Monday, March 21, 2011


I DON’T TWITTER. Or Tweet. It seems to me that if one has something to say, briefly, give a call. If it is to be a story, write it down. Twittering limits us to 140 characters. That’s like the alphabet used less than six times. What on earth can one say in just six runs through the alphabet? Twittering seems to be a we’re-in-too-big-a-hurry-to-communicate form of communication, the likes of which we bombard ourselves with on a daily basis. We lose the context, subtext and the arc that substantiates the written word and makes a story a story. As a result, we know so little about so many things that we really know nothing at all.

So I don’t Twitter. I don’t write Tweats and I don’t read Twitters.

THE GOLD HILL CEMETERY is lost in the foothills of rural Placer County. As one explores the back roads, one cannot help but drive past a number of serene hilltops or vales where folks are entered into rest awaiting eternity. Unlike the corporate cemeteries of the Bay Area, Sacramento, or even Chico – with their manicured expanses, flat-to-the-ground markers and sprinklers that activate at two in the morning – these little plots house only those customers who died while residing in bergs that may no longer exist. Gold Hill is an example. There may be a road sign. Or a line of junipers. Or fenced-off rectangle in the midst of a cow pasture. Or they may just be unmarked and lost.

I STUMBLED ACROSS the Gold Hill Cemetery while on a two-hour motorcycle outing in February. My goal was to freshen my skills before the riding season began. Generally, a two-hour first-jaunt-of-the-year needs to be halved because of the tentative relationship that exists between my butt and my motorcycle seat. Later in the year, I’m in better shape.

Entering through a rusty iron gate, I was taken by the fragrance of early spring and the twittering (yes, twittering) of fledglings longing to escape into the heavens. Were it not a cemetery, the overwhelming sensibilities this early spring afternoon would be those of rebirth and new life and promise. Beneath a canopy of oak, madrone and pine, the early pioneers of the area are joined by successors; all resting in a place that invites the curious or weary passer-by to picnic or nap. Or just wander and think a spell.

Walking the grounds, I took note of names – given names of the nineteenth century differ from those of the present day – dates of passings and patterns within those dates.

Then I came across Mr. Butterfield and the Tweat cast in bronze that marked the locale of his repose. His story, in great detail, emerged. I won’t recount it here. Rather, I will ask the reader to simply examine the 59 characters that make the marker, read between the spaces and lines, and experience this pioneer’s story for yourself.

I RODE SLOWLY AWAY reminded that when all is said and done, all one really leaves behind is a Twitter or a Tweat.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


ONCE AGAIN, the legislature and the governor are at odds about how to balance the budget in California. The Governor wishes to put a question before the voters regarding extension of taxes. The Republicans don’t want the question to go to the voters.  One wonders: why?  Hopelessly deadlocked, the Governor has no choice but to propose a budget that will slash expenses everywhere. Including, again, public schools.

Perhaps it is just theatre. Perhaps it is an attempt to get our legislative leaders to talk, to understand that there must be a balance between the citizenry’s demand for services and the taxes we shell out to pay for ‘em. In the end, as happens every time we achieve crisis status with the budget, solons will talk about the costs of schools, excessive administrative overhead, teachers only working “nine months,” that our schools are "failures" - Oh yeah?  Show me the data. -  and now, though completely unfounded given the way CalSTRS operates, excessive pensions.

Yeah. Perhaps it’s all just theater.

BUT IN THAT THEATER, here's what I know they won’t talk about:

It won’t be mentioned that educators are problem solvers. Every time the state gets into financial difficulty, some reduction in funding to education seems to be part of the solution. And every time a reduction in funding to education becomes reality, educators make do. We confront a problem and solve it. With increases in class size. With reduced paraprofessional assistance. With cutbacks on office staff, custodial support and educational supplies. Kids keep comin’ to school, so everything must be okay, right?

It won’t be mentioned that the customers are happy, generally speaking. While most parents responding to surveys report that public schools are good, very good, or excellent in many aspects regarding instruction, school safety, climate, quality of teaching, care for kids; the few folks who oppose the efforts of the public schools, seem to get lots of ink over issues such as bullying, school violence, or malfeasance of personnel. The exceptions when bad behavior takes place become news. The successes do not.

