar War Relocation Center was closed. They were free to go, where was now the only question. The government provided transportation for most by train and bus back to their former hometowns. When they arrived, many found that there businesses had been seized, as had their homes. They no longer belonged there. In three short years their lives had been altered forever. Nothing could be done they were told… Shikataganai again…yet they started over taking what work they could, becoming the gardeners for California houses, some smaller than they owned before they were internees. They survived and their children flourished and their Government, 43 years later, officially apologized and awarded each if the known 88,000 survivors $20,000 for the inconvenience.

Perhaps it was the policy. Perhaps it was their loyalty, but the irony was simply this: No Japanese American or Japanese alien living in the United States during World War II was ever arrested for, or charged with espionage.


The Manzanar War Relocation Center was established as a National Historical Site in 1992, and is maintained by the National Park Service. They are slowly reconstructing certain parts of the camp. The original Auditorium, used for many years as a warehouse to house county vehicles has been restored as an interpretative center. A dining hall and guard tower has been faithfully restored and a barracks is underway with the help of volunteers and donations from the public. This place, so haunting in its desolation will not soon be forgotten here on the wind swept floor of the Owens Valley.

On hot summer evening, or in the cold of the late fall, one can stand here and look at Mount Whitney in the distance and wonder what it would have been like to be here in that chaotic time when these people were feared only because they looked like the enemy. Two thirds of those held here against their will for the duration of the war were American citizens by birth. It is not hard to project those feelings today into this Age of Sacred Terror. Could it happen again? Could an entire ethnicity be questioned as to their loyalty?

Perhaps it could and perhaps not. It surely does not have to be as the elders decided.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pelicans In Nebraska

The itinerary for my last trip said nothing about Nebraska. Yet somehow I managed to spend six days there.

In the middle of the trip, I spent a weekend at Lake Ogallala Nebraska while I followed the Lincoln Highway and then The Oregon Trail. The campground was pleasant, a state park, one of three in a complex surrounding Lakes McConaughy and Ogallala, lakes all formed by the Kingsley Dam completed in 1941 to collect irrigation water for this part of the state.

Nebraska is a state of two climates. In the east it is humid and warm yet in the far west and north it is dry and seems arid. Dams such as Kingsley were necessary to have the kind of agriculture one sees here. The area to the north and east is dominated by the placid Platte River. I never realized how long or important the river was to the state until this trip. It seems as if it goes on forever and its placid waters, legend has it, were the origin of the name of the state, taken from the language of one of the six Indian tribes that once occupied the land.

Many think of Nebraska as a vanilla, a boring stretch of country to cross on the way to somewhere else. While I had some experience in Omaha where the uber rich Warren Buffet makes his home and the home for every company he has ever bought, the rest of the state, except for the Interstate was mostly a mystery. In my days there, I found it a place full of surprises and a substantial amount of history.

I had entered the state from the east after my stays in Minnesota and Iowa in the hopes of finding dry ground. Most of my spring was spent looking in vain for dry ground. I was following the Lincoln Highway at the time as well as the Oregon and Mormon Trails. I stayed a night at the eastern end of the state in a state campground which was in a city park in Grand Island. One night was enough in this urban oasis which, while pleasant enough, was plagued by bad weather, wind, and an annoying proximity to Interstate 80 which made the sound of trucks a constant companion.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast was for no more than light rain in the northern part of the state. I decided to detour up there and see the parts I had never seen before, having passed through the southern part as most do the other times I had been there.

There is a scenic byway route designation given to State Route 2 which runs to the north and west across the state. It goes through the “Sandhills” part of the state which is the drier northern area where farming is by irrigation and many of the states more scenic yet less travelled areas are located. The Sand Hills are mostly written as the “sandhills” locally, by the way, while most reference works use the more plausible two word version. The largest place is Loup City on the Middle Loup River with a population about 5,400. It is the County seat of Sherman County and seems a pleasant place with a large courthouse and what seemed to me a small town surrounding it. It seemed odd to learn that only three people within 15 miles self identify as farmers. The majority are in service industries. My stay there was a short but well documented by a number of citizens on the street near the courthouse who seemed to take a curious interest in the funny looking man from California and what he was taking pictures of on a Saturday morning. Taken all together, Loup City, it'a square and lovely park seemed a pleasant if quiet place this Saturday in May.

