Thursday, November 14, 2013

Final Entry on a Long Journey

I did not take a picture of the "Welcome to Oregon" sign as I passed it on the outskirts of Homedale, Idaho. I had remembered seeing this same green message board on my previous road trip last July and now found  its positive greeting slightly irksome. It was like receiving a vigorous handshake from a dull acquaintance. I was suddenly in familiar territory on a familiar highway leading me to even more familiar places and to the end of what had been a magnificent journey. Letting the resistance to this finality get the better of me, I resolved to overnight in Burns instead of driving a mere 135 miles farther to Bend. This way I could delay the inevitable return for one more day.

It has now been three weeks since I finally slipped the key in the lock of my front door and called the adventure over. I braced myself for my customary post-vacation depression, and threw myself vigorously into mundane tasks such as paying bills, sorting mail, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and preparing for Winter. I returned to my normal routine: Starbucks in the morning, solitary hiking along the railroad tracks, fishing, drawing, emailing, watching news and sports and running trivial errands.

I also busied myself in reuniting with friend and family. As has always been the case, my "meaningful" circle would ask half-heartedly for details about my trips but usually out of a sense of obligation. They preferred overwhelmingly that I listen to the stories of their lives. As usual, I would vaguely promise that the next time I would tell a thing or or two, but I knew that I would not. My commitment to inform had already begun to atrophy anyway. Also I found I lacked the ability to bind my feelings and observations into cogent thoughts that might convey clarity. My memories had already lost their freshness. Like once tasty vegetables in soup, they were now leftovers, which over time would get pushed ever further back into the refrigerator until forgotten. Soon along with the hundreds of photos I had taken which I knew would never be seen, these recollections were destined to join the broth of other concluded journeys down the drain of time.  Therefore, out of deference to a friend who told me she expected a final episode of my days on the road and, in an effort to salvage some remaining morsels of the trip and preserve them from total obscurity, I decided to do one more post and submit some photos of a few road signs that caught my attention.

The first photo was taken on a quiet Sunday Morning as I crossed from Tennessee into Kentucky onto U.S. 119. I was startled to discover the highway I was now driving had been given the moniker, the "Kingdom Come" Parkway. A sign further down the road announced that the road would not only take me to Pikesville, Kentucky, but would also lead to Kingdom Come State Park. How a key phrase from the "Lord's Prayer" could be approved and signage money be spent for a Christian message by the Feds was baffling to me. Maybe out of fairness, it should be proposed that New Yorkers be obligated to drive over the Kol Nidre Bridge into Brooklyn or that Florida be renamed the Lox and Bagel State.

The second photo comes from Hullett, in Northeastern Wyoming, near Devil's Tower National Monument. As a former real estate broker, I learned the importance  of engendering confidence in your professional abilities, but don't you think this brokerage name is a bit weird? On the other hand, it is kinda' catchy and probably not a misrepresentation.

The third photo is from a lunch stop I made near Sun Valley, Idaho. One of the saddest aspect of my journey was to see literally thousands of carcasses of dead animals on the road. It is no laughing matter. Then again, it was all the more reason to try their specialty!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ninth Entry on a Long Journey

I looked across vast spaces hoping to see at least something moving. Instead I saw empty, slightly rolling plains and stark wasteland. This is the experience I have had the past few days driving across South Dakota and Wyoming. In its own right, the open vistas I gazed at were majestic, but in another way, they left me sad, since they reminded me of the tragic history of the Indians. These grounds had been the pastures 150 years ago of grazing buffalo. The animals to the south were already gone, systematically exterminated as part of the government's plan to subdue the Comanches, but there were a few herds left here in the north for the Indians. By 1876, most Indians of this region were already on reservations, but the remaining holdouts, mainly the Lakota Sioux under the powerful leadership of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, had organized and unified for the purpose of preserving their culture. This though could not last. The throng of Whites from the East moved steadily westward. A confrontation occurred when the Natives refused to sell to the United States the Black Hills of South Dakota, which was rich hunting land that had been guaranteed by treaty to the Indians. Gold had been discovered there and miners began to trespass with impunity. President Grant decided it would be easier to protect the miners, whose gold would help the country rebound from the economic depression of 1873, than to honor the commitment to the Natives. He ordered the military to convince the Indians to join the reservations or face the consequences of being subdued by force. Under these circumstances, the cavalry was sent and they confronted the tribes at Little Big Horn. The humiliating loss by George Armstrong Custer there incited a furious American revenge against the Sioux which eventually totally sealed the Natives horrible fate at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1890.

