Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Time For Reflection

sunset (1 of 1)

As the year draws to a close, it causes me to reflect on the blessings received this past year.  The year offered many opportunities, but the ones that I am most thankful for are those that allowed me to serve others.   I have finally come to the realization that my acts of service will not save the world.  Such work is best left to the young; my actions, at best shine a little light into the darkness of someone’s day.  Heck, that’s not so bad!

During the past year, I volunteered a couple of hours each week at our local food pantry restocking the shelves.  The job requires less of the mind, but a strong back is most helpful.  I arrive hours before the pantry opens it’s doors for distribution so I never see those who receive the food.  My reward for a job well done is to return a few day later to restock and replenish the nearly barren shelves.  The cycle seldom changes!

I also had the opportunity to serve home-bound senior citizens by delivering for meals on wheels.  Once again it’s a very simple task, you arrive at a person’s house and hand them a meal.  Sometimes they complain because you are either early or late but then you can never please everyone!  I am especially thankful for Mrs. Smith, she knows me only by the sound of my voice because she is totally blind.   Despite this, she never fails to greet me with a smile and kind words of thanks.  Her smile is better than any pay check I ever earned.

Finally, I was thrilled to serve at the maritime museum as a docent; during the past year, I hosted seventy-one tours which included numerous children’s educational programs.  The opportunity for service allowed me to meet people who visited from forty-six of our United States.  It never ceases to amaze from how far and wide people travel to visit our little  corner of the world.  I am also honored and very grateful for three of my fellow docents:  Mr. Ed, Carol, and Marianne.  Together, these guys made serving at the museum a real blast!

As I sit and reflect, I eagerly await the opportunities that 2011 will bring.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hanging Christmas Lights – Oh The Joy

christmas-lights (1 of 1)

In a typical year, I will attempt to hand our Christmas lights the weekend of Thanksgiving so they are ready to be energized on December 1st.  This year the plan was altered by the snow and icy cold temperatures we received the week of Thanksgiving.  As much as I enjoy the Christmas light show, there was no way I was going to hang from a ladder and string light while the temperature hovered around twenty-five degrees!  Thus began the month of December!

My originally plan was to write about a Christmas long ago but the month was consumer by near endless activities which did not include blogging.   For the present, the ghosts of Christmas past will just have to be still for another year.  I will simply take this opportunity to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.    

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Always A Time For Giving Thanks

A while back I read Vernon Heaton’s The Mayflower and was reminded once again about the importance of giving thanks, regardless of our circumstances. Heaton chronicles the Pilgrim’s sixty-four day voyage as follows: “As the days drew into weeks, the weather steadily deteriorated: gale force winds blew up and the sea rose until the Mayflower found herself in the middle of a series of fierce storms. Below deck, the air grew stale, fetid and vitiated. Attempts to relieve the stench and drive out the stale air by opening the scuttles and hatches were frustrated by the rush of seawater that soaked the bedding, clothing and the bodies of the passengers. Seasickness broke out again and in the dank, stuffy … passenger holds, conditions became almost intolerable.”

About 18 years ago during a visit to Plymouth, MA, I had the good fortune to tour the Mayflower II. Obviously, the Mayflower II is a reproduction but if memory serves me, the ship builders made every effort to build a faithful reproduction. I still have vivid memories about how little space there was below deck; it was nearly impossible to stand upright and not knock your head on a beam. I can only imagine how fowl the air must have become below deck with with 102 Pilgrims living below.

Finally on November 9, 1620 “land ahoy” was called and the road trip from hell was nearly over. The Mayflower’s intended destination was the mouth of the Hudson River in New York State but the unrelenting storms had driven the ship far north. With winter upon them, the decision was made to find a suitable location to build winter quarters, finally on December 11th, the Pilgrims disembarked in what is now Plymouth, MA.

William Bradford, who was later chosen by the Pilgrims to be their first governor described their arrival as follows: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element. They had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to …..” Still, they all gave thanks!

As Thanksgiving approaches, if you have a roof over your head and your biggest worry is whether you turkey is organic or if it lived its life as a free range bird, then you have sufficient for which to give thanks. The older I get, the more I realize that life is more or less a matter of perspective, so lets all give thanks for what we have, regardless of how little it might be!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Veterans Day – Let Us Give Thanks

cemetery (1 of 1) 


As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.  ---  John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Planned Spontaneity

As a couple, the lovely wife and I could be described in many ways, but being spontaneous is clearly not one of them!  So it was a great surprise that with little planning we made an overnight trip to the Columbia Gorge to visit the Maryhill Museum of Art.  Several weeks ago I read that the museum was hosting a display of graphic novel art, aka comic book art, and as a librarian, I thought that my wife might enjoy such a show.  Since the museum is over three hours east of us, it’s not exactly a quick trip.  It was a surprise to the both of us that we actually found a date that was mutually acceptable; for us, that’s spontaneous! 

