Beautiful British Columbia

The license plates of Canada’s most southwesterly province proclaim “Beautiful British Columbia.” And how. A verdant land of lush forests, tall mountains, and water, still and moving. And a country of solicitous and friendly people, all of it beckoning in the time of Covid.

We sidestepped the summer airline travel laments by saddling up our Cirrus—N711QT—for the 1017 nautical mile flight each way between our home ‘drome of McClellan Palomar-Carlsbad (KCRQ) and Victoria International Airport (CYYJ) on a peninsula at the SE corner of Vancouver Island. There’s lots to see during the six hours and change to fly this route, including a nice shoulder glance at severed-top Mt. St Helens and Mt. Adams. Calmer now than when I flew United 443, a B727 into Portland, Oregon, on May 18, 1980, arriving just as St. Helens blew her top. It literally looked like a nuclear mushroom cloud, billowing up into the highest reaches of the atmosphere. I’ve just reviewed my contemporaneous logbook entry remark—”Mt. St. Helens Erupts—WHAT A SIGHT!” But a more tranquil sight on July 21, 2022, when this image was taken.

We mostly plan our own getaways, with an eye to fresh air and restrained adventure. Sometimes the planning fails to cover all the details and unexpected adventures arise. I had sweated over online filling out the user-unfriendly governmental e-APIS (electronic-Advance Passenger Information System) documents a lot more than the actual flight plans covering the navigational courses, the time en route, the fuel requirements, weather and such. e-APIS, a byproduct of Nine Eleven, is the way that countries know the names and passport information of whoever is traveling by air across international boundaries. They want to know where you are going to cross the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone, the actual in-flight cross-border boundary) and when—for us, DISCO, a waypoint over the Straight of Juan de Fuca, 18 nm SE of CYYJ, eleven minutes before touchdown. There’s no line in the sky or on the sea below to mark it, and the actual ADIZ there makes a dog’s hind leg look straight. Aviation authorities are picky about this stuff, and garfing it up could actually result in a fighter jet pulling up alongside to usher you to an official comeuppance. As an aside, our chums to the north also have an online ArriveCAN document that no one told me about, but which I discovered on my own before departure, and which calls for conveying passport information and scans of traveler immunization documents with attestations of no Covid symptoms. Coming up on DISCO almost to the minute, could have had me wallowing in self satisfaction over my flight planning and aviating prowess, but just about then, while in descent, an ALT 1 warning light came up on the Primary Flight Display, and a glance at the engine page of the MultiFunction Display confirmed that our #1 Alternator (there are two) had failed, a fairly important irregularity in an all-electric airplane. I dug out the checklist to assure not missing any important steps in the procedure, and at first got ALT back on line…until it failed again. Still barely in U.S. airspace, I requested a diversion to Paine Field, Washington, off to our right, and enquired of ATC the straight line distances to both KPAE and CYYJ. Victoria was barely a few miles farther on, and that is where our vacation lay—hotels, rental cars, ferry reservations and such. Damn. I reset the ALT one more time, and it came back, so I talked ATC into a clearance Direct To CYYJ without the normal circuitous Standard Terminal Arrival. And naturally, the alternator then chose to fail again, permanently so. Pilot mea culpa, here—electrical abnormalities generally call for one chance to correct it, not multiple tries, and a diversion begun is probably better continued, and what your plans are upon landing should be the bottom priority for diversion considerations in the first place. I’m human, and weighing the variables, chose to continue to Victoria. So shoot me. Victoria Control, obliging as they were, enquired if I had the aerodrome in sight. Never having been there before, not at first glance. But then it appeared, and below is the Canon R5 view as we entered the traffic pattern on a bearing that was part downwind and part base leg to runway 09, the runway somewhat parallel to our current track as we descended toward the boats in the water at 9 o’clock in the frame. Per the checklist, I had shut down the alternator, and deactivated all the unnecessary electrical draws normally powered by that alternator, but still the #1 battery which powered things without the alternator function began a slow bleed down of voltage. News clue, this is the battery used to turn the propeller for engine start. Hmm.

We touched down, and per the tower’s request exited at taxiway W, which led directly to the Shell ramp, the official Canadian Customs and Immigration location for arriving private aircraft. And this is where the second unexpected adventure began. I had missed an important substep in the official arrival documentation. It turns out that neither e-APIS or ArriveCAN tell their Customs and Immigration that you are coming. e-APIS apparently tells their Air Traffic Control, but not Customs and Immigration. Before departure I had looked for a Victoria C & I phone number to enquire if I had accomplished all they desired? I could find no such number. So then I called the Viking Air Fixed Base Operator on the field where our airplane would be parked during our vacation, and asked them if there was any special procedure at this particular international airport? “Nope, you just use the CanPASS phone at the Shell location after you land.” Such phone is located next to where they have you shut down the engine, and another, just inside at the flight planning cubicle (and near the all important restrooms). I used this latter phone to call 1-888-CANPASS denoted on the adjacent wall, and after being on hold for nearly a half hour got a real human, who proceeded to edify me that I should have told them we were coming by calling their toll-free CANPASS number from the U.S. within 24 hours of our estimated time of arrival. So now we had to wait on the plane for two customs ladies to come and check us out. They were very official and very armed, but also very Canadian, which is to say they were quite pleasant and polite while giving me a warning not to arrive unexpectedly again, or I’d be cited or whatever. But there were more unexpected twists. Deb, the lady in the Shell FBO, who had told me that she could tell me where the CANPASS phone was at the flight planning station, if she could tell me anything, but which she couldn’t because until the armed customs agents arrived we weren’t officially in the country yet, but then after the customs agents did arrive and admonish me, arranged to have her (Deb’s) assistant drive us to the airline terminal to get our rental car which couldn’t be delivered to the Viking Air FBO where our plane was to stay, and she (Deb) would waive the $60 per night Shell aircraft ramp fee because we were both birds of a feather airline types (she an ex-flight attendant whose husband is a retired Canadian airline pilot, and whose son is now) this in deference to the fact that the modestly depleted battery possibly hadn’t enough juice to start the engine so we could taxi to Viking Air, and besides it would require waiting until the next morning because the folks at Victoria Air Maintenance, Ltd. who would actually work on the alternator and who had the tug needed to tow the plane had just gone home for the day at their 5 PM closing. You following? Well, that’s about how convoluted it played out in real time with a mechanical problem, a Customs problem, a car delivery problem and such. You can’t make this stuff up. Once we got the car, we were happy to find that our map navigation applications in our mobile devices would work in spite of Verizon’s goofy Canadian usability, and we repaired to our Brentwood Bay Resort lodging and its lifesaving pub, where a BC micro-brewed pilsner put things in a better light.

Above is the source of our lament, as found by Vic Air Maintenance mechanic Patrick Lee, and shown to me the next morning before heading to Butchart Gardens for the first day’s planned tourism. Patrick, having gotten my voice message from the afternoon before now knew of our predicament, and had proactively gone to Shell and tugged the plane to Vic Air. A portent of amiable pro-active engagement things to come. Just below the center of the frame, pointing toward you is the cooling baffle “through-bolt” from the gear-driven #1 alternator, to which is normally attached the hefty wire that carries the current to the airplane’s motherboard known as the Main Control Unit. The wire is the black line you see running up and to the right, and feeding into the white rubber insulating sleeve, out of which at the bottom is a blackened and deformed (melted) cable terminal that is supposed to be screwed down tightly to the bolt. But the bolt-securing nut had worked its way loose, and then exited the airplane. leaving the cable end to alternately connect and disconnect from the through-bolt, arcing and searing itself and failing to provide usable current to the MCU. The bolt isn’t so much out of focus, as melted and deformed. Fortunately, the shutdown step in the irregular procedure precluded this devolving into a genuine electrical fire emergency. But the fix has required a new alternator, a new through-bolt, a new cable end, and a new Field Control Module in the Main Control Unit. You don’t want to know the cost of all this unless you are sitting down and on to at least your second pilsner. The Big Guy upstairs apparently likes us, besides avoiding a fire, nudging us on to CYYJ vs. KPAE and delivering us to both our vacation and to superb maintenance. Patrick and the folks at Vic Air Maintenance are first-rate aviation repair types, and they coordinated with Jared and Reuben at San Diego’s Coast Air, the local Cirrus service facility that normally takes care of the plane, to get the right repair procedure guidance and parts delivered from Cirrus and Boeing in the U.S. to effect the repairs. We didn’t have parts availability supply chain issues of the sort reported these days, but both Boeing and FedEx dropped the ball on keeping the parts coming. It took a week of daily phone calls and text messages by Jared and me, to get the parts to the Victoria FedEx delivery center, and then Patrick showing Canadian can-do moxie, to personally go and hand retrieve them. I frankly do not know what sort of maintenance options would have been available at Paine Field in Washington, but they could not have been better than Vic Air, and the two-week vacation would have been as toasted as that cable end in the picture. So, some anxious unexpected adventure that turned out to the good.

I know you are true cognoscenti, and therefore have heard of, if not in fact visited Butchart Gardens. You don’t have to be a garden or flower aficionado to appreciate this magnificent floral site, but if you weren’t before visiting, you’d leave with your jaw-dropping muscles grown tired. Once a mining and quarry location, it was turned into this world class floral venue 118 years ago.

Busy bumblebee pollinator.

“That which we call a rose…by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

I’ve mentioned water in British Columbia? Here’s the view outside our room at the Brentwood Bay Resort, where, on day three, we took the ferry to Mill Bay, and thence began our 3+ hour drive to Tofino, on the west (Pacific) coast of Vancouver Island.

Cathy is an inestimable lodging discoverer. Brentwood Bay is one example of her search prowess. Another is the Middle Beach Lodge on a rugged headland awash by the Pacific near Tofino, BC. She called weeks before our planned getaway and they allowed as how it was very unlikely that a room would be available at this high season time of our wandering, but they would look. “Wait, we have a waterfront room that has just become available.” Naturally, this sort of happenstance was not very far in the back of my mind when weighing diversion options with that ALT 1 warning displayed. The Middle Beach Lodge room came with both breakfast and dinner, along with the incessant metronome of the waves washing the shore right below our room.

The beach was frequently softened by early morning low clouds and drifting fog.

And then clearing for blue skies during the day, and orange sherbet at sundown.

During the day we explored Tofino proper on foot, in this region of First Nation dwellers.

One day we rented e-bikes (a head nod to advancing age) and rode 70 km down the island toward Ucluelet, on a magnificently laid out and maintained bike path. The battery power helped, but not with the derriere.

At the end of that day (and the others) we settled into our favorite table in the Lodge great room to have an adult libation, to read, and to take sustenance. As I’ve none too subtly implied, Cathy knows how to pick lodgings, and at this stage of our lives we have no qualms about relishing modest indulgence.

The unexpected came visiting again, literally. After savoring sunsets like this from our second floor balcony (9:15 PM, by the way)…

…we naturally left open the door to enjoy the sea breeze and the somniferous affect of the waves’ advance and retreat. On the second night I was awakened by the sounds of an intruder in the room—a raccoon that had climbed up that tree trunk, jumped to the balcony, and proceeded to rifle through my open suitcase, finding the plastic bag containing all of our electronics charging devices to its liking. I hollered in half-asleep alarm, and chased it whence it came, a trail of electrical cords and plugs prima facie evidence tracing its burglar intent. Thereafter, the door stayed closed, and we contented ourselves with screened windows flung wide.

After four nights we carefully timed a drive across Vancouver Island to catch our reserved ferry from Comox, across the Strait of Georgia (named by Captain George Vancouver, originally as the Gulf of Georgia in 1792 to honor King George III) to the BC “Sunshine Coast” at Powell River. Life along the coast of Washington state, and British Columbia, is life frequently timed to the ferry schedule. There’s a particular rhythm to it, and some rather first-rate people watching in the bargain. I was seven years old when this 1950 Buick came off the assembly line. Boys of that age, and this, appreciate the flames and channeled lowrider bodywork. Nice way to wait in the queue for ferry boarding?

The Sunshine Coast is aptly named, at least in July and August. There were several clear-skied days when we were there with temperatures in the Fahrenheit mid nineties. We were making our way to yet another Cathy primo destination, a stay at the West Coast Wilderness Lodge at Egmont, BC. Backstory—Egmont was a Dutch nobleman who led the Flemish resistance to Spanish rule of the Netherlands in the 16th century, and is the nominal source of Goethe’s play, and Beethoven’s overture of the same name. I haven’t a clue why the Canadians chose to reference all that in the name of this tiny spot on the Jervis Inlet, the longest fjord in British Columbia, but if you love Ludwig, as I do, it’s icing on the traveler cake.

If one consults a map to get the lay of the land and the water, you can see that this inlet is very convoluted and, at over 50 miles South to North, contains a great deal of water fed by and drained to the oceanic Strait of Georgia with its four tides daily. There’s a particularly tight narrows at Skoocumchuck reached from a quirky trailhead with associated cafe.

The trail is about 2 miles each way, and typical of the dense forest pathways throughout British Columbia.

Not to mention the Canadian maple leaf national symbol.

We were near a new moon, which you other water types will understand means a time of large tidal swings, translating to a current of over 16 knots through the Skookumchuck narrows. There’s a website which can be accessed via mobile device that pinpoints the optimal time to see the raging current form as the high tide reverses and the entire Jervis Inlet begins rapidly draining, and that corresponded almost exactly with when we could get there after driving off the ferry from Saltery Bay to Earl’s Cove. In comedy, as in tidal swings, timing is everything.

While the West Coast Wilderness Lodge is off the main roadways it definitely isn’t roughing it. Breakfast and dinner were included, and they were sumptuous affairs. One tiny downside—during the heatwave, with daytime temperatures in the mid nineties, the lodge had no AC. But they had fans which were quietly up to the task, as were the chilled evening adult beverages. Daytimes found us on the water.

There’s a spot within the Jervis Inlet, maybe 40 miles up the fjord, between what is charted as the Princes Royal Reach and the Queen’s Reach where the sightseeing boat skipper shut down the motor and we drifted in the deafening silence to take in this view, with peaks around us over 8,000′ in elevation and the depth of the water over 2,000′. Serene, and still snow-capped in the last days of July. We were told that this was the home of the indigenous Sechelt people who lived here numbering in the tens of thousands, the land and the water providing ideal providence to support them in harmony with nature…before the arrival of Europeans and cholera.

Resuming our sojourn up the fjord, having borne left from the above vantage point, we came to the narrows that leads to the Princess Louisa Inlet, an emotional highlight for me, as it was a sweet memory lane time for my main squeeze, who had twice spent time at the Young Life “Malibu” camp that she now gazed upon as a mature woman vs. her young girl past. A time of unbridled fun with other kids and young adults while discovering the trailhead of her particular faith journey.

At the end of the inlet, now 50 miles from our starting point, we came to Chatterbox Falls, apparently named for the continuous roar of the water racing to the inlet. This is the terminus of about five other falls on the surrounding peaks above coming together in answering the call of gravity.

Ours was an aluminum-skinned, canvas-pontooned vessel appropriate for the wilderness. One of the pontoons had experienced a partial deflation at the starboard bow, and the skipper’s seat matched that with its own boondocks bubblegum and bailing wire gestalt. OSHA and NTSB be damned.

Meanwhile, returning back at the ranch, life went on as it should, De Havilland DHC-2 Beavers on floats a regular means of transport.

Speaking of transport—at the end of the day, savoring the last light and the glow of wind-whipped cheeks abetted by a local brew and vino over a multi-course dinner, one can marvel on how the rich are different than the rest of us. Both islands either side of the above Beaver belong to a Vancouver developer who comes up by helicopter on weekends to get away from, well, whatever. Greta Garbo’s “want[ing] to be alone” taken to new heights. Yes, after the helicopter drop off, he can rest on his laurels, or putter about in the yacht in the near shadows.

Eventually calendar and wallet whispered their reality check, and it was time to begin the journey driving and ferrying back to Victoria, where Patrick had succeeded in putting the new electrical parts where they were called for. We made it a leisurely meander, getting in a hike to an overlook of Ruby Lake, the trailhead for which was reached in a one-car-wide dirt track climbing steeply up a mountain shoulder.

We had a lodging at Sidney, a mere :05 drive from Victoria Air Maintenance at CYYJ, and an early the next morning load and launch. Bags boarded, bottle of single malt handed to Patrick as thanks for his above and beyond maintenance care and shepherding, and we fired up the time machine to make good on our ATC Instrument Flight Rules clearance, e-APIS documented ADIZ-crossing, and heads-up phone call to U.S. Customs and Immigration. First, across the upper reaches of Puget Sound.

Yes, an instrument flight plan was called for, the sunny hot weather finally giving way to the marine influence.

Below, short final approach on the Bellingham, Washington (KBLI) RNAV (GPS) Runway 16 approach. We had the fuel tanks topped, took care of the official paperwork, made a last tap of the kidneys and were on our way in fifteen minutes. I emphasize this as contrast to the customs and immigration experience we’re used to as arriving airline passengers. No removal of belts, shoes, or the keys in your pocket. Nor did anyone hassle me over my mustache scissors. Flashback. No kidding. On September 14, 2001, the first day of resumed flight after 9-11, I was captain on United 897, a B747-400 flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo, and was stopped at security leading to our departure gate to have confiscated the mustache scissors in the shave kit in my suitcase. I politely pointed out the absurdity of this by holding up my cockpit key (also made of metal) which I was about to use to access my office and saddle up with some 400 passengers and crew members, but that trust did not extend to my personal grooming device? Those were crazy times, were they not?

And so it was that on Tuesday, August 2, Cathy and I spent the morning and early afternoon comfortably ensconced in N711QT, navigating the entire length of the U.S. west coast back to hangar 36 at McClellan Palomar-Carlsbad airport. Some clouds, lots of blue sky, avoiding wildfires including the McKinney fire near Siskiyou. One thousand and seventeen nautical miles after clearing customs.

