Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

King’s Canyon

October 26, 2022

I am not very good at planning trips and when I thought I was going to camp in Sequoia National Park in October I ended up booking a campsite in King’s Canyon, just to the north. It was a good thing. Because the campsites in Sequoia were at 6,500 feet of elevation and the ones in King’s Canyon were 2,000 feet lower.

So while the nights were cold where I ended up, about 44 degrees, the nights in a Sequoia campsite would have been freezing. Literally.

My campsite had bear boxes, which are metal boxes where you can store food so the bears can’t get to it. My camp neighbors were Sam, Christy and Mark, who were very friendly and offered me coffee in the morning. They knew a thing or two about bears since they’d camped there many times before. Mark was a retired dean from USC.  Called himself a computer geek.

One thing I learned: Bears in California are called black bears even when they are not black. One that’s brown is a brown black bear. When you say brown bear you are talking about grizzly bears, and we managed to kill off all of the grizzly bears in California about a hundred years ago. They say there’s only one grizzly bear in California. It’s the one on the state flag.

I saw a black bear in Sequoia. I was talking to a park ranger at one of those Visitor Centers when I heard someone say, ‘Hey… there’s a bear over here!’ We went there in time to see a black bear (which was really black) halfway up a tree. It came down and ambled very near to us before disappearing into the woods.

Cool. Got to see a wild bear. From a distance it looked like a really big dog.

In King’s Canyon the cliffs on either side of King’s River soar to spectacular, rocky heights. I hiked about two miles through the canyon to the Roaring River waterfall, just before dusk. When I got back to my car it was dark and, walking along the two lane road to find my vehicle, a car stopped on the road and a guy learned out the window to say I should be careful.

‘We are seeing small grizzlies by the side of the road,’ he said. He spoke with a foreign accent and I decided to not explain to him the whole black bear/brown bear thing, and the lack of grizzlies in California. I got his point. They were seeing bears, which, thankfully, are pretty harmless when you encounter them.

The last thing I did before camping my last night and heading home on Friday was to take a hike through a redwood forest in Sequoia where some trees were red and enormous while others were either fir trees or immature redwoods that had yet to assume their massive appearance.

When you are around redwoods you’re in the presence of the ancients. Some of the biggest ones date back to the Roman Empire. On that final hike, I also met two deer, which I caught on a video. And I encountered a blessed silence on that windless day. The silence of the wilderness is like a blanket wrapped around you that takes you to a sacred place.

It can be broken by the call of a crow. Otherwise you hear a kinda low hum or some mixture of aural receptions that might just be the sound of the world. The sound of the universe. I lingered, still as I could be, in that sacred place. Until it felt like time to leave, and I heard only the rhythmic crunch of my steps on that path through the forest.

When I Last Saw my Dad

September 9, 2022

They put him out on a bed, a gurney actually, in a big room because the funeral home thought I had scheduled a viewing.

Nope. No viewing planned. I’m the only one here.

OK. You wanna take one more look at him?

Yes, I said.

His face was all I saw; his profile because he was on his back. The rest of him was covered by a white sheet and he lay on the gurney about three feet off the ground.

Of all the pictures of my dad I have in my head that’s the one that sticks with me the most vivid and clear.

Him. Lying stock still. Eyes closed but maybe they did me that favor.

If I spoke. If I said ‘Dad, what’s going on?’ He would hear nothing. Say nothing.

If I hit him with a stick he would do nothing and feel nothing.

Maybe this is why people view the body because, after a life of animation we just wouldn’t believe he’d be like this, or look like this. This is the end, and you’re looking at it.

The funeral director told me to ask him if I could use the bathroom before I left his office to see my dad. It was a ruse, because I wasn’t supposed to see him if I didn’t pay for a viewing.

I was grateful.

Before I left, a group of people who did order a viewing walked into the room, as another body lay in state.

They didn’t speak. Just walked around. Some stared at the body. Others looked away like they were looking for something to say that wasn’t obvious or stupid.

I don’t know. It was time for me to leave.

House in the way

September 4, 2022

The road doubles back.

I pull off the highway. I turn and drive down that two-laner

That’s shaded by oaks that leads to your house and your land

Where you need to cut brush so fire finds no foothold

Like it did years ago when it burned down the old place.

When cruel winds made the flames soar

Like an angry god that wanted to burn all creation:

The graceful. The shapeless. Man made and divine,

All that lay in the way of its path to the ocean. 

