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.