I choose to end this missive sharing an unexpected dark irony. Arriving safely home at the Del Mar digs from a safely accomplished longish airborne cross-country, I stopped in front to collect that day’s mail. In it was a letter, two months coming, from the FAA’s aeromedical branch, having completed their exhaustive review of my exhaustive annual medical tests, labs and cardiological evaluations. It’s that having had a stent placed in 2020 thing. They concluded that my completing a treadmill stress test with concomitant ECG and echocardiogram to the maximum heart rate without hiccups, that and the MRI of my chest showing normal cardiovascular output and such convinced them that I’m no more liable to croak than anyone else who’s never had these sorts of treatments, tests, and evaluations. The letter authorized my Senior Airman Medical Examiner to conduct his physical exam of me to renew my Airman Medical Certificate. That was accomplished two days ago, and I now posses a new unrestricted Class II Medical (Private Pilots only need a Class III Medical. A Class II enables me to be a paid Pilot in Command on Bizjets and such.) Anyway that very evening, digging through the mounds of communications at my desk and computer awaiting our return, I opened an e-mail from my aircraft co-owner, who had shouldered dealing with the insurance agent marshaling the annual insurance renewal of N711QT with the universe of aviation insurance underwriters, which renewal would recycle five days later. The insurance agent appears to have gotten lost in the annual Air Venture aviation extravaganza at Oshkosh, and failed to keep us apprised until this last moment. Embedded in the proposal was a requirement that pilot Thomas Close could be insured to fly his own airplane only if all future flights were conducted as “dual,” i.e., with a Certified Flight Instructor along to keep me out of trouble, or at least keep the insurance underwriters out of trouble. The reason? I seem to have begun my eighth decade. In short, blatant arbitrary age discrimination promulgated by a bunch of pencil pushers, with very little data to confirm their sagacious conclusion, and no data whatsoever about this specific pilot. It’s not possible to convey the degree of umbrage I take in this. Not only “no,” but “HELL NO!” I do not know how this will sort out, but a life without loving the atmosphere as I dance through it, embracing the elements in their most elemental form, is akin to taking in a deep breath with no oxygen inspired. Imagine the sun not guaranteed to rise in the east tomorrow morning? I do not exaggerate. We’ve been given a 60-day extension of our current policy while the agent tries to engender a more realistic proposal. This has nothing to do with flying per se, but means that one could not insure a rather robustly valued asset. The fact that I’ve been doing this for nearly six decades without accident, incident, violation, or claim seems not to matter.

Truly yours, Tom


The Strait of Juan de Fuca

It’s not exactly Bilbo’s There and Back Again, but any travel in these pandemic cursed times is a bit of an adventure, as was our week-long getaway to Puget Sound, Whidbey and Lopez islands. We weren’t subjected to taking off belts and shoes or mask-fogged glasses while stuffed in a crowded tube, the Cirrus time-machine saving us from that fate. But this year, the 2000+ nautical mile round trip had its own challenges.

Cloudless sky with nary a visible horizon

As all news media convey, the western United States is going up in flames. Our route had us alongside, between, and over seventeen Temporary Flight Restricted areas established for fire fighting purposes. Our cruise altitude going was 10,000 feet, and returning at 9,000 feet. Neither put us on top of the smoke. Northbound, we were continuously in true Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) from the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley to the Oregon-Washington border, and from north of Olympia, Washington to Ukiah, California, southbound. Not that my logbook needs more Instrument Flight Rules time, but it was legitimate IMC for several hours of flying. No clouds, but no horizon. Like flying around inside a gray pingpong ball that smelled of smoke.

Final Approach to Chico Runway 31R

This is the Primary Flight Display look at 1.9 nautical miles outside the Final Approach Fix for Chico, California (KCIC) runway 31R, a fuel and potty break midpoint stop chosen the night before for its favorable fuel prices, and aircraft maintenance service availability if needed. The night before and the morning of our departure, the region was smoky, yes, but above Visual Flight Rule (VFR) minima, and we’d be landing with 1:35 of fuel as an Ace up the sleeve. Our departure weather at Carlsbad Palomar (KCRQ) was IMC with a lowish stratus marine layer and reduced visibility, tops near 2,500 feet. Level in cruise over SoCal, we were in bright sunshine, dealing with early morning quiet ATC, and listening to the classical channel on the Sirius-XM datalink that provides onboard weather and audio entertainment. Don’t worry, it mutes the music when ATC calls. As the saying goes, we were on top, in the clear, and fat dumb and happy. At least that describes me. I’d never verbalize that for ol’ WhatsHerName. Anyway, as we crossed over the Lake Hughes ridge line between the LA basin and Bakersfield, the weather reports on our onboard datalink weather showed KCIC as down to 2 statute miles in FU (not what you might think, that’s weatherspeak for smoke). Pretty much the entire east central San Joaquin valley was that way or worse. Hmm. By the time we neared Chico, the ATIS was reporting 800′ scattered clouds and 2 statute miles in smoke, the wind, south at 3-5 knots. No traffic, so Oakland Center, Chico tower and I conjured up a straight-in to runway 31R served by a WAAS RNAV (GPS) approach with a 250 foot Decision Altitude and 1 statute mile visibility minima. And we needed it. By the time we were halfway between the Final Approach Fix and the runway threshold we could see the ground if we looked straight down, but laterally over the nose it was only smoke and a vague semblance of golden grassland…with no runway in sight. That finally changed below 500 feet AGL, the runway revealing itself as a slowly materializing ghost amidst the vapors . Too much like work after 2:49 of flying, and a 05:30 wakeup call. That adventure thing.

So look, you pilots, here’s some takeaways for our quivers going forward. 800 scattered with 2 sm visibility is technically between requiring Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and those available by Special Visual Flight Rules (SVFR), but not seeing the runway until below 500′ AGL is anything but VMC. These thoughts are largely tactical. Co-owner, Mason, following us on FlightAware and perusing the regional weather, has wondered strategically as to where we might have gone if unable to land at Chico. The entire region is near the Dixie wildfire, the state’s largest. I had filed Red Bluff (KRBL) as an alternate (and whose weather also deteriorated in FU while en route), but had in the back of my mind that the old USAF McClellan Field (KMCC) would be a reasonable out, and comports with my preference of having an alternate on the near side of the destination, as it effectively means having more fuel since you can drop in before going first to your destination. KMCC doesn’t show weather minima for filing as an alternate, but it has a viable CI ILS available if one chooses to go there. In practice I wasn’t really contemplating using either RBL or MCC, as the CIC weather seemed benign enough—until it took descending below 500 feet to find it. Mason is right—no real easy-peasy strategic choices after the en route visibility degradation. But that 1:35 fuel remaining provided options.

Aircraft tanks filled, and body tanks emptied, we chose to depart on 31R. Straight in, and Straight out. Back up to 10,000′ MSL, and following a route over Fort Jones (west of Mount Shasta) and then mostly up the Willamette Valley over Roseburg, Eugene, Newberg and Olympia to keep us out of the TFRs and to the west of Portland’s and Seattle’s busy airspace. We also flew this leg under IFR because of the relentless horizonless smoke until nearing the Columbia River, but also because it was overcast with rain from Olympia to our destination at Snohomish County, Paine Field (KPAE). At cruise and reported on the surface, the wind was southerly, so a tailwind en route and me planning to go with the ATC least resistance flow, landing south.

The southern reaches of Puget Sound, descending into the clouds
Same time and place, the Multi Function Display view. Some of the green is the verdant northwest. Some of it rain. A clue, the ITIPE FAF, in magenta font, is in the midst of the dark green rain. Olympic peninsula at our 8 o’clock.

I checked into SeaTac approach control with the Paine “Booze News” (Airport Terminal Information Service “Whiskey” information) which reported the surface wind as “150 degrees at 10, gusting to 14, visibility 7 sm in rain, ceiling 1600 overcast, temperature 17 C, dew point 14C, and altimeter of 29.94 ” Hg. Approaches in progress to runway 16R. The CII ILS OTS” (but the CI ILS was useable). I requested the WAAS RNAV (GPS) Y runway 16R approach. Interestingly there’s both an ILS Y and an ILS Z to 16R, and a GPS Y and a GPS Z to 16R. All four approaches do essentially the same things, and even, in some cases, using the same waypoint names. They all have the same 200′ AGL DA and RVR 1800 visibility minima. The missed approaches to a hold SW of the aerodrome are essentially the same as well. The only real difference I could discern puzzling over the procedures is that the missed approach of the Zulus climb to 3,000 feet and the Yankees to 2,000 feet. Speaking with my main squeeze in the first mate’s (pun intended) seat, I allowed as how we’d be flying through rain while maneuvering and when on final approach. As it turns out, these broadcast meteorological conditions portended more than was immediately apparent while flying vectors to the final approach course.

The streaks, if you can see them, are rain. Free wash on final approach.

We were following a Cessna Citation biz jet, and when SeaTac Approach switched us over, on check-in, Paine tower advised that the surface wind had shifted to north at 5 knots. Did I wish to abandon the approach and take vectors to the non-WAAS (LNAV+V) RNAV (GPS) approach to runway 34L? The Citation had just landed, and with us both on the same tower frequency, reported it was smooth all the way down, with only those 5 knots of tailwind on touchdown. With a first person PIREP of no wind shear airspeed fluctuations or turbulence, and only a 5 knot tailwind to a 9,000 foot long runway (KPAE is where Boeing builds and flies their wide-body airliners) I conveyed that we’d stick with the GPS Y to 16R, but hold the option of bailing out into a left downwind and land on 34L if needed. Well, we broke out of the overcast at about 1,600 feet alright, wind on final now south at 5-7 knots. And while we could see the aerodrome in spite of the rain, the runway threshold and touchdown zone disappeared from view as I watched. Would you look at that, a genuine roll cloud materializing at right angles between us and the threshold? Maybe a mile long west to east, and a half mile wide, north to south. This could get interesting. Smooth as a baby’s bottom descending on the glide path, and then at about 500 feet AGL we dropped into the gauzy pewter roll cloud, still smooth. I watched the altimeter unwinding through increasingly small numbers, until we finally broke out about 250 to 300 feet AGL. You can exhale now, Tom. Touched down and turned off at A4 leading to to the ramp at the foot of the control tower and where FBO Castle and Cooke and our rental car awaited. I PIREPed our observations on the tower frequency as we cleared the runway, and pondered a very micro local weather pattern, with just the right temperature and dew point forming the cloud right at the juncture of the south wind on final and the north wind on the surface.

Allow me to share a couple more pilot nuggets for the aviators amongst you. While maneuvering, I self briefed both the KCIC runway 31 approach and the KPAE runway 16R approach (both of which I had pre-studied at home and en route). My weather analysis before we left home and with en route datalink weather gave me to expect the two instrument procedures we actually used. Which is to say I knew in advance the missed approach procedures. But given the extant ATIS weather, I had little expectation of a likely missed approach. And yet, in both cases, we were getting inordinately close to the missed approach decision point with no runway in sight. Takeaway? Always be prepared for last minute surprises requiring thought-out codified responses.

Okay, moving on from getting there, to actually being there. Like rock stars, our rental car was delivered to the plane as we stepped down from the wings onto the ramp. Luggage transferred from plane to auto, our John Hancocks scribbled on the Enterprise paperwork, we were escorted to the exit gate, and navigator Cathy started play by play mobile device directions to the Mukilteo ferry terminal. Lots of indigenous names in the northwest. We stepped onto the steep escalator learning curve of ferry life in the islands of northwest Washington. The roadway shoulder was marked as a ferry-waiting lane beginning about a mile from the actual terminal. We slipped into the shoulder ferry lane and crept to the ticket booth as one ferry departed, relaxing into languid conversation while we waited :30 for the twice-hourly westbound ferry to Clinton, on the SE end of Whidbey Island. A first taste of island pace. At nearly 50 miles in length, Whidbey is purportedly the longest island in the U.S, and the largest in Washington state.

Our lodging was in tiny Langley, population of just over 1,000 of Whidbey’s 70,000 total. Cathy has a knack for finding delightful digs in our travels, and she yet again outdid herself with our Boatyard Inn abode on the water at the harbor, one of thirteen such pied-á-terres.

Peace and rest at the end of a long day

By now it was late afternoon, and being bushed, we made our way to a local brewpub café, one of several in this town which can be traversed on foot in a few short minutes. On a celebratory whim, I tried a locally distilled gin G&T. Then a draft beer with the meal. Both, yummy. Celebration, insofar as this was only our second getaway since the early January 2020 pandemic implosion. Two grownups as giddy as two kids. Our grownup side, cognizant of pandemic realities, had discerned that the pent-up demand for travel, excluding sketchy international options, meant expectations of teeming domestic destinations. It took some pre-planning time to find available worthy accommodations. Another pandemic effect was watering holes being shuttered on certain days, with the operators apparently choosing their dates in concert with one another so that not everything was closed on the same day or evening. The Langley city leaders convinced the local fire-fighters and Knights of Columbus to operate a barbecue hot dog roast on the Second Avenue sidewalk at noon for the midweek slow days Tuesday and Wednesday lest visitors and locals alike go hungry. Middle America chamber of commerce vibe. In a similar vein, cafés didn’t take reservations, but you could pop in and put yourself on the list and they’d phone your mobile that your table was ready while you wandered around town. But you’d also better start early, as the waits could be longish, and some of the menu items would become unavailable as they ran out of ingredients. And everywhere, the restaurateurs were apologizing for the slow service pace resulting from staff shortages. Your tax dollars at work. But, without fail, the innkeepers, restaurateurs, publicans, and shopkeepers were friendly and so happy to have your presence in these recovering times. And without complaint, everyone was complying with posted signs requiring masks indoors.

The lodging view greeting tired and sated travelers returning to our Waterfront studio.

Love it or hate it, Maurice Ravel composed “Bolero” as an exploration of variations on a theme. For non classical music lovers, it was Bo Derek’s musical accompaniment choice in the classic comedy “Ten.” I found I was mesmerized by the infinite moods of this view. Herewith my Ravelian take on this music for the eyes, a kaleidoscope of changing hues, sky cover and tidal lengthening and shortening of piling heights.

The morning of Day Two
The Cascade mountains are right there
The bigger picture when walking the dock
Dawn’s early light
Bratwurst with a view
After dinner evening twilight

Our preference is for vacations that include a modest amount of vigorous physical exercise in nature’s haunts. I can take only so much of the Louvre or the Uffizi, a reasonable amount of ambulating London, Paris or Prague, and almost none of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

A coastal hiking trail leading eventually to a WWII artillery emplacement. Peaceful now.

The largest town on Whidbey Island is Oak Harbor, the community next to which NAS Whidbey Island is located. Returning from our first hike near here, this was just too arresting not to capture. The first I’d heard that the King had a preference for a ’55 Chevy convertible. Whimsy.

Nice ride
From whence comes the “Oak” in Oak Harbor—Garry Oaks.

Islands naturally have the sea at hand. Failing to arrange a sailboat, we chose some hours down and close to the tidal swings, wafting over the kelp and Dungeness crabs drifting by below. At least some of the time we did actually synchronize our paddles…an acquired skill set.

Tandem kayaking, part of Whidbey Island to the right, the Olympic peninsula’s mountains ahead to the left
The overseer above my driftwood shore meander
Memory Lane.

We drove to the Anacortes ferry terminal on Fidalgo Island, across the Deception Pass from Whidbey, parked our rental car and boarded the ferry for Lopez Island on foot. Parking at Lopez is a challenge, and we had pre-arranged two e-bikes (a first for both of us) for retrieval after egress from the vessel. This docking scene suffused me with little kid smiles, it being so redolent of my childhood ferry rides from San Diego to visit my uncle Cap on Coronado.

Part way through our 25 miles of pedaling on Lopez. The “e” mellowed the hills…until my bike battery couldn’t hold its charge.

The next day we returned to the northern end of Whidbey Island to do some hiking in the Deception Pass state park. Another day of getting into the island pace, motoring on two-lane roads with only modest traffic, drivers keeping a respectful vehicular distance at an un-frenetic 50-55 mph. Trees and grasses along the highway, and deep old-growth forest hiking trails at the destination.

Treebeard, Fangorn Forrest, Middle Earth.
Forest denizen.
Nature, nicely framing a trailside glimpse of North Beach.

For our last full day, we motored to the Double Bluff beach along Whidbey’s western shore. The back story is that we learned about this locals’ favorite spot while partaking of a micro brew at Langley’s Double Bluff Brewery, awaiting our “your table’s ready” call to dinner at the Braeburn Restaurant a half block away. The pungent fruit of a getaway without an etched-in-granite itinerary.

The island beaches, strewn with driftwood, the materials of countless lean-to’s, a favorite pastime. The afore mentioned Double Bluffs slipping down to the water’s edge.

Wading in the shallows, tossing sand dollars, and breathing the fresh air, the serendipity of the unexpected.

Just like us, two sides attached by our human symbiosis and grounded in life’s realities
Our dawn oatmeal view as we scurried to load up for the return home. The wildfire smoke finally migrating to this part of the northwest, coloring a fitting finish to our island escape.

Hope in the age of COVID-19

March 19, 2020

Except for a very few centenarians, this time of the novel coronavirus is unprecedented for all living humans.  Easy to get pulled down by the weight of it.  Beauty is God’s creative gift, and an antidote to hopelessness. Herewith my modest way of ameliorating the uncertainty, disquiet, fear, dismay, whatever troubles you in this troubling time.  I will reach into my files each day and seek out an image that speaks to me about the world as we would have it, and send it on.  I hope it finds favor, and lifts spirits.

Moonset with wave and bird

Dawn moonset, seabird, the folding energy from thousands of miles away

Day two

Today the seasonal sun is passing the yardarm with this earthly ship rocking on its poles.  Vernal Equinox here, Autumnal Equinox down under.  Appropriate to think of Spring, which officially begins at 8-something tonight Pacific Time.
This too shall pass.  Take care of yourselves.  Prudent lifestyle.  Take heart.

Julian Ladybug card

Julian ladybug

Day Three

Take your medicine.  Coronavirus #3.

Pelicans in a cloudy sunset

Sunset pelicans

Day Four

Could this be the pathway forward through this viral maze?  If so, it originates at the Citadel in Pamplona, España.
Stay strong.  Stay healthy.

Pamplona trail

Pamplona Citadel trail

Day Five

A little serene peace, with a dose of radiant hope anyone?  Smoky Mountains, North Carolina.
Be strong.  Be prudent.  Have faith.  Give thanks.  Savor your loved ones.

The road to Trip's place

A Smoky Mountains morning

Day Six

We’re in decidedly stormy times.  Trite, perhaps, but looked at from a different perspective, we can’t have rainbows without rain….and sunlight.  I see rainbows in the sunlight way people are looking out for one another.


Pot of gold at the rainbow’s end

Day Seven

There are coronas and then there are coronas.  This would be the latter.
Number seven in this series of virus disquiet-easers.
Take care of yourselves.  Wave from afar.  Scrubadub dub.

Total eclipse

Solar corona

Day Eight

Isolation is tough on us gregarious humans.  Sometimes nature offers up its own example of solitude.  A blazing carpet of spring wildflowers, and a solitary tree, leaves back, after the winter barrenness.   Focus not on the singularity, but the connectedness of colorful life, of which the singular is but one part of a greater whole.

This, too, shall pass.  Herewith, our colorful future.