Since the Maryhill Museum is located sort of “on the edge of no where”, you have to drive through the length of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area.  With the hardwoods in full fall color while being illuminated by rapidly changing storm light, life doesn’t get much better.  

When I think of the gorge, two things always come to mind,  rock and water.  While passing through the gorge, your eyes are constantly scanning the spires of basalt that tower above or the multicolored waters of the Columbia River below.

gorge (1 of 1)


gorge (1 of 1)

As you travel from west to east through the gorge, the annual precipitation decreases rapidly and so do the trees.  By the time you exit the gorge and enter the Columbia plateau, the vegetation is predominately grass and sage brush.  The color pallet is reduced, but there is landscape is still incredible beautiful especially when sun’s rays hit the earth at a very low angle.

 gorge (1 of 1)-2

In the past few years, wind turbines have begun to spring up in nearly every direction.  I could have stood for hours and watch them slowly spin had it not been for the cold west wind powering the turbines.

Before ending, I suppose that someone reading might be interested in the graphic novel art show.  Apparently, mythological figures and super heroes are all the rage in comic books these days.  I viewed over three dozen drawings and honestly understood only three.  The work of the artists was first rate but I just failed to connect at any level.  I guess all of this should come as any surprise when I tell you that my favorite comics are BC and Blondie.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Storm Light At The South Jetty

As I sit and write, I hear the unmistakable patter of the rain as it pelts the southwest side of our house.  Weather wise, yesterday was a much more interesting day because one minute the wind was howling and pelting rain.  Then twenty minutes later, it would clear for as long as thirty minutes and it would be just beautiful.  During one of the short lived periods, I made a fast run to the beach and returned with a couple of images that depict a bit of the storm’s intensity.


clatsop-storm (1 of 2)

The waves from the Pacific ocean that pummeled the South Jetty could best be described as agitated and angry!


clatsop-storm (2 of 2)  

The dunes were hammered by near constant winds which were clocked at 30 miles per hour when the image was made.  Notice the bend in the antenna on the left side of the photo.

As always, the storm light was brief and the rain and hail soon returned.  I can’t wait until June!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ugly Weather On The Horizon


As is my custom, I check the National Weather Service’s forecast for our area each morning.  It came as no surprise to read the following in the special weather statement:



The “ugly weather season” begins in earnest this weekend so I decided it might not be a bad idea to take a hike.  I have been wanting to explore more of Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington, so on a whim I grabbed my boots and hit the road.  After considering all the options, I choose to hike to the  top of McKenzie Head; I figured that if it was good enough for William Clark in 1805, it would do just fine for me today.   In 1805 it must have been a struggle to reach the top, but today it’s little more than a leisurely stroll.

During the second World War, the site became part of the harbor defense of the Columbia River, the site was also known as Battery 247.  Many a cold night was spent atop of the head by the soldiers who manned the battery’s six inch guns.  Today, the guns are long gone and the battery is slowly crumbling, but I returned with a few images of a nearly forgotten installation.


McKenzie-Head (2 of 2)

A portion the battery’s command post which is slowly crumbling as the forest vegetation encroaches



McKenzie-Head (1 of 2) 

A view from the bunker where the gun’s ammunition was once stored

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sunset Over Trestle Bay


fort-stevens (1 of 1)

This past Saturday evening, the lovely wife and I took an impromptu trip to the beach in the hopes of catching a stellar sunset.  Recent attempts have been thwarted by the near constant fog bank and this trip was no exception.  Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a rather stiff wind and a sun that was rapidly sinking into the fog.

Once again, this is about as good as it gets!  The national weather service is predicting a major rain event to last for the majority of the weekend; perhaps the sun has set for the season.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Skunked Once Again


fort-stevens-foggy (1 of 1)


The skies finally cleared late this afternoon following another soggy weekend.  On a whim, I decided to take a drive to the beach and see what the setting sun had to offer.  Upon leaving the house, I discovered that a thick bank of fog was quickly moving in so time was of the essence.  Sadly, the fog hit the beach before my arrival, so plan B was to walk along the banks of Trestle Bay.

Well, a least for those of you who unable to  make the trip with me, you now know how Trestle Bay appeared on a foggy evening in September 2010.  My friends, that’s as good as it gets!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Visit To The Estuary

seaside (1 of 1)


While on my way to meet my “biking buddy” for a ride into the woods, I had a little time to kill and decided to take a short hike into the Nechacium River estuary.  As the sun was just rising, the colors were incredible!  The hike was short but the sights and sounds were priceless!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Government and Statistics

While watching the Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War, I was reminded of two things governments do exceedingly well.  They collect nearly endless amounts of information and generate statistics.  During the program, the following statistics were put forth:  for both the north and the south, the average height of a solider was five feet eight inches and they weighed one-hundred and forty-three pounds.  Their odds of dying in combat were 1 in 65, they stood a 1 in 10 chance of being wounded, and a 1 in 13 chance of dying from disease.   The minimum enlistment age was eighteen; the average age of a solider was twenty-five. 

