Tuesday, December 31, 2019


...I seen ‘um!..  

One October back in 1983 or ’84, I was completing my first extended motorcycle road trip on a spanking new BMW R65 – my first really high-quality vehicle of any type.  Leaving Eureka in the late afternoon, I figured I’d take California’s state route 299 across to Redding and shoot down I-5 and route 99 to Chico where I lived at the time.

When on a motorcycle, three conditions are troubling, even to the experienced rider which, at the time, I was not: light rain, lengthening dusks and a newly chip-sealed roadway.  Chip sealing is when they lay crushed gravel over fresh oil to prevent the original pavement from cracking.  The loose gravel makes it hard to control a two-wheeler even on the best of days.

A few miles east of US 101 on 299, a light rain began to fall.  Shortly after whatever that first or second summit is called, I came across the dreaded chip seal just as the dusk began to gather.  My planned 55- to 60-mile-per-hour cruise along the Trinity River deteriorated to a white-knuckled 25-mile-per-hour crawl through the inkiness of an October nightfall.  I wound over ridges foreign to me and into canyons which may have had no bottom.  Illuminated briefly – menacingly – in the sweeping throw of the headlight: sinister pines and firs that lurking over the twisting pavement and naked rocky outcrops rising from of the gloom at the highway’s edge.  And cliffs!  I was certain there were cliffs.  And voids!  Dark voids!  Deep ones!  After a time, my nerves – or, perhaps, my good sense – got the best of me. I wanted to press on; but didn’t want to risk crashing my German motorrad masterpiece.  If I did, who would find me in the fog-cloaked, dreary darkness?  And if so, when?  My palms turned wet and cold, and it wasn’t from the rainfall.  

The roadside federal campground was gated, but I slipped in.  The same authority who wouldn’t see me had I crashed into the canyon, wouldn’t see me sacked out here.  Setting the Beemer on her side stand, I pulled my tent from the tail rack, fumbled around to find a flat spot to set the thing, wrestled it out of its bag and into position and crawled in.  Given the circumstance, I was far too wound up to fall asleep.  Lightly, however, to the lullaby-like rush of the nearby Trinity, I probably dozed.

Sometime in the night, I was stirred by a scritch-scritching noise outside the tent and the irregular light thumps of something impacting the tent’s fabric.  I found the flashlight I’d stuffed in my boot for safe keeping and poked my head out.  The rain had abated.  I arced the weak flashlight beam side to side and then in circles, finding I’d pitched my tent beneath an ancient oak. All was still save for a shadowy, subtle movement partially hidden by the trunk.  Tracing the trunk’s height, the light’s dimming glow flashed across two huge greenish-golden disks simmering perhaps six feet – maybe seven – from the ground.  I trained the light on those glowing disks.  I figured they were eyes – eyes of some nocturnal mammal – but I had no idea what beast these might belong to.  A bobcat?  Ringtail?  Raccoon?  Sas… Sasqua… BIGFOOT!?!

I ducked my head back inside the tent and zipped the flimsy opening shut, like that was going to do me any good.  Eyelids pinned open, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be able to sleep now.  So, I lay in my sleeping bag with a pounding heart drowning out any river’s lullaby, looking at maps – I hadn’t packed a book – until my flashlight battery died.

The next morning dawned clear and cold.  I briefly inspected the area near the base of the old oak for signs of the previous evening’s scritchy-scritch and light pelting thumps.  Perhaps a footprint?  No.  Nothing but duff – aromatic from the previous night’s drizzle – but still, just undisturbed, not-recently-stepped-upon duff.  There was little to do but shrug and pack up. Collapsing the tent, I noted a small assemblage of acorns collected against one side where they’d seemed to have rolled off the fabric.  

I mounted the Beemer and made my way back through the gate and onto 299 East.  About a quarter mile from where I’d pulled into the campground, the chip sealing project ended.  

© 2020
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, December 27, 2019


(Clicking on any picture will cause it - and all of the others - expand.)

…An annual album of travel and adventure…

January:  Hood River, Oregon, on the mighty Columbia has me thinking of Lewis and Clark and their penchant for exploration.  I'd like to think I share it...

At Santa Rosa’s second Women’s March, many carried compelling placards; but, to me, this little guy’s face said it all.

There’s a network of trails just outside our house.  Each day, something wonderful appears…

February:  A trip to New York’s Broadway to see three productions; but this display was the most moving.

On the sidewalks of New York.

Nearer to home, sunset over Tomales Bay.

March:  Springtime in Chico’s Bidwell Park.