I had heard of Anselmo before I saw it from a minimart clerk at a gasoline stop in Grand Island. I was warned, “not to miss the church.” What is in Anselmo is the “Cathedral of the Sandhills,” also known as St. Anslem’s Catholic Church, which is most remarkable for its size and architecture as well as its geographic location. It is not what one would expect find on the south side of SR 2 in Nebraska town of under 200 souls. It is impeccably kept and, unfortunately for me, wholly deserted on this day. I waited a bit as I took pictures, hoping someone would come so I could learn the story of it and not have to resort to the Internet. I have since and know little more about it except that the architecture is gothic. The Rectory is a craftsman house with added details to match the church. There is no long convoluted history recorded that I could find that documented how it came to be there or why it was built, although it is generally documented that Anselmo was built by and for the railroad and perhaps at its most populous had 500 residents. Except as first the rail terminus and then a stop on the way to Alliance, it seems to have had no other reason to have been there at all. As I wandered, I found the two other "attractions" of Anselmo. On the Main Street there is a jail built with no nails and a sod house, a “soddy” to the locals, who likely had ancestors that lived in one. There is a small grocery, a bar, post office, and the mandatory grain elevator to round out the “downtown” scene.

The sandhills seem an arid place, but that notion is deceptive. The grass-covered hills are of fine sand like soil that absorbs any moisture like a sponge, supports a varied crop of wild grasses, and gives it back to the people here as clear as crystal water in the shallow lakes and streams such as the Loup River. With only one person every square mile, it is an astronomer’s paradise due to the lack of light pollution. Some would say it is a lonely place, others would find it relaxing. I found it of interest but not a place I would want to put roots. It has a remarkable history not so much agricultural as old west. In the early railroad days it was a tourist area due to the many mineral springs. There is a small, very rustic State Park at Silver Springs along the road to Anselmo, one of the few places left to memorialize the places people came to seek the “restorative powers” of the spas and springs. The Complete Roadside Guide to Nebraska published by the University of Nebraska Press and written by Alan Boyes and Wright Morris is a phenomenal source of information not only about the sandhills but also about many other unique aspects of the state.

The day moved on, I reached Lake Ogallala. It is part of a larger complex formed by the Kingsley Dam and includes Lake McConaughy. It is an enormous place with at least three campgrounds and the dam is considered a marvel of engineering for its placement in such sandy soil. Bald Eagles are there nearly year round now as they have discovered the warm waters from the power plant. Lake Ogallala is the smaller lake in front of the dam and was formed when the gates were closed in 1941 from the area where soil had been removed to shore up the plates of the dam.

If one is lucky as I was, the campsite will face the lake across a flat expanse of grass from the shore. I noticed the usual suspects, the Western Grebe, Mallards, and ducks of all sorts were present.

After setting up and during one of the breaks in the light rain I went to see what the fishermen were catching just beyond the back of my campsite. It was trout mostly and Pelicans were fishing there too but keeping their distance.

It is rare that I am truly surprised by very much along the highway after the 103,000 miles La Coachasita and I have traveled but this was a first. Here were not one but numerous White Pelicans, with a nine-foot wingspan which at maturity weigh over 20 pounds. They are enormous, gregarious birds that move in formation yet unlike the Brown saltwater cousins do not “plunge” dive, but merely dip their extraordinarily large bill for fish while paddling on the surface. They have a lower jaw pouch which is much less discernible in flight than their Brown cousins. They fish in collegial groups, often surrounding fish and have a horn, or bump on the top of their bill that is only there as mating plumage on both the male and female and is shed thereafter. While I was lucky enough to find them fishing in abundance here at a crowded lake in Nebraska they prefer desolate shallow lakes and feed on nearly any type of fish and the occasional salamander. They are silent except when terrified so have no “call.” They nest on the ground and are partial to brackish water for their colonies. The male and female are indistinguishable in color and size. They share nesting duties, including construction and hatching the normal two eggs. Their nests are usually many miles from their feeding sites.