The recruitment officers were extremely flexible and allowed drummer boys as young as nine to serve.  By the war’s end, 100,000 soldiers, not yet fifteen years of age served in the Union army.  It is believed that private William Black of the Union army  was the youngest solider wounded; he was not ever twelve years of age.  Astounding!

As a former government employee, one of my most dreaded duties was to compile several separate annual accomplishment reports.  I learned at a very early age that governmental agencies lived and died by their annual accomplishments!  Seldom did anyone question the outcome of a task; most of the questions centered on the amount accomplished.

My least favorite report was titled “the pesticide clearinghouse report”; a lengthy document sent to the department of agriculture which summarized our plans for the application of pesticides to the forest.  This one report took the better part of a day to compile and in the early days was typed prior to submission.  In the twenty plus years we prepared the document, only twice did someone from the department of agriculture ever call with a question about our report.  That fact alone always left me wondering!

The answer to me wondering came one morning in the early 2000s when I received a call from a sectary from the department of agriculture.  She explained that she was new to the job and having recently received our report she was uncertain what to do with it!  After getting over my initial shock, I asked her if someone actually reviewed the document to which she responded no.  Apparently the person who did that job had retired several years ago and no one else assumed that task.  As far as she could tell, our report was the only one that had been received annually for the past several years!  I quickly told her that I would make her life my pleasant in the coming years by never submitting the report again.  Government statistics, you have to love them!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Painting This Old House

Anyone who has ever owned a home knows there are few task more daunting than painting the exterior of a big old house.  At the onset the project seems so simple, choose appropriate paint colors, purchase the paint, power wash the structure, than spread the paint.  If the project was only that simple!

Although our house is not the city’s oldest, it’s birth dates back to the late 1800’s.  It therefore comes as no surprise that before the painting can begin several sections of siding will need repair or replacement.  Over the past one hundred years of its  life, the house has also developed more than a few cracks cracks.  If previously caulked, all cracks must be inspected and recaulked as necessary.

When I began the project on July 1st, I estimated that the job would be completed in less than four weeks.  Even though the two sides to be painted were the highest, what could possible keep me from accomplishing my goal?  Apparently the weather failed to understand my plan as much of July and August we were shrouded in constant fog and drizzle both of which make painting a challenge. 

house-paint (2 of 2)

Painting a tall house requires several ladders of various lengths.  If you ever need a ladder, give me a call because I have four and they range in length between eight and thirty-two feet.  My assistance is however not included in this offer!


house-paint (1 of 2)

This is the view of Astoria I enjoyed while painting the peak of our house.


house-paint (1 of 1)

A view of the nearly completed job taken between rain showers the last week of August.

At times it seems as if the work of a home owner never ends!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Places I Remember

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

John Lennon



cemetery (1 of 3)


During my trip to the east coast last month, I took the opportunity to visit one of those places I remember from childhood, the cemetery.  I remember it fondly because it was where I made my entry into the working world.  In the spring of 1966, I obtained a work permit promptly after turning thirteen, and hired on as a seasonal grounds keeper.  Our work force was composed of three middle school boys and as I recall, the job paid one dollar per hour!

In those days, the working world was all about the cycle of the seasons.  In late March would find us clearing the countless tree limbs that had fallen during the winter storms.  We didn’t have a chain saw so an especially large limb would be hefted to the burn pile by two of three of us.  Yes, we worked harder, not smarter!  Next we would spend about two weeks raking all of the turf grass.  Talk about a boring task!  Finally by late April it was time to begin the turf mowing.  To a middle school boy, there is nothing like the sound and smell of a gasoline powered engine!  We loved our mowing machines but hated using the hand clippers to trim the grass that grew next to the head stones. 

The fall of the year was a magical time as the maple trees began to shed their colorful leaves.  We would spend our after school hours raking the leaves into huge piles, the bigger the better.  Next with the strike of one match, we set the piles ablaze sending flames soaring ten or more into the afternoon skies.  Nothing beats the smell of burning maple leaves!


cemetery (3 of 3) 

I worked seasonally at the cemetery until the fall I left for college.  I never noticed until this visit how often the obelisk style monument was used in early 1900s.  The monument in the foreground is nearly sixteen feet in height, constructed of solid granite, and likely cost a king’s ransom when purchased.


cemetery (2 of 3)

The Burton family marker is without question my most favorite headstone.  The central portion is a solid chunk of polished granite that is three feet wide and nearly four feet in height.  The ball that balances on the top is just over twelve inches in diameter; I always wondered how in the heck the stone masons moved it.  Legend also has it that if you walked by this stone at night, a hand would reach out and attempt to grab you.  I can’t testify one way or the other regarding the legend because I always made it a practice to be safely home before sunset.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

To Fly A Plane

column (6 of 6)

Pictured above is the Astoria column as it appeared on a soggy morning in May.  The “column” as it’s commonly known stands proudly atop Coxcomb Hill, the highest point within the city of Astoria.  From its base, the column soars 125 feet into the sky and its observation deck is reached by climbing 164 steps.  So what does all of this have to do with flying a plane you may ask?