I crossed the Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation at Wounded Knee and proceeded northeast into the Badlands National Park. Fortunately the road, which had been closed for the past 15 days due to the "Shutdown", was now open. There were few tourists and I had almost the park to myself. Before me were craggy spires and gorges, tall thin pillars, sandstone toadstools, unique plants and multicolored soil beneath which holds the mother lode of ancient fossils. This was one of the most frightening primordial environments I had ever seen. Once an ancient sea and then later low lying swamps, triceratops, t-rexes, Miocene animals, and sea creature bones have been unearthed in mass, many of which are on display in the Geology Museum in nearby Rapid City.

I managed to visit Mt Rushmore, drive through the Black Hills, and eventually tour Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Again the Indian theme came to mind. While gazing at the Tower, an incredibly beautiful stone monolith, which received notoriety most recently in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I remembered I had read that it had been an important religious symbol for native cultures. Families had camped under and around it as protection from the wind and tribes had used it as a giant directional post as a wanderer's aid for countless generations. While I was there, I saw that local Native Americans had placed prayer shawls in adjacent trees at its base and had hung prayer beads next to them. It then occurred to me that calling the place "Devil's Tower," the name coined by cavalry officer and Indian fighter, Henry Dodge in the 1840's, seemed both outdated  and showed a high degree of insensitivity and had even possibly a malicious agenda. As I hiked around this beautiful natural monument, I began to think of other more suitable, less threatening names like Majestic Tower or that it should even be renamed by what the natives had called it, Bear Lodge or Buffalo Horn.  After all, I had visited towns where cavalry officers had been memorialized such as Custer or Sturgis, South Dakota, or Sheridan or Reno Junction, Wyoming, but not found one city or monument name given to honor the those people who had blessed the area and had lost their lives for its preservation.

I am told that such thoughts occur when a person travels alone. It is said, they have too much time to think. Tomorrow I leave for Idaho for more solitary moments.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Eighth Entry on a Long Journey

                                The Tiffany Skylight in the old Chicago Public Library

                               The stately buildings of the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and
                                Shedd Aquarium linked together by gardens and paths along the lake
                                Sun Wah Duck restaurant on Chicago's North Side..  oooo so tasty!
                                          Fine dining in iconic Marshall Fields downtown

It has been suggested that I share a few more pictures of Chicago in order to illustrate more fully its natural and architectural beauty, its fantastic night life, the vast cultural opportunities, and its gourmet restaurants. To so many that live there "it's my kind of town". Special thanks to Stan Hollenbeck for his astute knowledge of the city and his unbridled dedication to making Chicago a better place to live.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Seventh Entry of a Long Journey

Its's snowing at the moment  here in Rapid City, South Dakota, and my destination is Mount Rushmore. So I'm in a holding pattern and waiting for the weather to clear, which, around here, could be next Spring. Otherwise I'll have to peer at those old geezers with dandruff on their heads and shoulders.

I have been traveling exclusively back roads through the Great Plains and "Farm Belt" for over a week. I have cruised through Western Illinois, Iowa, Southern Minnesota, back into Iowa, then through a sliver of Nebraska, and across South Dakota. The landscape consists mainly of cornfields. The number of fields defies the imagination. I have seen thousands of cornfields holding millions of bushels. Looking like curious baby kangaroos sticking out of their mother's pouch, the corn peeks out and seems ready to be harvested. The leaves are brown and withered and the ears, I am told, are almost dry enough for the giant machines to pick them and then grind up the stalks. I have listened and learned about corn issues, such as genetic engineering, seed planting contracts, price management, and computer generated soil analysis. Signs in front of fields extol the merits of particular seeds. Trucks trudge down the highway taking loads to the silos. Hopper cars snake along railroad tracks in front of grain elevators, giant vertical piggy banks loaded with tiny "yellow gold" coins stored and saved for the right moment.
You might at one time have asked yourself what the need was for all this corn. After all, most of us are only good for eating one cob at a summer barbeque, and quite frankly, even this sweet treat, we are reminded rather indiscreetly, is not particularly well digested. Of course the main uses of corn are sweeteners, animal feed, and fuel. It's value to our diet and society as a whole has been discussed in countless periodicals and I have included one decent article for your review.