It won’t be mentioned that current accountability standards set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act require that by 2014, all children will test at the proficient level in English language arts and mathematics. This impossible standard will prove that schools are failures. And this standard will slip further from reality as resources for school programs dwindle. All while the enormity of the challenge grows. More children arriving with Spectrum Disorders. More non-English speakers. And a rather constant number of children of children.

Further, it won’t be mentioned that many, if not all, schools are now mandated to:

  • Assess incoming Kindergarten student oral health;
  • Closely monitor the food eaten by students;
  • Offer free lunch to children of families who reside in poverty;
  • Force attendance of students whose parents don’t care whether they attend;
  • Provide counseling for kids who may have been the victims of abuse, violence or poor parenting;
  • Offer health screening and services from certified nurses;
  • Instruct all students in English regardless of the language spoken at home – and there are hundreds of different languages in California;
  • Employ law enforcement personnel or contract with local jurisdictions, even though schools exist within the jurisdiction of those law enforcement agencies;
  • Provide transportation to and from school; and
  • Supervise students from well before classes take up until well into the evening.

Note to reader: all of these expectations represent good things. And there can be no doubts about that. However, further, it won’t be mentioned that:

  • Businesses thrive when there is an on-going supply of the capable workers schools could provide were resources available.
  • Complex problems of the new millennia require a citizenry steeped in creative thinking skills and problem solving expertise, something schools are suited to provide if afforded the appropriate resources.
  • Performing arts and the visual arts provide emotional and expressive outlets for those young people who must, without those public school offerings, find other means of expression: something schools could provide with adequate resources.
  • A burgeoning prison population might be quelled if schools had the resources necessary to meet the needs of at risk youngsters.

CURRENTLY, IN CALIFORNIA, schools are facing up to another 10-plus percent decrease in the funding that had been anticipated as necessary to maintain the programs schools are mandated to offer. Ten percent represents a lot of stuff schools and children will do without. Ten percent more students in a class. Ten percent fewer hours of remedial support. Ten percent more parent conferences per class, thus ten percent less time for critical teacher / parent communication. Ten percent less one-on-one time with the teacher.

But look at ten percent one other way. In a ten month school calendar, ten percent equals April. Suppose the teachers union and the administrative club, the PTAs and the school board association all decided to make a statement. Jointly. Powerfully. Suppose, statewide, all of the public school teachers, counselors, nurses, instructional aides, clerical staff custodians, computer technicians, site principals and big-wig district administrators simply shut ‘er down for ten percent of the school year.

And suppose it was April.

How deep into that month would the school community need to go before someone in Sacramento got the message that something needs to be done to ensure the best possible education for all of our young people? How long would it be before the public informed their elected representatives that the future of his or her political career rested with his or her support of the public’s schools? How long would it be before the whiney, selfish, inappropriately self-titled “conservative,” minority, the group who consistently thwarts revenue increases through tax measures, (YIKES: that dreaded word “tax”; the political equivalent of the third rail that threatens to electrocute those who mistakenly ground it out) would be shouted down by folks who understand that an investment in public schools is an investment in our children and that an investment in our children is an investment in the vitality of the state and our own collective futures.

IT IS TIME FOR THE EDUCATION COMMUNITY to take loud and united action to forcefully draw attention to the noble and indispensable work we do. Rather than be the problem solvers we have always been, it is time to place the problem squarely where it belongs. Where? At the feet of those unwilling to create the financial stability so that schools can concentrate on the work we do rather than on how we’re going to create successful students with fewer resources to support our vital work.

Just how does the education community lay the problem at the feet of those responsible?

By finally taking a stand. We could start by taking April off.

Now that would be theatre.

© 2008; 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, March 14, 2011


THE TERRITORY may be well charted by AAA, yet, when leaving a town of any size, I like to do so on a full tank of gas. The high octane stuff. Even though the trip odometer read 147 miles and the RT’s range is about 270 – sometimes 300 – I didn’t want to pass the Shell station outside of Lakeview without filling up.

I took just under three gallons. Whenever I fuel up, I open a zip lock bag and pull out a moist static-free rag to wipe the carnage of bugs off the face shield of my Arai helmet. A quick pass with the moist cloth followed by a drying wipe with a long sleeve or a bandana, and the road is clear again. During this ritual, I always look to see if there is another rider in the area who could benefit from this service – if he’s not riding a fire-breathing Harley. Perhaps stir up a little conversation about where he’s from and where he’s going. Fellowship.