I recently learned from a group of fifth grade students that the column’s observation deck is the ideal place from which to launch a wooden glider.  After living in Astoria for thirty plus years, the thought never occurred to me that such an activity was possible not to mention legal.  As it turns out, the visitor’s center offers the gliders to future pilots for a small fee.  So in the interest of “lets see what this is all about”, I set out one morning at 6:30 AM to fly a glider.

column (1 of 6)

So in no particular order, I offer my observations on my latest experience.

  1. I was reminded that it’s a long hike to the top of the column!  It’s probably been 25 years since I last climbed the 164 steps to reach the top.  While making the accent, I wondered if the force of gravity had not somehow increased in the immediate vicinity.
  2. If you intend to photograph yourself doing anything, bring along an assistant!  If for no other reason, they can pack the camera and tripod.

column (2 of 6)

3.  Read all the instructions before hand!  Assembling a toy plane in the fog and drizzle is not as easy as one might think!  A far better plan might be to have a competent assistant do all necessary assembly for you.

4.  Always bring along a pair of gloves when venturing to great heights on a cold and foggy morning.

column (3 of 6) 

5.  Once your plane is assembled, there is little more to do than launching it and hope you will not lose sight of it as it slowly descends.

6.  That which is great fun for a 5th grader may not be so for someone over the age of fifty.  Maybe I should have brought along some 5th graders to cheer me on.

In case you are wondering, I launched two planes.  One slowly spiraled to the ground and landed safely atop of the bushes.  The other quickly entered into a steep nose dive and crashed into the base of the column.  All was not lost however because I took time to savor the view and believe me, that alone was well worth the climb!

column (4 of 6) 

Looking to the northwest is the city of Astoria and the Columbia River

column (5 of 6)

Looking to the southwest, one will see Young's River and Saddle Mountain


If you ever want to fly a plane from atop of the column, let me know because I still have one unopened glider and will gladly part with it!!  I may ever come along and help pack your camera equipment.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Let Us Give Thanks

memorial-day (1 of 1)

This Memorial Day, let us take time to ponder the sacrifices made by those who have served our country throughout the ages.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Quick Trip To New England

I spent much of the past week visiting my native soil in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The reason for the impromptu trip was to celebrate my mother’s 86th birthday.  Yep, it seems like only yesterday that the lovely wife and I were there for Christmas, but that’s another story for another day.

It’s a sad fact of life that as the annual milestones of life increase, the size and intensity of the celebration decrease.  My mother was lamenting about how few friends she has left; in an attempt to counter, I mentioned that the same applies to her enemies.  Needless to say, this line of reasoning was not well received!  We did however commemorate mom’s big day with a delicious lunch which included a cake without candles.  I recall my sister commenting that 86 candles might set off the smoke detector!

During visits east it’s always my goal to visit with many friends from high school, but on a five day trip, time passes very quickly.  I did however get the opportunity to have lunch with my high school French teacher with whom I recently reconnected via the miracle of Facebook.  To be honest I was absolutely amazed that he ever remembered me as it’s been some forty years since I sat in his classroom.  I never realized that I was so memorable! 

We had agreed to meet in front of a restaurant as a practical matter as it was likely that both of us had changed a bit over the past four decades.  As is my custom, I arrived early at the appointed meeting spot.  With time to kill, I found a place to sit in the sun and enjoy the beautiful New England spring weather.  Suddenly from behind I heard a familiar voice asking if I had my homework.  I turned and respond with a greeting in broken French; fortunately Mr. Smith responded in English.  I guess my French was so bad that he figured anything other than English would be lost on me.  We then proceeded to spend the better part of three hours sharing life life stories.  Needless to say, it was as the French might say, “une vraie explosion”. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de Mayo

cinco (1 of 1)

Today is Cinco de Mayo, truly one of my most favorite holidays!  For a history lesson on the day’s true meaning, click here.  The lovely wife and I will celebrate the day by visiting our favorite Mexican restaurant, immerse ourselves in the culture, and indulge in chips, salsa, and hot bean dip.  Yes, I know such treats are loaded with fat and sodium but today is about celebration so the “food police” get the day off!

I also think of this day as Cinco de tee shirt because the restaurant owner will be offering free tee shirts to anyone who purchase a meal.  Man, nothing beats a free tee shirt!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spring Cleaning

books (1 of 1)

Every spring, my mother would spend a weekend performing the ritual known as spring cleaning. Since she cleaned the house from top to bottom on a weekly basis, it’s not like the place actually needed additional cleaning. During the annual ritual, she would remove the blankets from the beds and launder them, wash and wax the bedroom floors, and wash all of the curtains throughout the house. Needless to say, as a kid, the best place to be during this ritual was anywhere but home less you get pressed into service!

