Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in the Mountains

At a Christmas fund-raiser in the state park

Camp Connell, CA - The sky is almost crystal blue today, not a cloud in sight and only a slight haze (from the wood-burning stove that keeps us warm) between us and a screen of bright green conifers.

Pat is somewhere in the back of the cabin, I suspect in a cleaning frenzy, and I am sitting by the picture windows doing as little as possible.
Christmas music is filling the room and the dog is carrying a tennis ball around out on the deck, dropping it into the snow then pouncing on it, perfectly happy to entertain himself. I could spend an hour watching him watching the ball, listening to a great version of "Silent Night" that includes the story of how it was written for a church service.
After a big snow the barbecue grill is hard to find!

The Advent season always seems like positive anticipation for us, and a time for looking back across the year and years to memories of friends and places and family.

Forty years ago we were living in Florida, and daughter Ruth was a tow-headed baby with a perpetual smile. I was reporting on the manned space program for Gannett Newspapers, and there was one year when we were so busy that we never finished decorating the tree. Just a few balls and no tinsel, and off to work.

We took a scuba diving course and I talked my way into writing assignments in the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas. Life was good then.

Friends from those years remain in our hearts today: Benton and Sandy Bingham, our first close neighbors and friends with whom we shared dogs, children, cars, hikes and joys and a few sorrows; Bob Bentley, my editor and friend through great newspaper opportunities, and battles; Burke and Beth Edwards, 20 years older than us but a couple that knew no barriers to friendship and who took us on our first sailing voyage to the Bahamas, and Pat's parents Bob and Florence Taylor, parents, friends and great grandparents.

Thirty years ago we moved to California, with Ruth and Zack and an old dog named Fang, finding a new life and new friends that blessed up for another twenty years. We were welcomed to the neighborhood, work, and church as if we belonged. And we did.
The Coley and Christie families brought us into their homes for holidays and shared
food and friendship. Zack grew up through baseball and soccer and Ruth went off to college.
C.K. McClatchy and Frank McCulloch and Erwin Potts treated me as a colleague at McClatchy Newspapers, gave me unstinting support, and were mentors and good examples of what a journalist could be. How many people can claim to have great honest bosses for a 20-year span?
Mark Vasche', Dave Cummerow, Ray Nish, Dick LeGrand, Rich Petersen, Susan Windemuth and many others at The Modesto Bee made coming to work a daily joy.
The people at Centenary United Methodist Church, particularly the Nelson family, helped us learn and grow and share, and provided a place or worship and celebration, and even backpacking.
We discovered Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, and began coming to Calaveras County to camp and ski and hike, finding a beautiful place that later became our home.
Life was good then.

Ten years ago we moved again, that time to Sacramento as empty-nesters, and a whole new world and group of colleagues and neighbors. I learned to spell "ombudsman," and even how to define it, had a chance to write again, and we learned the joys of living in a big city.
Our friends Michael and Sylvia rekindled our love for sailing and re-introduced us to the beautiful people of Mexico.
When I retired early we spent two years in Florida with Pat's dad, then came back to California to live in our mountains. Renewed friendships with the Grassmyers, new friends like Jeri and Gary, and the bonus that both our grown children and their children live with 20 miles.

We are surrounded by forests, which is a good reason for me to oppose clear-cutting, and the state park is a short distance away with roaring rivers, giant trees, wonderful employees and terrific volunteers.
Life is good now.
The dog, Rusty, loves the snow

Christmas Eve 2010 was a day between storms, snow is due Christmas day and a good time for quiet pondering. I had good intentions of going skiing today, but a good book trapped me late last night and I decided to sleep in and hang out instead. Maybe later we will go walk in the state park just down the road.

For now I just want to remember good friends, good times, and the blessings of Christmas.

So dear friends, named or not, you are all in my thoughts on this lovely Christmas Eve.

Alleluia indeed!Okay everybody sing real pretty!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Okay, we have had enough rain for a while

The "seasonal creek" runs through our property, but rarely this fast!

