ESSAYS AND CLIPS
Who Let the Dogs In?
(for Sierra Living magazine 2017, here without sidebar)
America has gone to the dogs. Roughly 77 million of them and counting. They’re everywhere, from accompanying the neighborhood “walking bus” of school kids to riding in the sidecar of a Harley. They even rate a primetime television broadcast that each February showcases hundreds of purebred breeds—the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. No offense to pedigreed types, but America’s love affair also includes mixed-breed, Heinz 57, garden-varieties which are widely valued for their everyday smarts and adaptability.
Ever notice that dogs are equal opportunity creatures? Work is play, and play is work, with joy to be found in each. A popular children’s story claims that if you give a mouse a cookie, it will want a glass of milk. Well, if you give a dog a job, it will ask for more hours. You won’t find a canine holding out for espresso privileges or free dry cleaning. No technology upgrades required or double pay for holidays. Just a bowl of fresh water in the corner and maybe a couple of those liver-flavored training treats. So, how did modern dogs become such sociable workaholics? Early tribe-friendly dogs are thought by some researchers (archaeozoologist Susan Crockford, for one) to have evolved from the smallest, most-curious, least-aggressive wolves. They may have “domesticated themselves,” she notes, and somewhere in the process been assigned a magical, spiritual role. Smart wolves aligned themselves with the upright creatures who shared scraps and were handy with fire and tools. We are still sharing scraps, plus homes, yards, automobiles, and sometimes sofas and beds, ample evidence that many of us think dogs are people too. Even if they’re not, canis lupis familiaris have long worked side-by-side with humans in roles suited to their considerable skills—herding, hunting, and standing sentry over livestock and property. They can sniff out drugs, explosives, and other contraband. Some outperform technology by detecting airborne molecules related to blood sugar spikes in at-risk people. There’s no machine for that!
At your service
Service Dogs are trained for specific tasks that improve human lives through direct assistance. Think wounded warriors, disabled citizens, and people with cognitive or sensory impairment. There are military, police, search and rescue, and cadaver dogs too, each assuming the same or greater risks as their handlers. These dogs are angels among us, laser-focused on duty and loyal to the core.
Then there’s the brand of comfort provided by Therapy Dogs. Calm and uber-friendly by nature, they accompany their human partners to many public places: hospitals, libraries, airports, senior and adult care residences, schools and universities, courthouses, and mental health facilities. Paws4Love, founded in 1996, is a provider with 118 members in Washoe, Churchill, and Storey counties. Their dogs range from Chihuahua to leonberger, and everything in between, providing comfort at more than 50 locations plus Washoe County Schools. They also respond to crises. Pet therapy, aka, animal-assisted therapy, has been shown to provide a calming effect, reduce the need for pain medication, and reduce stress and anxiety for hospitalized patients. That’s why officials at Reno’s Renown hospital, welcomes therapy dogs on campus. Said Meghan Meagher by email, “Therapy dogs have a huge impact, not just on our patients but visitors and staff as well. All ages benefit…” When dogs aren’t hunting or herding or fetching, some participate in the “Take Your Dog to Work” movement, launched in 1996 by Pet Sitters International to promote dogs as companions and incite pet adoptions. June 23rd is this year’s designated day to take Buddy Fido Fifi Bella Gordo to work. According to the Society of Human Resource Management (quoted on the site kidsdogood.com), 7% of U.S. employers allow pets at work. Benefits reportedly include stress reduction, a better workplace environment, increased productivity, and increased employee retention. Susan Bergstrom Brackney, CPA, of Reno, takes her dog Houdini to work. Brackney says Houdini sleeps in the doorway to her office, the better to monitor her every move. He talked his way into his current arrangement. After losing the last of his dog and cat mates at home, he stood at the door and whined to go with her to work. She couldn’t resist. “I love animals,” says this business and dog owner. “They’re fun and they’re good company.”
An article on CIO.com recommends that businesses set policies for the happy and peaceful co-existence of staff and pets. Workable rules might include specific pet days and/or pet-free work zones, and consideration of allergic or fearful employees. Dogs should be flea-free and house-trained. Also well-behaved, familiar with indoor environments, and kept leashed or in an enclosed work area/cubicle. Pet-proofing a workspace might include putting tops on trash bins and securing electrical cords. Some companies exempt pets from conference rooms, restrooms, and cafeterias; perhaps also from areas where clients meet.
Take a buddy to dinner
When was the last time you chose a restaurant or retailer based on whether Lucy could go along—your golden retriever Lucy? Was it last week? Yesterday? If so, you’re not alone. It seems like there’s almost no place you can’t take your best friend. Almost.
Jordyn Bsharah, marketing specialist for the Outlets at Sparks, an outdoor mall, takes her two rescues to work. To the admin office, the mall manager sometimes brings a Labrador and the office manager brings two huskies. Per Bsharah, retailers Scheels, Banana Republic, Loft, Gap and others let the dogs in. Warm days and evenings are perfect for patronizing restaurants with outdoor seating and plein-air places to walk, hike, boat, ride, and stay overnight. Pointing the way to such locations are sites such as dogfriendly.com, dogtrekker.com, bringfido.com, and gopetfriendly.com. Dog-friendly Tahoe area eateries include: Old Post Office Coffee Shop in Carnelian Bay, Brockway Bakery in Kings Beach, Auld Dubliner at The Village at Squaw Valley, and The Squeeze In in Truckee. In Carson City: Johnny Rockets and Comma Coffee. Reno eateries include: Java Jungle, Wild River Grille, The Stone House, Archie’s Bar & Grill, and 4th Street Bistro.
Dogs are welcome in the Gold Country too, at: Summer Thyme’s Bakery & Deli in Grass Valley, Awful Annie’s in Lincoln, Katrina’s Café in Auburn, and Blue Cow Deli in Penn Valley.
When dining out with Buddy, ask in advance whether dogs are allowed. Use a leash and keep your dog close (tethered to a table leg is best). Bring a doggie bowl for water and whether local or on the road, always carry clean-up bags for you-know-what (which is bound to happen). Vacation travel sites provide filters for choosing pet-friendly accommodations and will note extra fees, if any. Traveling with Benjy could mean being prepared to locate the nearest pet hospital or employ a bit of your own first aid knowledge. Peggy Rew, a Reno-based American Red Cross Pet First Aid Instructor, says dogs shouldn’t be fed people food other than carrots, string beans, or strawberries. Lingering in settings with shade is IN; left unattended in hot autos is OUT. Pet First Aid classes teach owners to troubleshoot and remedy problems big and small. The better to work, play, dine, travel, sightsee, sunbathe, comfort, compete, strike a pose, and find the joy in each of them.
Monarchs on the Move -- a Sept 2016 Reno Gazette-Journal story about citizen scientists helping researchers tag and track western monarch butterflies. This image is of the young daughter of lead scientist, Dr. David James of Washington State University. She's learning to be a citizen scientist, of course!
Fiction is No Fake
(As posted to LinkedIn)
A very cool, almost-but-not-quite secret about fiction is that it gets its strength from an underlying framework of truth. Truth rules fiction, and here’s why. Except for stories containing alien beings, anthropomorphic animals, or fantasy creatures, fictional stories derive from life as we humans know it. Oh sure, stories might present over-the-top versions of life, with characters who are swifter-smarter-stronger than most of us, or sexier, or geekier. Perhaps crazier, or hell-bent on justice or revenge. But the reason we devour stories told by others is because on some level we relate to them, and that relatability relies on carefully incorporated details taken from the everyday.
Relatability itself hinges on veracity (aka, verisimilitude, or truthiness), which shines not only through the human flaws and strengths of characters but also through a story’s “environment,” a term that can include specific geographic locations, social or political context, interpersonal relationships, and perhaps a larger ecology. The natural law asserting how nothing can happen in a vacuum also applies to the action in stories. War cannot take place in the absence of environment. Neither can rescue, romance, car chase scenes, dinner, or discovery. And while a writer might possess personal knowledge of myriad environments, plenty of what’s needed for authentic story details comes from good old-fashioned research.
Here’s one example. My 2014 novel-in-progress (now titled "Holes in the Sky”) is set in Reno, Nevada, 1963. As it opens in early February, my protagonist needs to notice how some streets sport gutters still muddy from that year’s big flood of February 1st. She uses Reno Bus Lines, which had vehicles painted orange and yellow and borrows a book from the Carnegie library. A question I’d like to answer: What did the Mapes casino dealers wear in 1963? The only way to be reasonably sure is to dig around and find out. Then, and only then, can that scene exude veracity.
