Monday, March 31, 2014
Craig Johnson has been known to travel to book signings on his BMW R1100GS, a precursor to my trusty steed. That would be good enough for me. But, bonus upon bonus, his Walt Longmire series has proven to be good fun. While, from one tale to the next, there may be some better or less better plot lines, the stories and the characters are quite engaging; many of whom the reader cares about more than the ultimate outcome.
Most of the Longmire series are traditional Who-Done-Its with subplots based upon cultural or societal issues played out on a vast and breathtaking Wyoming landscape.
Enter the novel “Spirit of Steamboat,” where the issue isn’t about catching some creepy villain, but rather how might the crew of an aging Mitchell B-25 (like what my dad worked on in WWII) might survive a 1988 life flight mission through the teeth of the worst storm the Rockies had seen in decades.
In this short piece we find the answer to tantalizing questions about characters Johnson introduced in his previous mysteries. Because of the flashback nature of this composition, we should figure that we already know the outcome, but how the outcome is achieved is more than worth the price of admission.
This is a marvelous use of twenty bucks and about three hours. See your local, independent bookseller.
Spirit of Steamboat. Craig Johnson. Viking Press. 2013. $20.
Church of the Open Road Press
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Nearly five years into a blissful retirement, I’ve been tapped to serve as in interim principal for the final eight weeks of the current school year. So much to catch up on! Working from home – because I’m not officially on site yet – I spent a day reviewing administration instructions for the trial test of the new Common Core Standards which will be given to my students later in April and May. Recall that the Common Core curriculum was a result of several governors and state superintendents of schools efforts to ensure that kids in Mississippi moving to Oregon would not miss a beat in the transition.
No Tea Party folks: it is NOT an initiative of the current presidential administration. But even if it were, it’d still be a good thing.
My take? The new assessment gets an undeserved black eye probably because it tries to accomplish too much. Many of the test items are far better than the old fill in the bubble assessments of my day. The new ones are an honest effort to measure student learning at a level on Blooms Taxonomy above simple knowledge. After all, if we are to produce citizens capable of problem solving and creative thinking, we have to focus on understanding, application, analysis – all those higher-level cognitive skills.
The test is an attempt to measure those. But it is probably asking too much, too soon for a couple of reasons:
1) While many public schools have made major strides toward equipping all students with higher cognitive skills, until just the other day, we assessed kids (and ourselves) using the old spit-back-the-info assessment, largely because it is easy to score. The sheer difference in the new assessment’s protocols is daunting, and
2) The use of computers to gather student responses may make the assimilation of performance data more efficient, but the means by which students interact with the assessment on line will be a stumbling block. A teacher could take hours just to train kids how to take the test – and that’s time taken away from providing experience and exercise with the curriculum. Add to that the fallibility of many school’s tech systems and we come to understand staff trepidation about the whole process.
So while we’re moving in the right direction, a meaningful assessment will take time to arrive. We will have to endure the pain of this new model, hopefully only for as long as it takes for the education community to hone a revised one.
How might that revised assessment look? How about fewer questions? How about having questions be project-based in nature where students would have to access their knowledge-based learning and apply it to a scenario or circumstance? How about an examination limited to ten (yep, only 10) in-depth questions or problems – five in English language arts/fine arts and five in math/science and allowing the student pick only three (at least one from ELA/FA and one from M/S – the third one being from either area)? How about providing the student with a time block to read about or research the problem (reading comprehension) and a time block to compose or construct a solution (written language)? The quality of response would inherently indicate the student’s success with knowledge-based factoids like spelling, grammar, and computation. By the way: Let’s allow kids access to the same tools they’d use in the real world: calculators, maps, charts, graphs, dictionaries…
While the results of such an assessment might be more difficult to get one’s political arms about – especially if one is bent on exposing the failure of the schools to teach students things like “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” – they’d certainly give a clearer picture of how students are progressing toward productive, thoughtful, creative citizenship.