Camp Connell, Ca -- We were pretty happy when we had a long cool Spring, a mild summer and no forest fires within miles of where we live during the driest months of the year.
After several years of near-drought conditions it was a relief.
Fall was brief.
Snow started falling before Thanksgiving, and seemed as if it would not stop. We had six feet or so within two weeks, the ski resort opened early, and I managed two ski days without injury before Turkey Day.
Then the snow stopped at our elevation, we had a brief thaw, and then the rains came.
We lived a part of our lives in Florida so we are familiar with real rain, as opposed to what we normally get here in the mountains. Summer and Fall are dry here, while in Florida we could get four inches in an hour or so from one good summer thunderstorm. I think we lived here for several years before we even heard thunder.
In Florida you just pull off to the side of the road until it stops.
In California you wonder what the heck is going on.
The Winter of 2010-2011 is shaping up to be different in our mountains. It has been raining, really raining, for several days. Or weeks. I think I heard one of the TV guys say we are running about 150% of normal for snow pack before the normal heavy snow season begins. The rain must be three or four times normal for this time of year.
When you drive the roads of the Mother Lode country it looks like the Smokey Mountains, mist and fog and everything dripping wet. Beautiful, but very different from what we are used to.
We went by our daughter's home near Murphys today after church and Coyote Creek was out of its banks and into the road in large areas, around eight inches deep and getting deeper. All the gopher holes on their property were spouting water turned red by the mud. The gophers, presumably, have headed for higher ground.
My son Zack works at a ski resort at 7,000 feet and they have been shoveling for days to keep the place going. At that altitude it is almost all snow. They expect six to eight feet from this storm.
Here at our home at 5,000 feet it has rained and rained and rained. We've had 4 inches in the last two days, maybe a record. I suspect it will be ten inches or more from this storm by the end of the week.
The bridge to our neighbor's house is still above water, proof that FEMA was wrong and we are NOT in a flood zone.

The seasonal creek has gone ballistic, ripping down the hill below the house like white water rapids people pay to visit.
The wind has kicked up enough to bring down lots of limbs, and a tree or two We heard a big "boom" earlier but can't find out where it came from.
The latest series of storms to roar in off the Pacific came just as son Zack and Granddaughter Katie left to drive to Spokane Washington. At last report they are safe, but the first day of the trip was in pouring rain, and the last 300 miles or so have been in snow. They should arrive at Spokane tonight, where only two or three inches and cold temps are forecast.
They are fine, but as Zack said on the phone a while ago:"Thank God we are in the Subaru with snow tires." Lots of cars and trucks off on the side. (This is not a product placement advertisement: everyone here loves Subarus.)
Here the rain is still coming down as of 6 p.m. Sunday, but the temperature is dropping steadily. The expectation is that by 10 p.m. it will change to snow.
That figures, since I need to drive to the marina at San Francisco Bay to check on the boat, and it looks like a long day.
Pat will stay home and keep the fire going, take care of the nervous dog, and make soup. She will have the old pickup truck if she needs to escape. She will have quiet and beautiful snow for company.
And I will be driving in the rain.

The forecast is for rain and/or snow for the next five to seven days.

Santa better have his radar turned on.

This Christmas event Saturday was hoped-for as a sleigh ride, but the rain made it a covered carriage ride.

Note: I used to chuckle when Pat's dad included a detailed weather report in every letter and phone call from his Florida home. Now, I understand.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Snow way....