My route took me to the Las Vegas of corn or the ultimate in corny, namely the Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota. In the beginning of the last century, a "Mecca of Maize" was built. Sporting events, vaudeville acts, major musical and theatrical entertainers have entertained pilgrims under mosaics of colored kernels. Even the exterior of the building, in a bizarre edible imitation, of European church art, is adorned in multi-colored nuggets. Seeing this laughable homage to the one true Lord in this religious area, namely the "Jolly Green Giant" was only surpassed in humor by the adulation of a Porky-like Pig at my visit to the Hormel "Spam Museum" in Austin, Minnesota.

The sky is clearing and the blue sky is peeking through fluffy clouds. I need to make use of this opening. The "Rock Band Boys" playing at the Rushmore are waiting for me. Can this be taken any more seriously?  Tonight I'll be in Wyoming, maybe?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sixth Entry on a Long Journey

                               "The Bean" Reflecting statue in the park by the Art Museum.
                                 See the guy taking the picture!

                                           Please look only at the name on the shirt!

                                Gertrude Spangler with her nephew along Lake Michigan.
                                                Photo by her daughter Anne Hollenbeck

                                Like any urban area, Chicago has its homeless but shelters are
                                insufficient and often dangerous.

                                  Elevated train on a quiet afternoon in the Loop. Note the proximity
                                  and architecture of the adjacent buildings.

                                One of the three Chagall windows at the Chicago Art Institute.

Years ago, while in Tanzania, a local fellow admonished me, that I, like most tourists, mainly took photos of the poor or of tribal people because they looked exotic and interesting. The pictures, he claimed, were useful as fodder for conversations about vacations and as an avenue to obtain praise from friends for my adventuresome bravado. Rather harshly, he concluded, that neither I nor the viewers gained any real insight about what it was like to live under the conditions as seen in such snapshots. He compared such photos as to those taken by a tabloid journalist of exotic animals on a trip to the zoo. To be at least fair to his country, he suggested that, if in fact my true purpose was to inform others what his country was really like, I should publish a number of boring pictures showing the majority people in their daily Western attire going about their business. Also I should include scenery of common places that could be almost anywhere in the world. Otherwise, I was consciously doing a disservice. Keeping this in mind, any attempt by me to describe Chicago carries a similar risk of distortion. In fact, my overriding feeling is that the task of transmitting a decent image of Chicago is too large and complex for me to express succinctly. Less accurate than a blind man who pokes his cane at a haystack and believes he has felt a bush, my brief experience in Chicago is limited to having "grasped a few straws." Even the proverbial Hillel who, it is said, was able to reduce the meaning of the Torah to one sentence while standing on one leg, would have been blown over if he had tried his luck at describing the Windy City. So keeping the above admonition in mind, the following is my feeble attempt.

During the week following the day of my arrival, various cousins and family gave me tours of their turf. They took me to the Loop (downtown), we walked along the lake, viewed the art museum, gazed at the city and Chicago River from a son's condo, gorged ourselves at eclectic, fashionable restaurants, listened late into the night to music at a  famous city jazz club, drove through ethnic neighborhoods, and relaxed at the assisted living facility where my 93 year old aunt lived.

My routes crisscrossed the city and suburbs which contained, according to recent figures, a staggering 9.5 million people, making it the most populous metropolitan area in the Midwest. Sometimes it felt like I was traveling down the rows of an urban version of a giant cornfield composed of brick stalks  filled with human ears of varying colors and size. The people that I observed seemed proud to be Chicagoans and well adapted to living in this mass of humanity. They resided in brick and wood frame houses, apartment buildings, many condominiumized, in subdivisions in the suburbs, stately mansions on the North Side, and in massive high rises along the lake. It felt like there was a busy upbeat tempo in the air, not a nervous sound, but a modern jazzy rhythm from the clicking of heels on pavement, the shutting of cab doors, the somewhat muted wheels from the el, and the voices laced with Midwest accents. There was an overriding sense of movement as well. Commuters recite subway routes and station departure and arrival times like they were practicing their times tables. They jam the Expressways called the Eisenhower or the Stevenson, or cruise the historic Lake Shore Drive or drive on Michigan Avenue for business or pleasure. The newest fad for transportation is to use bicycles, which the city supplies with the swipe of a credit card and which are attached to colorful docking stations at many corners throughout the metropolitan area.

