I early learned in Cascade glaciers and snowy mountains to use the “Rest Step”. Climbing included a slight pause with each step. One always needs to have enough oxygen. But also the grip, how a foot is planted, the body steadied. Then ready for the next.
These sunbaked lower mountains and hills that surround us here in Southern California don’t have snow. But the trails are not always friendly. There are erosion ruts and cross slopes that can make walking more a chore even than the ascending or descending itself.
And there are the pebbles. Our hills are decomposed granite with granite boulders poking out here and there. The decomposed granite, unlike trails elsewhere with layers of organics which cusion the sole, these trails are all mineral and the tiny pebbles act as ball bearings on the slopes.
And so that “Rest Step’ which in other conditions allows breathing, here it is steadying and traction.
I was raised in a tiny church community where I had the privilege at a critical time of a young pastor who loved the mountains. His parish of our two churches included many of us baby boomer teenagers and he clearly cared for us arranging hikes and climbs that took us into our Cascade mountains.
Sometimes as we hiked through tall trees or fragrant meadows Tom would break into song:
“I’m pressing on the homeward way,
New heights I’m gaining everyday
Still praying as I onward bound
Lord plant my feet on higher ground
Lord lift me up and I shall stand
On heaven’s table land
A higher plane than I have found
Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”
He did it so often it was his anthem for hiking and the happiness of life. To this day, the rhythm of hiking will send that song into my mind.
It’s a good sentiment. Religion, having a religion, isn’t worth much unless it makes me better. Aspiration, a “higher plane” is my goal.
And once again it came to me on the hill behind my house. Find your anthem, collect and treasure them as the soundtrack you can draw on for inspiration and comfort. Make these anthems the music of your life. Let them carry you through journeys of mind and memory. Be happy.

Gulden Spicy Brown Mustard

I was the chicken whisperer in our house. My job? To routinely go into the coop and gather eggs. I wasn’t very big when I started this role and full grown hens are rather proective of their nests, and their eggs.

I learned to pull my hand inside my sleeves to cushion the attacks and persist. I got personally acqainted with these hens.

So when it was time to reap, I became their angel of death. My scythe was a long cedar bean pole with a wire hook, just right to reach out and grab them by the leg. Then carrying a flapping hen by the leg we made our way to the chopping block. There my Dad carried out the sentence.

We usually took three or four at a time. One for fresh and freeze the rest. It was messy business but farm kids learn you have to kill what you want to eat; deer, cattle, goats, fish and chickens. That’s how it is.

I am glad for you if you live the vegan life even to the point of defending poor animals. That’s a good ethic. Increasingly the world needs your spirit to keep feeding the world. Animal products won’t do it. Even open ocean fishing is starting to fail. Here in California which suffered a horrible drought the animal business with feedlots, chicken farms and animal food production all sucks water that thirsty people will demand. Worldwide water wars are on the horizon.

My dietitician in helping me negotiate kidney insufficiency, next step is dialysis, continually cautions against red meat and beans …BEANS!…  She concluded that I’ve not been getting enough protein.  Many protein products include sodium and potassium which bring their own problems.

Her direction is fish and chicken white meat. Although I grew up with lots of fish, years of vegetarian diets have destroyed any appetite for fish. That leaves me…. And I really do turn my stomach at the ways the chicken industry abuses animals…. with chicken.

I sit here next to a cold chicken sandwich, allegedly “organic,” open pasture, from Sprouts. But you can see how enthusiastic I am given I’m twaddling on my computer and not getting down to sandwich.

Even if it does have Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard to enhance or distract from the taste. We’ll see.

Soap is Slippery

I didn’t drop the soap this morning.

That might seem trivial to you, but it’s a big deal for me. Soap bars are slippery. For a few years I’ve found independence in using a sponge and squeezing out a little liquid soap. Easier to hold onto.

It wasn’t that long ago my unsteadiness meant I needed help in the shower. She stayed by to sometimes watch me from falling, soap my back, dry it. Such loss of independence is demoralizing. Everyday actions that were automatic for years become compromised. This is aging. This is chronic disease.

Now I feel confident and safe even with her not around. I’ve learned the work-around; use the sponge.

For a long time after the metastasis landed in my cerebellum, radiated and leaving only scar tissues, I couldn’t manage something so simple as a bar of soap. Having it slip out, however, did make me bend down to pick it up and that too is progress. The liquid soap on a sponge became the standard.

Last August we traveled; stayed in a variety of places. At Mt Rainier, The Paradise Inn Lodge, the room had a modular one piece fiberglass shower. It’s uniform white color combined with rounded corners gave no sense of depth. Just standing required extra care.

Later at my nephews house the shower had a tile grid pattern that was reassuringly orienting. The things you don’t think of.

