Joshua Tree Diary: Baby Steps and First Things

[On the way to Hidden Valley]

I’ve been coloring.  We’ve been coloring.  You know those adult coloring books that are so popular now?  Well, I’m not a bit ashamed to say that Mariam and I have been working separate pages in a book that I bought at a 7-Eleven for $5.99+ tax.

[Occupying time in the desert]

Neither of us have been feeling on top of our game.  I’ve already whined about my chest congestion (and Mariam’s allergies ), but today was a little bit warmer that any day since we arrived here on December 1.  It got to 59 F.  Then our landlord came by to drop off a vacuum cleaner and told us that many people in the Joshua Tree valley have allergies.  Nice thing to know.

My handkerchief looks like a WWI bandage stolen from a war museum somewhere in northern France.  My nose has been overactive.  I never realized until now how important my nose is for breathing.  I always took it for granted.  But breathing up here in the high desert is something that comes with difficulty, determination and prayer.  Still, we were determined to take our first hike in the National Park.  We choose Hidden Valley.  That’s a one mile loop trail through some spectacular scenery.  I’ve always wondered about names like Hidden Valley.  If it’s hidden, how does anyone know it’s there?

Well, I read my guidebook and found out that it was reputed to be a hiding place for cattle rustlers and horse thieves…back in the day.  That sounds like a perfect explanation.  You enter through a narrow notch and then there is this wonderful ‘valley’.  A perfect place to hide stolen livestock with places for lookouts and places to camp.

[In Hidden Valley]

[More in Hidden Valley]

The photos I’m including here don’t do justice to the serenity and beauty of the place.  The problem is that it’s the most popular short hike in the Park…which meant that one was never alone, truly alone, amidst the rock formations and cacti.  We may do the hike again…maybe at night so we can meet the ghosts of the rustlers or hear the neighing of the stolen steeds.

But, we started late and so I had to open the package for my new headlamp.  That was a challenge beyond anything I’ve attempted.  I’m usually good at getting a product out of its plastic/cardboard packaging, but this required a knife blade and the risk of opening a mean wound in my left palm or severing an artery.

[Headlamp destruction]

Yes, we started late, since here in the desert and at this time year, daylight begins to end shortly after 11:00 am.  Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration.  The sun begins to dip below the rocky mounds a little after 3:00 pm.

Our walk took thirty-five minutes.  Short but enough for someone whose feels oxygen deprived.

When we returned to the parking area, I felt the need to use the public rest room facilities.  Inside, I counted thirteen rolls of toilet paper!  That’s must be some kind of record.  I did not take a photo of those.

Pardon me, but I do have some class, dignity and some standards that remain…from back in the day.

I made that clear to the bartender at the Joshua Tree Saloon.

[All photos are mine.]

[Note to readers: The next blog post that will be out in a day or so has nothing to do with my current theme of Joshua Tree Diary.  It’s something totally different that I want I want to post now.]

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Joshua Tree Diary: The First Days

I looked in the mirror late this morning and decided I would need a haircut sometime in the next few weeks.  Trouble is, we’re a few miles from the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base (the largest U.S. military base in the world, I’m told) and nearly all the haircut places offer a “military cut”.  Well, I really don’t want to have my head shaved at this point in my life, so I have to find a salon that can make a guy like me look like a guy like me.

So, here we are…in Joshua Tree, California.  The high desert, the edge of the Mojave, the northern edge of the National Park.  Our home is very well appointed with a fenced in backyard and cable TV.  We’re quite pleased with the rental we’ve chosen for the month of December.

[Part of our rental]

[Our private backyard}

I’ve struggled to come up with a catchy title to the blogs that I will be posting for the next month (we’re here only for December before we head to Santa Barbara for a few days of hiking and beach walking).  I’m calling this series of blogs The Joshua Tree Diary.  Lame? Maybe, but you haven’t been through what I’ve been through lately.