I found it hard to conceive the massive amounts of financial and natural resources and manpower that are necessary to make the city of that size work and flourish. Just imagine the public sector's challenge to provide an adequate number of police cars, fire engines, school teachers, case workers, jailers, street sweepers and even aldermen that are needed to provide basic services. Guess the the amount of water, gas, electricity and sewage required to meet the demand. Speculate on the dollar value spent by the private and public sector on basic products such as food clothing or supplies. Look at the amount of dollars earned in commerce from offices, businesses, stores, and factories. The image is monumental. It blurs the mind. That is the case with me. For those who live in rural areas, or haven't visited a big city for a long time, it is hard to grasp the social and political implications such a metropolis has, let alone absorb the daunting realization about the number of people in the world.

The pictures  which I have chosen to share indicate that I have not adequately learned the lesson of Tanzania. These are selected frames that tell some aspect of Chicago, but omit many key elements. They are like random flowers plucked from a gigantic vase. They are shots from an amazing world and are meant to encourage viewers to plan to see the city on their own. On another note, I wish to thank publicly, my cousin Anne and her husband Stan Hollenbeck, my cousin David and his wife Bonnie Spangler, their son, Benjamin, and my cousin Ron and his wife Toni Ellis, for their gracious hospitality, kindness and love.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fifth Entry of a Long Journey

When I mention Chicago, some of you may think of Al Capone or hear Frank Sinatra's voice crooning "....It's my kinda town." For me the word has a special meaning. It is the name I have inserted on countless forms over the years in the blank marked "Place of Birth."  My earliest memories contain images of coal-stained brick apartment buildings, ornate downtown skyscrapers, boxy little houses, amazing museums and zoos, summer thunderstorms, swimming in a huge lake, and playing in spacious parks which were filled with terrific climbing trees.  I recall going to synagogue, walking with my sister to elementary school along noisy busy streets, and playing marbles in sand lots. It was where I first became conscious of class and racial differences. There were "colored people" who lived across 47th Street on the South Side. These were poor people whose tenements, run-down clapboard houses, and storefronts I would see from the elevated train on trips with my mother to downtown or peer at through the window from the backseat of our car on the way to my father's office. These people had lives beset with bad habits and, in my eyes, most were not clean, refined, or, for that matter, safe to be around. For the first ten years of my life, I accepted resolutely my place that I was a small, anxious, nervous "city boy" living among a dense mass of diverse people.  In 1956, our family moved to Southern California and my attachment to Chicago faded rapidly as I began to connect to a new environment. Nonetheless, I have always felt a peculiar excitement and subsequent stimulation of old memories when I have returned to my old neighborhood. It is hard to define the feeling and value of the experience, except that it is similar to discovering a box of long misplaced puzzle pieces. For some reason a person feels wealthier because he has found lost shapes which contribute to the picture of his whole being.
Another benefit that returning to Chicago affords me is the opportunity to renew contact with relatives who still reside in the Windy City, most important among them my 93 year old Aunt Gertrude, the remaining member of my parents's generation.

So this past week, with great anticipation, I entered the South Side of Chicago from Indiana. My route took me on Lake Shore Drive  passing the 76th street beach, Hyde Park, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Jackson Park. My first destination was to stop at the Field Museum of Natural History to ogle at the face of one of the city's most famous celebrities, the lovely Sue. (to be continued)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fourth Entry on a Long Journey

I entered the Midwest by crossing a bridge over the Ohio River. Kentucky and the South were now behind me. As I headed Northeast driving along State Route 7, I snapped pictures of the big river which composed the border between Ohio and West Virginia. My destination was a stop in Pomeroy, Ohio, and to spend the night in Marietta, the first Ohio city of the Northwest Territories.

The egg carton topography of Appalachia was gone and had yielded to rolling deciduous tree-covered hills and flat expanses of river bottom land rich with recently harvested cornfields and soy beans plots. Small farms and quaint, clean homesteads decorated with Halloween ornaments dotted the tranquil landscape.

