Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Camp Connell, CA - Dec. 24, 2008 -- We've been blessed this year with health, family, and beautiful surroundings.
Can't ask for more.
Blessings on you this Christmas, and a wish for a Happy New Year.

Sanders & Pat

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow's here for Christmas

Calaveras Big Trees State Park -- Within two days of the recent blog showing us basking in a warm pool in the high Sierra, the snows arrived, just in time for Christmas.

Then early last week we attended a training session for docents at the state park two miles downhill from where we live. Chief Interpreter Wendy Harrison took the photo of our happy group along the trail through the grove of Sequoia trees.

The snow was perfect, the chief interpreter broke the trail, and the rest of us followed along on skis or snowshoes. The training was only moderately strenuous, and we saw lots of tracks: coyote, rabbit, squirrel, mice, birds, and maybe even a fox. The deer have moved downhill to avoid the snow, and the bears are sleeping.

We ended up in the warming hut having lunch together around the fire while the ranger gave a talk on survival skills for winter. This year, for the first time, the park will offer guided tours in the snow and Pat and I will be taking people through the park trails. Pretty good duty.

All in all, a lovely day.

I don't want anyone to think snow is always fun, fine or easy. Since that first good snow we have had snow, sleet, rain, and more snow. Now it is a bit crusty and hard to drive on. My shoulders are sore, and I could do without the needed shovel skills. But my new garage-sale snow blower works well.

And when the grandchildren came to visit this weekend, it was a really good time for sledding and snowball fights. More on that later.

Meanwhile, have a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Sanders & Pat

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Just before the snow

Camp Connell, CA -- Friday, Dec. 12, 2008 -- We returned tonight from a quick trip across the Sierra Nevada mountains to take a look at the high country mountains before the first big series of winter storms brings snow.
We started east across California's Highway 4, aka Ebbetts Pass Highway, on Thursday on a bright and sunny morning, cold and clear and beautiful. Fall color is gone, and the trees at high elevation are bare, sparkling, and ready for winter. The brush is ripe with buds and the stems are a red color, indicating they are dormant and just waiting for the Spring to come.
The streams and lakes we passed along the route are all partially frozen, particularly in the shady spots. The route we followed is also known as the old Immigrant Trail, or the Big Trees-to-Carson Pass route once followed by beaver trappers, families moving West, and gold miners in search of fortunes.
Our route took us through Markleeville, seat of California's least populated county, and by a wonderful state park. Grover Hot Springs Park has just what the name implies, steaming hot springs where you can soak at any time of year for a mere $5 fee to the state.
As soon as we had a quick lunch (the cook was sick at the hotel, but they served great soups left over from the night before) we took the plunge.

The springs are at 5,600 feet, and hoar frost was snuggled into the weeds alongside the trail, and small patches of snow in the trees on the north-facing slopes, but the air was comfortable and the springs terrific.
We drove on into Nevada to visit the home of one of our favorite historical characters, Snowshoe Thompson, a mailman who carried mail and packages across these mountains between 1950s and 1870s, on skis in winter.
He is considered the father of skiing, and local resorts pay him homage. It took him three days to ski across a route that took us about four hours of tough mountain driving. Mostly we admire his skill and strength. You can find out more about him at this website:

Then we went on to Carson City, the capitol of Nevada, with a quick drive through Virginia City, the heart of the Comstock Lode silver strike in the late 1800s.
Here's a look.
Of the two, Virginia City is more interesting, though little was open and we opted to spend the night at a casino hotel in Carson City. The Gold Dust West Casino, Hotel, Bowling Alley and RV Park, looked good but the food was bad and the casino pretty sad. (I was too, as I dropped $40 in the Wheel of Fortune Slot machines.)

Friday we drove west toward home by way of Carson Pass, a beautiful two-lane route that goes near Lake Tahoe (though you can't see it from Carson Pass). It is named for Kit Carson, who came this way 150 years ago.
We went by Kirkwood Ski Resort, and then through the gold rush towns of Jackson, San Andreas and Angels Camp before arriving home just at dark.
The rain started about 9 p.m., turned to sleet by 10.

P.S. We woke up to a light covering of snow this morning.
Much more is expected Sunday.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Odetta, a force of nature

Camp Connell, Ca -- People sometimes think of folk music as a quaint experience, best left to children and old men.
But Odetta was one of those people who lifted spirits, drove societal change, and entertained us all at the same time. When you listened to her sing, you could hear the voices of people long dead, telling their stories and their hopes and fears.
History spoke in ever song.
I was a teenager living in Mobile, Alabama, when I first heard her sing on one of her early albums. She was almost too powerful to take, but also too wonderful to ignore.
She was one of the reasons I bought a guitar in 1956, and start listening and learning music that speaks of the hearts of people, their pains and their joys.
Music has been one of the great blessings in my life, and Odetta is one of the people who blessed a lot of us.
She died this week at 77. A well-done obit is at the link below, and be sure and take the time to listen to the video link, which includes an interview (only slightly marred by the intrusive interviewer) and some wonderful renditions of her songs.
One of the quotes I liked best: folk musicians don't steal one another's songs, they "pass the tradition along."
Check the obit:

Me, I'm heading for the basement to pull out my old 33 rpm recording of "I'm on my way..."


