Tuesday, November 21, 2017


… a benchmark activity …

I don’t geocache.  But sometimes, when I’m out hiking around with a buddy, we’ll find something interesting stuck in the ground.  Such was the case on a coastal bluff the other day.  A benchmark.

After whisking away the dusty, sandy covering, we exposed the bronze disk set in concrete and the text thereon:

Sandstone CADH
No. 1

I speculated about what CADH might mean, while Tim, my compadre, suggested “California Division of Highways” given that those words were embossed around the circumference of the disk.

“Nah,” I said.  “That’s too simple.  Besides, we’re nowhere near a highway.  And what’s the arrow mean?”

We wandered off, looking at the bluffs and the sea lions. 

A great aspect of our Internet age is how, with a little dabbling on a search engine, you can be connected with the past.  Fiddling with a few key words and after being misdirected to a prehistoric site somewhere in Scotland where “CADH” actually means something, I stumbled onto the geocaching.com website where the benchmark we’d almost seen was listed.

I report “almost,” because the arrow on the marker we’d found was directing us to the actual benchmark. 

It was a half-mile from our rented coastal house to the bluffs.  I went back out to investigate. 

Sure enough, several paces off in the direction pointed by the arrow, stood a rusted metal post.

A foot from that, another bronze disk was stuck in another puddle of concrete. 

The geocache website provides a chronology of this marker.  Originally placed near the edge of the bluff in 1878 it marked “…the outer point of the northern extremity of the bight found north of Bihler Point…”

By 1929, the Coast and Geodetic Survey folks offered “…about two miles south of the mouth of the Gualala River and ¼ mile north of an old landing…  …about three feet from the edge of the bluff which drops gently away.”

I explored south to find what was left of the old landing: a timber protruding seaward from the top of the bluff.

... and a nearby trail sign explains.

The geocache site continues:  …1937…  “… an old landing, almost a wreck, is west of the barn…”  … the foundation of which, if it survived, would now, rest on private property.  

 On the coastal edge of that parcel stands a large contemporary house.  I did not go looking.

In 1961:  “… reference mark number 1 was not found and has probably been lost due to erosion.  Mark 2 was recovered in good condition but the bluff was found to have eroded… …leaving the station mark loose on the ground.”

Then this, in 1973:  “Neither the station mark nor reference mark number 1 were recovered and are probably lost to erosion.  A California Division of Highways Bronze disk stamped Sandstone CADH 1973 (score one for brother Tim) was set approximately 250 feet east southeast of the old location of Sandstone 1878…” 

I paced about eighty feet of that 250 until I came to the bluff.

Having grown up and lived most of my life in or near the foothills of the Sierra and cascade, with its rich Native American, gold rush mining, and lumbering history, it is easy to assume that such richness does exist anywhere else.  What a mistake.

Back on the Internet I investigate “dog hole schooner,” “Del Mar Ranch,”  “Frick,”  “Bender,” and a number of other surnames, placenames and terms.  Sonoma County, now among the world’s finest wine growing regions, was once home to the Russian colony at Fort Ross, a place dedicated to growing crops to support Russian fur trapping outposts further up the coast.  Later the redwoods harvested in these coastal hills were integral to the building of San Francisco, thus explaining the landing where “dog hole schooners were loaded via a wire chute.”

There’d been a mill, machine shop, generator, company housing, and a school on what is now recovered coastal prairie and ocean view homesites.

So here’s what’s cool about making some tiny historic discovery: It can set your mind to thinking… to imagining...

Dreams that night included captaining a rickety wooden vessel laden with milled redwood in turbulent seas along a coastline that does not forgive...

And  wondering how long it will be before the bluff under that fancy house collapses.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Enrico gets fitted for the road…

I took Enrico, the Yamaha, on an eighty-mile round trip this morning in a light rain as his new Givi panniers had arrived and he was scheduled for a fitting at Factory Powersports of Santa Rosa.  They’re proving to be a REALLY GOOD dealership. 

Why do this today?  Well, the bags came in and I was eager, but…

…I make it a yearly practice to take a ride during the second real rain of the season.  I pass on the first storm’s precip as the winter’s earliest showers tend to dredge up oil and dirt from summer’s long-dry pavement making for extra slippery and rather treacherous riding conditions.  Who’d want that?

This annual voluntary rain ride is one wherein I reacquaint myself with critical wet weather skills so necessary for times, on long road trips, when one gets caught in a cloudburst.  It happens in Montana, Oregon, Wyoming and damned near everywhere west; and, I’d opine, that it pays to have developed some damp weather confidence before the deluge.