They are endangered but have repopulated in recent years and are now listed as a “breed of Least Concern.” 20 percent of the population breed in the Great Salt Lake Basin. There breeding range is into Alberta and northern Ontario and they winter in Mexico and California.

At the end of a long day of sightseeing, I had found the most remarkable. Here on a crowded lake north of Ogallala Nebraska, I saw my first White Pelicans. I would learn that they were abundant in other places. Despite my penchant for out of the way places I had never seen one or knew they existed.

I found them a marvelous surprise at the end of a day of surprises and their discovery and the others are a reminder of why I still do this. It is to see things I may not yet have seen and may never see again.

I am now able to say, if asked, or even if not, that I have seen Pelicans in Nebraska.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Improbable Perfection

Jonathan Sanchez throws baseballs for a living. He does not throw them exceedingly well, but good enough to be a left handed pitcher in the Major Leagues for the San Francisco Giants. Until 10 days ago, he was a sometimes starter and relief pitcher for the team for two years and part of a third. He began his professional career at the age of 23, pitched two full years in the high minors and then in 2006 had a “cup of coffee” as they say with the Giants. The next year he went back to Fremont in AAA ball before coming back to the Giants for good that year pitching only 52 innings, yielding 57 hits and 28 walks. The scouting reports said he was prone to inconsistency and wildness. He is now 26 years old.

Yet on July 10, 2009, he did the improbable.

Sanchez is not having a good year. He had won only two games, lost eight, and found that the starting role he thought would be his was gone. He was languishing in the bullpen wondering about it all. He had worked hard in the spring to become the starter he had always hoped to be. Old habits came back to haunt him when the season started. He walked too many, stuck out too few, and had trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark. A month ago the Giants had signed the future Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson who had made his mark on baseball as an Arizona Diamondback, suffered indignity and injury as a New York Yankee, has won 303 games, pitched a no hitter, won a World Series, and was clearly not going to sit behind Jonathan Sanchez .

Tonight it was his turn. But he had hurt his shoulder in his last start, so manager Bruce Bochy went back to Jonathan Sanchez. He called his father in Puerto Rico and told him he was starting again after three weeks. His father got on a plane and arrived in San Francisco at midnight.

At 7:05 on a Friday night, the 10th day in July , Jonathan Sanchez threw strike one to the San Diego Padres lead off hitter and shortstop named Everth Caberra to start the game in front of more than 30,000 fans in his home ball park.

Three electrifying hours later, he had faced only 28 Padre batters, one more than the minimum because his third baseman required three bounces and a bruised chest to pick up one of the many ground balls he threw this night. When it was done, the same Everth Caberra stood at home plate, the eleventh Padre of the night to admire strike three.

Jonathan Sanchez had pitched the first no hitter for the San Francisco Giants since the Bi-Centennial Year of 1976, and the first by a Giant pitcher in San Francisco since 1975. A young man who has struggled is whole, albiet short, career has now done what many great ones have never done. Had his third baseman been able to pick up a routine ground ball, he would have joined an elite group who allowed no base runners and pitched a perfect game.

Jonathan Sanchez has joined some of the best that have ever played the game, including the Randy Johnson whom he had replaced. His father was on the steps of the dugout when it was over, one of the first to congratulate him.

"It was awesome," said Jonathan Sanchez, it was a gift for his father. It was the first time he had ever seen him pitch a professional baseball game.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


“…home is the sailor, home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill…”
Robert Louis Stevenson

All journeys must end. In a day this one will too. It has ranged over 9,000 miles, 22 states, and two countries. It has gone well and fast. I have been in the desert twice, the mountains a lot and on the Right and Left Coast and a substantial part of the northern part of Middle America. Nothing significant has broken either inside or outside my faithful road warrior and companion, La Coachasita. One roof leak, now so many miles and months ago, it is just a dim memory considering that we have suffered high winds and rain for a majority of the trip before and since. We have endured three tornado alerts, one actual evacuation and the coldest, wettest spring since 1962 the weather service says. Yet as I drove to my last stop it still felt it was a good one.