Perhaps the biggest impediment to an improved test rests with many of our political decision makers who may lack the skills upon which we’d hope to assess our kids using such a test. Just perhaps…
Church of the Open Road Press
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Those of us who are centrists – although judged by the far-far right to be leftists-liberal-socialists – can conger pretty compelling arguments that corporate America has seized control of the ship of state. And we can back those concerns up with economic reality and historic reference.
Many, on the other side of the divide, can’t or won’t. Far too often, their pronouncements, when laid bare to scrutiny, prove to be little more than throwing crap against a wall and seeing what sticks. Opposition to the Affordable Care Act, pillaring the IRS, demeaning the unemployed or under-employed, suppressing the minimum wage: all are examples that cannot withstand the weight of logical or historical or economic review. Still we are bombarded with nonsense about “what the American people want” courtesy minions for an Economic Royalty that cares only for increasing their personal wealth.
Jurist: “How much is enough?” Gordon Gecko: “More.”
Enter Thom Hartmann – a fellow I read years ago as I was introduced to ADD as an issue I would confront with students as a school principal. Logic, data, research, reason and care defined the manner in which Hartmann viewed and invited discussion on this critical issue.
Twenty-five-plus books later, Hartmann is applying the same research and data-based approach to his views on our country’s economic condition. What he sees is not pretty: the impact of big money, the coalition of Wall Street with a major media mogul, the sheep-like ignorance of too much of our populous. And it is not new. Hartmann posits that about four generations after a man-contrived catastrophe, that catastrophe will repeat itself. Example: Market collapse 1929. Market collapse 2009. Cause? The same.
“The only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.” – Friedrich Hegel
Hartmann would support Hegel presenting gripping data to back up his claims and concerns. He leaves me to want more for my country, not necessarily more for myself and certainly not more for the Economic Royal-folk who – I agree with him – are, again, seizing control.
“The Crash of 2016” is a frightening look at where we are headed. It is well worth our time, and our thoughtful consideration.
See your local independent bookseller.
“The Crash of 2016 – The Plot to Destroy America and What We Can Do to Stop It”; Thom Hartmann; Twelve (an imprint of the Hachette Book Group), 2013. $28.
Monday, March 17, 2014
(Tidbit Number 1)
The niece of my long-time riding buddy is a restaurant critic in the Bay Area. Dining with her is a delight not only because she is knowledgeable about food and wine pairings, but because instead of chowing down on one wonderful entree with associated sides, we generally taste a smidgeon of this and a dab of that until we’ve enjoyed the best of the entire menu. Along the way we are charmed by her culinary impressions and delighted by an unexpected flavor. We’ve learned to savor these adventures.
California’s State Route 1 from Marin County, along the Pacific shore to its junction with US 101 near Leggett is a 213 mile feast of tide pools, ocean bluffs, quaint villages, lumber towns, fishing harbors and history. Luscious curves and pretty good pavement make it easy to bat right through it. I know, because I’ve done so.
Having a new home base closer to the shore, I took a tidbit the other day, instead of the full meal.
The springtime called me to head west on Westside Road out of Healdsburg. The valley floor is scribed with vineyards and dotted with tasting rooms. Up the hillsides, verdant coastal forests over a sublime counterpoint as they loom over the farmlands.
At CA 116, we follow the route of the Russian River through redwoods and quaint enclaves. Liking, as I do, to celebrate a good ride with a good cigar, I stopped in at a “Smoke Shop” in Guerneville, but was informed that if I wanted to get a cigar, I should check the filling station’s convenience store right next door. Welcome to the Emerald Triangle.
116 heads west to the coast through the charmingly tattered Monte Rio then along a broadening Russian River to its mouth. About a mile inland, it joins CA 1. South would be Tomales, Point Reyes and Marin; north (today’s route) would be Jenner, Fort Ross and Stewart’s Point: a mere 26 miles. Just a tidbit.
I paused in Jenner to find that cigar – again, no luck – then continued north on CA 1. Three or four miles up the road, the pavement begins to wind and switchback up the hill.
The endless view beneath an azure canopy prompts a stop for a portrait of the Breva.
I have pictures of two formers (read: "bikes") at this very point.