Solitary tree

Solitary tree

Day Nine

Cabin fever starting to close in around you?  Then step out into these nearly 180 degrees of separation, La Jolla on the left, the cliff bluff near 9th Street, Del Mar to the right.  An August panorama with the sky that subtropical upper atmosphere from Baja occasionally provides.

8-31-13 sundown #4

August sundown

Day Ten

I cull through my files looking for images that speak to me in hopes they will lighten our load in these troubling times.  My file system is abysmal, so the results of the hunt can be all over the map.  Pure happenstance, or karma, or divine intervention, today’s choice?  A dark image for dark times.  You can see for yourselves the similarity to Mona Lisa’s smile, or, if you prefer, the Shroud.  Reflective light on the ocean at 05:56 of a setting moon on October 25, 2007— the redness a result of major San Diego county wildfires tinging the atmosphere.  That was a locally catastrophic time.  This is a globally catastrophic time.  I found this image in an area of my files I don’t routinely meander.  Happenstance?   Something else?  Ponder away.


Predawn moonset ocean reflection

Day Eleven

The lowly pelican.  An earthbound appearance only a mother could love.  But magnificent airborne gliding prowess, ridge-soaring mere inches above the lip of pitching waves, and here doing so six feet separated from one another.

Dawn Patrol Pelicans

Dawn patrol pelicans

Day Twelve

The desert as metaphor for these times of the coronavirus?  Looked at one way these are broken times.  But even a bumbling detective Columbo can see evidence of the beauty of hope for life resilient.  Our spirits may seem beaten down, cracked and fragmented, if we’re willing to embrace that.  But there’s much that has the magic and color of life in the opportunities of togetherness this presents, and which I see flourishing every day.  I pray that you do, too.  If you have faith, may it buoy you.  If you see humanist heroics, then embrace that.  Or maybe both?
Be Strong.  Be Healthy.

Desert Wildflowers

Desert wildflowers

Day Thirteen

A pre coronavirus epoch.  But a lad minding his parents’ admonition to stick around.  Granada, Nicaragua.  I love Latin America’s color fearlessness.   Our courage is likewise called upon.

Blue wall boy

A lad in the ‘hood

Day Fourteen

Our home is getting more face time with us these days.  Not to mention our personal space, not just a place, but a state of mind.  Or should that be state of mine?  An opportunity to make the best of getting close to what’s important in our lives.

Anasazi room

Anasazi prayer room

Day Fifteen

Restaurants closed, takeout and food delivery are proliferating.  Sit-down dining exemption.

Incoming food delivery

Food delivery

Feeding time

Feeding time

Day Sixteen

As a child I was frightened by dragonflies, given their prickly appearance and erratic motions.  But there came a day when I somehow broke the code that they never attacked me.  In fact they always stayed a safe social distance away.  They were cautious around me, not the other way around.  So then I could start to look at them for the magical creatures they are, designed with their own version of PPE.  Exoskeleton.  Facial eye protection.  Gossamer biplane wings to carry them on their duties.   And color boldness, always a positive with me.
Our doctors and nurses look pretty scary in their PPE, and I hope I don’t have to meet you up close and personal on this current battlefield, but I recognize that, like with the dragonfly, form follows function.  And you caregivers are our heroes.
Take care of yourselves everyone.  Be Strong.  Be Safe.  Delight in the vibrancy of any dragonflies you may encounter this Spring.



Day Seventeen

Reflection—optical or mental? The color spectrum has temperature, as do bodies, and in mirroring the act of a clinician with a thermometer, taking the temperature of the time, metaphoric for a societal or even global HOWGOZIT.   These are truly confounding times.  A lot of reappraisal and priority realignment going on with us all.   How to look at all this—day to day or farther out?  Like balancing on a SUP, it’s easier to stay stable if the gaze goes to the horizon vs. looking down at your feet, or, if you prefer pilotspeak to waterman, starting your airplane’s landing flare is a more stable and less phugoid wobble if the vision is not at the touchdown zone, but somewhere between the far end of the runway and the horizon beyond.   Clearly there are circumstances when the here and now are our ineluctable focus, but when we can, I think it helps our internal gyro to not forget the longer view.  Individually and societally.
A new moon minus tide wet mud view of the sunset going on above and beyond to the horizon.   Some puddles and surge swirls and some kelp to avoid.  Here, the up close as a lovely mirror of the farther out.  Warm, not feverish color temperature.  Worth reflecting on.  There—ending a sentence with a preposition!

Golden Reflections

Golden reflections

Day Eighteen

About now, anything rising is worth applauding.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed, trying to get an effective moonrise time-lapse.  The idea is to park the lens where the moon will come up, maybe ten minutes before it does so.  The azimuth is readily available online, ditto the time. But it never seems to work, the moon a few degrees off, which is enormous with a 600 mm lens.  And the time is always predicated on the horizon, which is about ten minutes earlier than actual rise over the mountains looking east from coastal Del Mar.  But sometimes there’s a still waiting to dazzle, and if the exposure works out the colors are just so juicy it makes you want to cry.
What’s that got to do with the corona virus?  I haven’t a clue, except both are round.   And the stay at home edicts are closing off lots of trails and venues like the one used for capturing this image.  You know, the head shaking in this is part and parcel with coronavirus reality these days.
Guess that’s it.  Stay Strong.  Stay Healthy.

Moon over Mt. Woodson

Moonrise over Mt. Woodsen

Day Nineteen

During this coronavirus tumult, our lives are changing daily, if not hourly.  Assumptions we’ve used for years no longer fit the new reality.  It’s hard to navigate our days, our beliefs, our fears, our annoyances.  It takes regular reassessment of our mental and emotional latitude and longitude, to see where we are, where we might be heading and to even get a grip on what our personal destination might look like, encompass.  Sometimes that might involve following in others’ footprints.  Sometimes navigating our own singular path.  I wish to remember to take it easy on myself if I get a little disoriented or need to verify that I’m staying on course centerline.  Wise to be patient with ourselves and those around us.  Wherever we go, we leave a little of ourselves behind.  I’m seeing a lot more of that being good and unselfish than before we awoke to the all-in-this-together realization of present.  Do this for yourselves and those you care about: pause and look back over your shoulder at your footsteps in the sands of your time, then turn forward and see what is before you.  Square your shoulders, adjust if needed, and go forth with hope.

Tuesday's footprint

Footprints in the sands of time

Day Twenty

I was having a tough period last night at bedtime, just one of those times.  I had selected an agreeable image for this morning’s missive, but ’twas amiss for where I was.  Go to bed, revisit all of this in the morning.  A muse thing, awakened at 4 o’clock to find abated rain and shaded light beckoning.  Oh, but I love clouds and light.  All is not darkness, even in the time of coronavirus.  And darkness has its own illumination.
“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.”
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel
Find resilience where you can.  Give yourself room to have some moods.  Listen to the messages, take in the visions.  There is light amongst the darkness.

Light, swathed in clouds

Light, swathed in darkness

Day Twenty-One

We keep hearing, and I keep seeing, that we’re all in this together.   There’s a symbiosis in that, each of us a supporting cast member in this global drama.  Some have named parts, others walk-ons.  There’s the individual scene and the big picture into which it fits, just like pollinator and flower, two scene members of the larger Spring.  Spring, as in the hope of regrowth.  Returns every year.

Cactus flower polinator

Cactus flower pollinator

Day Twenty-Two

For Christendom this is Holy Week.  Yesterday was Passover for Judaism.  For many their faith is a bulwark against the uncertainties of life in the time of coronavirus.  For the ancient people of the book their vision of Yahweh was a burning bush.  For me, a less discussed aspect of Christ’s import for humankind was that he quite literally put a face on God.   For Christians its much more than that, of course.  Nowadays these theological musings do not suffuse the thoughts of many who just want to make sense of what they can see and touch.  We’re all different, including what to make of the impact of coronavirus in our lives, personal or universal, but we are all in this together.  Beauty helps, I think.  As is, or as a stand-in for Deity.  You’re call.

Torrey burning bush

Torrey Burning Bush

Day Twenty-Three

You know that “corona” means “crown,” right?  Here’s a large crown.  Not made of thorns, though the buttresses around the periphery look like they could dig in.
Good Friday.  Such a peculiar name unless you remember the empty cave on Sunday.
This virus has been disruptive, just like He who came to the stable.
This virus is changing many assumptions of life in fundamental ways.  The status quo will be different after this.  I continue to see kindness being displayed in very refreshing ways.  Let’s remember to take that with us going forward.
Stay Strong.  Stay Healthy.  Give thanks for each new day.  Share that with someone you love.

11-2-19 dawn cu #5

Cumulus Crown

Day Twenty-Four

It is Good Friday evening as I pen this for tomorrow morning’s post.  I appear to be traversing my own mental Via Dolorosa, having one of my “spectrum” moments.  Things are pent up inside me right now, my thoughts calling from diverse directions.  As always, when I sit down to write, I have almost no idea of what’s coming, but come it does.  I never could write like they taught in school, the rigorousness of an outline.  It’s a bit like walking a tight wire, but I’m used to it, and I think I’m following some sort of pathway intension.
Good Friday, the “good” about the most bizarre verbiage imaginable for us who now ponder his day two millennia back.  Him, knowing it was coming.  Pushing the religious leadership’s buttons to go where He was destined to go, leaving this mortal coil in the most egregious way.  Betrayed, abandoned, beaten, forced to carry his own cross so that He could be nailed upon it, a thorny crown jammed upon his head in mockery.  Does it get any worse?  A great deal worse than the inconveniences of coronavirus sequestration.  Exterminated, and then rushed to a cave ‘cause the end of the day was coming and observing the Sabbath was holy.
I’ve culled the files for a cave picture that somehow relates to coronavirus and our coping with it, and importantly which speaks to me with this mindset I have.  Not very set at the moment, my mind.  As ever, it’s mood-driven, for better or worse.  A real challenge sometimes, but magical to behold when it aligns, just so, and I get a front row center seat for it all.  Anyway, this is what jumped out at me.  Full moon in a cloud lacuna.  That which glows, surrounded.  A cave?  His cave?  You’re call.
Will this world-shaking event push the pundit bastard executives and legislators in Washington to finally put away their political polarization and begin doing the country’s business?  I’m not very sanguine about it.  You?  We’re all probably noticing that the policymakers closer to home are more aligned with our needs, wants and fears.  And our essential workers, first responders and medical caregivers certainly are.
Like I say, I’m having one of my moments. Sorry.
Not to worry, I’m fine, even as the pressure of all this needs venting du jour.  Oh, and I bet if you look in your mirror, you look about as overgrown as I do.  I can hardly wait to sit back down in Dave’s barber chair.
I wish, nay, pray you well

Cloud cave moon

Cloud cave moon

Day Twenty-Five
Here we are.  Easter Sunday.  That dark, sealed and guarded cave, now empty.  The dark cave as metaphor for life in the time of coronavirus?  Not empty.  Still rather dark.   We’re all tired of the uncertainty of life as a people with this virus hanging over our heads.  Certainty eludes us.  A desire for light over dark is palpable.  Spring is the time of light, of life renewing.  Observable.  Certain.  Why is that?  Just the tilting of the earth on its axis, more time in the sun, warmth nurturing life?  Not wrong, and quite enough if life as you stub your toe on it is sufficient.  But are there bigger perspectives here?  I’m not trying to persuade you, but the tale of the stone moved, life escaping the body, the denial of death as comeuppance for living an earthly life?  That’s ultimate big-time light overcoming darkness.  Let it shine, if you believe.  Savor the life resurgence of Spring if that is what resonates with you.  Whatever, I have faith that we will get beyond this, that light will overcome the darkness.  Then let us go forth with the positive takeaways from surmounting this scourge—caring for one another, we vs. me.  Find commonality with others and embrace that there are powers bigger than us.
Easter Blessings.  Joy to life.  Tom

Easter morning poppies

Poppies of the field, considered

Day Twenty-Six

Doesn’t it seem that often the little things denied are those that loom most large?  For me that prominently includes barefoot on the beach, stopping to retrieve treasured gifts from the sea.

Seashell and sand

Seashell and sand

Day Twenty-Seven

The degree to which I get out—while honoring the virus restrictions—exposes me to the affinity we all have for associating with family and loved ones, everywhere evident when crossing paths with other walkers.  This social isolation thing is unnatural, and can’t be behind us soon enough for me.

Two dolphins, cavorting beneath the prow of a boat while underway off the coast here.  Playing together, at decidedly less than six feet.  The fun of their association glowing from them as happy radiation.  Like Pavarotti, holding a long High C.  They’re doing it because they can. I’m looking forward to more of that.

Dolphin Formation

Dolphin company

Day Twenty-Eight

Tides.  Four a day, each different from the last and the next, while also common with them.  There’s the back and forth we can see, and yet more below the surface we cannot, until ebb tides reveal what they may.  There are seasonal changes as well, and of course the lunar monthly effects, not to mention the impact of storms.  If you’re a water person like me, these changes quite literally impact daily comings and goings, what to do, when and where.  And all of that affects my moods and energies as well.  See any parallels here to a coronavirus tidal impact for the day, for the season, for life more expansively?  I’ve mentioned many times how I’m witnessing a below the surface change in people caring for one another, the we vs. me effect.  Have you noticed that with this existential tide, people are generally not rushing pell mell to the barricades knocking others out of the way?  There’s a civility in which humankind ought to take consolation.  It’s compelling to focus one’s gaze to observe features in all this which reflect new ways of looking at old realities, as well as new realities that have changed the bedrock.

An ebb tide revealing an altered bottom glowing in the warm light of sunset.

Marimekko Sand

Marimekko Sand

Day Twenty-Nine

The image, unexpectedly arrested my search.   The subject line leapt at me unbidden.  Last night, before bed.  I chose to await the morning before sitting down to my textual keyboard.
To be honest, I’ve literally lost sleep over this one.  Many many others have lost so much more.  It’s first light now, and I’ve been awake since two and change, ruminating.
It’s a question of statesmanship, of leadership, not politics.   I intend, not, pugilism.  But these are stark times.  They are what they are, and the demands are great.

Mt. Rushmore

George, Thomas, Teddy, Abe.  The Donald?

Day Thirty

Missive number thirty, for damn sake! Thirty days of this stultifying, lethal, and seemingly endless campaign.  It’s enough to bring tears with the darkness of uncertainty.  If you’re feeling some of that, you’ve good company.  Another day to straighten up, and redirect our attention to whatever works for each of us, to shed light positively on our particular pathway.
A rocky cliff along a narrow and wobbly trail in (currently closed) Zion National Park.  Mineral seepage palate on a stone face.

Weeping sand painting

Weeping stone palate

Day Thirty-One

Not very good with the anchor in the sand inertia of coronavirus sequestration, we Del Martians daily quest for moving about in nature venues not currently closed by officialdom, and fully in keeping with the social distancing realities in avoidance of an invisible foe.  Today that took us to a portion of the 2650 mile-long Mexico to Canada Pacific Crest Trail, near Scissors Crossing, east of Julian.
I had it on good authority that Spring had arrived along the trail, with cactus flowers especially resplendent.  One of the big reasons we went there, to macro in on the likes of this.

Cactus flower

Cactus flower

Elsewhere along the trail, I was stopped, well, “dead” in my tracks, gawking at this, no electron microscope needed.   But oh, my, it leaps out at me as visually parroting the coronavirus.  And while I was sizing up how to get in tight, lens not shadowing the shot…

Coronavirus flower

Coronavirus flower

… I flinched with surprise as two Navy Blue Angel FA-18s burst from silence with deafening roar, racing by, nap of the earth, at our elevation and a stone’s throw away, a blur of crackling power.  Now that was movement.   If this was a graphic novella, about here is where the plot would turn, and the species that could design and wield a technological marvel like the FA-18, would breakthrough, and its scientists, one of whom was flying the lead jet, epiphanize the creation of the salvation serum.  Instead, I fist-pumped while hollering “THE SOUND OF FREEDOM!”  You had to be there.  It was only after getting my heart back into my ribcage, that I framed up the flower above.

Blur Angels

Blue Angels

I’ll chalk up today as a successful nose thumb at living, sedentary, under impositions.  A day’s moving reprieve.
Somehow off and on during the day I kept thinking of this music.   There actually is a bizarre association code to be cracked, which I’ll share with you.  The piece is Take Five, composed by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and included on the paragon-shifting Dave Brubeck Quartet album Time Out.  In my quirky mind the “time out” aspect must be cross pollinated with the lockdown of our lives in the time of coronavirus.  It’s merely a word association, just as is “take five,” both common expressions for a temporal hiatus from what we should be doing—living life with gusto and not bogged down by the plague.  In fact neither terms are an actual fit.  The album title refers to experimentation with different musical time signatures, and “take five” refers neither to a temporal break nor to five tries to get it right.  The reference is to the composition being in the syncopated contrapuntal 5-4 time, with bars utilizing 3 + 2 quarter notes.   I know.  You should try living within me.  Turn up the volume on your audio.  Smile your way to a break from virus pondering, and tap your toes in time to the music.
Day Thirty-Two

There are things afoot, media reported, or heard as scuttlebutt across the backyard fence.  Even in the most virus-devastated areas infection and mortality rates appear to be trending favorably.  Just as cabin fever has us all aching for even the most modest return to normalcy.

There are so many ways to look at what has been happening to us individually and as a people depending on the perspective lenses we wear and the degree of personal impingement experienced.  Is the medicine as bad or worse than the curse? As to the pandemic time signature, would this plague run a temporal course very much the same with a less severe lockdown medicine?  So little is known in the midst of this battle, and great questions will be asked with the perfect visual acuity of hindsight.  Our policy makers and the policies promulgated have been imperfect, but it seems to me that any negation is not for lack of sincerely trying to get it right.  And our essential workers, first responders and medical caregivers daily show mythical courage at helping in the midst of dark confusion.

My faith view keeps showing me the beautiful light of common decency.  I’m witness to people helping people and society broadly in ways large and small, a manifestation of steely resolve or open embrace of soulful urging.  Different as a function of how you see it, each perspective valid to the particular observer.  But all of it showing light amongst darkness.

Northern San Diego County’s nearshore has been experiencing what is called a Red Tide.  Under daylight the ocean has a somewhat opaque burgundy tint from the infusion of marine bioluminescent plankton.  At night the darkness is illuminated by a surreal glowing blue light. Light that shows only amidst the darkness.  Another way of looking at the darkness of this particular night.