Friday, November 28, 2008

A girl and a goat- a non-fable for our hard times

Camp Connell, Ca. - At this time of year -- Thanksgiving to Christmas with an economic collapse in between -- we were heartened in the past few weeks to learn a bit more about a girl named Beatrice. She's actually a young woman now, but her story begins for us when she was a nine-year-old living in a poor village in Uganda.
Uganda is one of those places on the far side of the world which we will probably never visit, much less understand.
But we know about Beatrice and her situation because of a children's book, "Beatrice's goat."
Briefly, the book relates the true story of how Beatrice's family was living in such tragic poverty, she could not even attend a nearby school. She stayed home to help her mother with the younger brothers and sisters. She really really wanted to go to school, and played at being a student as she watched from afar.
Then her family was chosen to be one of 12 in her village to receive a free goat. The goat was named "Luck" because that was what the family hoped it would bring. It did. The goat quickly delivered not one but two kids -- named "Expected" and "Surprise." As the kids grew older the extra milk was sold to other villagers.
That one goat provided enough for the family to send Beatrice to school, and then the abundance brought in enough coins that the mother tore down their small shack and rebuilt a real home with a roof and sides.

One goat.

That's all it took to change the lives of everyone in the family. The children's book ends there, but there is a sequel.
Turns out that the benefits of the goat and the attention from the book generated enough money for Beatrice to leave Uganda and attend college in the United States.
She graduated in May, 2008, went home for the summer, and is now back in the U.S. attending graduate school.
Pat called the story of Beatrice to my attention this year when she was working on a Sunday school program for children, hoping to teach them something about sharing and caring. She turned the story into a little play for the children, who performed it in church last Sunday -- Heifer Project Sunday.
Heifer Project International, as some of you may recall, is one of our favorite successful and worthwhile non-governmental organizations we had researched and decided to support several years ago.
I don't think we ever sent a goat. but we have sent numerous beehives all over the world. For someone who made their living at "The Bee" for most of my professional life, it seemed appropriate.
There are more little girls and boys out there who could use your help. Check it out at

And enjoy your holidays.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Transportation or Personality?

Camp Connell, CA -- I've always chuckled at people who buy vehicles to reflect, or pretend to reflect, their self image.
Not any more.
I just bought a pickup truck, and I'm going to name it after George W. Bush.
It reflects where I am currently in my life; irritated with the current administration; wearing out slowly; a few chips and dents showing, but with several hundred thousand good miles remaining in the future-- I hope. (Me and my truck - not GW.)

I'll describe this vehicular avatar later. First, the history indicates I did buy cars that said something about me at the time. (Thank goodness I never bought a Hummer, a sexual substitute for mental inadequacy.)

As soon as I had a real full-time job after graduation from college in 1962 I stood in line at the Atlanta dealership and ordered my new foam green VW, with no options. When it came it had a hundred dollars worth of extras I did not want, and I was told to take it or leave it or wait another six to eight weeks. I took it, for around $1,700.
That was my practical transportation-only purchase, and my cheap years, and it worked fine for a few years.
When I got out of the Army and started reporting for the Miami Herald in Florida I bought a brand new 1965 British Racing Green Triumph Spitfire. It sounded great, cost $2,400, and the engine blew on the way home from the dealer. The engine was never quite right, but I loved that car.
The Triumph was the symbol of my bachelorhood. I courted my wife in it, used it for our honeymoon and drove back and forth to Apollo launches.

Even though it had junky engine, I felt really cool in that car until the day our daughter Ruth was born. You don't drive Florida's causeways in a tiny sports car at 65 mph with a cement truck on your bumper and a baby in your lap. At least, not if you want your wife to go along.
So we entered our practical vehicular years: another VW, two plain Chevy Biscaynes, and then at mid-career(not mid-life crisis), a new 1977 bright orange VW Camper to leave Florida and the East, and work our way West. We gave our last Chevy to the Salvation Army.
The camper took us everywhere until we ruined the engine climbing the western mountains.
Fortunately for me, that was during the era when newspaper companies were generous, not cheap, and company-provided cars solved the transportation problems for the next 20 years or so. We had a series of vehicles that fit the dark suits I wore to work, including one four-door Oldsmobile. I finally felt secure and moved through a series of SUVs -- Jeeps and Ford Explorers suited us quite well.
About the time I joined AARP and started having senior moments, we had a Northern California car (1999 Subaru for winter trips), I retired and then sold our last Explorer in Florida and replaced it with a Toyota van -- for traveling, not soccer games.
That was it until this week.
For more than a year I'd been contemplating buying a new truck, focusing primarily on Ford and Toyota 4X4s, generally around $30,000, using proceeds from stocks.
I had never owned a truck.
Every guy needs a truck at some point in his life. My son has had two or three, and my son-in-law has a very nice Tundra even as we speak.
I needed a truck.
Then the economy went into the toilet, thanks to eight years of fiscal conservatism focused on making the rich much richer. (That's why I named it for the President.)
So I bought a truck this week that fits the community, my personal needs, and my pocketbook(about one-tenth the price of new).
It is a 1986 GMC Sierra full-sized pickup truck. The silver paint is peeling, and the left blinker doesn't work right, but it has a new engine and is in reasonably good condition.
I always swore I'd never buy a Chevy, but I consider GMC a cut above.
It will haul wood or brush, get us out to the highway through two feet of fresh snow, make trips to the dump without concern for the polished finish, and give me an excuse to go offroad.
It seems a good fit. Just don't ask about the mileage.
I probably won't take it to San Francisco, or to the yacht club for dinner. But it will work just fine to get to the Camp Connell store for a beer on a Saturday night.
And that's where I am most of the time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Home again

No, this is not our home, but it is a cabin just up the road a bit from where we live at a place called Mosquito Lake.