We arrived from Los Angeles on December 1 in a rented Nissan.  We passed the Joshua Tree Inn where Gram Parsons OD’d (see an earlier post about that on my website…it’s called “Room 8”).

We seemed to have arrived during a cool spell.  It got below freezing last night and may do so again tonight.  We were treated to the clear desert sky and the rising of the Super Moon last night.

[The Super Moon on Dec. 3. Sorry, but the iPhone doesn’t do well with this kind of photo]

Okay, so how did we spend our first days here?  We’ll I got here running a slight fever and a cough that would freak out most circus animals.  My throat felt like I had hosted a demolition derby and my chest felt like I inhaled  a quart of vanilla yogurt…I was not well.

We did manage to get to the National Park Visitor Center where I intended to purchase a Golden Pass (we left our other one home).  This allows seniors free admission to the Parks.  Two years ago when we purchased one at Devil’s Tower National Park, the cost for this lifetime pass was $10.00.  Now they charge $80.00!  And, these parks are ours anyway, we pays taxes…don’t get me started.

Next stop was getting a temporary visitors card at the local library.  I gladly paid $10.00 even though I will only be using it until December 31.  I’m not carrying anymore “book” books.  They are heavy and bulky.  I’ll give my copy of David Copperfield to a woman who runs a tiny used bookstore a few miles away along Route 62, towards Twentynine Palms.

I bought a copy of the Hi-Desert Star…couldn’t find a copy of the New York Times anywhere.  An ad caught my eye and it was then I realized that we were living amidst a culture that is quite different from Upstate New York.  I hope this guy finds his goal and makes off for the hills and gets rich from a lost mine (there are many out here).

[Ad from the Hi-Desert Star}

How am I feeling today?  I think I turned the corner.  I don’t think it’s hit or miss anymore.  I don’t think it’s touch and go.  I don’t feeling like I’m going to die out here…and become just another statistic.  I felt well enough to drag myself and Mariam to the Joshua Tree Saloon to sip a glass of Lagunitas.

[Joshua Tree Bar & Grill]

All of the above happened in the first four days.  We haven’t set foot in the Park yet.  Maybe on Wednesday we’ll hike the Skull Rock Trail.  It’s short and the ‘skull rock’ boulder is looking more and more like me.

Having said all that, this is what we’ve left behind:

[An Adirondack scene. Pretty, but no shoveling]

Right now, I’ll take the desert and deal with sand in my shoes and not frost on my finger tips.

The Three-Eyed Turkey From Mars

Reprinted from the Journal of Unbelievable Results, Nov. 2017. Vol. 1, No. 1.

About ten or fifteen years ago, the New York Post ran a bold, full-page headline which read: Life On Mars!

(or something like that).  It seems that one of the NASA Mars rover vehicles turned over a small rock and analyzed the sand beneath.  Some sort of Amino acids or complex molecules were discovered that indicated that Mars could, indeed, support life.  Well, thirty-five years of teaching science has taught me one thing at least: Don’t believe everything you read in the New York Post.

I’ll put it out there as kindly as I can.  There is no verifiable evidence that life exists anywhere except here on Earth.

I firmly believed that until this Thanksgiving past.  My soon-to-be-five-year-old grandson, Elias, was given the opportunity to construct a turkey in his pre-K art class.

What he constructed is the first example of an alien fowl.  He told me that it had to be an alien because it had three eyes.

I submit the enclosed photo as proof of this amazing discovery.  I leave it up to my faithful readers to decide for themselves the validity of this evidence that clearly disproves the long-held theory that Mars is a lifeless planet.

It remains to be seen, however, if, given the current state of politics, whether or not there is intelligent life here on Earth.

[Actual photograph of the alien three eyed turkey as constructed by Elias.  Photo is mine.]

 

A Mistake Of Heartbreaking Proportions/A Blog About A Blog

[Source: Google search.]