I stopped at an oldtime tavern and grill across from the courthouse in Pomeroy, a historic steamboat landing, and which had been by-passed by the main highway, ate a burger filled with hot homemade cole slaw and listened to the "aaaaksent" of the local people. On other occasions on my trip, like a sophomoric sociologist, I had initiated conversations to glean political opinions on current topics from folks sitting by me, but not this time. I wanted to be simply a fellow passing through town and enjoy the role. My attention turned to the wall adjacent the mirror, elaborate woodwork, and shelves of bottles. There, amid the posters and pennants heralding local athletic teams was, curiously enough, an old placard announcing an evening with jazz-blues great Joe Bonamassa.

In the late afternoon as I moved onward, the wind picked up and blew thousands of brown wilted leaves from the trees. They flitted and dove above the roadway like flocks of small frightened birds. Those that fell on the pavement thickened into a mat and gave the appearance of oddly shaped stones composing a mud wagon trail. There was little traffic and I, cruising along in reverse the direction of countless pioneers that had come this way, slowed my pace even more until I stopped at a wayside to get out to stretch and, in the quiet, appreciate my fortune.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Third Entry of a Long Journey

Yesterday, as I crossed into the Smoky Mountains, almost immediately, I recalled the enjoyable feeling I experienced as a child when singing folk ballads such as "On Top of Old Smoky."  It was one of a number of songs, especially those of Stephen Foster, that I learned  both in school and from my father. On much too rare occasions, he would be relaxed enough to sit down and pick up his guitar, strum a few chords, and sing with my sister and me lyrics which described the Old South. Our family had a historical connection to Tennessee. The Volunteer State had been my parents' first home after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. They had settled in, of all places, Nashville. There, they had learned English with its distinctive drawl and experienced southern style American culture.  As a youngster my parents told fascinating anecdotes of those early years, including one that suggested I had been named after Robert E. Lee, as part of a bargain made with my father's mentor Lanier Merritt, a crusty old Confederate, who taught my dad how to letter signs.

My route, after leaving the mountains, would take me through Eastern Tennessee. I stopped first at Davy Crockett's birthplace and then arrived in Greeneville, Tn, the hometown of Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's vice president, who took over the presidency upon Lincoln's assassination. I spent over an hour hearing the perspective of the National Park service guide of the events leading up to and through the Civil War. I was moved by the sensitivity he showed while talking to other guests and me. It was clear that every day he spoke with visitors whose opinions covered a wide political spectrum: some were passionate modern day rebel sympathizers and others were Northern liberal Yankees who still  blamed the South for slavery and treason. I left feeling inspired and gladdened from listening to well-informed discussions of history.

My ultimate destination was Gray, Tennessee, the home of Eastern Tennessee State University. In 2000 when a bulldozer, while preparing to straighten a road, unearthed some strange bones, a monumental event had its beginning in the world of paleontology in America.  Almost rivaling the La Brea tarpits in Los Angeles as the motherlode of ancient animal finds, the Gray Fossil Site Natural History Museum was built adjacent the dig site. I was able to watch people unearthing Miocene Epoch (5 - 3 million years ago) mammals and reptiles such as jaguars, camels, llamas, weasels, tapirs and lizards  that are so plentiful in the soil that the joke among researchers is that you can throw a rock and hit a bone. While I stood  at the viewing platform outside, I watched a fellow scratching away the earth from an ancient alligator skull. Also indoors, through large windows, guests can watch graduate students, volunteers, and researchers cleaning, classifying, and arranging bone fragments with tweezers and microscopes. Not surprisingly, this museum has had a startling and perhaps a somewhat annoying impact on many of the fundamentalist Christian residents who live in the surrounding area. The second day I was at the museum, I spoke with an older couple who had come to see  the displays. They said the dig was a great place, but the school had lied about numbers. They claimed that the alleged ages of the animal and plant fossils conflicted with scriptures and therefore were false. This error, they attributed, was partially the result of the devil's handiwork.

I have given you a thumbnail's synopsis of my days in Tennessee. I am so full of experiences and so limited by the time and format that I have skimmed over so much. Today I leave for Kentucky and then to Ohio. Yikes! I'm not even remotely half way through this adventure.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Second Entry on a Long Journey

It is early Fall here and the tropical air mass has brought an unusual amount of rain. The ground is muddy, the air is humid and the low lying swamps have more standing water than usual. These inclement conditions are not putting a damper up on the start of huntin' season. I have seen more gun shops, taxidermists, meat packers, and sporting goods shops advertising great sales on deer paraphernalia than anyplace else I've been. Car dealership parking lots, adorned with large American flags, are filled with rows of pick up trucks that are ready to be purchased with no money down and e-z credit by burly looking outdoorsmen. Even the shape of the State of Florida looks like a pistol.