Camp Connell, Ca-- What we are experiencing is not the first snow of the year. That happened a few weeks ago with a polite three-inch covering that made good pictures but did not inconvenience anyone.
Today we are having what we call a dump. Twelve to 14 inches on Friday night, and an additional two feet or so (so far) since yesterday. The first of several we expect each winter, and this one came early.
It is beautiful, but the more years we live where winter is a reality, the less enamored I become with snow.
The snow plow has come by twice, and our lane is open enough to safely make it to the county road that connects us to the state highway.
But we opted to stay close to home after son Zack arrived this morning and warned us that the roads were extremely slick, and even careful drivers were sliding around playing bumper cars.
Yesterday afternoon Pat was driving home and just as she turned of the highway there was a young man beside his crushed pickup truck, looking a bit dazed. He told her he was alright, but his truck was demolished from the tree he slid into. His ATV had flown out of the back and landed nearby. His airbag inflated, though he said he was going so slow it didn't help much. He was driving down the mountain in his 4-wheel-drive vehicle when it began to slide sideways and he could not regain control.
This morning the local news website reporter trees down across a county road nearby, and several thousand people in our county without electric power.
We have to plan carefully any trip, even short ones. We carry chains, even for the all-wheel-drive Subaru and the four-wheel-drive truck. We carry shovels, drinking water and sleeping bag. And a First Aid Kit.
Just in case.
So this winter I have begun thinking about warm places, sunshine, and clear skies and roads.
Unfortunately our favorite sunny winter retreats have had recent setbacks.
The Pacific Coast of Mexico has changed through the last decade.
The resort area near Puerto Vallarta that we enjoyed for several years has become increasingly expensive, more isolated from Mexican people, and seems somehow less friendly than it once was, at least for me as a budget-minded visitor.
The beautiful little town of LaManzanilla on Tenacatita Bay is apparently as charming as ever, but Mexican politics, greedy and politically-connected resort developers and even some drug activity seem be be getting closer all the time.
The Florida that I used to know, as a child and a young adult, is disappearing faster than I can track. The coasts are now lined with condominiums, many of them empty or in the hands of the repo man, and the Everglades and "old Florida" beaches are dying faster than the aging population.
My native South -- Alabama and Georgia -- are not exactly winter travel destinations. I'd rather shovel snow off the deck than go through another cold wet winter that seems so typical in my memory.
The warm desert resorts of Southern California were interesting for a while, but require money by the bucket-load, and I have always been, and remain, cheap.

On the other hand, we've never been to Hawaii. Maybe it is time.

(Meanwhile, it is still snowing. Only three days into winter and I am ready for an escape. I think we'll walk to the general store for a candy bar.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I'm Not Done Yet -- My Ten Year Plan

Camp Connell, CA -- Turning 70 years old has some advantages, and I've been looking for them.

(The downside is boring and nobody wants to hear about it.)

The upside is pretty darned good.

Here are ten top reasons 70 isn't so bad.

1. I'm still here.
2. Most of my parts are intact and in workable condition.
3. Pat still finds me amusing and tolerable and lovable.
4. My children are close by and tolerant of my eccentricities.
5. My grandchildren like me most of the time and act like I am important to them.
6. There are still things that I can do that may make a contribution to others, and at the very least does not do any harm.
7. Old friends get better and more important through the years. (You know who you are.)
8. New friends are a gift, a surprise and a joy. (You know who YOU are.)
9. I am surrounded by beauty every day. That includes Pat, the conifer forest, sun, water, snow and friends.
10. God is still working on me. I am not yet what I may someday be.

The list could, and does, go on much longer.

When I begin to grump about doctor appointments or bills or politicians, I remind myself that the good stuff has pretty much always outweighed the bad in my life.

I am no Pollyanna. I can worry myself into a snit as quickly as anyone. When people I love are sick, or out of work, or in need, or stressed, that bothers me.
The collapse of the real estate bubble and the stock market hurt our family too.
But in the long run, that doesn't amount to much.

The movie "Little Big Man" included the perfect metaphor for my limited experience with aging.

Martin Balsam played a snake oil salesman who befriends Dustin Hoffman's character. They keep running into each other through the passing years. At one point a drunken Hoffman looks up from the gutter to see a cheerful but older Balsam looking down at him from the wooden sidewalk. Balsam is wearing an eye patch, is missing a leg, uses crutches and has various other parts missing or scarred. He is battered by life.
A concerned Hoffman asks, "How ya doing Doc?"
And Balsam responds, "Well, they're whittling away at me but they ain't got to me yet." He departs cheerful, and visibly unaffected by life's scars, off to seek another adventure.

What to do next?

As I start this eighth decade I plan to take the advice of my late friend and pastor Don Nelson who was asked by another friend what he should do when beset by doubts and fears and concerns.
When nothing else seems to work, Don told him, "go to work in the vineyard."

There are always things that need doing, people who need what you offer. Do that and the rest of those worries and concerns will fade or even disappear.

So Pat gave me the perfect birthday gift: a firefighter/trailworker's tool called a McLeod.

It's perfect for creating a clear path ahead.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bryce Canyon National Park - Beyond Spectacular

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah -- When you leave a place as beautiful as Zion National Park where you wander the bottoms of beautiful canyons in awe, it is hard to expect much of the next stop on our tour of Utah's parks.
Then you pull off the main road onto one of the overlooks at Bryce Canyon, and this is what you see:
and this:
and this:

It is really hard to compare one kind of spectacular beauty to another. But if forced to, Zion is like a cool quiet walk where you can look up and see the world, and Bryce is like standing on the rim of the world and admiring all of creation.
It is a different kind of place, and must be seen to be appreciated.

