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Get in line

April 30, 2023

The days pass and gather time

More people join

I remain behind.

I wonder if I’m going

To be the only one

New names on the list

I don’t add to the sum.

Many of them

Only one of me

It’s no mistake

What I choose to be.

Should I be one of them?

Maybe they’re wrong

Their numbers are strong.

I’ll take another day.

Maybe it’ll be okay.

Climbing a mountain

February 17, 2023

It’s the hardest hike in the county. That’s what they say.

El Cajon Mountain is a carnival ride. The trail goes up and down.

Altitude gained, altitude lost again as you seek the summit.

Our hiking group had Duane, who talked nonstop

And Dave, who wore no shirt in February

And cheerful Michelle, the happy news channel.

We saw vistas of distant mountains and bundles of clouds

That cast a dappled shade on the valley floor

Until we reached the top where fog was all around us.

Yellow bush poppies and lilacs grew from the rocky soil

And they graced our 11-mile walk over shifting gravel and dust.

I slid downhill and I fell on my ass. My legs got sore.

Because my worn boots got no grip on the ground.

My long life was a journey that took me here

Where I still don’t know what my heart really wants

Though it may be love or peace-of-mind,

Or maybe just knowing someday I can climb this stupid rock

With a light step and a smile and say nah! It wasn’t so bad.

I’ll try it again in two weeks ’cause I’ll be ready next time

And I’ll know the way. That’s what they say.

Goodbye 2022

January 2, 2023

Cooper on a day when Christmas had passed.

Christmas this year was a lot like past Christmas holidays when we got tons of presents under the tree. In our case it’s due to free-spending grandparents who have too few kids and grandchildren to buy stuff for.

So Christmas was uneventful. But as I look back, I think that 2022 was a good year. My daughter Sophie went off to college. Nicholas is still finishing college.

I joined a Meet-Up group that went on hikes. The people were fit and friendly and gave me a great thing to look forward to. I met a pretty woman who I started seeing, and in March I hiked in the beautiful mountains near Seattle with Jaye, a friend that I met the previous year on RAGBRAI, the bike ride across Iowa. She invited me to stay at her home, which was then a yurt, and I left with many fond memories.

Then I met Bonnie. She’s a wildlife conservationist by trade, who can point out and name rare and common plants we encounter on any backcountry path. Maybe our most memorable time was when two turkey vultures circled above us on a dusty trail as if they were waiting for us to become carrion.

She has helped me to more completely know and love the land in San Diego, nearly 25 years after I moved here.

The previous few years were tough. My marriage broke up and then COVID forced all of us to the suffer the isolation that can kill your spirit.

But in 2022 things got better. I no longer had to drive my kids to school during rush hour every day (God, I did dislike that!) and that feverish hustle of raising kids, caring for elderly parents and working full-time that comes with middle age seemed to ease up.

I remember a counselor I saw, when I was trying to get a grip on my life after the divorce, told me that we should try to have an attitude of gratitude. She joked about the corny phrase but it struck a chord with me. I think I was able to displace the anger that was too often controlling me by remembering there are people I love and my life was pretty good.

My ex-wife and I are still friends and when we gather with the kids we are still a family. I hope for another woman in my life. And, of course, there is my dog Cooper, who loves me.

The year that just went by was a good one. If 2023 is as good, that’ll be good enough for me.

Dear Harry and Meghan,

December 30, 2022

I hope your Christmas in Santa Barbara, if you are still there, went well for you and the kids. I can tell you that I have almost finished watching your Netflix interview series. I am very sympathetic, given the way the racist, reactionary British press has harrassed you.

Your experience has also shown beyond a doubt that social media is to good journalism what a shit sandwich is to a gourmet dinner.

But I remain confused as ever about the fascination with the British monarchy. Why do reporters and photographers dog you and make large sums of money for a picture of you walking through an airport. We already know what you look like!

If this were 300-400 years ago, I would get it. Kings and Queens were heads of state. They were the focus and the pinnacle of an aristocratic system of landowning and governance. They commanded armies.

But today? England has a parliament and a prime minister and the resulting bureaucracy. Yet they still have these descendants of war lords living on the public dime and taking up space. I don’t really understand why we spend time talking about them.

No offense.

I have some ideas about this. Maybe the royal family exists so that reporters with no integrity can make up stories about you and turn you into cartoon characters. Clearly some people find that entertaining. The weird marriage that exists between the royals and the media was one interesting point, brought up in the documentary.

Maybe this is no different from the American worship of Hollywood stars who live in mansions. But movie stars have nothing to do with government and they don’t maintain some American commonwealth. They act like children and say outlandish things, and it doesn’t matter. They aren’t there to embody a nation.

There was lots of talk about the future of the “institution,” which is what the Monarchy has come to be called. The Brits have been bending over backwards to maintain the relevance of the institution and maybe it’s time to cut it loose.

So, Meghan and Harry, I hope you are doing well in SoCal. It’s pretty awesome here, I will confess. I know you are also pretty down on the monarchy yourselves, so the next time some idiot with a camera tries to take your photo tell him to get a real job. Speaking of which, I hope you two have managed to find work.


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.

When I think of you

August 22, 2022

When I think of you I remember the sound of your voice.

It hesitates and ponders when telling your story and assuredly 

Speaks the Latin names of plants we see on our path.

I remember the first time we touched and I tasted sweat on your mouth

After we finished our walk through the trees and brush

Where a naked sun shone on a trail of dust and rocks.

Where two turkey vultures circled above us like we were dead?

When I think of you I remember what you look like when you smile.

Your gentle glance is framed by hair that’s white like new snow.

And when we’re close I see your breasts through a light top you wore.

My memories grow dimmer as time passes

And now COVID keeps us apart but I keep thinking of you

And remembering your face, and your voice and your smile.


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.