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