You know how sometimes you’re in a rut and you don’t even see it? Until you see it?
That’s my pandemic rut. It started all the way back in January and here it is October. When it all started, I never dreamed it would be NINE WHOLE MONTHS ALREADY. I know I’m not the only one. I know.
Lucky for me, the sun is still shining hot and I can get out when I wish. That wasn’t the case for much of the time these many months. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. If it wasn’t covid, it was rain, or ﬁre, or smoke, or everything closed, and more covid. Wear a mask, yes, I wear a mask. I scuttled my travel plans before the president even knew what was happening. Along with the virus’s appearance, seeing a few good friends in far away places came to a screeching halt. That was sad. It still is.
Know what else? I’ve been reading more poetry than ever in my life, sitting still with joy in the black and white stanzas. I don’t need the sad and angry ones, melancholy, perhaps, I can take a few of them. And then there’s Haiku. Another new interest. As much as I like to think I’m a writer, I never did learn what haiku was until last week. Now I’m a fan, easy to please, I guess. Here, I’ll put one together for you right now.
Sitting at my desk
I think I am a writer
Do I believe me?
The stereo plays some light acoustic guitar and if I were to get up and walk into the living room, I’d see the most beautiful golden and emerald blue waves crashing on the shore of the video. It’s broken the monotony of my thoughts.
And right in front of me, out the window at my desk, are gardens full of joy and luscious growth. Sun and shade mixes it up. A new winter garden competes with my time in the weeds under the old roses.
It’s not like I wasn’t enjoying pulling weeds just now, because I was. I really was. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy a little family time this morning with the little baby next door; that was sweet. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy laughing with my daughter over politics and coffee. But left on my own, I can easily go back to the depths of what? Armageddon? No, that’s not it. It’s more like what the hell?
I know a few things. I know how to read a map. I know how to write in cursive. I know how to play the piano – and chess. I know what to do with eggnog. It’s not just the things I know that keep me going. I know how to write; I’m a member of an excellent writing group, that must count for something. With my memory recently, even one word can be a ﬂeeting thought at the most inconvenient times.
No, it’s spirit that ﬁlls my heart and soul with encouragement and peace. It lazes with the pictures in my memories, the smiles around me in my dreams. My heart, you know it opens to the sound of music, whether it’s classical, jazz or rock’n’roll. Springsteen usually wins.
My intent today, the plan I admitted to Mollie is to stay away from the news. A look at what’s happening in the morning, a quick peek, and go check again tonight. But, please, Kathy, stay away. You have so many other things worthy of your attention. Reading on gardening, lotions and potions, history, CBD/THC, writing & writers, etc.
Stay away from NPR on the radio. News shows on the TV. All the newsy online sources.
So far, in my opinion, today I sat too long in front of the TV with the Nevada Clark County Elections Commissioner, for no good reason at all. Except that I was at Mollie’s and I couldn’t keep my eyes off Noah – his love squeezes my heart every single time he’s around. He and Vivi, our newest family babies. These babies have certainly made the covid time easier.
So, here it is, 1 o’clock, and instead of hours, I’ve only spent minutes in the news. I feel better.
And I feel like I’m rambling. Am I rambling?
I know I’m getting anxious to get back out to the weeds under the rose bushes. When I came in the house to get a drink of water, as I was walking back outdoors, I was pulled by something deep inside to take my laptop to my desk and write. Write something. Anything. Something not totally negative.
Born May 4, 1918, Dad was the youngest of three boys. He was a bit of a rake, he said. He was certainly a story teller. We never knew what to believe. Did he and his brothers really get sent home by the cops when they climbed up the old windmill at Ocean Beach? Did he really learn to swim when his brothers threw him off a pier into San Francisco Bay? And years later, did he really go on to swim across the bay from Alameda to San Francisco? He says he was one of the first to walk across the newly opened Golden Gate Bridge.
I could tell you a lot of stories about my dad. Some I really don’t care to tell, and some you would probably rather not hear about. But this first one is a true story.
Dad served as a civilian contractor on Wake Island during WWII. Not for long, though. He arrived on Wake mid-November and was just getting the lay of the land when the island was surprisingly attacked by the Japanese, just hours after Pearl Harbor’s bombing.
He’d been hired and shipped there by general projects contractor Morrison-Knudsen. He was one of a thousand strong army of builders, diggers, plumbers and other civilians stationed on Wake. They supported and worked alongside 450 U.S. Marines preparing a workable air base for the U.S. military.
This small band of Marine and civilian warriors resisted their attackers with no re-enforcements through 16 days of combat against a much stronger enemy force. No one was exempt in joining the shooting and grenade launching in any way they could. Eventually, though, the commanding officers walked out the white flag.
After days of threats and beatings by their captors, Dad and most of the men at Wake, dressed in their light-weight uniforms, walked across a plank into a dark and dank ship. They left that sandy and sweltering island and moved into a brutal life in filthy prisoner-of-war camps. The ones who didn’t die spent the rest of the war being bullied and tortured by their captors.
