Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hearing from Two Mikes

Mike of Ifs of Og fame emailed me again, and gave me the okay to share a bit of what's going on in his life.


Shouldn't complain, but it's been one of those years, you know?

Just buried my Dad down south, sister-in-law died a couple months ago, wife had major surgery this week. Mom has early stage Alzheimers and fell her first day in Tennessee- Naturally it was during a snowstorm this past weekend, one of her biggest fears and a thing we promised would not happen before Christmas!

I should probably mention that I have now fully deconverted, which makes me feel like a source of disappointment to Christian friends everywhere, but at least I know I lost my faith honestly, that is, in the process of attempting to strengthen it.

Stress factors have been high, but 2010 promises better things.

Mike also hinted that he may be rejoining us in the blogging community in the months ahead. I sure hope so.

A couple of days after Mike's email, I got one from Michael McCrickard, aka Ice Mac Sea. (I wrote about Ice Mac Sea here.) I hadn't heard from Michael in a good while also, so it was really great to hear that he'll soon finish his second CD. He says it will be more acoustic than Measure for Measure, and he wrote, "The whole thing sounds better than I could have hoped for."

Hearing from the two Mikes has made my week, and after missing the last two Christmas mornings with my wife and son, it's looking like I'll get home Christmas Eve. It can't get much better than that.

In case I'm not back here before the day, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ifs of Og

One of my favorite bloggers has long been Mike of Ifs of Og. A while back, Mike discontinued his blog, and we wondered what came of him.

Out of the blue, Mike answered an email from me today. He's still alive on this earth, which should come as no surprise, since it takes a live person to discontinue a blog.

I have no explanation to share with you as yet about Mike's withdrawal from blogging life. But, I'm glad he's still with us.

And, I hope he'll one day choose to share his writing online again, because I'm a selfish bastard.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Dream About Dead Women and a Harley

I had sort of a replay of the dream this piece was based on last night, minus the Jeopardy skit, so I decided to post it again.

I'm at the Rockfeller Center, sitting in the audience with Judy and Lisa, who were friends with my old girlfriend Terry. Terry and I were in the eighties, off and on. Terry and I are still friends, but Judy and Lisa are dead. They were party girls; either of them could light up a room. They both drank themselves to death in the nineties.

My favorite Saturday Night Live skit, "Celebrity Jeopardy," begins. Judy and Lisa, sitting each side of me, giggle in unison. They both wrap their arms around mine.


Alex Trebek (played by Will Ferrell): "Mr. Connery, go ahead."

Sean Connery (played by Darrell Hammand): "The day is mine! I'll take 'Famous Titties' for 400."

Alex Trebek (looking exasperated): "Titles, Famous Titles."

Sean Connery: "Damn!"

Alex Trebek: "And the answer is: 'This movie title is taken from the name of the book
Gone With The Wind,' Mr. Connery."

Sean Connery: "Dolly Parton!"

Alex Trebek
: "TITLES, Mr. Connery. Not TITTIES."

Sean Connery: "Not a fan of the ladies, are you Trebek?"


We laugh, the three of us. We laugh hard. Judy kisses me on the cheek. Lisa kisses me on the cheek. "We'll see you at The Wheel, okay? Don't wake up."

For a few moments, I'm outside of Hussong's Cantina in Ensenada. I'm in handcuffs, leaning up against an Ensenada Police Department patrol car. Hell, all I did was push my fellow gringo into the crowd so the little cop wouldn't split his head open. I look at the little cop. "We both already know how this ends, officer," I say. "The lieutenant shows up, listens to both our stories, then tells you to let me go." "Yeah, you're right," says the little cop. Then, just as it really happened that New Year's Eve in 1978, he leads me through the crowd waiting to get in the bar. The crowd boos when they see me in handcuffs. The cop continues to lead me through the crowd to the bar, where, with a flourish, he removes the handcuffs. The crowd cheers. The cop leans close, shakes my hand, and says, "Good seeing you again, amigo."

Yeah, I remember that weekend in Ensenada. The next day, I suffered through the worst hangover of my life.

But now, I'm walking into The Wheel. It was a biker bar up on Highway 33 above Ojai, and for the twelve years I owned a Harley--from the early eighties until the early nineties--it seemed like a second home. As I reach the door, I look back. I feel a pang as I see it: my 1980 FXS Low Rider, all black and chrome. I walk in, and there's Mary, the owner, an angel in a 300 pound body. She's already got a beer waiting for me. She died a few years ago from complications of diabetes. Sitting at a table, I see Judy and Lisa again. Sitting with them, I see Bill Greene. He died in the late eighties while on a camping trip. Everyone liked him, and everyone made fun of him because he rode a Yamaha. Robin is sitting there too, and she's looking stunning, because she's actually smiling. She died when she had an aneurysm and rode her Sportster into a telephone pole.

I hug Judy and Lisa again, shake Bill's hand, give Robin a kiss on the cheek. "I'm jealous that Judy and Lisa got to spend more time with you," she says, with a twinkle in her eye. That gets to me. As guy who grew up thinking of himself as a goofy-looking kid, I always feel surprised when a woman compliments me. Even in dreams.

Abruptly, I wake up. It's four in the morning, so I decide to get out of bed. I brew tea and get dressed. Remembering a mountain lion had been spotted in the area, I walk outside to check on the chickens and the llamas. Everything is okay. Then, as if on cue, I hear the rumble of a Harley on Bear Mountain Road, a mile or so away.

I close my eyes, standing there in the mild late-winter chill. I listen to that sound. I love where I live, I love my wife and son, and I'm grateful for my life in the here and now. But for a moment, as the Harley's muted roar fades into the darkness, I feel strangely homesick.

March 22, 2007

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Developing Scandal

In Arkansas, a retired Army National Guard colonel is accused of keeping his dogs in horribly cramped conditions. The horror.

Evidence of blatant mistreatment: the poor dog is forced to share the recliner with Colonel Cooley.

The largest dog is forced to stand on the ground. How on earth has this gone on for so long?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dream Replay

Sometimes I'll have joyful little dreams about something in the past, usually involving family. I woke up smiling this morning.

The three of us were at Kids' Kingdom Park on a warm April day. Dylan was a couple of months shy of his second birthday, and he'd made friends with a couple of four year-old kids.

The two kids introduced themselves to Dylan.

"I'm Brian," one said.

"I'm David," the other said.

"I'm Baby," Dylan said.

Rhonda and I looked at each other. Rhonda smiled. "I guess we should start calling him 'Dylan' more often."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Profound Post About Serial Commas

Are you old enough to remember when the last comma in a series was omitted, mainly by newspapers? Geez, I'm glad that writing convention has mostly gone by the wayside. Even in elementary school, it just didn't seem right.