Not every story can perfectly mimic the reality of a location or time. I placed a Basque restaurant just south of downtown when most of them would have been more central or slightly north and east (where two still reside). I did, though, tap UNR’s 1960 library edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and the expertise of a local guitar player who identified acoustic models to suit a blues-playing character. Also necessary for context: the civil and women’s rights challenges of the day, and cultural icon Marilyn Monroe, gone by then, but still alive in photos, movies, and written materials. The list of researched details goes on.
So you see how it is that fiction, though spun of sugared truth, is not a fake. It can’t be all sugar or it won’t satisfy, and can’t be all truth or it’s not fiction. But combine those ingredients and shape them into action, dialogue, and description, and the result will be a story that’s tasty and satisfying.
Permission to Live in the Meantime
Penny called me back in response, I suppose, to my voice mail message saying something akin to “You must be sick and tired of people asking you if you’re sick and tired.” And so we talked about her cancer, the words surrounding her particular type—Stage IV, terminal, targeted drugs, genetic mutation—in their structure as ordinary as other strings of vowels and consonants, other phonemes, memes, and noun phrases: husband, medical retirement, almost thirty years, employee association, travel. Except that one could hardly conflate the latter enough to float a conversation over cocktails while the former carry the weight of life itself. A heavy load, though judging by Penny’s mien, you’d be hard-pressed to discern its gravity.
She applies a crystalline certainty to the necessity of living every day to its reasonable fulfillment, because she has better things to do than “curl up on the sofa” and feel sorry for herself.
A wash of relief colored her account of the oncologist’s determination that her lung cancer is the result of a rare genetic mutation. Somewhere inside, wouldn’t a person sigh and think, Thank God, it wasn’t all those nights of karaoke after all, or the years of primal scream therapy, or one too many Singapore Slings in my college disco days.
She does cite God, though not in blame (the disbeliever in me wonders why not). But she says that with this trial, God must have a plan for her, something she is yet to discover. Maybe that plan is volunteer work for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a local project granting the special wishes of children with terminal illnesses. She says she has long thought she’d volunteer with that group once she completed her thirty years with the County. She has twenty-nine years and nine months of service and always expected to get to a nice round thirty. But now she qualifies for a medical retirement. Technically, she’s not unable to work, but her oncologist agrees that she is terminally ill, and that’s enough for a Get Out Of Jail card.
There is no cure, but perhaps containment, which sounds a lot like the 2012 debates over how the U.S. should handle Iran’s efforts at developing nuclear weapons. Proponents of forestalling Iran’s forward march argue that once Iran has weapons to kill people en masse, containment becomes a lesser-but-satisfactory necessity. When humans contain within themselves the inevitability of individual self-destruction (I’m thinking here of Penny’s random cancer, but of course there are many preventable forms of self-destruction: cigarettes, drug abuse, unprotected sex), why the need to develop such weaponry? Why the need for the capacity to kill each other?
By our very nature we are destructive, billions of human cells dying and replicating, dividing. Maybe it’s the nature of our recognition of human frailties and mortality that feeds the human need to conquer others. We are each of us at this moment dying a million invisible internal deaths, thus our drive to control the external deliverer of death too. Is that it?
And so, when weapons of mass destruction are present but not yet unleashed, and outside forces are applied to thwart detonation, that’s containment. Though the weapons await the signal, the command to unleash a power that then expands to maim and kill, we go on with daily life. We work and play and make love and sing in the shower, never knowing when the unseen, unbidden force will be released. We won’t be in control when it happens, but if we can we’ll pick up the pieces and drag our bloodied selves to our feet.
In the meantime, in spite of the hidden, unbidden death-force lurking just beyond sight, we go about our days: phone calls from friends, another shift to work, discussions about whether to take a medical retirement. We give ourselves permission to live in the meantime.
Profile of Nevadan:Agnes Lander Schmith Heidtman, 86 years
Home means Nevada
(for Range Magazine)
Rare is the person named for a county. Agnes’s father, Mathias Schmith, was a Lander county commissioner, attending a meeting the night she was born (September 4, 1916). When her father announced the arrival of his new daughter, Agnes, his fellow commissioners proposed, “How about Agnes Lander Schmith?” And so it was unanimous.
Mat “Pop” Schmith ran his family’s spread between Battle Mountain and Austin. Agnes relates, “He loved to fiddle and for years he would tie his violin behind his saddle and ride to one town or the other to play on Saturday nights at the dances. Afterwards he would stay in a boarding house. That was my mother’s family’s boarding house, and that’s where they met. My mother, Emma, had wanted to be a nurse but her mother wouldn’t let her. When she wanted to marry my Dad, she was told not to, but she did it anyway. Because she was married she couldn’t be a nurse, but that’s how she became a rancher’s wife.” When Agnes was about one, and her brother Louis was three, the operation was moved to the Truckee Meadows, near Reno. There were sometimes 35 cowboys to feed, so Agnes’s mother was baker, cook, and a little of everything else. “There was no grocery or bakery nearby; everything was made from scratch. Mother baked two dozen loaves of bread each day starting before dawn – 24 loaves – on a wood stove! And I learned canning, cooking and baking at my Mama’s side. At first I stood on a crate to reach the counter where I made little mud pies in my doll-sized tins.” The cowboys and the Schmith family came together for meals at the same table. “The cowboys were all races and all ages. The differences didn’t matter.” There was friendship and respect all around, and Agnes recalls, “All of the ranch hands loved my dad. They thought the world of my dad and treated my mother like a lady. My Dad’s right hand man cried when my Dad retired.” A young Agnes helped with roundups and rode fence. Back then there were few roads and no borders to rein in a rider. “We rode all over this valley, all the way to Mount Rose. The only trouble you could get into was maybe with a rattler.” There was, in fact, other trouble to be had. “Sally Wine was my best friend. I’ll never forget the time we decided to try smoking only I couldn’t find my father’s tobacco. I took rolling papers but we needed something for the insides. Coffee grounds looked kind of like tobacco so that’s what we used,” she says with a giggle. “Oh we were sick! Sally crawled home and I did too. When I didn’t come out of my room for dinner, my mother talked the story out of me. She and Pop were very calm. They explained that if I was going to smoke I needed to learn the proper way. Pop rolled one of his cigarettes and I had to smoke the whole thing. I puked and puked. That was some lesson.” Albert Heidtman, also from a ranching family, was the only man for Agnes. The first time they met, Albert played a practical joke on her. “He called me the next day to apologize and asked me out for a movie. I said ‘No’. He called every day for a month and I turned him down each time.” She says with a twinkle, “I was still steamed. Finally I said yes.” They married in 1952. Two long-term jobs have been a source of pride – the first with the Reno Elks Lodge No. 597, where Agnes worked part-time for 30 years, starting as a high school student in 1934. “That was where I met Liberace. He was playing at a club in town and the Elks had hired him for the evening. I was the bookkeeper so he had to come to me to get paid. He asked for twenty dollars.” She runs her manicured fingernails through her red hair and says, “I thought that sounded fine, so I paid him.”
And then there was the temporary job with the University of Nevada, Reno, which became permanent, and 13 presidents and 53 years later set a school record. Friends made while working were a bonus. “About a dozen young men from the University went overseas to fight in WWII. My mother and I knitted them sweaters, and we baked cakes and cookies to mail to them every week. They’d send the cake tins back filled with treats like great big sweet dates.” Half a century later the friendships remain.
Ranch life, city life, work life, and the love of her life. Agnes flashes her ready smile and explains why she would not change one thing. “I did it my way, and I loved every minute of it.”
