Thursday, December 18, 2014
What inspires us to turn the page, round the bend or seek the next rise in the road?
Perhaps it’s our individual histories – our experience from previous pages, twists and bends and summits. Something rewarded us, so we look forward to the next something.
Humankind has been celebrating mid-winter holidays, I surmise, since the time we feared the mid-day sun was shrinking into the southern horizon. The nights grew long, the days cold. Would it ever return north? We hoped we’d packed in enough provision to see us through whatever was to happen.
Our revelry buoyed us against the cold and darkness. We prayed that the sun would return and it did.
Over the course of history, somewhere early on, we realized that spring followed the darkness and with the spring would come the warmth of sunnier days and some sort of rebirth. Plenty would follow.
Fast forward a million and a half years or so: We no longer scrabble for food – well, most of us don’t – but we do battle the winter blues. Combating those, we throw up a tree, spangle it with lights, roast a turkey or a ham, and share gifts and kisses. Soon, we find ourselves reflecting about the year gone by and anticipating the one upcoming.
Collectively and individually, our innate desire is to explore some next chapter. We seek to unravel the mystery around some next bend. We want to conquer some next summit that we’re sure will steal our breath. And we know we’ll be welcomed back to the hearth when we return.
So one year closes and another opens with inspiration – perhaps a humans- only emotion. Moving forward, we trust that our travels will be rewarded with wonder, bounty and love. Maybe that’s why we keep turning pages.
© 2014Church of the Open Road Pres
Sunday, December 7, 2014
But I’d trade all my tomatoes
For a single yesterday…
from a great travelin’ song
I’d be deadheading a flat rack down the coast on US 101, overnighting about King City, then headin’ out before dawn fueled only by dishwater coffee and a pancake sandwich slathered in imitation maple syrup and a couple of eggs. And a side of hash browns. And rye toast. (If my mother calls, tell her I had the rye toast dry.) My destination? Lompoc: Roger Ramjet’s home base back in the 60s. There, I’ll load up. The manifest? Tankards of bulk Chardonnay, strapped down good. I’ll swing back north through Salinas and Frisco, and across the Gate. We’ll off load ‘er a couple of hours north, near the southern edge of the Emerald Triangle. Then I’ll find a neon lit boot-scoot in Healdsburg and throw down a cold one. That’s the plan, at least.
In preparation, I purchased an iron rod so I could occasionally stop by the side of the road and bounce it off the rig’s tires and a new deck of playing cards to roll up into the sleeve of my t-shirt so it’d look like I was toting a pack of Marlboros, or better yet, Chesterfield straights. That’s what the long haul truckers do, right?
It’s a two-day run. One I’ve looked forward to: the freedom of the open road, the whining of the tires on the slab, the rhythmic slap of the wipers streaking across a pitted windshield, sunburned elbow out the window, singin’ “Bobby McGhee.” Truck stops with dyed-red-haired waitresses I’d never see again but who’d refer to me, like a regular, as “honey.” Sweet, blue diesel fumes. Sleepin’ in the back of the cab with only a musty, moth-eaten army blanket and an AM radio for company. Maybe I can pen me some lyrics overnight. You know: about the romance of life out on the four-lane.
Reality often differs from fantasy or the dream world. While in college and during my first few years of teaching, I did a little trucking to help make ends meet. My rig this weekend would bring new meaning to the term “little trucking.”
The winemaking daughter lashed six empties onto a five-by-twelve trailer and sent me eight hours south to pick up some raw material she’d secured through a broker.
I didn’t find myself racked out in the sleeper because a Nissan crew cab doesn’t come with one. Rather, I made arrangements for a night in a motel about half way down and ended up in a room that had been declared “non-smoking” about 48 hours prior to my checking in. Breakfast, ninety minutes down the road the next morning, was an omelet and some weak coffee and banter with the waitress was pleasant, even a bit flirtatious.
Barreling down 101 with a trailer, I found it a better plan to maintain some sort of a schedule than to stop for any of the historical or scenic attractions along the way. Besides, parking with a trailer is a pain. Therefore, added to my motorcycle bucket list is a comprehensive tour of all of California’s missions using 101 as the main corridor for the ride.