If you want to know more, you can take a peek here: Battle of Wake Island. For an in-depth read, I highly recommend Bonita Gilbert’s excellent book, The Epic Saga of the Civilian Contractors and Marines of Wake Island in World War II. Bonnie’s dad was also on Wake Island. She spent a great deal of time over the years getting to know many of the vets, including Dad. Their stories are in her book.
Decades later, after thousands of civilians like Dad petitioned the U.S Gov’t. to be recognized for their part in the war, Dad was happy, proud and financially relieved to be handed lifelong veterans benefits, an Honorable Discharge and three shiny medals.
He was 27 when he came home from war, when he met my mom – a candy-striper in the hospital he landed in – and they soon married. My brothers and I came along a few years later. Growing up in a working class family, much of the time we were on the economic downward slant of the road. Dad was mostly self-employed; money was a kind of what-if thing. When Mom worked, her earnings sustained us.
He was a salesman, always selling something. One of those guys. Sometimes it was insurance, or maybe cemetery plots. Yeah, I know; go ahead and laugh. But mostly I remember he was the cook in the family. He was a carpenter, a painter, a plumber and all around handy man. Later in life, he built fishing boats. He fished for a living. He could fix anything – one way or another. I don’t know if he ever read a manual in his life.
For some reason, I like to think I learned how to do certain things from my dad. I don’t really remember him teaching me – I guess I just watched, but I can pretty much troubleshoot any minor electrical problems at home. I can usually solve most plumbing challenges, and I can design and build something from nothing. I’m lucky to be able to string a few words together into my own stories, and I enjoy putting paint to canvas, or walls. I feel like I’ve got a good eye for photography and the arts, and for me, that’s a plus.
I know my brothers can do all of this as well. Maybe everyone in the world can. But I like to think we got it from Dad.
He died back in 2013, so he’s not around for a tasty birthday cake, candles and a card.
“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me.”
I read that Albert Einstein wrote that in a condolence letter upon the death of his close friend, Michele Besso, in 1955. “That signifies nothing,” he said. “For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
I’m with Al. And with the help of my fine friend Tom John Flynn, I’ve learned I can have a nice little chat with Dad now and then, wherever he is, even if it’s only in my heart and soul. Or in the back yard.
May Day. I opened my eyes, rolled over and looked out the window. A couple of birds hopped through the arbor grapevines into the feeder. May Day thoughts as a child came to me, rhyming songs and dancing around some May Pole (or maybe a tether ball pole), images of little children tossing flowers in the air.
I felt my body and brain tense up as my mind switched places to the workers of the world – this May Day. I could almost hear my heart aching.
Everything in my home is here because of a worker somewhere. Everything I listen to comes from a worker. The books I read and the paintings that surround me. Everything on the telly is there because workers figured out how to get it there. My clothes in a dresser made by workers, the socks on my feet keeping my toes warm, the streets of my town, the cell towers, the food on my breakfast table, the tea in my cup, the laptop on which I write. The grape arbor and the backyard fence. The garden seeds that come in those bright little packets. Everything.
There are new protests around the world today, pleading for the health and safety of our fellow world humans. In Covid time. Workers out in force behind (working) police lines, red flags waving, bullhorns blaring and Personal Protective Equipment six feet apart.
But what can I do?
I can honor the workers of the world, those men and women who walk out their door every single day to help others, no matter the weather, no matter this Covid time. I can send money to support a workers group. I can buy a beautiful new painting from artiste/worker Eduardo Guzman. I can do my own yardwork in the weeds under a warm sun.
I can meditate on life in our world.
And in my daughter’s house next-door, where she tasks her three kids in their schooling and cares for that scrumptious little 3-month old, while her essential worker husband is out on the road, I can sweep the floor, wash a few dishes, do a load of laundry, and snuggle a wee bairn.
The sun will be out until it’s not.
From me to you – take care, be well, be safe. And thank a worker somewhere somehow. Keep them in your heart. Keep you in your heart and I will do the same.
On any given morning, I roll out of bed after listening to some KQED Radio/NPR Morning Edition. One particular morning, the “fundraising drive” commenced. Yeah, you know the one.
I listened as someone hawked Paul Anka tickets once, and then a few days later, I heard it again. That time I decided we’re going to see Paul Anka. Mollie and I both quite often have the Paul Anka Pandora station on, so I was pretty sure she’d go with me.
The show started with a long set of instrumentals, no Anka on the stage. When he finally emerged, he didn’t come out from behind the stage. No, he came in, escorted by a couple of big body-guards, from the up-front exit doors. He walked in slowly, shaking hands, touching the shoulders of those close to him, and allowing his fans to get up close and personal with him.
“Mom, these old women are really rude.” And she was right – there they were (not us!) swooning, half-drunk or overly medicated – they were everywhere. My sweet daughter was at least 35 years younger than anyone else there. I’m pretty sure she was the only one of her kind. The two of us grinned happily as we we showered by his amazing voice cranking out the tunes.
The San Jose Civic Center was set up in a big band venue, complete with an extraordinary sax player, John Cross, musical director of Anka’s orchestra for many, many years. Indeed, the entire orchestra rocked along with Anka. I don’t know what kind of set-up I expected, but the big-band one was perfect.