Back when our west was young and we were break-necking our way to the Pacific Coast, folks in Central Asia were doing the same thing. Only they were heading east. Encountering the ocean, they arced north finding their way to Alaska and its abundant population of otters for pelts. They moved down the coast, but not so much for a bridgehead for further expansion. Their intent was to farm the coastal bluffs in order to provide groceries for their far northern colony of trappers.
A bunkhouse, a cookhouse and an orthodox church were built. Trade was established with the locals (and with John Sutter)...
...but a Putin-esque raft of firearms was kept oiled and ready should relations falter. A colonnade was built to encircle the Russian encampment we now know as Fort Ross.
I remember when CA 1 actually traversed through the parade ground – drove through in my VW – but in the 70s, the highway was rerouted in order to preserve this unique piece of California’s heritage. An interpretive center has been erected and the .3 mile walk to the original site is paved and more than worth the effort. Pack your camera and your imagination.
State Route 1 continues to spindle north, in and out of rivers’ mouths and up and around bluffs and hills. The ocean is never far away. Its mist often drifts across the highway. The luckiest cattle and sheep on earth graze here – if beef or lamb on the hoof might be considered lucky.
At Stewart’s Point a general store sells gas and freshly prepared baked goods. On a foggy morn a cup of their coffee goes down particularly well. On this afternoon, a Stewart’s Classic Root Beer slaked nicely.
My coast tidbit ended here as I coursed east along the famed Stewart’s Point / Skaggs Springs Road. It tunnels through redwood groves then rises to grassy ridge tops as heads past Lake Sonoma and back to US 101 at Healdsburg.
If you find yourself in San Francisco needing a dash of hipness with your dining, and you really want to impress those who are with you with your where-we-gonna-eat prowess, hook into the Tablehopper for good reviews on Bay Area places you might otherwise never know of. Bookmark this one: http://www.tablehopper.com/
Info on Fort Ross: http://www.fortross.org/
From US 101 at Healdsburg, CA: west on Westside Road to CA 116. West on 116 to CA 1. North on CA 1 to Stewart’s Point. East on Stewart’s Point Skaggs Springs to the Dry Creek Valley, Healdsburg and US 101.
Church of the Open Road Press
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
I’ll tell ya…
I retired from a 35-year career in education five years ago. Thirty-five years in the classroom, the prinicpal’s chair and the district office? Hell! I thought I knew all about it.
Today, however, I was called upon to conduct a 90-minute “Art Docent” lesson for my wife’s third grade class. It seems the regular docent volunteer was hired to teach in a classroom. (Good for her.)
I took thirty minutes the day I received the docent directional binder and thirty minutes yesterday to review the lesson and then another thirty more this morning. I visited the school yesterday to inventory necessary supplies (they were all there) and showed up about an hour early to prepare a few necessities.
The class of 29 second and third graders proved to be wonderful. For the first thirty minutes, we viewed and talked about six winter or summer themed masterworks that were printed up on hardboard. The objective involved having the learner identify warm and cool colors and interpret how they were used in the pieces displayed.
Eager and insightful to the last lad, it was difficult to cram the discussion into the allotted 35 minutes. Returning from recess – the ten minute period in which I laid out materials – I explained to the students the outcome they might expect, modeled some of the activities in which the kids would be engaged, checked for understanding through questioning, clarified, and along with the teacher and a couple of other adults, monitored the kids’ work.
The forty-five minute work period stretched to fifty and then fifty-five minutes. When time was up, students paraded past me with their finished “masterpieces.” We posted them on the board reviewing our discussion of warm and cool colors.
Soon the bell rung, the kids left and I sighed in relief and weariness. The activity lasted a little over an hour and a half and was quite successful, but I felt liked I’d been drug through a keyhole. I was done. I slipped into the driver’s seat of my Nissan Frontier and just sat there letting the bucketed upholstery caress my aching lower back. Ahhhhh…
The intensity of keeping a bunch of good kids engaged for ninety minutes will knock the pins out from under the most accomplished CEO, business leader, administrator, member of military brass, cop, doc, or postal worker. And yet our teachers do this for six-and-a-half hours. Daily. Five days a week. And outside of that six-and-a-half hours? They plan, correct, evaluate, answer phone calls and, if they're like my wife, probably enjoy a glass of wine over a stack of papers in a room illuminated by a single light bulb at 11:00 PM.