I have driven almost exclusively on rural highways. The original business district of most small towns has rotted away with few historic buildings gentrified. It has been replaced by one or two strip malls containing a generic gas station/"country" store and an assortment of pawn shops, gold and silver buyers, a Burger King, a beauty shop and, most important, the Dollar General. The surrounding land is either pine, cypress, or oak forested or plowed with crops of cotton, nuts or peaches. Interspersed among the scarcer brick or whitewashed-siding farm houses are countless single wide mobile homes, many in seriously shabby condition. It is confusing to me to grasp what goals and dreams their inhabitants have. Many of the residents are the people who attend  the hundreds of oddly-named churches which line the road which push goofy divine messages from plastic reader boards. I doubt these people are ever reached by Eastern establishment pollsters who ask questions to develop data on the nation's opinion of U.S domestic or foreign policy. Even though many are certainly eligible for public assistance and fall well below the poverty line, some pay dearly the costly price of participating in the system at large. Every bridge I crossed has been renamed and memorialized for a local fallen youngster, who saw his ultimate way out and to "salvation" by joining the military.

After covering many miles, I arrived late in the afternoon in Athens, Georgia, the home of the University of Georgia and immediately began experiencing a different environment than I watched roll by me during the day. I found it  pleasing and relaxing to see the stately antebellum buildings of the campus. I saw young people carrying books and heard them laugh. I saw billboards on telephone poles advertising dance troupes and theater productions. While I sought dinner last night in a local hangout, the waiter carried his Physics book along with my menu. These places produce people whose dreams I better understand. Tomorrow I leave for Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains. I'm curious about what I will find.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

First Entry of a Long Journey

Two weeks ago I arrived in Fort Meyers, Florida, to visit and take care of my ailing friend Stephen. Today I am leaving and am about to drive to Orlando to visit my nephew and his family. In this almost finished snippet of time, I have chosen to not allow my emotions to emerge. I have been neither lighthearted nor deeply cynical. Aside from being annoyed by a predictable negative experience at a car dealership and once, when Stephen in his condescending, humiliatingly judgmental tone hectored me incessantly on the correct way to toast a bagel, I have rarely been moved enough to even respond passive aggressively or laugh heartily at anything. I have dealt more or less methodically and efficiently with every task at hand from taking care of my own health to making Stephen comfortable.

It seems that I have been coping in a calm, controlled manner with the traffic, the disorientation of being out of my element, the heat and humidity, Stephen's complicated personality, dealing with his severe medical issues, and my own physical discomforts. It is as if my own survival depended on diligent detachment. I like to believe that this behavior has become a useful seminal characteristic of my personality, a socially acceptable persona which depicts mature adult behavior. Over the years I have learned to cultivate this image to serve as an attractive veneer to cover the core of the incredibly frightened child I have always been.

Therefore I have little passion today to describe deeply or critically the world about me. I am writing from a Starbucks from one more generic shopping complex of anywhere, except its probably Florida, since the gardeners are gathering fallen palm fronds from the surfaces of boring ground cover. I find it particularly difficult to have a welling up of emotion while sitting by the window watching the traffic whizz by. Some drivers are from the wealthy waterfront sections of the town and many others are the folks I saw at Walmart the other day; namely, a bubbling stew of ethnicity whose lives swim in a sea of issues associated with poverty and ignorance. Saying more about my observations of Southern Florida means drawing conclusions befitting a psycologist, sociologist, historian, or monk. Today I lack the dedication, intelligence, conviction, energy, or purpose to gamble with words in an attempt to share thoughts.

I feel like average cat-eyed marbles stacked in a fragile glass jar. To the untrained eye the content appears solid, valuable and colorful. The fact is that I have been sitting on the shelf these past weeks self-contained, firm and cool in demeanor and purpose. I have been living, but not really in the large game. Perhaps this next episode with Mark and family will reorient me and help me get back into the the pot.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Time for All Seasons?