Consider this sentence: "I owe my love of music to my parents, Yo Yo Ma and Joan Jett."

I'm glad serial commas have held sway.

I feel much better now. It's been hard keeping my feelings on this issue under wraps.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

It's Veterans Day today. I salute veterans everywhere, and I especially want to acknowledge my coworkers who've served in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

It's an especially somber Veterans Day today for me today.

My uncle Darrell is a veteran who served during the Vietnam War. When he learned that he would be drafted into the Army, he enlisted rather than wait for his time to report.

Darrell is the second youngest of my dad's seven siblings. He was always freakishly strong and athletic, so it didn't surprise the family much when Darrell was awarded recognition as the Battalion Outstanding Trainee in Basic Training--he broke the record for the obstacle course--and was singled out again in Advanced Infantry Training, when he was designated the Company Outstanding Trainee.

Darrell was one heck of a marksman before he went into the Army. In Basic Training, he maxed all of the firing ranges. Perfect score.

Darrell was a natural born fighting machine, and in 1966, things were heating up in Vietnam. So the Army, naturally, sent him to Germany, and made him a clerk.

Darrell did serve in Vietnam though. He was there on temporary duty for three weeks, behind a desk.

He served his time, got out of the Army, got a job, got married, and had two daughters.

I learned two days ago that my uncle Darrell has brain cancer. Without treatment, the doctors give him three to six months. With treatment, they give him a year. I don't know if he's made a decision yet.

So, I give a special salute to my uncle Darrell, the guy who never forgot that my dad, from the age of twelve, helped raise his younger siblings with whatever job he could find after school. He was the first family member to show up at my parents' house on the day my dad died. He stood at the door with tears in his eyes, and hugged me so hard that my feet left the floor.

I can remember thinking as a kid that Darrell was an incognito superhero. I haven't changed my mind.

I have to go now.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday October 14

We made what may be our final boating jaunt for the season on Shasta Lake last Friday, with one of Dylan's schoolmates and her parents along for the ride. I was beautiful out on the lake, and warm, until the sun dipped below the horizon. Then it cooled, quickly, reminding us that summer is indeed over, and what we call "Indian Summer" is often but a teasing connection to our memories of a season recently past.

My online amigo Algernon and I have something in common: We both went through much of our lives thinking we'd never be fathers. I've enjoyed watching his journey into fatherhood, even if from afar. Here's one of his posts of Monday Morning Gabriel.

In the early eighties, I bought a copy of a Barron's Learn to Type book, borrowed my sister's old electric typewriter, and began pecking away for twenty minutes a day. I only need look at about a half dozen abandoned journals from my teens and twenties to remember that writing longhand was always a chore. If I hadn't taken up typing, I doubt I would ever have taken up writing as a hobby.

I usually don't even make notes in longhand to organize my thoughts before writing. I should, but I don't. I'd almost rather take a beating than write anything of length in longhand.

I'm guessing that in the days before word processing, it was common for folks to write drafts in longhand before typing a manuscript. I suppose nowadays, with the proliferation of blogs and other online product, it's more common to compose on the keyboard. That's why it struck me when I read this on the blog The Daily Coyote.

"Part of the reason I don’t write much on this blog is that I cannot compose on the computer. I wrote my entire book (both of them, actually) with pen and paper. I often write things longhand, things I want to share on this site, but simply never get around to transcribing them into the computer."

I'm curious. How many of you writers out there compose in longhand?

Monday, October 12, 2009

On Fire

I think this is a good video to watch to start out the week.

Oh yeah: Jason is 5'6".

Thursday, October 08, 2009

B.B. Has a Bad Day

Most maintenance on PHI's offshore fleet is done at night. Makes sense, because the helicopters are flown mainly during the daytime. But, like anything mechanical, sometimes helicopters break. That's why most of our Gulf Coast bases have a couple of day mechanics. Often, the fix is simple, and in an hour or two, our heroes in charcoal uniforms can have an aircraft up and running again, producing revenue.

If you're going to be a day mechanic with an offshore helicopter company, it helps to be patient. It helps to be really patient. Look, I like most of the pilots I work with; we have a lot of great folks in our ranks. But sheesh, some pilots can be awfully opinionated, even when discussing aircraft problems with guys who hold a federal license for working on them.

Add to that dynamic the fact that so many of our pilots come from a military background, where the pilots are officers and the maintenance folks are enlisted. There are guys who just can't seem to dispense with that condescending "listen to the officer speak" bearing.

Yep, for the most part, I like my fellow aviators, but there are times when I wonder if Will Rogers ever met a helicopter pilot.

One of our day mechanics in Boothville is a Louisiana native by the name of B.B. Smith. Before he became a licensed helicopter mechanic, B.B. was, of all things, a jockey. I have a lot of respect for B.B., who epitomizes the qualities needed by a good day mechanic: He has a great talent for troubleshooting, he works well under pressure, and yes, he deals adeptly with the Big Bad Pilot Ego. He's also funny as heck. Folks tend to gather around B.B. just to hear one of his stories. He’s like a one-man “Redneck Comedy Hour.”

Boothville is a busy base, but problems with helicopters seem to run in spurts. Sheesh, sometimes we'll cruise along for days with very few maintenance problems. But then, a day will come along when you might think that one helicopter got the flu and gave it to several others.

Our day mechanics had a really busy week the last time I was at work, but one day in particular was just the day from hell. Our day guys were juggling multiple aircraft problems, and I remember thinking how awful it would be to be in their shoes. I spotted B.B. in the afternoon, after my second flight, and the look on his face spoke volumes. He’s always seemed perpetually cheerful, and I've never seen him go so long without a smile on his face. But, he managed to get through the day with his sanity, and without clobbering an obstreperous pilot with a large wrench, so thankfully, I'll see him again come my next hitch.

Here's B.B. ejecting an unwelcome young visitor from the hanger.

B.B and family.

B.B. posted this on Facebook. He wrote that it pretty much explained the way he felt his last week at work.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Little About Not Much

Geez, when I left home last time, it was still broiler weather in Redding, with the temps regularly topping 100 degrees. Shorts and t-shirts everywhere. Now, a few days after my arrival back home, I'm sitting in a coffee place watching people walk in wearing jackets and sweaters.

It's kind of weird having Dylan back in school. I should have tackled chores at home today, but with Rhonda at work and Dylan in school, the place seems so empty. (I hope the dogs won't feel hurt if they read this.)