On the wet pavement, I practice moderate speed, moderate lean angles, moderate braking, increased clearance behind the vehicle in front and, as was the case today where an unanticipated half inch of water was sweeping across US 101, a few “Hail Marys.”  Hydroplaning on two wheels?  Yikes!

Then again, that’s why I do this.

The panniers purchased, Givi ‘Dolomitis’ are constructed of thick aluminum. 

Tie downs are incorporated onto the lids to accommodate a duffel of extra cargo. 

One key fits locks on both and both close snugly, sealing rain out quite effectively.  A paperback copy of an Easy Rawlins mystery (Charcoal Joe) I’d been reading while waiting at the dealership, experienced no soggy pages from the rain on the thirty-plus mile ride home.

Top (as opposed to side) loading and easily mounted and removed from the bike, they fit securely to the Super Tenere and do not require a rerouting of the exhaust and silencer, as did the Jesse system I’d purchased for the BMW ten years ago. 

And, to me, they are attractive, in a rather industrial sense.

Factory Powersports matched the best on-line price I could find.

So Enrico and I are ready to suit up, rain or shine, as the newly outfitted Yamaha looks good in the garage, but better on the road.


Notes:  Link to Factory Powersports in Santa Rosa (Yamaha and Suzuki dealer): http://www.factorypowersports.com/

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Lesson from a recent trip to “The Sea Ranch”

Sonoma County’s Sea Ranch was formed, in part, from the expanse of Rancho Del Mar – Spanish, by the way, for “The Sea Ranch.”  In the late 1800s, acreage used by cattle ranchers and lumbermen proved to be a gold mine of a different sort as they profiteered from the building and feeding of a burgeoning and youthful post-Gold-Rush San Francisco.  The cattlemen felt it would aid grazing were the prairie above the coastal bluffs transected by rows of cypress trees planted to serve as windbreaks against the forces of prevailing northerly gusts.  A century passed and the land fell to development.  Development, it is claimed, where residents respect the natural environment and support endeavors to protect the not-necessarily-native plantings by dotting expensive homes in and about those human-engineered windrows.

The Sea Ranch is also the land of a little eaves.  Truthfully: big houses – we’d just rented one for the weekend – little eaves.  Eave-less-ness, along with wood-toned exterior siding, are elements of the community’s CC&Rs.  Admittedly, this makes for a nice visual effect and, not coincidentally, a bit of a Mother Nature inspired manufactured-urban/manufactured-forest interface.  Today, then, we observe the normal, yet enchanting, interaction of foxes, squirrels, deer, humans and dogs – on leash – from our picture windows.

The first evening of our visit, just as dusk was about to settle, a noticeable clunk – the report of an accidental collision – was heard at the window just above the sink.

“What was that?” we all exclaimed.

I ventured out onto the deck.  A young hawk lay – what's the word for it? – spread-eagled on the deck.  He had crashed into the window and knocked himself out.  Apparently, he was drawn to the light from the kitchen through a window whose light glowed from the interior of a house that, if designed by any other architect or under any other CC&Rs, might not have been so attractive to such an inexperienced hunter of the night. 

Perhaps, if there had been eaves…

The grandkids had followed me out to investigate.  The young hawk lay face down on the deck panting and panting and panting.  I stretched an arm to hold the youngsters at an appropriate distance.  Were this some Warner Brothers cartoon of the middle 1950s, I'm sure I'd have made out little stars orbiting the stunned harrier’s head.  I reached for the Sony pocket camera that I always carry with me, the new one; the one I don't quite know how to operate yet.  As I fumbled to turn it on and activate the lens, the young raptor hopped to its feet, bounced twice or maybe three times, recovered its senses and took flight to the windrow of cypress trees perhaps 50 yards away.

Where he had lain rested the body of a tiny gray and yellow-bellied bird.  Moments earlier I suppose, this little guy was simply grazing for fleas or ticks or seeds or grubs when down swept the predator.  Now, it seemed as if the poor fella was dead on my deck and not destined to be dinner for the dumb-struck hawk.  But then, the slightest movement told me otherwise.  The little gray bird with a yellow belly lay faintly panting; faintly but faster than that of his mortal nemesis, the young hawk.  Should I simply step on the little critter and put him out of his misery?  I shooed the grandchildren back into the house.

I chose to save my makeshift Vibram® executioner’s tool for a bit later on.  I followed the grandkids in.