A visit to the momentarily lush Carrizo plain…

… with its hillsides painted in neon.

April:  Ansel Adams had good stuff with which to work.

Archive photo:  My first visit to Yosemite, circa 1954.

A favored trip on the bike often starts with breakfast at a favored café…

… and includes stops to check out the details nature provides.

May:  On one of those trails behind the house, Edward stops at “Edward’s Crossing.”  

(He preferred things before this bridge was built across his little rill.)

I’d like folks to think I know what this flower is.

June:  One of many trips to the nearby coast…

… and the Point Arena Lighthouse…

… followed by a glorious run (is there any other kind?) up the fabulous PCH.

JulyWha’chu lookin’ at?

Wyoming/Montana’s Beartooth Pass is one of the top 2 or 3 motorcycle roads on the continent.

I did it on a rented 400cc Royal Enfield with as much enthusiasm and awe as my buddy on his 1200cc Triumph triple.

I loved that bike so much, I snapped a farewell portrait before returning it to the rental place.

August:  Revisiting one of the most beautiful places on earth to celebrate the passing of the last mom of my growing-up neighborhood.

September:  Art you can drive.

Viewing California’s remote Salmon River from a new-to-me road…

… followed by a stretch along Humboldt County’s equally remote Mattole Road out by the coast.

October:  Exploring the Coast Range’s Yuki Wilderness allows me to check another something off the bucket list.

A visit to the ranch and a view of a century-old bridge that’d seen better days.

November: The ravages of our local California wildfire.

December:  This oak is adjacent to a favored trail on Lake Sonoma.  The mid-morning low December sun ignited the rain-freshened moss on her bark.

A view of the bay from Mount Tam on an unexpectedly beautiful day.  

(If we could encourage about 75% of Marin County residents to relocate to the mid-west, it’d be just about uncrowded enough for me to want to live there.)

Of the Year Shots and Thoughts:  This book may not have been the greatest work of literature I’ve read in the last twelve months, but it’s the one that sticks with me the most.

Shot of the Year Honorable Mention:  Just because he’s such a good pal and this portrait makes me laugh so…

Shot of the Year: Second Runner-up: Something about this twenty-first century toss-away chair positioned in front of this mid-20th century relic seemed incongruous.

Shot of the Year: Runner-up:  The majestic and the miniscule.

Shot of the Year:  Shadow of the Empire State Building.

Moving on:  As we advance into 2020, perhaps the best way to see 20:20 is to escape as often as possible; escape from the screens and the media and the bluster; escape to find one thing – one thing! – daily, or at least weekly; one thing that prompts us to say "Wow!”  

Let’s consider this our assignment.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, December 25, 2019


Not so very long ago, Bumpa and Noma were bidding farewell to Rootsie, Tootsie and little Squeedunk after a day at the lake.

“Goodbye, Rootsie,” Bumpa said.  “Goodbye, Tootsie.  Goodbye, Pumpkin.”

“I’m not a pumpkin!  I’m a watermelon!” Squeedunk hollered back.

And, indeed, she was a watermelon that day for she was wearing a bathing suit designed to look like a slice of watermelon. Her outfit was largely colored watermelon-flesh red and dotted with black watermelon seeds. A green strip trimmed the outfit like a watermelon rind.

Bumpa laughed.  “Goodbye, Pumpkin,” and drove away.

For months and months, every time Bumpa and Noma would part from the children, Bumpa would say: “Goodbye, Rootsie.  Goodbye, Tootsie.  Goodbye, Pumpkin.”

And Squeedunk would always holler back: “I’m not a pumpkin!  I’m a watermelon!” no matter what she was wearing that day.

Noma likes quilt stores just about as much as Bumpa likes a good cigar or… or… bacon.  Noma can unearth a quilt store in most any town through which the two of them are passing.

Sure enough, one day, while driving around Bend, Oregon, Noma spotted a quilt store and the old couple just had to stop.  There being no cigar stores or bacon stores nearby, Bumpa followed Noma in.

Displayed, as in many stores of this genre, were the works of quilters from throughout the area.  Big and small, bright and subdued, geometric, log cabin, spirally, patchwork and abstract: all manner of quilts hung from the walls and rafters including a pumpkin quilt.

Bumpa saw it first.  Then Noma. 

“That would be perfect for Squeedunk!” Bumpa said.  “It just needs one thing.”

Noma nodded.  “And I know just what it needs.”