Next time someone bitches about teachers being slackers sucking at the public teat, ask them to – NO: demand that they actively volunteer for just half a morning. If they respond that their taxes pay for all that needs to be done and that they shouldn’t have to supplement their contribution with their time – time being money and all – they will have exposed themselves as individuals unwilling to examine the weakness in the foundation of their opinion. Caution! This circumstance may precipitate one of those STFU moments you might later regret.
When they do volunteer, however, their tune will surely change. They’ll experience just how hard, how intense and how critical classroom work truly is. They’ll become advocates. And along the way, ALL of our kids will do better.
I’ll be back next month.
Church of the Open Road Press
Saturday, March 1, 2014
The sound was of the breeze blowing through bare winter trees – only much louder. Like a huge, distant orchestra shrouded by a curtain of canyon wall, warming for a performance. Blended notes.
Canyon wall, to be sure. I was perched on a paved strip half way up and half way down. Motorcycle cooling behind me.
Over the edge I peered.
The symphony was of water cascading over an ancient, gray concrete dam barricading the American River. Built to halt debris from upstream mining or timber operations, but halting, momentarily, the river itself. Rivers are only halted momentarily, if at all.
Mist from this crashing water wafted up the canyon side and rested on the clear plastic face shield of my black Arai helmet. I opened it. Droplets, fresh and pure, coated my face and beard.
In washed the smell of the duff wetted in last night’s rainstorm. Breathe deeply.
Standing in a nearly vertical shaft of sunlight – the only degree from which sunlight would ever strike this winter canyon ground, viewing the water thundering over the dam, smelling the history of last night’s storm and the history of this place: Wherever I’ve just ridden is my favorite place to be.
Church of the Open Road Press
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
In the 1920s and early 30s, my father lived in Douglas as his family managed the beanery at the railroad depot there. Across the border, he claimed, a billboard painted on the side of a cantina pitched “Miller High Life – the Champagne of Bottle Beers.” This early memory was etched into his brain until his dying day in 1995. For the entire adult portion of his 77 years, he never ordered any cerveza but Miller High Life when eating Mexican food.
At his passing, I added to my bucket list a trip to Douglas in order to peer across the border and confirm or deny his billboard claim. April of this year it would be scheduled.
Your passage of SB 1062 has changed that schedule. Regardless of how you parse it, 1062 amends the existing statutes, allowing business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers so long as proprietors were acting solely on their religious beliefs. Since business owners have long been entitled to “reserve the right to refuse business to anyone,” this legislation serves nothing more than to codify discrimination against a particular group of citizens. The veil of protecting a religious class edges frighteningly toward the tenets of Islamic fundamentalism you elsewhere so vehemently oppose.
If the esteemed legislators in Arizona wish to practice a Judeo-Christian form of Shiriah Law, they are free to do so in their homes and their churches, but a careful reading of the United State’s Constitution’s First Amendment would preclude this from happening in the halls of the State Capital in Phoenix.
Until the legislature demonstrates a grasp of:
· What is and what is not constitutional,
· What actions do and do not protect the rights of all citizens, and
· How discriminatory legislation such as SB 1062 conflicts with Jesus’ principal message of love,
…scheduled visits to Douglas or other part of the state will have to remain on the bucket list.
This is truly sad because I’d really like to enjoy something besides a Miller with my enchiladas.
The Church of the Open Road
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
I just returned from a quick trip to mid-twentieth century Montana. The vehicle? Ivan Doig’s 1978 memoir “This House of Sky.”
Mr. Doig’s enchantment with the land and the work grounded thereon is exceeded only by his appreciation of family. Doig’s father, Charlie, wed a woman much younger than he. Tragically, only a few years after Ivan’s birth, she dies. Her mother, after a time, comes to live with the bachelor pair, forming a unique family unit with uncommon stresses and uncommon devotion.
