Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Retirement scorecard -- Give me a B!

Camp Connell, CA - I had simple goals when I retired six short years ago after 42 years working as a journalist:

-- Avoid wearing ties and suits;

-- Read more;

-- Complete a family history project begun in the 1930s by my grandmother;

-- Avoid meetings and committees;

-- Be outdoors more, and --hopefully -- use hiking and skiing as a way to stay in decent physical condition;

-- Go sailing more often;

-- Play more music;

-- Do something positive to protect the environment for those who follow;

-- Watch the trees, and my children and grandchildren, grow.

Here's a report on what I have done, with my wife's help, and the things that still need work.

I rarely put on a tie or suit. Almost never. They gather dust in the closet, and I am glad. I believe I actually am averaging once a year: four funerals and one formal dinner. In our mountain community we wear shorts to church in summer and snow boots in winter. If this were graded, I'd demand an "A."

I have read a lot of books. Currently I am reading two books a week, sometimes three. I was reading five a week but couldn't remember what I was reading! Most are paperback fiction by popular authors. I've read or re-read almost all the Tony Hillerman books about Navajo country, lots of Dick Francis' horsey mysteries and every spy/intrigue/cop novel I can find. I also have read extensively on the history and cultures of Scotland and Ireland, read about the history of the Mother Lode region where I live, and even read about Tristan Jones' sailing adventures, Bill Bryson's travels in Australia, some Leon Uris and MacKinley Cantor and "The Shack." A lot of my books come from the neighborhood used book store, and I have a paper bag full of books on my bedside table. I am currently reading a yellowed 1941 edition of an unusually well-written book called "The Last Frontier" by Howard Fast.
Lots of dead Lamonts in the churchyard near Dunoon, Scotland

My lack of progress on the family history project is an embarrassment. I've done more research, including trips across the country tracking LaMonts from earlier generations, and visited Scotland where the graveyards are filled with dead Lamonts, and Ireland where no one remembers them because they left for America in 1740. But despite good intentions, I have barely begun to write any of this into readable form except for a biography of my father which I posted as a blog. Maybe this winter. (I know, this deserves a "F.")

For the first few years after retirement I did quite well avoiding committees and meetings, and then I started volunteering for things that seemed interesting. At this point I am serving on two committees, two non-profit boards and one search committee, all of which I care about. I have mixed feelings about meetings, but once committed I tend to stay with it. (For mental health, I play poker with friends on a regular basis. We are definitely NOT a committee, though it is a non-profit endeavor.)
Not so hard at work in the South Grove of Big Trees

I have definitely been outdoors much more than in my office-bound days. I did a lot of beach-walking when we stayed in Florida for two years, and since coming home to the mountains hiking is a part of my routine. In the summer I probably hike (or saunter) 12 miles a week, sometimes more, most of it as a volunteer doing patrols or guided walks at the local state park. The average drops in winter when the snows come, but I still manage to ski and snowshoe fairly often. But my manly physique tends to portly, and the only changes I have made is that my belly has moved lower with age, and my butt seems to be disappearing. But I am OK with that.

Our time for sailing has suffered from too much other stuff, and distance. But we still have our sailboat Good News docked in Alameda, and we get down onto the water when we can. It's great therapy.

I am not satisfied with the time I take for music. I am just lazy. Unless I have promised to play guitar or sing somewhere, or attend a music function, the instruments remain encased. I do own three more instruments, having gained a mandolin and a dobro, and a "boat guitar," but I can't claim to have made much progress. This is true even though last weekend I sang "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival" with friends as a warm-up act at a local concert. Progress still needed.

I am spending a lot of time on my local environment, working in different ways to try and make things better. Pat and I both volunteered for six weeks of work in Yosemite National Park with the Yosemite Association after a 30-year love affair with that most beautiful of national parks. And we work regularly as docents at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. I lead guided walks among the Giant Sequoias and break trail for snowshoe walks in winter. This year I began working on the Trail Maintenance Crew. We normally work two days a week clearing trails (neglected for years by the idiot legislators who can't understand the need for park maintenance) and doing minor repair work. We have a great team filled with energy and spirit, and have managed to clean up every mile of every major trail in the 6,000 acre park this summer. It is enormously rewarding and a great learning experience. (Who else gets to see a bear in the wild on the way to work?) Our group includes experts on everything from biology to botany, wildlife to construction, so I learn something new every day I am in the woods. Join us when you are ready.
The work in the park led me to serve as a board member for the Calaveras Big Trees Association, the outfit that raises money for the park (so it won't fall apart due to neglect by the state). Concerns about my neighborhood in the forest also prompted me to serve on the board of a grass roots group called Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch which promotes good forestry practice, not the clear-cutting rape-the-land type practiced by some of our neighboring timber companies. I've learned a bit about Timber Harvest Plans (almost always approved by the state), and biodiversity and habitat protection. I just hope it is not too late.