So this morning I reached for the ordinary bar soap. Got the job done. And didn’t drop it. I’ll still use the sponge, it is soft, and it has a comforting confident feel. Still it’s nice to celebrate; I didn’t drop the soap.

The Lego Possibility

After Supper we stopped into Barnes & Noble. She wanted some special note/appointment book. I browsed for a magazine. Intrigued by the current Atlantic I took it over to Raj at the checkout.

Ahead of me were an older woman and man, a teen age girl and boy. He was a big guy, taller than me, and he clutched two large lego kits. We’ve had many many legos in our house but when the boys were that big, the legos didn’t get much attention.

As I joined the line the young man clutching the Legos turned to me and said, “It’s my birthday. I’m 15.” Immediately it all came together.

“Congratulations,” I said, “I just had birthday and I’m 70.”

“That’s a lot.” He said.

By now he needed to make the transaction, “Tell the man you want to buy these Legos.” The woman told him.

He thrust out a fistful of money and said, “I want to buy these Legos.”

Then she turned to the girl and told her, “Tell the man you want to buy the book.”

The girl held out the book and some money saying, “I want to buy this book.”

The woman turned to me and said, “It’s their learning experience.”

Having my Atlantic I went out to sit down in the car near the front door. The four of them were waiting before heading into the lot, then they were off.

I sat briefly then had an impulse. I went into the lot hoping to reach them. I wanted to speak again with the birthday boy, congratulate him again, offer him a $20 and suggest he go back to the store and treat his family to cookies. Soft chocolate chip would be a good choice.

I was honored that he spoke to me and I hoped his celebration could be extended. But they were gone. And just as gone was that impulse, lost.

I suppose it’s just as well. Some people don’t need more complication or intrusion in their life. People with the task of caring for others this way have their hands full. And people with limits aren’t always quick to understand odd changes in social situations; rightly suspicious of strangers.

It is enough that this young man, this time, at this moment, was happy. And he shared his happiness with me. Have fun with those Legos.

Were We Poor?

At the age of 66, Mom went in the hospital at the end of January, 1992, expecting a rather routine gall bladder surgery.  It turned out to be cancerous. She had treatment but was gone by August the following year. After she passed, Dad gave this back to me. I share it now to simply say, there is never enough time.


February 1, 1992

Dear Mom and Dad,

Some time ago I heard you talk about the years when I was growing up, saying how we were poor, how it was hard to make ends meet. Well this kid didn’t see it that way.

Sure I spent hours in October, November and December memorizing the Sears Christmas Catalog. There were lots of things to want. I wanted an electric train, the Lionel at the top of the page, with switches and a tunnel.

When I did get a train for Christmas it was the Marx version a at the bottom of the page. I thought it was great! I admit to disappointment when a curious toddler sister switched it on and burned out the controller the next day. But someone quickly ordered a better controller from Sears. And my train was running again.

I didn’t know any other kid so rich as I was with a train set and a room all to it. I made my own tunnel through a mountain. I had a jigsaw right outside my bedroom door at the top of the stairs. And all the scraps of plywood I needed to cut and glue and hammer anytime I chose.

I didn’t understand what it meant for you to have this kid traipsing through your bedroom to go through the door to the stairs next to your closet. As for me, I was well off. I had a big room all to myself with big windows that looked North to cedars and cottonwoods and green velvet mountain forests across the river valley.

School was right across our quiet country road. It’s now a little old country school house. Then it was a BIG old country school house filled with who all lived even farther up in the hills.

I’d go home for lunch where you had Campbells chicken noodle or tomato soup. Maybe it was Franco American spaghetti or leftovers. No matter, it was warm and it was home.

I had one of the largest libraries a kid could want. Every two weeks the Snohomish County Bookmobile parked by the school. I didn’t know where this thing came from but I checked out as many books as I could carry and sometimes, on sunny days, I stopped on the lawn to read.

I had a year ’round stream to play in, building dams and fishing, watching ice row at the edges r frogs eggs in slack water, or water striders or little trout barely legal.

Parts of the stream were a jungle. I explored mysteries under the Devils Club, Elderberry and vine maple. At the end of the pasture I had my own cabin and a place for campfires and marshmallows and a white dog named Sam.

I saw kittens and puppies, calves and kid goats being born. I felt those kids kicking in NancyGoats insides. I learned to milk a goat, and a cow. We had horse to ride in the high Cascades or along the logging roads near home. I didn’t know other kids so rich as to ride horses.

I learned to run a chainsaw, how to fall a tree, to split wood, to drive a tractor and plow a straight furrow.