Anka was my teenage idol as a youngster, along with Ricky Nelson, and then of course the Beatles and Elvis. But Anka was really the one and I still love his music. He sang hit after hit, his voice clear and strong, amazing range able to hit every note. Wow! He told funny jokes and crazy tales during his time with us. No intermission, a small audience, one that was full of the people who really wanted to be in the same room with Paul Anka.
He never seemed to be in a hurry.
“I got lucky as a kid. I was writing kids’ songs. I was hopefully writing the way every teenager thought, how they all felt in that world.” He smiled when he spoke of Annette, you know, Funicello. He reminisced on American Bandstand. He spoke fondly of the great ones who died much too young.
He laughed as he told us the first time he met Frank Sinatra. “Mr. Sinatra.” Anka was living in New York. He got a phone call one day from ‘a guy’ telling him that Mr. Sinatra wanted to meet with him.
Anka got on a plane, following directions, and he flew out to Las Vegas, where he was met at the hotel by Sinatra’s guy. “Take off your clothes and get into this robe.”
Everyone in the audience laughed, as you can imagine.
His escort led him to the steam room and slowly pulled the door wide open.
“And sitting there was Sammy Davis…and Dean Martin..and Frank Sinatra – all naked looking up at me!”
He spoke about how much he learned about the business during the years he was with the Rat Pack. And then about the time he was 28 years old, he met up with Sinatra in Florida, in Miami Beach.
“Sinatra told me he was quitting show business and he was going to do one more album. And would I write him a song? I was shocked, we were all shocked – quitting the business? And he did leave, but he came back later!”
“I had never written for him. He had asked me, but I was scared to death.”
Some time went by, Anka was living and working in the big apple, and as he says, he kept getting this tune in his head, the song swirled around and then boom! he wrote it in six hours. He hopped a plane out to Vegas and gave it to Frank.
“I was old enough at 28 to write it, but I was too young to sing it. You needed someone of Mr. Sinatra’s vintage to sing that one.”
During the show, he wandered down a few times and those “rude women” would mob him. I tried once, but tried too late and never got close. But we did get this:
He told us his friends often ask him why he keeps doing these show; he doesn’t have to, at 78 years old.
“I love doing this. I don’t have a job, I have something that keeps me alive, along with the love of my family and friends. I take care of myself, I exercise, I eat well, most of the time. I diet! Oh, do I diet! I’ve been on Jenny Craig more times than Mr. Craig!”
I saw Anka twice in my twenties. I was surprised then how short he was – shorter than me! This time, I felt like I was watching a friend on stage. The memories the songs brought to me – the sad and happy times of my life.
My KQED sustaining member contribution is larger now, and so is the happy place in my heart.
On Mother’s Day a few years ago, my kids all chipped in to surprise me with a tandem kayak; it was just what I wanted. I figured I could take the grandkids out in it. It eventually turned out to be a little more than I really wanted to handle. The weight and unwieldiness became a barrier to my paddling and I quit taking it out, even though I loved each and every time I was in the water. I decided it was time to get my beloved kayak a new owner – and then look for something different for me.
So I sold it to Kevin. A friend of mine, he lives on a boat, a boat quite a bit bigger than a kayak. And he has a kayak as well – a white sit-on-top that’s all decked out with bunch of electronic something or others for some reason or another that I don’t understand.
But my Pemlico Wilderness Systems kayak is pretty sweet and he wanted it. Late in the morning this past weekend, he came by with his friend Ann. I like her; we’d met when she and Kevin helped me to evacuate a bunch of my valuables during the Napa fires in 2017.
My son-in-law Matt helped Kevin to get the kayak up on Kevin’s pick-up truck racks and he and Ann took it to his place. It was a great day for kayaking (every day’s a great day for kayaking), Ann had to go to work, but Kevin and I didn’t, so I met him at the docks and we set out for an afternoon on the water outside Benicia’s boat harbor. It was a bit breezy, but wind is just air, right? No matter how the flag is uplifted.
Kevin pointed out a small rock island outside the harbor – that was our destination. Our trip initially began with me paddling Kevin’s “sit on top” kayak, with Kevin in my – now his – kayak. I paddled alongside, or behind, taking direction in a new body of water, and we headed out. It turned out the wind was roaring in from San Pablo Bay, and this girl was making no headway at all.
I could laugh all right, but paddling in place was not really what I had in mind. Kevin had a new plan. We’d each paddle close to the edge of the harbor’s retaining wall and pull into the little beach nearby. A beach, by the way, in name only. It’s mainly covered with old wood sediment from a long gone mill. The only sand is like quicksand. Seriously.
After we pulled in, I got out of the sit-on-top, settled into the bow seat of the tandem while Kevin reached around to tie the sit-on-top to the tandem, and we towed it while paddling off on our grand adventure. Great idea! Two power paddlers in the same boat.
Now we were in business. The wind still pushed at us, but we were better. We would prevail. Not a moment to spare for taking pictures however. I’d forgotten to put the fully charged battery back into my good camera, so didn’t have it with me anyway. And, I was a little leary taking it out on the boat with no good dry-bag on me.
