Monday, December 21, 2009

Warning -- do not read this blog unless....

Camp Connell, CA -- Some of my friends are a tad cynical about annual Christmas letters tucked inside Christmas cards, so beware: what follows is a blog version of that year-in-review.

2009 -- Blessing abound and it is mostly good stuff!
Family got together recently to celebrate a birthday. Back row from left Brian, Zack and me. Front row Delaney, Ruth, Connor and Pat (Granddaughter Katie could not be with us)

The year began almost the way it ended: family nearby, hikes and snowshoe walks in the state park, a few ski days and a few visits to the doctor (routine at our ages).

A highlight last winter was a first-ever trip to the Palm Desert area of California to spend a week, courtesy of a raffle we won at the park where we volunteer. We had a lovely time at the Marriott Resort in a posh condo overlooking one of the golf courses, and visited Joshua Tree National Park and wandered the desert and ate out a lot -- our idea of a perfect vacation.

Our granddaughter Delaney has "ski days" for PE at her junior high school, so I went along a few times, plus used my season pass more often, and ended up getting in more ski days than ever -- and an injury-free season!

Local and regional theaters offered lots of music and drama, and we have season tickets to theater and catch as many other music events as possible.

Church is a constant part of our lives and Pat teaches and serves on the education board, and I am on the mission board. We now belong to the First Congregationalist Church of Murphys, though I suspect I will always be a Methodist at heart.
For spiritual balance I play poker every two weeks with a group of friends, and coming home on unplowed roads after a blizzard late one night proved to be an adventure, one that turned out well thanks to son Zack coming to the rescue in my old pickup truck.

We spent one week aboard s/v Good News in San Francisco Bay during the winter, then made a post-Easter trip to our favorite part of Mexico -- Tenacatita Bay -- to visit friends Michael and Sylvia. We left as a swine flu scare was spreading, but stayed healthy. The scariest thing was the Los Angeles airport.

One of the joys of having adult children living nearby is that we get to animal-sit for Ruth's and Brian's expanding menagerie -- one large dog, five cats, two horses and whatever wildlife wanders by (deer, bear, raccoon). They refuse to let us give them a goat, which they consider to be mountain lion bait.

Spring and summer were filled with days volunteering at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Pat teaches children 3-6 in the "Cubs" program, I lead guided walks of the Sequoia grove, and we both patrol the trails as part of the team watching out for visitors and helped with campfire programs..

We made short trips to San Francisco by boat to see the Giants play, to Yosemite to stare at waterfalls, to Santa Rosa to visit our friend Frank McCulloch, and on to the north coast to camp with Ruth's family in the coastal redwoods.
September was great. Friends Warren and Marsha King visited from Seattle, we met my big "brother" Roy Richardson and wife in San Francisco, and then flew off to Ireland and Scotland for two weeks of pubs and roots, castles and B&Bs.
Fall flew by with more time spent in the park, a good visit with sailor/friends Sylvia and Michael and Dan and Lorraine here at the cabin.
In late summer Pat fell and broke her nose -- not funny -- and had minor surgery as a result.
An early December snowfall makes everything look great!

One odd blessing came our way this year via Internet. We have managed to renew contact with old friends from school, distant relatives, newspapers and our former home towns across the country thanks to email and Facebook. We don't Tweet, but we do chat with friends by computer almost daily.

By the time December rolled around son Zack was hired to work at Bear Valley ski resort, and I was there for skiing the opening day. The second day I took a hard fall and bruised a few ribs, an experience I recall from my soccer-playing days in Modesto, but that will be healed in time for more skiing later. Pat is understanding.

My grandson Connor, who is smarter than most people, has pointed out that in 2010 I will turn 70 and -- in his opinion -- will officially become a codger. Or curmudgeon. I can't remember.

Not there yet.

A disadvantage of aging is that we lost some friends and family members this year to age, Cancer and accidents. But we know how privileged we were to have shared in their lives. Each brought joy to us and we have not forgotten them.

We are learning to live each day as a gift.

We've been blessed by each other, and our children and grandchildren, and good friends all across the country.

May the blessing continue for you and yours in 2010.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Turning bad environmental practice into a tax break

Camp Connell, CA -- The attached story was published in the Sonora Union-Democrat in response to SPI's announcement it was "saving" Giant Sequoias -- the largest trees in the world-- and going to get a tax break for doing it.
Why am I not celebrating?

The company press release did not mention that the only Giant Sequoias on SPI land are all recent plants, no giants actually, and "saving the Sequoias" has absolutely nothing to do with the remaining natural Giant Sequoia trees, scattered in only 75 groves along California's Sierra Nevada.

In fact, SPI clear-cut big timber right adjacent to the state and federally protected groves in Tuolumne County's portion of the state park, a cut that made both state and federal officials very nervous about the impact on habitats and watersheds. But not nervous enough to take on the politicians who benefit from SPI.

There are some planted Giant Sequoias outside of protected parks including in a subdivision and a park in Murphys, in cemeteries of pioneers, and eight within a quarter mile of our home all planted by early cabin builders.
None constitute a grove and no one gets a tax break for leaving them alone.

I have one growing on my deck in a bucket, but never thought to ask for a tax break. If I can get a million dollars from the government for a $6 seedling, I may want to participate.

Anyway, some more details are available at his link:

and here's most of the story from the newspaper:

SPI offset deal scoffed at by some observers
Written by James Damschroder, The Union Democrat October 06, 2009 11:40 am

About a week after a new state program was adopted to allow polluters to buy carbon offsets from logging companies, environmentalists say their fears are coming to fruition: logging companies earning millions of dollars for disguised clear-cutting practices.

California’s largest private landowner and logging giant, Sierra Pacific Industries, recently entered into the nation’s largest forest carbon offset deal to date.