But the fire’s fury died and flowers pushed through the ashes. 

You came back and built a house of straw bales and stucco.

The huge stones remained to mark the landscape, rebuilt with your

Gardens and your chicken coup and your terrestrial vision.

At night I hear the bugs and I see you gaze at stars that

I never see since I live in a city where lights whiten the sky.

I drive home and my headlights brighten a small patch of that two-lane road

In the nighttime darkness that covers your home with silence and dreams.

Sophie’s room

August 22, 2022

Her room at my house is empty.

Sophie loved going to school and now

She’s gone away to college.

In Kindergarten she learned to tie her shoes.

In high school she got perfect grades

Because she always hit the books

And she is an open book

Who cries when something upsets her.

I wished I could dry her tears when a harp concert went wrong

Or when she thought her friends were mad at her.

She just called and told me she thought she lost

Her key card to her dorm, and she cried.

Should the widows be open or shut in her empty room?

Should her room be cleaned and dusted?

She’s not here, you know, just a picture on my GPS tracker

That’s as far away as San Francisco Bay.

I tell her not to ride the BART home at night but she’s out of sight.

I’m not there to watch her. Not there to dry her tears.

I held her tight the night before she left.

And memories are what I have for now.

RAGBRAI 2022

August 2, 2022

My annual travels back to Iowa continued in July of 2022 as I joined the week-long RAGBRAI ride across Iowa. My fifth time.

Again we were blessed with unseasonably mild weather, even though our time on the road was bookended by dreadfully humid heat in the previous and following weeks. Again, the fellowship of my cycling teams, the NPR riders and Team Groucho, provided laughter and wit that made time fly by.

On our first night of RAGBRAI we slept in a veritable mansion, owned by a Sioux City factory owner who was gone on vacation but left us with his residence, a large collection of liquor (which we did not use) and a heated swimming pool (which we did).

The next night some of us slept in a huge country shed on a local farm that doubled as an antique store and a collection of curiosities, which included rusting farm tools, store signs and road signs and useful machine parts. As far as I could tell, it was all for sale. It was a scene straight out of the TV show American Pickers.

The farm family that hosted us was white and Laotian, the latter group having become Iowans as two and three generations have set down roots and their offspring were scattered to the nearby towns. They spoke in the same Midwestern accent as the German and Scandinavian descendants.

In Floyd County our host was an eccentric farmer/politician. He served for many years in the state legislature and also served on a tennis court that was one of a kind. His love of the game, and the Wimbledon tournament, was seen in the flawless grass court he maintained on his property. I borrowed a racket and hit the ball on that organic carpet with our host and with my RAGBRAI buddy Megan Danforth, who played pretty well although she played in bare feet and claimed to have not swung a racket in 20 years.

This was a new twist on my childhood experience of traveling from one place to the other in Iowa to take part in junior tennis tournaments. I learned to play tennis in Iowa and here I was, playing on some guy’s private grass court right next to a corn field!

RAGBRAI is a magnet for people from around the country and the culture of the event suggests a return to small town life and values. Nobody… I mean nobody locks their bike on RAGBRAI. Doing so would violate an article of faith.

But the reality of rural life was seen alongside the one we imagined. Iowa has changed since I lived there as a kid but it has not kept up, and this has become apparent to me over the years that I have been a visitor from the California coast. The small towns we rode through looked empty. Their people looked old and obesity was a common problem. Once a swing state, politically, Iowa has become a reliably Red state where the GOP controls all the powers of state government. It’s a state with lots of conservative white folks that Donald Trump flatters and who must resent the well-heeled smart asses who live in big cities.

Riding on RAGBRAI, I’ll admit, you can be like the blind man feeling the elephant and so maybe what you see can be misleading. So don’t let me tell you that Iowa is only one thing, since it is full of people and stories that contradict what I just described.

It’s funny when I hear myself say Iowa used to be a swing state or, as we’d say today, a Purple state. Didn’t all states use to be swing states? How else could a presidential candidate like Ronald Reagan win nearly every state on election day. We used to think more alike and agree on more things.

Sadly we’re now a country of people going our separate ways, and after five visits I think I know better which way my former home state is headed.

 

Did Republicans REALLY Want ‘Roe’ Overturned?

June 24, 2022

Be careful what you ask for.

