Friday, September 29, 2006

Washing my hat and some other stuff

At least one reader of this blog has expressed continual concern over the smelly hat I am often seen wearing. As winter is approaching, I’ll soon have to put it up till spring (I’ll pull it back out if I go to Central America this winter). To get my hat ready for storage, I recently washed it. Of course, it was an accident, but I’ll share the story along with a photo. I was hiking with my son and we’d stopped by a creek. I’d dropped my pack and was taking some photographs when all a sudden, the wind blew hard. My hat blew off and landed in the creek at the top of some falls. I sat my camera on a rock and tried to grab it as it was drawn down several small falls and got caught in a large eddy at the foot of the last one. Seeing my hat sink down the hole required drastic measures. I immediately pulled off my boots and socks, my shirt, and was getting ready to strip completely (this is in a remote area and no one was around) and plunge into the cold water (the hole to be at least 4 feet deep). Occasionally the hat would come back up, only to be pulled down again. But right before I got completely stripped, the creek gods showed mercy and my hat washed out. I didn’t have to embarrass myself in front of the wildlife by going completely buff, and only had to wade into ankle deep water to retrieve my hat. My son, at this point in the saga, grabbed my camera and snapped this picture.

For those of you who have read all this and are still with me, let me now change the subject and say that I am not always proud of the extreme dislike I have of our president. Although I believe that followers of Christ can disagree with one another (and I greatly disagree with lots of Bush’s ideas), I try not to hate him. But it’s hard. Very hard! Jane Smiley, author of A Thousand Acres in a recent blog at the Huffington Post reminds me why it is that I dislike the guy so much. She's harsh, but makes some good points and I encourage you to read it.

Finally, I have a request. Can you folks stop changing your urls? I’ve worked hard to update my blogroll, putting the correct URLs. Hopefully all the links are once again working.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hole in the Rock

This is the first of three planned posts on my trip back into my old stompin' grounds. This day long road trip was a week ago today.

We arrive in Escalante a little before noon. This has to be one of the strangest towns in Utah. A few years ago the Mormon influence was so strong you had a hard time finding 3.2 beer, yet interestingly the town isn’t named after a saint, but a Catholic priest. Father Escalante came through here a century before the Mormons settled this area, in search of a faster way from Santa Fe to the California missions. At that time only a few small bands of Paiutes lived in this hostile environment, descendants of the Anasazi whose culture flourished here until abruptly disappearing around 700 years ago. As Escalante discovered, travel in canyon country is difficult. It’s easier today, but by modern standards is still difficult.

I haven’t been in Escalante for five or six years. The town appears prosperous; almost as if negating the doom predictions of the naysayers that predicted President Clinton’s creation of the Grand Staircase National Monument would be a catastrophic event. The town now has sidewalks with classic street lamps, several new businesses and a new high school. R and I pull up in front of the Golden Loop, a diner. The logo has a cowboy standing tall in the saddle, with the “golden loop” of his lasso falling over the neck of a calf. It’s not quite noon, so we hit the Roan Pony Bookstore next door first. I know right away things have changed.

“Don’t sell too many books to locals, do you?” I say to the sales clerk.

“We sell a few children books,” she replies, “but not many for adults.”

“I bet not,” I say while reading through the titles of books critical of the Mormon faith. She has a couple copies of Fran Brodie, No Man Knows My History. It’s a good biography of Joseph Smith, the faith’s founding prophet, and written by a granddaughter of Brigham Young, the faith’s second prophet. It’s been fifty years since this book was first published. Its publication got Brodie excommunicated and the book placed on the church’s blacklist. There are other books critical of the Mormon Church including a few titles by people who have left the church, encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. In another section of the small store are the works by Michael Moore, Calvin Tillian, Al Franklen, and others critical of Bush and Republicans. There’s even a copy of articles of impeachment for Bush, or so its cover suggest. Not only is this Mormon country, this is Republican country and these titles won’t gain her any friends. And finally there’s a section reserved for environmental writers, Abbey and McPee and a host of others. This is country where the bumpers of pick-ups sport bumper stickers critical of environmentalists and nature lovers. “Hungry: Eat an Environmentalist,” reads one. It’s pretty obvious to me that the Roan Pony isn’t marketing itself to the locals, but there are now plenty of tourists flocking to see this rugged country. I admire the owner. She’s a brave soul. Just having this bookstore in Escalante is akin to Jeremiah of the Old Testament standing up and telling King Zedekiah and his court what they didn’t want to hear. Of course, Jeremiah got thrown into a well.
The Roan Pony is having a 20% off sale. She’s getting ready to close up for winter in a few weeks. I pick up a book that’s been on my reading list, Paul Theroux Dark Star Safari, figuring with a 20% markdown, I can support the local economy.

After the bookstore, we enter the restaurant and sit at a table. It takes a few minutes for the waitress to get to us. I order a hamburger and ice tea, R asks for chili and coffee. After a few minutes more she brings out drinks. Then the waiting starts. After a good fifteen minutes, after I’ve finished my tea and he’s drunk his coffee, R quips: “If they keep up at this pace, we can make it dinner.” Not very happy at the service, I nod in agreement, saying something about them having to catch a cow before they can butcher it. But then the meal comes and the burger is tasty. This isn’t any corn fattened cow, its range fed and you can taste the difference.

As we’re finishing up with lunch, R tells me the problem he’s been having with the lights on the truck. He can’t remember if he got ‘em fixed. I’m sure there was a speck of horror on my face. R doesn’t use this truck much anymore, but he’s always keeps it in good running order. Seeing that we’ve lost an hour between the bookstore and diner, and there is little chance we’ll get back before evening, I heartily agree that we should check the lights out before we leave town. They work! R gives me the key and asks me to drive. As I maneuver out into the street, I ask if we should top off the tank. He doesn’t think so since he’s got a reserve tank of 18 gallons. We have plenty of snacks and water, just in case. We leave the town and civilization behind.