SPI claims the deal will sequester an additional 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide — equal to taking 300,000 cars off the road for a year — over the next five years.

The highlighted project in the deal will be to “protect in perpetuity” about 20,000 giant sequoias on over 60,000 acres of SPI land — most of which are in Tuolumne County, said Mark Pawlicki, SPI spokesman.

“The only little sequoias that are growing on SPI lands are a few scattered small trees amidst its mostly pine-tree plantations that have been planted after fires or clear-cuts,” said John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.

Pawlicki admitted that the oldest of SPI’s giant sequoias are only about 30 years old, and many are just seedlings.

“They grow really fast, though,” he said. “They’re already big.”

Pawlicki wouldn’t say how much money SPI looks to gain from the deal — which came just a week after the program was pushed through the California Air Resources Control Board by the Schwarzenegger administration— but by all measurements it will be worth millions for the logging company.

Essentially, the program — called the Climate Action Reserve Forestry Protocol Version 3.0 — will allow industrial polluters, like power plants and oil refineries, to buy carbon credits from logging companies, like Sierra Pacific Industries, which adhere to forestry practices outlined in the plan.

This could become extremely profitable for logging companies, especially once Assembly Bill 32, the landmark global warming bill, goes into practice in two years. The bill will put caps on polluters so they have to either clean up their acts or buy carbon offsets.

SPI is one of the few logging companies that didn’t participate in an earlier version of the program, which did not allow clear-cutting practices.

In the new wording, according to a handful of environmental groups, the baseline is being set so low that SPI will be monetarily rewarded for its standard 17- to 20-acre clear-cuts. Environmentalists say it is already happening in this deal.

“This appears to be one of the biggest scams on the public that a lumber company and state officials have ever attempted to pull off,” said Buckley.

But SPI and Gov. Schwarzenegger say this is a landmark deal that will help stem global warming.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Deforestation American Style

View Larger Map

Camp Connell, CA -- Thanks to Google, you can explore my neighborhood.
You can't really see the people or the general store, but you get an idea where we are located. In the woods.
Zoom in and out for an even better look.
There are no towns nearby, just villages and housing areas: Dorrington and Camp Connell and Big Trees Village subdivision.

Probably 90 per cent of the nearly thousand homes and cabins within three miles of us are unoccupied 95 per cent of the time. This is vacation cabin country, and most owners are absentee.
For example, there are 12 cabins on my road, and we are the only people who actually live here full-time. This Thanksgiving weekend, three other cabins on our road have been temporarily occupied, and that's about average for a holiday week at this time of year.
Maybe 200 or so people live in the immediate area.

We are all surrounded by tall trees; Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, Incense Cedar, Oak, White Fir and a few Giant Redwoods planted in the last 100 years. The neighborhood is usually very quiet, and we really like it.

But if you take a close look at the Google map you will see it is not an untouched paradise. Large chunks have been removed, legally. It is sort of a a de-forestation blessed by local and state and federal governments.

Most of the forest immediately around us is owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, California's largest land-owner, and they have been cutting trees rapidly in the past few years. The pace has slowed a bit because of the housing industry collapse, but SPI's public relations department remains quite active selling the idea that the fault is elsewhere. They have to do it, they claim, because the Stanislaus National Forest lands where they used to cut trees owned by the public has tighter regulations.

Like a politician's "talking points," the corporation sells certain ideas: clear cutting is efficient and businesslike; herbicides are good for us; mono-culture forests are a sensible way to replant when they clear-cut a mixed conifer forest; the company is environmentally friendly and just wants to reduce the fire hazards, and problems for the industry are primarily caused by over-zealous environmentalists who don't understand good business practices.
I don't happen to believe it, and few of the people who actually live here do, but enough politicians accept the public relations pitch and the effective lobbying so the clear-cutting continues.

Look at the checkerboard pattern in the Google map, including acres adjacent to a major grove of Giant Sequoias protected by the state park.
The clear-cuts almost always leave a thin screen of trees to hide the scalped land from being visible from the roads.

None of my neighbors are anti-lumberjack, or against the use of timber, and almost no one here suggests trees should not be cut. We all live in wooden houses, burn wood in the fireplace, and sit on wooden-framed furniture.
But we'd like a more sensible approach.

The local economy is almost entirely dependent upon tourism: skiing, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting provide what little economy survives. In our mountain region, the biggest employer is the ski resort which is usually open five months at the most, and pays minimum wage to a lot of its seasonal employees.

Despite the massive tree cutting in the past few years, very few jobs in this economically depressed county are directly related to the corporate land owners. Their people mostly live in other areas, they have no mills operating in the county. The trucks come in, cut the trees, and haul them away to some other place. I suspect they pay a very small tax bill, if any.
The industry has created its own "green" non-profit organization to sell the idea that clear-cutting and mono-culture forest and herbicides are good for us, but people who live here know better.

Take a look for yourself.

*If you want to learn more, check out the website of a local organization that tries to balance economic necessity with smart forest practices:

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Snow Dance worked

Tioga Pass in Yosemite via webcam

Camp Connell, CA -- A training class for people who lead snow shoe walks ended early this week with this encouragement from the leader: "Now let's go home and do the snow dance!"
We did, and it worked.
The snow started falling about 2 p.m. today while we were having lunch at the Just Delicious Cafe in Arnold, almost 1,000 feet down the mountain from where we live.
When we got home it became a steady drop, quietly hiding and healing all the scars of a long summer and Fall. This is one of the loveliest times of year here in the mountains. Come to think of it, there are no bad times.
But this is really nice.
The video was taken from our porch, and the still photograph borrowed from a web camera at Tioga Pass, in Yosemite National Park, a few miles south of us and at 9,900 feet.
Eventually snow gets old, particularly if I have to shovel a lot or the plow shows up late.
But for now, we love it.
Earlier in the week we attended the training session for snow shoe walks in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, bought brand new snow tires for Pat's Subaru. And then today I bought a new pair of downhill skis.
All I have to do now is get in some shape other than portly.