We found the campgrounds full because we arrived late, and stayed at a motel just outside the park. But it was literally just outside, and it was no problem to drive in and out as often as we wished.
We went by the visitor center to orient ourselves, had a friendly chat with a ranger or two, and then struck out to examine the hoodoos and towers and arches and glowing red colors so typical of this place.
That night we came back for a star show that took us on a trip to Virgo, and brought us back to earth to stand in line for several telescopes offered by the park staff and volunteers.
Staring into the universe with a hundred or so shivering people on a starry night in high desert country was extremely rewarding.
Most of our daylight time at Bryce was spent standing and staring. We did less hikes than earlier, but never felt we were missing anything when we watched people hiking back up the canyon walls. The entire park access is from the very top, like the Grand Canyon. so if you hike down there is only one way back. Up hill.

We'll leave that for another visit.

Free at last! .... almost

Camp Connell, CA -- One day before the election I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
My mailbox will belong to real mail again, maybe even with messages from friends, instead of over-sized slick sheets telling me how bad some candidate is.
When the telephone rings, there is at least a chance it might be a human being who really wants to talk to me.
I am not uninterested in candidates and propositions on the ballot, but as a reasonably aware adult I am capable of reading and studying away from the barrage of advertising.
Television is another thing altogether, but fortunately we don't turn it on much in our household. At the moment our granddaughter is home with a cold and watching a series of spooky movies on demand, and those seem to be free of political ads. Maybe they have figured out that 13-year-olds do not vote.
But I still have a bad case of pre-election fatigue, and one symptom of that disease is a desire to vote against everybody and everything. I understand that many people get so turned off they simply don't vote, which was exactly the intent of the advertiser.
My biggest concern right now is that this election will be bought by the big corporations that have poured billions into buying friendly congressmen. If it happens, I expect the Republic will survive, but we might be in for another bad decade.
It is a sad commentary on our times that the money spent on buying congress probably could have been spent helping those in need, creating new jobs and taking care of the sick and homeless.
My family will survive whoever wins tomorrow. But I will not vote for those who created this mess, or for propositions that benefit corporations and polluters and tax-evaders.
You can figure that out for yourself if you read the ballot closely, ignore the television, and vote your conscience.

(I'll review the ballot tonight, again, and vote tomorrow. They won't keep me away.)

Have a nice day.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Zion National Park --

Zion National Park, Utah -- We arrived here late in the day after a long tiring drive across half of Nevada and then down the west side of Utah.
The campgrounds were full. Even the parking lots inside the national park were full when we pulled into the gateway town of Springdale, Utah. We used that as an excuse to find a decent meal and a motel.
The park was still a mystery to us but the scene out the back of the motel was very promising.

The little town, a former Mormon farming community now in the tourist business, was like a small-scale Gatlinburg, Tennessee, near the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park-- but without the carnival and sleaze. It felt like a ski resort town: expensive but semi-classy.

Despite doing some research on the internet we knew very little about Zion. The park's web site was not very helpful, except that it is one of several popular canyon parks in Utah and very pretty.
So pre-dawn the next morning we got one of the first parking spots in the park's lot (neither the gate kiosk nor the Visitor Center was open at 7 a.m.) and hopped onto the free shuttle bus to tour the canyon with four or five other early risers. You can also park outside the park gate, and ride a free shuttle in to the Visitor Center.

The Park Service shuttle system in Zion is a model of what good public systems should be. The road into the main canyon is too narrow and the visitors too numerous to allow private vehicles, but the buses run every seven minutes, the narration of what you are seeing out the window is interesting and audible, and the drivers were courteous and helpful.
At each stop the narrator/tour guide explained what trails and sites were available, how difficult or easy the walking would be, and what you could expect to see.
We rode to the end of the canyon to take the one-mile hike beyond where the road ends, gawking out the windows as we stared up at the multi-colored cliffs. The sun was still hiding so our photographs don't reflect the strong red colors of later in the day. The narrator provided some history, geology, and even a little poetry as we rode along. The place has a glowing sensual feel.
From the last shuttle stop we hiked to the end of the formal trail up the canyon, following the edge of the river. As the sun broke on the tops of the cliffs, the colors were breathtaking.
When the river takes over the entire narrow canyon floor, you have to make a choice.
Hearty walkers rent neoprene pants and walking staffs and continue up the canyon in the middle of the Virgin River for a mile or so more.
We watched that part, but kept our feet dry.