Just out of Escalante, we take the graveled “Hole in a Rock Road,” that runs southwest. Its fifty-four miles from the point you leave the pavement until the trail dead-ends on an overlook at the Colorado River. In the 19th Century, Mormons used this road to migrate into the Arizona Territory. It was a long and punishing trip. Once they got to the “Hole in a Rock,” an opening in the mountains above the Colorado, they lowered their wagons with ropes down to the ford in the river. The ford is gone; the Glen Canyon dam has flooded this part of the river to create Lake Powell.

To the right of the road is a band of imposing cliffs, with bands of sediment running nearly the fifty miles, like chevrons. To the left, the country drops off into canyons that lead down into the Escalante River. There are a few signs noting points of interest along the way. There are also a handful of mileage signs which aren’t consistent. After ten miles on the road, a sign says its 51 miles to the end. Then, after only a mile, another sign says its 42 miles, which is about what we expect. Yet, just a few miles beyond that sign, another one says we got 46 more miles. “You going backwards, R asks? We don’t put any confidence into the signs.

The first thirty miles of the road is fairly good; or as good as gravel roads go. This is high desert country; as far as one can see there are pinion and juniper trees, yellow rabbit brush, and sage. Just off the road, to the west, are acres of unique rock formations known as the Devil’s Garden. Large beige columns of mushroom like sandstone cover the area. Afterwards, the road continues to lose elevation and fewer and fewer trees are seen until somewhere under 4500 feet, they become non-existent. There are flowers: Orange Mellow, Sego Lilies, Snakeweed. It’s a pleasant surprise to find so many flowers blooming this late in the season, but the area has recently had rain as evident by the muddy bottoms in the ravines. Yucca plants are also prevalent, their spring blooms long dried by the sun and wind. Cottonwoods grow only in a few washes, an indication of water in this barren land.

As we begin to get closer to the end, the cliffs and the canyons draw closer and the road snakes down into washes, only to wind steeply out of them. Driving is a challenge. The truck has no power steering and I fight with the wheel while constantly downshifts, to keep from burning out the brakes. On a few occasions, I even have to double clutch the truck into low, to get enough power to climb a steep embankment. We’re swung around at every bend and I recall the chase seen across slickrock in Edward Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang. But we’re not being chased by the Sheriff out of Moab, so I slow down.

It’s getting later in the afternoon and we both begin to worry about getting back to the pavement before nightfall. Around 4 PM, after having covered maybe 2 miles in the past thirty minutes, we give up. We’re at least 4 miles from the “hole.” I was willing to continue, but I’d been there about 10 years earlier. R had never been out this far, but after swearing that it’s the worst road he’s ever been on, suggests we turn around.

Coming out goes faster than going in even though we’re driving into a north wind blowing sand down the road. Whenever we stop and get out, the sand stings my bear legs. As the sun drops closer to the Kaiparowits Plateau, we have one final adventure. I tell Ralph we’re low on fuel in the main tank and he instructs me on how to change tanks. I do and a minute or so later, the truck runs out of fuel. We return to the main tank and then try it again. Something is wrong with the switch. I go back to the main tank and drive cautiously as the needle pegs empty. I let out a sigh of relief when we get back to blacktop. A few minutes later, we’re back in Escalante at a gas station. There’s less than half a gallon in the tank. Had we continued on to the hole in a rock, we’d been out of gas in the main tank and would have to figure out how to siphon gas from one tank to another (without a hose).

Once back on the highway, I watch the stars appear as we head west, arriving back at R’s home in time for a late but wonderful dinner of short ribs, prepared by R's wife.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Book Review: "Parting the Waters"

I'm just back from one backpacking trip, have another to go before I leave the West and return to blogland and catch up with everyone. Here is a review I finished on my flight out. I "borrowed" the image from

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988)

This book is an enormous undertaking, for both the author and the reader. The author provides the reader a biography of the Reverend Martin Luther King’s work through 1963, a view into the early years of the Civil Rights movement, as well as showing how the movement was affected by national and international events. This is the first of three massive volumes by Taylor Branch that spans the years of King’s ministry, from his ordination in 1954 to his death in 1968. This volume also provides some detail about King’s family history and his earlier life through graduate school at Boston University. I decided to read this book after hearing Branch speak in Birmingham AL in June. It’s like reading a Russian novel with a multitude of characters and over 900 pages of text. However, it was worth the effort as I got an inside look as to what was going on in the world during the first six years of my life.

Branch does not bestow sainthood nor does he throw stones. The greatness of Martin Luther King comes through as well as his shortcomings. He demonstrates King’s brilliance in the Montgomery Bus Campaign as well as in Birmingham. He also shows the times King struggled: his battles within his denomination, the National Baptist; King’s struggles with the NAACP; as well as his infidelities. The FBI also had mixed review. Agents are credited in standing up to Southern law enforcement officers, insisting that the rights of African Americans be protected. They often warned Civil Rights leaders of threats and dangers they faced. However, once King refused to heed the FBI’s warnings that two of his associates were communists, the agency at Hoover’s insistence, set out to break King. Hoover is shown as inflexible, a man who reprimanded an agent for suggesting that King’s associates are not communists. The Kennedy’s (John and Robert) also have mixed reviews. John Kennedy’s Civil Right’s Speech (and on the night that Medgar Evers would be killed in Mississippi) is brilliant. Kennedy drew upon Biblical themes, labeling Civil Rights struggle a moral issue “as old as the Scriptures.” Yet the Kennedy brothers appear to base most of their decisions based on political reasons and not moral ones. This allows King to sometimes push Kennedy at his weakness, hinting that he has or can get the support of Nelson Rockefeller (a Republican). Although we think today of the Democrat Party being the party of African Americans, this wasn’t necessarily the case in the 50s and early 60s. Many black leaders, especially within the National Baptist Convention leadership, identified themselves as Republicans, with Lincoln’s party.