Forty years after my stint as a casual trucker, I still harbor nightmares of the freight I improperly stacked only to have it collapse and spill and the hours I spent at the end of my shift swabbing out gallons of varnish that didn’t make it to the paint store. So I was delighted that the folks at the facility from which the bulk was being purchased were able to fill the barrels without having to loosen them from the trailer.
The return trip began shortly before noon and it would be ten o’clock before I would finally shut ‘er down. Periods of heavy showers through the Bay Area brought out many of the western hemisphere’s amateur drivers. Just south of Morgan Hill, an empty pickup hot-rodded past me on the left and slipped into the truck lane I was using. At about 70, he hydroplaned across a flooded section spinning 90 degrees. I braced myself for a crash. When his back wheels met traction he rocketed off the freeway and up an embankment about forty feet where he still may be mired in the mud. One can only hope.
North of San Jose, 101 was clogged because of Friday commute, lousy road conditions, a spate of rain-induced fender benders in the gathering dusk, and the fact that a parallel freeway was closed due to some civil disobedience over a recent grand jury finding elsewhere in the nation. Then there are those surface street miles in downtown San Francisco where US 101 ceases to be a freeway.
A stop at the north tower vista point of the Golden Gate Bridge afforded the only scenic shot my camera would take on this little adventure.
The sixty-eight miles from the south bay to here consumed two hours and forty-five minutes.
By 10:15, I am at home (I am to deliver the goods locally the next morning) sitting in front of a gas flamed fire with a dram of Knob Creek over ice and reflecting on my days as a long haul trucker. I’d listened to a lot of NPR and other than the omelet, all I’d had to eat was some pie and ice cream at a Denny’s outside of Soledad. But I'm not hungry. Just tired.
© 2014Church of the Open Road Press
Monday, December 1, 2014
Is the tuition increase a bad idea? Sure it is. The State of California can and should invest more in higher education – back at the institution’s inception, tuition used to be free for California residents – because, the thinking was, the more well educated a person is, the more productive that person will be within the state’s economy. But is the tuition increase a back-step from a promise made when proposition 30 was passed? Of course not. It was never part of Prop 30. And that’s the detail that is conveniently omitted when rallying the troops. The protesters appear foolish trying to employ an arrow that’s not actually found in their quiver. Perhaps they’re way too wrapped up in how the increase affects “me.”
As far back as I can remember (let me suggest that that goes back to my college days, although I must admit I may not be able to recall what I had for dinner last night) folks have been mobilized either for or against some cause. In the 70s, it was opposition to the war in Vietnam, something that, if I’d been paying attention at the time, I probably would have opposed. But when demonstrators closed the college for two days in protest, it prompted me to think less about our involvement in Southeast Asia and more about me getting cheated out of a couple of days worth of instruction that I’d paid for. I was a kid who’d never left town. What did I know of the world? It was pretty easy to only think about myself in this instance.
Fast forward to now and we have incident after incident of protests and disruptions promulgated by organizations promoting a what’s-in-it-for-me binary view of an issue in order to whip up a rent-a-mob mentality among those who’re not acclimated to looking deeply at an issue (or who have little to do with their time that is actually constructive.) The framing of the tuition increase as a we’ve-been-cheated protest is but one example.
Binary thinking is a scourge on America. Binary thinking thrives in an environment where and participants wallow in an easy and comfortable form of intellectual laziness. It blooms when acceptance allows pesky details and truths to be left out if those ideas run counter to the desired narrative. Binary thinking causes people to talk over or past one another rather than with each other. Binary thinking says that something is either right or wrong, black or white, good or evil, moral or immoral. In binary thinking there is no room for discussion or compromise. Witness Ferguson. Witness immigration. Witness healthcare. Witness firearm regulation. Heck! Witness holiday gatherings for some families. No discussion. The one who yells loudest, wins.
No-middle-ground binary thinking is what we see going on in our public discourse, whether it is on AM talk radio, in the Twittersphere, on Facebook. Sad circumstance. The result is anger, distrust and even violence. Rarely, if ever, solution. Rarely, if ever, progress.