My online amigo Thom G once posted a link to Grammar Girl. She's quite a story. Her name is Mignon Fogarty, and she started the "Grammar Girl" thing more or less as a hobby, creating podcasts on grammar and usage for iTunes. She was surprised to learn one day that her podcasts were the number two rated downloads on the site. She was further surprised another day when the folks from Oprah's show contacted her asking her to appear. Now she has a New York Times bestseller on the shelves, with another book on the way later this month. I was reading her book while flying home from Louisiana and learned something interesting: Most people under the age of thirty-five say "on accident," while most people over forty say "by accident." It seems a bit of a mystery how that language usage generation gap came about; a university professor even wrote a paper on the divide, but he didn't provide a firm answer.

You're likely aware that California has a law in effect allowing the possession of marijuana for medical purposes. I was surprised to learn here that in Redding, where Shasta County's D.A. seems to take a conservative/authoritarian stance (he slaps people with felonies for possession of methamphetamine for quantities far below what sentencing guidelines call for), we now have thirteen medical marijuana dispensaries.

Man, I'll bet sales of Pink Floyd and reggae music have boomed in our county.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One Day

I was walking out to the flight line to preflight yesterday morning with my flying partner this week, Scott, who has the nickname "Catfish." This scene just stopped me cold, and I immediately regretted leaving my camera back at the quarters. I then remembered that my new cell phone had a better camera than the last, and snapped this photo. Sometimes, the light in coastal Louisiana has a magic about it.

Katie, the wife of a former coworker, asked if that was "my" helicopter. It wasn't. A guy named John and a guy named Raj were crewing it.

Here's Raj with one of his "fur kids," as my friend Pam would say. I copied this off his Facebook page, with his okay. Something tells me that Raj and his wife have friends who secretly wish they could die and come back as one of their dogs.

We broke off an approach to an offshore oil platform to see what this waterspout would do. It seemed to be taking a path to the platform, but after we circled for ten minutes or so, it veered away and dissipated.

This was the sky on our flight back to the base, following our "visit" with the waterspout.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

This and That

This morning was a first for me: I went to listen to a writer talk about writing. Steve Brewer ranks among the best known of our Shasta County authors. He's written 16 books, and the first novel of his Bubba Mabry series of crime mystery novels, Lonely Street, was made into a movie, and recently released on DVD. Although he's written for a living since the age of eighteen, Steve's talk focused on how writing a screenplay for the first time prompted him to look at the process of creating fiction with fresh eyes. It was a fun talk; Steve is funny in person as well as in writing.

My online buddy Thom G lost his dad to lung cancer. My thoughts and prayers are with Thom and his family. Thom writes some remarkable "flash fiction." You might check him out here.

My online friend Debby, who has already been through a battle with breast cancer, may have cancer again. My thoughts and prayers are with her, too. She's a remarkable writer and a remarkable lady.

Dylan has been sick with a fever, but he's rebounding now. A couple of mornings ago, when he was still feeling rotten, he sat on my lap while we watched a movie together. It was the first time in a good while that he's done that, and I had to put out a little effort not to get teary. Gosh, time passes, doesn't it? Oh yeah: the sentimentality washing over me was only part of the reason I felt choked up. Also, the circulation to one of my legs was getting cut off. Sheesh, my nine year-old "little boy" weighs 100 pounds now. I'm wondering how much longer I'll have the guts to let him sock me in the body full-force when we do our "sparring."

Sometimes I get a little wistful about Dylan's baby time, and I'll wish I could go back to hold him as an infant again. But, if I had the opportunity to go back in time, I wouldn't take it. I'd miss the little smarty-pants I know now too much.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

First Cousin Once Removed

I had planned to attend a funeral today in Las Vegas. I booked an airline ticket, a hotel room, packed a bag. But Dylan has been sick, and Rhonda came down with the same bug the day before yesterday. So, I'm staying home.

Jonathon was twenty years old. I hadn't seen his mom since I was a teenager and she was a small child. Jonathon is the grandson of Gary, the several-years-younger brother of my dad. Gary used to take me shooting when I was a kid. I'm six-four and some change, and I look up at Gary, who claims he's six-seven but appears at least an inch taller.

My dad was one of eight kids, my mom one of six. I have a lot of cousins, especially considering that most of my cousins have kids, those "first cousins once removed." I think of the days when both sets of grandparents were alive. We'd have big family gatherings and I'd catch up with the lives of my first and second cousins. We'd watch the adults laugh, and some of the younger aunts and uncles would play with us.

My extended family is spread around the country nowadays, as is the case with so many families. Only weddings or funerals prompt family gatherings of any size.

I never met my cousin Jonathon, the son of my cousin Leigh Ann, who was so doggone cute as a little kid that it hurt to look at her. I only know him by what I've heard and read.

He was a child who always loved working with his hands, be it making music, creating art, or building something. He was a quiet guy who didn't seek the limelight, and a loyal friend. He seemed one of those people who could put friends in a better mood with his presence. He seemed one of those people who left more in this life than he took.

I never met Jonathon, but I'll never forget him. I wish I could stand close to his grandfather and his parents and his siblings today as he's laid to rest, but I can't. But, there are other ways to say goodbye. There are other ways to remember. I'll remember Jonathon, my twenty year-old cousin who lost his life in a car accident, and I'll do my best to celebrate his life.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

What's in a Name?

We lost my dad in '91, and my mom in 2001, when Dylan was fifteen months old.

I think a lot about Mom and Dad. They weren't perfect, but I admire what they offered as parents, especially considering their growing-up years.

Now again, my mom wasn't perfect, but I think I was in the front rows when they handed out mothers. My mom was kind, patient, fair-minded, compassionate, and she had one of the most infectious laughs you'd ever hear.

She was hard-headed as heck, though. Good thing, or she would have been too good to be true.

About a year after Dad died, I stopped by one morning to have coffee with Mom.

I asked, "Mom, how did you and Dad decide on my name?"

Hal is my nickname. Harold is my given name.

Mom didn't hesitate. My sweet, kind, loving, almost too good to be true mom didn't hesitate.

She answered, "I never did like your name."
I said, "Huh?"
She repeated, "I never did like your name. Your dad marched in after you were born and announced that he wanted to name you 'Harold,' and I was in no shape to argue."

Stop laughing. It's not funny. Really. Stop laughing.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Checking In

I love summer. Dylan is out of school, Rhonda can often schedule days off, and we've been lucky to enjoy a good number of family outings and activities. But sheesh, it seems like my exercise program and my writing go down the tubes when Dylan is out of school. I guess I just don't juggle the extra activities with exercise and writing so well. My better half would say, "Of course not: you're a man."

Thanks to slow going in getting my medical paperwork to and from the FAA, I was home for the entire month of July. In fact, I was home for five consecutive weeks. It was wonderful to have the extra time at home with Dylan out of school, and Rhonda, Dylan and I topped off my extended stay at home with a fun camping trip at Whiskeytown Lake.