Ivan Doig recounts the hopscotch life of a ranch foreman (his father) across Montana’s landscape of ferocious beauty and through towns the map has long forgotten. Doig tells of his times summering with sheep in high meadows (catch the rescue efforts during an unseasonal storm to realize it ain’t all that bucolic all the time), rooming in town with, essentially, strangers, because that’s what had to be done while attending school, and wrestling with the conflict of honoring his Dad’s legacy and life and turning away from it for a university education and the potential of better tomorrows. Along the way, we are introduced to a cavalcade of characters that will come to populate much of Doig’s fiction.
This is a touching, evolutionary tale set in a past kids my age still remember. It is a book that, once again, once I finished it, I didn’t pick up another for a few days, simply so I could savor the story and its telling.
See your local, independent bookseller.
“This House of Sky – Landscapes of a Western Mind” Ivan Doig. 1978, 1998. $14.95.
Church of the Open Road Press
Monday, February 3, 2014
The Lord raised his hands high over the course
of the American River and said “Dam it…”
…And they did.
Impetus for the start of construction
of Folsom Dam, 1952
The upside of an unseasonably warm and dry winter is the elongated riding season motorcyclists are enjoying in California. The downside is drought.
One storm barreling up the American River complex could inundate the capitol, flood tens of thousands of homes, sacrifice countless lives and cause untold sums in damages. The Folsom Dam, just east of Reprisa – site of Folsom Prison – would serve to protect the city, provide hydroelectric power, offer irrigation for valley farms and serve as a minor Mecca for recreation.
The story goes that upon completion, a three-year fill timeline was expected. But an unexpected storm did, indeed, barrel up the canyon and the lake was filled in less than a year.
Through wet years and dry, the reservoir has risen and fallen at the command of those who mete out water satisfying the needs of farmers, city-folk, power companies and salmon.
As recently as April of 2013, Folsom Lake was nearly brimming. Along its springtime shores grew acres of Lupine.
|Click on any photo to expand 'em all.|
The Bureau of Reclamation makes commitments to interests down stream, and by September, the reservoir is drawn down ready to accept the upcoming runoff due to begin in October or November.
In preparation for its initial fill, the basin was denuded of plant life. When the capacity is reduced, interesting evidence of our geologic past appears.
Boating access is stymied as the water level falls below the reach of the ramps. But usually, not this far.
A larger than usual amount of lake bottom is exposed. After decades under water, many of the soluble minerals have melted away. Much of the granite that once graced the area has decomposed.
Rounded domes and outcrops remain in places – looking, perhaps, a bit more weathered than before the lake.
Some say it looks like a moonscape. (I've not been to the moon, although I understand Alice might have.)
As the reservoir drains away, the American finds its old course slipping past gravel bars around sweeping bends.
Our history, of course, predates the dam. And with the pool of water depleted it is easy to find artifacts of our past. Water had been diverted into a canal on the South Fork. A mechanism was installed to keep debris out.
Bent iron stock served as steps in the side of the dam that diverted water into the canal.
Some artifacts are easily dated. Note that this can had both a pull-tab – outlawed some time ago – and a bar code – something relatively recent.
Others not so easy. A busted obsidian point similar to this was spotted half buried in some decomposed granite.
Some are tricky. A tin sign, neatly punch-lettered “Red Rock Mine” floated downstream from somewhere. Perhaps a decade or two after the rush?
Close examination of the nails holding the sign to the log show that they are round-headed not cast square ones. This tells us “Not quite so old…”
Whole communities lived in the canyon. Foundations and walls, under the surface for six decades are again exposed.
And then there’s just the weird remains of those things natural and man made that set the mind to fantasy. A Spielberg creation?
Remnants of an alien craft?
A sea creature vanquishes whatever it’s vanquishing…
One wonders whether someday the old dam itself will be an artifact upon which people look back and, well, wonder.
As of January 31, the region has received 17% of its seasonal precipitation. The lake stands at less than 15% of capacity. Its drained carcass serves as a stark reminder that the west is arid land. With the allure of majestic coastal vistas, verdant, fertile valleys, gold in the foothills, timber in the Sierra, winter sports and summer ones, too, it is easy to overtax Mother Nature.