After spending most of the morning in the upper end of the canyon, we rode the shuttle back to the Zion Lodge to catch a late breakfast just before the lunch shift came on. The lodge was quiet, and beautiful, and did not seem crowded till much later in the day. Another pleasant surprise: the meal was excellent and reasonably priced, unlike many other national parks.

We found space in one of the campgrounds near the Visitor Center before getting back onto the shuttle for one more trip to explore the canyon. By the time we reached the excellent Human History Museum, one stop along the shuttle route, Pat was ready for a short nap on the benches out back.
I spent my time admiring the scenery, including a view of a very rare arch of stone high up the canyon wall. If it can be reached by today's hikers, I didn't ask or want to find out. It was pretty from a telephoto distance.
There were great views in all directions.
But soon it was back to the shuttle and a hike up to the verdant pools in the side canyons.
Unlike the dry desert flora of the highlands and the flat floor of the open canyon, these side canyons host pools that are wet constantly, producing entirely different vegetation and hosting different wildlife. Mostly German and French tourists.
We did see a few deer.
Our late afternoon ride out of the canyon was enhanced by three young Italian families, laughing, hugging their children, and celebrating being in a beautiful place.

As we drove out of Zion the next morning through a tunnel into higher terrain, we realized there are entirely different sections of the park we could have spent days in. The route out was one example, with amazing views and geology all around us. The northwest corner of the park, accessible from the Interstate, is much more remote and less visited.
Zion was not very crowded for our October visit, but I understand it can be very crowded in peak summer and holiday seasons. The campgrounds were full because of a long weekend holiday for the Utah school system children.
Go early.
Stay longer.

One of the smartest ideas we've seen in recent years was this effort by the Park Service to eliminate some of the millions of plastic bottles used for water. They do not sell bottle water in the park, but they do sell inexpensive refillable water bottles and provide fill-up stations along the way.
That's an idea I hope more parks will emulate.

Nevada's Lonely Roads

Hickison Summit, Nevada -- This is a very quiet place above 8,000 feet elevation in the middle of Nevada along Route 50, “The Loneliest Road in the World.”
We had started our ten-day tour of the West by driving east over Ebbetts Pass, through Carson City, Nevada, and then onto the best non-freeway road in the state.
Only the road isn’t near as lonely as it once was, what with trucks carry pipes for the thermal drilling in Eureka, the tourists looking to see the “real” Nevada or a quick blue route through the middle of the state. There is a speed limit, but no one seems to notice.
For us Hickison was a convenient place to spend the night en route to a circle tour of the National Parks in Utah. Hickison was a familiar spot where we had stopped before on trips on the way across the U.S.

The attractions here are the uncluttered views of the high desert, and the petroglyphs left behind by primitive -- oops --- ancient people about 800-1200 years ago.
The light was too poor and the hour too late for us to take pictures of the carvings in the stone walls, so you’ll have to trust me -- there are plenty there. Mysterious, not well understood, and numerous, the carvings are either of mythical creatures or giant men or the artists just couldn’t draw very well. Probably all of the above.
(I know you already know this, but a petroglyph is a prehistoric picture carved in stone, and a pictograph is a primitive painting on stone -- often in caves or canyon walls in the SouthWest.)

The campground is small, generally quiet, and has great views of the desert off to the East.

When we pulled in only four or so sites were occupied, of a dozen or so, and we spotted a good one and stopped to check it out. Unfortunately, giant RVs on each side were running their generators, so we kept moving and looking. When we came back to the same site for another look and listen, one of our neighbors came out of the RV and hastened to assure us he was going to turn off the generator within moments and he hated the noise too. Nice guy. Good neighbor.
We had a quiet evening in our van-turned-camper. When we woke up at dawn the van was covered with frost and ice, and the temperature was probably in the 20s.
A quick cup of coffee and we were off to the East and a big breakfast at the town of Eureka’s Owl Club and Casino (mostly a cafe and bar) where the local miners were having breakfast with their families, one or two were having a beer having come off the night shift, and a slightly worn woman was drinking vodka straight at the bar. They now mine something called molybendium, plus the area is having a mini-boom with well drillers probing the earth’s crust to generate steam for electric power turbines.