Bring it on!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This woman's from Venus

Unloading the old purse, and checking her stuff

Camp Connell, CA-- After decades of careful research I have come to absolutely no conclusions regarding why my wife has to have a new purse.
I have been watching her longer than Jane Goodall lived with her chimps, clearly not a comparable experience, but nothing in my cultural anthropology classes at the University of Michigan explains the apparently routine need to change purses.
I understand what triggered the behavior: we had finished a nice mid-morning breakfast in the tourist town of Murphys with friends Sylvia and Michael, when Pat and Sylvia responded to a shared impulse to shop. "I need a new purse," Pat told her.
It was too early to visit the winery tasting rooms so Michael and I responded to our shared interests by sitting on a bench in sun and watch the people wander by.
About 30 minutes later they appeared with small shopping bags in hand. Mission accomplished.
Pat's new purse is smaller than the old one, more compact, and with a lot more pockets and sleeves to hold things with.

The old purse was purchased before we went on vacation because she needed something bigger for travel. It was a nice collection of muted Fall colors.

The new purse is red/orange, and it is "important" that it is brighter to help us brighten the winter. As Pat worked to move everything into the new purse she said, quietly, to herself, "I am not sure this purse is going to work. Bummer."
Going over the contents

When we got home Pat spread the contents on the dining table and made the change-over. Here is an inventory of the old purse' contents:
-- A wallet (no longer needed);
-- A fold-out plastic photo/card sleeve (no longer needed);
--A Starbucks card;
-- Cell phone;
-- Aria (local bakery) gift coupon;
-- Calaveras Library card;
-- Oakland Yacht Club membership card;
-- Credit cards;
-- Debit cards;
-- Medicare card;
-- AAA insurance and membership cards;
-- Calaveras Big Trees Association card;
-- Dental appointment cards (2);
-- Two key chains linked together with a carbiner and 12 keys;
-- Receipts;
-- Safe Deposit key;
-- Lipstick;
-- Tissues;
-- Deodorant;
-- Notes on the Mediterranean diet;
-- A postage free post card for "Discover" magazine;
-- A "proposed treatment plan" from our dentist for getting a cavity filled;
-- Two "to do"lists, one for Nov. 10 and one for Nov. 12;

The new purse, ready to go
She was able to get everything in, though it was a tight fit. She walked around with the new purse on her shoulder for a while, and then said: "I may have to take it back."

While I was typing this, she quietly unloaded the efficient pretty new red purse and put everything into a nice older green/brown purse that was apparently stored wherever old purses are stored.

I have no opinion about that.

UPDATE: The new red purse was returned, without prejudice, to the store on Sunday and exchanged for a new one, the same color, "just a little bit bigger."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fall Color in the Sierra Nevada

California's Highway 4 goes right by our house and east through the mountains almost to the Nevada border

Camp Connell, CA -- One of our favorite places on earth is the area near Ebbetts Pass, 8,730 feet high in the Sierra Nevada mountains and about 30 miles from our front door.
Today was the day we promised ourselves, time for a Fall hike before the pass is closed by snow and while the color is rippling through the canyons and along the roads. We've been coming up here for almost 30 years, and today had to be one of the best visits ever.
Just driving along the narrow mountain road is a joy, but the best part of the day was when we grabbed our packs and hiked north along the Pacific Crest Trail for a few miles. We got one more chance to see and smell and touch this spectacular place.
So here is a share of our wonderful day:Pat stopped here to admire a lake surrounded by conifers on one side and a snow-covered slope on the other.
Alongside the trail we found a warm rock in the sun where we had lunch and looked for animal tracks
You can't find too many beautiful lakes high in the mountainsAspen, deer brush and oaks were all showing off golden yellows in the high country
This grand old tree marks the start of one of our favorite hikes, a place paved with wildflowers in Spring. My mother loved this area, so we scattered her ashes on a nearby talus slope where wildflowers bloom

John Muir wrote books full of praise for these mountains. I can't top that, but we can witness that he was right.
This is a place to renew your spirit and lift your soul.
When you are ready for a visit, give us a call. We're always happy to go higher up and further in.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jack Nelson -- RIP

Jack Nelson, reporter

Camp Connell, CA -- Democracy lost a friend when Jack Nelson passed away at age 80 this week.
Jack was a newspaper reporter, the type that movies should be made about. Honest. Tough. Uncompromising. Caring.
He hated dishonesty, particularly in public officials, and spent his long productive lifetime trying hard to make sure the public knew the facts of every situation so they could judge for themselves who deserved to be elected, or not.
Eulogies will be in the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere, but here is a brief picture of the Jack Nelson I knew.
When I was a 20-year-old reporting intern at the Atlanta Journal, Jack had just won a Pulitzer Prize for the Atlanta Constitution, then our rival newspaper. The prize was for reporting on abuses at the state-run mental hospital, a series of stories that got sleazy officials fired and won better treatment for sick people under government control.
Jack took time to meet and be supportive of the younger reporters, and spent an afternoon or two over beer across the street from the newspaper answering our questions about how good reporting was done. When he suspected voter rolls were faked in one Georgia County, he took the voter lists to the local cemeteries where he found a lot of dead voters. Despite threats to his personal safety he wrote stories about crooked sheriffs running speed traps to catch Florida-bound tourists, complete with hidden speed limit signs and cash-only fines.
When I went back to school for my senior year studying journalism, a handful of had the nerve to write and ask him if he could come speak to a new chapter of the student journalism association. Jack got into his car and drove from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa, made the requested speech, and encouraged our small group. He made it clear he was just a hard-working reporter who wanted to dig out and tell the truth.
He spent a long rewarding life doing just that.
Jack left the Atlanta newspapers to be the Southern-based writer for the Los Angeles Times, and later Washington Bureau Chief.
A decade after our first meeting, I was a bureau chief covering the announcement by George C. Wallace that he would make a run for President of the United States when Wallace stopped in mid-speech and said something like this: "Why all those pointy-headed bicycle-riding college professors think my campaign is not important, but there in the back of the room is Yankee reporter Jack Nelson from the ultra-liberal Losss Angell-ese Times writing down every word I say!"
Jack, a native Southerner who knew Wallace for the hypocrite he was, just smiled at the Alabama governor, took his notes, and went back to write another straight-as-an-arrow story about what the ex-governor said and did, without a hint of his own feelings.
He didn't tolerate hypocrites or fools, but he let the truth tell the tale.