Thus, the seed was planted – a watermelon seed – 

-- for Squeedunk’s PumpkinWatermelon! Quilt.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, December 14, 2019


…Whacha readin’?…

Moving to a new town about five years ago, among the first tasks would be to find an outfit to perform regular maintenance on my Nissan pickup and whatever else happened to be in the garage.  I like to trade with local Mom and Pops so when the Nissan was due for an oil change, I stumbled into a shop that looked the part, walking distance from home.  Good, I’m thinking. I can drop the truck off and hoof it home or head to the local coffee outlet and wait for a call.
         I opened the door to the business only to find a woman, perhaps a few years my junior, sitting behind a computer but with a book, open, in front of her.  After two, maybe three beats, she placed an index finger somewhere in the text and said, “Hi there.  How may I help you?”  
         “Whacha readin’?” was my first comment.  
         I don’t remember her response other than it was not one of those supermarket paperbacks.  It was something about the Jamestown Colony or some cosmic nebula light years from this shop.  I mention those two examples because in the ten or twelve times I visited the shop for service to the truck or the Subaru – “You have a Subaru?  We love our Subaru.  Michael likes working on Subes and we both enjoy driving ours.” – she’d have a book at her workstation and her index finger was regularly employed keeping her spot in the narrative.  Once she told how she was fascinated by what she had just read about the pilgrims and their hardships, another time, space.  
         “What are you reading?” she asked.
         The woman’s name was Susan and Michael, her husband, turned wrenches in the back.  A true Mom and Pop.

On about my third visit, I chose to pack a book rather than hike home.  It was a Longmire mystery.  As I settled in, she asked, “Is it like Nevada Barr or CJ Box?”  I explained by affinity for Craig Johnson’s series because I’d visited with the author a couple of times at conferences but admitted that I don’t really go in for series novels too frequently.  “They often seem to become formulaic,” we agreed.  The chat lasted until Michael appeared, wiping his hands on a shop towel.  Neither she nor I had turned any pages.  She looked at him and then tipped her head in my direction.  “Honey.  We’ve got a reader here.”
         On a subsequent visit, I had just finished Richard Flannagan’s brutal and brooding World War II Mann Booker masterpiece  The Narrow Road to the Deep North.  We talked about it and I mentioned my desire to read two categories of books: the stuff I avoided in high school and books that were considered for international awards like the Mann Booker.  “I need to up my game,” I said, “if I’m ever gonna die literate.”  
         She held up The Great Gatsby, saying, “I’ve read this twice before, once in high school when I had no idea what I was reading about…”  
         “You sound like me,” I said. 
         “Actually, I sound like you and Mike.”
         Over the course of the next three years, I looked forward to my visits with Susan always thinking that an oil change place is just about the last place I could go to talk about books and be challenged to read something more or better or, at least, different.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, 2017, the Subaru was due for service.  Susan wasn’t engaged in a book this time.  After she checked in the car and went outside to get the vitals, I asked, “So, what do you have planned for the holidays?  Something good, I hope.”  Susan smiled.  “The holidays are going to be a bit different this year,” she said.  “On Halloween night, Michael came in, said he wasn’t feeling well and left me to handle the trick or treaters.  He passed away before I came to bed that night.  Heart attack, they said. Massive.”  
         How could this not leave me speechless?  
         Knitting her fingers, she added, “I’m working on convincing myself that there was nothing I could have done.”  Then she brightened just a bit.  “What book do you have there?”
The business went on the market within months, but it took well over a year for the place to sell.  I had the good fortune of dropping in a few more times to sit and read; and it wasn’t until perhaps my third visit that I found Susan with a book in front of her again: Flannigan’s Narrow Road.  “Damn,” I said, “That’s really dark.”  
         Susan chuckled.  “No, I know dark. This,” she said waving the book my way, “is simply perspective.”

Susan, the Oil Change Lady, has moved to Texas to be closer to family.  A nice young couple took over the operation a few months back with a late-teen daughter ably running the front counter.  And although the new crew changes the oil or swaps out a battery or inspects the brakes just as well as the former owners, I no longer pack a book with me to read while I wait.  Rather, I head back home on foot often thinking of books and talking about books and how the woman who cuts my hair, my dental hygienist, the wait person at the local sushi place – each who likes to talk, by the way – never bites when I dangle something about a book as a conversation starter.  I wonder if they read and if they read, how much they read and if they don’t, where do they find their important ideas – the stuff that touches their inner self – provides them with some perspective?  
         Does it really matter?  After all, it’s really none of my business.
         These things cross my mind while I'm walking home from the oil change place along with how much I miss chatting with the Oil Change Lady.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press