Camp Connell, CA -- We arrived home just after dark on Sunday night after a four hour drive from Yosemite.
Everything in the van smells like a campfire, a nice reminder of our five weeks living in a campground. It will take a while to get the smoky smell out of our clothing.
We were not aware that we missed anything while we were away, we had such a great time, but here are a few things we appreciated when we got back here on home ground:
-- Friendly folks at the Camp Connell General Store, who watched out for our place while we were away. We had a local beer on our first afternoon home, visited, watched a card game, and just enjoyed the feeling of being back;
-- A warm bathroom. I'm not overly sensitive, but a seat that isn't icy and a spigot that puts out warm water are luxuries I missed;
-- The smells and sounds of the forest around our home has a welcome-home feel to me. Yosemite certainly smells good too, but this place smells like home, with a mix of cedar and oak and pine, and the bird calls are familiar and comfortable;
-- A warm house. We had learned what it was like to go to bed cold, and wake up to much colder. Here it was a balmy 40 degrees this morning, and I did not have to wear fleece to dash for the facilities;
-- And, of course, family. It is always such a joy to see children and grandchildren, and re-engage in their lives. Even when we are watching from a distance it is a joy to hear about school, basketball games, Cub scout meetings, and archery classes.
We still appreciate the opportunity to have been in such a beautiful place.
I miss seeing coyote chasing ground squirrels as I hike across a meadow to work. Or the sight of a Harrier hawk soaring low to the ground, looking for lunch. I miss the great hikes in the high Sierra, and the sound of animals unseen but nearby. I miss the new friends we made and worked with, and the very interesting people from all over the world we met almost every day.
I even miss the sound of someone banging pots and pans to chase a bear away from the garbage they accidentally left outside.
But it is very nice to be warm, to be comfortable, to be close to family and neighbors. To be home.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Living in Yosemite - in photos

This is where and how we live in Yosemite National Park. We are very comfortable, thanks to Ruth and Brian and family who loaned us their very nice pop-top camper. We have comfortable beds, lots of covers, and a great front yard. We cook outside (bear avoidance) and the deer walk through our neighborhood every day.

This fellow was about 100 feet from our front door. A mother and two fawns come by daily, and on one walk we saw a 12 point buck along with several other younger bucks. They don't bother us, and we don't bother them.

We stay up late reading, sometimes to 8 or 9 o'clock!

Breakfast of champions: granola bars and vitamins...

This view is just across the road from where we live.

The neighborhood is not too crowded, and the view is real nice....

Volunteering in Yosemite

On a day off, we hiked to May Lake and then just hung around...

Olmstead Point is one of the places we work every week

This is the view we have during our commute to work at Parson's Lodge.
Adrienne, Pat, Leslie and Kent, and Brad -- The team

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, CA -- I confess: life is not hard working here in Yosemite National Park as a volunteer.
After years of thinking about it, Pat and I are currently serving a five-week stint as volunteers for the Yosemite Association, a non-profit organization we have supported and belonged to for more than 25 years.
This year we decided to put our bodies to work, and we signed up for five weeks living and working in the Tuolumne Meadows region of the park.
This is one of the most beautiful places on earth, certainly one of the top ten scenic areas in America, so the setting is pretty darned nice.
We live in the campground, 8,600 feet above sea level, in among the lodge pole pine trees, in a section reserved primarily for volunteers like us.
There are five of us who work together, helping and supplementing the work done by YA employees and park service rangers and volunteers. We are all retired or semi-retired, though everyone is (and acts) younger than I am.
We work at four different sites: at the visitor center providing directions to travelers or suggestions for hikes or helping them find a place to stay; at Olmstead Point,one of the great vista points in the park, where we take a lot of pictures of families and couples; Parsons Lodges, the original Sierra Club high Sierra lodge, where we make people welcome, offer shelter if the weather gets bad, and chat with hikers; and we help people who sign up for the Association's field trips (hikes, photo trips, glacier measuring) get settled in. Oh and we do what we call "bear patrol." We do NOT chase bears we try to educate people how to store food and avoid having bear problems. A fed bear is a dead bear, and we want to keep them around.
Our work weeks are shorter than those when we made a living, so we have lots of time to hike to beautiful places.
Basically, we try to be hosts to visitors, help them find their way around, and when we have a chance we encourage them to consider membership in the Association.
Nobody does a hard sell, as Yosemite sells itself and we get lots of support.
The park service rangers and employees have all treated up like welcomed partners, and we have met some wonderful and fascinating people.
You get the idea.
We like it a lot.
The first four weeks have flown by, and we are into the final seven days. It's gonna be hard to leave.

