Friday, February 15, 2008


I was cleaning up some old files and came across a bit of a travel document from 10 years ago. I was riding part way to California with Matt (John M) the summer he was headed to Berkley to test the planning waters with some courses there. We had done a trip to Ireland when he graduated from high school, but he was older for this trip, and it was different. I don't seem to be able to find any pictures (a shame), but here is the original commentary I wrote after that trip; remember it was written a decade ago:

Trip with Matt, 1998

Hi. I’ve been on the road for a while and haven’t answered any e-mail for a while. Matt was heading to Berkeley for the summer semester and he asked me if I would drive out with him. I couldn’t take the whole trip, but we did part of it together.

We started with a short drive over to Des Moines where Barbara had the RV for a horse show. We watched one of our horses in an event and then split, with Barbara taking the RV back to CR and Matt and I heading to the southwest. We initially stopped at the Cowboy museum at Kansas City. It’s quite a showplace of western art, plus a few artifacts. The original “End of the Trail” statue is there . . . . much bigger than we had envisioned it. Well worth the stop.

We stopped at Waurika, OK to visit my Mom. She and one of my uncles showed us around 3 places where Matt’s Great Grandparents farmed in that area. I also showed Matt where one of my cousins and I hunted and fished (and pulled a few stupid tricks) during our family’s summer visits. We also visited my grandparents’ and father’s graves before we left. Seven siblings from my mom’s family have regathered in this tiny Oklahoma town later in life . . it’s nice for them all.

We then headed across west Texas. Passed miles and miles of the 6666 ranch, as well as the main ranch house and airport. In Benjamin, TX, a tiny, isolated town, the 2-story jail had been converted into a “neat” private home. We arrived in Spur in the afternoon, a place of 1500 souls where most of my determining characteristics were developed. Stood in front of the Palace Theater where I started by passing out flyers and ended up a projectionist while still in Junior High. At Kally’s garage, the old gasoline pump (with the glass tank on top that you pump the gas into before filling the car tank by gravity) was still there, though no longer used. I had helped my father fill the car from that tank 40 years ago . . . it was quite nostalgic for me all in all. I used to work at the drive-in theater as well in the summer. A farmer has removed most evidence of it, but the concrete pad for the projection booth and snack bar are still there; converted into a basketball court. The theater was 5 miles from Spur. In summer another employee and I would close down at midnight or so and walk another 5 miles to Dickens and eat hamburgers at an all night Shamrock truck stop. Then we would walk 10 miles back to Spur, sometimes greeting the dawn as we waked up the hill back to town.. Really different times! The Shamrock truck stop is now just an empty building and weed-littered lot; it seems so small compared to my memory. Just off this road was soldier’s mound, a small butte used as a defensive position by the calvary in the 1800’s. When 11 or 12 years old I used to disappear from home at sunrise on a Saturday morning, hike Duck Creek for 10 miles or so to the foot of soldier’s mound and pick up arrowheads. The freedom and the expanse of the open sky are something few children in this country get to experience any more . . . it’s a little sad . . Matt was impressed by the uniqueness of this little village; in retrospect, so am I.

As we drove to Slaton, the desert was covered with green and with blooming flowers and cacti as I have never seen ( or at least as I don’t remember). Slaton, Texas, where I graduated from High School, seemed plain in comparison to Spur. The most memorable site for me, the Farmer’s and Merchant’s club (pool hall), was gone, so there wasn’t much to show Matt. It was also perfectly flat which added to the overall impression of drabness. I couldn’t even find my old girl friend’s houses, so we left and drove up the road to Lubbock for the night.

We dove to Ft Summer, NM and visited Wm. Bonne’s grave (Billy the Kid), through a lovely valley to a small village called Puerto de Luna (gate of the moon), where Billy hung out with pals, then into Las Vegas (New Mexico). Las Vegas is quite interesting; a very rich town, then essentially abandoned, and now undergoing somewhat of a rediscovery. We then stopped at a winery in a beautiful little valley. The vineyard owner/field worker/winemaker/proprietor was an engineer from Roswell and had dropped out to work his small acreage and make wines 20 years ago. He greeted us and poured rapid fire tastings of particularly awful wines in devastating sequence (dry red, Muscat, rose, etc.) A particularly obnoxious wine he had named Flying Saucer Wine. The Muscat was OK, so I bought a bottle in gratitude for the entertainment and display of an alternative lifestyle.

We hit Santa Fe in the evening and had dinner at the Shed, a restaurant with a somewhat unique menu just off the old plaza . . . excellent! The next morning we had a walking tour of old Santa Fe with another engineer drop-out, but it was still a great tour. We spent the rest of the day touring on our own, and then drove to Cuba.

Cuba is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. We used it mainly as a place to sleep that was close to Chaco Canyon National Historic Site (which actually is at nowhere). The motel was operated by a Mexican proprietor who was really a nice man. So nice in fact, that he mowed the tall grass behind this motel so the Navajos who were in town and had a bit too much to drink could sleep that night. They did; in fact they were sleeping right under the window at the back of our room!

Even with this head start, we still had another 2-3 hour drive to the Chaco Canyon site.

Description of Chaco Canyon defies words. Incredible open spaces, stone houses that were up to 5 stories tall and had as many as 500 rooms , Kivas more than 50’ in diameter, dramatic pictographs (you had to climb a bit), and a “sundial” that marked the fall/spring equinox and winter/summer solstice were a few of the remnants of the Anasazi culture that remains there. A great day! Visit if you get the chance, but beware of the road to get there. A pickup is the best option.