Most people who choose to write and post blogs do so to make a point of some kind.  That is not something I always try to do.  Make a point, that is, or push a position, or share a recipe for s’mores.  Many of my subjects are valid and intense..full of honesty and conviction.  Some are light and whimsical.  Some are full of nostalgia, fear and regret.  I write and post because I enjoy touching on subjects that interest me, amuse me, and by extension, hope they will entertain and be enjoyed by you, my followers and friends.

But, I never have been good at math.

A few postings ago, I slipped in a teaser about an upcoming blog that would blow the roof off the cyber-joint that we share.  I said that I was only four posts away from my 400th blog.  I was elated.  I was preparing something special that would help many of my readers believe that they’ve really not wasted that much of their precious life in taking time to read my stuff and even click ‘like’.

But, then…cold reality and facts slapped me upside the head.  I took the time to look more closely at my stats on WordPress and found myself in a cold shower.  The number of 396 was what I was focused on.  But in reality, that number included the total number of blogs written not published.  I failed to recall that I had 14 posts that were started and never finished…for various reasons.  I didn’t think they were good enough, I forget about starting them and I, most importantly, neglected to delete them.  So they fell into a category called ‘drafts’.

This is where I am found wanting.  I promised a 400th blog that would deliver the emotional impact that would be the equal to Cher performing at half-time at the Super Bowl,  to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize,  to finding a lost episode of Gilligan’s Island, to proving the climate really does change because of human activity (something that seems to be beyond the grasp of anyone who slept through 7th grade science), to proving that Yoko Ono really did break up the Beatles and that bringing back Dynasty to TV is somehow a rational idea.

So, in reality my last post about Halloween was my 383rd.

This is a set-back worse that Trump ‘winning’ the 2016 election (not really).

The question is: where do I go from here?  At the rate I’ve been posting, it may be well into 2018 before I can deliver the ‘keeper’…the 400th blog post.

Not to worry.  I will always find something worthwhile to post and, hopefully, worth your time to read.

And click “like”.

Please!

 

The Toboggan

When I enter our garage from the door that faces our house, I don’t often look up.  What could be up there that I’m avoiding?  Well, there is an old oak bed head-board and foot board that was mine when I grew up at 420 Front Street, Owego, NY.  There are stickers of cowboys and indians on the head-board.  There are numerous tiny indentations of BB hits when I was young and used the head-board as a backdrop for my Daisy rifle.  The only other item of mine, settled and resting on the 2 x 4 inch cross pieces of the garage, is The Toboggan.

I stood and stared at the old sled for half an hour.  I brought it up here, to our place in the Adirondacks, intending it to be my first “project”.

My hands last handled this antique when we had to empty my father’s house after he passed in 2004.  Before that, I had placed it in the garage in Owego. Sometime in the early 1990’s, I stored it in the barn that was part of the house that my wife had owned in the years before we met.  The house was in Milford, PA.

I stood and stared and the memories came slowly at first and then I couldn’t stop them from filling my head with the past.

Was this the sled that my brothers tried to push me down the small hill behind our house in Owego?  There wasn’t much of a slope so I went nowhere until Chris or Denny ran behind me and pushed me onward.

That’s what brothers do.

Was this the sled that I took to a snowy hillside near Owego and jumped on behind Mary, my girlfriend, as we sailed through drifts of snow and patches of weeds and scrubs?  I don’t remember.

Was this the sled that came with me when I moved to a farm-house in the early 1970’s and I began my teaching career?  And also began a new role as a father to my 1 1/2-year-old girl, Erin?  I would take her on tours of the harvested cornfields that surrounded our lonely house on a snow-covered and wind-swept hill–pulling her behind me?

When I went ice skating with my brother Dan on a nearby frozen pond (before “they” broke the dam and drained the pond) and he was interested in film and I would pull them both while he filmed?  After Dan finished his project, I would skate backwards (I could, you know), pulling Erin on the toboggan and giving her a wicked swirl that would almost throw her sliding across the ice on her own.