The attached time-lapse sequence and still were from last evening.  A sign of the lockdown times, I snuck in under cover of darkness to a bluff top overlooking the ocean.  Not full camouflage or blackface, but stealthy individual force recon, just the same.  Down closer to the water was an INS vehicle on duty, guarding against I know not what.  I found a place surrounded by high coastal scrub brush and began looking for light to share.  It was fully dark, my shooting beginning about an hour and a quarter after sunset, and staying with it for another hour.  The exposure revealing clouds, stars and surf, results from time exposure per shot and diligent post production work in the digital lightroom.  Modest results to report back to Division HQ, but yessir, there is light out there, sir.

Be strong.  Be healthy.  Witness kindness and human compassion all around us.  Ponder why it is so.  Give thanks.

Nighttime Red Tide Waves

Bioluminescent Light Amidst Darkness

Day Thirty-Three

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Now, there was a populist.  The Great Depression.  If we don’t play it with leadership, this plague Black Hole could last as long, or longer.  Roosevelt pushed through the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Many projects employing many people.  How about putting back to work men and women in essential industries, with a broad definition of essential?  Agriculture, construction, manufacturing, infrastructure, healthcare, just to name a few.   Their dignity, our country’s gain.  Bang for the buck.  Short term, however long it takes to reignite the economy, then sunset.
A suggestion born of pride for this country.  Would policymakers get on board with this?

A proudly patriotic sunset

A proudly patriotic sunset

Day Thirty-Four

Last evening’s news lead story was a clip of mayor Kevin Faulconer announcing that San Diego parks were going to reopen today, April 21st.  From what I gather it is a sort of limited opening—open for individuals and small family units.  Six foot spacing and no group congregating allowed.  But life, as I live it.  Not the end of coronavirus lockdown but a beginning portent.  The first stage of removing the yellow taped affront to unfettered comings and goings.  Some would say the first step to a second round of infection, and they might well be right in crowded urban settings.   But I’ll take it as a waypoint in the flight plan to normalcy.
In navigation, you have a starting point and a destination.  Those are knowns.  Sorry, but it isn’t just what you’re told to do when you input a location in the maps system of your smart phone or auto hardware, it telling you to do it her way with a left turn in 500 feet, until somehow or other you get there.  I know, I’m a dinosaur who’s disinclination of doing simply because I’m told so is too much slide down a slippery slope.  Will this state of purposeful oblivion that is part and parcel with the unknowns of coronavirus stir a more hands-on grip on life’s tiller when the norms of late are in the rearview mirror?  An un-unkowing?
The journey we’ve been on has had quartering headwinds just like those here, at 11,500’ MSL on a return flight to the home aerodrome.  A mass of humanity below, over the northern approaches to the Los Angeles basin at the end of a day.  We’ll be at the end of this coronavirus course after passing yet more waypoints that we know lead to home.  For pilots, the flight back is nice, but the return to home is all the nicer.  We may have gotten here by viral accident, but getting there still requires conscious navigation, and a team effort, as it is for all of us.  The landing back home, not yet, but coming.

On course, headed home

On course, headed home

Day Thirty-Five

Bedroom window open, chilled ocean air carrying loudly the sound of the sea all night.  Just the right combination of elements.  Wave size surprisingly not always a factor, but tide, wind and direction, atmospheric temperature and humidity often factors.  An invitation to go forth and see what the new dawn conveys.  An early light misty glow of Torrey pines?  Trails now reopened in many places, Sawyer and I will scamper paths somewhere.  Well, he’ll scamper, I’ll nimbly plod.  The news, so breathlessly changeable in this time of the virus, but nature, ever beautiful is ever constant in her nurturance of the soul.  Join me in drinking deeply from that cup.

Misty Torreys

Misty Torreys dawn

Day Thirty-Six

Until Tuesday’s approved opening of San Diego area trails (but not parking lot access) a little creativity has been needed to get out in nature and put dirt beneath feet.  The annual Borrego Springs desert wildflower fix has likewise been off limits.  A second hike on the Pacific Crest Trail has yielded, well, a “revelation” as to nature’s golden Spring bounty, a flower-strewn interlude between mountains and desert.  Getting the fresh air and wildflower fix wherever it can be found.  I hope you are coming up for air where you reside.  Practice the non-congregating distancing and hygiene dictates, and limit your out and abouts, but maybe trade a little nature for one of those grocery store visits?
Feel breeze on your face.

Path of Gold

The path is paved with gold

Day Thirty-Seven

Phases.  Something that goes around and comes around.  As with the moon, which is “new” right now, its feline smile in the west at the end of the day.  The lunar calendar describing when Judaism celebrates Passover, Christendom celebrates Easter, and the Islamic umma celebrates Ramadan, which begins today.  This particular novel coronavirus is new to humankind, but there have been others, including the big ones like the Spanish flu, SARS, MERS, not to mention the vanilla flu, even the rhinovirus of the common cold.   History, and scientific pundits tell us that we will get over this one, but the pathway isn’t a straight and clearly defined one, nor does it appear to be particularly short.  We seem to be in a phase easing out of the worst of the societal medical uncertainty, followed by a similar clarifying of society’s economic miasma.  We’re not where we want to be, but at least we have some recognition as to where we are.  As a society.  Now, at the personal level, the phases are as different as the individuals and their particular circumstances.  Make the most of what little illumination we have now, and take solace in history and science conveying that the illumination, and with it, clarification, will continue to improve.  Peace be upon us all.

New Moon twilight

Twilight New Moon

Day Thirty-Eight

You ‘re looking at the silhouette of a 5,000 year-old tree, a tree that was already old at the time of Abraham.  Yeah, that Abraham.  It stands vigil in a grove of bristlecone pines in the rarefied air at over 11,000’ MSL in the White Mountains near the California-Nevada border.   Truly a Patriarch, whose perspective on having seen it all over the millennia, stands as testament to resilience in the face of the challenges of each new age.


Bristlecone Patriarch

Day Thirty-Nine

“Let’s be careful out there.”  The line from the sergeant conducting the daily briefing in Hill Street Blues has stuck with me over the years as on point and widely applicable.  Yesterday afternoon, giving Sawyer his end of the day empty-out walk along the cliff, we passed a few other walkers with and without dogs, but also one couple, and one single woman, who had settled in at their respective places in small open areas amongst the thick sea lavender.  Taking in the sun and reading books, stationary.  Two days before the beaches are slated to open at many places (but not Del Mar), and where the openings come with keep separated, don’t congregate admonitions.  Doing the most natural and pleasant things on a warm weekend afternoon, it nonetheless gave me pause as a hint of human nature’s inclination to come together.  Concern that I was seeing two glimpses of how challenging it will be to open the freedom of the outdoors without crowds resuming spontaneously.  We ache to return to normalcy, but given the state of affairs, normalcy of the past is not in the cards for some time to come.

Take care of yourselves.  Get out, but keep moving at a distance.

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Day Forty

Lung power.  The wind in our sails begun with that first gasp at birth.  Powerful and natural.  Easily taken for granted until confronted with COVID-19 or other cardiopulmonary illness.  Loosening of lockdowns will provide more opportunity for robust respiration.  We can take advantage of that, feeling our internal sails billow, while plotting a sensible course in distancing and hygiene, that we avoid a return to the doldrums, physical or economic.

North swell cove

North swell spindrift

Day Forty-One

The isolation of the novel coronavirus is one of its most unpalatable features.  A good reminder to physically or emotionally touch someone you love and care about.  Be there for them, and let them be there for you.

Hand Tree

Hand tree

Day Forty-Two

At its most visceral level this comes down to us and nature.  A stealthy bug that is mild for some, lethal for others.  Nature always has the stronger hand, it’s incumbent upon us to find a natural place in rhythm with nature’s power.  Admittedly hard to do with this bug, and learning that process and our particular place is evolving daily.
With the limited re-opening of the San Diego beaches and ocean, I got to the water’s edge yesterday, where nature offered low tide suck-out walls in the brownest red tide water you could imagine.  No solace for me there, but I did get in a nice beach walk.  Step by step return to the new normal.  I hope we recognize it when we get there.

Surfer sundown

Surfer sundown

Day Forty-Three

Skies have been dreary here on the coast the last few days.  Mirrors the dreariness of the coronavirus nexus.  Let’s color over all of that with some brightness.


Light vs. dark

Day Forty-Five


I’m feeling the drag of coronavirus fatigue, and just didn’t suit up for yesterday’s image.  Sound familiar?  The morning dog walk is simultaneously the morning surf check.  The waves aren’t visible on foggy mornings, but fortunately those are great mornings to wander the local canyons, the wetness suffusing the air with the smell of earth and chaparral.  The spider webs all glisten, strewn with a thousand tiny droplet diamonds.  And the Torrey Pines needles collect and hold water, each drop a lens revealing the bigger picture of the forest it inhabits and creates.  This virus isn’t tiny, but it is revealing things about human nature, both good and less so. More of the former I think.

Lens on it all

Lens on it all

Day Forty-Six

So many rotten things about this coronavirus.  Given its apparent infectiousness and lethality for many, plus the uncertainties and unknowns, we’ve all been living with lockdown.  Inert stasis.  Doesn’t sit well with many, where the preference would be doing something to make a difference.  Action. A version of that played out yesterday.  Once a year our church foregoes traditional services on Sunday and organizes Community Serve Day helping out with nonprofits all over San Diego.  That was early February this year.  In response to the pandemic, it has morphed into Community Serve 365, yesterday with drop-offs at three separate north county coastal sites where anyone in the community could provide goods needed by many, to be distributed by non-profits to their vetted needy.  Voluntary team effort.   Vehicles drove through and CS365 worker bees collected trunkfuls of items which were then taken to collection vehicles for delivery to the non-profits.  Food, clothing, hygiene items, paper products (yes, TP, facial tissue, paper towels).  The nonprofit recipients spanned the spectrum—Helen Woodward Animal Center, San Diego Rescue Mission, Jewish Family Services, Community Resource Center, Ladle Fellowship, and close to heart for Cathy and me—Casa de Amistad (Friendship House) and North County Citizenship and Immigration Center.  And this was just one of three organized by our church.  One of countless other similar caring outreach events across the county, state, country and globe.
I’m reminded of the line from the song about “them’s that got, get.”  Yesterday it was them that’s got, give.  We vs. Me.

Casa & NCICC donations

Help is on the way

Day Forty-Seven

The elusive green flash.  If you’re a SoCal beach bum like me, you’ve seen your share, but they are an inconsistent event, and very difficult to capture as an image.  I suspect that’s at least partially because some of the flash results from our rods and cones responding to that spectrum at the last moment of sundown.  But if your as-yet unfulfilled bucket list is to take in a green flash, here you go.  Green flash is better than coronavirus news flash to my thinking.

Green Flash

Green Flash. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Day Fifty

04:48 Muse call.  The overnight cirrus clouds had given way to a gauzy marine layer offshore.  Only a hint of the red tide luminescence with a full moon brightening the sea surface.  Still, aside from the hour, a nice way to start a day in the time of the plague.

05-07-20 moonset

Red tide moonset














This Doesn’t Look Like Kansas



Dive boat after the afternoon dives

Cathy and I joined friends and preeminent underwater camera shooters Howard Hall and Marty Snyderman celebrating their 70th orbit of the sun with a group diving splurge  for ten days at the Atlantis dive resort at Dumaguete, on Negros Island in the Philippines.  Having previously only flown over the Philippines, this provided an opportunity to put sandals on the ground and fins in the water.  At 9 degrees north latitude, Dumaguete boasts an unchanging weather pattern of 78F at dawn rising to 87F by mid afternoon, drifting cumulus clouds, the occasional passing rain shower, and an ocean temperature stuck at 80F.  A two mil spring suit for me and a 3 mil long suit for Cathy tells the tale.

Diving up to five dives a day, we were pretty tuckered out by the time we finished dinner, so collapsing into slumber was 9-ish early, which meant that we were back awake before dawn, allowing us to savor both ends of the day, which began and ended more or less like this:


Dumaguete dawn


Negros and Apo island sundown

The mango daiquiri or alfresco dinner view before trundling off to the land of nod:


Moon glow

Ambulating the Atlantis Resort is by flagstone pathway meandering amongst the comfortable rooms dotting the lush tropical greenery past the pool and full service spa leading to the bar and adjoining restaurant.  There’s an extensive dive gear area and dedicated underwater camera room.  Meals were large, delicious and beautifully presented.  Filipinos have always seemed friendly and smile-prone.  The resort staff has been selected and trained with that solicitousness exuded at every interaction.  By the end of the first day they unfailingly knew and called us by our first names.  Everyone did.  Let me introduce you to Seraphim, the groundskeeper with an aptly angelic smile and twinkle in his eye, who stopped me early on my first pre-dawn morning stroll to ask my name and shyly offer his hand.  This is him raking the beach, proudly doing his part to ground our stay in decadence:


Seraphim—his given name— raking the beach

The very first picture above shows the sort of dive boat which took Cathy and me to numerous dive sites within the Dauin marine sanctuary.  It fascinates me that in so many global regions, watercraft of a specific local design DNA evolve to prevalence—the Chinese junks, the Indonesian long sailing craft, the dhows of equatorial Africa come to mind—and these pointed prow vessels with bamboo outrigging in the Philippines.   We would come aboard and leave by the ramp you see leading to the sand bottom next to the shore.  For our dive water entries we scissor-stepped in full gear the off either side of the bow to a splash-in some four feet below before almost immediately dropping below the surface alongside our dive guides Art, Genie and Wing-Wing.  Our return aboard was by an angled stairway, facing aft and lowered into the water for each of our dives, just observable at the eight o’clock position in the unclear frame below, taken, my head  bobbing at the surface, with the water still sloshing over my underwater camera lens housing—the outriggers on the right, the boat’s hull on the left.  Dark below in the water, but a nice twilight for our return to the mother ship.  For each dive return, Captain Ernie, or boatmates Mario and Bahil would meet us on the stair at the waterline to relieve us of our tanks and buoyancy vests and help get our fins and camera gear so that we could walk up the stairs to the deck where we’d partake in snacks of cookies and fruit during a surface interval and often passage to the next dive site.  A couple of dives in the morning.  Return to the resort for a three course lunch, then repeat in the afternoon.  Night dive later?  Happy hour at the bar, or along the shore’s edge, then three course dinner.  Collapse into sleep.  You getting this?


Just-surfaced view at sundown

Given their preeminence in the underwater film and stills universe, Howard and Marty’s friends are seriously into getting good imagery in the can and have the requisite equipment and skills to accomplish the job.  This is several hundred thousand dollars of camera and housing gear before leaving the resort for the morning’s dives.  Gear fit for a lunar exploration or a full Hollywood production.


Serious camera gear for serious dive shooters

Hearing a different drum beat, I chose this year to embark upon my own pathway to relative simplicity, modest size and light weight, acquiring specifically for this trip and the future a uniquely capable fully professional palm-sized Olympus TG-6 camera in an underwater housing with Sea&Sea strobe and focusing light.  Which is segue enough to get to the point about what was a significant point of this trip—what’s down yonder.

What lurks below in the tropics is generally off-the-charts colorful and bizarre in appearance and function.   You should know that I get positively giddy about nudibranchs, the undersea version of our garden slugs.  They are regularly quite small, often an inch or less in length and absurdly gaudy.




George Lucas-like, without any scale it could be Jabba the Hut’s cousin about to devour a space speedster.  In life, about an inch long.PC110645P8290009.ORF

And this is a fit place to discuss the focusing ability of my new camera and the capturing of images generally.  The camera can focus so close in macro mode that the front of the lens can essentially touch the subject.  For these frames, the front of the lens port—the part of the waterproof box housing the camera that the lens looks through—was maybe a half inch away, the lens itself maybe another half inch behind the glass of the port.  First you have to find the subject critter, with most of the shots on this trip taken somewhere between 25 and 70 feet down, which is one way in which the local dive guides really earn their keep.  But first they aid in keeping you safe.   For instance, Art came to my immediate aid at about fifty feet down when I developed an instantaneous debilitating charley horse in my right calf, him grabbing my right knee and pushing it down straight-leg while simultaneously pulling the “toe” of my fin up toward my corpus, providing instantaneous relief to absolutely debilitating severe pain in the calf.  Don’t try this at home.  But dive master guides also know the local sites and where one is likely to find this or that specimen.  Sometimes they were in the open and I could actually discern them myself, but oft times they’d be hiding under this or that overhang or in some crevice, and you might be head down trying to position your body and camera to frame  and nail that shot, getting in close, not banging into and harming the coral or yourself, not stirring up any sandy bottom to cloud the whole scene, not to mention bending the strobe arm so as to have the light illuminate the critter, not some other spot off scene.  You gotta have light on the subject to get tight focus and to reveal the magic of their color in a world where the water medium skews everything to the dim blue end of the spectrum.   It is an attention-riveting experience.


Speaking of nudibranchs, here’s a rosette, a batch of a gazillion nudibranch eggs attached lightly to corral, wafting in the surge for all the world like a red rose, its petals waving in a breeze.PC110538P8290009.ORF

I have no idea what this creature is, but it looks like some huggable kid’s toy or a bubblehead in a car’s rear window.  PC060219P8290009.ORF

Not something to hug, but delightful just the same.  Carapace about four feet long.  Chilling out while munching coral.PC050115P8290009.ORF

Things big, and things small.


Candy Crab on soft coral

Art really helping out here.  We dove with aluminum pointers about 18 inches long and the diameter of a Ticonderoga pencil.  Besides a pointer, these underwater devices can be used to fend off a slow-motion collision with a reef, or to push down into the sand to lock yourself in position against current to keep on station while framing and capturing a shot.  This is a minuscule-sized candy crab at the nine o’clock position, almost dead center in the frame, looking like it is standing on the pointer, it’s red bug eyes atop its yellow body looking straight back into the lens.  Perfectly camouflaged for the soft coral where it lives with its maybe 3/16ths of an inch body size.

Camouflage, often the rule for survival.


Ornate Ghost Pipefish in situ

Hiding rather effectively amongst the arms of a crinoid above, male and female adrift in the clear, below.  The larger is the male, and the belly bulge below the pectoral wings, only hinted at in the frames, is the result of him carrying their young like joeys in a kangaroo.


Other creatures also use look-alike camouflage, and also have the males carry their young in belly pouches.PC060169P8290009.ORF

Something like three inches tall.PC060180P8290009.ORF


A tiny shrimp colored to disappear amongst its surroundings.  Twelve o’clock in the frame.


Masters of camouflage are the octopus, one of the undersea’s smarter creatures, fast when the mood moves them, and with the ability to change their coloring and texture to reflect their surroundings.  In my previous experience, octopi have been stealthy, preferring to hide in holes and under rocks, more prone to come out at night.  But here they could be found on open debris-covered sandy slopes.PC060195P8290009.ORF


Below, the rock to the right is an octopus.  Then, the same one, moments later, having scooted to a new spot with less rocks to look like.  The bodies of all of these are about the size of an adult human fist. tentacles much longer.