Another interesting aspect in this book is the role many of the black entertainers played in the movement. King was regularly in contact with Harry Belafonte, but also gains connections to Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Jackie Robinson, James Baldwin and others. The author also goes to great lengths to put the Civil Rights movement into context based on the Cold War politics. Both Eisenhower and Kennedy found themselves in embarrassing positions as they spoke out for democracy overseas while blacks within the United States were being denied rights.

The book ends in 1963, a watershed year for Civil Rights. King leads the massive and peaceful March on Washington. Medgar Evans and John Kennedy are both assassinated. And before the year is out, King has an hour long chat with the President, Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner, who would see to it that the Voting Rights Acts become law.

As a white boy from the South, this book was eye opening. I found myself laughing that the same people who today bemoan the lack of prayer in the public sphere were arresting blacks for praying on the courthouse steps. The treatment of peaceful protestors was often horrible. There were obvious constitutional violations such as Wallace and the Alabama legislature raising the minimum bail for minor crimes in Birmingham 10 fold (to $2500) as a way to punish those marching for Civil Rights. I was also pleasantly surprised at behind the scenes connections between King and Billy Graham. Graham’s staff even provided logistical suggestions for King. King’s commitment to non-violence and his dependence upon the methods of Gandhi are evident. Finally, I found myself wondering if the segregationists like Bull O’Conner of Birmingham shouldn’t be partly responsible for the rise in crime among African American youth. They relished throwing those fighting for basic rights into jail, breaking a fear and taboo of jail. The taboo of being in jail has long kept youth from getting into trouble and was something the movement had to overcome to get mass arrest in order to challenge the system. In doing so, jail no longer was an experience to be ashamed off and with Pandora’s Box open, jail was no longer a determent to other criminal behavior.

I recommend this book if you have a commitment to digging deep into the Civil Rights movement. Branch is a wonderful researcher and his use of FBI tapes and other sources give us a behind the scene look at both what was happening within the Civil Rights movement as well as at the White House. However, there are so many details. For those wanting just an overview of the Civil Right’s movement, this book may be a bit much. As for me, I’m looking forward to digging into the other two books of this trilogy: A Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65 and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Coming Hone (on the Coast Starlight)

This is my simultaneous post with Pia's blog. Enjoy.

I’m seated in the dining car with a bubbly couple from Los Angeles. They’re coming back from a vacation to Seattle. I’m not much for talking and mostly stare out the window at the wet fields of garlic that surround Gilroy. Afterwards, as the tracks climb over Pajaro Gap, taking us through the grasslands of the Santa Cruz Mountains, we’re given a short reprieve from farmland. But soon we crest and with our descent come more fields of vegetables and fruit trees. We’re entering the Salinas Valley, the nation’s salad bowl. For the next couple hours, the train runs along the Salinas River. I finish up my sandwich, excuse myself and return to my seat. I don’t feel like reading or writing. I lay my head up against the window and watch beads of water run up the window on the outside. The weather looks as bleak as I feel and deepens my depression. I know I’ll never see her again.

It’d been over two years since I’d dumped her. At the time I couldn’t see us making it. But she had been so sure. She had moved across the country to be closer to me even though I was only planning on staying in Nevada for a year. Once it was up, I moved back East to finish grad school. But we were over by then and we didn’t talk for two years. I’d occasionally catch up on what she was doing from mutual friends. When I finished school, she learned through the same friends and dropped me a note. Maybe that was the reason a year later, on a whim, I called and told her my plans to travel west on the train. She said she’d like to see me again and pretty much invited herself along on my planned trip through the southern gold field of the Sierras.

It had been a magical trip. We explored old towns and museums and drank beer in western saloons. We hiked at night, through the sage along the Walker River. We camped another night at Markleeville Hot Springs, spending hours soaking in the pools before laying on the top of a picnic table watching the Perseid Meteor showers. I woke in the early morning hours shivering. She had nuzzled her body close to mine for warmth, but she too was shivering. I was our most intimate moment, broken only when I woke her up and we quickly scampered off to separate sleeping bags. The next day, I dropped her off at her house. She invited me in and fixed dinner as we talked. She confessed she was getting serious with a guy. Although we’d traveled as friends, and had not talk about getting back together, I had once again become enchanted with her. And now, right before I had to drive down to Oakland in order to be there in time to catch the morning southbound, she dropped the news. This time, I felt like I was the one being dumped.

It was a long drive back across the Sierras, and an even longer night spent in a non-descript motel. It was raining the next morning when I dropped the rental car off and caught a cab to the train station. Union Station in Oakland is grand, built in an era when train travel was more common and Oakland one of the busiest station on the West Coast. But the station was still boarded up after having been damaged two years earlier in the ’89 earthquake. No one was sure what was going to happen to the old building. Railroad personal operated out of trailers and the waiting room was crowded and musty. And the train was late. I couldn’t stand the makeshift waiting room, so I took refuge outside under the awning by the tracks, being sprayed whenever the wind blew. The train arrives two hours after it's scheduled time. I scampered on board and as soon as the conductor punched my ticket, headed to the dining car. Having not eaten since breakfast, I was hungry.

