Thursday, November 30, 2017


*daily life irritability syndrome

·      The cat threw up sometime last night and I stepped in it in my bare feet.
·      In clearing leaves from the roof, a section of plastic gutter guard came free and while replacing it, I tore an asphalt shingle back far enough to probably cause a leak.
·      In the process of moving clean glasses from the dishwasher to their rightful shelf, two – not one, but two – ended up busted on the floor.
·      My 12v compressor chose to take the day off, so I had to use a bicycle pump to correct tire pressure.
·      And the more I read about the circumstance, the more it appears that the leader of the Free World may be, clinically speaking, about a half-a-bubble off of plumb.
·      Did I mention the cat throwing up?

It had been a couple of weeks since I’d hopped on Enrico, the Yamaha, for a personal therapy session.  Apparently, it’d been too long.  Little things were bugging me way too much.  And then there’re those perceptions about the President.  A nasty case of Daily Life Irritability Syndrome (DLIS) had me feeling like kids’ book author Judith Viorst’s “Alexander” having a string of “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.”

This November 30th was smack dab in the middle of a weeklong predicted dry spell.  Area temps in the Dry Creek / Russian River Valley viticulture region(s) were slated to be in the low sixties.  Roads would be dry.  Traffic would be sparse.  Chores could wait.

Dutcher Creek Road heads south out of town, paralleling US 101 for a few miles.  Then it angles west-southwest, undulating and turning and rising and falling on a five-mile strip of refreshed pavement.  The low sun of late autumn rests just above a westerly ridgeline even though it’s only 1:30 in the afternoon.  The vineyards at Fritz Winery, where not shadowed by that ridge, seem aflame as their leaves prepare to fall.  And Enrico is just getting warmed up.

Down to Dry Creek Road, I enjoy a couple of sweeping miles before heading south on West Dry Creek Road, a delightful barely single-lane stretch of pavement that hugs the hillside and affords glorious views of the vineyards and farm houses.  Fans of Perry Mason would probably like to know that the late Raymond Burr’s winery is out this way.  His Emmy is on display in the tasting room.  Check out this video:

Hooking onto Westside Road just west of Healdsburg, I motor past the Armida Winery – voted best tasting room by some group – the winery where my daughter cut her teeth making a delightful Zin named “Poizin.” Don’t let that scare you!  Good stuff.

Out that way we (Enrico and me) pass the historic Felta School, cross an equally historic steel bridge over the Russian River, bob this way and that on some really secondary secondary roads, dancing through shaded sections and sunny ones to find Eastside Road and head back toward Healdsburg.  That low sun lights the broad expanse of the Russian River Valley like Technicolor.  Enrico hums along deftly handling the curves and rises.   

Suddenly, about an hour in, I realize that I’ve shed any concerns about cats, roofs, glassware, and compressors and, almost, any news or views coming out of DC.

I make a quick stop at Big John’s Market in Healdsburg, a delightful full service grocery with a wide selection of organic produce, locally baked artisan breads, more micro-brews than anyone could ever taste through, wine, of course, lots of it, and all manner of foodstuffs you can’t find anywhere else.  Their meat department is extensive and fully staffed. My favorite friendly butcher helps me pick out a slab of Coho and a beef filet for tonight’s repast.

Fifteen miles to home, but I already know my case of Daily Life Irritability Syndrome had been pushed to the deep recesses of my mind.  Dismounting, I pat Enrico on his shiny black tank and say, “Thanks!”  Everything’s gonna be okay.

Are you, too, suffering from symptoms of DLIS?  Ask your doctor if a late autumn ride on a motorcycle through the loveliest of environs might be right for you.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

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 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):

© 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