After a hard day's work, this is the drive we make to get a cheeseburger at the Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining.

Super Camper!

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, CA -- Our campground neighbor and co-volunteer Adrienne is THE role-model for experienced campers here in Yosemite.
She’s been camping for years, loves it, and has learned how to stay comfortable even in a semi-harsh environment. It IS beautiful here, but is also can be cold, hot, dusty, wet or dry, or all of the above in a matter of hours.
Her home is normally in Seal Beach, in Southern California, and she is a former surfer chick and photo studio manager exec and artists with lots of talent and a love for Yosemite.
Her husband isn’t too hot on camping for himself, but indulges and supports her passion for doing it in comfort and style. He buys her little items she spotted in catalogs and elsewhere over the years and they make living in the woods more comfortable.
She maintains her status as a camper, environmentalist and lover of the outdoors, but sees no need to be uncomfortable when living and working in the park for five week stints.
Yosemite’s campgrounds provide minimal facilities -- toilets and cold water are about the limit -- but Adrienne has found ways to make it seem home-like.
Her base camp is a large red two-room tent, big enough to stand in. Nice carpets on the floor. The front room is her sitting room, and has a small folding table if she needs to eat inside or entertain guests. The bedroom has an inflatable single bed that that is up off he ground, and uses a down comforter to stay warm. She also has a cold weather sleeping bag if it really gets chilly. (So far, it has only gotten down to 29 degrees.) She also has a propane tent heater for really cold nights.

For shade on warm days she uses an attractive green patio umbrella. She keeps fresh flowers and a potted plant, all of which adds a certain cache to the campground. She also has crafted unique bags and boxes to contain her small stuff. She has an artistic touch and everything is well done.
She brings along a kitchen unit she designed, and her dad helped her build. It has a camoflauge cover so it blends in, and it sits next to the bear-proof metal storage box, which she uses for extra counter space.

Her kitchen includes a stove, with piped in propane; a hot water on-demand heater, also piped to the water supply (a low-tech jug) which pumps upward into her sink; storage for utensils; a basin/sink; a propane-fired Teflon grill. She uses a rechargeable battery pack to run the necessary pumps, and to run her photo printer from her digital camera, and to keep her cell phone working (yes, we have reception here 8,700 feet up in the mountains) .
She makes very small fires for warmth, has a comfortable chair and a hammock.
She also has a device which she declined to encourage photographs of, which is used to avoid long cold walks to the bathroom at night.
She uses her bicycle for transportation, eats well, entertains from her temporary home with exotic teas, hot coffee and warm hospitality, and is the envy of her neighbors (us).

All of this stuff fits neatly into her van, and her self-imposed rule is that if she has too much stuff and it rises above the van windows, something gets left behind.
Oh yes: she also has bear bells hung around her kitchen area on a trip wire in case a bear becomes too interested in her home. One night when she did have a large brown guest she simply stepped outside the tent, said, “Shoo bear!” and the bear -- recognizing her territorial claims, shooed quietly into the night.
A neighbor who spent the night, visiting from Southern California, calls her the Martha Stewart of Camping.
Last night she cooked dinner for everyone.
Just the kind of neighbor everyone needs!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Working in Yosemite

(Using the internet at the Latte Da Cafe in Le Vining, Ca., just outside the park...

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park -- Pat and I have completed our first week of working as volunteers for the Yosemite Association here, and I wanted to pass along an idea of what it is like living in a campground and working in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
So, the pictures will tell the story, and I'll follow with a description later.
Suffice it to say we live at 8,600 feet, take our days off doing hikes at 10,000, and are determined to lose weight!
In out first week I spent an afternoon with Michael Adams, who did a program on his father Ansel, and then the next day Pat helped a singer-songwriter do a workshop in the old Parsons Lodge. Then we were invited to a workers party at "road camp," where the enchiladas were cooked by the great-grandson of Galen Clark, for whom the Clark Range is named.
The people are like family, and make us feel most welcome.
More later.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fires, Floods, Hurricanes and Earthquakes

Above: I mounted sprinklers on poles to wet down the house.