Finally, Pat and I have had a wonderful chance to watch our grandchildren, and their parents, grow. Shortly after Pat and I moved to the mountains daughter Ruth and her husband Brian and children Delaney and Connor moved only 20 miles away, and we see them frequently. Then our son Zack moved here for a job, and last Spring his daughter Katie came to live with us. Katie and Delaney attend the same school, and Zack and I are co-coaches for Connor's soccer team.
So we now have our own family village.

I hope I have miles to go before I sleep, but I have no complaints. I just hope Grandmother LaMont's ghost will forgive me for not getting on with that family history project.

Not a bad place to do a little "work"

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reflections on Manzanar and America

I first met Denis Wolcott after I hired him straight from college to come to work at the Marietta Ohio Times, a small newspaper in a small town that must have seemed a million miles away from his home in Southern California.
He arrived in the Mid-West still wearing Southern California garb, for which he took an inordinate amount of kidding. Marietta's social norms were not quite the same as those of the University of Southern California.
He survived, prospered, did a good job as a reporter, and like the rest of us working for Gannett in the 1970s, moved on to bigger and better things.
He's back in Southern California where he began, a father and a grandfather, and made a recent trip to one of America's historical sites.

I copied this off his Facebook posting. I recommend it to you.

By Denis Wolcott

A recent camping trip up to the Eastern Sierras in CA with my two youngest daughters meant an opportunity to stop on the way home at the Manzanar Historic Site. Set near the foot of Mt. Whitney, Manzanar was one of the 10 relocation camps where more than 100,000 Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II.

Seeing is much better than reading about it. The girls were at first reluctant to go. They were tired and needed a shower. And, they had both been to the Holocaust exhibit at Washington, D.C., and were not excited to see more examples of hate and ugliness. They also remembered the former instructions to not bring up this topic in front of their grandfather (my dad) because it would result in a long debate. You see, my dad was on the side of those who thought the government was doing Japanese Americans a favor to relocate them to "protect" them from the hatred and bigotry rising up in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

So, as we approached Manzanar, I persisted and they were thankful I suggested this stop. (If you want to check out this site with a virtual tour, go here: http://tinyurl.com/2ebc8sv). It is very easy to stop along Highway 395 and spend 30 minutes or longer at a place that could be the closest this country came to a concentration camp (of course, without the mass killings). As thousands of other motorists zipped by, we did the tour.

History provides a great platform for today's events. Mixed in with a very telling story about the bigotry and events that allowed our country to this horrific decision to inter U.S. citizens are other examples of where the the world made mistakes. From denying women the right to vote, to segregation to the 9/11 attacks.

At this point in the tour and as we left Manzanar (after the must-see stop at the cemetery), I told my two youngest that in spite of all the history lessons that should help guide us away from making the same mistake, we are witnessing two more similar events: the immigation battle in Arizona and the debate over an Islamic Center near the site of the World Trade Center.

We all hope our past is behind us, but, sadly, history has a way of repeating itself. This is why they teach history in school. This is why they erect monuments to help us remember.

What I've told my children, and any friends who can stand my occasional rants, is to avoid the trappings of being caught up in the heated debates on highly sensitive and politicized issues. The better course of action is to investigate the facts yourself - not let others feed you - and to make decisions with information, knowledge and a cooler head.

Thankfully, I'm beginning to see some of this in action with the debate over the proposed Islamic Center in lower Manhattan, just blocks from the former World Trade Center. Some of the facts are starting to gain more attention than the ill-informed rhetoric and "hate" radio (some call it "talk" radio). Bravery and rational thinking, like that demonstrated by New York City Mayor Bloomberg, are being commended.

I was glad to hear my children talk about our country's founding (people fleeing other countries because of religious persecution to find safe haven here), and why our first amendment was the first amendment.

So as my two youngest children settle back into their summertime routines and look to grab as much fun as they can before hitting the books (and my oldest begins to raise her own and offer life lessons to her daughter), I vow to still occasionally throw the lessons of rational thinking at them. I truly believe all bright, young minds are born without a prejudice gene. And my hope for them is that they use the power of their minds and convictions to help this country from repeating its ugly past. I see these strengths in them now.

I remain hopeful.

And, I hope their examples give pause to others. At first, reluctant to accept an ugly past exists or, at least, not wanting to see a depressing site. Sure, who wants to see this?! But, eventually, with a little coaxing, willing to peak inside the building and gain some additional perspective from a factual and very revealing display. The result? Thank you for showing this to us. It was educational and opened my mind to more things to contemplate.