Treasures from Down Under – Gemstone collecting in the Silver State
(Photos and story for Nevada Magazine)
Murmurs of appreciation greet the stones Alan Felker displays in gently cupped hands. “When I saw the glimmer in that bucket,” he tells his fellow rockhounds, eyes crinkling with pleasure, “I about fell off my perch.” The shimmer of a rainbow caught in hunks of precious fire opal is a just reward for a long drive and sweat-filled hours spent picking through clots of dusty earth. Felker is proficient at this type of hunting and gathering, but virtually anyone can prospect for gemstones, natural bling of the off-road adventurer. Before you set out, though, here’s a brief geology lesson: Nevada does mountains like no other state. It also does rocks, rocks, and more rocks. And the thing about rocks is they come in different models – plain, fancy, and deluxe. Nevada’s upper echelon includes opals, garnets, and smoky quartz. To get your hands on some, start by acquiring basic knowledge, then gather a few practical supplies and seek a little help from your friends. For the novice collector, inspiration arrives in the form of family-oriented Reno Gem & Mineral Society, an educational/social club with a focus on teaching basic identification, important because a stone’s outerwear can disguise its inner beauty. Members like Felker share success stories and hunting hints with like-minded enthusiasts. The club also organizes monthly field trips for collecting en masse, especially beneficial for beginners. Says Ernie Kastenbein, long-time member, “Specifics are what you get from others who have been there and done that.” Norvie Enns, the club’s shop director and an instructor, agrees. “Find someone who’s already been there,” he says, “and go with them.” He favors the group approach, but adventurous souls could take the indie route. A number of commercial opal mines and over 200 private claims operate in “Virgin Valley” territory, the high desert of northwest Humboldt County, where prized black opals and many-hued fire opals result from silica and minerals deposited in the cavities of disintegrating buried forests. Opal hunters search for crusty tree-limb shapes or broken bits protruding from the pale dirt. To quote Michelle Blowers, a Californian who hunts in Nevada, “There is nothing like spotting that glint of color in the grey sand. Your heart leaps. You brush off the dirt…the colors burst like tiny rainbows…after that you are hopelessly hooked. There is no cure for opal fever but more opals.” Fees for digging at private opal mines can range upwards of $100. Take U.S. 95 north from Winnemucca, 28 miles to State Route 140, then north to Denio (another 70 miles). Virgin Valley, in the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, containing mines such as Royal Peacock and Rainbow Ridge, lies west of Denio near the Oregon border. Garnets, a type of feldspar, are abundant at Garnet Fields Rockhound Area, six miles west of Ely, Nevada, off Highway 50. At the top of Garnet Hill you’ll find wheelchair accessible restrooms, a picnic area, a few camping spaces, and plenty of parking. Kick along the roadway watching for almandine and spessartine varieties glowing like luminous red eyes in pale-colored rhyolite, especially following a heavy rain or after snowplows have cleared the road. Better yet, “Get away to where there haven’t been too many people,” per Enns, who has found ¾-inch jewelry quality garnets off the beaten path (try the southwest quadrant of the hill). Free to the public. Mine tailings near the top of Petersen Mountain, approximately 33 miles north of Reno, yield pale brown to black smoky quartz, a type of silica. Distinctive flat sides and corners distinguish their crystal shapes from ordinary dirt and rocks. With a hand-held rock pick, rake a portion of the loose tailings toward you then sift through it by hand. You’ll need 4-wheel drive, work gloves, a pick (or shovel), and a bucket. To reach Petersen Mountain, travel north from Reno on Highway 395 North, continuing exactly 10 miles beyond Hallelujah Junction. Turn east onto the unmarked dirt road, which will take you to a parking turnout at a gate near the top. Walk in to the tailings. Beware of signs marking active mining claims and do not trespass them. Most guidebooks and Web sites suggest necessary tools and safety measures for successful gemstone hunting. These include sturdy boots, sun and wind protection, potable water, and a cell phone, though not all areas receive cell signals. Sites that charge fees for digging (fee-for-dig) might rent shovels and buckets; otherwise, bring your own tools. Don’t go alone, and remember, collecting is forbidden in state parks. Many Reno Gem & Mineral Society members learn to cut and polish cabochons and other gem shapes from their favorite specimens. General membership runs $20.00 per year, with lapidary, beadwork, silversmithing, and wire wrapping classes for members at $6.00 or less each. Don’t despair if you come home with specimens good only for gracing your garden. Unlike with fishing, you get to determine which of them are keepers. Says Enns, “I don’t have to know what a specimen’s mineral content is to think that it’s pretty.” So what if your finds are not precious gemstones? They might be any of the hundreds of collectible minerals native to Nevada, and before you know it you might just be hooked and headed toward becoming a rockhound.
The Nature of Golf
(for Montana Living magazine + Audubon Intl website)
Roughly two centuries after the first hearty explorers and settlers discovered Montana’s bountiful resources and rugged natural beauty, Big Sky Country is gaining the appreciation of residents and visitors with a bent toward an ancient and honorable game – Golf – arguably one of the nation’s fastest growing sports. While the general public may see golf courses as usurping large tracts of land for the pleasure of a few, and managing them in wasteful ways, we golfers know that the courses we play are living, breathing things, emerald universes of fresh air and birdsong. Like public parks (albeit more manicured and with larger entrance fees) – golf courses are easily maligned targets because the majority of their environmental work takes place behind the scenes, in the wee hours. Even golfers underestimate the sheer volume of planning and implementation efforts expended daily by a course’s staff toward preservation goals. Golf and conservation are a natural fit, and when we examine the all-but-hidden environmental stewardship of a handful of Montana golf courses, evidence emerges to prove that golf courses easily meet the challenges of wildlife conservation. A leading protagonist in the public push for golf’s environmental stewardship is Audubon International (AI) with its Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP), a national network of conservation partnerships that includes backyards, business properties, schools, cemeteries, and golf courses. Since 1991 the ACSP has enjoyed the endorsement of and annual funding from the United States Golf Association, the USGA. AI is not the only outside force to shape the current face of golf as protector of environment, but it has perhaps the best name recognition and is quick to strike up the band to publicly applaud sites that follow its guidelines to become “certified sanctuaries.” Meadow Lake Golf Course, an 18-hole championship course in Columbia Falls, rated a “Top 500 U.S. Public Course” by Golf Digest, is on track to become Montana’s first certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, a status shared by famous names in golf like Troon, Nicklaus, and TPC. Getting this far takes significant effort in various ways. Here’s why. The ACSP’s goals follow from six key divisions: Environmental Planning (the first step), Wildlife and Habitat Management, Chemical Use Reduction and Safety, Water Conservation, Water Quality Management, and Outreach and Education (for golfers and non-golfers). Myriad individual components include understanding indigenous wildlife, landscaping schemes that provide food and shelter for birds, and improving ponds, lakes and streams. Mowing practices, irrigation practices and soil testing are covered. So are storing and applying chemicals, plus water conservation and its effects on vegetation and fish. Not to be overlooked – a course’s potential impact on nearby homeowners. Record keeping and inventories are utilized for fine-tuning the implementation of each component. Certification at each stage occurs when a course provides a variety of corroborating documents such as plans, maps, logs, test results, listings, and photos, all of which take manpower and some of which require an infusion of funds. Once fully certified, sanctuaries may receive a random visit from Audubon International staff, which monitors compliance. Golf a round on Meadow Lake and you’ll be enveloped in its pine perfume. Its vistas bring into focus its deeply forested boundaries of native evergreens and mountain larch, which shape its gently rolling acreage and provide a haven for a variety of bird life. Current superintendent, Jim Peacock, notes that a small resident herd of elk regularly frolics on the fairways, enjoying “their favorite delicacy – bent grass greens.” At one point this winter the herd bedded down in the native shrubs and willows very near the resort’s hotel without being disturbed. If elks can hide on the course, imagine how much other wildlife abounds just beyond our reach on every hole, and the thousands of eyes watching how we occupy and preserve the habitat that is home to many creatures. Common sense guides the daily environmental activities on a course like Meadow Lake though originally, says owner Peter E. Tracy, Meadow Lake staff “aggressively” worked toward ACSP certification goals. The payoff is that Meadow Lake is certified in five of the six ACSP categories and maintains those high standards year-round. What does Jim Peacock think about the public face of golf+wildlife? “One of the good things about Audubon International is that they dispel myths and create public awareness. They really recognize the fact that golf courses are [already] green places.” That they are. Meadow Lake’s green place counts bears, deer, bats, turtles, ducks, geese, osprey, fish, and various birds as valued residents alongside the two-legged creatures who inhabit the hotel and nearby residential development. What’s next for Meadow Lake? A butterfly garden will soon host a feathery kaleidoscope of blooms near hole #18, luring a variety of winged gems and their buzzing friends. And of course, the staff will continue repairing the massive hoof prints left by the elks that dine and dance their way across the course. Other Montana courses utilize ACSP guidelines but, like Meadow Lake, each also retains a unique perspective on its role as steward of Montana’s wildlife and habitat. Witness Old Works Golf Course at Anaconda, where the landscape was essentially “dead” due to the waste and byproducts of a century of smelting operation. An EPA Superfund site, the current design was coaxed from nothingness into a stunning Jack Nicklaus “Signature Designed Course,” acknowledged world-wide as an example of reclamation at its finest. Besides being subject to federal oversight Old Works is also an ACSP member. Old Works will strike you with its onyx-colored bunkers, set in eye-poppingly green fairways. The inert slag (the remains of smelter activity and safe for humans) appears otherworldly, challenging the brain’s comfort with atypically black bunkers. What’s invisible is the course’s state-of-the-art computerized irrigation system overlying a complex drainage system capping protective layers of limestone and topsoil, all for the protection of ground water below and the players and wildlife above.