Traditions and rituals are frequently passed down from parent to offspring, so today I began my own version of spring cleaning. With great trepidation, I decided to deal with the accumulation of text books from college and numerous reference manuals I saved upon retirement. As you likely know, used text books are like a broken anchor, suitable only for taking up space in one’s garage. Though they are not quite old enough to qualify as antique, the majority are at least thirty of age and have zero resale value.

I checked with our local recycling company and they would not accept them with the scrap paper. Apparently it’s nearly impossible to separate the binding from the pages during the pulping process. Dumping them in the landfill did not seem appropriate either. So that left me with one option, manually remove the bindings and recycle the pages. With razor knife in hand, I spent of the morning “de-binding” the books and collecting the pages for recycling. What fun!!

There is however one book to which I still have an emotional attachment despite last opening it in 1974. The book is titled Rehder’s Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs and was once considered the Bible of dichotomous keys for plant identification. First published in 1927, it was the standard to which all other identification books were compared. The book is also extremely difficult to use without basic training in classic botany; not a picture in the book.

If you have ever wanted to own a classic, now is the time to act. Email me and for the cost of shipping, I will make it yours. Who knows, it might be of value on those nights when you are having difficulty falling asleep.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Hand Writing Is On The Wall



wall (1 of 2)


While visiting an interpretive center dedicated to the local cannery workers, I was fascinated by how they recorded the events of the day onto the building’s walls.  The writing was reminiscent of the Native American petroglyphs I saw while visiting Utah many years ago.  I suppose that man has always had a need to express himself and the walls of an old cannery are as good of place as any.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Not A Good Thing!

For nearly two yeas, I have had the pleasure leading educational programs for kids as volunteer docent at the maritime museum.  Without a doubt, these opportunities have been among my greatest joys since retiring.  Working with  the kids has sharpened my skills as a docent and also provided many moments of comic relief.

I will not soon forget a recent program with a group of fourth grade students; I was leading them in an activity to identify the major causes of ship wrecks.  Just in case you are wondering, they are as follows:  weather, human error, and mechanical failure. 

On this particular afternoon, the group was struggling to identify mechanical failure so I decided a suggestion might help.  I told them the following scenario:  pretend that you are the captain of a big ship and while steering it, the ship’s steering wheel falls off and breaks – what would you call this?  Without cracking a smile, a boy proudly proclaimed “not a good thing!”

As I stood there wondering what to say next, I realized he was right.  Maybe we need to rewrite the program.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Alpha and The Omega

One day this past October, I decided it was time to make a trip to the woods with the goal of finding the first and the last reforestation projects on which I worked.  At first thought, my plan seemed so simple; grab my camera, some food and water, then head to the woods.  Upon further contemplation, it occurred to me that during my career, I had work on at least 560 separate projects.  Without question, I remembered the last project, but the first one was a little more difficult to recall since nearly thirty two years had passed.  So in the spirit of full disclosure, my “Alpha Project” is shall we say among the first of my career but likely not the actual first!

The Alpha Project

alpha-omega (2 of 2)


This is a stand of Douglas-fir trees that were planted during the winter of 1978.  I should have included some point of reference for scale but on average, the trees in the foreground have diameters ranging between 12 and 14 inches.  By convention, a tree’s diameter is measured at a point that is 4.5 feet above the base of the tree.  Visiting a stand of trees this age is a joy because you can walk about and not get wacked in the face by branches!


The Omega Project

alpha-omega (1 of 2)


I will never forget the Omega Project; we planted the seedlings on a rather cold and wet day in March of 2007.  The project area was located down the end of a vacated dirt road so we hiked nearly a quarter mile slipping in the mud the entire way.  Oh yea, it was fun, fun, fun!!

The final unit was also a vast departure from the norm in that it was reforested with red alder seedlings.  For the majority of my career, red alder was considered a weed species of little value and no one ever thought about using it in a reforestation project.  Oh how the world of forestry has changed since beginning my career in 1977.


alpha-omega (1 of 1)

Again some point of reference for scale would have been useful but I left home without one the day of this trip.  The alder seedlings shown above are three years of age and range in height from 8 to 10 feet.  Given their rapid growth potential, by the end of the summer of 2011 it will be extremely difficult to walk between the trees without getting wacked in the face by a branch.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Another Year Passes


The character closest to the camera is me. My best guess is that we were celebrating my forth birthday

Today is another of life’s little mile stones, my birthday. I suppose the last time I couldn’t wait for a birthday was the year I turned sixteen. In those days, that was the age at which one could get a driver’s license. Since then for the most part, the day has been pretty much like all others in a year.

My most memorable birthday and the most difficult one was when I turned fifty. Shortly after the big day, I awoke one morning to the reality that I was now middle aged. I suppose if I had been totally honest with myself, I was actually eight years past middle age, but what the heck. As far as my career went, I had accomplished most of my goals and a promotion was highly unlikely. Over the next month, I fell into a state of mild depression; as the fog finally cleared, I decided that what I need was something to jump start my life.