By mid-afternoon, the train leaves the Salinas Valley. The engine pulls us up the grass covered San Lucia Mountains and over the Cuesta Pass. Afterwards, the wheels squeal against the rail as the engineer brakes as we descend the Cuesta grade and its famous horseshoe curve. The train turns so tightly that from my window I’m able to see both the engine and the last car. A few minutes later, we’re in San Luis Obispo. This is a short stop. I get off with the smokers, who now that Amtrak has gone smoke free clamber out at every stop long enough to puff on a cigarette. We loiter around the platform for a few minutes until the conductor shouts, “All Aboard.” I step back on the train and spend the next hour or so standing on the downstairs landing by the door and between the bathrooms and handicap seating. The rain lets up a bit, but the dark clouds remain. The countryside is now shrouded with fog. Not long after we pull out of San Luis Obispo, I spot the ocean through tall stately Eucalyptus trees. Although can barely make out the surf, there is something hopeful in the knowing the expansiveness of the water. The fog also makes the rock and grass and trees more interesting.

I’m joined by the car attendant. Not to be stereotyping, but he’s what I expect in a railroad man. His uniform is crisp, his skin dark, and his laugh deep. He’s ridden these rails for many years, having started out with the Southern Pacific. He’s been with Amtrak for nearly twenty years and in all has gotten nearly forty years in total. He’ll retire soon. The rails now parallel the ocean, giving us great views of the surf and wet beach below. As I look out in awe, I proclaim the beauty to the attendant. He listens and nods and then speaks. “Man, he says, “you think this is beautiful? You ain’t seen nothin’.” Pointing to the beach below, he continues, “You should see these beaches on a sunny day. That beach down there, its just one of many along here that attracts nude bathers. On a sunny day everyone is looking at the beaches so that the train leans to the west. Some days it so bad that we have to make people take turns peeping, keeping part of the passengers on the other side of the car to help balance the train and keep us on the track.”

We both laugh. A little later I head down to the lounge car and spend the afternoon talking to fellow passengers and reading. The more miles of rail we cover, the more I forget about her. In LA, I board another train for a short run to Oceanside where I’m meeting a friend. In another day, I’ll be back in LA, boarding the Sunset Limited that’ll take me through the southwest desert to San Antonio, and then I’ll ride the Texas Eagle up through Dallas and St. Louis and on to Chicago where I’ll connect to a train that’ll take me back to my New York home. I should have enough days to forget her. But I won’t.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Back West Again

The photo at the left is the type of plane Skywest flies, and the type of plane I flew on the last leg (of a three leg trip) from Salt Lake City to St. George. Photo from Skywest Airlines

Even with ear plugs, the props drone. Almost all the 30 seats on the SkyWest turbo-prop are filled. We’re flying at 24,000 feet, due south. I press my nose against the window and look out upon the rows of purple mountains to the west. The subtle light at dusk softens their rugged edges. On the horizon, below streaks of grey clouds, is a thin band of pink. Above, the clouds are fewer and the sky is still blue. It’s dark on the ground. I can see a few lights in the distant valleys and imagine that ranchers have finished supper and are now doing their evening chores. Occasionally, larger clusters of lights can be seen, indicating a town planted up along a bench between the mountains and the desert valley. A few headlights can be seen navigating highways 20,000 feet below. Experiencing this again feels good.

I step off the plane in St. George. It’s a hour after dark and the air is still warm, in the upper 70s. I meet my friends and in a few minutes we’re driving up I-15, climbing the Black Ridge. The windows feel cooler as we gain altitude. The Big Dipper is prominently positioned over the Pine Valley Mountains. Even in the darkness, I can make out the cliffs of the Hurricane Fault to the east. It’s all so familiar. It’s just a short trip, but it feels like I’m home.

Yes dear readers, Sage is traveling again. This time he’s back in the land of Purple Sage, Pinion Pine and all, with his backpack and will only occassionally be online. Luckily, for his sinuses, golden rod isn’t much of a problem in this country, but then there’s rabbit brush. I’m not sure what folks did before there were allergy drugs. Stay tuned for more postings. Tomorrow I have my double post with Pia's site and I finished up a post on the book, Parting the Waters which I've recently been quoting from regularly.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Quotes for Sage's Recent Readings

"We knew… that many of our fellow citizens were perishing, and feared that there could be no escape for us,” the Reverend Chapman wrote later. “I think none was afraid of meeting God, but we all felt willing to put it off until a more propitious time…”
-David McCullough, The Johnstown Flood

"Niebuhr thought Rockerfeller’s spicy divorce and remarriage might have the political effect of turning the Republicans into ‘a reactionary party’ built upon white voters in the South and West."
-An interesting “prophecy.” Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963

"He’s damn good."
-JFK to aides after listening on TV to Martin Luther King’s speech during the 1863 march on Washington, as quoted in Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963

"Isn’t he a Democrat when he goes to church?"
MLK on how to recruit Eisenhower to help push through Civil Right’s legislation as quoted in Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963

"If Stalin had invented a puppet named Stanley Levison,"King joked to his aides, "the monstrous dictator should be credited with a service to humanity."
- On learning that a friend of his was considered a communist by the FBI as quoted in Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963

"Americans awaking to the Vietnam crisis puzzled over the conduct on both sides. Given the overwhelming Buddhist population, it was as though a Jewish U.S. president had forcibly suspressed Christmas as a Communist conspiracy."
-on Vietnam’s Catholic rulers suppressing Buddhism in early 1863. Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963

"We find ourselves in a culture that defines us by our purchases."
-Skye Jethani, “All We Like Sheep,” Leadership

Saturday, September 16, 2006


It seems that the moral authority of moms across the land is once again being challenged. After telling decades of telling kids to eat their spinach, government agencies are now siding with kids, telling them what they knew in their gut all along, “this stuff can make you sick.” Unfortunately, I’ve long gotten over my natural dislike of greens and now enjoy spinach (along with collards and kale and turnips), but I don't like my spinach laced with e-coli. I much prefer a vinegar and oil dressing.