The heat has finally come and we have stopped for one last time. It is time to kick the tires, make sure everything is tied down, throw out the trash, and gird for the trip through the “combat zone” of eastern Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside, California. It was once a paradise for urban planners but now an overpopulated watered desert, with a foreclosure rate as high as anywhere in the country and an unemployment rate to match. It is to me a hot and annoying drive. When last driven in the Zen like state of the last day on the road, a woman doing 50 miles per hour in an outside lane (there are six), was driving with her knees while she banged out a text message on her cell phone. As I drove past her by moving into the inner lanes I was astonished to notice at how few times she looked up at the road. It is the road home so it must be taken and if another like her is found this trip, well, it is just my welcome back to Southern California. One Twain-like commentator once said that the country once tilted and all the nuts rolled to the Left. While driving Interstate 15, it is easy to agree with the impression.

The last of the trip has been through a bit more of Idaho and then on to northern Nevada. Idaho State University is in Pocatello where we had two days of reasonable weather, their first of their spring/summer and one of violent storms as the next front rolled through. It is a nice city in this time of year built with the University nearly in the center.

My route followed a bit more of the Lincoln Highway, U.S. 50 in this part of the country. I wended my way to Carson City, the little known and less visited capital of Nevada. The Governor’s Mansion and the Legislature are on or near the main street. It is a small but bustling place with the usual combination of pretty parks, architecture and the faux glitz of the casinos which drive the economy in the state. At a stop overnight in Fernley just east of Reno, I found an RV Park with neighbors who lived there all year who had, as many others, left California for here for retirement some years ago to avoid state income tax, smog and the high cost of living. The statistics on foreclosures in Nevada are frightening. 50 per cent of the homeowners live in houses that now would sell for less than what they paid for them. This was just a sad fact to my travel trailer dwelling neighbors who had a cement slab, a patch of lawn of four by six, two flower box planters, three landscape lights and the monthly rent to worry about. They saw it as a good, if greatly downsized life.

The next day moved on as I kept driving in a way that perhaps suggest my disinterest in comgestion and tourism. I found it tedious, too busy and too hot. l I reached Mono Lake on U.S. 395 in the Sierra Mountains where, due to the altitude, coolness prevailed. I stopped at a campground near Yosemite that I had visited before. It was quiet and the weather pleasant in contrast to the heat I have found here near Lone Pine, California.

On my way down the Owens Valley I visited the World War II Japanese Internment Camp called Manzanar where many of the West Coast Japanese-Americans were either guarded or “concentrated” depending on who described it during the War after their initial evacuation to assembly areas. It is a haunting place, a one mile square that was surrounded by barbed wire. The remnants of barracks foundations and a reconstructed guard tower remind us of lost civil liberties in the name of panic. The visitor’s center is in what were then the school, auditorium and gymnasium. Inside is a reconstructed barracks area that was typically assigned to a family of four and preserved other artifacts, such as a “home plate” made of wood scrapes used in the evening pickup games between the barracks. Those who lived here tell eloquent stories about their time here. There is so much to tell, so many points of view. For it was a place of paradox and suffering, where 1,028 left this and other western camps to enlist in the Army that guarded them and their parents and fought bravely in units such as the 442nd Battalion and the 100th Regiment in Italy. Among the GIs in Italy, it was known as the “Purple Heart Battalion.” One received the Medal of Honor. It had one of the highest casualty rates of any unit of a comparable size. As President Truman said tothem at a ceremony after the war,” You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you won.”

The sons, and in some cases the daughters, of these men and women of Manzanar did that for a country that treated their parents as terrorist suspects, rounded up and sent here in March of 1942 and given hay to make matresses because of their ethnicity without regard to their loyalties, guarantees of due process, and a host of laws because it was easier than finding who might indeed be spies among them. As it happens, when the war was over, no Japanese American was found guilty, arrested or suspected of being a spy.