I am disturbed by August and late Summer. My mood is impacted by a feeling of loss. I'm saddened to see that, other than sunflowers, most wildflowers, whose appearance had so recently gladdened me, have died off. In their place, shriveling brown stalks stand silently like hopeless indigents on crutches. No longer begging for sunshine nor even thirsting for water, these once lovely plants have reached their end, the waned essence of Spring mouldering in a tattered shroud of torn petals and wilted leaves. The few remaining flowers will also soon succcumb to the relentless attack by rapacious bugs, weeds, and heat. I will have to accept the fact that most visually exciting, fragrant and freshest time of year is over.

No less disappointing for me is the similar demise of my favorite rivers, creeks and lakes. Like a mad cook who works too many hours, the sun has become an obsessive baker, leaving the temperature on High, and overheating the pot. This causes the water level to drops and the fresh, cool, clear broth to become tepid. Where once, around wet, moss-ringed boulders, white water rushed noisily, and behind which, hungry sassy trout snapped at passing morsels, now languid pools form. Favorite jagged points, from which I had cast upstream and watched my fly and line drift by, are now the detritous of dull sand bars.

The fate of lakes has taken an equally unfortunate turn as well. Beaches now appear at shores that had been previously braceleted by charm ornaments of lilypads, cattails, submerged shrubs, and glistening moist tree trunks. Into this garden, I would launch my pontoon boat, peer down through crystal clear water to spy on the magical underworld and then push out into the open. It was quiet and comforting to pay out sinking line, retrieve slowly and wait for the tug to thrill me.

Likewise, Summer means my quest for such joy is interrupted by the influx of tourists. It brings with it a cacophony of barking dogs, shrill children, the hum of generators, the slamming of RV doors, the chatter of outboard motors and the splashing wake of numerous boats transporting the loud voices of inexperienced fishermen and kayakers. These sounds fly across the water great distances like an invasion of winged insects and even swoop down into secluded coves to mix with the osprey's call or the crow's caw to disrupt the tranquility of what had been my personal aviary.

A lengthy series of hot sunny days has transformed the woods as well. Yesterday, I hiked for several miles on a recently blazed trail through a mixed pine forest which was interspersed with bitterbrush and mounds of volcanic rock. The dust from the path, like flecks from disintegrating calendar pages, had filled in once fresh, moist, deer tracks and had left only faint silhouettes of halcyon days. A greyish brown sheen covered many of the adjacent rotting logs and stumps, giving the impression they were the crusted remains of unearthed mummies. Loping through this parched environment, I neither saw nor heard any living beings the entire time of my walk other than being occasionally startled by scurrying jaw-packed chipmunks. They, like me, but for different reasons, were already thinking and planning for the coming of Fall.

When I was young, the approaching Labor Day holiday portended a star-crossed future. The coming of Fall meant an ominous return to the classroom. Each year, the appearance of late Summer "Back-to-School -Sale" signs sprouted fears of academic inferiority and social conflict which since early June had slept dormant in me like thistle seeds under the soil. The end of Summer signified that joy, freedom, and security would be closed into a suitcase and returned to the attic or placed out of reach high on a shelf in the garage until the following year.

Now, as an oldster, I eagerly anticipate the coming of dew-drenched mornings, cool winds, back roads devoid of traffic, colorful Autumn leaves, budding mushrooms, elaborate spider webs, festive holidays, and clean fresh air. I know intellectually that the various seasons are like ice cream flavors and, by magical design, each are tasty and sweet. Yet, emotionally, every person has his favorites, and I, spoon already in hand, am looking forward to Fall to savor a generous portion of one of mine.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Casting for a Fun?

Three weeks ago today, I left Bend. Predictably, my adventure has now brought me to one of my favorite places, a home away from home, Kamloops B.C., a town that I have visited each summer since 1981. Up until a few years ago, I would bring a motley group of unusual, disparate friends here to the supermarket to buy a week's worth of provisions to pack into the "Lake" to prepare for our annual fishing trip. Then, after staying the first several days at Juniper Beach, a rustic campground along the Thompson River, which we used as our base for a few days, we would then be shuttled by hosts into the mountains to a romantic, secluded dock protruding into the azure color of Lake Hi Huim, a natural tarn wrapped by a pine forest teeming with bears, deer, and occasional moose. Full of excitement and a sense of adventure, we would be given  little boats which we loaded with our belongings. Like make-believe mariners, would motor them three miles to our "hideout on a bluff" situated on Eagle Point, a spit which protruded into the water like a giant moss-covered log. Most of our days we spent fishing relentlessly and then, evenings after dinner, often past sunset at 10:30 pm, we cast our fly rods with deepest anticipation to lure large, sassy, chrome-colored trout to the bite. In the interim, we rested in the cabin, exhausted from our "toil," to the background sound of loons echoing messages of love across the water. Most important, our home had a large kitchen with an ancient wood stove, an ice box, and a large table, around which we would eat heartily and sit for hours telling tales of bravado, often exaggerated from the effect of shots from duty-free bottles of Bailey's and Wieser's Canadian Whiskey.