We're all better off for having know Jack and benefited from his work.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Listening in Ireland and Scotland

Downtown Belfast swarms with crowds of workers, students and tourists -- all kinds of people from all over the world

Camp Connell, CA -- The best meal we had on vacation was in an Indian restaurant in Dunoon, Scotland.
The best music we heard was from Afro-Cuban drummers followed by romantic Romanian singers in a Belfast, Northern Ireland, bar.
In some of the places we traveled recently we listened to not-always-pleasant echoes of American conversations about immigration and its impact. It seems Ireland and Great Britain are struggling with some of the same sometimes-divisive issues that test Americans.
In the polite atmosphere of a Belfast pub during a celebration of many cultures in Northern Ireland a woman explained why she was handing out little blue bracelets that said "Unite Against Hate."
In this modern Belfast pub we listened to Afro-Cuban music, drank Guiness, and discussed the wave of immigration

The bracelet was, she said, part of a government program to help Ireland's people understand the benefits of diversity and the positive side of immigration's impact on society.
A copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was handed out to the crowd as they sipped their pints and listened to the music.
The world is changing fast, and most of the busy people in Dublin and Belfast and Edinburgh seem to be enjoying that.
The upscale pub's patrons, drawn by the prospect of international music, seemed sympathetic to the woman with the bracelets, and cheered the music, and overall it was a warm and friendly atmosphere. Even curious American tourists are welcome here.
But some conversations elsewhere indicated not everyone is so thrilled with the influx of workers from Eastern Europe and Africa, an influx which was a flood until the recent economic collapse. I heard people talk about how immigrants took jobs from "natives," how "those people" were getting money from the government that out-of-work Irish people could not.
Depending where you are on the Emerald Isle, the Irish are not all that thrilled with each other, either. They've had a rough few centuries dealing with Viking raiders, famine, clan or tribal warfare, British colonialism, popes and pretenders, and the biggest challenge of all -- themselves. Their civil war was decidedly uncivil, and much more recent than ours. Scars still show.
The issue of religion and political alliances came up a time or two, usually with a comment that "some of my best friends are ...", but with the clear sense that "they are not like us."
In Ireland and Northern Ireland I never heard anyone put down anyone's religion. But I heard a lot about "sectarian differences."
It has been less than 15 years since Irish extremists and British soldiers quit killing on a regular basis in the North. Now, on the rare occasion when it happens, it is seen as something unusual. It is overwhelmingly sad to a visitor, and confusing. But it is clear to the Irish, whatever their political affiliation and/or religion.

Tour guides point out a mural honoring Bobby Sands who starved himself to death in prison; sectarian strife is a popular tourist theme

Most of the people we met are very glad the "Troubles" seem to be over, but they haven't forgotten. And fences separate neighborhoods and gates are locked at night. That's still a part of daily life, as are pubs that serve all-Catholic or all-Protestant clientele. Tourists are always welcome.

For some people, particularly those on the political extremes, it will take more time to forgive the past. Somehow it makes life easier to talk about "sectarian" differences than to label disputes as religious or political.

In Dublin, history is on every street corner. Modern sculptures honor the dead heroes of the 1916 Rising against the British. They were shot, or hung, just across the street at the jail

In contrast, in Scotland people seemed quite comfortable to wear a kilt, listen to a bagpipe, and still be considered part of Great Britain. The Scottish parliament now meets in Edinburgh, a source of pride, but any serious effort to a complete political divorce from Great Britain is invisible to the visitor, and isn't making news.
The ultra-modern Scottish Parliament Building is across the street from the Queen of England's summer castle in Edinburgh. Ironic? No, just the way things are in Scotland today

The histories of all these people are linked in many ways. The Scots came from Ireland originally, and some went back to stay. The Irish who stayed put -- many left the country during bad times -- take pride in their deep roots. And all are linked to Celts everywhere, and centuries of dispute and common ancestry make them more alike than different in language and custom.
Everybody has been involved in fighting, often bloody, for centuries. That's a habit most are trying the break.
Young people seem less concerned about all this than their elders, which is not surprising. The young were told about the troubles. Their parents were stopped and searched on the street by armed soldiers.
It would take me a while to get over having my grocery bag searched for a bomb by a soldier with a machine gun.
As a good friend said before we made the trip, we were safer on the streets of Ireland than we would be in almost any American city. There is no fear in a visit like ours, but there is some sadness in the midst of all the excitement and beauty and memories of kind people.
My ancestors came from both the protestant North -- County Antrim -- and the Catholic South -- County Cork-- so I get no guidance from genetic memory on the quandary of modern Ireland.
Another few centuries and they will work all this out. I'm sure we can all get along, given time.
That's a lesson to bring home and ponder.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ireland - Part One