You see this fish, right?PC090310P8290009.ORF

Or these two, different versions of scorpion fish?  The dorsal spines are to be avoided.  The one on the left has spike-claws beneath its ventral fins, and moves about with small movement of its fins and actually placing the talons forward and walking into the new position.  The one on the right looks like it has the ducted fans of an UAV.

Hiding comes in other ways.  The anemone tendrils are toxic, providing protection from predators not immune to the sting like this crab.


Anenome crab

I caught this one in the open, it constantly turning to face me, its claws up provocatively like a boxer in the ring.  Carapace maybe 5/8ths of an inch across.


Another form of concealment is clearly to disappear from view including being truly shrimpy diminutive in size.  When I was an elementary and junior high school kid we used to free dive for abalone off Point Loma and La Jolla.  I remember how improperly named was Jacques Cousteau’s captivating “Silent World.”  The undersea with shrimp in it was downright noisy to me with the scraping and clicking of their pinchers.  Now, after  multiple tens of thousands of hours of jet engine noise, I hear none of that.  Quite lamentable.PC060190P8290009.ORF PC080115P8290009.ORF



Then there are shrimp that are decidedly more colorful.


Sexy shrimp—so named because it dares to raise and shake its booty

Harlequin Shrimp.  Iconic beauty.PC090315P8290009.ORF

The name says it all.  When you’ve got it, why not flaunt it?  Besides the kaleidoscopic color, as to this shrimp, maybe eight inches long, researchers tell us that those two amethyst colored eyes can turn and gaze independently, have individual hemispheric stereoscopic vision, and depending on the sub-species can see between 11 and 16 colors.  Our paltry human vision is composed of mixing only three colors—red, green and blue.  Can you image the brilliance of this creature’s visual world?


Peacock Mantis Shrimp

On a more domestic and prosaic level, there’s this mantis shrimp.  She’s carrying a mouthful of her eggs.  And this subspecies proved itself positively pugilistic on this trip, proactively attacking me by launching itself to collide, clanking noise and all, with the lens hood of my camera, and doing so on that particular dive, to two other diver photographers. PC110617P8290009.ORF

Not behaviorally aggressive but a creature deserving of your hands-off respect are the lion fish.  Presumably named for the mane-like aura of its spiny fins, which are  magnificently beautiful and exceedingly toxic.  In my limited experience, they are often found with their heads away in whatever milieu they inhabit, pointing their posterior outward.  I suspect that is because this means a predator has to go past all those poisonous spines to get at the body. PC120746P8290009.ORF


Frog fish, a creature whose appearance only a mother could love.PC100464P8290009.ORF

They are mostly sedentary, sitting on those ventral fins as if they were hands, and moving about when they do, as much by walking on them as by swimming with their tail.  This must be a boring existence, because every so often they open widely in an enormous yawn.  Did you know that I was once a zoology/pre-dental major at SDSU?  I’m forever glad that I took up wings over mouths.PC100468P8290009.ORF

This was an especially uncommon experience.  Art, Cathy and I swimming along, and here before us was a conclave of frog fish.  Three in one spot at the same time—green with garlands on the left, brownish in the center background, and black, dourly scowling on the right.  Like the fellow above, each of these is sized somewhere between a football and a basketball.  Butt-ugly, but a fascinating niche holder in the undersea world.PC080233P8290009.ORF

As peculiar as the large variety above, there are also miniature frog fish, their size making them seem much cuter.  These are all about an inch long.


Miniature frog fish



Closing in on the end of this missive.  There’s a remarkable symbiotic behavioral relationship of what is known as the shrimp goby pair.  The goby fish and its buddy shrimp share a hole in the bottom.  The fish comes out and surveys their domain, on predator watch, perhaps, while the shrimp busies itself tidying up their hole home, pulling up and pushing outside debris not to its liking.PC110664P8290009.ORF

The flamboyant cuttlefish is a most extraordinary creature.  We came upon this one, about two inches long, which dive guide Wing-Wing recognized was not a gray blob of bottom dirt.  As soon as we took an interest in it, it changed to this amazing technicolor dreamcoat. Like its fellow cephalopod, the octopus,  the cuttlefish can change its color, and skin appearance at will, and likewise jet about on streams of water pushed out as with a jet engine.  One moment it was this or that combination of colors, and a moment later those shades and hues would change before your eyes in real time.  And the more fascinating part is that the colors would race fore and aft along its body like the advertising signs on the Goodyear blimp.


Flamboyant Cuttlefish.  The name couldn’t be more apt.

I shall close with a couple iconic anemone clown fish shots.  Ubiquitous, but always fascinating to watch, and often very capable of striking just the right pose.PC070036P8290009.ORF

Nemo lives!PC100450P8290009.ORF

Great trip.  Great friends.  Great diving.  Great escape from winter.  Great to share.

Yours, truly.  Tom





Three-Quarters of a Century On

MBOF Group

L to R: Nick Pasich, Joan (Purdy) Ritter, Janice Stephany, Pat Nipper, Judy Lyle, Carol (MacLeod) Mulcahy, Thomas Close

What we’re looking at above is 525 years’s of earthly experience.  No small thing.

This year I attended a fund-raiser for an organization arranging for WWII veterans to visit the Washington DC memorials and to tell their stories while they are still here to share them with us.

It occurred to me that the story sharing would be a fitting goal for the somewhat colorfully self-annointed MBOF group—Mission Bay Old Farts.  It’s an ad hoc group of us members of the Mission Bay High School Class of 1961.  I think the F word was affixed by LTC John Quesenberry, USA, Ret., as an appropriately informal designation for what some might refer to as a bunch of aging beach bums.  Anyway, every couple of months varying numbers of us get together for lunches JQ got us started on.

Sadly, JQ, an Army aviator, has “Flown West,” pilotspeak for passing on, and that has figured prominently in this Quixotic quest of mine to have my fellow classmates share their reflections,  observations, and stories in their own words from this perspective of three-quarters of a century since our first breaths.  Man, that sounds ancient, and I’m pretty nearly clueless as to how I got here.  Anyway, I’ve had no idea what each of them would say, and I didn’t help by providing any outline as to what I was looking for, not wanting to skew their thinking into sharing what they thought I wanted to hear.  In fact I had no idea even as to what  would say.  For all of us, our own voices have come forth on their own wings.  At any rate, our early years were a time of great turmoil, then a uniquely halcyon period, followed by more tumult over the decades.   These years have had an impact on us, and vice versa.

Herewith, our sharing, in reverse alphabetical order, maiden names for the ladies.  I’ve edited these only as to obvious typos or inadvertent misspellings, but the vocabulary, syntax and grammatical construction are all as provided me.

Janice Stephany:

In September 22, 1943 my sister Janet Stephany and I, Janice Stephany, were born in Paradise Valley Hospital.  My sister came home first.  Due to complications I came home later.  We had a older brother Gary Stephany.


We lived on Market Street across from Greenwood Cemetery in which I drove my daughters to see and found out is now a offramp of a freeway.  We attended Chollas Elementary lived on a cul de sac and had block parties.


After elementary we attended Pacific Beach Junior High after moving to Pacific Beach.  My parents bought a house there for $10,000.  My sister and I worked in the school library under the supervision of Mrs. Green during the summers and went to the beach.


Went to Mission Bay High and graduated and was member of the drill team.


After that my sister and I went to work for the Pac Bell Co.  We both worked there and bowled at Aztec Bowl.  That is where my sister met her future husband.  The wedding took place in the back yard and that’s where I met my future husband Gary Thomas.


We were married later on in Las Vegas.  We had two beautiful daughters Char and Tina 9 1/2 years apart.  Since he was in the Navy he came home earlier than expected.  We had what I thought was a happy marriage.  We moved to Mississippi and Pennsylvania and came home with my daughters.


I found a job at Industrial Indemnity.  No longer there.  I joined our volley ball team, ended up with a broken ankle and tibia.  My daughters both went to Mission Bay High School.


In the year 2000 I brought in a liver transplant after being on disability for five years waiting.  All went well.  My church even stood up and applauded according to Tina.


Now I have been retired for a while.  I am just taking it easy doing some volunteering, exercise, walking and crocheting and enjoying life.

Joan Purdy Ritter


I was born in San Diego, CA, and a 3rdgeneration native San Diegan.  I was born one day before my father left for boot camp during WWII.  Thank goodness I was one week early.  My dad lost his hearing a couple of days before leaving for Germany.  He received a medical discharge, and returned home.  He was a San Diego Fireman, but was unable to return to duty, even though some of his hearing had returned.  Since a lot of the men in San Diego were away at war, he went to work as a fireman for Convair, and the airport.  After several surgeries, his hearing improved.  He was with Convair/General Dynamics for 38 years. My father and mother were wonderful parents, and influenced me greatly.  We moved to Pacific Beach when I was 7 years old, and I attended Pacific Beach Elementary School.  My sister and brother were born a few years later.  I had a good childhood, and loved playing outside, roller skating, riding my bicycle, climbing trees, and playing at the recreation center.  I even rode my bike down Loring Street hill.  Very Scary!  I enjoyed high school, my friends, drill team, school clubs and the beach.    When I was about 14 years old, I was at the dentist, and he let me assist with the young patients.  I knew then that I wanted to be a dental assistant.  After high school I attended San Diego City College, and received an AS degree in Dental Assisting, and later an R.D.A.  I also met my husband in college, and we were married in Oct. of 1964. My husband became a San Diego Police Officer.  We welcomed our first daughter in 1968.  In 1974 when our second daughter was 3 years old, my husband was critically injured in the line of duty.  Through the grace of God he survived.  In 1975 we welcomed our 3rddaughter.  In time my husband returned to law enforcement.  I have participated in many activities over the years, a Girl Scout leader, taught swimming, softball mom, youth director, Sunday school teacher, taxi driver for 3 busy daughters and their activities.  Built loft homes in Mexico with our church, went on a Medical Mission trip to Honduras, where I cleaned over 200 children’s teeth, and taught them how to brush.  I also helped in a hospital with very sick children.  It was a wonderful experience, but also heart breaking, and something that I will never forget.

Now that retirement is here, and life has slowed down, Ha Ha, it’s our time.  We love to travel, and enjoy learning the history of different places and countries. Cruising is our favorite.

We also enjoy our 6 grandchildren, aging from 2 to 24 (3 boys and 3 girls).  They are the joys of our lives.  Overall, I feel I have lived a wonderful life.  I have a great husband, wonderful daughters and son’s-in-law.  I thank God every day for my blessings.

A Few Thoughts From Nick, by Nick Pasich

Wow! Time sure has flown by. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was getting ready to attend a dance at the PB Rec featuring the “Ramblers” with “Cookie Taylor” singing songs by “Little Richard”. Gosh, that was all the way back in the 7th grade!!


Well, times have certainly changed. It seems like kids “now a days” have been cheated of the opportunity to have fun like we did. We weren’t “tied down” to cell phones and computers. We had a wonderful time together, whether running through the hills (North PB), going to the beach, RecCenter dances, shooting our 22 rifles and shotguns at Miramar (then it was wide open), roaming together down Garnet Ave, etc.


After graduation from Mission Bay High it was time for more fun. George Negus and I spent a month on Catalina Island. We came back and promptly left for Mazatlan Mexico and I returned home after 3 weeks. Me, Danny M. and Dick B. started working at the Burger Chef to make some money to travel to Alaska. We bought a 1948 Chevrolet panel truck and painted it black and white with an Igloo on the side. We made it as far as Seattle WA. The truck was falling apart, so we sold it. We ran out of money after 3 weeks and returned to PB via freight trains (what an adventure that was).


I began experimenting with various drugs which later became a very controlling part of my life. It started out with using Marijuana and Pills (uppers and downers) and later graduated to Cocaine and Acid.


My good friend Bobby Foster and I joined the Air Force with the main focus of staying out of jail, traveling and learning a trade. I always loved electronics and was able to get training in radio maintenance. I was able to control my drug usage during my Air Force days. The Air Force was great, but I turned down the opportunity to re-enlist.


After my tour in the Air Force, I ended up interviewing with PacBell and taking an aptitude test for electronics knowledge. After the test they called and said they had a job for me and I could start “right away”. I then began a career which lasted over 23 years. I started out as a telephone installer and quickly advanced to a PBX installer and then to a PBX repairman. I then went into management and was responsible for a PBX installation crew. I was on staff for awhile and then went into the Field Services Control Center where I was selected to be a Systems Administrator for a newly developing computerized order system. This involved delving into the UNIX computer world which was just being developed by AT&T. I learned several software programming languages and got “hands on” experience with computer hardware.

I was able to control my drug usage during working hours at PacBell, but after work and weekends was a different matter.


During my early years with PacBell I got married and because of my selfish drug seeking ways, we were divorced after 7 years. A wonderful blessing came from that marriage, my daughter Heather.


The combination of my drug usage and the divorce had a very negative impact on me mentally and I spent a month in the old Vista Hill Hospital in Chula Vista. During my stay at Vista Hill, I met an occupational therapy aid by the name of Barbara. Her and I got along very well and ended up getting married. She had a wonderful daughter, Lenora whom I adopted. Heather and Lenora were very happy to be sisters.


I was still under the bondage of drugs and alcohol and it was starting to take a toll on our marriage. While I was a service order routing supervisor at PacBell my hours were from 12 noon to 9pm. I watched TV before going in to work and one day I ran across a program called the 700 club. It was a Christian program telling of lives being changed by Jesus Christ. The stories were all depicted by a short video enactment. Many of those stories were of people that were in the same situation as me. There was a guy at work, Jerry L., who used to be very heavy into alcohol and he was changed by accepting Jesus into his life. Well, the combination of seeing Jerry’s life changed and all the different stories on the 700 Club, I decided to ask Jesus to change my life also. At the end of each 700 Club program, an opportunity was given to invite Jesus Christ into your life. It was a very simple prayer….


“Jesus, I admit that I’m a sinner and ask for your forgiveness. I believe that you are the Son of God and that you died for my sins on the cross, were buried and rose from the dead on the third day. I ask you right now to come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. Thank you for the gift of eternal life… Amen”.


That was the best decision that I have ever made. The power of God is overwhelming. He removed the desire for drugs and booze. This isn’t something that was done by attending meetings or going to church. It was done supernaturally through the Love and Power of Jesus Christ.


Eventually, the whole family believed and received the Love and Forgiveness of Jesus. Our life’s direction changed forever and it’s all because of Jesus Christ.

Growing up in Pacific Beach  by Carol (MacLeod) Mulcahy

When I was born in 1943 my family lived on the Pacific Beach side of Mt. Soledad in San Diego, California. At that time there were 11 homes between our house and the Cross, which sat at the top of Mt. Soledad. My father and mother, Ken and Elaine MacLeod bought Kate O. Sessions estate on Los Altos Road in 1942. After WW ll, he divided the property, selling the big house with an acre and keeping an acre of land on which he built our family home in 1949.


In the 1950’s, living up on the hill, was like living in the country with our dirt roads, nurseries, a dairy and even an egg ranch. Also, a neighbor on Los Altos Road had horses in a corral and a barn, which I would pass by on my walk to Pacific Beach Jr. HS and home again.


I think most kids walked to school in the 1950’s. In kindergarten I walked to Crown Pt. El. from our home on Crown Pt. to the elementary school on Ingraham St.  Miss Curtain was our teacher for the half day. There were at least seven other classmates in her class with whom I would go through all 12 grades of school. I also walked to PB El. from 1st grade through 6th grade. By cutting through vacant lots on well worn foot paths, it was less than a mile to either school. It didn’t take much time to get to school because half the distance was down hill. Coming home it took me much longer as I trudged up the short steep hills.


By the time I was 15 I was determined that I would have my own horse in our own back yard. The neighbors had moved their horses out to their ranch in Poway and my father said the zoning now prohibited having horses. I wasn’t sure he was right so I called the City to discover that we could have up to two horses if I could provide a 10,000 sq ft corral which had to be at least 75 ft from any neighbor’s home. Dad agreed with my calculations and gave me a post hole digger and said if I wanted a corral then I could build one! So I set my plum line and started digging. My sister was dating a man that worked the lines for the telephone company and he brought me old 4X4 cross beams with holes about every 20 inches which I intended to use for posts. I acquired old used lead water pipes that would fit through the holes of each 4×4 post. I didn’t have all the material I needed to complete the corral, but I would handle that problem when I came to it! I was digging the last post hole when dad walked down to tell me he would help me assemble the post and pipe corral and buy what was needed to finish my quarter acre horse corral. Before long the corral was finished. All I needed now was a horse!


We bought the first horse we looked at in Del Mar. Sheba was a 14 year old Morgan/Arabian, red chestnut mare with a white blaze and two white hind socks. She was spirited and known to run away with inexperienced riders or even experienced riders if she could get the bit between her teeth. To correct the problem of her running away, I replaced the bridle and bit with a roping hackamore.


Towards the end of my senior year at Mission Bay HS a classmate, Bill Costello and I started running together as buddies along with his friends Vic Rogers and Kenny Prudhomme. Add my girlfriends to the mix and 1961 was a summer of parties, going to the beach and part time jobs as we waited for college to begin. I introduced Bill and his friends to my two pretty blonde cousins Deena and Gail who had their own horse. Deena lived in Solana Beach and she would ride down and meet me at a cafe on Torrey Pines Road (where UCSD campus is now) then we’d ride up to her house or back to my house.


While together at Deena’s we rode our horses on the beach by going under the railroad tracks and HWY 101 using the trail the thoroughbreds took from Del Mar race track when they exercised their race horses in the salt water, and of course, we raced our horses on the dirt race track when it was closed for the season.


One early morning when Deena was visiting me with her horse Sue, we rode down to the ocean. Bill rode double with Deena. We knew the law: no horses are allowed on San Diego beaches south of La Jolla’s Scripps Pier. It was 8:00 am and the PB beach was mostly empty of bathers. So, being teen-agers, we thought we could get away with a ride on the beach. As we rode our horses out from under the south side of Crystal Pier, a lifeguard yelled at us from his station to get off the beach. Bill waved to the guard to acknowledge we’d heard him, and we turned the horses around to leave the beach. Apparently, the lifeguard mistook Bill’s wave as a “finger salute” and called the cops. When we reached Tourmaline St. exit, a San Diego police Officer was waiting for us and gave all three of us a ticket. We went to court and told our story to the judge. We were stunned when he fined each of us $50! But, thankful when he suspended $45 of each fine.