We made good time to the little rock island, guiding the nose of the kayak onto shore amidst assorted rocks and piles of boulders, covered with slippery, slimy green algae. You know the kind.
“No, you get out first,” I replied to Kevin’s query whether I was ready to get myself out of the boat. He’s an expert at getting in and out of kayaks, and I’m nowhere near excellently experienced, much less an expert. So he could get out first. And give me a gratefull pull up assist as well.
I had the tie-line in hand and offered to wrap it around and and tie it onto a 10″ diameter hanging piece of driftwood stump that was protruding from the shore right in my face.
“Like this?” I asked.
“Yeah, that log ain’t going anywhere. That’s great.” he said.
“Okay,” I replied somewhat hesitantly, grimicing to myself, not really sure about it. But I figured Kevin’s the expert, not me, so I shrugged it all off, chuckling and all.
We hiked up a dry, steep short slope of rocks, sand, dried grass and weeds to the top of the isle. Both of us being the artsy-fartsy types, we commented on and admired the various shades of tan and brown and yellow in the rocks, the golden tree pollen, while attempting to come up with the proper names of plants, birds and trees right there in front of us. We scoffed heartily at the few-thousand-tons-of-deadweight oil tanker sailing out to the Pacific, tug boat in tow.
The mountain top was covered with evidence of previous explorers who’d actually built a tree house. A poor attempt, I might add, but it did have a nice wide piece of lumber laying across two branches. On the ground were three windward walls nailed together and an open lanai, if you want to call it that. It was pretty much a mess. We found their hammer and nails left inside, so maybe they had more improvements in mind for future visits. Or else they fled for their lives from a giant hungry sea-monster, never to be seen again.
Anyway, the outer wall to the north had a few wide planks of lumber on which we could sit. Settle in we did. With a little chilled white wine, a bunch of cheap snacks and a little smoke, the chit-chat commenced. It had been a while since we’d had a good visit, and we had a lot of catching up to do.
We used to work together at Napa State Hospital, so that topic always comes up. We’re both glad to not be working there anymore. We reminisce on a few colleagues and wish the ones still working to be the safest they can be. We laughed and reminded each other of the antics of some of our favorite crazy patients. We talked about various friends, also former employees, who are as happy as we are to be out of that grossly mismanaged hellhole.
Any successful day on the river with friends provides plenty of time to cover lots of territory. We discussed conspiracy theories – large and small – real or unreal. Death and dying and communicating with spirits who’ve passed on. We shared talk of our day to day living and the people in it. We commiserated on and celebrated our lives on earth, in America, in our neighborhoods, and the many ways Kevin’s found, after a few hardships of his own, similar to all of ours, to help many people down on their luck right there at the edge of their world.
We watched sea-birds “cruising for burgers.” My friend Cristy taught me all about birds cruising for burgers; I think it was in the wilds of West Virginia, or maybe Austin TX. Or was it NYC? It was a long time ago, I don’t remember.
Kevin pointed out a U.S. Coast and Geodedic Survey Topographic Station metal tag drilled into the top of a rock, complete with notification of the threat of fine or imprisonment for disturbing the darn thing. WTH?
The wind had died down a bit and Kevin decided after a while to go check on the boats we’d left tied in the rocks. He just wanted to see that all was well. What he discovered was an empty beach where we’d left the kayaks. He quickly scuttled around to locate them at the base of the isle. Thank goodness they had not floated completely away but had just moved with the wind clear around the back of the island. The first thing he noticed, after the kayaks, was a single Herman’s gull hovering on the wind currents 20 feet above the kayaks. Laughing like he was the instigator or something. Kevin started laughing with him.
He couldn’t tell for sure if the whole thing was so hysterical because he was lightly toasted from the green bud we’d had, or something else, but it sure seemed that the gull was actually laughing like a child who’d played a joke on a parent. The more the gull laughed, the harder Kevin laughed, making it treacherous to keep his footing down the steep embankment towards the water. He looked up at the bird, yelling out, “Oh, you think that’s funny, huh!?”
The crazy bird was laughing too hard not to be convincing. On an island normally covered in birds, it was odd to see a single solitary bird keeping eyes on our lost kayaks while the other birds were nowhere to be found…as if they too were part of the joke, but had no faith in Kevin’s sense of humor and so had flown to some hideout instead of staying to see what happened. Lol. Pirate gulls, no doubt.
Completely ignorant of this escapade, I heard my name being called from a ways behind me – definitely not where we’d left the boats. Thank goodness he caught those little rascally boats. It could have been a long swim for us. A difficult swim as well, because–of course–our PDFs were in the boats.
After getting the boats back to where they belonged, Kevin spied a beautiful and extremely heavy piece of driftwood. He dragged, pushed and pulled it up to our topmost lookout and proceeded to wonder how to display the darn thing.
After a bit of discussion, and a little dancing around about which end was the top, which was the bottom, and all the aspects of this fine piece of nature’s art, we finally got it in place.