Nevada has its share of strange stuff, including two carloads of scudzy-looking fellows at a junction with a table, petition, and a signs that said “Impeach Obama” and “Unbama!” In the high desert there is a plant that apparently creeps up onto the highway, perhaps in the middle of the night when no one is watching. We saw a bunch waiting to cross the road.

And then there was the row of slot machines in the SaveMart grocery store, and the car burning along the roadside (fully involved, but no injuries).

The scenery was great.

And finally, near the Utah border of course, a town called Virgin. Who says old-fashioned values are dead.

Next: Zion National Park: beautiful, varied and efficient

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Travel is broadening, and ???

Lone Pine, CA -- We are winding up a ten day trip around the West, fulfilling a long held desire to see the national parks in Utah.
We made the majority of the parks -- Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef -- before turning back west toward home through Death Valley and Yosemite, and in the next few days I'll post mostly pictures and a few comments.
I'm not good at travel journals because I get so busy looking and enjoying I fail to take notes or remember to take pictures. The photos this time are a bit better because Pat and I took turns with the digital still and video cameras.
A quick look back at some highlights:
Starting across Nevada was a bit strange. In the first few hours we saw slot machines in a SaveMart grocery store, a car along the road on fire but no one stopped )no one was hurt), a roadside stand set up to impeach Obama, spent the night with thousand year-old petroglyphs, and a good breakfast at the Owl Club Cafe, Bar and Casino in Eureka.

But these photos are from the today in the Death Valley region, to give you a sample of the stunning scenery (the sand dunes) and interesting technology (water-free urinals at Scotty's Castle).
This water free device saves thousands of gallons of water a year. Every home should have one. They are becoming common in national parks.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Music for a lifetime of pleasure

Camp Connell, CA -- I've always liked music.

But I can't respond to the "Post your 15 Favorite Albums" requests floating around on Facebook because I have hundreds of favorites.

My earliest childhood memories are hearing my mother sing while preparing dinner after she came home from work. Even tired, she would hum or sing and the sound drifted through our apartment, often an Irish lullaby like "Tura lura lura" or something popular from the radio shows we listened to at night.

My father sang too, though almost always while driving on the highway between work assignments. He liked tunes he had learned in the 1920s including Stephen Foster stuff.
In the summers I would travel the South with him, singing loudly riding down the highways and being careful to quiet down when we passed through small towns. This was in the days before air conditioned cars and the windows were always open. We sang "Suwanee River" very loud when we crossed the bridge over dark black water in North Florida.

Music was a staple in public schools and teachers had us singing or playing instruments every day, usually a loud version of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" of something similar. In the Fifth Grade were were all required to sing in a city wide cantata. Lyrics were written for the Sugar Plum Fairy and more than a thousand of us sang our little hearts out in the town's biggest football stadium.

I started playing in bands when I was in junior high school and kept it up into junior college. There were a lot of Sousa marches, and I even got to play tympani in a city-wide high school orchestra once in the Orange Bowl in Miami.

The highlight of those years were numerous trips to march in Mardi Gras parades both in Mobile and in New Orleans. We played marching band versions of jazz tunes, but ended up at midnight in the bars on bourbon street listening to the real thing played by Al Hurt or Pete Fountain. We rarely paid attention to the trio backing up stripper Candy Bar, who became famous for going to prison for marijuana possession, as she peeled out of her clothes.

In my hometown of Mobile our informal high school parties had black musicians from across the South, many of them famous. Ivory Joe Turner played at a dance at the military prep school attended (to the chagrin of some very white parents).
Even our church choir had a junior/senior high choir that traveled to other cities.
I briefly played in a dance band and we did tunes like "Begin the Beguine" and a few songs we learned from the Hit Parade TV show, or jazz tunes we had heard on the radio.
And I even went to hear the Metropolitan Opera performances while in college, mostly so I could skip class and ride the bus shared with lots of college girls. But I liked it.

Music was everywhere. I went to hear a Grand Old Opry tour group including Minnie Pearl and the Geezinslaw Brothers at a local lodge hall with my parents with 25 or so people who paid about a dollar each.