I met a fellow Redding blogger I've been following for a good while. Annie writes the blog Don't Make Me Yell at You, and happens to work in the same office as the Aviation Medical Examiner designated by the FAA for our area. I was tipped off that Annie might work there when she mentioned that she could see the Dairy Queen from her office. So, I shot her a message on Facebook and asked her to say hi if she had a chance. I also asked her not to walk into the exam room while I was in my underwear, since my fragile male ego might be shattered by her laughter. It was great meeting her, and only partly because I was fully clothed.

So that makes six bloggers on my blogroll that I've met or know personally: Annie, Uncle E, Bob Barbanes, Doris, Steve Brewer, and Phil Fountain. At this rate, I should meet everyone on my blogroll by 2050 or so. That should work out fine, since I'm planning to die at the age of ninety-five, when I'll croak from injuries sustained during my second career as a motorcycle daredevil.

After meeting Annie, and getting the little piece of paper from the doctor stating I was medically cleared to fly for another year, I headed for the airport to fly out to Louisiana. I thought I'd be simply finishing my scheduled hitch, and returning home after three days. Alas, that was not to be. The scheduling department asked me to stay to begin training for a position I've applied for with my employer, and that meant nine days away from home instead of three.

Rhonda, Dylan and I went upstairs to the restaurant to have lunch before my departure. I looked at Dylan. Aw hell. We'd made a bunch of plans for when I came home, and I hated to disappoint him.

"I have some bad news, but I have some good news too," I said.

Rhonda sighed. Dylan sighed.

"I have to be away for nine days, not three."

Dylan looked crestfallen. It hurt to look at him.

Dylan: "What's the good news?"

"Well, I'll be getting a little raise out of the deal."

Immediately, he straightened up, and a big smile lit upon his face.

He said, "That news has Nintendo DS written all over it!"

I love that little smartass.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Old Friend and San Miguel Dark

I was thinking of people I've known during my career as a helicopter pilot, and memories of Wally popped up. When I met Wally, he was flying a Sikorsky S-58T helicopter on a firefighting contract out of Hunter-Liggett Army Airfield in California. I was the OIC (officer in charge) of my unit's then-small detachment there. I was a young warrant officer then, but I got the job because the unit was short of captains.

Wally was a retired Marine. He may have had a bushy gray beard, but by George, he was still a Marine. If you've worked with Marines before, you know that there is no such thing as an ex-Marine.

Wally had been one of a select few enlisted aviators in the Marines. He later became a warrant officer, and retired as a captain. He flew a tour in Korea, and three in Vietnam.

Wally had lots of advice about flying, women, and life. Wally had lots of stories about flying, women, and life. One woman had stolen his heart, and it was evident that the lost love of his life had stamped his soul more than the four combat tours he'd survived, or the three divorces he'd endured. He would never tell me her name.

Wally had a favorite beer: San Miguel Dark. A couple of days ago, I noticed that Trader Joe's had San Miguel Dark on its shelves. I took a six pack home. I had a couple that night, and thought of Wally, the colorful Marine with a wounded heart. I met him in the summer of 1978. I wonder if he's still walking this earth.

If not, I hope he's once again with his love, and I hope she likes San Miguel Dark.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Larry Curtis Again

So what happens when a guitar-playing helicopter pilot has the audacity to perform on YouTube one of the most beloved and well-covered songs ever? Lots of kudos, and about 36,000 views so far.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Thursday, June 04, 2009


My flying partner for the last week, Kendall Dunn, is new with PHI. He's been a National Guard helicopter pilot for several years, though. He grew up on the West Bank of New Orleans until high school, when his family moved to Mississippi. He played football for the University of Southern Mississippi.

He has one funny kid. Meet Kendall Jr., age three and a half.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dylan and Alice

Once upon a time, we had three dogs. We had Lucky, a Vizsla/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix; Wanky (Rhonda named him), a Daschund/Wire Terrier mix; and Gomez, a Chihuahua/Miniature Pinscher mix.

Lucky was a big girl, weighing seventy-five pounds. She died two weeks before Dylan was born. Like many animal lovers, it pummels me when I lose a pet, and I go through a period of thinking stuff like, "I'll never get another dog (cat, llama, chicken)." That's natural; pet lovers want to avoid going through the emotional grinder of losing a pet again. But sooner or later, a sort of amnesia takes over, and many of us change our minds. I was starting to change my mind when Wanky died three years ago.

Dylan had been telling us for a few months that he wanted a puppy for his ninth birthday. Rhonda felt the time was ripe, so we gave Dylan a book on dog breeds. It didn't take him long to narrow the field down to a couple of lifestock guardian breeds. (He's preferred everything big since he was a baby.) He started agonizing over whether he wanted an Anatolian Shepherd or an Akbash.

I was away at work when Rhonda called me excitedly. She'd found a breeder in Cottonwood who bred a cross of Akbashes and Anatolians. Dylan would no longer have to agonize, and that appealed to me because I've never been particularly taken with purebreds. I'm a mutt; I like mutts.

We wanted to wait for Dylan's birthday in June, but the breeder told us that the litter had been nearly devoid of human contact. He said he'd be glad to hold the dog for us, but he recommended that we start the socialization process soon if we wanted the dog to be a pet instead of only a guardian.

So, Rhonda and Dylan drove to Cottonwood. Dylan picked out a female. He named her "Alice" about five minutes after they left the breeder's property.

I got home a few hours after Alice's arrival at our place. I noticed that she seemed confused about being petted. Sure enough, she'd had almost no human contact. She freaked out the first couple of times I picked her up.

Alice is now well on the way to being a socialized puppy. She's decided she likes being petted, and she doesn't mind being carried now either. I'll let you know how that goes when she's fully grown.

She's nine weeks old in these pics.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Other People: Greg Neer

When I began my career as an offshore helicopter pilot in 1979, I was told that about ninety-eight percent of our pilots came from a military background. Well, things have changed a lot. First, it got harder to meet the flight time requirements for a civilian job after serving a few years in the military. As the helicopters used by the military got more expensive to operate, flight times went down. At about the same time, a visionary man by the name of Frank Robinson designed the Robinson R-22. The R-22 had lower operating costs then any other existing production helicopter, and it created a more feasible path for those who chose the civilian route to a helicopter rating. I think it's safe to say that had the R-22 not arrived on the scene, the helicopter pilot shortage the industry has endured in the last several years would have been more severe.

In 2000, the starting pay for a helicopter pilot in the Gulf of Mexico was about $24,000 a year, matching the starting pay for a bus driver in Indianapolis. There were two problems with that. One, the bulk of bus driver applicants weren't spending $60,000 or more to get a bus driver's license, and two, the cost of living in the Gulf Coast regio
n was considerably higher.