The thing is, somebody profits by all of this. It’s like the kid on the playground who walks up to a another and says, “So and So thinks you’re a (fill in the blank). Whereby “Another” gets fired up at So and So, and if the dispute ends up in an argument or fisticuffs, the kid who started it just sits back and enjoys the fracas.
In big-people America, the sound machine has tapped into that path-of-least-resistance intellectual laziness to which too many of us now succumb. The “machine” has figured out how to use (or misuse) flashpoint words like freedom, socialism, liberty, Nazism, liberal, “Democrat Party” – the list goes on and on – like prods. One of those words attached to an issue an individual is concerned about can fire the person up to the point that they don’t want to or need to see the shades of gray that really define what should or could happen to resolve things. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are great at this. I’m sure there are folks on the left as well. Each side only says enough to ignite the base, then they sit back and profit.
Back when I was a kid in my teens and early 20s, in spite of the war and the protests, we felt our generation would be the one that could turn things around and set America – and then, of course, the world – on the right track. (Cue John Lennon’s “Imagine.”) But somehow, we lost our way and didn’t accomplish that. About ten years ago, the publisher of the Sacramento Bee put forth the question “When did the idealism of the Baby Boom generation change?” I responded (asking that it not be published) that I wasn’t sure exactly when, but it occurred sometime between when in a president’s inaugural address we were admonished to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” and when, twenty years later, a successful presidential candidate rode into office asking the electorate: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
Somewhere in that timeframe we became binary in our thinking. And the question was a simple one: “Is it good for me or is it not good for me?” The greater good was lost somewhere. That greater good will remain lost until we return to an embrace a larger perspective and throw off the shackles of binary thought. Once we’ve done that, we can constructively address racial divides, immigration, healthcare, firearm regulation and, yes, UC tuition.
Heck! Even Thanksgiving dinner might, one day, be pleasant! Wouldn’t that be cool?
Church of the Open Road Press
Thursday, November 20, 2014
The Church received the following grammar related question from a correspondent:
The Church would opine that “these ones” and “those ones” are symptoms of an individual suffering from LGS – Lazy Grammar Syndrome. Adding “ones” to these or those seems like a redundancy. Further, unless one is talking about place value in the realm of mathematics – “what number is in the ones column?” or is playing the card game “Go Fish,” there is no use for the word “ones.” [Outside of a card game, “Hmmm… Looks like Wild Bill Hickok drew some Aces and some Eights,” I’m not sure when you’d put an “s” after a word representing a numeral. Someone correct me please.]
“These” and “those” imply a gesture or the requirement of an additional clue in the context of the text or conversation. “I’d like these apples (perhaps closer in physical proximity to the speaker) and those oranges (perhaps across the aisle)” might serve as an example. Wouldn’t it be clearer to express, “I’ll take these apples and those three oranges.”?
There are many examples of LGS in modern speech. Reversal of I (the personal pronoun) and me (the object of a preposition) bugs the Church no little bit. This one grates: “Charley is walking to the store with Max and I.” The same goes for “we” and “us.” Other gripes? Fragments masquerading as sentences. And sentences beginning in “and.”
LGS should not be confused with LDS (Lazy Diction Syndrome) a spoken language issue – not LDS, the religious affiliation – wherein people mispronounce words. Walter Cronkite was death on this practice and used the second month as his prime example: “It’s Feb-RU-ary, not Feb-EWE-ary.” How may of us get that one wrong? Although the late Norm Crosby made a career out of “misrenouncing” words, the rest of us would sound much more intelligent were we to avoid such malapropisms.
What the Church finds most irritating however is LFS – please employ context clues to figure this one out – which involves the overuse of a certain profanity. Most everyone knows that the “f-word” can be used in all seven parts of speech, but, sadly, some folks set out to prove that within about every three minutes of conversation. Folks suffering from LFS, because it is such a preventable condition, routinely dishearten the Church.
People will argue that if the communication takes place, then the proper use of grammar is not important. I would disagree even to the extent of suggesting that these ones (oops!) suffer from a little bit different but equally virulent strain of LFS.