The toboggan disappeared into the rafters of the slanted old garage behind our house in Owego–to be forgotten for years–with one exception.

I was informed of a great place to go tobogganing, the IBM Country Club in Endicott (or was it Endwell, NY)?  The golf course had a hill that was very popular.

So, one day in the mid-1970’s, we took the old sled down from my dad’s garage and headed for the slopes.  It proved to be a great place indeed.  Then I noticed that someone had built up a small snow bump.  I told Erin that before I would take her over it, I would have to first try it myself.

Off I went, toward the little bump.  The closer I glided toward the bump, the bigger it became.  When I hit it, I rose into the sky and felt I was going to land in someones backyard, across the river in Vestal.  I was airborne for what seemed like forty-five minutes, before I hit the ground.  The toboggan went one direction and my eye-glasses went another.  I simply came straight down onto the slope sliding in a third direction and feeling for broken bones before I came to an abrupt halt against a small tree.

“Mommy? Can Daddy do that again?” was all I could hear Erin cry out.

Was she kidding? My head buzzed for two days.

Back to my garage.  So there is the toboggan.  I had a fleeting thought about restoring it (once again) and mounting it on the wall in our screened-in porch.  It would require the removal of two antique snowshoes, but there are plenty of places on our walls to mount them in a new location. Ironically, the brand name stenciled in orange paint, on the curved bow reads: ADIRONDACK.

There’s a fair amount of dust on the old sled.  My best guess as to its age would be 90+ years.  But there’s one thing I am certain of; toboggans aren’t meant to gather dust.  Their made for the young and the old to ride on and scream from as it flashes past an old barn, an old tree or a fresh snowdrift.  They’re made to carry at least four adults, six kids and a metric ton of memories.

And, once it’s on the wall, I would never be asked to “do it again” on any slope, on any mountain or hill in the Adirondacks.

[The intended site of the restored toboggan]

 

 

Dead Man’s Bone

[Source: Google search]

This is not about a toothache as the photo suggests.  It’s about me walking around with 0.5 cc of granules of a dead persons bone in my gums (ignore the gender reference in the title.  It’s purely for dramatic effect.  I thought it sounded spooky).  For the next several months, my body is being tricked into recognizing these grains as being foreign to my body…and then, theoretically, form my own bone material in preparation for an implant.

Got that?  Hope so, because I barely get it.

When I turned seventy at the end of last May, no one took me aside and informed me that now I was going to have a new and more involved relationship with the dental profession.  No one spoke to me of crowns, broken fillings or implants.

All that’s changed now.  I just got home yesterday afternoon after having my third extraction since January.  Looking at me trying to force a smile, you wouldn’t take me for a neo-Nazi, a National Hockey League goalie or some survivalist named Skeeter living in an RV forty-five miles from downtown Las Vegas.  No, I’ve been pretty lucky with my teeth.  Up until January, I had all my real teeth (I still have my real teeth…most of them) despite the fact that I spent more than a few nickels at Harvey’s grocery store when I was a child.  The small change didn’t go into raisins or apples.  I was more interested in Mars bars, Milky Way bars and Tootsie Rolls.  Yes, I paid for it all with trips to the dentist (a guy who didn’t believe in Novocaine) and got my fair share of fillings.  At the time, it was a small price to pay for a candy bar.

A month or so ago, my regular dentist in Saranac Lake was in the process of replacing a cracked filling when he stopped and said: “This is worse than the x-ray showed.  You’re root is very deep.  This tooth needs to come out.”

So a month later I was sitting in an exam room of an oral surgeon in Lake Placid.  It was a sparsely appointed room.  There was the usual sink, etc, behind me and the light above my head.  On a shelf in the corner was a computer monitor with an x-ray of my mouth on the screen.  Somewhere amid the white dots (fillings) and a lot of gray stuff were the images of about five of my teeth.  One of those was coming out.