In 2001, things changed. Pilots for the two largest Gulf Coast operators voted in a union. Also, supply and demand influenced the operators to sweeten the pot for new applicants. The synergy between those two factors saw starting pay go up significantly.

With better starting pay came a change in the typical offshore helicopter pilot applicant. The usual story was, "I went through military flight school, spent x years in the service, and got out to find a civilian job." We were, in a sense, a rather homogeneous bunch. With more civilian-trained
pilots came folks who'd had prior careers before getting their helicopter ratings. Thus, we've seen folks who've been lawyers, truck drivers, business owners, nannies, CPA's, world-class mountain climbers, and chiropractors. For me, it's been fascinating to hear the stories of people who had lives before helicopters.

Despite the old joke, "Please don't tell my mom I'm a helicopter pilot; she thinks I'm a piano player in a brothel," I don't think we've had any former brothel em
ployees. I'm not sure about that, though.

So, today marks the start of what I plan to offer now a
nd then: stories from other people. Just within the ranks of PHI, there are loads of folks with more interesting lives than mine. That's one reason I decided to start a fiction blog: I can take stories about my life and do the embellish/exaggerate fandango without feeling like a damn liar. I think.


Greg Neer, during his time as a tour pilot in the Grand Canyon.

Meet Greg Neer. Greg is in his third month with PHI. He's flown helicopters since 2003, and has flown them for a living since 2006. Before that, he made his living as a musician.

Me: Greg, welcome to my blog, and please remember to watch your damned language in case children are reading.

Greg: I’ll do my best…

Me: So Greg, how long did you make your living as a musician before making the career change to flying helicopters?

Greg: I began performing professionally after leaving Indiana University in 1986. I’m fortunate to say that I enjoyed consistent employment in the music industry throughout my career before pursuing flying full time in August 2006.

Me: Which instrument did you play?

Greg: God’s instrument…the trumpet!

Me: Wow. I've heard it takes much more frequent practice to stay proficient on the trumpet than say, guitar or drums. True?

Greg: While I would never want to be accused of diminishing the effort and dedication needed to remain proficient on any instrument, playing the trumpet is very physically demanding, requiring a daily routine of exercises structured to improve tone quality, range, endurance, flexibility, etc. So to answer your question, I believe a trumpet player’s performance would suffer more from a lack of practice than some other instruments.

Me: Where did you work during your musical career?

Greg: The bulk of my career was spent in two places…aboard cruise ships on the high seas for eight years; and an eleven year stint on the famed strip in Las Vegas.

Me: Wow, not exactly an ordinary life. So Greg, I have to ask on behalf of my single dude coworkers: Did you meet lotsa chicks?

Greg: I gather this is the part where I have to watch my language. Well, everybody knows that the main reason people choose a career in music is to score chicks right? I mean, we love the music but let’s face it…the benefits aren’t bad. Seriously, there are some incredibly interesting people in the entertainment industry. I enjoyed single life on the cruise ships for quite awhile before eventually settling down with a British dancer. But as is the case in most shipboard romances, the marriage was short lived. However, the story has a happy ending, as I met a wonderful woman while in Vegas and we’ve been happily married for 5 years now.

Me: What lead you to a musical career? Was that your dream as a kid?

Greg: I guess it was my Mother who provided the inspiration and introduced me to music at an early age. She was a music educator for a short time and exposed us to many different styles of music growing up. My foundation began with piano lessons which proved to be a blessing as it developed an understanding of music theory I likely wouldn’t have achieved as quickly otherwise. Believe it or not, by the eighth grade I had already decided to pursue a career in music.

Me: Who are some of your favorite trumpet players?

Greg: I love Doc Severinson’s rich sound, the high note mastery of Maynard Ferguson, the genius of Miles Davis, and the perfection of Maurice Andre.

Me: How long has the trumpet been around?

Greg: The trumpet is a very old instrument dating back to ancient times (2000 B.C.). The development of the modern version we recognize today dates back to the 1300’s, and is still evolving as trumpet builders continue to modify its design in search of the perfect horn.

Me: Who are some notables you’ve played with?

Greg: I have had the good fortune to perform with Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, LeAnn Rimes, Elton John, Gloria Estefan, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Lee Greenwood, Frankie Vallie, Wayne Newton, Clint Holmes, and many other acts performing in the main showrooms of Las Vegas.

Me: Lots of folks dream of a career in music. What made you decide to make such a big change in your life, and switch to flying?

Greg: Flying has also always been a passion of mine since I was a young boy, begging my neighbor to give me a ride in his Cessna. Establishing myself in Vegas afforded me the time and resources to finally pursue the dream of flying. I wanted to avoid asking myself one day why I never chased down that dream, so I found a flight school and got to work.

Me: I've known other musicians with PHI who've kept up the occasional gigs while on time off. One mechanic who's a jazz pianist comes to mind. How about you?

Greg: I haven’t pursued playing professionally on my off time largely due to my own perfectionist behavior. I couldn’t possibly maintain the level of playing I once achieved with my current schedule, therefore I’ve chosen not to perform. I don’t feel that I’d get the same satisfaction and enjoyment out of the experience if I’m not playing my best. Someday I will find a balance and return to playing on some level.

Me: You've been flying helicopters since 2003, full time since 2006. So far, are you glad you made such a major change in your life?

Greg: I am very happy with my decision. I had a great career in music but always wanted to experience flying too. While still in Vegas, I was able to realize both dreams flying Grand Canyon tours by day, and performing music by night. Although music has taken a back seat for now, I truly enjoy the many exciting experiences and new friends I’ve gained through aviation. I would do it all over again.

Me: Greg, I don't know whether to be thankful or resentful. I could be thankful because you've given me something really interesting to write about, but I could be resentful because you make my background seem pretty dang boring. But hey, I'll take the high road and offer my thanks for sharing your story. Thanks very much, Greg.

Greg: Your background is anything but boring in my opinion. Compared to seasoned pilots like you, I will always feel like the “FNG” (Oops…I mean, “the new guy”). There’s so much to be gained from your experiences of which I hope to learn more about in the future. For now, thanks for allowing me to share some of mine.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Stuck in the Tread of the Wheel of Justice

I'm thinking about a criminal trial that happened a few years ago, here in Shasta County.

A woman was accused of altering her child support checks. Her first court-appointed attorney yelled at her that her only choice was to plead guilty. She sought the advice of another attorney. Her new attorney believed her story. She had a polygraph administered, and the client passed convincingly. The attorney hired one of the top handwriting analysts in California to determine whether the alterations had been done by the client. She determined that the alterations almost certainly weren't done by the accused, and probably were done by the ex-husband, who was unhappy with the child custody arrangement.