Life here was hard, cold in winter, dusty and hot in summer. The wind is always here. When the war ended they were simply released and trained or bussed “home” to find that their businesses and homes had been confiscated for no other reason than they were Japanese. They started over as laborers, gardeners, and housekeepers in homes smaller at times than the ones they once owned. The United States apologized to the survivors when it got around to it in the 1988 and awarded a sum for “reparations” to the then still surviving 60,000 of 125,000 original “detainees.” Manzanar and Mikato at American Falls Idaho are reminders. Sad ones to be sure that fear of mere ethnicity must be tempered with a healthy belief in a citizen’s Constitutional rights and the rule of law.

Lone Pine is uniquely situated geographically. It is the only town half way between the lowest point in North America at Death Valley 100 miles to the east (285 feet below sea level at Badwater) and Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the 48 states, to the west. It has the distinction of being the home to many of the competitors every year for the Death Valley Ultra Marathon, which begins on the floor of Death Valley at Badwater and winds upward, across two mountain ranges then up Mt Whitney. It lasts for 135 Miles. It is run by what some call “extreme athletes,” or “adventure athletes” who routinely race in triathlons and other “extreme” events. Some have less kind names for them. These competitors apparently have nothing else to do on the second weekend in July than try to “run” in up to 135 degree heat in the Valley up a cumulative vertical height of 4,700 feet. This year they will come from seventeen countries—50 will be doing it for at least the second time—and consist of a field of 17 women and 71 men. The youngest is 19 and the oldest is 67. They have 60 hours to try to finish. The record holder is from Brazil who finished in 22 hours and 51 minutes. The average age is 46 and the average finishing time is 40-48 hours. There is no prize money per se although there are sponsors. Anyone finishing under 48 hours is given what is described as the coveted “Badwater Belt buckle.” This has been officially been going on now for ten years, although there were more loosely organized races before that. What it takes is a desire to know what one’s body can stand and a type of insanity with which I am not familiar.

After Lone Pine, U.S. 395 goes nearly straight south and meets I-15 near Barstow California. When I reach the junction, I will still be two hundred miles from home, yet the trip will be over. It has been interesting as I had expected, beautiful in so many ways, and a three month odyssey of family visits, quiet peaceful times, new places and people.

Thank you for coming with me. I enjoyed your company. I hope you have liked some of the places we have been. There will be more about some of them later.

As it comes near enough to fill my windshield, I know I will be glad to have come full circle, back to the warm and welcoming place I call home.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

One Road Leads To Another

The road has taken me to Casper Wyoming and, at the risk of offending anyone attached to the place, it is far from my favorite.

Casper, incorporated in 1889 here on the banks of the Platte River, was an important place in the rush west. It is point of convergence of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trail as well as some other lesser known ones, and an important part of the short lived Pony Express. It is said now, only half jokingly, that Casper has a lot of gas--the natural kind. It is known to the locals as an “abundance of natural resources.” Casper County now numbers 70,000 and is the energy hub for the Rocky Mountains.

It is, to my eyes, a hard scrabble place. Rough in a way not like other parts of the state. While it is mountainous it has a flat look, rolling to an altitude of about 5300 feet with peaks nearby of 7,000 feet. It snows but it gives the impression of an arid place. It is warmer here now than in Cheyenne, the larger capital city, but that is a meteorological anomaly which will not last.

What the weather has done is send every man woman and child out on this sunny Sunday to play with their toys. They have many and only a short time to enjoy them. The roads are clogged with huge pickup trucks trailing boats and ATVs on the oddest of trailers and all the motorcycles you would ever want to see. They are all traveling faster than the speed limit of course which makes the amateurs all the more obvious. After inspecting some wagon ruts and renewing my acquaintance with Fort Laramie I have quit for the day in the hope that they will all go back to work tomorrow, that the rain will not return in full force as forecast, that things will be quieter and perhaps more pleasant. I will move on to more pastoral places although I am sure they will be after Rawlings and Rock Springs and the rest of the mining regions to the south and west.

The Lincoln Highway now is two days of Interstate boredom where the road bed was usurped. I head north on U.S.30 again which is now a part of the history of the immigrant roads west. It is interesting in its way for the early artifacts left behind and the places it passes through. The trails split here, the Oregon Trail being the primary follower of this route. Along the way there are a number of Mormon settlements. After settling in Salt Lake, Joseph Smith sent missionaries even in the earliest days to what is now Idaho and Nevada. The town of Montpelier Idaho was so named because it was his home town in Vermont .