It’s a handy old saying and one that I think Republicans are thinking about right now. Maybe they should have been more careful.

This morning the US Supreme Court released its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It effectively overturned Roe v. Wade, the precedent that guaranteed the right to an abortion. That means outlawing abortion or keeping it legal will be up to the legislative branch. It becomes a matter of state politics, not constitutional law.

So where does political support for abortion stand in the USA?

Lots of polling has been done on this, and responses on the issue depend on how you asked the question. A Pew Research Center survey asked the respondents if abolition should be legal in all or most cases: 61 percent said yes. Only 37 percent said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

A Gallop poll asked people if they think abortion should be legal under some circumstances(50 percent said yes), legal in all circumstances(35 percent), or illegal in all circumstances(13 percent).

What the polls have in common is evidence of strong political support for legal abortion. And Republicans want abortion left to the political process? Really??

Like I said. Be careful what you ask for.

Let me tell you another story about something Republicans claimed they wanted: Defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).  I’ve worked in public radio for a long time and, for a long time, I’ve seen Republicans in Congress propose and sometimes pass bills to pull all government funding from public radio and TV stations.

Over the years, you’d see one chamber of Congress, controlled by the GOP, pass a bill to defund the CPB. Democrats who controlled the other chamber would refuse to pass it.  When there was a Democratic president, everyone was pretty sure he would veto any such bill that came to his desk.

Then comes 2016, and for two years Republicans controlled the House and the Senate and they had a Republican president, Donald Trump. Suddenly, Republicans weren’t passing bills to defund the CPB. They had the votes. They had a sympathetic president. In fact, Trump proposed a budget in 2017 that would have cut all funding to the CPB. But the push to defund in Congress just kinda went away.

To me it’s pretty clear that Republicans never wanted to eliminate funding for public broadcasting. Because if they did, all of those public TV and radio stations in sparsely populated red states would fold. Those rural stations don’t raise enough money to get by without the government subsidy. That means all of that public radio news, all of that children’s programming on TV would disappear.

It was fine for the GOP to act like they wanted to stop the government subsidy and get rid of that “left leaning” NPR and PBS programming* — when they knew it wasn’t going to happen. No one suffered from their tirades and they had an issue they could use to fire up their conservative base. But when it came time to actually DO IT, they found other things to talk about.

Returning to Roe v. Wade, I think we’ve been seeing the same political theater. Abortion is terrible, they said, and if only we had a Supreme Court that would throw out abortion rights. Well, you got it!

Some southern red states will probably outlaw abortion. But in other states that have large numbers of educated women, Republican state legislatures and governors will find some way to change the subject. We’re talking about a country where up to 85 percent of people want legal abortions under at least some circumstances, if not all circumstances.

I take no position on how the Supreme Court should have ruled as it affects on Roe v. Wade; no opinion, at least, that I would share on this public blog. But if you think GOP-controlled legislatures and governors are going to get right to work banning abortion, let’s wait and see. You might be surprised.

* Years ago, as a reporter in Minnesota, I did an on-the-spot interview with the now deceased Senator Bob Dole from Kansas, a leading Republican for many years. He found out I was from public radio, which he then described as “left leaning.” He was talking about in the way NPR covered the testimony of Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. 

My mother’s birthday

June 15, 2022

She is five years from one hundred

And a puzzle that she is still alive

But the women in her family take a long time to die.

My cousin said that once with a smile and his sympathy.

She held me when I was an infant

When I could not be fed but with her hands

And could not pass shit that she would not clean up

And now she is like a child who cannot learn

Because life is inexplicable.

Its stories and its laughter and what it relates

Make no sense. They are not of her world

And her world is gone though she’s still here.

I can’t wish her a long life because she’s had a long life.

I can only hope for her death that will rest her pain and tedium.

I missed her birthday lunch because I had to work.

That’s what I told her when I called later that night

As I wondered how many more times I will call

How many more times I will call hear her faltering voice.

Easter Mass

April 23, 2022

Sophie and I drove to San Francisco the day before Easter, and that meant we’d go to Easter Mass at St. Ignatius church. It’s on the campus of the University of San Francisco, where my daughter plans to go to college.

We got there about 40 minutes early because we assumed it would be packed and it would be hard to find a place to sit. It was packed, by the time mass started, but we hadn’t realized how big the place was. All those pews provided plenty of seats for all.