The "Kosie II" pub, a place for a pint, a pub meal, and conversation

Camp Connell, CA -- My Lamont ancestors were settlers who came to Ireland from Scotland in the 1640s, part of the migration spurred by the creation of the Ulster Plantation.
The Clan Lamont had its original roots in Ireland, as did many Scots in the western regions. You can see Ireland across the North Channel from the Scottish coast, and people went back and forth frequently.
The English used Protestant Scots to try and drive out the Catholic Irish natives, but within a hundred years the Lamont family I eventually came from got fed up and left for America, disenchanted with English policies and the real possibility of starvation.
Four family members came to New York in the 1740s: the mother -- described only as "an Irish woman" -- and her three sons Archibald, John and Robert. A daughter named Mary was left behind, and the father's fate is unknown. Even after 100 years in Ireland, they were still known as Scots. In the United States, our historians renamed them Scots-Irish, a name the folks in Northern Ireland do not appreciate. They are Ulster Scots, as stubborn today as they were 400 years ago.
So we went to Ireland in September to see what the place looked like, and how it felt.
It looked as beautiful as advertised.

Ponies graze in a rich green field along the County Antrim coast

Sheep dominate the pastoral scenes across Northern Ireland

Beauty was most obvious when we took a trip from Belfast along the northern coast, a scenic journey popular with tourists today and the area where the Lamonts settled for a while. The land is brilliant green, with glens reaching back from the ocean cliffs and harbors, and has a feel of gentleness. Old castles dot the coast, and the winding road reminds us of California's Big Sur region. It even has a geologic wonder called the Giant's Causeway, an ocean-front reminder of the Devil's Postpile in California's mountains -- except much grander.
Local fishermen built a rope bridge to connect the coast to the rocks, a place where there used to be a lot of salmon

But looking at the history, we had to deal with tragedy.
History is everywhere, in the names of towns and counties, and in the protective metal cages still surrounding police stations and even some pubs in Northern Ireland. Today's Irish are full of pride for their country, and a unique view of the history some have lived through.
Even though the Irish civil war ended in the 1920s, the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland officially ended in a truce only in the 1990s, there are still some long memories.
In case you have forgotten, and it is easy to forget for an American living so far away, the Emerald Isle is still split into two parts: The larger Republic of Ireland, freed less than 100 years ago from the colonial masters in England, and the smaller Northern Ireland, still part of Great Britain and still suffering from generations of animosity.
It is a very complex situation, as a tour guide in Belfast was quick to point out. Everyone is glad the killing has stopped, even if only tentatively, but he also mentioned that he and his Protestant friends do not go into Catholic neighborhoods if they can avoid it, and Catholics do not frequent Protestant pubs bedecked with Union Jacks and the color orange.
And a Catholic family living in the Republic of Ireland acknowledged that she had been uncomfortable when visiting in the north.
Memorials to the dead heroes of the "Troubles" are now featured on tours of Belfast

The situation reminded me of some of my older relatives' attitudes when I was a child, talking about how "the Yankees" treated Southerners badly, and the resentments on both sides. The stereotypes still exist today almost 145 years after that war ended.
Ireland still needs some time for the old wounds to heal. The younger generations usually are more willing to forgive the past they haven't lived through.
But tourists are exempt from the sectarian disagreements, and we were welcomed everywhere. We certainly felt safer on the streets of Belfast at night than we would in any American city of the same size. And Dublin was full of energy, and interesting people and sites.

On our first night in the Republic of Ireland, after grueling flights from San Francisco to Dublin by way of Germany, we were made to feel welcome in a very traditional way.
At the suggestion of the host at the Ferry House B&B in Dun Loaghaire, pronounced Dun Leery, we wandered over to the Kosie II Pub, just around the corner. The barman, Michael, introduced himself, shook our hands and welcomed us to Ireland with a smile and friendly conversation. The other customers, mostly older men, asked about our well being, wanted to know where we were from, and were interested in our impressions of their homeland. That was the sort of reception we had everywhere we went, north and south.
We had a pint of Guinness, a pub meal of soup and soda bread, and went off to see the sights the next morning.
Civil wars, British brutality, colonialism and the "Troubles" seemed ancient history when you are sharing a pint and stories with new friends.

Next: Ireland going though changes, accepting diversity and joining Europe.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Edinburgh, Scotland - Good castles and good people

The entrance to Edinburgh Castle, the premier site to visit in Edinburgh

Camp Connell -- Edinburgh was the last stop on a two week tour of Ireland and Scotland for us, and it was a good place to end a lovely visit.
We stayed at the Priestville Guest House based on the recommendation in Rick Steve's Great Britain book and it was a good choice: comfortable, reasonable rates, close to public transportation, off the main drag so it was quieter, and the hosts were extremely helpful.
In a quiet neighborhood, close to the bus, this was the view from our B&B window

The first day we hopped a bus into the center of town and walked the
Royal Mile. It was rainy, but not uncomfortable, and by being in town in early October we did not have to fight big crowds.Somehow we resisted the temptation to try Haggis, though we actually met people who did

We dropped by St. Giles Cathedral, which proved to be a gem, and were fascinated by the tales told by the docent who showed us around. It was a small comfort to me to find the Duke of Argyll, a Campbell and the 17th century bad boy who hung 200 Lamonts from a tree in Dunoon in 1646, was buried here after he was executed.
The guide also tipped us to the stunning old court building across the courtyard, and to a fine small cafe in the basement where we had a reasonable lunch.
We then took the walking tour (with audio) of Edinburgh Castle. You could devote an entire day to the castle, and it provided great background on Scottish history and culture, canon and jewels, ramparts and dungeons.
The biggest canon around centuries ago, used stone canonballs

One of the more interesting places in the castle is the prison where prisoners of war were kept after being captured in sea battles: during the American Revolution. Those were our guys.
William Wallace, the real hero, before he was drawn and quartered

During the summer festivals the castle also has daily military tattoos, including bagpipe bands, but we missed that.
We walked back down the hill to the parliament building and the Holyrood House, the queen's home in Edinburgh, popping in and out of shops along the way.
The nicest surprise of the visit was the small free museum operated by the city council. It is called "The People's Story" and depicts life in Scotland for the working people, unlike castles which are always about the rich and the wars fought over territory. The displays showed the jobs people had, how they lived and worked, and the history of the struggles of the working class in Great Britain.