After a time, I came out and the little gray and yellow bird still lay on the deck still shivering and pulsing.  Mercy, or some similar compelling factor, commanded me to rescue-and-recover rather than squash.  Retrieving a “clean” bandana from my hip pocket, I gently wrapped the little guy up and carried him to a bush maybe 20 feet away.  Laying Tweetie-Pie in a soft mattress of dried grass, hopefully out of view of the hawk, I went inside.

Ten minutes later, when I checked back, the little bird was gone. What possibly could've happened?  I tried not to think about it, as I re-entered our rental and dined on oven-baked chicken drenched in a delightful honey mustard sauce.

It is said that when a bird crashes into a window and later flies away, that it is a harbinger of bad luck to follow.

I don't know about that. However, as I was readying for bed that night, while flossing my teeth, I busted the top off a molar and somehow swallowed its remains.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Sorry, no pictures this time…

Yesterday I made my monthly coffee run from my home in the Russian River Valley over to the Calistoga Roastery in Calistoga.  The blends they create are robust and tasty and you get a full pound when you buy a bag. I always pick up two.

This would be my first coffee run since the fires ravaged large potions of Sonoma and Napa Counties.  I hopped on Enrico, the Yamaha, and headed south and east on CA 128, knowing I’d return by a different route, thereby making a loop out of the little adventure.

November is that special time of year when the harvest is in and the leaves on the vines turn a rainbow of reds and orange and yellows.  The colors depend on both the varietal planted and the location of the block.  In the Dry Creek Valley it is not uncommon to see a field checkerboarded in chartreuse and rust divided by vines already naked or vines yet to turn.  Up a hillside will arch a band of bright Zin or Pinot between stands of pine or cypress or oak.  Over in the Alexander, fields run from the banks of the Russian River all the way to the rolling summits of the Mayacamas.  On a clear, sunny day, the evolving landscape is glorious. A random tune enters my head and accompanies me through this joyful kaleidoscope of scenery.

Dropping into the Napa side of things, the area is more densely forested until you descend into the broad valley of one stream course with its rich, verdant soils, then over a rise and into the next and the next.

Weekdays are fine for such an excursion because the weekend wine tasters and lookie-loos are home or at work or doing something other than clogging the beautiful roads that sweep through the area.

On 128, a tick or two from Tubbs Lane, about six miles north of Calistoga, that thick forest has suffered harm, however.  Grievous harm.  Last month, on a night with near hurricane force winds, something touched something else and the shower of sparks that resulted kindled what, on any other evening would simply be a spot fire. 

Rounding a bend into a darkened section in a relatively narrow canyon, the trees that weren’t bare wore chalk-brittle leaves, fried in place.  The grasses were gone and, though weeks had passed, the air hung with the residual acrid odor of nature’s fury.  A pair of deer stood in the roadway, seemingly still dazed, only clattering out of my way at the last moment.  Up the highway a piece, I squeezed into a one-lane traffic–control section.  Arborists sawed and chopped and grinded the standing deadwood that would be hazardous to passers-by if left unattended.  But just as quickly as I entered that scene, I exited.  Four miles on, Calistoga, a town which had been under mandatory evacuation orders stood bustling and calm and unscathed as if what had happened, never happened.

I parked Enrico in front of the Roastery and dropped in picking my two bags of whole bean: “Eva’s Bitch in a Bag” (I’ve met Eva) and some “Frank Sumatra.”

Just north of town, the alternate route I chose would find me heading west on Petrified Forest Road, winding over a ridge, then tracing a creek, then turning right onto Porter Creek Road which, itself winds through a narrow canyon before it becomes Mark West Springs Road and descends into the northern outskirts of Santa Rosa some ten miles distant. 

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that the fire traversed those ten miles that windy, windy night in about two hours and forty-five minutes.

Shortly after I dropped over that first ridge the forests I’d so anticipated and appreciated were gone.  Naked trees, those that had not collapsed, stood like the giant bony hands of some wicked October witch, ready to reach down and grab what ever might be passing on the highway underneath.  Pastures were scorched bare.  Wire fences sagged between the random distant posts that didn’t get consumed.

With the surrounding vegetation gone, home sites that I hadn’t realized were home sites were now evident, not because some expansive domicile was left, but because the masonry chimney was all that could withstand the fury.  Around a bend, I entered a swale where nothing was touched, just as quickly to pass through and see what looked to be someone’s ’28 Model A, reduced to rust inside the concrete stem wall of what used to be a garage.  Out of the little canyon, where valley opened up, entire hillsides were denuded.  Nothing left but ash.  And that sad, acrid odor.