Rick Hathaway is superintendent of this brave new golf course. He points to the irony in using what is essentially artifice - man-made golf courses - to create wildlife “sanctuaries” in a state replete with habitat. In his view urban areas are more likely to need sanctuaries (such as the other two of the five Montana ACSP member courses: Missoula Country Club, and Bridger Creek Golf Course in Bozeman). Rather, he says, “The most important thing in Montana is to minimize impact on the environment and give as much to wildlife as we can.” He has a point.
To that end, Old Works follows procedures formulated to be both wildlife and golfer-friendly and Hathaway’s pleasure resonates through his reported sightings of elk, deer, moose, bears and a variety of birds in and around the now well-established course. Warm Springs Creek burbles happily within its buffer zones of uncut grasses while trout flash elusively beneath its sparkling surface. Willows, and choke berry shrubs combine to form a patchwork with the native evergreens planted throughout the course and within wildlife “corridors,” which are wildlife safety zones. The native wild rye, grama, and wheat grass that riffle and sigh soothingly in the breeze are resilient to Montana’s climate and were researched for suitability for local wildlife. As on other courses mentioned here, noxious weeds are yanked by hand in a targeted approach to chemical reduction, plus on Old Works a self-contained building is used for chemical mixing and storage, affording the most complete protection for man and beast. New this past winter – staff built brush piles as habitat for small mammals, a strategy adopted from the ACSP guide. Hathaway attests that such sensitive practices are “really not more expensive” in managing a course when compared to undesirable but easily employed wholesale use of pesticides and herbicides. “For any of these to work you have to have a well-educated, integrated approach,” which for him, as for many others, means using a variety of resources as tools for sound course management in addition to keeping current with tried and true techniques. Not all certified sanctuaries are golf courses, although 330 of the 500 worldwide are, and not all member courses aim for official certification. They often follow similar environmentally sensitive practices as a matter of good golf course management. Walt Chauner is the director of golf maintenance for another of Montana’s ACSP registered member courses, Eagle Bend Golf Course, a 27-hole championship course in Bigfork, Montana, which is soon “turning private,” and its sister course, Northern Pines. Eagle Bend is a course marked by the craggy, rocky outcroppings and distinct changes in elevation which distinguished its original terrain. One minute you tee off toward a horizon in which the shimmering blue of expansive Flathead Lake mirrors the sky above with its heaps of marshmallow clouds. The next, you’re skirting a weather-safe marina that borders the southwest side of the course, headed for a small stand of aspen standing in shady sentinel over bluebird houses on stilts. Both Eagle Bend and Northern Pines, of Kalispell (not an ACSP member), lay solid claim to wildlife-friendly practices. Chauner says, “Recognition is important, but doing it (conservation) is the most important thing.” He lists wildlife spotted on or near the two courses as deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, beavers, plus more than 17 varieties of birds (the bird count derives from bird watching tours). At Northern Pines, on certain holes, there is no mistaking Stillwater River’s pungent, lively aroma, and nowhere is it more apparent than on holes #16 and #17, where native painted turtles reign supreme. Here the river charts the aptly named, horseshoe-shaped “Oxbow Bend,” where it is easy to imagine the turtles smiling as they paddle near the bank’s nodding grasses. This habitat was safeguarded during the course’s design stage when the river’s path was left untouched, and traffic bridges across the adjacent Stillwater River were foregone. Such decisions exact a price. The river’s changing water levels create pockets of standing water, enabling mosquito populations to flourish. Following Audubon’s recommendations for integrated pest management, bat boxes and bird nesting boxes were installed to encourage a natural mosquito defense system. Dragonflies also abound due to the native vegetation. The whole thing works to hold mosquitoes in check naturally while wildlife and golfers reap the benefits. This natural approach begets a trade-off of manpower versus the cost of pesticides and herbicides. As Chauner puts it, “I’m always, we all are, very proactive when it comes to taking care of a little piece of land and making something good of it.” He’s candid when he describes the whole process of environmental planning and thoughtful implementation as necessary to building a good golf product, because that’s what, in the end, makes for a profitable golf enterprise. The bottom line: ACSP appears to work. Results from a recent Audubon International survey of certified sanctuaries indicated significant reductions in pesticide use; improved turf playing quality; major reductions in fertilizer use; and for many, an increase in staff satisfaction and golfer satisfaction. I, for one, rejoice in every golf course that fills a space that might otherwise have grown parking lots and strip malls. Gone are the days when I will golf without watching for the myriad telltale clues that signal each course’s unique commitment to carefully preserving a piece of good land for future generations of golfers and wildlife. Golf courses really are sanctuaries, whether “certified” or not. Even with a gentle push and a hand up from nationally recognized organizations, nobody forces them into stewardship. They do it because it’s the right thing. As Rick Hathaway says, “We’re doing our job responsibly.” In this way, golf today honors its roots, when a few patches of turf were planted among the swales and gorse of old Scotland. That was truly a time of partnership between people and environment for the enjoyment of a good walk with a golf club, and the company of friends. Thanks to many forward-looking people, the game of golf still nurtures nature, to the benefit of creatures large and small.
Montana ACSP Members: (The 800#s are for reservations; 406 #s are direct to pro shops)
Meadow Lake Golf Course 800-321-GOLF (also 406-892-2111)
Old Works 406-563-5827
Eagle Bend Golf Club 800-255-5641 (also 406-837-7310)
Northern Pines Golf Club 800-255-5641 (also 406-751-1950)
Missoula Country Club 406-251-2751
Bridger Creek Golf Course 406-586-2333
Building Black Business in the Truckee Meadows
(For Comstock's Business mag)
Any narrative about the depth and breadth of the black business community in the Truckee Meadows is unavoidably brief. Because there is a small African-American population (approaching 2%), relatively few people of color own and operate businesses. A richer read turns on the developing plot of a brighter, larger future as glimpsed through the efforts and goals of a few local black business people. The names of noteworthy black business leaders and admired individuals and rise to the top: Judge Gamble, Reverend Webb, Luther Mack, Bernice Martin Mathews, Greg Black, Noah Livingston, Ceola Davis…and more. However, gauging the strength of black-owned businesses and estimating their numbers is slippery business, as no public agency captures minority business start-up statistics or operations data and there is no African-American Chamber. Some good stuff, then, is found in the following impressions about the current black business climate and a few considered suggestions about what the future may hold. Cloyd Phillips is the executive director of the statewide Community Services Agency and Development Corporation, based in Reno. This man is connected and driven. He speaks authoritatively regarding the current crop of minority business hopefuls. “It’s a new type of Afro-Americans that are pursuing entrepreneurship in the areas of beauty shop/barbershop salons, in the area of custodial services, so the resources are being developed.” Phillips, also chairman-elect of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, explains that the resources to train budding entrepreneurs and link them to capital investment and business financing are evolving. Young minority entrepreneurs, he says, have products “but not the business sense, the know-how.” They lack the education to write business plans that incorporate true cost analyses. This lack of foresight is the stumbling block for many young adults, not just those of color but for those who have traditionally been excluded from ownership and management. He sees what’s needed: a “matching of opportunity to talent.” Education and capital financing matched to an entrepreneur with ideas, energy and enthusiasm - a partnership of strengths. His vision is of a future wherein larger businesses and corporations outsource various necessary functions to small businesses, reducing big business overhead while providing a market for small businesses, particularly in the service sector. “Like a bread-starter..” says Phillips, “business has an obligation to the next generation, to contract with the next.” One emerging resource for minority business development is the Financial Empowerment Program administered by the local NAACP. Of roughly 1500 NAACP chapters nationwide only a dozen+ operate such programs . The Financial Empowerment committee includes Phillips plus other representatives of the business community, Boys & Girls Club, and University of Nevada, Reno’s Business College. Bank of America is a lending source. This is not a mentoring program but “a whole education,” says Phillips. It’s about starting youth down a path of learning how businesses work and teaching them the skills to succeed. In the future, faith-based