Years ago, an aging (and pretty cranky) junior high English teacher complained to me, her site administrator, that the practice of decent English is lost upon our young people. I told her I would address this within the hour. She returned to class and I set to creating a poster with Tempera paints. Allowing only a few minutes for it to dry, I entered her room with an eight-foot ladder, a staple gun and the fresh poster. Amid her lecture, I set of the ladder in the front of her room climbed it high, and stapled the poster where she could not bring it down.
The text of the poster?
“If it sounds right, it ARE right.”
I’m not sure if that solved her problem. I didn’t get to work there much longer.
© 2014Church of the Open Road Press
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Exploring NE California’s High Lonesome
Part 3 of 3
Every road trip contains a narrative or two: a story about the history of an area or sweep of the pavement or the emotions associated with traveling through space and time on two (or more) wheels. Some photographs may enhance the narrative. Some don’t fit into the storyline, but you find yourself with them anyway.
Here are photos captured in the latest trip to Northeastern California, as well as a few shots of the area from earlier trips.
This old barn is Chester, California. It has graced the margin of Lake Almanor since before there was a Lake Almanor.
I never took a picture of the ol’ gal when I lived in that neck of the woods twenty years back.
In Adin, California, an old saddle deteriorates on a fence rail behind the General Store. Here it rested four years ago.
Here it is in early November of 2014.
From across CA 139, Adin’s Main Street, a buck watches intently hoping that thing I have in my hand only shoots pictures.
|No this is NOT yard statuary.|
Niles is a big name in Alturas. I’ll have to do some research as to why. They’ve named a hotel, a café and the picture show after Mr. Niles. The art deco style neon sign that lit the street in 2009…
Still does in 2014.
I’m a sucker for old doors that may no longer be in use, frequently wondering where they once led…
I’m a sucker for old trucks, too. I think this WWII era Dodge Power Wagon could tell a few tales to one of those new-fangled Dodge Rams the boys up this way seem to be so enamored with.
|"Yeah, well, back in MY day..."|
The family’s been visiting Mount Lassen and environs for over 50 years…
|"Dad." Photo by Dr. Wes Dempsey, circa 1966|
After the first snowfall in November she looked particularly pristine.
|Viewed from the Antelope Mtn. Lookout northwest of Susanville.|
Years ago, I was exploring the Lassen Cut-Off from the old Applegate Trail. Lassen guided immigrants who’d started on the Oregon Trail but who were bound for California. About 10:00 AM one June morning, west of Fandango Pass, this barn caught my eye.
Last week, here’s how the old girl looked at dusk.
One never knows what one might find that will set the mind to imagining…
What detail might be overlooked by the hurried…
|Carving in west-facing facet of Von Schmidt marker post.|
That’s why we need to heed the road sign that points to the road less traveled…
Delighting in what we might discover over the next rise…
Or around the next bend.
Church of the Open Road Press
Monday, November 10, 2014
Exploring NE California’s High Lonesome
Part 2 of 3
There is no discernable trail leading up the north-facing slope of Twelve Mile Creek. A fire had run through these parts at one time: probably many times. An invasive field of sage blankets the hillside. The fragrant growth is replacing a forest of charred, downed juniper, members of which now lay as random as Pik-Up-Stix, waiting for nature to take its appointed course. The sage somehow roots itself to this rocky, ashen ground, becoming a thickly barbed tangle. Even if you could see where your next step would light, it’d be treacherous.
“Great way to keep Oregonians from invading California,” my partner, Stewart, opines.
“Probably the other way around,” I reply.
We were approaching California’s border from the north seeking A W Von Schmidt’s 1872 handiwork: a monument placed at the exact point where the Golden State, Oregon and Nevada met: 42 degrees north latitude, 120 degrees west longitude.
Except that’s not where A W put it.
The drive out of Fort Bidwell this November afternoon is glorious. Fall colors paint themselves across the high desert landscape.
The first dusting of snow frosts the area’s higher promontories. A clear view south over the Surprise Valley offers a window into life 120 years back. From this distance, not much has changed.
A dozen or so miles north-northeast on Modoc County Road 1, we are welcomed to Oregon by the good folks at the Twelve Mile Creek Ranch.
A few hundred yards back, a gated road heads east, probably to our goal. But it was gated.