Camp Connell, CA - One of the benefits, depending how you view it, of having lived in numerous sections of the country is that we have had some experience with most of the natural disasters that can afflict mankind.
I've been pondering this recently as we keep the windows closed on our un-air conditioned home in the mountains to avoid as much smoke as possible. We live in the middle of the Sierra Nevada forests.
California, as you probably know, has had over 1,300 wildfires so far this summer, and the fire season normally doesn't even begin until August. Today the smokey haze is milder, and we will probably venture out for a walk.
Of those fires, most sparked by dry lightening in June, over 300 are still burning. The closest to us today is about 100 miles north near the town of, Paradise, best known as the retirement home for famed test pilot Chuck Yeager. As of Tuesday, no fires are burning anywhere near us. We just get the smoke which spreads all over the north state.
We are in no immediate danger, but we stay alert.
Maybe because I was raised in hurricane country on the Gulf Coast, earthquakes scare me the most. You can't predict them, and the damage - if you are in the wrong spot - can be catastrophic. We've only experienced one or two of any significance since moving to California almost 30 years ago. But it was an interesting experience, watching the plate glass windows in my newsroom ripple like vertical waves. Then I realized the concrete floor was also rolling up and down. By the time I was scared, it was all over, and the only damage at my home was water sloshing out of the hot tub.
We lived through one flood while in the Mid-West. We lived at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, between Cincinatti and Pittsburg. An ice dam backed up the rivers which then backed up into town, but did little damage. Long-time residents were used to it, and marked the big floods on the wall of the old hotel downtown.
Both Pat and I grew up with hurricanes. We were raised on the Gulf Coast, and she even experienced a typhoon in Okinawa during her high school years. One of my earliest
memories is my mother, a nurse, going to Gulfport with the Red Cross response team. And one of my early assignments as a reporter for the Miami Herald was to cover the aftermath of a big hurricane that hit Louisianna and Mississippi in 1965.
And then during our recent two-year stint in Florida, we had back-to-back hurricanes and had to evacuate.
That's the only good thing about hurricanes, if there is anything good: you normally have plenty of warning to get out of the way. I'll not try to convince anyone from New Orleans, however, but we have always been lucky.
Fires are a different thing, and are beginning to compete with earthquakes as the scariest disaster we may encounter.
The biggest problem is the lack of good local specific information. Firefighters in the state do a great job fighting fires, quickly and efficiently, but the administration has a tendency to bureaucratic press releases that discuss "resources applied" and money spent. They rarely tell us in a timely manner where the closest fires are and if we should be concerned.
Once you understand the local system for fighting fires, you can apply that information.
Anytime we hear a fire truck on the highway (there's only one highway) or a small plane or helicopter overhead, we are on alert.
Firefighters in the wilderness utilize small spotter planes to identify and categorize fires, and then direct other aircraft in as quickly as possible. The surest sign of a fire dangerously near is a helicopter with a water bucket flying over the house, or an old DC 3 tanker flying low and slow overhead.
We had about a dozen fires with 50 miles of us within the past three weeks. All were spotted quickly, and put out.
I usually jump on the Internet and check two local web sites, our only source of local news. If it looks questionable, I'll drive down to the general store, where they always know what is going on, or maybe up the road to the National Forest office. Sometimes they know.
Meanwhile, we do what we can to make the house safe. We rake up debris near the house, cut back tree limbs to avoid a path for the fire into the tree tops, and I have even cut down about 25 trees in the past three years to thin the area around the house.
And, as the attached photos show poorly, I even experiment with mounting sprinklers on poles to wet down the house. It worked, but needs improvement.
But we don't kid ourselves. We live in the woods, and if there is a forest fire nearby we are leaving -- laptop and family photos in hand -- and finding a safer place.
That's the price we pay for living on the edge of the wilderness. It's worth it.

The sprinkler experiment, and the closeness of big trees...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Memorial Day - Lt. Mark Enari

Camp Connell, Ca -- Memorial Day reminds me of Mark Enari, a big, kinda goofy looking guy I met in 1963.
We were both in the Army stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Mark was a new second lieutenant, a graduate of the Officer Candidate School, having served one tour overseas as an enlisted man in Germany.
He really liked the Army. Germany was fun for him. The way he described it, as the company clerk (he could type well) he had unlimited access to weekend passes and was able to make extra money lending cash to his buddies. So he had plenty of spending money, and lots of weekend pass opportunities to see Europe.
He excelled in the Army and was promoted and sent to Officer Candidate School as a reward.
He loved the physical action, worked very hard, and delighted in his first commissioned officer assignment: he was a tactical officer at the same school he graduated from. That meant he was the instructor, mentor, and bad-ass for the young officer candidates who followed him. Think meaner than a Marine drill sergeant.
He laughingly told us about finding a flaw in a spit-polished floor, and making the sloppy candidate stay up half the night re-polishing the floor with a toothbrush and wax.
We ate a lot of fried chicken together at the Infantryman's Bar, worked very long days and weeks, and many nights, drank a lot of beers, and chased the few women available on a post with 35,000 men.
I was a second lieutenant, an ROTC product, initially assigned to the headquarters staff at the Infantry School. We lived next door to each other in the BOQ.
Because the base was crowded, we got permission to move off base into civilian housing, a house of our own, which became something of a party site. Lt. Rich Granger, another OCS Tac Officer, was the third roommate. In a way we had little in common. In the Army, though, we had lots in common. We all worked hard, and partied hard.
Once, under the influence of a few beers, Mark demonstrated some new hand-to-hand combat move, and accidentally kicked the entry door of our house out into the front yard. He was highly entertaining, happy to grab you in a headlock and throw you over his shoulder.
He was Airborne, Ranger, and a regular Army kind of guy.
He was also an unquestioning patriot. I always wondered if it had anything to do with his birth in Estonia, a country plagued by Germany during WW 2, and taken over by Communist later. His parents fled to the U.S. and he was proud of his new country. He grew up in Southern California.
He was volunteered to go to Vietnam in 1965 but was turned down as "too junior" to be an advisor.
The last time I saw Mark was in May, 1965, when I completed my stateside tour with the 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry, and drove south to Florida to take a job with the Miami Herald. Mark and Rich encouraged me -- over beers -- to take the Florida job, though my memory of the farewell party is a little cloudy. They held the solid theory that the state had beaches, and beaches had young women in bathing suits. They were right. I married one in the summer of 1966.
The Army finally accepted Mark's persistent volunteering, and he was 24 when he died in Vietnam in December, 1966. He was one of the first members of his division to be killed in combat. He was a hero.
At the time I was newly wed newspaper reporter, working as a reporter covering the manned space program. We never met each other's wives.
The details of his Vietnam experience are below. His name is on memorials in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, California, and out in space on a memorial plaque launched by NASA.
His name also was placed on Camp Enari, a spot many members of the Fourth Infantry Division remember with mixed feelings.
(The last time I saw Rich he was a captain, just back from a second combat tour in Vietnam, and wondering if the Army was really what he wanted to do. I am hopeful he survived.)