The attorney presented the polygraph results and the handwriting analysis to the D.A.'s office. She was dismayed to learn that the D.A.'s office had every intention of going forward with the prosecution of her client, even though the D.A.'s office had used the same handwriting analyst to prosecute cases. The case went to trial.

The jury came back with a "not guilty" verdict after thirty-five minutes in deliberation. The judge stated, on the record, that he was surprised that the jury had taken more than five minutes.

The Deputy D.A. was unmoved. "Your client is guilty," he hissed at the defense attorney. Our tax dollars at work.

Still, it all came to a happy ending, right? No, not really. The accused woman was a teacher. Simply being accused of a felony is enough to have a teacher's credential stripped away in California, and a "not guilty" verdict isn't enough to prompt the restoration of the credential. No, the accused must be found "factually innocent" of charges to resume his or her livelihood.

As far as I know, the woman was never declared factually innocent, and is thus still banished from her chosen career.

Today on the website A News Cafe, there was an article about the former CEO of our local Haven Humane Society, who is accused of taking money from the animal shelter. I wrote a comment: I hope the guy gets a fair trial. I often think that publicity can create some really rocky detours on the path to justice.

Perhaps in response to my comment, another reader wrote: . . . It’s about time that Mr. Ryan faces the charges against him. The wheels of justice move way too slow in metting out a sentence against the accused.

That sentiment disturbed me, because it provides one more example of how many in our nation feel that the notion of innocent until proven guilty is just a pesky impediment to slamming people in jail. I thought about responding to Mr. Law and Order, but thought better of it. My gut feeling is that nothing I could write would sway him. I feel reasonably certain that the wheel of justice will always turn too slowly for his liking.

Sadly, he's only likely to be swayed should he find himself or a loved one caught in the tread.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Night on Shasta Lake

I was a day later than usual getting home from Louisiana, due to water survival training. Rhonda and Dylan were chomping at the bit to go camping on Shasta Lake, so the day after my return, we loaded up our forty year-old pontoon boat and headed for Greens Creek camp, a boat-in only camp located up the McCloud arm of the lake.

The plan was to spend one night. The lake was just beautiful. The big "bathtub ring" is still there due to the low water level, but at least many of the inlets have water in them again. The temps reached a record for the date, in the high nineties, and Dylan and I spent quite a bit of time in the water. But sheesh, it's still April, after all, and the water was COLD. I seriously doubt our family will ever live in a nudist colony, but if that ever happened, I'd sure hate to encounter water that cold. That would be embarrassing. "Hey, why is Hal wearing that towel?"

Dylan was bummed when it came time to break camp. "Can't we get up early, and go home in the morning?" Rhonda and I looked at each other. We'd done the early morning commute-by-boat thing before, when Dylan and I had dropped Mom off to go to work. We'd have to leave at dawn, but we could do it.

That night, Rhonda woke me. "I think there's a bear outside the tent." I listened, but heard nothing, at first. After a few minutes, I heard the footfalls of whatever it was moving away, back up the mountain.

Luckily, black bears tend to be decidedly less aggressive than grizzlies. In fact, they're usually big chickens, and they don't like confrontation. One ranger told me that about fifty people a year are injured by black bears in California, but the injuries are usually minor, and they usually happen when people try to do dumb things like hand-feed them. Once in a great while, you'll hear or read of a fatal black bear attack, but the perpetrators tend to be large animals from deep in the woods, and have had little or no contact with humans.

Still, it is a little unnerving to hear a bear nosing around the tent.

It was chilly and gorgeous the next morning as we made the hour commute to the marina. Rhonda, Dylan, and Gomez the bear-fighting (if we were to let him) half Chihuahua huddled together under a blanket, smiling at the beauty going by. At least I think Gomez was smiling.

I got Dylan to school with minutes to spare. Two of 'em. That afternoon, we trailered the boat again to the lake, and set off to Greens Creek to retrieve our camping stuff.

Now, my wife is a smart, educated woman. But she tends to be unrealistic about how much time it takes to do things. Dylan is pretty much the same way, but hey, he's eight years old. First off, we were later getting to the campground than I'd hoped. Then Dylan wanted to go swimming. I didn't want to disappoint him, so I joined him in the cold lake.

Afterward, I suggested that we cook dinner and eat it on the boat while heading back to the marina. Rhonda and Dylan looked wounded at such a suggestion. I looked at the lowering sun, and I looked at the clouds forming to the west, and thought about what an overcast condition would do to the ambient light after sunset.

Still, I thought we had a chance to make it back before total darkness wrapped us. I was wrong. Halfway back to the marina, I had to slow down, because I could no longer see obstacles in the water, and with recent torrential rains, lots of tree branches and small logs floated about. I hit the switch for the headlights, since no other boats were in sight.

The headlights didn't work. Quick troubleshooting did not lead to a fix. I had a mask and snorkel on the boat, but without a waterproof headlamp, finding a loose wire running between the pontoons wasn't likely.

We slowed to a crawl across the water, with Rhonda holding two flashlights to spot obstacles. At that moment, I was not happy with myself for leaving the rechargeable spotlight in the garage. I was also not happy with myself for leaving the hand-held GPS in the car. Boy Scouts all over America would be ashamed for me.

Thankfully, Dylan fell asleep. With the overcast, it got harder to navigate by landmarks. Rhonda occasionally called out "left" or "right" so we'd miss floating wood. It was getting stressful, and Rhonda and I were both getting tired.

Finally, I could barely make out the Jones Valley inlet. We continued to motor toward the marina, at speed slower than a walk. Slower, even, than my walk.

Rhonda did a heck of a job maneuvering the boat trailer down the ramp in the darkness. I put Dylan and Gomez in the car, and we headed for home. Rhonda and I laughed at ourselves, feeling relieved that we were making it home. I felt pretty stupid for not keeping track of time, and for forgetting a couple of key items, but I laughed anyway. It had taken us forty-five minutes to boat to Greens Creek, and three hours to boat back to the marina.

It's about a three hundred foot walk from where we park the boat to our front door. I carried Dylan down the driveway, realizing that carrying a hundred-pound kid down a sloped driveway amounted to a pretty fair workout. Dylan was out. When Dylan is out, he's out. I lowered him to his bed, covered him, and kissed his forehead. His eyes didn't open, but he murmured, "The bed feels good, Daddy." I smiled. Most of the time now, I'm "Dad," but the occasional "Daddy" still slips out.

Dylan was right. The bed felt really good.