Three months after getting this laptop, I’ve finally got around to installing a “screen saver.” It’s a 16th Century painting by Peiter Brueghel titled "Tower of Babel." The original is in a muesum in Rotterdam. Of course the tower looks like it’s built next to a northern European port (like Rotterdam) and not in Mesopotamia, but why let little details bother me. I like the painting. It has great details of construction and of life around the tower. And wonderfully deep red hues. But I mostly I like the painting for it reminds me of human limitation and inabilities. I idea that I needed to get a screen saver was brought to the forefront by a series of posts by a fellow blogger who has a lot more time than I do to pick out the perfect screen saver(s).

I’m down to the last 20 pages of Taylor Branch’s, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, which I plan to finish before bed. Hopefully I’ll get a book review of it out before I head to the desert, where I will be reading Craig Childs, Soul of Nowhere: Traversing Grace in a Rugged Land. It may sound like a religious book, but Childs is a water hydrologist who spends most of his life tramping around the desert southwest. I envy him. Speaking of water (and too much of it), I’m currently listening to David McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood on my ipod. McCullough is a great storyteller. I expect I’ll also review this book.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

from out of the Chaos...

I’m just too darn busy!

Work is crazy right now. As I don’t talk about work here, I won’t say much about except that we’re busy working with architects and we’re hoping to bring in a guy from India for 6 weeks starting in mid-October. And he's having problems getting a visa! Besides that, I’ve got a trip out West coming up the middle of next week and have a lot of stuff to do before I take to the skies. Although I have some business out there, I’m taking a backpack and will spend a good chunk of time hiking in the desert. I promise you’ll hear about it later. This is the trip that I’d planned for May, but had to be postponed. By the way, if you don't hear from me, just assume I decided to keep walking.

Bone (check out Kevin AL in the list of blogs to the side, he's got some powerful stories that I'll have you laughing and crying) has a Wednesday project. He gives three words and asks you write a poem, story, etc. I participated for the first time this week. I'm not sure why I did it, considering how overwhelmed I am, but here's my submission. Bone's words for this week: drop, slow, arms.

So slow,
I dropped behind,
and in shame
buried my head
into my arms.

Don’t you think it sounds as if I’m overwhelmed?

Bone is also serving as administor for all the guest bloggers on Courting Destiny. Pia is taking a month off to work on a book, so go look up her site and experience the writing talents from across the spectrum. Sometime later this month, I will be the guest blogger. When she asked me if I’d do a post, I made her suggest a topic. She suggested I write about a train trip. Therefore, come September 21, while some of you may be celebrating the beginning of fall and I’ll be enjoying the desert, there will be a simultaneous posting of a story about a train ride I took along the California Coast some 15 years ago. The story will be here and at Pia’s site. As an additional teaser (to keep you coming back since I ain't writing much), the story includes a very “Bone-like” memory of a lost love (that should perk Murf's attention). Stay tuned!

Monday, September 11, 2006

911 Memories

I didn’t have to be in the office until late that Tuesday, having worked late the night before. Mrs. Sage had just left for work; I was sitting at the table reading and drinking my second cup of coffee. It think it was around 7:30 AM, Mountain Time. My daughter, just three and a half, was still asleep. Mrs. Sage couldn’t have gotten very far down the road when she called from her cell phone, yelling frantically for me to turn on the TV, saying something about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center. Immediately I went into the living room and turned the TV on and saw a picture of the building burning and then the second plane flying into the second tower. Nothing made sense. Soon, the news outlets were breaking from New York with reports from Washington of an attack on the Pentagon. There were rumors of other attacks. I heard something about a bomb at the State Department, but nothing more was said about it and it turned out to be a rumor. The morning developed into a fog. I got on the internet to see if I could find out more, but the news only had a line or two about the attacks. I checked my mail and a friend who lived in New York City emailed everyone on his list to say that he was okay. I went back to the TV, heard about the plane crash in Pennsylvania and how all airplanes were being grounded. Through all of this, my daughter who was normally up early in the morning slept. After about an hour of watching in horror, I went up to her room and sat by her bed and watched her sleeping, afraid of waking her into this world we found ourselves living. Running through my head as a desperate prayer all that day were the words of the Psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Collection of Quotes from Sage's Weekly Reading

You must love the desert, but never trust it completely. Because the desert test all men: it challenges every step and kills those who become distracted.
-Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Before this I always looked to the desert with longing… Now it will be with hope.
-Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Every search beings with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.
-Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

[A]nyone who interferes with the Personal Legend of another thing never will discover his own.
-Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The Republicans have turned Iraq into a corporate welfare gravy train… True conservatives should be particularly outraged by the no-competition-orgy of fraud, malfeasance, and ineptitude the lack of Congressional oversight has engendered.
-Arianna Huffington in her blog review of the movie “Iraq for Sale”

If you don’t know who you are, the stock market is an expensive place to find out!
-Charles D. Ellis, Investment Policy

I haven’t had such an interesting time since the Bay of Pigs…
-John Kennedy’s “gallows humor” at the beginning of the crisis at Ole Miss as quoted by Taylor Branch in Parting of the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63

Can they hit Oxford, Mississippi?
-another example of JFK “gallows humor” after being told about Cuban missiles right after dealing with the crisis at Ole Miss, as quoted by Taylor Branch in Parting of the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63

Let me be sure to get arrested with people who don’t snore.
-Martin Luther King joking while planning the Birmingham protest of 1963,, as quoted by Taylor Branch in Parting of the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63