Google Earth informs us that another road, one with county demarcation, heads to the south and east about a mile or so in to Oregon. There being no gate, we opt for this route. At the crest of the ridge we park.
We’ll hoof it to the bottom on the road and figure things out from there, including crossing Twelve Mile Creek.
Allexey W. Von Schmidt was a San Francisco-based civil engineer who’d been instrumental in developing that city’s cable car system. In 1872, as disputes arose between Nevadans and Californians about the location of their common boundary, Von Schmidt applied for and was granted the contract to survey the state’s frontier. Using a compass, a sextant and some simple dead reckoning, Von Schmidt and his crew were charged with erecting cast iron and stone markers about one mile apart up the length of the state.
Not so many were actually footed and fewer remain today.
Wading, clawing and climbing through the tangle of dead juniper and sage, Stewart approaches the rim of the cliff. “Hey,” he says. “There’s a fence up here, right along the bluff.”
I’m down slope and on a different trajectory about 100 feet away. “I’ll bet that’s the state line.”
“What if it’s just a fence between ranches?”
I scramble up and see the barbless wire fence. It runs what appears to be east-west. “What if?”
While Stewart roughs it over the boulders on the edge, I make my way to the mesa top where the going is much less challenging. “The fence, it kinds just drops off,” he reports, standing where the bluff’s edge curls slightly southward through a thicket of living junipers.
I’d hiked a few yards and spy another fence or identical construction, this one running north-south. Following it northward about 125 feet, I re-find the bluff. Stewart joins me. At our feet lay a tumble of cracked basaltic chunks some as small as basketballs, some as large as up-ended boxcars. One boxcar piece has a mysterious red lichen splotch slapped on one of its weathered corners. Other area lichens are yellow or green or white.
Several hundred rugged feet below flows Twelve Mile Creek.
While Stewart investigates the rim, I trace back the fence. About seventy-five paces south, a pyramid of lava boulders support an ancient juniper staff. “Stewart!” I yell.
GPS is a great thing if you have satellite access, and Stewart does. His iPhone 6 (yep, the new one) can pinpoint on a USGS topo map exactly where we might be standing at any given moment. But, in this instance, we appear not on any of the four quadrangles that are supposed to come together at this point. Warning, a box reads, maps may be misaligned. A Will Robinson fate (from the old “Lost in Space” Sci-Fi series of the sixties) tries to descend upon us, except that we know where we are, don’t we?
It turns out that Von Schmidt did a pretty remarkable job placing markers along the state’s border. He even attempted to retrace his steps and correct a few that were out of kilter.
This one, we figure was placed exactly where AW wanted to put it: close to 42 degrees north latitude, but not exact. Why? Because 42 degrees is about 250 feet north of the monument over the cusp of the canyon’s wall, right where that red “lichen” was slapped on the corner of a boxcar sized boulder. The 42 degrees at the top of the California quads correspond with Von Schmidt’s work. The space in the middle? Lost, Will Robinson. (Just my theory.)
After a few minutes of celebratory back-slapping, we take heed of a rapidly setting November sun, knowing it wouldn’t do well to traverse the juniper-sage obstacle course at dusk. Before leaving, we find a red can – about the same color as the lichen – tucked among the rocks in Von Schmidt’s pyramid.
Inside, a spiral bound notebook contains the names of others who’d found this place. With the accompanying pen, we sign in.
Then, flipping though the pages, an entry catches our eye. In August of 2007, two very special visitors had dropped by, paying homage to the work of their great-great grandfather.
We break down off the bluff and recross Twelve Mile Creek, each harboring our own thoughts about history and geography, time and people. It is said that if on any day you are awe struck or amazed by something, that’s a good day. This one qualified.
Resource: A nice source of further information on the Von Schmidt Survey of 1872 comes from Sierra College Press. Access it at: http://www.sierracollege.edu/ejournals/jsnhb/v2n2/1872.html
© 2014Church of the Open Road Press
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Exploring NE California’s High Lonesome
Part 1 of 3
There’s a place in the Golden State that is not of the Golden State. It is a region where the summer’s air is clear and sweet and the winters come with teeth in them. Traffic might consist of an F-350 towing a gooseneck stock trailer. Heavy traffic would be two of ‘em.