[My photo]

The walls of the room were green, but my wife is convinced I’m color blind, so they may have been brown.  I’ll never know.

After a check of my BP I was led into another room.  This one had a similar x-ray of my mouth, but there was more stuff around.  Soon I was nearly flat on my back with a light in my face that was so bright it made my eyes water.  Maybe the doctor thought I was crying.  More than likely I was.  My fear of dentists goes back to childhood.  In fact it probably pre-dates my birth.

[My photo]

“Any questions?” asked the surgeon.

I had opted for an implant at a later date so that meant I needed something to put into the empty hole in my gum.  Leaving a vacancy in my gums was not something wanted.  I’m certain it would affect my whistling of “Old Man River”.

I said: “You said earlier that the temporary ‘tooth’ was from a donor.  Would you walk me through the donor thing?”

In the back of my mind, I knew that people didn’t ‘donate’ teeth…while they were alive.

“Well,” the doctor said, “it’s really not a donated tooth.  It’s donated bone.”

“Like from a cadaver?” I tentatively inquired.

“Yes,” she said, keeping a straight face.

The top of the chair held my head in a tight position.  I tried to turn and look at the tray of instruments, but I was afraid I’d catch a glimpse of a pair of pliers from Home Depot.  Instead, I stared at the x-ray and silently bid farewell to my doomed tooth.  After all, we’ve been through a lot together.  The pain injections made my mouth feel like I looked like Quasimodo.  I touched my left lower lip expecting a flow of saliva like the dogs in Stephen King novels.

[For those of you who are still with me, the stuff she was going to pack the empty hole with is called “Mineralized Ground Cancellous.  250-1,000 microns].

“Can we start?”

[Source: Google search]

“I’m ready,” I said. For the dead person’s bone matter, I thought.

After the pain of the injections that was giving me the drug that was to stop the pain, it was all over in about twenty minutes.

It was rather a simple procedure…not like in the movies.

Now I’m on a liquid diet for a week or so.  The implant will come later.  I’m over the worst of it.

But I can’t stop thinking of who the donor was.  Was it someone I once knew?  Perhaps someone I dated?

It’ll keep me awake for a few nights.

Most things do.

 

D’Arcy At The Bat

A bat. [Source: Wikipedia]

bat n : any of an order of night-flying mammals with forelimbs modified to form wings.

[Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary]

I considered naming this post “Listen to them…they are the children of the night. What beautiful music they make” but I decided: a) it was too long for a title, and, b) the possibility of a copyright violation because it was the classic line spoken by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 film Dracula (Universal Studios retain some killer lawyers, I hear).

But, actually my chosen title speaks more to the point of the story (all true, I assure you) as I am about to relate.  Less than 24 hours ago (as I write this), my friend and seasonal neighbor (his real home is in Ohio), D’Arcy Havill, had an hour-long, somewhat contentious, battle with a real bat that entered his house in the dark hours, after sunset and during a rainstorm.

In a sense, it all began as my wife, Mariam and I were finishing dinner at the Belvedere Restaurant in Saranac Lake.  The dinner (I had Salmon) was to celebrate D’Arcy’s wife’s birthday.  Her name is Judy.  You’ve read about this couple in past blogs.

It was a warm muggy afternoon and there were scattered evening thunderstorms.  We drove home in a light sprinkle of rain.  I pulled our car up to their garage and parked.  Judy and D’Arcy opened the garage door and went into their house.  Mariam and I followed…but we took the walkway to the front door.  We were there to end the evening with a bit of chocolate cake and ice cream.  No sooner was I inside and heard the screen door slam shut behind me, I heard D’Arcy say the dreaded words: “Who let the bat in?”  I thought he said “Who let the cat in?” and I became confused because I could see their two cats, Delilah and Sylvester standing in the hallway.  The cats suddenly began to act as though they were walking on a bed of hot coals…they hopped about and were looking up.  There it was.  A bat had come in behind us and was making circular flights around the ceiling fan.  The cats were immediately banished to the master bedroom…and for good reason.  When cats and bats tangle, things can get rough and ugly.