The last thing we did before heading out was to shore up this new piece of art that now sits next to the treehouse. With the aid of a few pieces of lumber and other scrap wood–voila!
The wind had died down, we headed out and had a fine paddle back in the Pemlico (which I miss already) to the docks. No better way to spend a long afternoon than talking about life and our parts in in while hanging out at the water’s edge.
Today is one of those memorable “Moments in History.” Something like the ones they write about in your local newspaper.
On this date:
In 1876, Lt. Col. Colonel George A Custer and his 7th Cavalry were wiped out by the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana.
Ninety-one years later, in 1967, the Beatles performed and recorded their new song “All You Need is Love” during the closing segment of “Our World,” the first-ever live international telecast which was carried by satellite from 14 countries.
In 1973, former White House Counsel John W. Dean began testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee, implicating top administration officials, including President Richard Nixon as well as himself, in the Watergate scandal and cover-up.
In 1986, a deeply personal moment in history, Mom died.
My little boys and I had been in Carson City for a couple of weeks, helping Mom to pack up her stuff for the move to our home in Pennsylvania. On this particular day, I’d taken Howie (5-years old) and Rusty (18-months old) to the library to pick up a couple books on caring for emphysema patients. Mom wasn’t doing well and after several invites to come live with us, she’d finally agreed to do so. My husband Matt was home working as a DJ in the local Titusville radio station.
I returned to Mom’s apartment with the little guys, all excited. Howie rushed out in front of me, happily calling out, “Grandma! Grandma!” and before I could get inside the doorway, he came back to me, a bewidered look on his little face. “Grandma’s in the kitchen – she’s laying on the floor.”
Holding Rusty in my right arm, I reached out with my left to Howie’s to walk around the corner into the kitchen.
Like all of us, Mom had a few habits. One of them was to watch her soaps – General Hospital was one – every weekday afternoon. Each time the first commercial came around, she’d get up to make herself a vodka and 7. I looked at the glass of ice on the counter. The 7-up can was open and abandoned.
I put Rusty down, checked Mom, and trembling, walked with over to the couch where I held the boys tight on my lap. I told them how Grandma Mollie had been really sick and her heart just couldn’t work anymore. I settled them in the other room and began to make phone calls. My voice shook with emotion. I cried. I called her best friend in town. I called 9-1-1. Or was it the Sheriff’s Office? I don’t remember.
I called Mike and Fred. I called Dad in Oregon, and Aunt Marne, and on and on and on. It was a terrible no-good day. I weirdly remember thinking at the time of Jackie Kennedy and how she had to be so strong for her kids, and that I had to do the same. Isn’t that weird?
We all got together in Carson City, we had a service. Fred, Mike, the boys and I took a short drive around Tahoe before we said our goodbyes.
I miss her so much. She’s missed so much. She was only 66. So many milestones in life, in her family, that she missed.
She had a difficult life. She had a good life, much of it a happy life. The kind of life we all have. Good times. Bad times. Sad times. Wonderful times. Momentous times.
Fred reminded my recently, when I was with him in Colorado, that he’d introduced Mom to pot. We were cracking up. When I visited her in ’79, she’d taken out her little stash and whispered to me (there was no one in the room but us), “Fred gave this to me.” Cracked me up. Still cracks me up.
I’ve thought for a long time that I must have raised my own kids right ’cause they bring me weed. Did we start a family tradition and not even know about it?
In the end, she just couldn’t give up those damn cigarettes. Her last months of life revolved around an oxygen tube in her nostrils. She didn’t sleep well, she didn’t eat a lot. She wouldn’t go out for a walk.
She’d periodically leave the O2 tank, the hose laying over the arm of her recliner and go have a smoke. It was a terrible business – the one thing she couldn’t quit.
I feel her presence today, as I do every day. I felt it when I was out in the garden before sitting down to write.
Tonight I’m joining a tour of local houses with a history of ghost inhabitants. She lived in Napa when she was a girl. Maybe she’ll reach out to me!
This photo was taken days before she died. We’d taken a road trip to the bay area to say goodbyes before heading off to Pennsylvania.
Remember the walk that Luke, Tommy, Rhett and I took yesterday morning, day 5? Well, lucky for us, Luke has photographic evidence of it! That’s Rhett up there paying attention and me astounded that I’m actually on top of that rounded red rock face.
On this, our last day, coffee was hot and the tents came down. We all scrounged for the last of the good breakfast eats (and there was plenty of it). Bags were packed and stacked to be loaded. Soon enough, it was time to move out.
I had my stuff packed up as I’d been trained to do, sitting around while the guys all worked. I sure didn’t want to get in their way! My camera and I kept an eye out for a few more memorable photographic objects, like this little one!
Another you-have-to-remember-this-one was an amazing piece of driftwood – looks like a root to me – that I know Tommy really wanted to take it home. A portion of it looked just like a brain! Whose brain I’m not quite sure.
Luke broke out the best hat (much better than my sacrificed one) of the trip – with hair! He looked just like someone I used to work with in a San Francisco medical clinic…and I was cracking up!