businesses could grow into multi-faceted small business concerns. Phillips notes with a shake of his head that churches are reluctant to expand into profit-oriented arenas though they need funds to minister to their constituents and to perpetuate their faith programs. His imagination has room for faith complexes that incorporate services targeted to congregations and neighborhoods, such as banking and insurance. Lonnie Feemster, Real Estate Broker, business owner, and 54-year Reno area resident, projects a calm intensity when identifying the construction trade as an industry wherein African-American owners are underrepresented while female-headed construction companies have emerged to take advantage of the federal guidelines for “minority set-aside” contracts. Although blacks and other minorities have traditionally worked within the construction trades, they have been passed by for learning the management side or buying into the industry’s growth. “Some people just didn’t reach out and help blacks and Hispanics,” says Feemster. He describes an ideal future that encourages a healthy increase in black-owned construction companies. Feemster also cites an abiding academic achievement gap in local high school and university minority graduations as ultimately diminishing future business opportunities for minorities across all sectors. He passionately urges educators to “attack that gap” in order to expand the ethnic diversification of business in the Truckee Meadows. Toward that end Feemster chairs the aforementioned NAACP Financial Empowerment Program committee. His rhetorical question, “Can you reach out to someone who is disadvantaged?” sounds like a challenge he takes to heart. Toni Horne glows. She is ambitious and exudes a confidence in her ability to excel at diverse occupations and enterprises: as director of promotions for Keystone Square, and President of Revivals Health Awareness, Inc. Ms. Horne delivers a mixed message about being black and in business in this community. “I feel that this is a very friendly place - open to women and blacks,” she said recently. “I spent the first 10 years trying to leave. Then I thought - if we all leave then no one will be left.” She determined that she’d start “doing things for the community,” and she stayed. Revivals Health Awareness delivers outreach mammogram services to low income, uninsured, unemployed, and sometimes employed-but-uninsured small business owners. Next up: adult immunizations, to hopefully forestall some senior health problems. Horne also organizes and promotes various special events throughout northern Nevada such as the Juneteenth event slated for Fallon this year. Though Horne describes having experienced racial discrimination locally and knows of minorities denied start-up funding for business ventures, she remains optimistic, saying, “I think that minority business women are going to be moving and shaking in the next 10 years.” She’s clearly one of the movers. Horne also envisions the development of a African-American focused “Heritage Chamber of Commerce” by 2006 and is gathering relevant business data. And when she discovers a newly opened black-owned business she often offers free promotional support through mailings at her own expense to an extensive community contact list. She exemplifies her own contention that “women recognize that they can collaborate and still grow their own businesses.” Perhaps education and collaboration are two keys to growing African-American businesses in this community since Lonnie Feemster, too, is compiling information on communications and connections among various facets of the black community. The better to promote building black businesses in a cause to benefit the whole Truckee Meadows - a healthy diversity of industry and people who call this place home.
Kenny Dalton Gathers and Tells “Our Story”
“To say that we did have a story in Nevada, that African-Americans were here, contributing in a positive way to what northern Nevada is today,” is the goal of Kenny Dalton’s black history project “Our Story, Inc.” Dalton , firefighter and community activist , loves history and he’s working to research, preserve and share the largely forgotten stories of the contributions of blacks to the development of the Comstock and the Truckee Meadows. This has become his labor of love and pride. Well-respected in their time were W.G. Brown, Virginia City saloon owner; Ben Palmer, wealthy rancher; Jim Beckwourth, explorer; W.H.C. Stephenson, physician; and Paul Williams, renowned architect - all individuals who helped shape life as we know it in northern Nevada.
Our Story, Inc. includes a collection of video interviews and a traveling exhibit and welcomes input and artifacts. It threatens to overflow its small, sunlit space, so Dalton is working with Nevada Historical Society staff to archive and preserve certain items. A website is under development. Says Dalton (who thus far is Our Story’s sole financial source), “My passion is definitely here.” Contact Kenny Dalton at 337-2553.
(Photos and story for Nevada Magazine)
Evans Creek meanders through rolling foothills north of Reno before descending to spacious Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, where first it puddles into a pond and then into a marsh. There it nourishes an oasis of gardens and groves known as Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden, a place to escape city traffic and mid-summer street heat.
Founded in 1982, the Arboretum is named for the late Reno resident Wilber D. May, philanthropist, and world-traveler. It encompasses roughly 11 acres, thriving in the high mountain desert.
At the helm is horticulturist Bill Carlos, who with his staff carefully tends an extensive array of plants cultivated throughout 15 gardens and 11 distinct groves of trees. He describes the May as a standout. "We don’t have a front gate. If you go to any other arboretum you can pay $10-15.00 just to walk in." Here blooms and blossoms, verdant canopies, gentle breezes, and birdsong are free. "Get away from the doldrums of summer, and find some peace and quiet. This the place to come."
A 30-year veteran of plant affairs, Carlos re-established the University of Nevada's Cooperative Extension Master Gardner program. At the May he puts that knowledge to work. He'll also steer an expansion of acreage and boundaries under a recently drawn master plan, which includes a horticulture learning center, and a Visitor Education Center, with groundbreaking set for 2010.
Ask Bill Carlos to name his favorite garden spots and he'll choose three, starting with Honey’s Garden, a secluded nook of yellow and white hybrid tea roses punctuated by potentilla and daylilies, and cascading water suggestive of a Sierra mountain brook. Kleiner Oak Grove features more than a dozen non-native species, such as swamp white oaks, and bur oaks, also known as mossy cup oaks for their unique acorn pods. Shady in summer, the grove blazes with deep red pin oaks and red oaks in fall, showcasing a sample of the May's 6,000+ trees. The Native Collection presents Great Basin plant communities, including mixed conifers, desert shrubs, pinyon pines, and junipers. After strolling sanded or asphalt walkways you might rest on a shaded bench, the better to admire English country-style Burke Garden, lush with nodding poppies, fragrant roses, cushiony lamb’s ears, and more. Pause in Kristen’s Garden at the wisteria-covered gazebo, and you'll be dazzled by opulent stands of Michaelmas daisies nodding in the predictable afternoon breeze. They'll bloom through fall. Birders delight in the variety of winged creatures serenading from various overhead limbs, cattail stands, fence posts, and flowering shrubs. The rack on the Arboretum office porch contains free handouts for compiling a May birding list. Was that a flammulated owl? Possibly. A hermit thrush, a townsend’s solitaire? Maybe so. Park rangers have confirmed such rare sightings, though almost 200 species have been identified overall, from cuckoos to cormorants.
It's no surprise that Arboretum staff are critter friendly and mindful of what’s coming and going, on two feet or four. Kelly Latham, eight years with the May, spotted a little blue heron on the pond last year, perhaps stalking tree frogs for dinner. Latham's advice -- “Walk through the gardens and follow the path as it drops down toward Evans Creek, then to Herman Pond. You could surprise an osprey. You might find a killdeer nest; they’re secretive you know.” Many animals reside year-round, including cottontail rabbits that seem oblivious to visitors. The pond, stocked with rainbow trout, shelters muskrats and garter snakes. Mule deer were spotted in winter 2004-05. Latham recommends wildlife watching from a quiet spot on the Evans Creek bridge, beneath the dense canopy of ancient, twisted black willows. Latticework tops the adjacent observation deck, where you'll enjoy a close-up view of the riparian area. Says Latham, "A lot of people don’t realize we’ve got a little oasis here." The Labyrinth Garden, with wooden benches capped by shade structures, promises a quiet setting for contemplation. Its quarter-mile winding path of seven concentric circles forms a pattern known as “Santa Rosa,” where a simple stroll can transcend everyday stress. Bill Carlos describes the May - "It's like going into a big candy store. You have all the different gardens you can sit in, depending on how you feel." His analogy - it's a cool jewel, worth the trip.
What to Bring
Sturdy walking shoes, a hat, and water are recommended. Sunblock is smart, binoculars - a bonus. Wilbur D. May Arboretum sits within Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, open sunrise to sundown, with free admission and brochures. You can enter at the north end of Washington Street, or the 1500 block of North Sierra Street, Reno. Signage points to parking areas, the Arboretum, and offices. For information call 775-785-4153.