Being a forester, I was trained in planning for the long term, so I sat down and developed my plan. No kidding, I actually did this! Then one evening over dinner, I announced to my wife my need for a change. My plan required one or more of the following: piercing my ear, a tattoo, or dye my hair blonde. When I was finished, my wife simply stated that she was happy I wasn’t going to do something silly. For some reason I missed the sarcasm in her remark!

My years as a planner told me that a plan will fail without knowledge of the facts; so I began to research my options. I quickly learned that when any part of the body is pierced with a large needle, it hurts like hell. Not liking pain, ear piercing was out. I further learned tattoos are expensive, involve needles, and pain. That option was also discarded leaving me with dying my hair blonde, no needles or pain required.

The following week while getting my hair cut, I asked my barber how I might look as a blonde. Being a professional, she didn’t burst out laughing, but I could tell that she certainly wanted to. She tactfully explain that because I have very little hair (yea, I’m nearly bald) and I keep what’s left very short, a dye job might last two weeks. At that point, I realized that my plan for personal change was about to crash and burn.

Now I am another year older and hopefully a little wiser! I am also not sporting body piercings, tattoos, or any hair color except natural gray. On the other hand, I have my health and that’s the something for which I can be truly thankful.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

“Captain Jack” – Old or Bold



During my career as a forester, I had the good fortune to worked with countless characters.  One individual set the bar so high that to this day when I hear the word character, I immediately think of a pilot I called “Captain Jack”.   Captain Jack once told me that he fell in love with the helicopter at an early age; he once joked that he began flying the year after  the Wright Brothers landed at Kitty Hawk. 

There is an old saying in the flying community:  “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are no old, bold pilots.”  If you have ever visited the mountains of the west where Jack flew, you would immediately understand why he was methodical in his approach to flying.  On the other hand, Jack could be a bit volatile, especially when stressed.  I always felt that this added to his charm!  If memory serves me, he was still flying helicopters well into his sixties! 

Helicopters are the aircraft of choice for most operations in the forest because of their ability to maneuver while lifting heavy loads.  The one pictured in the image above is a Hiller UH-12E and for years was the standard used by the forest industry.  As you can see, the Hillers are neither beautiful or comfortable during long flights; they were designed to be simple and dependable. 

I have many fond memories of Captain Jack, but two speak volumes about the man.

Early one spring morning we were preparing to begin a reconnaissance flight when I noticed Jack tapping on the engine warning light.  Despite being only a forester, I knew full well the significance of this light; it provided a visual indication that the engine had shut down.  When seated in the Hiller, your head was less than six feet from the business end of a jet engine, so if the engine quite, it got real quiet very fast!  So as Jack continued to tap on the light, I ask him if it might not be a good time to stop and evaluate the problem.  He just looked at me and growled the following:  “I don’t need a damn light to tell me that the engine is out!”  Lesson number one, never try to tell the pilot how to operate his aircraft.

The last time I flew with Jack was nearly as memorable.  The day began at 5 AM in the gravel parking area behind our office that we used as a landing zone.  With the helicopter sitting atop of a utility trailer, Jack and I sat quietly waiting for sufficient daylight before lifting off.  I noticed that Jack kept staring at a large pole that was about fifty feet away from where we sat.  My gut instinct told me that he suddenly have reservations about his choice for a landing zone.  I turned to Jack and asked if he wanted me to get a truck and move the helicopter and trailer before lifting off.  Without missing a beat, Jack smiled and uttered the following:  “If we hit that pole, we were never going to make it in the first place.”  Seconds later, the we lifted off and away we flew as the sun rose in the east.  Two days later we finished the project and I never saw or heard from Captain Jack again.  Every  time I see a small helicopter it causes me to wonder about Jack.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Life and Making Plans



"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."  John Lennon


Perhaps few have noticed, but life has caused me to be absent from these pages and the greater blogosphere for the past few weeks.  I recently had surgery that has left me tired, listless, and in general, not a very happy camper.  The doctor had warned me that the recovery time would be about six weeks but I assumed his prediction applied to all his other patients but certainly not me.  At this point in time, it appears that he may be more right than wrong!

As I awaited surgery, I told myself that the recovery period would be a great time for blogging, reading, and watching a couple of Netflix DVDs that have been sitting on the shelf much of the winter.  Perhaps in another week or so I will begin to feel more like my former self and find the energy and motivation to begin posting on a more consistent basis. 

Until then, I will leave you with the words of  Garrison Keillor:  “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hoist The Anchor

Monday evening, promptly at five PM, the museum closed the doors to the Sailing Gallery for the last time. In this day and age, if a museum is to stay financially viable, it must offer new exhibits that excite and engage. Most museums have extensive collections but limited space for public display. At any given time only a small percentage of their holdings are on display so closing a gallery is viewed as a positive change.

Over time, the sailing gallery has become one of my favorite spots when hosting a tour, especially to kids. Since the gallery featured artifacts dating to the 1800’s, it allowed visitors an opportunity to step back in time. With that step take, my job as a docent would be to use stories and create word pictures to make the artifacts come alive. Time constraints did not allow me share my stories one last time during Monday’s tour, therefore out of nostalgia, I will share a few of them with you.

sailing-gallery (1 of 1)

This is the view of the gallery from my vantage point when giving a tour. No guest were available this day.