We entered Arches National Park on our way to the Moab take-out beach landing, sailing through our last day on White’s Rapids – woo hoo! I read in the river guidebook that in the late 40’s and early 50’s, John Ford filmed two of his movies, Wagonmaster and Rio Grande right here off the river on White’s Ranch.
Another 20 beautiful miles – loving life – enjoying every minute of it.
We had a cool breeze on the river and the sun followed us down river. My lips, for the past few days now, were sunburned and stinging — of all the sunscreen lip balms I had on me — I was using the one with not one drop of SPF! And didn’t realize it until it was too late. Now that was stupid!
When it came time to put out in Moab, the river was not giving much room in the eddy to pull into the pull out ramp. Fred and Tommy were able to row their rigs in all right, but darn if Rhett didn’t miss it, ending up twenty feet downriver on a muddy, weed swollen sandbar.
Rhett and Luke grabbed hold of the boat and pulled it to the ramp where it was supposed to be. We each took turns helping to get the boats onto the trailers, where they were hoisted into place for the drive home. We said our good–byes with handshakes and hugs and Fred and I went our merry way out of the canyon and the drive home with some fine tunes playing on the car radio.
Kudos to all the river trippers – Rhett, Tommy and Luke – and especially to my brother Fred, my real live life saver! Happy Birthday – I love you!I admit I had an empty feeling, being off the river with the trip at an end. Does everyone feel like that when the ride ends? It took me a while to get my bearings.
And I get to go with him this time! Along with his hand picked fellow rafters and river guides, Rhett, Tommy and Luke. A few other besties were scheduled to join us and had to bow out for other more important things that came along in life. I’m glad that wasn’t me.
I originally posted much of this material on my Facebook page and decided for continuity’s sake I should write it up as a blog. So if you didn’t see my “6/6/19 – Fred’s Annual Birthday Trip – the Big 7-O!” album you’re in for a treat!
The day before leaving for this big adventure, we spent a few hours – we meaning mostly Fred – building a boat! We worked at Fred’s place right there on the Roaring Fork River. And it was roaring!
I was perfectly capable of lugging stuff to the appropriate pile on the ground near the boat, but Fred’s the only one who could stow it where he wanted. You know how it is. Everything in its proper place, right where it belongs and where it can be found when you want it!
On our appointed day to hit the river, we head out in the pick-up truck to Fruita. Some blue boat and trailer kept following us the intire way. lol. We stop a few places to pick up those last minute supplies – foodstuffs, ice, more beer, more ice and other essentials for the trip. The tequila was safely stowed away.
It wouldn’t last long.
The river is “high water” now, approximately 34,000 cubic feet per second, and not to be taken lightly. Between Fred and his boat-mates, they figured they have about 140 years of experience on the water; I was completly relaxed and confident that all was well. And it was.
Our journey started in Ruby Horsethief Canyon, eventually moving into Westwater and Skull Rapid – now that was a day! More on that later…
We put in at the ramp in Fruita at RimRock Adventures. Each boatman had his own way of doing things, each put-in was a bit different. I got to meet our fellow adventurers – Luke and Rhett, and was reacquainted with Tommy Myers whom I’d met on an earlier trip to the Colorado River to boat with my brother.
In between the time that Tommy, Fred and Rhett pulled in to the ramp, backing their trailers to the river’s edge to get the boats into the water, other guys and their trailers and their people pulled in and I’m sure, innocently enough, messed with our own operation. We were just glad later on, that “those guys” weren’t camping close to where we were! Rhett’s two sisters Cathy and Lisa were on hand to send us off and away we went.
Just down the river aways, I got this first day lucky shot of a great blue heron keeping an eye on us. No matter how much I wanted it, I never did get a shot of one in flight, or of an eagle in flight, either. Each time a great bird flew over us, my damn camera was in it’s case or in some other not-in-my-hand place.
I order a copy of one of Fred’s Guidebooks: River Maps: Guide to the Colorado & Green Rivers in the canyonlands of Utah and Colorado. There is a wealth of information about turn of the river, so to speak. The history of the river’s path, millions of years of geology in the making, the people who came before – I’m loving all of it.
High water was definitly one of the defining factors on our trip. The entire length of the river, low water eddies and campsites were missing or under water – a lot of water and not anything to mess around with. Out of curiosity or need, (I’m not sure which) one or another of the guys would check on his phone or some other electronid device for the cfs (Cubic feet per second) each day we were out. They read the currents and adjust their path through the water based on their many years of experience.
The out of this world – really part of this world – natural landscapes, geological formations grabbed my heart and won’t let go. I can’t read enough about it, my curiosity has the best of me and I’m looking forward to learning more about this neighborhood.
It seems I’m continuously shaking my head, sighing and awestruck with the beauty of it all. It’s a leisurely first day and I try not to miss any of it!
I’m starting to learn the routine now. Doesn’t take long. Open your eyes, Kathy. Put in to a campsite, take it easy for a time – river time – and then grab my gear to get my tent put up and my stuff inside of it.
This first night, the guys enjoy themselves, laughing if you can imagine, as I attempt to put up my borrowed-from-Tommy tent. What?!