The church is gorgeous. It’s like one of those cathedrals you would tour in Europe except it’s newer and in better condition. It has a dome and twin spires on a street strung with electric bus cables. The stained glass windows showed the stations of the cross and, on that day, Easter lilies were placed on the alter and flower arrangements were hung along the aisle side of the pews.

Inside the church had a bunch of those rounded arches. Romanesque? I’m not sure what style they were. Not an expert.

The San Francisco culture was on display at this place. It’s a culture that’s unique among California cities. The city was well established and a fairly civilized when San Diego and LA were still the wild west. In the church we saw people well dressed. The music was good and the priests were poised and polished.

The service was pretty long for Catholics. It was not a “tight hour” as my daughter put it. Well, it was Easter and they did have a baptism, which can stretch things out.

At the end the priest said there would be an Easter Egg hunt on the lawn, though he said it would be more of an Easter Egg grab. The eggs were not hidden, just sitting on the lawn.

My journey of faith has been a rewarding part of my life as an adult. But religious faith is even better when you can celebrate it in a really cool church.

Hyde Street, SF

April 20, 2022

At the backend of the Tenderloin

They are lost in the Sparkling City

With sagging breasts and sagging faces

Where we help them to hide

Because we don’t even see them

Because they walk with a jerk in their stride

Because they shout at all the fucking bastards

In voices that shatter the air.

So what is their story?

It’s the gravity of life that gives you no breaks

While your mind is screaming

And you just want a feeling

That you’re someplace else but there’s no other place.

They are lost where nobody wants to find them

Where there’s too many dead ends on Hyde Street.

Best to be Gentlemen

February 17, 2022

Back in the old days there was a lot of segregation of the sexes. There were tasks, professions, sports, and social events where it was just you and the boys, or just you and the girls. We see that less and less. In fact the law now demands sexual integration of the workplace.

How’s it going? Based on the many stories and lawsuits about gender harassment and discrimination, I’d say not so good. But there are new demands on our behaviors.

Here’s one example. I was texting with a female friend of mine who’s in the army reserve, and the subject of ‘Fuckin-A’ came up. Lemme explain. My dad served in WWII and he told me that when he was in the Navy, everything was Fuckin-A.

You going to get that done? Fuckin-A.  Everything go OK with that thing?  Fuckin-A. It was an affirmative term that was used all the time. And I jokingly told my friend they must do the same thing in the Army.

‘I’ve never heard that,’ she said. And she added that swearing like that was not considered appropriate. Well, of course! There are women in the military today. Did I blow it by bringing up Fuckin-A with a woman?

I’ve been involved in some discussions about discrimination in the workplace. A serious matter to be sure. But one example given, as a form of discrimination, is “micro-aggressions.” This is defined as aggressive language and put-downs that are presented as humorous remarks.

In my experience, the condemnation of this behavior has come from women. Don’t they realize that this is how men communicate with each other?

We have names for it too. We call it ‘giving you shit’ or ‘trash talk.’ I don’t know if it’s micro or macro but men put each other down all the time. Typically we have a laugh and it’s over… until the next time comes around.

I’m not saying that use of profanity or putting down your fellow male co-worker can never get out of hand. When it goes too far it becomes bullying, and we should know a bully when we see one. But in the old days of gender-segregated job sites, at least those dominated by men, the cussing and the put downs happened and they were expected.

The question: How do we solve the problem of friction between the sexes in the modern workplace? I don’t think the answer lies in some modern sensibility. It lies in something old fashioned. Men need to try to be gentlemen when women are present.

Men used to think there were things that were too rough or rude to mention around the ladies. And even today, anyone with half a brain knows that there are still some thoughts and speech that are best kept between men. This is true for women too. Trust me. Some stuff women talk about… I just don’t want to hear it!

My view on this may be influenced by the fact that both my son and my daughter attended single-sex Catholic high schools. Will my kids turn out better or worse for it? I’ll never know for sure. But they both loved their schools. And I think men and women both need some time when they can say whatever they want, and they don’t have to worry about impressing the other sex.

I can hear people argue that any move to resegregate the sexes will make it hard for some people to get opportunities if they create old boys clubs or, maybe, old girls clubs. But we have got to find a balance. And if men have to be gentlemen a little more often these days, thanks to sex-integrated employment, they’ll just have to find other ways and places to hang out with other guys.

There will always be a frat house somewhere. You just need to know when you’re in one and when you’re not.