Safari West, tourist attraction and home to exotic animals, seemed spared.  Mark West Springs Resort and Conference Center: same.  But coursing down into north Santa Rosa it was clear that these were exceptions.  Just short of the Redwood Highway (old 101) mainstays of a safe, cozy and modern American life – subdivisions – were rendered to crazy paved cul de sacs littered with the rusted hulks of minivans and SUVs, dotted with freestanding chimneys and the occasional melted piece of something metal. 

In the initial scene of an Indiana Jones movie, Dr. Henry Walton (Harrison Ford) finds himself in a tunnel when a huge round boulder breaks free and comes charging at him at breakneck speed.  He runs for his life.  I picture that this is how the fire must have seemed – must have advanced – that night.

I had packed my camera.  In the past, when visiting a fire aftermath zone, up on the Stanislaus or the Tahoe, I’d stop for snapshots of the unbelievable.  This time, I could not.  This time, it felt too much like invading the privacy of those who lost something precious, their home, their photos, their memories, and for some, their grandparent, spouse or neighbor.  It seemed unbecoming to photograph the objects of someone else’s grief simply to induce a reader to drop his or her jaw at the spectacle.

Motoring home, the random song that might accompany me in the saddle grew mute.  It is tough to feel music when so many lost so much.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, November 5, 2017

“What Unites Us” - a book recommendation

by Dan Rather.  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2017. $23.00.

Perhaps it is a function of being halfway through one’s sixties that one looks back and nostalgically thinks things were “better.”  Growing up (to the extent I did grow up) in the latter half of the twentieth century, a voice that accompanied me and informed me was that of CBS newsman Dan Rather.  Like Cronkite before him, Mr. Rather was, to me, a trusted figure that told the story of our days with integrity and courage.  His demise at CBS came from his “60 Minutes II” reportage of former President Bush’s time with the Texas Air National Guard.  Rather’s work, as it turned out was true, but CBS had allowed the entertainment side of the business and the advertising revenue it generated to influence the news division.  Corporate CBS decided that their anchor’s story leapt from the sphere of news to the sphere of the political, and BOOM! He was gone.  With him, some say, went the credibility of the news division.

Love him or hate him, Dan Rather has held a unique position in our American culture for over 60 years.  From the early days of chasing hurricanes, to being the man on the ground in Dallas in November of 1963, to field reports from Vietnam and an earthquake ravaged Mexico City, this guy has seen a lot, learned a lot, reported a lot and grown.

In his recently published book “What Unites Us,” Mr. Rather views his career and our nation through the discrete lenses of Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility and Character.  Essays under each banner speak to the issues and problems of our yesteryears and the means by which we, as citizens and neighbors, pulled together to address them.  The impoverished Houston neighborhood into which he was born – the same neighborhood my mother grew up in, ten years prior to Danny – cared for the families of the Great Depression’s unemployed or under-employed.  No fingers pointed, no aspersions cast; it was just what you did.  Children of that age grew to bring us Social Security, desegregated schools, Medicare, the GI Bill and countless other far reaching programs designed to ensure that fewer Americans are left behind; that some level of opportunity exists for all.

In his collection of 15 essays, Rather shares his singular view of what we built last century and what might be at stake should it crumble.  To preserve who we are, he addresses the necessity of the vote and of voting rights, the importance of debate and dissent, the role of the press and the courage demanded by circumstance to ensure that our arts, science and educational communities – foundations of both our democracy and our leadership in the world – don’t founder under the weight of half-truths, binary thought and simple, convenient lies. 

Daunting times we live in.  Yet, Dan Rather’s voice is both reassuring and optimistic.  We’ve been through tough times before.  We’ve been divided before.  We’ve hungered and bled and cursed one another before, but we’ve always seemed to venture past discrimination or disenfranchisement or dissatisfaction, and pieced together a better future for ourselves.

Currently, I don’t like the divisive direction in which our nation is headed.

But after reading Rather’s book, I am confident that we can fix it, and I’m glad his voice is still active.

See your local independent bookseller.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Moonlight Serenade

Thanks for everything, Mom

A lone G.I. stands in the middle of an empty dance floor.  A dim light coming from behind the bandstand silhouettes his person.  Facing the ballroom door, his right hand is extended almost to shoulder height.  There he waits.  And waits. 