“I could watch you all night trying to do that…but no…” Tommy says, he and Fred giggling, “they snap on like this!”
I’m warned not to leave anything outside that a nasty little scorpion – about this big! they say – could crawl into – so I leave nothing outside! Each night, I rifle through my zip locked belongings in the dry bag, removing this shirt or another and packing it all back in the next day. My toke bag, water bottle, head-night-lamp and my glasses are always in a certain left corner of the tent. One pair of glasses “for on the river with that little croakie tied on”, and my fav newly minted glasses I wear on land.
My new sleeping bag and softer-than-soft-socks keep me warm all night long. I never wear the socks outside – I don’t want one bit of sand in at least one thing I’m wearing – my pair of night socks!
We settled our first night in Bull Draw camp after a wonderul first day on the river, five hours and counting. The scenery is such I can’t look away.
Fred is the chef tonight. I find myself thinking of other chefs in my family, starting with Dad’s Dad who was a cook in the Merchant Marines, then Dad, who was a chef himself, and then my oldest son Rob, a trained chef and author.
Menu consisted of salmon patties grilled and loaded with guacamole, sliced sweet onion and tomatoes! Yummmmm. The next day was his breakfast duty – french toast, bacon and fresh fruit. Tasty indeed!
Dinner was over, dishes washed and drying and it was time for some story-telling and tequila! The story-telling on the trip is the best!
I notice Rhett didn’t make the cut in photos today. Either the camera was stowed or he was out doing a fine job of scouting just the right place for the groover.
And yes, I found the groover and it’s a spectacular view! It’s just a short walk from my tent below a canyon wall with no little crawling bugs. Or at least I don’t see any of them.
And then it’s time to call it a night. I’m in early my tent-home and I can just barely hear the laughter and voices of the boatmen in the camp kitchen. Good nite!
Each day of this trip would bring an amazing array of waterscapes, landscapes, changing skies, animal life, flora and fauna, joking, wonderful conversation, peace and joy. By the end of the week, my eyes and lips were fried by the awesomeness of it all!
These days with my brother was an amazing gift and I’ll cherish it always. I’m so happy this adventurous life never gets old.
Day five and this stretch of river delivers us into the spacious and beautiful Professor Valley and Richardson Amphitheatre, named for Sylvester “The Professor” Richardson, who established a ranch in 1879. A post office was established, a store opened up, and soon enough they had a town. Not just a professor, he was the true Renaissance man, a top-notch physician, musician, geologist, teacher, author, druggist, surveyor and assayer. The town died out a few years after the Professor, who gave up the ghost in 1902, at just 79-years old.
The Moab Daily section of the river begins 3 miles up from our two-day camp. Lots of fun rapids here – and for the professional guides and others who stay in the boat – not anywhere as dangerous as what we had on Fred’s birthday! This 13-mile stretch of river is busy with lots of day trippers and a few over-niters as well. Three of the four Onion Creek campsites were above water, thankfully, and we pulled into one of them.
For miles now, we’ve seen from afar the Fisher Towers aka Colorado River Pipe Organs, but now we’re in the same neighborhood – truly amazing! The tallest of them, the Titan, was first climbed in 1962 by climbing legends Huntley Ingalls, Layton Kor, and George Hurley. And no, I’m not going up there. At least not this trip.
The plan was to stay two nights at Onion Creek, and on the second day, we found more time to relax, not having to take the time and energy to unload and reload the boats in the same 12 hour period. Luke, Rhett, Tommy and I took a morning walk, leaving Fred behind to – do what? I don’t know. We thought he’d make breakfast. The joke was on us! From high on the cliffs we could see far beyond – all along the river valley. It was a totally different view from the one we have down in the boat. Duhhh.
We had potluck dinner and breakfast, as always – plenty of food. We still had fresh fruit, including a nice cold ripe and juicy cantaloupe, sweet pineapple chunks, and watermelon. Hot coffee always hit the spot. I love that coffee pot! A bright and shiny stainless steel four-burner cookstove sits atop the kitchen table – a portable solid wood approximately 2′ x 6′ top with screw in metal legs. I’m a novice – it all amazed me, the equipment (and expertise) that’s needed for these multi-day trips. I do know that these guys invest a lot of money in the best they can buy. Their stuff lasts and is upgraded continually, it seems. One guy has a new this or that, the other guy envies and wonders if wants one of those!
There’s also a fire box, complete with fireproof pad to provide a little campfire or to cook up a big steak.
Ever heard of a groover? It’s a portable bathroom made up of a camp toilet, buckets of pump-on-demand clean water for handwashing, soap, hand sanitizer, and an ammo box (used for loads and loads of things on a boat) stocked with dry toilet paper.
At the end of the trip, the actual groover poop-&-stuff is dropped off at an official groover station. No, I didn’t go there. That was Rhett’s job. At each campsite, Rhett and Luke scouted around and located the best groover spot for a secluded experience – with a great view. They didn’t disappoint. A colorful lei hanging near the groover was the signal that the groover room was empty. Grab the lei and go!