We had strawberries. Boy did we have strawberries. I may have gotten tired of them when picking. I shuffled down the row smashing berries into knee pads as I went. I may have earned 60 cents an hour but I had strawberries…..and raspberries, and blackberries. I climbed to the top of that old cherry tree to find any the birds missed. But I never broke my arm. Never broke my leg. I might have deserved it though when I jumped off the chicken house to see if umbrellas worked like they do in the cartoons. That chicken coop, the pen and te yellow transparent apple tree had to make way for the house Dad built.

The holly had no berries but a hummingbird hid there each season and that was bright enough. I ddn’t climb the holly tree but I did climb the mountain ash. There I built my tree house fort from which I could launch the hard berries at my bothersome little sisters. We had swings and a bar for chinning or just twirling around.

There was a hay mow for jumping, and for the cows.

Our garden always produced green beans, carrots, radishes, little green onions and wonderful sweet corn. To this day, if there is sweet corn on the table, everything else must wait. The plate must be christened with sweet corn butter and salt.

So you see all the time I was growing up I thought myself better off than most kids. I lived better than my friend Freddy up the road, or the Lyle girls farther up, or the Giebel boys on the road to town. I had my own room bigger and even though old, my house was better than Rod and Vonda had.

After 4th grade when I rode the bus into town I knew the Doctor’s kids were well taken care of, and Graham, whose Dad was the pharmacist, Williams that had a sawmill. But I still knew kids like Billy who asked one fall day if I was going to eat all that big Bartlett pear. I’m ashamed to this day that I ate it all, even the core and offered hi the stem. In the fall our back porch always had pears, and peaches and apples. I can still see the simple envy in the face of a guy who surely didn’t get many pears.

I always had warm well fitting clothes. There were other kids whose clothes smelled of cigarette smoke or wood smoke or both. Or they smelled of clothes not often laundered. I’m pretty sure I never smelled like that. Bathing was an adventure, the water plummeting out of that overhead shower into the metal washtub. Dumping the water was always an exercise of not creating a tidal wave to the bathroom floor.

I was taken care of loved and admired. When I had a part in the Christmas play at school you made an authentic workshop apron from Dad’s Merchant Marine dufflebag. It still has his name stenciled on.

Life is too short for regrets. But just about right for thanks and praise. There are many things in my life if some magic took me back. But of that, there’s not much I’d change about growing up at Trafton.

To me it was a great, green, wonderful world. Where could I live now with deer in the creek, or a bear lumbering across our yard? Tall evergreen trees and a school across the road, strawberries, the full freezer, the back porch shelves bulging with mason jars for the winter; it goes on and on. I can’t give my kids such rich gifts.

Now that I have older children I know what it is to have my children bring honor to my name. They’re better know in this community than me. I hope I bring honor to your name.

I know I was moody, pouty, sarcastic, a smart aleck. Sometime I get set back a few notches. But you did well. Thanks for the memories. Of creek and trees, and camping trips and fishing, roast beef and potatoes, fresh fruit and frozen fruit and canned fruit, and apple cider and carrots and corn and that old square grand piano, of goats and dogs and horses and cows, of sledding behind the tractor, of brush burning and marshmallow toasting, of carving pumpkins and carving turkeys, of prune whip and divinity fudge, of sour cream chocolate cake with butter cream frosting and Christmas trees with tinsil; we lacked nothing. We were rich.

I love you,


Angels on the Mountain

There is a mountain behind my house. In these 30 years I’ve walked up there many times. It was a get away and think place for my kids. It’s granite boulders provide a place to sit and be anchored to the ground while you look off to distant real mountains beyond the faint rooftops. So we’ve gone there alone or together. Just to be there.

There was a notice of a hike up Two Bit, if any kids wanted to go, leaving from the library, taking the Southern route. Seeing that, and my wife having gone off to knit with the women, I decided this might be the time for me to go back, there would be company.

But I always take a Northern route. So I drove my car around to where the trail is wider, more open, and with the winter rains green growth is everywhere, hanging over narrow trails. How long since I’ve been here? Three years? Four? I headed out and up mindful of the springtime rattlesnakes that would rather crawl away but are cranky if wakened.

The trail is just a track, not maintained or groomed. The decomposed granite base is solid but a layer of tiny rocks like ball bearings is a continuous challenge. I carried in my backpack a sweatshirt, some water and a little folding stool with a canvas seat which I used so often eventually I carried it in hand and looked for flat spaces to rest my hip.

Years of adjustment and cure have left me with a scar in my cerebellum from metastasis and radiation. This affects my balance. The lower spine was weakened by radiation to bone metastasis and back muscles sometimes can’t handle simple standing. The hip now has avascular necrosis, which sounds frightening but even though it sometimes pains it’s good to know this at least is not more cancer.

So I pick my way and no one knows what I’m doing, where I’m going or where I am. I am on my own. But I know the mountaintop is small. If the kids show up I’ll see them.