Our last full day the weather was cold and windy, and we opted to spend our time inside the National Museum of Scotland, another stunning example of great museums in the world. It is every bit as well-done as the Smithsonian museums in Washington, covered history from the dawn of settlement in Scotland to the present, and even offered hands-on learning/adventure sections for youngsters. Undoubtedly one of the best museums, and most interesting, I've ever been inside. And it did not romanticize the clans and their battles, but put them in perspective of Scottish history, including the struggles with England.
We ended our visit at the high-end and highly-rated restaurant upstairs in the museum. Maybe it was the end of a long trip, but it seemed overpriced and over-rated, high on pretensions and low on actual food quality. I suspect everyone there, except us, was on expense account, or they would not be having $75 lunches.
A word about the people: everywhere we went in Edinburgh people on the streets and buses were eager to help us. If we had a map out, someone stopped and offered help, and a friendly chat. When we were confused about where to get off the bus, a young couple with kids took us in hand and showed us the way.
A very hospitable city.
Our final day required an extremely early trip to the airport. Our B&B host at Priestville arranged for a cab to pick us up at 4 a.m., double-checked on the plan the night before, and made sure we had something to eat set aside the morning we left.

As we drove to the airport at 4 a.m. it was interesting to note that crowds of young adults were still on the streets, just heading home from a night of club-hopping. Obviously, there was a side of Edinburgh we did not have time to see.
All in all, a great city, well-represented by courteous and helpful people.
This is one of many tourist buses you can hop on and off anytime. We chose to ride the city buses, just as charming but warmer

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fashion Notes

Camp Connell, CA -- As part of our recent cultural learning experience, Pat and I spotted some interesting clothing styles which seem to reflect something about Ireland and Scotland.
It was mostly sunny in Ireland and mostly wet and cloudy in Scotland, so that certainly had an impact on what people wore. But, some fashions did stand out.

First, with a nod in the direction of my grand-daughter Delaney, there were a lot of boys in Ireland that looked a lot like Harry Potter and his Hogwarts buddies.

Second, with a memory of teachers who would have whipped out the ruler to check proper skirt length below the knee, there were a lot of school girls in neat uniforms with mini-skirts and black stockings.

Third, a particular shade of pink showed up all over Ireland, but rarely in Scotland. That probably says something about the colorful Irish.

The color even appeared on buses and advertisements.

The fashion we most wanted to emulate was provided by a teen aged girl we met in Belfast. I would not say she was typical, but her hairdo was pretty striking,

In Ireland we noticed that a lot of men, particularly middle-aged working and professional men, were sporting shaved heads and tank tops or tight tee shirts. It was like looking at a gathering of skin-heads, only to find out it was a dentist convention.

We saw some really really interesting shoes in the cities, and Pat shot this picture of me, being bemused, at a display.

Good taste, and my wife's intervention, interfered with my photographing the more striking examples of young women in extreme mini-skirts and with significant cleavage, but both were plentiful in Ireland and totally missing in Scotland except for this rather tasteful shot taken at Edinburgh Castle. The lady and her friend were probably German tourists, but you can see the trend for adults to emulate the teenagers.

Finally, Pat admired the outfit this fellow had on, but I declined to buy the hat.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Planes, trains, (BART and DART) and other stuff

Camp Connell, CA -- A trip of 15,000 miles did not actually start with a single step. Rather, it started with an Oakland taxi that never showed up.
In the next few days I'll post blogs on the highlights of the two-week trip Pat and I made to Ireland and Scotland, mostly for pleasure, but first a quick review of transit systems required for the journey.
It's not easy to get from Camp Connell, high in the mountains of California, to Dublin, Ireland, the first stop on our trip, but we did a lot of planning.
On a Friday we dropped off refrigerator contents in Murphys at the home of our daughter Ruth and family, and then drove the three hour trip to our boat which is docked at the Oakland estuary.
We went to San Francisco early -- on Saturday -- to spend some time with my former brother-in-law who was in San Francisco for a visit, and then spent the night aboard s/v Good News at the Oakland Yacht Club in Alameda. We had plenty of time, including a dinner with sailing friends Dan and Lorraine Olsen, so on Sunday we arranged for a cab to pick us up to take us to BART, the rapid transit train, to avoid parking fees at the airport.
The promised cab never showed. We called when he was ten minutes late, and he called back once to say he was lost. Pat gave him directions, as he was only a block or two away. Then he never showed, or called.
After a frustrating wait, we got another cab to the rapid transit station in Oakland. On the BART station platform we were entertained by teenagers dropping F-Bombs, strutting around in a mildly threatening way, singing and what may have been dancing. We decided it was more curious than threatening, though some of the folks waiting on the platform were clearly nervous and averting their eyes and watching for security to show up. Never did. One Oakland resident observed "Somebody's going to kick their ass if they keep that up," but no one did.
The train showed up on time, and other than another parade by the same youngsters seeking more attention waltzing through the cars, the trip was uneventful.
The highlight of the San Francisco Airport was buying a snack, $30 worth, to get us to Europe.
We flew United Airlines from San Francisco to Frankfurt, Germany, thanks to frequent flier points collected through the years. We took a modified polar route.
Lacking the points to go business class, we flew for about 12 hours in what I think is called cattle car class, 370 or so people jammed into "economy" seats designed for skinny 13-year-olds. I would have taken pictures but I could not get my arms free to raise them up with a camera. No wonder people die of blood clots on airplanes.
At one point I noticed we had a tail wind of 110 miles per hour, pushing our ground speed over 660 mph. We could see nothing outside, but the miniature map six inches in front of our face was interesting.
We got a free meal of some not quite recognizable glutenous mass, and had some sleep as we flew over Hudson Bay, Greenland and Iceland, and -- of course -- our destination Dublin. We flew over Dublin because United does not stop there.
Things got better in Germany. The airport was clean and efficiently laid out, and the flight on Lufthansa to Dublin was fairly quick and easy. The seats were even big enough for an adult human.
About 18 hours after we climbed aboard the taxi in California, we were in the Dublin Airport trading dollars for Euros, not a happy transaction, and looking for one Patton Flyer bus among many that would take us downtown to a train station for the final ride to our bed and breakfast in a suburb south of the city. We started the day on BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit, and ended it on DART, Dublin Area Rapid Transit.
Our last trip of the day was a short walk to the neighborhood pub where we had a pint and dinner in the bar, before turning in Monday night.
The first part of our trip required seven links. I'll get around to the ferry later. That's enough for now.