Summer evening dances across the bay at Point Clear featured standard dance tunes and mosquitoes. Winter formal dances required fancy attire and bigger bands that tried to imitate the Dorsey Brothers.

By the time I was in the Army I was a full-blown folk music fan and could discuss Dylan and Baez and Seeger, play three chords on the guitar, and even knew what a Child Ballad was.
Albums from my college years included the Weavers and the Kingston Trio, the Four Freshmen, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and lots of long-forgotten folk and jazz artists.

Rock and Roll music was always a part of what I liked, but never a passion.

I passed up a chance to see Elvis for free because he was a bit too hillbilly for me.

I heard the Fifth Dimension perform in Las Vegas once, and went to enough Jimmy Buffet concerts to tire of drunk college students.

I learned to like some country music, mostly the older performers who kept it basic, emotional, and a bit corny.

I had a John Denver period, and to this day am an avid admirer of Jimmy Buffet and Paul Simon.
About the only music I never learned to like was acid rock. Rap isn't musical enough to interest me (but then, Bob Dylan can't actually sing much either and I really like his stuff).
Today my iTunes file and book shelves are loaded with all the above, plus Celtic and Irish stuff, and one of the world's great song writers that I discovered a bit late in life: John Prine.

Before I share John Prine with you, here is an attempt at listing some of my favorite albums (or the artists) that have stood the test of time:

Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band et al (The best collection of old-time performers with modern admirers who happen to be great musicians)
Graceland by Paul Simon (Maybe the single most original album I have ever heard)
The Essential Doc Watson
Les Miserable by the London cast (I still cry when the little boy gets shot)
Doc & Dog
Tom Dooley by the Kingston Trio (an album that set fire to the folk revival)
Finlandia by the London Philharmonic (stirs the soul)
Frank Sinatra, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra (no one ever sang his songs better)
Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles
Mahalia Jackson's Greatest Hits (1963)
Newport Folk Festival, 1963 (performances that sparked a revolution)
John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Album (don't laugh. It's great)
The Weavers at Carnegie Hall (history right there on the stage)
James Taylor's Greatest Hits
Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffet (his best writing)
Boats from the Jimmy Buffett box set
Dr. Michael White, A Song For George Lewis (A New Orleans classic)
Feels Like Home by Norah Jones
Julie London's Cry Me a River (I was in love with her at 18)
The Best of Irish Folk

Scotland the Real
Men's Resource Center by DooDooWah
Club Trini (Buffet's Band at its best)
Four Freshmen and Four Saxes
Duke Ellington, Ellington at Newport
Dan Zane
Jim Croce
The Bill Gaither Quartet
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
Jay Unger and Molly Mason (anything they play)

I will be remembering albums I left off this list that belong there for weeks to come. You can get a sample of some of these artists by doing a Google search. Try it. You'll like it.

If you want to expand your musical vocabulary and hear a gutsy and bawdy original song, try "In Spite of Ourselves" on this UTube link:

Another Prine song, "In a Town This Size," captures life in a community like the one we live in as perfectly as Ansel Adams caught Yosemite Valley on film.

Consider this:

In a town this size, there is no place to hide.
Everywhere you go, you meet someone you know.
You can't steal a kiss, in a place like this
How the rumors do fly, in a town this size

In a smoky bar
in the back seat of your car
in your own little house
someone's sure to find you out

What you do, and what you think
What you eat, and what you drink
If you smoke a cigarette
They'll be talking about your breath

In a town this size.....

There's no place to hide...

You can hear it at


Monday, October 4, 2010

Election Recommendations .... Kinda

*(Explanation for Lady Gaga, who wants you to vote, at bottom)

Camp Connell, CA -- You know those post cards you get in the mail every election eve, indicating the "approved slate?"
Well, this is my version of the "LaMont Approved Slate," telling you why I will and won't vote for certain things and people in November.
You are not required to pay any attention to this, but please do not assume any party affiliation or political leanings based on my history as a journalist. I have been one of those "failure to declare" people for over 30 years.
I never picketed or carried a protest sign, though I should have. I served in the Army, went to church, and owned a gun or two. And I voted in every election since I was 21.
The candidates I voted for over the years include every conceivable party and non-party to get onto a ballot. My great-grandfather ran a Whig newspaper, but I am not a Whig.