With guests settled into the ship’s seat shown above, I would pose the following question: “Do you think that life at sea would have been exciting in the 1800’s?” As you might expect, kids lacking in life experiences, would overwhelmingly answer yes. I would then quote a long forgotten sailor who said: “Life at sea was akin to being in jail except you had the added chance of drowning.” Old salts of the day might also comment that a sailor was far better off in jail because the food was better, you had more room, and you were with better company. This sure doesn’t bode well for excitement and adventure!

To describe the dangers of going to sea I would point to a model of a ship’s rigging that sat behind me. I then would ask the guests to imagine climbing one hundred feet or more into the rigging to raise or lower the sails. Now imagine doing this as the ship is rocked from side to side by the winds and waves of a storm. Imagine again what it would be like when the rigging was covered with snow and ice and your hands were frozen! At this point I might ask what happened to a sailor who slipped and fell from the rigging? The looks of horror on the kids faces always told me that they got the point!

sailing-gallery (1 of 1)-2

This photograph would greet guests as they entered the sailing gallery.

When hosting a tour group, I like to avoid quoting lots of facts and figures. I find it much more interesting to hear stories about how or why an artifact was used within its historical context. There are however times when the rules just have to be broken. When attempting to describe how massive the ship picture above would be, the following facts say it all – such a ship would use in excess of twenty miles of rope in the ship’s rigging and its sails, which were made of canvas, would cover an area of 1.5 square miles. Now that’s one big ship!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Pleasant Surprise

Warning, I suggest you avoid reading this post if you are eating or have a weak stomach!

Few things strike fear into the heart of a homeowner than the need to summon a plumber! I suppose that making the call for help is a personal admission of defeat. Then there is the fear of the unknown; just how much is this going to cost me. Will I have to take a second mortgage or sell something?

So begins my story. Last Friday I arrived home to find the renter of our apartment wanting to borrow a plunger. She didn’t mention what was the nature of the clog, but I was confident that my assistance would be required in short order. My hope was that the clog was confined the low flow toilet but when she failed to return in five minutes I began to fear the worse! If you have ever owned an old house, then you have likely guessed the problem, a hopelessly clogged kitchen drain.

One look at the situation and the immortal words of Hans Solo of Star Wars fame came to mind: “I have a bad feeling about this.” My feelings were correct, no amount of plunging was going to open the drain. Being cheap and foolish, I decided to disassemble the P-trap and make an attempt to reestablish drainage with my handy dandy snake. With a few turns of the wrench, the P-trap was removed and I was immediately greeted by a large volume of greasy water that quickly overflowed my containment bucket. In a matter of a few seconds, my shirt sleeves were soaked and the water had continued to drain onto the kitchen floor where I was uncomfortably perched. As I sat there soaked by greasy water, I silently admitted that it was time to call for help.

One of the nice things about living in a small community is that you can usually get a plumber to make a house call the same day. As it was already 12:30 on a Friday afternoon, I ran downstairs an made my call for help. Thankfully, and I mean that in every sense of the expression, the plumber’s dispatcher assured me that help would arrive before the end of the business day! Now all I had to do was shower, change my cloths, and await for rescue.

Around 4 PM the dispatcher called to let me know that the “Chris the plumber” should arrive in about ten minutes. After what seemed like an eternity, there was a knock at the front door and there stood a professional armed with the tools of his trade. We chatted for a few minutes while I explained the situation; he held up the electric drain cleaning snake and told me that if this didn’t do the job, them the drain couldn’t be opened. He quickly went to work and in a matter of ten minutes he said that the clog should now be history. He reassembled the P-trap and ran the water to check his work. As the water immediately disappeared from the sink creating a loud gurgling sound, Chris utter the following: “It’s a good sound, isn’t it”. Oh great, the guy’s a comedian, will there be an additional charge added to my bill?

The bill arrived the yesterday and upon opening it, I was shocked to learn that I was charged for only a half hour of labor. The total', including humorous remarks by the plumber, was a whopping $35.00! Incredible!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

R.T. Is My Hero

Wednesday evening I had the great pleasure to hear a young lady speak about how she spent this past summer. While her fellow class mates travelled to exotic locations or worked, R.T. spent two months caring for thirty of the world's poorest orphans while volunteering in South Africa. For eight to ten hours a day she feed, cleaned, and shined a little light into the lives of these kids!

As you might expect, the orphanage was not in the best of neighborhoods so personal security was always on the minds of the volunteers. R.T. told us the following story: "One day I called my parents and expressed my concerns about the security issues. As I ended the call, it occurred to me that I must have freaked them out. At that moment it hit me how lucky I was to have a family who loved and cared about me while the orphans had neither."