Man-made laws assure justice, but a higher law produces love.
-Martin Luther King at a sermon in NYC Riverside Church. Taylor Branch in Parting of the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Modest Proposal

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now that ABC is showing a docu-drama about 911 on the fifth anniversary of the horrible event. The Democrats are up in arms about the show and the inaccurate portrayals contained in the uncut version. From what we’re told, the show tries to pen the problem on Clinton, who is partly to blame, but not completely as the 911 Commission Reported. Even the executive producer of the film admits they conflated some of the events and one of the lead actors complains that he didn't sign up to do fiction. The network is planning on running this show without commercials breaks, except for one 20 minute break for a speech by George Bush. Normally I think not having commercials is a good idea, but if the final cut of this docu-drama is as biased as some suggest, it would be nice to be able to take our complaints to advertisers who could then “punish” ABC in the capitalist way, in the pocketbook.

I have a suggestion. If ABC wants to be fair, show the uncut version of their show, but follow it the next night with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911. Maybe show ½ of their docu-drama, then Moore’s movie, then the remaining half of their docu-drama. As someone who hasn’t seen either movie, and have heard people call both movies fiction, I’m sure the truth is somewhere in between. Bywatching them together, ABC can make everyone mad and we'll all be happy.

Of course, if I watch anything on Monday night, it’ll be football. Did you see the Steelers on Thursday?

Click Here, to get Nevada Jack's take on George Bush and Michael Moore

Friday, September 08, 2006

Book Review: The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, translated by Alan R. Clarke (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998)

I think we all have certain goals for our lives. Some of us even believe that we are destined for particular task. Within the Christian tradition, this is often referred to as our calling which isn’t just limited to a calling into the ministry. God calls us to fulfill particular roles. Few of us, however, fulfill our potential. For me, I’m a lot like Calvin (in an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip) who was so frustrated one day that he complained, “God put me on this world to do a certain number of things. Right now, I’m so far behind, I’ll never die.” What would it look like to completely meet our goals or to fulfill our calling in this life? Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, in his fable The Alchemist attempts to answer such a question.

The Alchemist is about the quest of a Santiago, a young Spanish shepherd, to claim his “Personal Legend.” His sojourner begins with a dream he has while sleeping in an old church that has been long abandoned and now has a sycamore tree growing out of it. Seeking help in interpreting his dream, he visits a gypsy fortune teller. She doesn’t charge him for her services but demands ten percent of the fortune that she says he’ll find. He leaves, thinking he’ll never see her. Later, he runs into an old man who he discovers is a king. He demands ten percent of his flock, up front, to help get him started toward achieving his Personal Legend. At first, he thinks the guy is crazy, but then ponies up ten percent of his flock. All along he’s gathering clues. He risks it all; sells his sheep and heads to North Africa where he’s soon robbed of all his money. Spending a year working for a crystal merchant, he begins to learn how many people have unfulfilled goals in their lives. After saving some money, he continues on his way to the pyramids, traveling by caravan across North Africa. Along the way, he meets a man interesting in alchemy and a girl who is to be the love of his life and finally the Alchemist. He is tested, he’s robbed again, but he finally learns that his treasure is buried back at that church where he had the dream.

This is a simple book. That’s why I refer to it as a fable. On the one hand, the book shows the Santiago making the right decisions when it counts, but he also makes some bad decisions which teach him things he needs to know. Most importantly, he learns that achieving his goal isn’t just up to him. There is a price to pay; yet the universe conspires with him in his quest. He learns to draw on faith from his religion (he’s Christian) but also from the Muslims he meets. He learns from watching the caravan as it winds its way through the desert. He learns from the desert itself (which is one of the reasons I found this book speaking to me.) He learns from the Oasis in which he the caravan stops during a war. With each adventure, Santiago learns another lesson.

This is an easy book to read (I read it in two short sittings). Sit back and enjoy Santiago’s journey. I think I’ll now become a gypsy, for maybe Santiago is right, gypsies are smart for they move around a lot. Or maybe I’ll be like the crystal merchant who never pursued his dream, figuring it was better to dream than to fulfill one’s dream. Stay tuned.

This is the third Coelho book I've read. I also wrote a review of his book, The Pilgrimage.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day River Trip

Not more than a hundred yards from where we launched, the water runs swiftly under a sycamore tree tilting out from the bank only a few feet above the water. SY in the bow yells and leans hard to the right. C, in the middle, having been in a canoe many times, drops down. I catch the tree and hold the boat still. SY’s hat is caught in the tree. Reaching out, she knocks it in the water and fishes it out with her hand. Eeww, she whines. The trip isn’t starting out well.

“Don’t lean to the side,” I instruct before we leave the tree. SY has never been in a canoe. “If we’re going under brush, lean forward with the canoe.” SY practices. The survival instinct is strong across cultures; whenever we were within 50 feet of a limb, she ducks into the front of the canoe.

It’s a risky proposition, talking my daughter C and SY, our exchange student on a river trip. SY has been here less than a week. But it’s a beautiful day and this will be an experience she’ll remember. I give her some basic instructions on paddling and we push off into the Thornapple, leaving the town behind. Mostly the trip is uneventful. The near mishap with the sycamore is the closest we come to swimming. There’s a large maple across the river, requiring us to get out of the boat, balancing ourselves on the log, while hauling the boat over it. Although we’re in no danger, she’s a bit nervous. I suppose standing out in the middle of the river on a log isn’t a trait that comes naturally.

The river is low, normal for this late in the season. Over many gravel bars, we find ourselves walking, pulling the canoe. In other areas, long green weeds grow in the water, hiding rocks just below surface. The weeds, stretching down river, wave with the current.