I think of Mark, who didn't, and the others like him, every Memorial Day.


1LT Mark Enari

First Lieutenant Mark Enari served as a platoon leader in Company A, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division.

The 4th Infantry Division had arrived in western II Corps in 1966. It was their mission to seek out North Vietnamese divisions that had infiltrated across the Cambodian border.

Enari routinely led his platoon on "search and destroy" missions, a term given to operations that would seek out heavily entrenched enemy units and assault their fortified positions.

On December 2, 1966, Enari led his platoon in an assault on one of these positions concealed in an area of dense trees. As the platoon advanced, heavy automatic weapons fire erupted from bunkers hidden at the base of the tree line. As the battle raged, Enari was continually subjected to intense enemy fire while commanding the operation.

In the heat of the fire fight, five soldiers were wounded and pinned down in an open area by machine gun fire. Realizing that his men would die without cover and medical attention, Mark Enari stormed the machine gun nest with a furious barrage of fire.

During his single-handed assault, the lieutenant was struck by both sniper and machine gun rounds but continued his attack in defense of the wounded.

The young officer pushed forward until succumbing to his wounds; he finally slumped to the ground. As a result of his action, the five men were saved. Lieutenant Enari was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valor.

Camp Enari was officially named in his honor on General Orders of the 4th Infantry Division on 14 May 1967.

Mark Niggol Enari was born on 8 April 1942. His home of record was Pasadena, California.

His name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the east wall, Panel 13E, Line 4.

Camp Enari, Pleiku, Pleiku Province 1969

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Garages, boats, trees and sailing

We may actually have a garage before the snow flies!

Camp Connell, CA - It's been a busy week here at Camp Connell, our home town.

The weather -- always a topic of talk down at the general store -- has ranged from scorching hot (90s in the mountains is NOT acceptable) to downright chilly (high 30s this morning).
As we like to point out, it is always much worse down the hill. Hotter (0ver 100) and colder (somewhere north), and windier too.

The never-ending garage construction project hit a milestone, hopefully not a plateau, as the trusses for the roof arrived Monday and were completely installed by Wednesday. Brad the contractor has been working alone because his helper/son ran off to the Bay Area to be near his girl friend.
It was highly entertaining and edifying to watch Brad balance on a two-by-four and juggle the large and heavy trusses into place. It's too complicated to describe with accuracy, but he used leverage, a piece of climbing rope, a level and chalk line, and ingenuity to get everything nailed solidly into place.
Brad at work on the roof

You may recall the project was caught last Fall by early and heavy snow, and was buried for five months.
Next step: finish the siding.

Fire-safing the property around the house is a never-ending job, particularly as we move into the hottest and driest part of the summer. We do live in a wilderness interface, a fancy term that means we are definitely in the woods.
This week I hired a local company to come in and "high limb" 12 large trees close to the house. That means that Arturo, my amigo who works for my poker-playing friend Dave, showed up this morning with a very large dump truck, the longest pole saw I have ever seen, and other assorted tools. My job, to keep the cost down, was to be the safety spotter, hold the ladder, and yell "LOOK OUT!" when a large limb started to fall on a head. Problem for Arturo: my Spanish is not great and so while I am trying to figure out how to say "DUCK!" in Spanish, the limbs have already bounced off the nearest hard surface.
Holding a three-section pole saw above your head for hours was a back-breaking job, but he has a cheerful disposition and strong arms, helped along by the fact he heads home this week for his daughter's quinciniera celebration. Mucho dinero is required, he told me with a father's accepting smile.
Arturo at the end of a long day

We both made it through the day safely. I managed to cut down several small trees, stack some future firewood, and break my chain saw for the umpteenth time.
For those friends who might worry about my tree-hugger credentials when I mention cutting down trees, be aware that our property is not a natural forest. It has become an overgrown thicket ever since the natives were chased out 150 years ago by gold seekers, and the hope is to restore it to its natural and safer condition.
Instead of letting natural fires burn, which remains a no-no near houses, we mechanically remove the excess trees and brush. The trees go to firewood for next winter, and the brush to the local yard waste collection station (just up the hill) where it is turned into high-priced mulch for city dwellers.
That's what sustainable culture is about up here at altitude.