An argument could be made that we’ve done that.
Church of the Open Road Press
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Geysers Road – Sonoma County, CA
It was the 19th of January. Temps were predicted to touch 70. We’d gone oh-for-the-month on rainfall and none was on the horizon. I was in my new digs in Northern Sonoma County. Mama was visiting the grandkids and the BMW lay fallow in the garage. A frequently passed sign on US 101 says “The Geysers – 17.” I liked Yellowstone’s Old Faithful as well as the next guy so I figured it was time to see California’s take on the theme.
Geysers Road forms a short but entertaining jog from State Route 128 east of Healdsburg into a remote reach of the Coast Range, then back along twisting stream drainage to meet up with 101 at Cloverdale. Cautionary signs warn us that road conditions are variable which we come to learn means some stretches of gravel, some stretches of blacktop crumbling and falling down the hillside and some stretches as smooth as something you’d hope to encounter on track day.
Leaving 128 northeast of Jimtown, Geysers Road quickly affords a panoramic view of the Alexander Valley. Vineyards creep down the hillside, blocks of each producing unique fruit prized by skilled area winemakers. (My daughter’s one of ‘em.)
Reaching a summit, the road dips into a dry little valley, climbs out the other side and dances for a few miles along the side and top of a ridge. This day, the winter grass has, for lack of rainfall, failed to sprout. The scenery looks more like October than three weeks into the New Year.
Fourteen miles on, Geysers Road tees. To the right it’s Geysers Road. To the left, it’s Geysers Road. What we’ve just been on is Geysers Road. A directional sign tells us that “The Geysers” is two miles east. Right I go anticipating plumes of steam reaching like misty fingers into an unseasonably blue sky.
A geyser is a geothermal phenomenon that occurs when moisture from the surface sinks into the substrata and follows underground routes to cracks in the earth’s crust. The water follows those cracks until it makes contact with a molten mass not too far below the oaks and chemise we’ve been riding through. Vaporized, it rockets up through the vents and would form one of those steamy plumes, except…
…Except that we’ve figured out how to capture this energy, cap it, pipe it, turn turbines with it and power 60% of the electrical needs of the California coast from the Bay to the Oregon border. A snapshot from a stopping point shows pipelines and metal buildings, locked gates and power lines but no graceful mists shooting into the air and dissipating on the mountain breezes. No national park here. Still, it’s all pretty amazing.
And, as if to prove that the journey is often better than the destination, Geysers Road swings west following Big Sulphur Creek back to 101. Here’s where most of those variable conditions come into play. A gentle hand on the throttle is advised as the gravel portions can sneak up on the rider and while they’ve learn to harness steam just up the road, they haven’t yet mastered “guardrail.”
A few miles west, a wide spot affords a place to view what another passer-by claimed was an abandoned quicksilver (mercury) mine. A tall tank of what appears to be clear redwood stands akilter like a latter day Pisan tower.
A series of rusted up and down pipes were a “separator,” the fellow says. I couldn’t recall enough chemistry to remember what was being separated from what. I suspect it had something to do with those little liquid chromium colored balls we shouldn’t have played with as kids. I do know that there are quicksilver mines up along SR 20 so his guess made sense to me.
Further west, tiny, gated roads snake off to the left and right, each following the contour of this tributary or that one to another mining site or another geothermal well.
An historic bridge awaits us at the bottom: built in 1909 and moved here from somewhere back in ’37. The embossing on the steel tells us it came from Philadelphia. I consider its rugged trip from there to the middle of nowhere.
A few miles further and we reached 101. It’ll be ten minutes to home. Mom’s not back from the grandkids and I’ll wish I taken a bit longer journey this warm January day.
Today’s Route: US 101 north from Santa Rosa. At Healdsburg, west on Alexander Valley Road. Left on 128. Left (which will appear straight) on Geysers Road. Return: West on Geysers Road. Right on River Road to US 101 north of Cloverdale.
Church of the Open Road Press