The summer of 1962, my cousins and I were visiting my grandparents’ ranch in Shelton, Washington when Bill and Kenny surprised all of us by driving up to visit. For two weeks they made themselves at home sleeping in our old unused bunkhouse on the ranch. Well, my grandfather had enough of us girls being distracted from our summer chores. We picked gallons of wild blackberries when visiting in the summer from which we made dozens of jars of jam as well as blackberry pies which were put in the freezer for my grandparents to eat over the winter. Another way we would help my grandfather was to go with him into the woods (he owned 200 acres of prime fir trees) where he would use a winch on the front of the jeep to pull out dead fall trees, and using a chain saw (to this day when I hear a chain saw running I think of Shelton and I can almost smell the scent of evergreen forest) he cut the logs to size for use in the kitchen and living room stoves. Our job was to throw the cut wood into the back bed of an old army jeep truck , deliver loads of wood to the wood shed and then stack it up in cords for my grandparents to use in the coming winter.


Bill and Kenny had moved off the property and set up camp down an abandoned logging road. There they lived out of their car in a small clearing. Bill was hired at the big saw mill in town. Kenny never did find a job in Shelton. Shelton was known as “The Christmas Tree Capitol of the World! At summers end we girls returned to San Diego and college in the fall. It wasn’t long after our return that Bill and Kenny came back too.


Over the next few years our friendships grew deeper among some of us while other friendships faded as we went our separate ways. I sold Sheba to a local man who rode her in several Rose Bowl Parades. I was one semester shy of earning a AA degree in commercial art when I married Jim Young and moved to Durango, Co. I lost track of Kenny, but Bill married and owned a dive shop here in Pacific Beach. Upon my return to San Diego in 1988 I was given the sad news that Bill had had a massive stroke that eventually took his life.


So much has changed since growing up in the 1950s in PB compared to today. In 2018 most children do not walk alone to grade school. Most children don’t work hard to get what they want before it is given to them. Children now have instant communication with their parents or other responsible adults, unlike the freedom we had as children exploring the backcountry on foot or horseback. Still, some things never change: love for our children, love of our parents, love for friends and love of the life God has given us.


Bill’s Letter, by William Horn


My name is William G. Horn. I was born on February 18th, 1943, in my grandfather’s home on the corner of Second and Elm Street in downtown San Diego. World War II was in its fourth year and U.S. Marines had just scored a huge offensive victory in Guadalcanal. My father was in the Army Air Corps and my mother took a job at Convair where she was a real life Rosie the Riveter. We didn’t have much money but we had a happy childhood.


I guess you can say I’m about as Southern California as they come. I spent my early years in South Mission Beach until my family moved to Pacific Beach. I attended Pacific Beach Elementary, Pacific Beach Junior High and Mission Bay High School. When I wasn’t in class, you could find me in and around the water. I was your typical blond-haired, blue-eyed, perpetually tanned beach boy who surfed just about every day at the end of Law Street. It was great fun, didn’t cost any money and there were always plenty of pretty girls hanging out at the beach.


I learned at a young age to appreciate the satisfaction and independence that came with making my own money. At 12 years old, I was offered a seasonal job at Lloyd’s Bike Shop on Garnet Ave. They needed help assembling bikes during the holidays. I loved having my own money to spend, but I also enjoyed saving money and watching my savings grow. I landed a job working as a janitor and every Saturday, I cleaned medical suites in a doctor’s office. I kept that job through high school and college. Over time, I earned enough money to pay for my own flying lessons at Montgomery Field. I also discovered I could make extra cash by offering to wash the airplanes. By the time I was 14 years old, I had earned my pilot’s license.


In high school, I joined the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). I graduated from high school in 1961 and attended San Diego State University where I double-majored in history and accounting. At 19, I had the opportunity to buy the 7-11 convenience store where I had been working while attending school. It was the first of many businesses and properties I would eventually own and manage. I graduated from college in June of 1966 and was drafted by the Army the following week. I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps so I could go to Officers Candidate School (OCS). In January, 1967, I began my military service in OCS on the Marine Corps Base at Quantico. I married my college sweetheart, Kathy, on July 2, 1967. We just celebrated our 50thwedding anniversary.


My years as a Marine Corps Officer were a defining time in my life. The experience made me who I am today. I was exposed to other cultures and countries including Cuba, Japan and Vietnam. I was one of the legendary ‘Boys of ‘67’; a group of Marine Corps officers who trained together, went into combat in Vietnam in 1968, and suffered the most casualties. My class lost 39 officers. One of the greatest honors in my life, and most humbling, was to command 270 Marines in combat for one year during the Vietnam War in 1968. I was 24 years old. When I finally made it home, I was a Captain with decorations that included a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and four Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry. Semper Fidelis.


After active duty, I served in the Marine Corps Reserves for seven years. I also welcomed my three children into the world: Julie, Angie and Geoff. In 1975, I started a real estate business, managed property and built houses. In 1985, I travelled to Israel to drill water wells for three years.


In 1989, I was elected to the Escondido Union High School Board. I also served as President of the Escondido Rotary in 1995. At about the same time, I was in a land battle with the County of San Diego. The County wanted my land for a park but I didn’t want to sell it. I sued them and won. I decided I could do a much better job managing County business. I ran for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, representing District 5, and won in 1995. I have been Supervisor for the past 24 years and Chair of the Board five times.


In 2013, I met a young African named Moses who changed the path of my life. He told me how he and his wife have paid for six children from their village in Uganda to go to a Christian school. He described the severe poverty and the large number of orphans in his village. His story moved my heart so deeply that I decided to go see for myself if this was true. I traveled to Uganda in 2015 and after touring the village, I purchased 10 acres to build an elementary school. In 2016, I purchased 19 more acres and built a high school. Currently, I have 735 students enrolled in the elementary school, 150 students attending the high school and 42 Ugandan teachers. I have also built a corn processing plant to help sustain the school and also employ 15 local villagers. My work in Uganda has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.


I currently own and operate a number of apartment buildings, businesses and homes. I am also an avocado and citrus rancher. In 2015, I purchased a hotel in Solvang called the Atterdag Inn. I am in the process of expanding the hotel and adding on a second building with 33 new rooms.


I will officially retire from the County Board of Supervisors in January 2019, after 24 years in office.  At 75, I still have a lot to keep me busy with my properties, businesses and work in Africa. I also plan to spend more time with my family, including my 8 grandchildren, and I hope to travel.


From the earliest years in my life, I learned the undeniable value of hard work, saving and investing. It has been the foundation for all of my financial decisions. I am honored to have served this great nation during the Vietnam War and I deeply respect all service members who choose to make that sacrifice. I am proud to be a Marine Corps veteran and to call the United States of America my home. I am also very proud of my years on the County Board of Supervisors and that we are recognized as one of the best run counties in the nation. Finally, I am blessed with the ability to continue my work in Uganda. That, and my family, fill my heart with purpose and joy.

Gayle (Myers) Gordon     [Editor’s note—I am using Gayle’s name as it appears in our high school yearbook, “Taroga.”  Her maiden name is Myers, but she and Larry Gordon married before graduation.  They went on, with Floyd Smith, to build the famous surfing brand of Gordon and Smith.  Larry, who was a couple of years ahead of us at Mission Bay, has also passed on, yet another reason for trying to collect and share these missives.]

Gayle selfie

I remember going to the movies with some of my girlfriends. It was about this country called Vietnam.  It was 1959.  We all looked at each other and said where is that place?
Little did we know how our early adult lives would be radically changed because of a war that would last over a decade.
In my first year at State College I can remember giving up classes so guys could qualify for their deferral to keep them out of the war so that they could finish college.
The brutality of war on our generation created great discord between generations and our age group suffered in many ways. The increase in types of illegal drugs changed our communities in many ways. Our class of 1961 grew up real fast.  [As to] the war in Vietnam, you have to know that our fathers had fought the kind of wars against evil forces that most of America agreed needed to be stopped.  There was a universal commitment which the war in Vietnam did not inspire.  It was also generational in that our WW2 dads were fighting for freedom all over the globe for all of mankind and Vietnam was a failed war started 20 years before which the French could not win against the communists.  So our country was divided.   There were demonstrations against the war and riots.  Every cause, from drugs to black power, to ignoring and not understanding our returning soldiers or our college kids being drafted right before graduation.  It all fed the chaos.  I for one will never forget the fall of Saigon.  I also will not forget the influx of Vietnamese in San Diego in the 70s.  Life for our generation was altered and our class of 1961 was in the front lines from the beginning, and some, through to the end.  The thing I learned through it all is that our class hung together.  We learned that by drawing on the strength of those who knew us best, we could make it.  Friendships are valuable.  Friendships that last a lifetime, irreplaceable.  We have been blessed, haven’t we?  Thank you class of 1961!!
Years later, the week before our High School reunion we had 9/11
It was again a time to come together and to be strengthened
by those we had grown up with. This class of 1961 is still holding together and I thank you all for your steadfast friendship through the journey we have made together.
You are all very special people.

My Take on my History, by Tom Close

Cubscout Tom copy

The sea and I have shared a pas de deux for longer than I have memory, surely hearing the sea’s ceaseless sounds while still in the womb, born to and raised in my home at 703 Zanzibar Court abutting the concrete boardwalk in north Mission Beach.  I remember evenings as a toddler staring from my upper bunk at effervescent ocean reflections dancing on the ceiling of the bedroom I shared with my brother Ted. There were times when winter storm waves broke over the seawall and deposited kelp and sand along the boardwalk, down the court sidewalk and in our front yard.  Our unofficial front yard was the beach itself, and my folks devised the use of loudly tweeting a coach’s whistle so we could hear over the sound of the waves when they called us home for meals or to end our day of outdoors play.  Mission Bay used to be mudflats we could walk across towards Crown Point during minus tides, prior to the hoses and pipes crossing Mission Boulevard to transfer sand to the ocean beach when the bay was dredged to form the aquatic playground it is now. There were times when the Marines made training landings on the sand, coming ashore in olive drab Ducks at the foot of Pacific Beach Drive.  We had a Flatty sailboat that Ted and I would sail.  And when we started surfing in elementary school, it took three or four of us kids to collectively carry a twelve-foot varnished balsa and redwood plank borrowed from neighbor Ed Stotler (an early San Diego lifeguard, later police detective) into the water.  We went to The Army/Navy Surplus down by police headquarters (near today’s Seaport Village) and bought WWII Kapok-wrapped Navy rafts, harvesting the balsa within and gluing together pieces to form the blanks from which we hand-shaped our first boards.  This was before polyurethane foam, before wetsuits.  I remember surfing in the winter in just trunks until we were so cold that we literally couldn’t stop our teeth from chattering.  We’d come in and build a fire on the beach, hovering close enough to warm up, then head back into the water and start the next cycle. In summer we’d surf from first light until about 10 AM, when we’d come in and consume an enormous breakfast, then head back into the waves until 2-3 PM when we’d have lunch, then back out until darkness, followed by dinner and collapsing exhausted in sleep.  Every day, except those days we were free-diving for abalone, which we’d thin slice, batter and bread-crumb, then sauté in a pan over an open fire on the beach along with corn on the cob and baked potato cooked in the coals. And, in adulthood, I’ve added SCUBA to my aquatic repertoire.  I’m a water guy, through and through.


Living with the ocean has taught me reverence and humility. I love nature, which I deem a God-given gift.  I learned early that I could not overcome the ocean, but could get along with her if I attuned myself to her moods and forces, accepting that I’m a small part of a much bigger picture.  This is probably foundational to my religious beliefs now.  I do not see this earth and the forces and processes of life as a cosmic accident.  I don’t understand all the details of nature’s blueprint, but I have no doubt that there is a design and a Designer.  This isn’t to say that I’m oblivious to Darwin’s theory, but consider the described process as just one of God’s chosen tools.  And His time frame isn’t ours.


I imagine most of my fellow graduates of Mission Bay High School, Class of 1961, share with me the sense of appreciation about our time and place as youngsters growing up.  Born in the midst of WWII, to bring us into the world, our parents must nonetheless have felt a sense of hope in spite of the immense political forces at play.  My folks were both high school teachers—my mom, Rea, of business courses and my dad, Frank, of music.  Dad was always a musician and an oil painter.  He was too young to serve in WWI and too old for WWII, but he made up for it by being in charge of musical entertainment at the Armed Forces YMCA on Broadway in downtown San Diego.  Mom took a child-rearing break from her business work and teaching of business courses, to which she returned as I matriculated to junior high school. This is what our parents did, finding ways to contribute and hold down the home front—no small feat with my sister Andrea, brother Ted and I.


We grew up in a time of richly abundant love and the unquestioned presumption that we could accomplish anything to which we set our hearts and minds. That’s not just our family background, but a sign of the times, our country having fought the righteous fight and prevailed against forces of profound evil.  This time of great expectations and opportunity buoyed us when we were youngsters like the proverbial incoming tide.


Nowadays you hear youths complain about being unappreciated, misunderstood, or abused by their family while growing up.  I haven’t a clue what that could be like.  I had great parents and questioning their love and guidance would never have made the least sense had anyone asked.  Their abiding love and have-our-back guidance was an a priori given.  These were not times of affluence, at least if affluence is defined by today’s instant gratification consumer indulgence.  More than once I went to school with cardboard between my foot and holes in my shoe sole because it wouldn’t be until payday that we could afford the cobbler’s repair.  Socks were darned.  Hand-me-downs from Ted were just part and parcel.  But never did I feel poor.


I was a member of a self-reliant family, and began work in elementary school working odd jobs in the neighborhood, and biking my dawn paper route delivering the San Diego Union.  I think a personal vignette may illuminate the positive vibe of this period of my youth. Weekdays I folded papers in the carport at home, stuffed them into canvas bags and climbed up a wooden stair that I’d hand crafted to allow me to get high enough to place that heavy saddlebag over the rack on the back of my bike, then head out for my deliveries.  For reasons I can’t remember, the baled stacks of the big Sunday edition were delivered for me at a real estate office a half mile away on Mission Blvd. I’d be there on the sidewalk by myself before dawn folding the papers into the saddlebags and then off for delivery. Before dawn?  Elementary school boy?  Hooey, my fingers ache now just thinking about how cold they were on some of those bone-chilling winter mornings.  Can you imagine kids doing this now, or their parents being okay with it? And, of course, there was the  going door to door each month to collect for that month’s already-delivered subscription, the accounting for which I had to keep track of, and with any non-payment coming out of my pocket.  I believe these themes of self-reliance and a strong work ethic were a result of coming out of the WWII crucible, and also a byproduct of parents who had lived through the great depression—need to do, can do.  At any rate, it shaped our lives as a family, as kids growing up, and to this day, as adults.


I’d wager that most of my contemporaries remember their first day in elementary school?  I can still feel my mom’s hand holding mine as we walked between the chain link fence and the northwest building of Mission Beach Elementary, rounding the corner and into the kindergarten classroom.  Next up, Pacific Beach Junior High, with shop classes, band, and English with the famously strict Mr. Shepherd.


I now see that I didn’t immerse myself as fully in the high school experience as I now wish that I had.  I’m a bit of a lone wolf, and a shy one at that, plus the ocean and surfing exerted that siren call.  Furthermore, looking back, I apparently took graduation from high school as just another day in the life.  I belatedly decided, probably with gentle urging by my parents, to apply to college, doing so as near as I can remember just in time for the ‘61 fall semester registration at San Diego State.  I really have no recollection of planning this out, nothing like the concerted efforts of students and families today, spending years in aligning the planets for the perfect school, driven by a clear idea of major study emphasis.  I stumbled in and found time to study while catching waves, working in various jobs to earn spending money.  I took five years to graduate, but with enough semester hours for a baccalaureate and a master’s degree, a byproduct of changing my major three times—zoology, chemistry and philosophy.


The pure luck stumble methodology seems to have been a theme.  When majoring in chemistry, I needed to check off a general education requirement, and decided psychology sounded about right. In those days, class registration was in the library with volunteers at tables taking hand-written cards from student applicants.  The line in front of psychology was inordinately long, and I am inordinately impatient.  I looked in the catalog and discovered that philosophy, which had no line, on the adjoining “P” table, also provided the GA credit I needed.  Just like that.  When I wandered into my first philosophy class, professor Harry Ruja, PhD, was physically uninspiring, with thick glasses tilting at a 20-degree list to starboard, probably a result of his one gimpy leg several inches shorter than the other.  Physically underwhelming, but when he opened his mind, I found that thinking of the nature of things had an unparalleled beauty and majesty.  I never knew it growing up, but I was dark loamy soil for philosophy.  My view of life to this day runs along these lines—to both my great appreciation and angst. Not a switch I can turn off, for good or bad.


What do you do with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Chemistry?  Here’s another chapter in the stumble history. In college I worked in a men’s store in Ocean Beach and at Christmas time, needing additional help, the store hired a Navy submariner who had free time while his boat (submarines are boats, not ships) was in dry dock at nearby Ballast Point.  He had enough free time to take flying lessons, and a day came when he asked me if I would like to come along on a cross-country training flight with his instructor, delivering a chief petty officer to LAX to catch a plane home for the holidays.  Immediately bitten by the bug, I started lessons during the following semester break, and continued building hours and getting first my private, then commercial license.  While a senior at San Diego State, Ted saw an add for interviews by United Airlines in the old Jim’s Air offices atop the original Lindbergh terminal on Pacific Highway.  He told me I should give it a go, but I demurred, not confident that I was what they had in mind.  Ted was both bigger and faster than me, and when he said he’d kick my ass if I didn’t go, I acceded to diplomatic agreement.  I guess they liked what they saw.  I am one of those unbelievably fortunate people having spent my entire adult working life pinching myself daily to make sure I wasn’t dreaming the dream vs. actually living it.


So here I am at a story juncture not to miss sharing.  As you can see there’s more than a little good luck in my paddling through life.  I’ve no doubt that a fair amount of that was stage managing and marionette string pulling from the Big Fellow upstairs.  My dad grew up in the western plains of Colorado and graduated university there, then added advanced music degrees from USC.  My mom graduated from Cal with her emphasis in business subjects.  When dad was a young boy, his father took him a few miles over yonder to a farmer’s field from which a biplane was sortieing with barnstorming flights for the locals.  When they arrived at the field, the “official” pilot had gone into town, but the mechanic taking care of the plane shyly allowed as how he was also a pilot and could take my young dad up if they wanted.  Sure enough, and up they went.  Years later, in 1927, while working at the music store in Greely, the store’s sound system interrupted the normal radio programing to announce that Charles Lindbergh had just landed in Paris, which pretty much stopped dad in his tracks, because that was the mechanic/pilot who had taken him up barnstorming.  It gets better.  The Spirit of Saint Louis was made at Ryan Aeronautical at the aerodrome subsequently renamed Lindbergh Field.  My mom worked in the business office while the plane was being built there.  Ryan’s hangar was just a stone’s throw across the approach end of runway 27 from where I had that interview Ted insisted on.  Kismet?