It’s been twenty-two years.

Now, however – finally – a faint tapping…  Sixty beats to the minute?  …and the ballroom door swings open; a wedge of the floor is suddenly washed with light. 

There she stands, backlit and beautiful.  After just enough pause to allow the soldier to remove his wire-rims and rub his eyes in disbelief, she enters.  They meet under a swirl of spangles as someone curiously named “Tex” stirs the orchestra to life.

“Moonlight Serenade.”  Glenn Miller’s band.

6:15 AM on this day, October 19, 2017, his long wait has ended.

The couple floats on the music, the G.I. and the girl, Dad and now Mom, drifting from the light of the grandest dance floor anywhere into the shadows of forever.



Mom – “Secretarial Skills” – circa 1947

Dad – “Throwing the Mail” – circa 1951

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, October 13, 2017


Lots of times, when my people say, “We’ll be right back,” they don’t come right back.  It makes me sad.  But this time, they took me along.  It was fun.

My people played a game called “Where’s Edward now?”  They took pictures of me.  Their friends guessed where I was.

Here I am at the McCloud Hotel.  (Someone guessed this.)

I like to go ride-ride in the car.

Here I am at Middle Falls.  (Someone guessed this!)

I adore Mom.

I’d like to play “stick” here.

Some places smell funny.

I get to walk with Mom.

I’d like to get this.

I’d like to play “stick” here.

I adore Dad.

Here I am at Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley.  (Someone guessed this.)

It is a cozy place.

Here I am at Monitor Pass.  (No one guessed this.)

I like to walk.

Mom and Dad went to a bookstore in Sonora.  The nice bookstore lady asked, “Where is Edward now?”

They let me come inside.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Into the Rain Shadow

Here is the precept this series of three posts will set out to prove: California’s state route 89 is among the most beautiful highway routes in the entire country. 

On a chilly October morning, it’s tough to get out of bed, especially when being nuzzled by a canine heater.  The cozy cabin at Sorensen’s with its knotty pine interior seems an inviting place to hibernate until April.  I asked about this at the front desk but was informed that the resort is pretty much fully booked year round.

Given a distance yet to travel if we were to complete our exploration of California’s State Route 89, an early morning constitutional seemed in order.

The early rays of sunlight illuminate this juniper…

… but in the sheltered mini-canyon of this brook, rocks were layered in ice.

At Woodfords, Highway 89 heads south to Markleeville, seat of Alpine, https://alpinecounty.com/ California’s least populous county and perhaps the only county seat lacking full service banking.  Through town, the road rises to another of those 1800s scenes…

… then follows the East Carson River, another grand playground for the fisherpersons among us…

… where the autumn blossoms from roadside sage (?) contrast with the standing deadwood of a two-years-ago wild fire.  Still, a river runs through it.

Monitor Pass feels like little more than a rise, then fall, of the roadway.  It is marked by a weathering stone marker…

… set among aspens growing on either side of the route.

Clearing that copse of trees, it is clear we’ve moved to the rain shadow of the Sierra.  The lush forests of ten miles back are gone, replaced by largely barren hills dotted with stunted pines and juniper and scruffy brush.  Cattle country, if you don’t run to many of ‘em.

Off to the north, a fire lookout perches atop a wind-worn Leviathan Peak.  A rugged dirt road winds up the hillside.  The Subaru begs us to take it.

About two hundred yards short of the top, a substantial steel pipe gate blocks the road.  We disembark for a little hike.

The view from fire lookouts is always outstanding.  Go figure.

I figure out how to do a panorama shot on my Sony pocket camera only to return home to discover that the computer screen wide enough to do justice to the vista has yet to be invented.

Creeping back down the dirt track and resuming our tour, Highway 89 winds over and around dry, desert ridges, and, in its final few hundred yards, traces a stream course down to the floor of Mono County’s Antelope Valley.

Many times, I’ve seen motorcycle riders throttle through this canyon, ending up on US 395 bearing a grin bright enough that it could be seen through their full-face helmets.  I recall feeling that grin myself after running the route on one motorcycle or another.

But 395 is where this glorious state route ends. 

After more than 300 miles and having visited lumber towns, volcanoes, pristine meadows, snowfields, granite arêtes and countless turns and summits and tastes of history, the premise of the little tour I’d planned held true: State route 89 is among the most beautiful highways in the entire country.

The only question that remains is: How long until I can do this again, heading the other direction?  (…on the bike?)

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press