No one here today.

Just as I am slipping the cloth into the zip-lock, an aged, mid-size Honda motorcycle slides up and a short fellow unsaddles next to a pump. I wait for the rider to finish directing the attendant, who, illegally in Oregon, hands the customer the gas nozzle.

I step between the Honda and the newer Subaru Impreza that pulled up familiarly close.

“Can I wipe the bugs off your face shield?”


“Let me catch those bugs…”

The rider looks over my shoulder and hollers, “I need gas in the car, too. Regular,” then turns to me, “No, thanks. We take care of that when we leave each morning.”

The Subaru had backed around and pulled in on the opposite side of the pump. A woman with, perhaps ten or twelve years on me, stepped out. The rider removed her helmet. They could have been twins.

“That’s my car,” the rider explained and this is her motor,” pointing to the little Honda Sabre, “But it’s my turn to ride today.” She ran her fingers through her gray and experienced hair.

“So, where’re you coming from?”

“We’ll, we stayed in town last night,” the old woman started, “but I’m from Victoria and she’s from Vancouver, BC.”

I couldn’t help myself: “Wow.”

“We’ve been through…” She listed several Lakeview sized bergs between this point and north of Seattle. “…and tonight we’re going to end up in Klamath Falls.”

Not too far a day’s ride, I’m thinking. And a curious route into and through all of these little secondary towns.

“…been gone a week and a half so far.” Perhaps she could see the quizzical look on my face, so she explained. “Oh, this trip isn’t about the ride.” She pointed to the old Oregon and Southern Railway right-of-way. “We’re following the speeder tour.”

A speeder is a gas powered vehicle that used to travel the rails carrying two-man crews of gandy dancers – railroad inspectors and maintenance men. Prior to gasification, speeders where those two men hand pumped carts. With the advent of the Model T, wood spoke wheels, replaced by rail trucks allowed automobiles to travel on tracks. In fact, the stance or track of the first automobiles was exactly the same as the gauge of a standard railroad. Perhaps for this purpose. Both women were chattering their excited explanation of this by-gone mode of transit.

“Now collectors buy these old speeders, fix them up and get permission to run tours or rallies on these old railroads where the schedule of freight isn’t so critical.”

Honda and Subaru filled, the women winked and the Impreza driver said, “Keep the rubber side down,” as off they drove.

Golden Girls: circa 2008.  Chasing history.

(c) 2008
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, March 7, 2011


A POND SITS in the undeveloped area just west of our tract of houses. For some reason, a dam of gravel and top soil was pushed into place some time ago and the result is a little biome that is home to Mallards, Canadian Geese, Herons and, probably, a collection of fish. I say “probably” because many times when the loop along which the pond is located is walked, one or more anglers will be patiently engaging in a portion of a day far better than work.

Today, save for where the night's run-off runs in, the pond is still. A blanket of overcast mutes the colors of the surrounding glen. Perhaps a half-inch of rain fell last night and what has collected is turbid, although flat. A volunteer of pampas grass – not native to the area – provides a nice reflection in the glass surface. A range of vinca slopes up the opposite side into a stand of mixed oak and digger pine. The winter grass is tall.

Blackberry vines – profuse and ubiquitous – display new, red leaves. A few feet back from the bank, a pear tree blossoms. All mirrored in the pond.  A gentle rain, more like a mist, curtains the distance – enough to fog my bi-focals but not disturb the water’s surface.

I watch.

FROM BEHIND A STAND OF TULES, a Mallard pair paddles forth. The brightly colored drake seems to lead, the furious action of his webbed feet hidden beneath the surface. His teal-green head and white-banded neck is held high. His eyes are placed at the sides of his tiny skull – ready to capture the slightest movement, predatory or not. He paddles a non-direct route across the still water. His lady, brown and seemingly non-descript, navigates a straighter line: a line made safe by the watchful perseverance of the male.

I watch for four, five, maybe six minutes – a long time in the hurry-up environs of south Placer County. The female seems content to paddle her course. The male: watchful and alert.