Vroom Vroom Sisterhood
(Story and photos by Paula Riley – for Reno Gazette-Journal)
Picture cruising down the highway in your SUV, or minivan, or Beemer, when alongside appears a hefty hunk of motorcycle slicing through the afternoon glare. Your first thought? It’s probably, “Tough guy on a Harley.” In years past you may have thought right but today that pony tailed, leather clad, rocket riding biker might just be a babe.
In fact, she might be 50-something Jodi Maynard, a Reno corporate executive assistant who puts 10-11,000 miles a year on her bike and thinks nothing of riding for ten days through six states. Jodi rides a 2001 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy and you can wipe that smile off your face because that’s 750 lbs. of muscle in an 88 cu. inch frame. Why do it? “I’ve met wonderful people since I’ve been riding. It’s been a really good experience.” Jodi rides almost every Saturday with four or five other riders whom she knows well, and yes, she’s outnumbered by the men. But that’s okay because women riders are nothing if not strong and sure about handling themselves and their machines. She calls the guys she rides with, “Road Dogs,” and they call her “Head Bitch,” compliments between fond friends. “I just find the road very exciting, challenging - a good kind of challenging. I get going and I don’t like to stop. I’m always wanting to burn up the road to see what’s at the end,” says Jodi. She sometimes rides alone, stopping in small towns where the locals are almost always curious about a woman in black leather who pulls in on a big black and chrome bike. Jodi has tricked out her bike with extra body chrome, double-deep exhaust pipes, and chrome wheels, like toppings on your ice cream - not necessary but oh so sweet. The keys to safe riding, she says, are keeping your bike in good working shape and not taking too many risks (Oh, and calling your daughter when you get home). “You know the risks when you get on. They say there are two kinds of riders. Those who have gone down [crashed while riding] and those who are going to.” She plans to defy the odds. Very few local ladies have ridden big bikes for a long time. One is Vikki Corrigan, a pony-tailed motorcycle grandma with a penchant for antiques and three Harleys in the garage. She received the very first Nevada motorcycle license issued and for years rode “outlaw,” helping justify bad biker stereotypes. Times change. In recent years Vikki’s been riding her 1997 Harley Heritage Soft Tail with the Nevada II chapter of the Blue Knights, whose members are all in law enforcement-related fields. What happened? “I grew up,” she says. Women in the Blue Knights are outnumbered 15-to-1 but the group is the first to “feel like family” to her. She’s proud to be “72 in November and still riding my own.” She describes her other atypical behavior, “I was always a lady, never smoked, drank or did drugs,” clear thinking because along the way she had three children. “I raised all my kids on motorcycles. Rode right up until they were born, with my stomach [sticking] out on the tank.” Her two daughters ride today. After all these years what was Vikki’s favorite ride? “They’re all my favorite. No matter the weather, no matter the conditions.” Even when the week’s been a stinker? “You can have all the weight on your shoulders and go for a ride…” She waves her hands in a flutter of fingers to show how the worries fly away in the wind.
A Need for Speed
Scooby Doo’s cartoon face grins from the faring of Toni Morris’s 2003 CBR 600cc Honda, a torpedo-shaped sportbike that looks ready to split hydrogen from oxygen in the air. What’s with the dorky dog? She shrugs and explains, “I have just always really really liked him.” I guess he represents sportbiking as serious fun. Starting with dirt bikes on the family ranch Toni has biked for 29 of her 37 years.
And though she’ll say, “It’s not about going fast in the corners,” she smiles while admitting that sportbiking is “not about poking’ along.” It’s not about straight roads either because that bent-over-the-gas-tank posture is tough on your body, hard to maintain for any length of time. This is about the poetry of curves - decelerating on the way in, leaning deeply, and accelerating just right out of the curves of the snaking roads preferred by sportbikers; Toni calls those roads “twisties.”
Riding regularly with a small group of experienced riders, Toni sometimes takes along one of her two daughters as passenger. Of the riding she says, “Next to my girls it’s what I like best.” And her riding friends? “True sportbikers are fun, loyal, and they help each other out.” There’s no helping the silly questions she gets, like, “Do you ride that all by yourself?” (Duh, How do you think I got it from there to here?) On any given Sunday she leaves the silly questions in the dust when she rides some twisties with her sportbike pals, and Scooby Doo, perhaps along one of her favorite stretches - Highway 50 to Lake Tahoe.
The Family that Bikes Together
The Talas family, of Carson City, numbers three bike riders out of four but their extended biking family approaches one hundred because they ride with a variety of northern Nevada motorcycle groups. 18-year old Daza Talas, a firefighter, says, “I call them all my parents, so you’ve got like 50 Dads and 50 Moms.” She may be the youngest local rider of big bikes when she rides one of the family’s late model Harley Ultra Classics, a “dresser” style bike with saddle bags and windshield. Daza road 19,000 miles in her first year on a bike and that satisfied smile still lights up her face. Daza prefers motorcycling over car trips. “To me you see more of the country. In a car you can sleep but on a bike you see more of everything.” She adds, “The people in cars want to know where we’ve been, where we’re going. I like to ride because I like to travel. Wherever I go I like to meet new people.” Kathy Talas began biking years ago because “I decided I like my independence,” and she articulates the feelings of every woman in this story - “When we ride it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Motorcycling is clearly a Talas family affair: father, mother, and Daza ride, sometimes to work or school or on long trips with one of the clubs to which they belong. Kathy, a life member of Harley Owners Guild (HOG), and Daza recommend motorcycle safety classes as the best training for new riders. Both ride with “Ladies of Harley” and the Desert Curves chapter of the national group “Women in the Wind.” As you can imagine, there is a solidarity among women bikers as well as a camaraderie between men and women who ride. On any given day Kathy and Daza are just two of a growing number of women who are redefining just who that biker on the alongside us on the highway might be.
Heroism on the front line is not the only measure
(written Nov 2001)
My husband did it again this last Veteran’s Day. I had, in what I’m sure was an inadequate way, proffered my usual line. “Hey babe, thanks for serving your country.” He paused, blinked, and glanced away as he always does, saying, “Oh sure.” And because I had no better words, I left it at that. But this time, as with each previous, nearly-identical exchange on this topic, I was left feeling that there are things he leaves unsaid. It’s the lack of conviction in his answer that gives him away. I am left thinking that he feels he did not “do enough” while serving his country. Which begs the question - what is enough?
My husband entered the Army during the Vietnam War as a commissioned officer – preferable to being drafted. His father had served in WWII and his great uncle had retired from a long and distinguished Army career. My husband has described basic training as plenty tough and the military housing assignments at that time as about one step above living in a shack. Servicemen (only men served in combat at that time) trained constantly, expecting to ship out to the jungles at any time. At any moment the call could come. My husband, his family, and countless others, undoubtedly considered themselves lucky when the war ended and their orders for overseas duty had not come. I can picture their sense of giddiness at having been spared. “There but for the grace of God…” My husband eventually got on with the honorable business of raising his family and building a civilian career. And there’s the rub. Had he lived through a time of crisis and surfaced through the dissipating cocktail of emotions after the danger passed, only to wonder, “Why me?” Why did I live when so many others did not, and the sticking point - could I, would I, have done more? Surely military duty suits many who serve, but those who enlist during wartime truly expect to see combat. They train for months, maybe years, with the anticipation that the day will come to prove their skills against a challenge that will measure them in a way that ordinary life cannot. What of those who fight and return, or those who are killed in the line of duty. Do they demonstrate the greater measure of grit and character? More than once in the days since the launch of our “war on terrorism” my husband has half-jokingly suggested that instead of sending its youngest men and women, the U.S. should send “us old guys” into combat because the young ones haven’t yet had the chance for families and careers. Their lives hold so much potential. He is remembering, I think, the high school and college friends and acquaintances of his youth who were killed along with 53,000+ others in Vietnam, but there is something else too. My sense is that there is a part of him that he feels did not realize its full potential by not being tested on the front line. If this is so, it must come from his particular sensibilities about duty, self and country. And maybe, too, from our country’s indifference and/or apathy toward, and denigration of all things related to the Vietnam-War, including its service men and women. Since September 11 there has been an outpouring of support for armed services personnel that is unprecedented in my memory and deservedly so. Even non-combat personnel have enjoyed heartfelt applause and admiration from the public. A case in point: the Twenty-nine Palms Marine band which performed with such skill and aplomb at our nearby Nevada Day Celebration in October. You would have thought that they were some world-famous rock band the way we, young and old, stood and cheered their arrival on the platform. Yes, the events of 9-11 were fresh and our emotions raw, but clearly a new appreciation for all men and women who serve our country had sprung up almost overnight. And it felt good to applaud and hoot like boisterous patriots (the band looked slightly overawed by it all – almost sheepish but proud). Our country’s purposes for enjoining a battle vary and are often self-serving, but Armed Services personnel serve without regard to personal or political preferences and plainly cannot influence which fights we will pick and with whom. Heroism on the front line is not the only measure. For me it is enough that so many citizens throughout the years have, irrespective of agreement or disagreement with our country’s military and political goals, answered the call to arms and trained and served in any military capacity when so many (myself included) have not. It is enough.