Educational efforts continue for Pat and me at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, where we are volunteers. Pat spent part of today with a group of rangers and resource experts learning how to teach sixth-graders how to manage forest resources. Since the forest in parts of the park has not been allowed to burn for generations, the rangers now teach kids how to manage the forest back into a natural state. Yes, they do what we call "prescribed burns" but the controls are so tight for safety and air pollution reasons other steps are still required.
Most of today was fun stuff: learning how to core, plotting sections, measuring trees using a compass and geometry, and nipping off some little brushy stuff. Tomorrow Pat will be trained in "Creek Critters" and I will do a trail Patrol in the Sequoia grove.

Recreational moments exist also. This past weekend we took our sailboat Good News across San Francisco Bay, berthed at the South Beach Marina, and went to watch the San Francisco Giants lose another baseball game. We joined a group of members from the Oakland Yacht Club for the weekend, had a little wine, ate well, met some interesting people, and froze to death at AT&T Stadium, formerly known as PacBell Stadium, not to be confused with the stadium known as Candlestick, which is even colder.
We enjoyed two days of good sailing (wind 15-20 knots), didn't break anything, and got home safe.
A good time was had by all.
Our next-door boat on the San Francisco outing was party central. We heard a loud splash in the middle of the night, and learned later one of our wine-filled sailor friends took an unexpected swim in the 45 degree water. He got out very quickly, and had a good story to tell.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Gas prices, Spring, eBay, and good friends...

The news is good here this week in Camp Connell, as it always is, though the economic indicators are somewhat less certain. Here are some items to consider:

-- Gas prices hit $4.05 9/10 this past week at the local general store because the tanker arrived.

It appears that the big oil companies, Chevron in this case, set the price at the pump based on some mysterious formula and tell the local sales folks what to charge. Folks at the store this evening tell me they've seen prices as high at $4.29 in the San Francisco area, and the ski resort up the mountain charges more than our local store.
The price of gas doesn't seem like much of a big deal until you consider a long road trip. It was cheaper for Pat and me to fly to and from Mexico, even adding in the cost of an airport motel, than to drive. Next year we are hoping to go to Alaska, but driving seems a unlikely option.

--Weather report: the snow is melting in our front yard.

-- Today (Friday) was my last ski day of this season. The resort up the hill will be open two more days but we will be busy and it really isn't worth it as conditions are not great. The window for decent skiing is so small now, as the sun turns the icy snow into slush by noon, I'm starting to think about hiking at a lower altitude.
One act of faith: I purchased a season ski pass for next year.

-- Spring is officially here at Camp Connell. We have Crocus blooming, dozens of other bulbs fighting their way up into the sunshine -- some coming through patches of snow.
The other sure sign of Spring is that the work has resumed on the garage we were having built for last winter, but didn't quite make it. The site has been cleared of snow and tree debris, and the inspector came by yesterday and gave the go-ahead for pouring concrete on Monday to finish the slab. Then, if rafters and lumber can be found, the walls should start to go up.

Next week I have to arrange to have the snow tires removed from the Subaru. These are REAL snow tires, not your wimpy East Coast type that can stay on the car all summer.

And baseball season is underway for my 11-year-old granddaughter Delaney.

(UPDATE: The forecast calls for some rain mixed with snow in the middle of the week. No matter. It is still Spring.)

-- We have rented our former home in Sacramento after trying unsuccessfully to sell it for four months. As part of the cleaning out, I have vowed to sell off a bunch of small stuff on eBay. Made my first sale this week: a pair of commemorative drinking glasses with Apollo 13 designs. Sold for $1.29 (shipping was over $8, but the buyer in Iowa paid for that). The buyer sent me an email that said, "Say, are you the same LaMont that used to work for the TODAY newspaper in Florida?" Turns out he read the newspaper as a youth, and has been a space buff ever since.

-- Pat and I are back in school now, training the be docents at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The park is only two miles away, and has over a thousand Sequoia trees, giant redwoods, big trees or -- if you are British -- wellingtonian.. Technically,they are Sequoiadendron Giganteum, and that's the sort of thing we are learning along with how to deal with drunken and rowdy campers (call the ranger). Should be fun this summer.

-- Coincidence, or not? I had a telephone call from Stan Rodimon this past week. Stan was a classmate at Marion Military Institute from 1957-1960, the school I wrote about recently, and then at the University of Alabama where we both graduated before going off into the Army and losing track of each other. He and his wife Linda were struggling married students when we last got together 46 years ago. They were good friends and interesting people. They promise to come see us this summer so we can do a bit of catching up. What a treat!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The old school ties... class of '58

Fifty years ago my family gathered to celebrate my high school graduation in the tiny town of Marion, Alabama at an historic but little-known private military school named Marion Military Institute.

Marion, or MMI as we called it, was the kind of Southern military prep school parodied in books and movies as a place where abusive older cadets and uncaring staff mistreated younger students. Sorta like Pat Conroy's "The Lords of Discipline."
The reality was different.
Most students were there to get a better education than public schools offered. Some had been encouraged to go to military school as a final option by their local sheriff. Others hoped to earn an appointment to West Point or the Naval Academy, or had been dumped by unsuccessful or uninterested parents. I'll let you guess which categories I fell into.
Most of us came from Southern states, the exceptions being what we called the "sons of South American dictators," an unfair label we liked for the Latin American students.