Brian is a former coworker, now employed by a different operator on an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) contract. His wife Katie is a fine writer with her own blog. Read this.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Emotional Elixir Song

I admit that I'm feeling a little blue. It's Easter, and I'm missing Easter dinner with my family. But, I talked to them, and they're having a good time. It helps to know that. Songs like this one help too: Eric Clapton performing a tasty version of a Bob Dylan song.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Tale of Two Johnnies

Work for the same employer for going on three decades, and you'll go through some rather distinct passages. I think about the beginning of my career, when I was the youngest in my Army flight school class. Later, I was the youngest pilot stationed at Fort Ord, California. In fact, for a time in '76 and '77, I was the only pilot on the post who couldn't legally buy a beer off-base.

But things have, duh, changed. The first time it hit me that I was getting to a mature stage of my career was several years ago. I was talking to one of our new pilots, a guy named Tim, from New Zealand. He asked, "When did you hire on with PHI?" I answered, "In 1979." "What month?" "September," I answered. An evil little smile lit upon Tim's face. "What's so amusing?" Tim chuckled, and replied, "I was born a month after you hired on with PHI."

Whoa. And to think, I used to like that little effer.

Another passage came with new blood in our training department. Three years ago, I took my first checkride with a company instructor who happened to be younger than me. The dude didn't even have gray hair. The nerve. I thought about buying gray hair coloring for him.

The corker came when I saw a name on the crew lineup one day. The name "Johnny Cope" leaped out at me, and I assumed that a guy I'd met soon after I hired on had returned from an EMS job to the Gulf. I called out into the pilot lounge: "Hey, does anyone know if Johnny Cope is out flying?" A fairly young-looking guy piped up, "That would be me." "Wow. I knew a Johnny Cope when I first hired on." The young-looking guy, who I later learned was a retired Army pilot, answered "He's my dad."

Whoa. How did all this happen when I'm not yet eligible for the Denny's senior discount?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sample Exchanges

A few days ago.

Me: "Dylan, do you ever feel like I still treat you like a little kid?

Dylan: "Yeah Dad, like all the time. Please keep that in mind in the future."

A couple of days ago, while I was reading a magazine.

Dylan: "DAD!"

Me: "Whoa! Is everything okay?"

Dylan: "You tell me. I've been talking to you for the last five minutes and you haven't even noticed. I was wondering if I should call 9-1-1."

This morning, while Dylan was hugging Rhonda goodbye.

Me: "I love the way Dylan's hair has my texture and Mom's color."

Dylan: "Dad, before you can have texture, you have to have hair."

Parenting is so much simpler before they start talking.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Wedding

I'd finished flying for the day, and after dropping off the paperwork in the admin assistant's bin, I turned on my cell phone. I heard a message beep. "Hi Hal, it's Tina. I have news for you: I'm getting married! Ty and I are leaving Alaska in a few days and heading for Ventura. I know it's short notice, but I would love for you to attend."

I'd first met Tina and her mom, Terry, in the mid-eighties, outside of a biker bar named The Wheel, in the mountains above Ojai, California. Tina was a year old, and you would have thought every woman and every one-percenter in the place was an aunt or uncle.

Terry and I started dating a year later, and Tina sort of put us together. I'd arrived at a fish and chips place in Isla Vista with another woman on the back of the Harley, and Terry was there with another guy, Tina in tow. I sat next to Tina, and as it turned out, the little blond two year-old was more fun to talk to than my date. Tina was eating french fries drenched in tartar sauce, and no one wanted to share them with her. Except me. I really didn't like french fries with tartar sauce, but the little tyke was so doggone cute that I had to accept. When it came time to leave, Terry held Tina up to me, and she held my face in her hands while she kissed my cheek. I rode away with my date behind me, wondering if I'd stopped being a real man: I'd arrived feeling fixated on my date's fabulous ass, and I left feeling as if a two year-old had stolen a chunk of my heart.

For four years, Terry and I had an on-again, off-again relationship. When we parted for good, Terry was understandably angry, but after a few months, we agreed that it would be good if I stayed involved in Tina's life. Terry's bitterness waned, we became friends, and I often came by to take Tina for an outing.

But, things changed when I got married and moved to northern California. Instead of dropping by to take Tina to a movie, it was the occasional meeting for dinner with Tina and Terry. I'd reunited with the love of my life, and often, the rest of the world just seemed on the back burner.

When the years rolled by, and I realized that Tina was graduating from high school, I regretted that I hadn't made a better effort to stay in contact with her. I wondered if she felt I'd abandoned her. Still, I wasn't her biological father, so no one seemed to point fingers. If I was concerned about avoiding blame, I could count myself in the clear, except for what my heart spoke.
The wedding date was set while I was due to be away in Louisiana. I was surprised when my vacation request was approved, and happy. One Saturday morning, I kissed Rhonda and Dylan goodbye, and began the 550 mile drive from Redding to Ventura.

That night, I left the motel and headed for the wedding. I was nervous as hell.

I walked to the door, and a young man greated me. Tall, athletic-looking guy with old-soul eyes. "Is this the wedding site for Ty and Tina?" "You're in the right place," he said, "I'm Ty, the groom." He shook my hand.

"You're Ty?" I silently berated myself: no, Dipshit, he's lying to you. He chuckled. "That's me. What's your name?" "I'm Hal." "You're Hal?" He grabbed my hand again and grinned. "I'm so glad you could make it. Tina will be so excited."

Ty pointed me in the right direction. I walked upstairs, feeling a little numb.


"Okay," I told myself. "When it comes time to give your toast, you'll probably feel emotional. Just stick with the words and everything will be fine." I've done a little public speaking here and there over the years, and I'd always managed to get through those occasions without locking up. And heck, it was a small wedding, with only twenty-two others present. I’d rehearsed it in my mind enough to feel confident: I'd come across as urbane yet unaffected, witty yet imbued with reverence. For me, anyway. Everything was fine until I started talking.

Yep, I started talking, and it all went to hell. Tears filled my eyes, and it felt like a golf ball had wedged itself in my throat. And all I’d managed to get out at that point was, “Tina and I . . .”

I needed a gulp of champagne. Hell, I needed a bottle of champagne. I threw back my glass. The champagne missed my stomach. The champagne went into my lungs. Oh crap. I ran out of the room and suffered a coughing fit in the hallway. I couldn't stop coughing. I felt like I might barf on the wall. There was silence in the room behind me. Twenty-two people waited for a tall middle-aged doofus to finish coughing and finish the damn toast.

I walked back into the room. The bride and groom wore understanding looks, but some of the folks were looking a wee bit uncomfortable. Crap.