What I Meant to Say
(essay, 2008; also appears in "Postcards from Planet Eldercare")
Shirley has been gone a handful of months. No one else fills up the space she left behind, of course, but lessons learned through her persist because it’s impossible not to carry them along, like so much sunshine caught in my pores. I recall sitting in her room making small-talk, wondering how a person arrives at the end with grace. Those bits of her journey could have been just yesterday. At some point the anvil drops and you realize time is running out. All the years you thought lay ahead instead compact themselves into just a few weeks, like so many cars accordioned into a freeway pileup. Maybe what’s really left are mere months, or hours, and not too big a number. A remainder that once seemed plenty for your needs is apparently a mere drop. Less, even, than other people will spend rushing to meet sales quotas, or transfixed by TV shows parsed from laugh tracks and nonsensical stories. So many petty particulars, when life itself is reduced to the newly important – lungs expanding to capture the universe, then an exhalation to make room for another. If you’re lucky, one more. Her doctor said, We’ve done all we can. We’re out of treatment options. Plan on a week, maybe two, depending. Cancer multiplies rapidly; it’s everywhere. That’s when I thought of all the things a person leaves unsaid. The things you think you have a lifetime to share. For instance, I meant to tell my nieces what others may have not, what their parents surely have not. I wanted them to hear, You will be okay. These seem like tough times when you’re trying to find yourself, trying to figure out how much to let go and how hard to hold on. You might be calculating which friends are keepers and which you can live without. All pop quizzes. They’re just practice, so don’t worry about getting them exactly right; you have decades ahead. I intended to say, You feel you have to rush. It’s natural. Young people hurry to reach the next hour, the next day, see what’s next and discover who will surprise them and what will make their hearts thump. But don’t worry about what you’re missing. There’s no capturing it all. Simply observe the world churning around you and examine the bits that stick in your head. Be mindful and happy, and young while you can. The larger world will bear down soon enough. Remembering Shirley makes me ponder the handful of friends who would leap to my defense. Now I regret not having created more reasons for such leaps, a little more wildness. Inside I’m a wooly sort, but all these years I’ve been licking my palm and smoothing down the sticking-out parts. Reluctant conformist, pisser-and-moaner in private, but not too loud. Few know my dark corners, the cranky-pants-at-midnight-when-the-dog-is-barking me. Is it too late to reveal a little more? When is it too late? One day Shirley said, What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That same week her doctor explained, We have good medicine for the pain. There’s no reason for unrelenting pain. When regular doses aren’t enough, we use fast-acting meds under the tongue. I nodded my head and imagined the feel of drops against gums and teeth. How a liquid peace would wash through flesh and bones to quiet the pain while blood still throbbed through tissues and organs, feeding a cancer that spreads its picnic blanket and settles in to stay. The drugs allow a lovely drift among the clouds of a person’s mind. One minute you’re talking to someone who looks familiar and knows your name, the next you think she’s the nurse’s aide. Why hasn’t she put your single-serving milk away for later? Oh, she’s not staff. A friend, of course, might pretend to be staff, don the mask through compassion. Speaking of friends, I am gratified to continue a friendship first founded way back in seventh grade. 1970, summer of sun-warmed pavement and 45s on the turntable. We danced and sang, and tested curfews and at least once a week I raced home from her house late for dinner. Dinner seemed a reasonable exchange for an extra half-hour of music and laughter. I can still taste the high desert air, clean and bright, overlaid with my Emeraude cologne, a fragrance green and grassy. Her brother kissed me. She kissed me too. Just once, to see if there were any sparks, but no. So how many years is that? Thirty-nine, not nearly enough. I used to think that when I got to the end I’d be gracious about how many years I’d lived but now I’m not so sure. Now I’m inclined to think I might wail and gnash my teeth and make a fuss just because it’s allowed when you’re dying. The rules change, all bets cancelled. Misbehavior and poor manners and confusion and anger – all of it allowed, encouraged even, because so much else is beyond control. When you get to the end you don’t steer the ship anymore. Almost everyone else does, but not you. I haven’t any children. My choice, of course, but still, when it comes down to the end, who will empty my refrigerator one last time so that no food spoils? I can’t stand to waste perfectly good food when there are people in my own town who go hungry every day. Children even. I suppose a friend or two will handle the dirty work, emptying the closets and watering plants. They’ll walk my dogs, find them a new home, check the door locks. I hope they turn out to be people I’ve treated well through the years so that the giving and receiving even out a little. No such thing as perfection, but wouldn’t it be nice for the scales to approach a balance at the end? For a while I worked for the County, which had a policy of allowing employees to transfer unused vacation time to others during emergencies. An email would arrive, issued from one friend on behalf of another, calling for donations of time. The payroll office accepted donations in one-week increments, nothing as small as a day or two. Soon the person facing tough times, say a child’s recovery from surgery, would have five or six weeks of paid leave. When the notice arrived that allowable donations had maxed out, the air around our desks thickened with the department’s collective sigh of relief. Now I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be something if life worked that way, too? Someone upstairs in the Life Accounting Department could issue the call for donations of time. A week or a month from those destined for a long life, donated to someone whose alarm is set to go off in the wee hours. Think about how much time would pour in! People would rationalize, What’s a week in the scope of things; I can afford that much. Even strangers might donate for that uptick of warmth at a good deed done. You’d want to use the bonus time, though, before needing those quick-acting meds. Imagine a few extra weeks for when you hanker for another walk along the lakeshore, or to sit in a darkened movie theater, or to tell lies over a lunch of Pad Thai before you hit the slippery patch. Best use your bonus promptly because this is your brain on cancer + morphine: you might tell a visiting friend, You all have made a big mess of this. Or in describing the bustling Filipina who put you to bed in clean nightclothes, That’s one tough Jewish mama. Hallucinations, too. You fall into the framed floral print bolted to the wall, Alice down the rabbit hole. Swimming back to the surface leaves you breathless. And questions get lost in space before you voice them fully, becoming half-questions and fractured observations. Life segues into dreams pinched between moments of wakefulness: that sojourn to Death Valley one spring when a million flowers bloomed like sun bubbling up from the desert floor. Two long-haired Chihuahuas asleep on your chest that vanish as your eyelids open. Never again the squeak-slam of the front screen door. Never the pungent tang of sagebrush after a sudden squall, or the mountain patchwork of rabbit brush and desert peach, wild grasses and sego lilies. Never Tahoe’s dazzle of blue to break your heart. Just this pale glow of overhead lights shining down a white corridor. You look past the linoleum floors and wilted flowers, the adjustable bed and the bolted window, and say to the woman sitting in the room’s one armchair, Tell me again…just what hotel is this? On the bright side, every tale, each warped directive or invective or backwards memory trades at face value. No intent to deceive, no purposeful evasion. No one need protest. At one point, Shirley questioned whether the clock had run out for examining her life though she couldn’t explain just how she might have fallen short of some personal ideal. Clearly the details eluded her. A faraway look in her eyes told me she was right then contemplating the moments she could recall as well-lived, or faith-filled, or just plain fine. And maybe other times when she’d forgotten what path she’d been on and strayed a little. And so I said a prayer that she find peace through contemplation because it seems that at some point a person must quit worrying. I know that the closer to dying or watching someone die, the more some people worry. But as far as I can tell, it doesn’t fix things. I told Shirley that from my vantage she’d acquitted herself with grace and heart. Might as well take a nap. I recently read a book that contained a line of advice about living. If I remember right, it was in the context of observing the swirl around us, remembering to stay in the moment. The advice was that we should all live like we are dying. Which brings me back to what I was thinking at the onset, what I meant to tell my inner circle and even the wider universe – you know who you are. Well, and that nice lady at the bakery and the kid who bags groceries, the one with the goofy grin, and maybe some folks I’m forgetting to mention. I wanted to say something before it’s too late. I want you to know I will miss you someday. Someday I will be missing you.