The staff was a mix, like most schools. Some were great, and challenged us, and others were duller than dishwater. The staff member responsible for discipline was dumber than a post. He kept pictures of naked women under his desk blotter, and was rumored to have three testicles. We doubted it did him any good.
A history teacher was the dullest man alive, but was related to someone important.
My English teacher was brilliant, and wrote short stories for the Saturday Evening Post as a sideline.
My math teacher and tennis coach used to do back flips off his desk to get our attention, and we learned math from him.
The "barracks" where I lived was a dormitory with small rooms that housed two students, a bunk bed, footlockers and two desks. It had indeed been used as a hospital in the Civil War. The marble steps were worn into gentle curves by the thousands of feet of 100 years of teenage boys coming and going. The building is still there, but the steps have been moved to the side as sort of a monument to all those polished shoes running off to class or drill.
The corps of cadets really did march off to stop the invading Yankees in the 1860s, only to be run back home to their mamas in short order. But they still brag about it.

Since then the school has survived good and bad administrations, the Viet Nam War and anti-military sentiment which reduced enrollment dramatically, the collapse of the local town economy, and a host of other problems. It remains proudly military, with state support, and is fully integrated and coed and modern these days, as it should be.

But back in May of 1958 we were not concerned with history. We wanted to survive, and move on with our lives.
We were living in post-war world where right and wrong were clearly laid out by our parents, adolescent boys talked about sex but knew nothing about it, and television was not allowed. All white. All male. All straight, so far as anyone knew.
We all expected to serve in the military, so most of us volunteered when the time came.
We all smoked and cussed with competence and wore crew cuts. Very simple.

We attended classes six days a week, were restricted to our rooms and desks six nights a week as "study time," and were not allowed to leave campus except for Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday afternoon. We marched to church services on Sunday (there was a Jewish exemption -- those students were driven to temple in the city of Selma on Saturdays-- a popular religious choice), and were allowed to go to church on Sunday nights if our grades were good enough.
There was one movie theater, one pool hall and one cafe and a Baptist girl's college (not "women's college") for entertainment.

No cards. No booze. No drugs. No sex.

We couldn't wait to move on to a real college.

It wasn't all work, of course.
Every year we would load up the band and drill team on the school's aging bus and go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans for several days. We always made it on time to the big Rex parade every year, but more than one cadet was sidetracked briefly by the B Girls on Canal Street. If you were tall enough to put money on the bar, you were welcome. Almost all of us discovered we could actually drink all night and march in a long parade in the next day's heat. Being New Orleans, sympathetic parade watchers would hand us a cold beer once in a while as we marched by.
We even learned the location of the jail nearest the French Quarter, which appropriately enough, was on Basin Street.
It was all quite educational.

No one was ever brutalized or murdered or raped while I was there at school. Most cadets adjusted pretty well no matter what our reasons for attending.

No matter who you were you had to make good grades, or you were gone. And if you seriously broke the rules more than once, you were gone.

I got caught gambling once (just as I won my first big pot at the poker table) and spent several hours of graduation weekend marching around a square -- we called it "penalty tours" -- with full combat gear on and a rifle in the 90 degree heat.
But I survived, it only happened once, and I graduated on time.
That weekend a group of us, including some liberated female students from the Baptist college, managed to sneak off to a cocktail lounge 30 miles away (Marion was in a "dry" county) for a night of breaking the rules.

On graduation Sunday approximately 50 of us sharply polished red-eyed 17 and 18-year-olds marched up to the stage set up on the lawn near the campus snack bar in our "summer" khaki uniforms and accepted diplomas, along with an earnest speech to go out and change the world for the better.

Few of the class of 1958 have changed the world at all. Several died trying in Viet Nam.

We all tried to do our best, I am sure, but the long-term impact will have to be measured later, and so far it doesn't look like the class of 1958 will make many history books.

Most of us went on to graduate from four-year colleges. Most went into the military, as volunteers in the 1960s.

Most of us survived.


My memories of that particular graduation day details are still a bit fuzzy.

There's a picture somewhere taken on the lawn of the only Marion motel where my family stayed. My older sister, my biggest booster, wore a gigantic floppy pink hat to match her pink outfit and smile; my mother and stepfather dressed up appropriately for the solemn occasion; and my new brother-in-law, grinning because he skipped all the parades and stuff and stayed at the motel to drink beer and play pop music on my Stromberg-Carlson hi fi.
My aunt showed up with one of her husbands or boyfriends, and let me drive her 1956 Chevrolet Impala sometime during the weekend.
My date for the big graduation dance was a pretty girl from Mobile, my home town at the time. We attended the well-chaperoned dance, which probably ended around 11 p.m. so we could make church and graduation on Sunday.
The band was Johnny Horton, whose one hit was "The Battle of New Orleans," and they were great.
I spent that summer working briefly in construction, then boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia at the Infantry School, where those of us almost through with ROTC learned how to scrub garbage cans, shoot a rifle and other interesting stuff. I still enjoy camping out.

I am glad I was there, and happily recommend the school to those who are interested -- almost no one I know.

I learned a lot that served me well. I got a decent education. College was never really hard after that, and the discipline didn't hurt.

And I can still take apart and reassemble a 30 caliber machine gun with a blindfold on if needed. Fortunately, there's not a lot of call for that these days.

Note: I'm not going back for the reunion. Too much to do right here.