The people who live in these parts must be rugged. They must be self-reliant. They must care for the land – for that’s their wellspring – and for one another.
The Barrel Springs Back Country Byway offers a glorious tour with windows into both our recent and prehistoric pasts. It begins up in Modoc County at Cedarville, California. The Bureau of Land Management in offers a self-guiding booklet highlighting details one would surely drive right past.
Heading east on CA 299 we are well warned of those circumstances the locals must take for granted. They carry fuel. And, quite probably, blankets.
This being November, at 4650 feet, Cedarville and the Surprise Valley have been kissed by frost. Yellow leaves on the town’s windbreak trees contrast with the deep browns of the basaltic cliffs.
The area’s geologic history is a story of volcanism whose chapters will continue to be written long after time ends. To the south of the state route in the middle of a dry alkali lake, a thermal creates steam accented by the low mid-autumn sun.
Over a crest, the pavement ends, as does the State of California.
Although the rough topography does not. The great basin and range of the United States’ west begins in this region, hummocking the landscape from here to Colorado. Nevada route 8A proves quite serviceable.
The 49ers hopscotched over these parts in their press westward. Volcanic mud cones may have sparked curiosity, but the sourdoughs had more important things on their mind.
The map provided in the guide is sketchy and doesn’t correspond too well with either those provided by AAA or the USGS. Signs along the way confirm that we’re not lost. Knowing that we were on the road to Vya – listed as a ghost town – and that it was only two miles further – was exciting. We looked forward to getting out and exploring the ruins.
Within that short stretch a billboard – a billboard out here?!? – advertises vacationing in what didn’t exactly look like the garden spot of the entire west.
Turns out the “ghost town” consists of a few buildings paired on either side of the road and all on private property – that of the B&B folks. But decay has been arrested.
The Far Western Anthropological Reach Group offer s a very nice booklet about the site, noting that it was located in what would become the dry farming area known as Long Valley. Fremont (1843-44) had been through here on his way to wrest Monterey from the Californios; Later, Lassen used the area for his cut-off.
This day, the only resident that wasn’t bovine in nature patiently watched as we passed by beneath him.
Not listed in the ghost town category, however, are many, many homesteads, cabins and barns – some long abandoned – but each standing for more than a century against the area’s elements.
A rustic post hewn of juniper holds the barbed wire that keeps us from getting too close.
The route, now Nevada 34, rises out of Long Valley then into and out of Mosquito Valley. We pass Barrel Springs without knowing it and find ourselves on Barrel Springs Road.
The guidebook suggests we should get our and explore at Rock Creek: two hundred yards upstream and check out the low lava cliff.
Pointilated into the rock is an image. The technique is the same as had been seen in the Nine-Mile Canyon area of eastern Utah.
Over the course of several hundred feet, more than a handful of petroglyphs have been etched into the basalt.
Curiously, none are more than about four feet above the grade. In the eight to ten thousand years since these were rendered, perhaps a bit of the soluble surface has eroded and deposited itself at the base of the little cliffs. Or perhaps, when Rock Creek rages, the immediate landscape changes.
Signs of leaching are present where water has filtered into and out of a crack in the rock. Mineral residue covers some of the art.
Beyond Rock Creek, Barrel Springs Road reenters California remaining graded gravel almost all the way in to Fort Bidwell. Heading south on Modoc County Road 1, we pass through Lake City and return to Cedarville.
Over the course of about six hours we have toured from Cedarville’s present day (about 1950) all the way back to well before man ever kept track of something as superfluous as time.
The experience prompts a great deal of respect for those who braved the harshness of this place opening the west to our tender feet, and to those who reside in this subtle place, possessing the mettle to make a go of it and the heart to embrace its beauty.
Resources: Here further information about this scenic tour from the BLM: http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/surprise/valley.html and their guidebook: https://archive.org/details/surprisevalleyba00unit
For a little bit about the Surprise Valley, from the local Chamber of Commerce: http://www.surprisevalleychamber.com/
For more information about the Far Western Anthropological Research Group, check out: http://www.farwestern.com/
© 2014Church of the Open Road Press