I walk here often. I’d seen this pair before. Sometimes my evil black lab mix sees them as sport and dives head long into the placid pool, dog-paddling across.  Artfully, the pair waits, waits, waits until the moment is perfect.
(c) quact.wordpress
Then they skitter atop the surface and take wing, frustrating the little pup. He turns and paddles back, climbing out at my feet, often ingesting just under the amount of water needed to drown him.

The ducks, I think, know.

I WONDER about this pair: the handsome male and his dutiful hen. I say “his dutiful hen” because, after a couple of years of returning to this spot, I suspect that Mallards mate for life. I understand that geese do. I wonder whether they are impacted by the mist that drifts atop the pond and through the glen; and what they did when it rained last night.
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I wonder about the clutch of eggs that they may have collaborated on last year and what became of those offspring. Or whether this pair is of the offspring. I wonder about the pond and why it is there and when it will silt up and where some subsequent generation of Mallards may move when that happens. And where this pair might have lived had man not formed this pond for whatever reason.

MY SLIGHTEST MOVEMENT is captured and the regal green-headed male begins a graceful, slow motion arc that leads the couple back to the rushes. The she-duck follows, disappearing into the Tule reeds. They do not peek back out.

After a time, I walk on, thinking a bit about the pond and a bit about what I will have to do when my house silts up.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, March 6, 2011


My posts to this blog have become a bit irregular – not for lack of roughage – but due to efforts to ramp up on other matters. Those other matters have highlighted a few must haves:

WEBSTER’S SEVENTH NEW COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY © 1965. Inside the front cover, written in the hand of a 14-year-old, is my name. Given to me as a graduation present from mom and dad as I matriculated from Chico Junior to Chico High, this volume is better than anything available on line. While now I have to use a magnifier to read the text, once I can focus, the completeness of a Webster’s entry proves to be almost nonpareil, Oxford English not withstanding. Beyond just how to spell the word, its etymology – yes, I just looked that word up – pronunciation and samples of use make me smarter with each new investigation. More time-consuming than spell-check, which I also rely upon, a good dictionary links our words today with the very origins of language. What a gift.

THE NEW ROGET’S THESAURUS (IN DICTIONARY FORM) © 1964. Same as above. As a bumpkin growing up in Chico, this volume – a companion gift to that listed above – provides easy access to broader language than does the Thesaurus preloaded on my computer. It helps me to appear much more learned than I really are.  Thanks mom and dad. These two volumes have proven to be among many life long gifts you have given me.

LITERARY JOURNALS. I need understand more about contemporary fiction to better inform my own writing. Fiction, like all art, does different things to different people. Fiction presents in different forms, styles and genres. Like looking at a really good abstract painting, much contemporary fiction, I find, I don’t “get.” Some stories, however, invite me to read further and stay with me after I’ve closed the book or periodical. As I battle my personal bumpkin-ness in an effort to become more literate, I have discovered the immense value of literary journals. These are wonderful sources for seeing what the good established writers and the good new writers are doing. They have set a high bar. My goal is to write, revise and/or market four to six hours every day. A good dose of daily reading is part of that.

[Interestingly, I can easily find literary journals at independent booksellers like Lyons Books in Chico, California; but not so much at the larger mega-book sellers. I know why that is. Literary journals are small volume volumes, and corporate booksellers can’t, many times, justify the shelf space. Bully for the little guy!]

SHORT STORY AMERICA Short Story America is a source I have stumbled upon recently. I have been impressed with the quality of the writing and the ease with which it can be accessed. While a log in and password is required, it’s free and each story I’ve read thus far has been more than worth the investment in time. Kudos to Short Story America for providing this platform for both authors and readers. Mr. Brilliant recommends you check out the link, bookmark the site and check in on it every couple of weeks or so.

“I’ll write good some day.” But it will take a lot of work and success won’t happen without lots of reference to the tools listed above.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


WRANGLERS – worn threadbare at the butt and pocket, frayed about the back of the cuffs. Justins – mud or crap caked in the welt between the sole and the upper. Dusty chambray – partly tucked in and deeply stained at the armpits. Stetson split neatly through the crown.

The rider cantered into the saloon, looked for a chair, found only a stool, took a second look around, then climbed atop, leaning on an elbow – longing for a more comfortable repose.

Requesting a 14-year-old Oban, which presently arrived “neat,” he reflected on his fifteen hours since daybreak, and wished this roadhouse favored jazz.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press