With some time on our hands, we explored along the trails, relaxed, did some reading and threw in a few naps. Climbing over the low hanging cliffs, along slippery trails and amongst the wildflowers was good exercise after so much time spent sitting on my butt in the boat. The rowers, they get plenty of exercise. But other than that short swim I had, the walks at campsites were my exercise. Well, unpacking and packing back and forth was a bit of exertion, but not that much.
The day rolled out easily enough, we each found that spot to relax, do some reading, absorb the scenery and nap – the napping was fine. The challenge was in chasing the shade from the cottonwoods in camp. That darn sun kept moving and so did the shade spots.
The afternoon led into an exciting evening. Which led to storm stories from the guys. the time they rolled through a terrible rain and hail storm. Hail so big they had to put buckets over their heads! Not this time, thank goodness. But we did get a roaring wind! It’s so noisy when the wind roars up the river and through the trees on the banks. I could see a dust storm on the other side of the river where the canyon was open. I think our tents were really glad that we held onto them! “Aunty Emm, Aunty Emm!!”
Since rain was obviously in the making, the boat guys who usually slept on their boats now decided to put up their tents. With the strong wind, stakes and loading the tents down with our belongings helped keep them on the ground.
This was the first night I put the fly on my tent.
#1 – it was warmer inside.
#2 – I couldn’t see anything.
It was spooky with the wind roaring over me, and then lightning spiked and thunder boomed up our little world. I had no idea what everyone else was doing – and it felt weird being apart from them, each of us in our own tent – wide awake and waiting for sleep. I couldn’t believe I actually did fall asleep with that roaring wind. I guess it was all the wonderful sun and that nice hike! And of course this was the night I had to get up to pee in the night. But by that time, there was that beautiful dark sky, a few clouds, and my old friends, the Milky Way and the Big Dipper
Next morning, waking up, was sunny and warm — beautiful and wonderful and I smiled with delight seeing my brother up and messing around — and the coffee pot boiling on the stove.
We row into the most fantastic cliff formations – almost as if the previous days were just appetizers. The boatmen taming the rapids – and you can bet I was being much more careful to “stay in the boat.” The rapids surely do excite and accentuate the bliss of being on the river.
Cruising about 32 miles that day, we land at Onion Creek for a two-night layover. Put on more sunscreen, drink more water, and bask in the beauty, silence and peacefulness of the canyons.
At low water, it can be busy in this section of the river where there are plenty of places to put your boat in or pull out for a camp night.
At today’s high water, many of those campsites, or at least the place to pull the boats in, are under water. No eddies to cruise into. And it’s much less crowded.
A fault line crosses the river just after we leave Big Horn camp. We see the evidence of it as the rock layers that we’ve seen sloping gradually, now make a big drop of 400 feet – about the height of a 4-story building. The Wingate Sandstone that made the huge cliffs we’d passed the last couple days was, at this point, several thousand feet underground. Talk about earth-movers. The sandstone here and elsewhere create these magnificent hills, towers and what seem to be man-made statues.
This is the day we choose to give Rhett’s motor a chance. There’s a long strip of river that takes a lot of rowing to get through. Flat water, wind against the bow. A while after leaving camp, the three boatmen, line up their boats, one to one to Rhett’s boat.
Fred and I are in the furthest right boat, Luke and Tommy in the furthest left boat, and Rhett in the middle pushing that motor to get us downriver. It was a crackup and I wondered what people thought (we did see a few) of this threesome!
Today’s trip leads us to our first hint of civilization since we left the train tracks a couple days ago. On the south side of the river, state route 128 follows the river, snaking all the way to Moab. As the days go on, we see more and more traffic – everyone wants to get out of town! Other signs of civilization are orchards of fruit trees and farmland established in the 1900’s.
We floated past a crew from Fish and Wildlife Service, charged with protection of the river and the fish in it, who were doing a fish count. They drop an electrified metal ball into the water which shocks the nearby fish who are just there minding their own business. The fish float to the water’s surface – and voila! They’re netted and counted and released back into the mighty Colorado.
The low hills we see on the west side of the river are capped with Mancos Shale, at a mere 80-95 million years old, the youngest rocks in the Canyonlands. The hills to the east are capped with Dakota Sandstone. For the next several miles, we could see the hills sloping up thousands of feet. Remarkable.
Today we passed below the Dewey Bridge, opened in 1916 after a 3-year project. During its time, it was the longest single span suspension bridge in Utah, built to take on 9,000 pounds of freight, three wagons and six horses – all at the same time! A new concrete bridge opened in 1988, putting the wooden Dewey out of business. Twenty years later, a little kid playing with matches started a brush fire which then engulfed and destroyed the Dewey Bridge timbers and a fine piece of history.
Closing in to the bridge, we checked out a line of long steel cables with pointy tips hanging from one side of the bridge to the other – and some of us wondered if Fred’s new bimini would clear the damn things. It did. Barely. Those steel cables originally held UP the Dewey Bridge! LOL
One of my fondest takeaways from the trip is that besides mastering the water, the days – and nights – are made for continued story-telling – everyone has a million of them Adventures past, friends and family, funny, hilarious and sometimes very sad stories – and living life to its fullest every day you can.