Of course, so much has changed over the years. I sit and stare at the screen of my laptop this Sunday and feel these special joyous memories of my life bob into my thoughts like treasured flotsam. Unfortunately, dwelling too much on past joy, often takes people down a river which makes the present feel choppy.  Many of the lake trip's alumni, my best friends, are now gone, incapacitated, or have other pressing commitments. The lake has changed too. A few years ago the pine beetle devastated the surrounding forest, making the once verdant green now ugly swaths of rust brown streaks of rotting trunks of dead trees. The original species of lovely fish which hunted the waters to feast for an, even then, rare species, the travelling sedge, have also disappeared. In their wisdom to maximize the resource, the province's wildlife commission introduced a more resilient, but duller looking, generic species of trout into the lake, with the effect that the original fish hybridized and then disappeared. Even the campground, Juniper Beach on the Thompson River, where we stayed before "going in", once private, and owned by a gentle Danish lady, who each year when we arrived, gave us slices of freshly-baked pie, was bought out by the Province a number of years ago and outfitted with water, electricity,and motor home and RV hook-ups.

An adventurer makes his own opportunity and doesn't sit still and fret. There are new lakes to ply and "new fish to fry". The cloudless sky changes to rain clouds, to be sure, but it is important to remember that it clears again   On that note, there are groceries to buy, supplies to be gotten, people to meet, and places to see. The day is moving on and then, before you know it, nightfall sets in.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Out Yonder!

Little did I know that the Calgary Stampede was in full swing as I arrived in this part of Alberta. It is a huge festival. The sidewalks are crowded with families dressed up in their finest Western clothing strutting their way over to the fairgrounds. I see fancy braids, buckles, bandanas, beads and butts. Under cowboy hats tilted downwards, I see faces of people who know about horses, hay, and a "hell of a time," a world so different than my own.

I have to admit that I am feeling tired and dirty today, which is understandable since I've been on the road for over two weeks and haven't had a shower since Sunday. My beard has grown into scraggly tumbleweed. I probably appear as an old cowpoke from the bunkhouse who has spent too many years sitting evenings on cheap tavern bar stools and standing during the day in too much cow shit .

I have seen so much since I last wrote. Memories and thoughts are stacked up in me like cord wood and are ready to be burned for anyone who cares to listen. My travels have taken me through the amazing and desolate landscape of Northern Montana, where dinosaur fossils slumber beneath the surface and the "Big Sky" stretches like a magician's cloak over verdant rolling fields of grasses and wildflowers. Under thunderclouds I spent an afternoon in Browning, MT, the heart of the Blackfoot Nation and hung around the trading post. I talked with people who spoke much with their hands, laughed toothy smiles, and told me jokingly the heavy weather was sent by the spirit to scare the tourists away. Undaunted, I moved on further north and found a quiet section of Glacier National Park in a rustic campground to overnight.  I knew that grizzly bears were foraging nearby since a couple who arrived shortly after me saw one in a meadow a mile away. In my imagination I referred to her as Ursula, a sow, who had lovely ears and a great digging nose. I decided not to hike until I had purchased "bear spray"-not hair spray- which of course I hoped I wouldn't ever have to use.

I have run out of time to continue writing. I must leave Calgary now and drive many miles or resign myself to find some campground nearby replete with RVs, trailers, and noisy people. I am at the northern and eastern end of my journey and, by heading west, I am on my way back toward my journey's end . After noticing the names of Red Deer and Saskatchewan on a road sign, I felt drawn to abandon all reason and give into the lure of turning East and exploring further. After much consideration I thought better of it. My mother advised me to eat smaller portions and claimed the food tasted better. With her words forever hanging around my neck like a mezzuzah, I may already be stuffed. It is time to digest this sumptious meal and head home.