When we tire of paddling, I pull out a small rod and cast a spinner into any shaded hole along the bank. On my third cast, I get a strike. The fish comes to the surface; jumps clear out of the water and dives. SY yells, “What is it?” I loosen the drag and play him for a few minutes, tiring him out before reeling him in. It’s by no means the largest bass I caught this summer, but he’s a nice one. Holding him up for SY to see, I tell her that we now have dinner. “But I don’t eat fish,” she says.

“What,” I think to myself. “A Korean that doesn’t eat fish, that’d be like an American kid that doesn’t eat hot dogs and hamburgers. My daughter doesn’t eat hot dogs or hamburgers. She’ll eat a cheeseburger, as long as you hold the burger.

“You don’t eat fish,” I ask?

“No, I don’t like it,” she says.

“I ate all kinds of fish in Korea, broiled fish, fried fish, stewed fish and even raw fish,” I confess, hoping she’ll admit to liking one kind of fish.

“But I don’t like any of them,” she insists.

I catch a few more bass, but they’re all too small to keep.

A bit later, we stop on a sandbar for lunch. C. has bagels and cream cheese. SY and I have sandwiches. She also offers me a square of seaweed. I take it, crumble it into my mouth, much as if I was taking a chew of tobacco, and watch my daughter make a disgusting face.

After lunch, the water slows as we enter the backwaters of Irvin Dam. We see many herons and ducks and in the mill pond at Irvin is the home of several swans. I hook a Great Northern Pike. SY gets all excited as struggle to reel him up to the boat. Excited, she jumps around, tipping the boat back and forth. “It’s so big,” she shouts when she spots him in the water. The fish has no intention to getting too close to the boat and runs back out. I let him have line, before bringing him back to the boat. He may be 18 inches, well short of the 24 inch limit for ‘northerns. I let him go. A few minutes later we arrive at the take out just above the dam. Both SY and C are ready to get off the river.

Thinking back on yesterday, it was a good trip. There are hints that autumn isn’t far away. A few isolated branches of Maples have a tinge of color. The air is cool enough that we didn’t have to worry about sweating profusely, yet the water is still warm enough to walk in. That’ll soon change. School has begun. Before long the leaves will change and ice will begin to appear around the banks of the river, slowly working its way out into the middle of the channel. Until then, I’ll have to make the best of it.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Photo released by Animal Planet

It’s early, it’s a holiday, and I have the feeling that today is going to be a disaster. The Crocodile Hunter is dead. He’s my daughter’s hero. Animal Planet is her favorite show. This man played with all kind of deadly snakes and animals and it was a sting ray that finally got him—putting its barb into his heart which is something I can’t quite fathom. This might be worse than when Mr. Rogers died when she was four years old. Maybe she’ll sleep all day. Pray for me, my daughter, and especially for Steve Irwin’s family.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Collection of Quotes
from Sage's Recent Readings

I borrowed this idea from Kevin in Texas... Since I often make notes of my reading, it seemed an easy way to make a post. I'll try posting quotes every week or so and see what kind of response I get from ya'll.

It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Treasure is uncovered by the force of flowing water and it is buried by the same currents.
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

[E]very blessing ignored becomes a curse.
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The desert is a capricious lady, and sometimes she drives men crazy.
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Nobody but the laundry man will know how scared I was.
Police officer in Albany GA during the civil rights struggle, as quoted in Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963

Now and then a fellow gets to thinking about it. Not often, though. Which is a good thing. For the Lord aimed for him to do and not to spend too much time thinking. For the Lord aimed for him to do and not to spend too much time thinking, because his brain it’s like a piece of machinery; it wont stand a whole lot of racking. It’s best when it all runs along the same, doing the day’s work and not no one part used more than needful.
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

Over the years I’ve developed a dubious idea of what it might be like to be on the other end of all that begging, groveling, and petty bargaining. Having a faint intuition of why God may have put up the “Gone Fishin’” sign, I’ve gotten off my knees and whittled my daily petition down to a more sensible and honest, “Thank you God, I know I’m a fool.”
-Poe Ballantine, “God’s Day,” The Sun (September 2006)

Anglers are creatures of perpetual hope, and I can only hope that the one whose bait presentation will, at last, be I.
-William J. Vande Kopple, The Catch: Families, Fishing, and Faith

As Robert Traver has written, pursuing trout is a wonderful experience since they ‘will not live, indeed, cannot live, except where beauty dwells.
-William J. Vande Kopple, The Catch: Families, Fishing, and Faith

Friday, September 01, 2006

Korea Memories #1: The Magpie Crags

Pia encouraged me to write some memories of my time in Korea. Here's my first collection of thoughts, adapted from my journals from 2000.

The sounds of the bell tolling down off the mountainside wake me. I turn on my flashlight. It’s 4 A.M. For a few moments, I lay on my back, the warmth of the floor soothing my body. Seung Hwan had told me the floor would stay warm throughout the night. I had my doubts, but it’s still warm even though the air above is quite chilly. A small fire consisting of just a half dozen pieces of split wood had been placed in the hearth just under the flooring late yesterday afternoon. And now, 12 hours later, long after the coals have died out, the floor retains the heat.