At the top I sit among the boulders and look out at my neighborhood. This is where I first found home and new friends when a divorce landed me in this place. Down there is my house, high on the hill, framed by three large trees, a pepper, an oak and a pine.

There is the house I’ve shared with she who took me in, who eventually took in my children and brought me two more. Together we raised five kids in that house. They all graduated college, have good jobs, are good people. They are gone their own way so I wait for what will come.

Then the transfiguration. As quiet as deer they come. From among the boulders and bushes came the angels, alone or in twos they came until a dozen stood there quietly considering this place, the view and this old man.

They looked down at their campus home, found their dorms and the buildings that held their classroom life. They are quiet. I introduce myself and ask if a couple of them might accompany me down to my car. The trail is sometimes more treacherous on the way down than up. “I can drive you back to the campus.” I promise.

They excuse themselves and go over to another stack of boulders to have a little meditation. When they return they tell me they will all go down with me. I find that some of them have taken a class from one son, others have been counseled by another in the student success program. And so we walk on. Some ahead, some behind but all together we move down the trail.

Along the way I point out Poodle Rock that Jim and I found a few years ago. I try to do other grandpa things; I describe the way the granite rocks are weathered, the way calcite pokes through in places, I draw attention to the abundance of yellow blooming mustard and challenge them to name the abundant purple-blue flowers. We wonder at the tiny black butterflies and very busy bees. We pause for a moment to consider two redtail hawks soaring and flirting

Back at my car I point them to the level trail leading back to the streets. “I’ll meet you there and let you through my property. It’s a short cut for you.”

In my yard they gather citrus and pea pods. In the garden my wife catches up to me and my guardians. They are her people, she has seen three generations come and go. And she knows how to honor them.

It’s getting dark now. The lights of the city are coming on. The mountain is turned over to the night creatures. I will rest well.


6:40 am, February 25, 2017: The sun is very very bright, yet looking over at the mountains, 35, 40 miles away, they appear indistinct, hazy. The sky is not pure blue, it is whiter. And the haze takes away the sharpness of things in the valley.

Friends have visited here from various parts of the country who would look out at such a morning and comment smugly and knowingly about “the smog.”

But they were wrong. I first came here to live in 1978. I worked that year on a building that took me up to tie steel, place forms, pour cocrete and remove forms. Each morning there in the San Bernardino Valley would be clear but a tan cloud hovered to the West. As the morning came on it moved East until by noon the mountains, which there were only ten or fifteen miles away were completely hidden. “The Smog” had come out to engulf us.

This is Southern California, we are on the edge of the “Los Angeles Basin” For a long time that brown cloud hovered over LA. But as population grew it became larger and came this way. This is a large natural basin formed by the Pacific on one side and mountains. Real ones, The San Gabriels to the North, The San Bernardinos here in the East and the Clevelands in the South. The air moves around trapped in this basin.

When the earliest Spanish settlers arrived they found native campfires combining with the frequent common fires in the mountains and the normal coastal fog to create a natural “Smog. It was here long before cars and freeways.

Cars and freeways, industry, trains and buses all just made it worse. For many years now California and the Air Resources Board have sought ways to reduce air pollution. Sometimes it seemed nit picky, micro-managing, but it added up. With documented success. We pay a little more for our cars with more controls, we pay a little more for gas. Industries of many kinds must have a plan to reduce effluent. And today smog is largely a thing of the past. Compared to 1978 and my memory, this is not smog.

With the changes in Washington that set the weight toward “Big Bidness” and “Freedom” legislators would remove the very protections that have given us 12 million or so Southern Californians better air to breath. All this so a few diesel trucks can roll a little cheaper, a factory can pollute a little more with the promise of “jobs.”

It’s a lot of people, freeways can be a beast, but it’s our beast and we are working on it. We’re California and we know California. And those mountains over there? That’s humidity, haze, water vapor and we’re glad it’s there. “From the mountains to the sea” it comes together here.

Over the Mountains

Wrapped in clouds today I know that Mt. San Jacinto is still over there. We’ve seen all these mountains from our front room for 30 years. Yesterday, in the middle of the storm the Obama family plane landed here in Riverside and drove on to the other side of San Jac to a rainy, windy Palm Springs.

It will be clear soon, the air will be clean and Palm Springs has gotten used to movie stars and leaders. They’ll treat you fine. Barack said the first day at least he won’t set his alarm clock. Besides they’ve come West: three more hours.

I know a couple nice Mexican food joints. And there’s a great ice cream place on the main drag; great shakes. But people there will know even more options. There’s time.

I have this image of Barack padding around in his bathrobe while Michelle makes pancakes….or visa versa. Try the Boysenberry syrup.