Nearby, there is Paris, in Bear Lake County, the home of a large and very old Mormon Tabernacle. It’s size is quite out of proportion to that of the town, but such edifices seem to have been a hallmark of the early missionaries.. Bear County is also home to the vast Bear Lake, tucked into the very south east corner of Idaho. At this time of year appears as if it has yet to be discovered. There is a small state park which sits on the edge and a day area on the other side of it near Paris. The ranger tells me that they are both busy places in the summer, mostly people from Utah who come for the day to use the expanse of beach, fish, water ski, and run their jet skis in random patterns around the lake. It is a peaceful place now. The sun even comes out to greet me and an evening outside is a welcome diversion. There are two other campers here, the vanguard of a larger group who have reserved all 22 spaces providing electricity for RVs. It is some sort of office gathering according to a woman in the advance party, a fan of San Diego, that trades stories with me in the fading light.

If I had known that I would have found the migration of the western settlers across the continent so interesting, I might have paid better attention in my history classes. There are a number of well preserved wagon trails, a place known as “Registry Rock” where the new, Oregon bound settles chipped their names. It became a favorite rest stop. There are markers to record the skirmishes with the Shoshoni Indians who got very tired of watching an endless parade of oxen powered wagons moving through the Snake River valley showing little or no respect for the Bison herds by killing more of them than they could eat and generally treating the Indians as if they were just in the way.

For many years the presence of the American Fur Trading Company in the area had done much to keep the Indians and the travelers peaceful, but it pulled out in 1850, leaving the Indians without a market for pelts and more angry with the whites than before. The wagon trains knew that if they were to have trouble with the Indians it would be here on this relatively flat part of the trail. It is a fiction however, that these “Wagon Trains” set out on lonely, singular journeys. Much of the time the trail was host to five or six trains at once within twenty miles of each other as they made their way to their new home. This is not to suggest the trail was an easy one. Most days started at four AM in order to be on the trail by eight. They would travel three miles on a bad day, twenty on a good one. They would stop when the light gave out and do it all again the next day, day after day after day. Often they would stop long enough to excavate a new, safer route for themselves and those that followed. The Indians did not understand the migration or why they needed to “desecrate the land.”

While there were skirmishes and men and women from the trains were killed, they were due more to arrogance, misunderstanding, and horse stealing. More people died of exhaustion, starvation, and bad weather than Indian attacks on this road west. Generally relations with the indigenous people were reasonable along the route and they were often hired to show the travelers the best places to ford streams and the very large rivers such as the Platte and Snake and later the Colombia.

Massacre Rocks State Park, just west of Pocatello Idaho purports to be the site of a a battle true to it’s’ name. Six “emigrants” as they are fond of calling them on the historical markers, died there from two separate wagon trains traveling very close together. They died in pursuit of the Indians who were more intent on stealing horses than hurting anyone.

I am at rest in the Snake River Valley now, which is more interesting for its archeology than the wagon highway established along its’ banks. The State Park is at a site where Bonneville Lake, due to flooding, broke free from a natural dam releasing the water that then covered most of northern Idaho and all of Nevada down toward the cliffs here and sent a waterfall over them equal to the amount of water held in all the Great Lakes. For many years its flow was greater than the Amazon River. It happened about 13,000 years ago when this was also an active volcanic area. The results are quite impressive and the falls that were created lasted for a hundred years. The erosion in the rock it caused can be easily seen. It is hard to imagine how big Bonneville Lake must have been before it gave up that astonishing amount of water. The results here were impressive . The gorge is wide and deep and the huge boulders that were ripped loose and moved hundreds of miles with the water are smoothed, not by wind and sand, but by the tumbling action during the journey to this place where they remain today.

For me, it is onward, with home coming in another two weeks. The route will be through Nevada and eastern California, and a Ghost town or two. The log says La Coachasita and I have passed the 8500 mile mark on this latest meandering search for new sights and sounds. They have been agreeable if wet miles so far. Wet is the story of this spring, so we are not unique.

I have made the turn for home now, and while I do not yet feel its pull, I can sense that it is not far over the horizon.