Guy in Wheelchair with Dog
(personal narrative from Aug 2009)
The guy in the wheelchair shouted to the dog. Some indistinguishable name. Come here, come here. Then he had a dowel in his hand. Or maybe it was a rod. It had a black tip. Seven whacks delivered with force. You could hear the sound of wood on haunches. The dog, its pale belly showed teats hanging a little loose, yelped at the first strike and crouched against the ground, its short leash caught up in the man’s left hand.
I gave them a wide berth, stopped in the middle of the street as they were. And you couldn’t know if a beaten dog would turn on someone walking too close to the wheelchair, or the master. “I wouldn’t want to train with you if you were using that stick,” I said. Silence, for a moment, then, “Hey!” A shout from the man. “Hey you! Hey!” He kept shouting. “You don’t know what this is about.” I turned while stepping backwards, still on my walk. “You’re beating your dog.” He lifted a gloved hand. “You think I can use this hand and do any good? My hand doesn’t get it. You clearly don’t know anything.” “Using your hand is still a beating,” I said, louder now, so he could hear. I turned back to continue walking. He was shouting to be heard. “You think if you were speeding you wouldn’t get a ticket?” I turned again but kept moving. “You were the one speeding down that street a minute ago.” “You’re ignorant! I need these dogs to save my life. You don’t know anything about it. You shout and keep going. You’re a coward, and you’re ignorant.” I had almost crested a slight rise in the pavement. I lifted my arms in silent response. Say what you want. I’m done with you. “Yeah, yeah,” he shouted. “Go on.” In a minute he would have been out of sight if I’d been looking back, but I wasn’t. Five minutes earlier I’d passed them going the other way down a long sloping street, the two of them flying, the dog running full speed while tethered to the man in the chair. He’d been smiling large as if in joy at the sheer speed. But if a car had pulled out from a driveway, or the wheel had separated from the chair’s rim, or the dog had stumbled on a sharp rock into the wheel, what then? If they had crashed, it would have been the man's fault. If they had crashed he would have blamed the dog.
Crabs Ahoy! on the Oregon Coast
(for Reno-Gazette Journal and RLife magazine)
“Hey Louie! What should we name this salad?” That was the opening line of our good friends’ e-mail invitation to join them crabbing in northern Oregon. How could we resist? As it turned out, my husband, niece, and I became true crabbers during a grand vacation adventure.
Home base was Waldport, on the northern Oregon coast, an ideal location since it’s cradled just within the mouth of Alsea Bay and boasts uncommonly good weather for all things marine, even when the coastline is draped in fog. Waldport is an itty bitty burg of friendly people and sea breezes boasting the basics of a marina with rental boats and crabbing gear, gas station, bakery, hardware, and laundromat. Rental accommodations abound.
Crabbing “season” in Oregon is year-round, though November through February weather can be dicey. Visions of “The Perfect Storm” made me question how rough the boating would be, but Alsea Bay is remarkably calm compared to the open ocean and was easily navigable in the 14-foot motorboat our group used. The late summer weather proved perfect for what would turn out to be wet work. Fresh crab can be bought locally but our friends only go for the real deal: boating, baiting, pulling, cooking, and cleaning the critters, which, truth be told, made our daily meals of melt-in-your-mouth crab all the sweeter. Here’s how it worked. Our captain consulted his tide charts daily to determine launch times for our crew. At the appointed hour, four or five of we adventurous souls would gear up in rain pants, slickers, and boots over casual wear. Minutes later our boat would be slicing through the tangy salt air as the sun kissed our faces. As we skimmed over the bay’s dappled surface toward some likely crabbing zone, I was transformed into an imaginary swashbuckler on the high seas, never mind that the water in many places is just a dozen feet deep. The hard work came next. I took a turn at flinging the baited ring-shaped traps overboard, playing out the lines through my gloved hands. Each ring smacked with a resounding splash and sank swiftly out of sight, leaving its attached buoy bobbing gently on the surface. The captain maneuvered our boat in a small circle before advancing roughly 100 feet for the next ring launch. Thus, all of our rings went into the drink and sank, we hoped, to the bay’s sandy floor, where Dungeness crabs dance all day and rarely resist the tender morsels laid before them. Next, arm and back muscles get a workout. Pulling crab rings is vigorous hand-over-hand work executed swiftly to trap the crabs within. Our crew chanted encouragement -“Pull, pull, pull!” - and cheered as each ring emerged full of orange and purple crustaceans, flinging water and bits of sea greens left and right. There would be fresh cracked crab on the menu again and I would sleep soundly with that good ache that derives from physical exhaustion. Luckily, the requirement that I kiss my first keeper was overlooked in the excitement.
Our English morphed under the influence of this particular crew. My husband, for instance, caught “crabzilla,” the largest keeper crab of the vacation, which earned him (my husband, not the crab) an esteemed, rather raunchy title until next year’s largest crab is caught. Dinners were “crab-i-licious,” and various forms of “crabmania” set in.
So you know, crabbing is not just a guy thing; girls crab too. As proof, my 11-year-old niece pulled traps and caught crab, and our mod-squad of young 20-something women baited and pulled all the traps one morning, catching 34 keepers – the largest take of the week.
No expert am I, but these are good tips to remember:
Waterproof outerwear will protect your clothing and shoes. Thick rubber or heavy yard gloves, a hat, and sun block are in order. Always observe boating safety; carry floatation vests. Bait crab rings or pots with fish heads or raw chicken. For safety, pluck crabs from traps by grasping them perpendicular to their claws across their tail end. Use an ice chest or large bucket filled with bay water for the keepers; add more water often. Keep only males of 5-3/4” or more (measured across the widest part). Toss the females back. Marina staff will cook your crabs for a nominal fee and show you how to clean them. Pack cooked crab immediately in ice. Leave your traps out for 20 minutes before hauling them in. Common boating etiquette is to make slow left turns while pulling traps in. Avoid the mouth of Alsea Bay unless you’re in a large boat and know the tides.
For Those Less Crabby:
Shop, hike or explore tide pools! Waldport’s Flea Market, open every day, offers antiques, vintage clothing, and more stuff than you knew you needed.
Nearby Newport, Oregon (15 minutes north), is packed with galleries, eateries, and boutiques, and boasts the Oregon Coast Aquarium, with award-winning marine displays (jellies being my favorites), and an aviary including inquisitive puffins, who happily putter about in their pools and preen for curious visitors.
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, 20 minutes south of Waldport, includes an interpretive center, hiking trails within a vast temperate coastal rainforest, and breathtaking views of the coast.
“Tide pooling” at low tide guarantees smiles at either Seal Rock, or Strawberry Hill, two tiny state parks with beaches and parking areas along Highway 101(a Pacific Coast Scenic Byway), minutes from Waldport. Caution: harvesting marine animals from tide pools is forbidden. But oh! Get up close to marvelous marine creatures and feel the salt spray. Three nearby lighthouses provide photo and learning opportunities.
Our group’s favorite dinner restaurant was the family-friendly Sea Hag, in Depoe Bay, just north of the harbor turnoff on the main street, with its casual atmosphere and superb cooking. The sun flamed into the liquid horizon just as we arrived. Another excellent choice - The Adobe, 15 minutes south of Waldport, in Yachats, with a view of waves crashing upon the rocky coastline. Seafood, of course, is top-of-the-menu at these and most coastal eateries, but you will also find excellent pasta dishes and non-sea meals.
Accommodations and travel information can be found at www.CoastVisitor.com; www.mapbook.com; www.orcoastrealestate.com/vacationrentals.htm; Cape Cod Cottages: 541-563-2106. McKinley’s Marina & RV Park in Waldport: 541-563-4656 (rental outboards run about $50 for 3 hours including 3 pots and bait). Our adventures in crab-land took place in late August when the daytime temperatures were mid-60s to mid-70s, perfect for outdoor activities. Oregon’s Interstates and State Routes are well-maintained assuring smooth sailing to and along the coast. We made our approach via Oregon’s State Route 38, along which numerous “Elk Viewing” road markers foretold more than one sighting of the majestic beasts, a few miles east of Reedsport, at dusk. Do as our funny friend recommended – “Stop and let the elk view you.”
And if we are invited to this year’s annual crabathon? We will go, in a heartbeat, because not all vacations are, but this one’s definitely a keeper.