I believe that as long as there are people like R.T., there will always be someone who loves and cares for those little kids! So in honor of this, I have named R.T. my personal hero.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Meeting New People

One of the best things about being a docent at the museum is the opportunities it affords to meet new and interesting people. I just did a tally and noted that during 2009, I had the pleasure to give 34 adult tours and 17 educational programs to kids of all ages. During this same period, I also met visitors from 46 of the fifty states as well as individuals from Tanzania and Vietnam. It never ceases to amaze me that people come from so far and wide to visit Astoria!

Often at the conclusion of a tour, several adults will stay behind because they want to share something from their life experience. I have found these times of listening to very rewarding and always educational. During the past year, three individuals and their stories stand out. I offer a little of their stories for your reading pleasure.

In early June, I noticed a gentleman in bright yellow spandex clothing wandering the deck of the Lightship. Experience tells me that few middle age men will appear in public wearing spandex unless they are a serious bike rider. During our conversation he told me that it had been a life long goal to ride across the United States; at the time of our meeting he was in the second day of the journey. The story would have ended there except about a month later I stumbled across his blog on the Internet. I spent the rest of the summer following the progress of his journey. I am happy to report that his goal was met when he dipped the tires of his bike in the icy water off the Maine coast just after Labor Day. Congratulations on a job well done!

Another afternoon a gentleman approached me and told me how excited he was that the museum had a model of a LST, a Navy vessel capable of delivering tanks and personnel onto the unimproved shoreline. He went on to share that during the war, many of these vessels were made in his home town. With pride, he also told me that his father was one of the engineers who designed the vessel's front ramp/door. Now every time I pass the LST model, I remember that gentleman and his father's contribution to the second World War.

My final encounter occurred in the navel history gallery one morning in September. At the tour's conclusion, a woman pointed to the picture of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri and told me that her father was in the picture. As she proudly pointed to him, I felt as if I was an eye witness to the historic event!

Maybe this summer I will offer a tour that will focus on past visitors and how their stories contribute to the life of the museum.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A December Update

To my five faithful readers, perhaps a quick explanation regarding my absence is in order. No, I have not been lost in a grassy field such as the one pictured above nor did I spend time basking in the warm and sunny latitudes.

Much of the past month was spent working on a project that defined the true spirit of Christmas for me this year! I spent the better part of the month working on what I would call the community Christmas project. The program began about twenty years ago with the objective that no family should be without food or gifts on Christmas day. Everything, including the wrapping paper and tape are donated. This year the need, as you would expect, was overwhelming. We gave out over six hundred food boxes which included bread, milk, eggs, a turkey, and an assortment of canned and packaged good to meet the family's needs. I spent days sorting the cans of donated food; for the chicken soup alone, there are at least twenty different way of getting a chicken into a can of soup. I also discovered that there is a soup called Italian style wedding soup; so could someone tell me why Italy needs it own special soup just for weddings?

All the time while we were sorting and filling food boxes, another team of volunteers were wrapping gifts and matching them to the requests of specific children. It still boggles my mind that money was donated to purchase over seventy-five bikes of all shapes and sizes. I am certain that on Christmas day there were more than a couple of smiling kids in Astoria!

The final stage of the project happened the Sunday before Christmas when the adults came to pick up the food and gifts. For me the day was filled with mixed emotions; you could see joy and pain in the faces of those waiting in line for their turn. I am sure that for many, this may have been the first time they had to depend upon the generosity of others. It was also a bit unsettling as I recognized a number of the people which I sure added to their discomfort. On a more joyous note, there were the smiles of kids packing out bags of gifts and the simple expressions of thanks from parents that made it all worth while.

My lovely wife and I also made a journey to the east coast to spend Christmas with my family who live about an hour south of Boston. We arrived in the early evening of the 22nd to bone chilling winds and a temperature hovering around eighteen degrees. Thankfully we anticipated such conditions and were prepared with extra layers of clothing, gloves, and hats. No journey is without it trials and this one was no exception. Upon arriving at the baggage claim area, we soon learned that my wife's suit case has decided to spent a little more time at New York's JFK airport. The Delta baggage representative did assure us that it was on the next flight and should arrive in just about an hour. She even gave us a seven dollar food voucher; at airport prices it's hardly a meal but a nice gesture all the same.

Finally with baggage in hand and nearly eighteen hours without significant sleep, we board the shuttle bus for the car rental experience. If you have ever rented a car then you know exactly what I mean! After a short wait, we discover that the rental lot was nearly cleaned out so we had to wait while they prepare a vehicle for us. No problem, at that point another half hour or so didn't really matter.

Otherwise, Christmas and visiting with family was great. My sister cooked an outstanding dinner and my mother was constantly offering us homemade cookies. I ever got to spend some time with my best friend from high school which is always a treat.

The return trip was also one very long day complete with multiple flight delays, but we arrived at our final destination in one piece and very happy to be home. I still remembr the first time I travelled by air, it was in July of 1969. Oh how the world has changed since then; it's kind of sad.