Flying, it turns out, is remarkably similar to surfing.   Both are driven by fluid dynamics, the physics for both being essentially the same, not to mention the almost infinite variety both the sea and the sky can provide from gentle to powerful.  If you like variety in life, and an appreciation of developing nuanced and agile footwork in dealing with nature’s curveballs, then one couldn’t find a more rewarding career path.  I have to say, it was a privilege to be able to take all those passengers to their appointed rounds—newlyweds, grandparents, worker bees, sports teams, soul-liberated bodies to their final resting place, military types, vacationers, old, young, you name it.  I’ll share s few highlights along my aviation way. As a new copilot at United Airlines I had to take command of a flight when the captain became subtly incapacitated, which we learned later was due to blocked carotid arteries.  I chose to divert for an unscheduled landing at Chicago’s O’Hare field.  The subtlety of his symptoms was so equivocal, I had to wonder whether I was ending his career if he was truly ill, or mine, if he was not.  He received treatment and medically retired, and later humbled me, coming to my home with his wife to give thanks for what I had done to get him on the ground for treatment, while assuring our passengers’ safety.  My love of the palpable joy of flight was such that I built my own single seat aerobatic aircraft in which I competed for several years. For a few years I was a Check Airman at United, and at one point received an award as the Los Angeles Captain of the Year.  During my time on the B747, I enjoyed multiple years of doing human factors research flying for NASA.  Present day, I contribute, serving as an Angel Flight West command pilot taking people to and from distant locations for medical care that they cannot accomplish by car.  In sum, I have enjoyed a lifetime of meaningful work held in favorable societal esteem.


And, of course there’s the visceral joy of flight. You know how fun it is to stick your hand out the car window and flip your wrist to have your hand fly like a wing up and down?  The stuff of kids’ glee, and I got that for the kid within every day at work—the connection with nature’s thrumming forces, palpably alive in my fingers on the control yoke, my feet on the rudder pedals. And oh, there have been so many magical moments aloft—a B767 night flight to Paris passing north of Hudson Bay, and out my left side window, comet Hyakutake and it’s glowing iridescent tail doing a dance of the veils peeking in and out of a translucent curtain of the northern lights.  Cathy and Torrey were aboard, and somehow seeing that show, knowing they were safely back in the cabin made it all the more special.  Then there was the time descending into Sydney, New South Wales, the first hint of dawn’s light filling in from behind my left shoulder, arcing into a left turn over the Opera House, Circular Quay, and the filigree of the Harbor Bridge, then heading for a landing on Runway 16 Right, banking playfully left and right either side of the southerly course to dance clear of dawn-lit towering cumulus in mirthful abandon.  I can and do savor a lifetime of work and exhilaration being one in the same—putting their stamp on me, and vice versa.


At the end of my first year on the line, flying the DC6 (does anyone remember what that was?) I got that infamous “Greetings, your country needs you” missive—a two year draftee hiatus for the U.S. Army, including an all-expense paid year’s visit to the Republic of Vietnam.  The stumble factored in here, as well.  I was made an OJT (On the Job Training) weatherman right out of basic training, stationed at Libby Army Airfield at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, southeast of Tucson.  I guess the Army figured that if I used the weather in flying I could probably figure out how to collect and disseminate it for others.  From there I got orders to the 3/18thArtillery Battalion in I Corps, the northern portion of South Vietnam, with postings outside Chu Lai and a bunch of firebases known only as hill XXX, where XXX was the hilltop elevation in meters.  I was supposed to send up weather balloons to determine winds aloft, for refining the projectiles’ trajectory.  However the Army just called the Air Force for the data.  Not knowing what to do with me, and our battalion unable to get medics,  officially trained ones “attrition”-dedicated to the infantry, the surgeon in charge started me on OJT for that gig for my year in country.  I survived the year, and came home with all the body and mental parts with which I deployed.


Vietnam was a seminal pivot point in our country’s history, and there are a couple of observations I choose to share from my perspective.  Fair to say the conflict was low in the popularity ratings, and large swaths of draft age males were unabashedly of the mind that we had no strategic national interest in being there, and the Domino Theory was pure nonsense.  I wasn’t exactly thrilled to get the call, and take a leave of absence from my life, marriage, and career, but citizenship isn’t free, and this was a time to pay for all the advantages our country had provided me.  I was called.  I went.  Some will hold that it was an unwinnable war, and I’d agree at least from the perspective of too much meddling by the policy-makers inside the DC beltway, wet fingers held overhead in the political wind.  But as to the Domino Theory, I had a bit of an epiphany years later on a United layover in Singapore, unaffected by political correctness or U.S. media-think.  I stumbled on a regional history museum in that strategically important spot at the tip of the Malay peninsula, astraddle the shipping lanes between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, vital to the transport of petroleum and goods.  The museum’s carefully researched and conveyed history left no doubt that in the period, the Chinese and Russians were doing their level best to turn all of southeast Asia into a communist redoubt that would have made today’s meddling among the Spratly Islands comparative small potatoes.


That’s big picture, but I also had a much more personal moment in the winter of 1991.  Captain of a regular passenger flight into Spokane, Washington, we had on board a dozen or so soldiers in desert camouflage returning from the arbitrarily ceased 100-hour Desert Storm stomping of Saddam Hussein.  We arrived at the gate, and I stood by the cockpit door saying goodbye as our passengers deplaned, and a special goodbye and thanks to the troops. Then I walked the jetway into the terminal, and found the gate area swarming with loved ones and dignitaries, balloons and welcome home signs, a band playing patriotic music, flags, flowers, ribbons and garlands, the whole shebang of worthy and heart-felt appreciation. In that split second I was viscerally slammed with the comparative remembrance of my return home from Vietnam. I had arrived back stateside at Fort Lewis, to be mustered out of the Army, a process that took nearly a full day, and which was completed at about midnight local time.  A jeep drove me to SeaTac airport and dropped me, in uniform, unceremoniously in front of the terminal.  There would be no flights until the morning, so I was forced to sleep on the floor in the gate area shown for the first flight in the morning, on which I’d be trying to get a space available seat home to San Diego.  I wasn’t spit upon nor did people scream “baby killer” in my face, but it was a disdainful unappreciative finish to serving my country just the same.  Fortunately these days, society is waking up to the short shrift we Vietnam vets were given at the time.  Watching that welcome home in Spokane was a humbling, bittersweet gut-punch I hadn’t seen coming, and I’ll not soon forget.


Life resumed, moving up through the fleet at United until FAA-mandatory retirement at age 60.  That’s blatant arbitrary age discrimination by the very government that sues companies for age discrimination.  Go figure. Now, as then, I have a wonderful and supportive wife, three terrific daughters (Alicia, Paisley and Torrey) and three fabulous grandkids (Izabella, Emma and Matty). Cathy and the kids extend my timeline beyond the day to day.  They’ve put up with, and helped reshape my quirky ways. As a family we’ve done a lot of travelling of the world, to all of the continents except Antarctica, which is on the bucket list with enough other spots to fill out my days.  Like others my age, I’ve got 400,000 rough road miles on a 100,000 mile human chassis warranty, so the parts are wearing out, but I’m still fit enough to board and body surf, and hike and bike, dive and fly.  Hanging in there in spite of the rust and creaks.


For several years now, I have embraced digital photography, both with stills and with time-lapse video clips.  It appears that my dad’s right hemisphere apple has fallen not far from the tree. I should add that while art creation seems a byproduct of my dad’s genes and influence, the choice of photography as the medium surely reflects on my maternal Uncle Cap, an engineer and life-long still and movie photographer.  Many’s the time he helped me snap away, then delve in the darkroom to bring forth the images.  Anyway, I find the creative process essential to my being and integral to my appreciation of life, with great satisfaction received from sharing beauty with others.  This is very much in keeping with dad’s views. It may sound too high falutin’, but he felt, and I agree, that beauty, which is all around us, is God’s gift to us mortals.  To the degree that we embrace it, we embrace Him, and to the degree that we try to render our own creations of our hands, hearts and minds, we both give flight to our soul and in our small way render homage to Him as our creator.   Creativity is letting free his breath within us.  Sorry, too much for some perhaps, but that’s where I’m coming from, and it’s right there with my philosophical and theological inclinations trying to make out, and make of, the Grand Blueprint’s details.


While my dad’s seed was creative, my mom’s was practical and analytical. It’s the basis for my fiscally responsible side, the side that says if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right and doing until finished.  And keeping an attentive eye on the technicalities reaps benefits as a pilot, knowing in depth the aircraft systems, the operational procedures, the weather details, and so on.  In short I’m a happy amalgam of both parents.


I’m a child of God, though I’m a little blasé with the elements of liturgy.  Nor am I a serious student of the bible or a proselytizer, but I have enjoyed modest studies of the historical perspective of the biblical stories conveyed in the gospel.  Through the natural world, I daily feel God’s pulse in His creation. While I embrace the admonitions to revere Him and to treat others as I would wish to be treated, I’m the poster boy for brokenness.  As the saying goes, Christians aren’t perfect, only forgiven. Good thing for me.  Under the heading of “Walking the Walk,” we Del Mar Closes put time and effort and resources into outreach, volunteering around our community, building houses for the poor in Mexico, working alongside the Mixtec indigeños of mountainous Oaxaca, supporting a young boy trying to steer clear of gang violence in El Salvador, contributing time, funds and skills for Angel Flight passengers and so on.  The hope is that this glorifies God and makes a difference in the world one family at a time, Jesus’ heavenly rubber meeting the earthly road.


I’ve gone on long enough, while barely scratching the surface, yet I am compelled to add one more observation from this three quarter’s of a century vantage point.  I’m a patriotic guy, who can be stirred to tears by our flag, the nobility of soldiers or first responders, or ordinary Joes or Janes who have sacrificed themselves for others.  From this perspective, our country troubles me greatly these days.  Identity politics, and ideological extremism don’t look like anything I saw growing up in the forties, fifties and sixties, and it ill-serves our country and the world.  In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, I kept thinking “Is this the best we can do?”  Sadly, at present it seems so.  Self-interest and a me-first mentality have us sliding rapidly to a has-been event horizon for this greatest country on earth in which I grew up.  I’d dearly love to hand over to my grandkids a functioning government and civility within society where it’s okay to politely disagree and rationally address common issues for the betterment of all.  I don’t know the answer, but what I’m seeing at present isn’t it.


Lastly, I miss John Quesenberry.  John inspired the MBOF (Mission Bay Old Farts) group of us 61’ers that meet now and then for lunch and cammaraderie, and his spirit lives on in it. John’s passing is personal motivation for my seeking my classmates’ telling of their stories while we’re still here to share our voices.  I  salute you, JQ.  Save a place at the table for me.


As ever, Tom.




Patriarchs and Aspens

Patriarch Milky Way

I’m beguiled by nature, and the more colorful, the better.  Southern California does have seasons, all be they more subtle than other regions of this country.  Autumnal light annually speaks to Cathy and me, and again this year we acceded to it its siren call.  Our plan was to drive north some 330 miles, up the Owens Valley to Big Pine, thence turn northeast and climb up into California’s White Mountains near the western boundary with Nevada to visit a strand of Bristlecone Pines in what is known as Patriarch Grove.  Once finished with our homage to those ancient conifers, we set upon forays into the Sierra Madre west of Bishop for this year’s dose of raucous fall foliage.

Bristlecone Pines are the oldest living things on earth.  The trees in Patriarch Grove are generally thought to be nearly 5,000 years in age.  If you think in religious terms, one can’t help but be humbled.  These magnificent specimens, nature’s prophets, if you will, were ancient before the time of Abraham, let alone Moses or Christ. And still they live.  For me, to see them, to walk amongst them, is as if I’m in a magnificent cathedral, compelled to humble quietude, to a gulping reverence of their stately eminence gris.  And in my own aging arthritic progression, they call to me as kindred spirits of our gnarled twisted corpuses.  Brokenness is Beautiful?

The first part of our mission was to seek solitude with the patriarchs in the grove, a fairly challenging thing to do, given the remoteness, and the harshness of the environment.  From tiny Big Pine it’s first about 23 miles climbing steeply via a paved narrow twisting single lane mountain road, and then another dozen miles by a very rough and slow-going dirt road to the scree-covered, altogether lunar site.  The grove is above 11,000 feet, above what would be the tree line for many species, with these extraordinary specimens growing out of rocky alkaline soil unfit for most trees, but clearly inhabiting their own unique biological niche.  As you can see, they are quite literally half dead and half alive, with the dead part giving itself that the remainder may yet live off the minuscule nutrients, the tree structure twisting in response to the harsh winds over the millennia.


Shh.  Camping is not allowed at the grove, yet we were alone in that remote location, and chose to stay the night camped in the back of the van. Shh.  I set out the camera atop its tripod, facing south, attached the intervalometer programmed with appropriate delays and intervals and began the capture of over 3,000 single frames to be sewn together for a “day into darkness into dawn” time-lapse, linked below.  The timing was every two seconds in the light, then 25 second exposures every thirty seconds in the dark of night, with my hiking camera also pressed into service for still frames in their own right.  The image above, is of the camera set up and shooting the subject bristlecone, the intervalometer hanging down next to a tripod leg.  Light, camera, action!


The deep nighttime darkness of their natural habitat provides a heavenly vault upon which we twenty-first century travelers can gaze as if we were shepherds of biblical yore.  Perchance to revere the ancient ones and a sky’s billions’ of years attestation to creation?  To drink up the spilled celestial smear of the Milky Way closeted with those twisted souls who have watched over this for us these past five millennia?  The stuff of dreams, of an unfathomable appreciation.  Cosmology entwined with biology.  Heady stuff.


Saturn in a star-filled sky, calmly watched by a Patriarch sentinel

Looking skyward was to figuratively stand upon a bicycle wheel hub and gaze radially upward at the “cloud” of Milky Way that arced in a continuous rim from northern to southern horizon.  Lap it up.


The southern arc of the 180 degrees of north to south Milky Way

Given the elevation and the season, we knew it would be cold up there, but I’d made multiple checks on the weather forecasts which indicated clear skies to drifting high cirrus clouds without precipitation. Years ago at an FAA flight instructor meeting, where the guest speaker was a weatherman, colleague Rick Lanphier, a Navy Chief in his day job, took the “Any questions?” bait by the speaker.  Slowly uncoiling to standing up all six feet five inches of his bulky frame, he boomed out “YEAH, DO YOU GUYS HAVE ANY WINDOWS WHERE YOU WORK?”  Rick would be shaking his head were he with us at the Patriarch Grove, when clear skies turned into a snow storm blowing in at 02:30, lasting until after first light.  I had to parka up, and trudge, slipping and sliding, the 150 yards from Odyssey van sleeping bag to find the snow-coated camera in the drifting flakes and fog, shut down the shoot and put the gadgets away with fingers dispossessed of feeling.  Cold?  Boy howdy.   It was a sleepless night as I worried about being snowed in on those dozen miles of rough, now snow-covered dirt road.  No chains, no 4WD, no cell coverage, fleeting images of the Donner party hovering in my subconscious periphery.

The early light revealed nature’s revelry, and a fantasy landscape, magical beyond anything I could have imagined or hoped to have scheduled for the shoot.



Glowing snowbound bristlecones

Maginot Line

Intriguingly, snow covered the landscape, but appears not to stick to the bristlecones.  One of their longevity secrets?

Tolkien's Treebeard

Tolkien’s Treebeard

Before 9 we were done with the T-L and began our slow descent from the mountain.  By the time we’d lost a thousand feet we were dropping below the snow.  Still farther down  we were treated to a nice view of the lower portion of the White Mountains, and a snippet of the Owens Valley, with the Sierras in the distance all sporting their own white ridge tops.


That Saturday was a recovery day, getting checked in at a lodging in Bishop, about 15 miles north of Big Pine via Highway 395, getting some rest after the sleepless night, and rendezvousing with middle daughter, Paisley, and her pup Lizzy, playmate to Sawyer.  At the end of this day, the weather that had been predicted materialized with more snow and gusty winds.

Stormy Sierras 2

Snow flurries, granite and Aspens

The following morning and the rest of our time there was picture postcard perfect great hiking weather.  Clear skies, early morning temperatures in the upper forties, and middays in the  upper sixties to low seventies.  Proceeding westward up valleys into the Sierra Madre, the roads were like something out of Arizona Highways,  and of course drawing out numerous leaf-peepers, although as you can see, we could find unpeopled stretches as well.




Our purpose was to put trailheads behind us, hiking into the mountains in search of exercise and agreeable vistas of golden Aspens in nearly peak color, especially after the snowfall.  It was on the hiking trails where we could find solitude and more extravagant beauty. 

The lower portions of the trails, if 9,000 feet can be called low, were mostly snow-free…

Aspen trail

Antidote to rush hour traffic jambs.

…while climbing higher was on snowy, leaf-strewn trails.


The overnight snow came with wind, and a golden carpet on and beside the trail in the morning.


Sawyer gets thoroughly amped with snow, running hither and yon, chasing prey real and imagined.

This day’s hike was about a four mile roundtrip with a climb of almost exactly 1,000 feet, leading to Grass Lake.


Grass Lake at just over 10,000 feet

We came for the color, and nature did not disappoint.

Golden aspens and clouds

Aspen color collage

Some of the Aspens were gilded, and some still green.

If you’re from my generation, you may remember the disinfectant merthiolate, now banned as it contained mercury?  What I recall about it was its vibrant umber color.  As you may know, while these Aspen groves are full of individually trunked trees, they are actually all part of the same plant and root structure.  The groves spread underground, propagating countless individual tree trunks.

Burnt umber aspens


The next day’s hike was closer to five miles with a 1,700 foot climb, leading to Long Lake.


Cathy and Paisley trying to keep up with Sawyer and Lizzy

Long Lake

Aptly-named Long Lake

The lakes drain down valley with numerous streams.


A fallen log crossed this gurgling steam and two happy dogs fearlessly took advantage of it to explore, with Paisley in pursuit.



There are placid streams as well, bordered by dense and shaded Aspen groves.  Walking in the groves is a calming experience, though the closeness of the trunks calls for care in movement and foot placement.  It’s natural to look up, and be rewarded.


Aspen sunburst

The more complete name is Quaking Aspen.  Each leaf is individual, at the end of a long delicate stem, attached to slender branch ends, the branches swaying, and the leaves shimmering and quaking in the breezes.