I pull on socks and my pants and thrown on a coat, step out of the sleeping room into the bathroom where I slide on my boots. I don’t lace them up, I don’t plan to be gone long, but I want to be outdoors. The air is cold. I walk to ward off the chill, going to a ledge out in front of the lodge. In the distance I can hear a train making its way through the valley. In the west, a good piece away, is Wonju. The city isn’t yet awake. The sky is clear, the rain and snow of the day before has moved out. Above Wonju, Orion is perched just above the western horizon. I make out several other winter constellations setting in the west before I turn and look toward where the sound of the bell came. The mountain is dark; it’s a couple of hours to dawn. I imagine the priest at the temple, in the cold darkness of morning, getting up daily for their prayers. I’m now ready to go back to my warm bed. Sleeping on the floor has never been this good. The floor is warm and my covers lay on a rice mat. I lay down and fall back asleep, only to awake when the sun pierces through a small window.

I am on a two week trip through South Korea. Seung Hwan arranged for me to stay in this retreat lodge located just out of town, up in the mountains. He’d given me the option of staying in a western hotel or traditional style lodging. I chose the traditional. There are only a few others staying here, and none of them seems to speak English. We’re each assigned our own quarters consisting of a small bathroom with a toilet and sink attached a raised sleeping room. There's showers in the main lodge. There are no beds. The room is raised and has low ceilings, barely six feet high. The walls are mud. The floor is also mud with, I presume, slate or some kind of rock underneath. In the front of each sleeping chamber is a hearth. The fire in this hearth, which runs under the sleeping room, heats the floor. Once warm, the floor maintains its heat through the night.

Seung Hwan arrives shortly after daybreak. We have breakfast. It’s Monday morning and as we eat, we catch a bit of the Superbowl being played back in the States. St. Louis is playing Tennessee at the Georgia Dome. I try to explain the game to him. When it is over, we head out. We have a long climb ahead in Ch’iaksan National Park. We drive to the south end of the park, leave the car behind, pull on packs containing heavy coats and crampons, and head out on a dirt two track road. Although the cities have modernized, it doesn't appear rural Korea has changed much in centuries. We pass several small farms. Chickens run loose and there are many dogs penned behind the homes. After a few kilometers, the dirt road ends and we begin climbing a small path up into the mountains. The climb is steep and we often have to stop and catch our breaths. Soon, the dirt and mud give way to packed snow and ice. We strap crampons onto our boots and continue climbing. It’s a long ways up. Occasionally we hear trains making their way through the valley. There is a circle tunnel just south of us where the train makes a loop as it climbs into the mountains. There are a few birds. Although this mountain range is known as the Magpie Crags, I don’t see any.

We take a break and eat lunch at a spring located below Sangwona Temple. Seung Hwan explains that pilgrims stopped here to bath and purify themselves before going to the temple to pray. The water is cold and refreshing. The wind comes up and while we’re stopped, we both pull on heavy coats, keeping in them on for the final climb.

The temple appears to be deserted, although we can tell its well kept. We see only one monk, walking away. The most notable feature is the bell, a huge cast bronze bell that is mounted on the side of a ledge that looks out to the South. A large log, suspended from two chains, is used to strike the bell. The monks have taken precautions and have padlocked the bell so that tourist like us won’t ring it at an inappropriate time. I ask Seung Hwan if this is the bell I heard in the morning and he said probably not, for there are many temples in his range and that the bell I heard was probably at the Ipsoksa Temple, located on the flanks of Mount Pinobong.

We take our shoes off and go inside the temple area. There are several beautifully cast statues of Buddha. Although neither of us are Buddhist, we are both respectful and reverent. There is a holy aura about the place. I could stay here a long time, but we must get going. Going down is easy. The spikes on our boots hold our feet on the icy spots. As we walk, I ask Seung Hwan about the temple and its bell. This is rugged country, it took a Herculean effort to build a temple with such fancy statues and such a wonderful bell. I’m told the temple was built late in the Shilla Dynasty, at a time when Confucianism was taking root in Korea. A while later, under the Yi Dynasty, Buddhism was seen was begun to be seen as an enemy of the people and many of the temples were closed due to the lack of priests. Then he tells me a story.

Once Confucianism became entrenched in Korea, anyone desiring in a government position had to take a national exam at the capital. One day, a man passed along the mountains in which we’d been climbing, heading to take the exam. A kind man, as he made his through the valley in the shadow of the mountain we’d been climbing, he heard a bird cry for help. Looking around, he saw a snake squeezing the bird that would soon be its dinner. Feeling compassion for the bird, the man shot an arrow into the snake, killing it but freeing the bird. Shortly afterwards, as it was getting late, the man came to a home. He knocked on the door and a beautiful woman answered. He asked for lodging and she agreed. She even prepared him a wonderful dinner. But after dinner, the woman turned into a snake and wrapped herself around the man, telling him that he’d killed her husband and now she was going to do the same to him. He begged for his life and the snake, playing with the man, said that if the bell rings three times before dawn, he’ll be spared. Otherwise, she’ll kill him in the morning.

This was a cruel reprieve. Both the snake and the man knew there were no monks living in the mountains to ring the bell. So the man spent the night embraced by the snake, waiting for a fateful sunrise. But right before dawn, the man and the snake was surprised to hear the bell ring. The first time, it was very loud. Then it rang a second time, a bit weaker. Then they heard a very weak third ring. The snake kept her word and allowed the man to go free. Instead of heading on the capital, he decided to climb the mountain and to see who it was that rang the bell. Sure enough, the temple was empty. But there under the bell was the bird that he’d saved the day before, it’s beak shattered from having flown into the bell three times. To this day, the bell is known as the “Compassion Bell.”

That night, back at the retreat house, a light breeze jingles the wind chimes along the porch. My body, tired and sore after climbing in the mountains, immediately falls asleep upon the warm floor. Again, I wake at 4 AM with the toll of the bell. It's more muffled than the morning before. And again, as with the morning before, I get up and go outside. A light snow falls, dusting the ground.

Note: Whenever I get around to building my cabin, I would love to have a sleeping area like this one; it was better than any spa!