I took a few deep breaths. I wanted someone to hand me that damn bottle of champagne. “First of all,” I began, “I’d recommend that you all avoid inhaling champagne.” Everyone laughed. Good. I was gaining a little momentum. But then I looked at the bride again, looking so lovely in the wedding dress she’d brought back from Instanbul. The golf ball returned to my throat, big time.

I felt no choice but to plow forward. If I waited for the golf ball to go away, we might be there all night. I tried to look about the room, and I began again. “Tina and I first bonded one day when she was two years old. I was one of a few adults sitting at a table in a fish and chips place . . .”

Aw shit. The golf ball was swelling into a soft ball. I could hardly breathe, much less speak. I took several breaths before I could even think about speaking again. So much for urbane and witty.

“She discovered that one adult there would allow her to hand feed him French fries coated with tarter sauce. That adult was me.”

More breaths.

“For several years, I was a regular part of her life. In recent years, we haven’t had much contact, because I suck at keeping in touch.”

I felt in danger of deconstructing into a blubbering idiot at any moment. I took more deep breaths. “I can’t say much more, except that I’ve always looked at Tina as the daughter of my heart. Ty and Tina, congratulations.”

I felt like a first-class numbnuts, but a few people came up to me afterward to tell me how much they enjoyed my toast. I guess folks find it quite touching when a tall middle-aged guy makes a blubbering ass of himself.


The reception and dinner afterward was wonderful. I got the chance to reconnect with Tina's grandparents, with Terry's brothers, and I had a little time to get to know Ty a little better. Tina hugged me several times over the evening, and thanked me for coming, and I had to fight back tears every time. I felt that I'd done quite enough blubbering during the toast. The second time she hugged me that evening, a vision came over me. It was 1986, and I was carrying the three year-old Tina through the supermarket, explaining the products up on the shelves. It was 1986, and she fell asleep on my shoulder, and I walked around that supermarket for an hour until she woke up.

She thanked me. The thing is, I’m the one who’s thankful. That wedding connected me to an important part of my past, and renewed the hope that I that I wasn’t just some chickenshit bandit who'd preyed upon two hearts. What I gave wasn’t enough, of course. When you love someone, especially a child, can you ever give enough? No. But that wedding told me that I could at least fold up one particular circus of regret living in my heart, and banish it to the back forty. It told me that just maybe, the thought that sometimes pierced me, they would have been better off never knowing me, was blessedly off the mark. What I left wasn’t enough, but it was enough that I still have a place in the hearts of two women who were once a big part of my life. What I left wasn’t enough, but now, I have a renewed hope that I left more than I took.

Friday, March 06, 2009

January Swaps with March

My previous post had some pics along the stretch of Highway 299 from Redding to Eureka. I repeated the trip a few days ago. Since we sometimes fly in and out of ports, we offshore helicopter pilots are now required to carry a Transportation Worker Indentification Credential, a "TWIC card." It requires not one, but two trips to the closest TWIC office to complete the process. The second trip is required to actually pick up the card; the feds won't mail it. Thus, 135 bucks, 640 miles of driving, and I now have a federal I.D. card, issued by the TSA, that according to the TSA, cannot be used as as a means of identification when going through TSA-staffed airport security. Did you get that? Ah yes, our tax dollars at work.

Enough of that. I took a few pics again while driving 299. When I drove to Eureka in late January, conditions were spring-like, with snow only seen on the tops of peaks. It was a little different this time.

Here's a shot taken from a vista point in late January.

The same vista point in early March. It's common to see such a scene from here in January, but not so much in March.

The ghost town of Helena, California. It's only 1/4 mile off off 299. According to this web page, Helena was settled around 1849 by French-Canadian prospectors from Oregon. The community, at its peak, had many acres of orchards, two hotels, a butcher shop, a brewery, a blacksmith, and a sawmill.

The butcher shop, maybe?

I saw a lot of snow during my trip, but I didn't have to drive through any until almost home. Here, I'm on the section of 299 passing by Whiskeytown Lake. Snow here in March is really unusual.

Monday, February 23, 2009

To the Coast

A few weeks ago, during some unseasonably warm weather, I made a day trip from my home near Redding to the Eureka, California area. Eureka is on the northern California coast. Redding is at the top of the long interior valley that bisects much of the state north to south.

On the way out of Weaverville, the county seat of Trinity County. Weaverville has a population of 3,500, and is the biggest community in a county of 13,000. In Trinity County, you'll find no freeways, no stop lights, no parking meters. It was one of the original counties in California.

On the coast near Samoa, California. No hurricanes, no tornadoes. But . . .

That really is a dog, not a lion.

An honest to goodness cattle ranch house, right on the coast. You won't see many of these in southern California.

Most of my trip to the coast was in the dark, so I didn't get many photos. Leaving the coast, and climbing back up Highway 299, I look back toward the west. The Pacific is out there, over that ridgeline.

A roadside memorial. That's the Trinity River below. Highway 299 is a beautiful drive, but it can be treacherous.

The general store at Burnt Ranch, population 325.

You don't see these everyday anymore. Good thing it's there, since much of 299 has no cell phone coverage.

The Straw House, near the community of Big Bar. Sure enough, the building is insulated with rice straw, and it has . . .

a great view of the Trinity River from the deck.

Almost home, I pass through Shasta County's former county seat, Shasta. Folks who live here call it "Old Shasta," since nearby can be found the towns of Shasta Lake and Mount Shasta. About 3,500 people lived there from the 1850's until around 1880, when the Central Pacific Railroad bypassed Shasta in favor of Redding. The town wound down to a quasi-ghost town, and it's now a state historic park.

In Shasta, you'll find the oldest Masonic Lodge in California, still in use.

Remnants of what was once a thriving commercial district in Shasta.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's a "Life's Funny Like That" Party!

Debby's final chemo session will be tomorrow. Yee haw! I know you're looking forward to getting back to a more normal routine, Debby. Enjoy your new beginning, but . . .

Don't forget to give yourself some down time!

Our friend from across the planet, Bush Babe, came up with the idea of throwing a virtual party to celebrate the completion of Debby's chemo treatments. Since Bush Babe's blog is serving as party central for this shindig, please stop by and leave a comment. Thanks, BB.

I discovered Debby's blog early last year, and I quickly found myself drawn to her writing and her takes on life. She could be touching, and she could be howling funny. But then, things took a dramatic turn for Debby in September of last year: she learned she had breast cancer.

I was sticken by the news. I found myself hoping that Debby would prevail in her battle, and that someday we'd see her blogging regularly again. But a "funny" thing happened. Debby never stopped. She kept writing. She kept sharing her life. She shared her lows, she shared her hopes, and she managed to keep a grip on her sense of humor. She continued to show us that she's a remarkable writer. She shared her journey with us, and I for one feel the richer for it.

Thank you Debby, and God bless you.