Being from the mid-west, D’Arcy probably had an edge over Mariam and me when it comes to bats.  The Adirondack bat population has plummeted in recent years because of something called “white nose disease” (don’t ask).  Consequently, the mosquito population has spiked (keeping me indoors until the first frost…probably in late September).  So he (D’Arcy) issued the first command: “Open the doors!”

Meanwhile, as the bat kept circling the ceiling fan, Mariam took my iPhone into the kitchen and found “bat calls”.  I had no idea there was an app for that sort of thing.  I thought at first that she had found a really awful jazz station on the radio, but they were indeed, bat calls.

I thought for a few minutes and realized she may have been playing an aggressive angry call instead of a mating call (that would have attracted the bat, one would think), so I suggested that she not play the calls.  Next thing I hear is some conversation that was recorded by a family who were facing the same situation…a bat in the house.  Their problem ended when the mother shooed the bat out of an open door with a broom.

“Let’s get a broom,” said Judy.

“No,” said D’Arcy, eyeing the ceiling fan and several antique paintings, clearly envisioning an interior design fiasco.

The radio did suggest that the lights should be turned off.  The bat would become disoriented by a lot of light since they used echolocation and are known to have poor eyesight (you know…”blind as a bat”).

So the adults retreated to the screened-in porch to ponder the situation.  Here we were, four adults, all past retirement age, with three and a half Master’s degrees between us.  I was a science teacher but I never taught a lesson on bats.  What were we going to do?  Mariam and I just couldn’t say “good night” and leave the Havills with a rogue bat flying around their white vaulted ceiling.

Someone suggested using a butterfly net.  The only problem was that none of us caught or collected butterflies.  But, no authentic Adirondack camp is without an antique fishing net…the hand held kind.  D’Arcy had two.

We went back into the living room and found that the bat had landed on the wall, about fifteen feet above our heads.  We went back to the porch.  The fishing net thing gave me an idea.

“Just a thought, but why don’t we attach one of your nets to a pole and capture the bat while it is resting on the wall?” I said.

D’Arcy went to work like a true mid-westerner.  He grabbed his wooden hiking stick, disappeared into the garage and soon we were duct-taping the handle of the fishing net to the stick.

Back to the living room.  We turned on a single light and we soon had the bat trapped by the net (after a long reach). But as he was dragging the net down, the bat crawled out from the gap where the net handle and walking stick were joined.  Off it went to make more orbits of the ceiling fan.

Back to the porch.  Mariam suggested that if he turned the net inside out, there would be no gap.

“Then we would slide the bat down the wall and slide a piece of cardboard against the wall and the net, thereby trapping the bat.

We waited until the little mammal needed a rest and sure enough, it went to almost the same place it had been a few minutes earlier…only a few more feet higher.  D’Arcy made the supreme reach and covered the bat.  He dragged it slowly down, this time leaving the creature no gap to escape.  I slid the cardboard against the wall and before you could say “strike two”, we had it outside.  But then the problem of getting it out of the net presented itself.  It was hopelessly tangled.

“Scissors!” he yelled.  He was like a surgeon and Judy promptly brought a huge pair from the kitchen drawer.

We snipped and cut and gently, string by string, finally freed the bat, who promptly flew off toward our house…hopefully to gorge itself on all the mosquitoes that had been eyeing me for the last few days.

We let the cats out of the bedroom (where they had clawed the edges of the carpet trying to escape).

Mariam and I went home and watched two hours of a tense murder mystery series on PBS.

It’s been said that the last few Batman movies have become darker, more brooding.  I can totally get it.

And, even though we all lost a precious hour, I still believe, “Every little bat is sacred”.

Not like last night, but close. [Source: National Park Service. The Carlsbad bat flight]

D’Arcy’s net the morning after. [My photo]