And, I did NOT charge anyone to buy space on my election recommendations the way the post card people do.

I WILL vote for candidates that demonstrate they have these characteristics:
-- Honesty.
I know. I know. Nobody's perfect. But I think a candidate for public office should have demonstrated throughout his or her history consistent acquaintance with the truth, and a willingness to state it when necessary. I understand that everyone sees things through different eyes and experience, and I do not object to honest criticisms of opponents or issues. But a liar does not deserve to be elected;
-- Experience that will help in making public decisions about public money and policy.
My choices tend to be people who have some government experience at a lower level if they are trying to move up. Running a company is not the same thing, nor is owning a business, large or small. I was once an executive and have been a manager, so you should trust me I when I say that does not qualify me for public office;
-- I prefer candidates who have actually worked for a living. This pretty much excludes people who inherit money, made it in the stock market or banking business, or were otherwise subsidized by the federal or state governments(most doctors and lawyers) unless they admit it and paid back their student loans;
-- Knowledge of the government office which they seek.
I do not mean someone who took a class or read a position paper. I mean the kind of people who have attended those endless boring but necessary meetings that help government at all levels function. I hated those meetings as a newspaper reporter, but always understood that is how government really gets something done. It takes research and study to gain real knowledge;
-- I prefer someone intelligent, but I'd rather elect an honest average person than a sharp crook.

I will NOT vote for a candidate who does the following:
-- Runs against President Obama when running for county commission. It's not the same, folks;
-- An incumbent who claims he "led the fight" if he did not lead the fight, the fight was unsuccessful or unworthy in the first place, or if -- as is usually the case -- the result made no difference;
-- Attacks his or her opponent as a KoolAid drinker, liberal, Neanderthal, pinko. socialist, right-wing fanatic, Palin clone, Obama-ite, progressive, FDR lover or Beck sympathizer, words used to hide the speaker's lack of knowledge. I can handle someone calling an opponent an idiot because there are some out there running for office, but they had better be prepared to prove it;
-- Wants a return to the "Good Old Days," meaning the Reagan era. You know, the era that gave us inflation, deregulation of the oil drillers, polluters and Wall Street con men, and the subsequent destruction of my stock market account and 401k, but made rich people a whole lot richer;
-- Always allows a "highly paid spokesperson" to speak for them, answer questions for them or write meaningless position papers. Candidates need to face the public and the press in open forums, not hide;
-- Redirects criticism away from him or her self by blaming the media, the opponent, colleagues, friends, or best of all -- unidentified conspirators;
-- Refuses to answer questions about experience, events in the past, or ideas for making this a better world;
-- Claims global warming is hokum;
-- Uses the terms "envirofreaks" or "tree huggers" to avoid discussing serious issues. I am one, seriously;
-- Claims to have God on their side;
-- Offers only criticism of the other person or party, and has no suggestions for improvement.

My "for" and "against" list on ballot propositions is somewhat shorter.

I will NOT vote for a proposition if:

-- It was put on the ballot by big oil companies, auto manufacturers, the Koch brothers, or any corporation or political party who tries to hide their motives. Corporations are not our friends, and neither are the filthy rich;
-- The name of the ballot issue is an obvious false front, such as "The Good Government Incentive Act" which really gives lobbyist what they wanted but could not sneak through the legislature by bribing people;
-- It makes the lives of the poor and true middle class more difficult;
-- It makes the lives of the rich and corporations easier. Geeze, they already own the legislature and Congress, what more do they want?
-- The proposition is poorly written, which many are, and does nothing to reform California's broken government.

I WILL vote for a proposition if it:

-- Reduces the power of lobbyists, special interests, my Congressman, corporations, and the very wealthy;
-- Forces disclosure of every dollar, and every minute of every day of every elected official;
-- Fixes a real problem the legislature can't fix;
-- Punishes bad guys, like polluters and people who rip off the poor and underrepresented;
-- Protects natural resources from the exploiters;
-- Saves our state parks from a legislature unable to do anything meaningful. They can't even supply toilet paper for the public rears.

These lists are far too short, but i just realized I may have to vote "none of the above" in most elections if I stick to this. You don't really expect me to be that consistent do you?

* The New York Times reported that if a website or blog mentions Lady Gaga the number of hits will soar. Buy her records. Check her website. Lady Gaga wants you to vote.