We made it to Albuquerque that night. Visited the UNM campus the next morning. Nice. We visited the Maxwell (?) museum of anthropology and lost all track of time. Old town was a collection of tourist traps in the old buildings of the town, but still kind of neat. Matt bought a small metal “Kokopelli” (flute player from a stone pictograph) that now hangs from his rear-view mirror. We also went to see The 5th Element, a Bruce Willis movie at the Rio-24, a 24-screen movie theater. THX, surround sound, and almost vertical seating all added to the experience; a great way to see a movie!

The next morning we had breakfast together and Matt dropped me off at the airport, and I flew back to Cedar Rapids while he drove on to California. It was a wonderful trip. I think we have arrived at the point where we can interact as friends, and this supersedes (while not eliminating) the parent-child relationship. We talked politics and philosophy and discussed the NPR newscast as we crossed the country, and really never felt the need to artificially fill the time during the long drives. While still my son and in school, this person is now more man than child. He has failings here and there, but he knows also do I. We don’t agree on everything, and that is as it should be. There was a kind of “completeness” at the end of this trip . . a new plateau has been reached.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I'm usually not a poetry reader, but . . .

I recently was browsing and came across a reference to A. E. Housman, an English poet to whom many of you have been exposed, but perhaps not knowingly. I downloaded a copy of his poems (wireless via my Kindle); his complete works are brief.

Housman was first and foremost a classical Latin scholar, with poetry a sideline. He was also a religious skeptic and a closeted homosexual. He did not write/publish a great volume of poetry, and his poems are often melancholic and reflective of death, but also rejoice youth and love and speak to the urgency of life. His first published work was A Shropshire Lad, printed initially in 1894.

I read his complete works in a day. Some were straightforward. Many I had to read twice, and there are a couple that I still need to research a bit.

Here are some of Housman's poems you might be familiar with:

When I was one-and-twenty
  I heard a wise man say,
`Give crowns and pounds and guineas
  But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
  But keep your fancy free.'
But I was one-and-twenty
  No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
  I heard him say again,
`The heart out of the bosom
  Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
  And sold for endless rue.'
And I am two-and-twenty
  And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.

You probably know this one if you read or saw “Out of Africa

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before the echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

And of course:

Home is the sailor, home from sea:
  Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
  The plunder of the world.
Home is the hunter from the hill:
  Fast in the boundless snare
All flesh lies taken at his will
  And every fowl of air.
'Tis evening on the moorland free,
  The starlit wave is still:
Home is the sailor from the sea,
  The hunter from the hill.

Our New Home!

Our new home! Well, it’s a condo. Ok, so I just bought a driveway.

We lost our spot in our favorite RV resort in the Coachella valley to the condo-builders a couple of years ago, and I decided to take an opportunity to nail down a place to stay there during the winter. Outdoor Resorts Palm Springs is a 1200+ site RV condominium resort with security gates and beautiful grounds. All of the sites are privately owned, though at any given time about 1/3 of them are rented. It’s strictly RVs, no buildings or “mobile” homes of any type.

This year will be a test. If we like the resort and the people, we will keep coming back. If not, we will either sell the pad or rent it out. So far it’s working out. The location is better in some ways then our old site, but not as convenient for some other things. Our neighbors are good to really nice. No water aerobics program is a big downer for Barbara, but there’s a lot more in the valley to keep her occupied in the meantime.

When I get old (I refuse to acknowledge 62 as “old”), retired, and unwilling to guide a 15 ton bus down the road, then we may do something more permanent. In the meantime we can use our RV for trips like the one to Oregon (see previous post on this blog) in the spring, summer or fall, and still come to the desert for winter.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Like a dry martini . . .

Like a dry martini, a dry wash can sneak up on you.

Though we made it out of Iowa and set up shop in Arizona it did not mean that we had escaped weather problems.

As a good location for us to visit daughters and friends, Catalina State Park, a few miles north of Tucson, works well. It has a new RV campground (50amp and water plus 2 dump stations) that is as good as any we have ever visited, and the park itself is wonderful. It is tucked up against the Catalina foothills and is mainly a hiking park, with mountain, birding, and nature walks. See Barbara emulating a Saguaro cactus?

The park is accessible only through a single road, that crosses several dry washes. When we checked in, we were aware that these can be closed off if there is a big rain (unusual in Winter; more commonly in the summer.) After a few days, I returned to CR to work, and flew back on a Sunday. When we drove into the park it was raining lightly and the wash was wet, but no flowing water. That night there was 8+ inches of rain up in the Catalina mountains, and by the time we got up the next morning the “dry” wash was a fast flowing river more than 50 yards wide. It took two days for the water to go down, and it left about 4’ of silt across the wash. By 9:30 the 3rd day, they were able to bring in a large earth mover to clear the road for the expected mass exodus (which there was).

The delay for us was only 24 hrs, but we were separated from family, friends, stores, and, OH NO!, the internet. It was actually a good exercise in separation from the usual trappings of modern society; no cars trips, no shopping, no internet (but of course, the cell phone still worked). We walked the nature trail, we read (books plus I still had the Wall Street Journal delivered daily to my Kindle). We also had drinks and meals with newly-made friends Jim and Cathie Del Carlo who, like us, were also trapped in the park. Pip of course had a great time exploring new territory and chasing (but thankfully not catching) a skunk.

Will post this when I get an internet connection!