On the DART in Dublin, Ireland

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sharp-toothed Aliens Attack!!!!!

Camp Connell, Ca. - I am not making this up.
Something strange is eating my steps. There are teeth marks on what is left of the risers on the stairs, and I have been hearing strange gnawing sounds off and on recently.
Here's what it looks like at the entrance:

And then I started noticing that within a very short time after I put out feed for the birds in the neighborhood, it began to disapear. Like this:

And then I spotted this:

Using my keen investigative skills I figured out that aliens have penetrated the bodies of the normally benign squirrels in my area, and they are mounting a concentrated attack.
We have squirrels: grey squirrels, which are the biggest and lope around like foxes all around the house; ground squirrels, seen in the picture, which are the most voracious and can fill their cheek pouches with an endless stream of food types; Douglas squirrels, also known as Chickarees, which can eat 3,000 cones a year and often do; and assorted chipmunks, including the long-eared variety who clean up after their bigger cousins.
And we almost certainly have flying squirrels, though I have never seen one here. They only descend from the tree-tops at night, munching whatever they find including fungi, and then disappearing back into the heights before dawn. As a kid, my friends and I tried to tame them only to learn the basic Squirrel 101 lesson: squirrels bite.
Seen from one perspective they are cute little buggers, endlessly entertaining with their antics and scolding and squeaking.
But I think they are possessed by the devil, determined to eat my porch and drive the birds away.
The only thing worse are the feral cats that come around to hunt them, spawn of evil.
And then, I spotted these new guys, shortly after hearing my bird feeder rattle empty. to the ground.

If I don't re-appear in the next few days, call the secret Air Force UFO experts and tell them what happened.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Connections to good times/friends

Camp Connell, CA - Labor Day Weekend -- The photo which tops this blog really requires little arrows pointing in various directions, because each element of the picture has a story to tell about friendship, travel, adventure and maybe even aging well in good company.
Since I do not have the computer hardware to make the arrows go where I want, I'll try to do this simply in text so all my relatives can understand...
(That didn't sound right, but you can ask questions later in the comments section. Be sure and state exactly how we are related before asking anything serious.)

First, the location is the front deck of our home in the Sierra Nevada mountains, about 100 miles due east of San Francisco and 4,980 feet up Ebbetts Pass Highway.

Second, the time was Sunday morning, after everyone woke up after an evening of music and food, and a little wine, got cleaned up, and all were ready to smile.

Here comes the complicated part: how six different people came to be know each other.

From left to right, that's me with the umbrella growing out of my head. I would normally be wearing shorts and a T-shirt from Mexico, but I've worn most of them out hauling firewood so the shirt is a "Stomping Grayzies" team shirt from the annual Grape Stomp Festival in the gold-and-tourist-mining town of Murphys. My grand-daughter and son-in-law made up a team and I was a cheerleader. Symbolic of a slight shift in life style, don't you think?
Next is my beautiful spousal unit Pat, wearing normal clothes and a smile, and including a red flannel shirt to keep warm as it is beginning to feel like Fall in the early mornings.
Third in line is Dan Olson, sailor and retired state bigwig, from San Diego Sacramento El Dorado Hills in the past and this year from Cartagena Columbia. Dan stood in back because he is very tall. His wife Lorraine, dressed like a normal person, is probably the quietest of this group, which is a reflection of her high tolerance level. Maybe she is just being polite.
Dan is wearing a bright green T-shirt that says "Sabbatical" on it, even though his boats are named Zephyr and Zephrus. Sabbatical was a big sailboat owned by the couple on the far right (photographically, not politically) who have since swallowed the hook (translation: sold the boat) and moved to Mexico (more on that later, it gets too confusing).
Pat and I met Dan and Lorraine in San Diego almost ten years ago on a dock, and they were present the day we took ownership of our sailboat Good News. They showed up on a New Years Eve with champagne and a suggestion for the boat's name, which stuck. We since have been with them in places ranging from the Oakland Estuary to the backwaters of Tenacatita Bay in Mexico. Dan even hauled me up my 50 foot mast in a bosun's chair, once so you know I trust him.
Their current home is on a small sailboat in Alameda, near our boat Good News, and their normal home is a larger sailboat waiting for them in Columbia where they plan to continue their cruising the Western Hemisphere lifestyle in October. We may see them next in Belize, or maybe the Caribbean. Probably Oakland.
Next in line is Prof. Sylvia Fox, who with husband Michael Fitzgerald, also a professor, have been entangled with Olsons and LaMonts for years in various ways.
Michael is wearing a Tenacatita Bay Regatta T-shirt from several years back, the year he helped win the big race. Or came close. Or something like that.
Other than playing the fiddle, teaching journalism, marrying Michael, living aboard a sailboat, having a home on Seneca Lake in New York and the other in a small Mexican village with no other gringo residents, Sylvia's pretty normal. She is the brains behind a lot of the mischief these six people cook up, and almost all the fun.
Michael is part sailor part journalist, part politician and part musician. His current instrument is the ukulele, and his current residence in a shared home in Sacramento near the University where they both teach the Fall semesters. He shares those other homes in Mexico and New York, and may be planning to have a few more before he and Sylvia decide which continent is best. Don't be fooled by the smile and the happy uke songs, Michael is also a sharp critic of foolish politicians everywhere, and particularly anti-union forces in California. (We met through journalism, but got over it.)
Together Michael and Sylvia have begun to bring positive change to their village by providing a veterinarian to help the residents. More important, probably, is the bridges of friendship they have forged with Mexican neighbors and friends, and helping their animals get healthy, and providing free English language lessons for the village children. No guessing what they will do next, but it will be interesting.
It's hard to believe that we only go back a decade. We've shared interests in government, newspapers, politics, the web, sailing, Mexico, music, wine, and each other's families for long enough to feel thoroughly connected. We've lived together in shared homes a few times, even shared a great old dog once, and watched the children and grandchildren grow and mature.
We enjoy music together and I am pretty sure that our band "The Four Headlamps" has now become the "Six Headlamps" since we added Dan on a noisy apple-shaker and Lorraine played sticks this weekend. Someone suggested the "Dim Bulbs" would be a better name, but that did not carry the vote. Check out the band on one of Michael's blogs:

I'm sure we six would never agree on everything, but then again, we wouldn't care about that. Friendship does not require agreement.

None of these folks will ever starve so long as I have a can of beans in my cupboard.

They're on my friends "list" even without Facebook.

Even without arrows drawn on the picture, we are all connected.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Un-Greatful Dead

(picture courtesy of National Geographic)

Camp Connell, Ca -- Logic tells me, when I am swimming in the ocean, that sharks may live nearby but they don't really want to eat me.
But I could never get past the idea of them looking up at me, wondering if I would be stringy or tender.
And now I live in the forest with bears and mountain lions and other creatures, like spiders.
So I really appreciate this official list of how many people die by various critters that many of us fear. Note that the most dangerous is a Bee/Wasp. We have lots of those.

Average Number of Deaths per Year in the U.S
Bee/Wasp 53
Dogs 31
Spider 6.5
Rattlesnake 5.5
Mountain lion 1
Shark 1
Alligator 0.3
Bear 0.5
Scorpion 0.5
Centipede 0.5
Elephant 0.25
Wolf 0.1
Horse 20
Bull 3

I am always careful around dogs and horses anyway.

Cautiously yours,


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fire on the Mountain

Camp Connell, Ca -- When the breeze picks up in the mornings, the smoke drifts through the top of the trees and creates a mild haze. You can smell the smoke, even though the fire is a dozen or so miles away.
The helicopter base for dropping fire retardents was relocated last week to the edge of a subdivision part-way down the mountain, apparently to avoid the congestion created by so many aircraft, fixed wing and helicopters, operating out of the base a few miles further south. They also have access to a pond to mix with retardents, and water is always at a premium around here.
Officially, we are watching the Mount Knight Fire, the sort of blaze Californians live with every summer and fall. All over the West this scene occurs again and again.
For thousands of people, this just another summer day in the mountains.
This fire is probably the most expensive one you have never heard of. Within a day or two the cost to fight this fire will probably top $10 million. More than one thousand fire fighters and hundreds of items of expensive equipment are involved in keeping the fire contained. Add up a thousand people working long shifts for ten days around the clock, and you get a big bill.
This particular fire has been burning for more than a week, tucked deep into a canyon above the South Fork of the Stanislaus River. As the crow flies, it is probably about 14 miles from our home, and about ten miles from the home of our daughter Ruth and her family.
We are not scared, but we watch it closely. We see and hear the helicopters when we travel up and down the highway to the grocery store, or church. We watch every day.
Because it is in a remote area, no homes have been destroyed and the big newspapers in the state rarely mention it. Television stations dropped the coverage after the first day or two: all the video shots look alike, and it was hard for folks not living close by to get excited.
So far, three fire fighters have been injured, apparently not too seriously.
The fire is slowly coming under control. As of today, it is 50% "contained" which means the borders on about half the fire are under control. More than 5,000 acres have burned, and the total will grow as more back-fires are set to remove fuel from the path of the blaze.
Further south, a new fire was triggered by lightening in Yosemite National Park. Because it is in the park, the are watching that fire closely but not fighting it.
The basic reason so much money and effort is being spent to fight the Mt. Knight Fire is because the population has spread from the coast and valleys into the mountains. Less than ten miles from the fire there are hundreds of cabins, businesses, and luxury homes.
One bad day, with high winds and low humidity, and this relatively quiet fire in the California mountains could explode. Just to the south is the town of Sonora, a major retirement and recreation region packed with people. Just north is the Gold Rush town of Murphys, and closer to us, the retirement/tourist town of Arnold.
It's a quandry.
If nature had its way, a fire would sweep through the area every 20 years or so, thin the underbrush, and make the forest a better place.
But because we fought fires vigorously for a century, and allowed the underbrush to thicken unnaturally, fires are harder and harder to control.
Oh yes: and because we live nearby, fire fighters in general and the How Shot crews in particular, are our local heroes.
So we are not afraid of forest fires any more than we are of earthquakes, or serial killers, or pile-ups on the freeway. Just cautious. We have a plan, and review it every summer.
It is time for a review.

The site below as a map and details of this fire:

As of Thursday morning, the number of fire fighters is dropping as the containment numbers rise, and officials say the fire is essentially under control.