Golden aspen strand

Another autumn, surprises added to the mix.  Home safe and color-sated.  It’s in the can. A wrap.

As ever, Tom












All in a day’s work

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KSFO San Francisco International

Some backstory is needed for this.  On Wednesday my airplane owner partner, Mason, slammed at his SwimLabs business, asked if I could help by returning a tech consultant named Al that he’d brought down from the Bay Area.  Let’s see, a fair weather day, and my professional aviation chops are needed to fly to San Francisco?  Oh, twist my arm.

This provided another opportunity—I brought along Anke Boschman, the UCSD foreign exchange student from the Netherlands whom we hosted when she came in-country a few months back.  She’ll be heading back to Europe soon, so this was a chance to show her a bit of the Golden State, and what U.S. general aviation looks like.  And she could help keep an eye peeled for other airplanes in this state’s busy airspace.

Al was down as a tech geek, but he’s doing graduate work in paleontology, studying mass extinction events, only one of about a dozen of which is the famous dinosaur version.  Anke is doing graduate research developing models in her fields of bio fluid dynamics and structural engineering, all with an eye to improving human heart valve transplants.  Talk about a couple of brainiacs.  While engaging them aloft, I tried not to drool while blurting high-end aviation stuff like “we try to keep the pointy end pointed over there by that whats-its.”  The en route conversation was entertaining, with me occupying the bottom of the totem pole.

We were able to make the flight up and back operated visually, which provided the possibility of what is known very technically as the San Francisco Bay Tour.  Right.  Our landing destination, in avoidance of the bazillion dollar landing fees at SFO, was the San Carlos (KSQL) aerodrome 8 nautical miles SE of San Francisco International.  The control boundaries of the two aerodromes abut, which is a key element in this adventure.  When the weather allows, and SFO’s traffic levels permit, the San Francisco tower controllers are known to allow overflight through their airspace in passage to The City (as San Franciscans love to say), and then over the bay, where a turn can be effected to pass the Golden Gate Bridge, then sashay down the coastline SE-bound to return to wherever (Carlsbad Palomar airport in north county San Diego).

Another piece of the puzzle needs explanation.  Very busy commercial airports like San Francisco, have designated from their centerpoint what is known as Class B (Bravo, in pilotspeak) airspace.  To describe Class B airspace it is commonplace to say it is like an upside down wedding cake, with the topmost and smallest diameter part of the inverted cake resting on the center of the (SFO, in this case) airport surface and going up to 10,000′ MSL.  The next layers below on what would be a real upright cake, are above in the Class B, with a floor of maybe 1,500′ and the top at 10,000′.  This layer would begin a few miles out from the hub centered over the airport.  The next layer farther out might begin at 3,000′ and go to 10,000′, and so on.  Picture that inverted layer cake, and you’ll get the idea.  All of this allows aircraft descending to the aerodrome or climbing out from it to stay in protected “B” airspace both vertically and laterally.  Naturally this only works if the airliners stay within the cake material and the other folks stay out of it.  Unfortunately, each successive layer isn’t completely round, but composed of all sorts of arbitrarily shaped cake pieces, with equally irregular floor altitudes.  Lots of convolutions, and none of this is depicted with yellow tape lines aloft, so considerable three-dimensional awareness, a good aviation chart, and an über accurate flight management system (aircraft computerized navigational system) are essential to staying clear of the wedding cake’s innards. Guess I forgot to mention that thou shalt not enter Class B airspace without ATC’s blessing, lest one sees their airman certificate snatched from thine grubby fingers?

So how this particular event played out was during taxi out, my requesting of the ATC tower at San Carlos if they would ping SFO tower for their blessing to transit in furtherance of our lark?  They came back with a transponder code, the SFO tower frequency I should expect to use, and the admonition to not get into the SE portion of the KSFO surface-based Class B 1 nm beyond the departure end of SQL’s runway 30 without first getting SFO’s authorization on said frequency.  Our takeoff would be bore-sighted on SFO, and I’d have literally seconds to switch from SQL’s tower frequency and make contact on SFO’s busy frequency to receive clearance to enter their “B”.  No pressure, right?

The picture above is from about 90 seconds after liftoff.  Quite the view.  I had just leveled at 1200 feet, westbound, and you’re looking due north at SFO’s runways 01L and 01R.  These are their preferred takeoff runways for most operations, with the cross runways (28L and 28R) used for landings and heavy-weight international takeoffs.  A little background to any delays you may have had in SFO flights before.  The prevailing winds at SFO are out of the west, favoring runways 28, but still allowing takeoffs on the 01s.  But when the surface wind from the west exceeds 14 knots, if memory serves, they go to all operations on just the runways 28.  SFO then becomes a two runway airport vs. four.  We pilot bums referred to it as the “Rule of Two” for delay expectations—two clouds, or two runways, expect delays.  You’re now cognoscenti.

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FMS flight plan

This picture shows the cockpit display of the flight management system (FMS) while underway, moments after the picture above was taken.  I created the flight plan after engine start, immediately before taxiing out to the runway, based on chart study the day before that this routing would produce the desired sightseeing and stay compliant with airspace restrictions.  Anyway, at this point in the air, ATC took pity on me and allowed me to climb from 1200′ MSL to 1800′ MSL to miss some gathering low marine layer stratus clouds pouring over the hills from the west.  This altitude would create challenges of sticking my no longer so furry head hairs into the floor of the next layer of overhanging Class B as I exited the surface-based “B” heading away from KSFO, but I had ATC’s  authorization, so there.  In the right hand screen, the FMS flight plan shows that I’ve departed the SFO01 waypoint (one I created within the computer that was 240 degrees and 2 nm from the center of the airport, in keeping with the ATC admonition to stay south of the Bayshore, i.e., 101 freeway, as I passed KSFO).  I’ve just made a slight right turn abeam of where Candlestick Park used to was, and am now headed towards Alcatraz island, which course will take me directly overhead the city center.  Oh, yeah, SFO tower also asked if I had the jet rolling on its takeoff from runway 28L?  “Good, keep that aircraft in sight.”  Towerspeak for midair collisions being very bad form.  If you look carefully in the inset map in that screen, you can see the SFO peninsula and a graphic depiction of this short leg of the course as a magenta line (the active leg) to the waypoint I’ve created and called SAU01, which is the SAUsolito navaid 095 degree bearing at 5 nautical miles.  Lying under that fix is Alcatraz, where I’ll make a turn westbound to proceed to my next waypoint SAU02 (Sausolito/173 bearing/3 nm fix), a five nautical mile leg that will cross me right over the Golden Gate bridge, and shown in the inset map as a white course slightly south of due west in that North Up map.  Then a turn to the south to fly down the west coast of the San Francisco peninsula.

Northbound toward The City and the bay.  The low clouds our operating flight rules required me to avoid by specified distances.

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Candlestick to the right, The City at twelve o’clock

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Keep your eyes on the prize


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Downtown and the Bay Bridge

Federal aviation regulations also specify criteria for missing buildings and what not.  A bit of a dance to comply with that and cloud separation requirements while staying out of the overhanging Class “B” and taking in the sights.  No rest for the wicked.

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San Francisco columnist Herb Caen’s nemesis on the left

Does this make me the Birdman of Alcatraz?

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If you don’t eat your vegetables, or mind your “P’s” and Class Bravos you might end up here.

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Finishing the turn towards the SAU02 waypoint t’other side of the bridge thingy.

An over my left shoulder last glance at The City.

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The Jewel

Well, yes, this is certainly my highlight of the bay tour.

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The southern abutment and the Presidio

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This particular shot really appeals to me.  Reflections on the left wing.  And check out the circular rainbow and center dark shadow spot of the light refracting around the plane and projected on the wispy clouds at the lower center of the frame.

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You are at the center of the frame just below the bridge stanchion

We’re turning down the coast in the picture above, and as we roll out, there’s the western end of Golden Gate Park.

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The finish line of the world’s longest moving block party—the Bay to Breakers—which I ran years back in a pink tutu. Boy did I get rave reviews in the Castro district!

Heading down the west edge of the peninsula, the shore disappeared in the marine layer, so we missed out on seeing the Mavericks surf spot and Halfmoon Bay.  The Monterey bay was open, but the coastline was obscured.  Monterey’s airport was in the clear, but the community was covered with clouds.  Anke got a nice view of Point Lobos, and maybe she’ll share a frame or two of that.  The Hunter-Ligget Military Operations Areas were cold (er, inactive in humanspeak) and the R2513 Restricted Area was cold at our 7,500′ cruising altitude.  This allowed me to fly the Big Sur portion so that the shore was mostly on Anke’s sightseeing side of the plane.

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Big Sur coast

I include this image below and as comparison to the one above, to give you an idea of what a sophisticated flight management system flight deck cockpit display our plane possesses.  The right screen, known as a Multi-Function Display (MFD) shows the flight plan with its waypoints and their ETAs and fuel status, a moving map with the aircraft position shown on it, and engine instruments on the left margin.  This screen can be configured in all sorts of ways to provide useful information to the pilot.  The left screen is known as the Primary Flight Display (PFD) which shows a computer-generated view of what you see out the windscreen when you remember to look.  (See the picture above of the real world version thereof.)  It also conveys the aircraft attitude in relation to pitch and roll, the airspeed, altitude, compass heading, and course guidance.  And here, the PFD is also displaying what is called “Synthetic Vision,” i.e., a computer generated display of the actual terrain ahead and below from the worldwide navigational database and the very accurately known GPS position constantly updating in real time.  The sort of thing that cruise missiles use to hug valleys below hilltops as they race undetected to their targets. Modern cockpits with displays like this are often referred to as “Glass Cockpits,” with the reference being to the LCD screens of the displays.  Long-time pilots of conventional analog displays of 6 instruments showing some of this (called six-pack instrumentation, as well as Jurassic cockpits, or rope-start cockpits) take awhile learning how to use and interpret all the information available in the “glass” flight management system avionics.  Once you learn to use them, the tendency is not to go back to old school instrumentation.  Young pilots love the computer game similarities, geezers less so.  The big difference is that when flying this sort of system a big part of the pilot’s operational mental band-width becomes information management.  A negative by-product also tends to be a degradation of basic airmanship skills, and a tendency to get one’s situational awareness of the outside world sucked into the black hole of the avionics.  Both of those are avoidable with practice and conscious effort.  Years ago at United I developed a seminar introducing glass concepts to pilots transitioning from steam-gauge to glass.  What I do instructionally these days is largely helping owner pilots get the most out of their aircraft, its systems and themselves.

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Flight displays over the Big Sur mountains.

At one point I positioned the plane to steal a glance down on Highway 1.

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Okay, here’s a bit of egg-on-my face mea culpa.  A few miles south of here, we came upon the Hearst Castle.  As we were closing in on it, positioning the airplane so it would be on Anke’s (right) side of the cockpit, I waxed on about William Randolph Hearst’s publishing empire, the massive wealth he aggrandized, Citizen Kane, Orson Wells, “Rosebud” and even Wells’ speaking part in the War of the Worlds radio drama.  I had set a course track that would put the castle nearly under the plane on the right side, planning to initiate a steep right bank to do a turn about a point on the castle below for viewing purposes.  I couldn’t see it as it was under the right hand floor boards, but, Anke, looking down, allowed as how now was the time to make the turn.  Hand-flying with my left hand, I rolled us into the right bank and using my right hand, fired off five quick consecutive frames with the camera held at arm’s length shooting across the cockpit and down the right wing.  Splendid.  Until when I downloaded the images on our return, I discovered five consecutive completely black frames.  Yep, rookie mistake, having forgotten to first take off the lens cap.  Obviously my mental bandwidth was still up over the Big Sur coast in an FMS black hole!  Duh.

A modest while later we approached the Los Angeles basin from the general direction of Thousand Oaks.  Back in the day we whimsically referred to it as “Thousand Pilots” given how many of my LAX-based brethren lived in the enclave.  At this point it was getting late in the day, and colors were warming wonderfully.

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The Hollywood hills from the north side.

After passing Los Angeles and Orange county it was time to begin descent for our landing at Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar airport where our trusty time machine is hangared.  I’m proud to say that I’m old enough to have known Jerry McClellan and his son, Jayce.  Jerry was a Cherokee Six owner pilot, a true gentleman and a tireless booster of Carlsbad and the value to north-coastal San Diego county of then sleepy KCRQ.

You may have heard that sunsets and sunrises find favor with me?  Here’s how our business day ends as we descend and maneuver for the KCRQ traffic pattern and line up for the landing.

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Yes, as a matter of fact, I DO love wing reflections.

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In a word—luscious.

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Credit Anke for this one, I was a little busy just then.

We rolled on takeoff from KCRQ at 14:12 local time.  Two hours and a quarter to San Carlos.  Maybe :30 on the ground including refueling, getting the bay tour clearance and building the FMS flight plan to stay legal with the airspace convolutions, and about two hours forty minutes on the return with the extra miles of the tour, and modest headwinds in the bargain.  Touchdown exactly at the 19:48 sunset.  Just the sort of mission at which general aviation excels, with some wondrous bells and whistles thrown in.

I’m a fortunate person, and I try not to forget it.  T




Bretagne’s Cote du Granit Rose

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Jutting into the North Atlantic like a proper Gallic nose from the west of France, due south of the Cornwall/Devon peninsula of England, Bretagne or Brittany, has been under the sway of both the Gauls and the Celts over the centuries, depending on what political, ecclesiastical or marauder ascendancies were extant in either location.  Now, decidedly French, one nonetheless sees both French and Bretagne languages, even linguistic remnants from Roman days.

Over just a couple of last minute days, Cathy and I pulled to fruition a self-guided inn-to-inn walking trip offered by UK-based Inntravel of the Breton north granite coast, often called the Rose Granite Coast because of the hue of much of the boulder-strewn region’s gigantic stones.  The shore can be rugged, but dotted with gentle sandy beaches and reedy estuaries, while the terre barely inland, is lushly green and flower-strewn.



Inntravel ( arranged for the lodgings, connecting surface transportation (trains and taxis), and would gladly have provided air reservations if we’d wanted to go full fare positive space vs. using United passes.  They provide detailed 1 km grid maps and textual directions.  The text conveys guidance where the rubber meets the trail, with the map giving the big picture of each day’s walking, which for us, was six days of around 15-17 km each.  Inntravel calls themselves the “Slow Holiday” people, as in forget frenetic-paced sightseeing.  Just us traveling—no group—generally hitting the trails after breakfast at the crack of 10 AM, and we were feet up/shoes off by 3 PM.  No rushing—just savoring the views, the vibe, the picnics and the occasional path-side bar or café treat and libation.  We stayed in three separate lodgings, so at each there were both out and back loop walks, and off to the next inn several towns or villages over yonder jaunts.  We took a day pack and a provided picnic lunch, and our luggage taxied ahead to the next lodging where it awaited us in our rooms on check in.

Our route mostly followed the GR34 pathway.  Grande Randonnée, or “Big Hike” are walking trails throughout France, with the 34 covering all of coastal Brittany.  In the map above you can see the GR34 depicted as a red line generally following the coast, and indeed, we were often walking along the shore, scampering about seaside boulders and even on low tide beaches.  The map and text are for our day four of walking, 16.5 km estimated as a 5 hour walk.  The GR trails are marked with small painted red and white horizontal lines on walls, tree trunks, power poles, and such, with the white line sometimes shown as an elbow to indicate a change of direction at that point. We mostly stayed on route, with the occasional side trip for sightseeing, bush watering, or correcting navigational errors.  Ahem.

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No, I do not possess a selfie-pole.  The picture was taken by daughter, Torrey, using my i-Phone camera.  The planets really aligned in so many ways for and on this trip.  Having used Inntravel years ago for a walking trip in Normandy, Cathy gets e-mail delivered teasers, including one about this route.  Having this time off between SDSU semesters, she dove into research and found seat space on United in both directions between California and Paris, and that the United arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport was timed perfectly to clear customs and catch the high speed TGV from within the terminal directly to Rennes, the capital of Brittany.  We selected a delightful boutique hotel near the Centre Ville there, easily reached as the second stop on their metro accessed within the gare (train station).  We found Rennes, a city of 200,000, approachably sized for strolling about and taking in the sights, ideal for jet-lag adjustment, and from which we could subsequently take the train up to the northern Breton coast to begin our GR34 sojourn.  Meanwhile up in London, Torrey had a matching gap in her meeting with professors/Master’s dissertation research/beginning a job allowing her to join us.  She caught the Eurostar from St. Pancras station to Lille, and then her own TGV to Rennes, arriving a few hours after us.

European street markets are favorites for local color, and delicious tidbits.  Perhaps a few olives?IMG_2865 copy

…or peppers, apricots or roses?IMG_6262 copy


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You’ll recall that I grow weak-kneed over color?  Including visual local color…IMG_6259 copy

…and the aural variety.  I should mention we were in Rennes during Bastille Day celebrations?  Transat en ville translates roughly as deck chairs in the city.  Free.  Have a seat, tune in, drop out.Bastille Day band copy

I was positively giddy over this, and both my musician dad and John Phillip Sousa are doubtless smiling still.

Foot tapping works up an appetite.  Al fresco lunch on the town, Rennes.  A beginning theme here—Brittany is a gastronome’s delight.

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The next day we caught connecting trains from Rennes to Guingamp then Paimpol, where the prearranged taxi awaited to deliver us to our lodging at Manoir d’Hotes Troezel Bian in Kerbors  Bian translates as small, which fits, considering the four guest rooms in the eighteenth century stone inn run by Tony and Armelle Sebilleau. The inn’s stone walls are about four feet thick, and as throughout Brittany, the roof is steeply pitched slate.  Tony provided me a bike and directions  for a 1-2 mile cruise through the rural countryside to the water’s edge whilst m’ladies settled in.  Prior to dinner, we repaired to an umbrellaed outdoor table for cold libations while the dropping evening sun imbued the grounds in rich warm color.

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The evening’s dinner of turkey, new potatoes and greens fresh from the garden followed in the dining room next to the stone fireplace.  Wine?  But of course.IMG_2874 copy

As I say, rural.  No lights to disturb a long exposure view of the Milky Way.  You camera technogeeks should know this was shot without tripod or remote trigger release, the hand-held camera jammed steady for 10 seconds against the frame of the wide open window in our room.  The dazzling fruit of an old guy’s nocturnal potty calls.

Milky Way

And so began our walking journey, Tony showing us quaint St. Georges church in nearby Pleubian, en route to dropping us off on the point of land beside the Sillon de Talbert nature reserve.  Another theme—the sea, its fruits, its ships, sailors, and fishermen are integral to the region.

A ship model between the candles and the stained glass, a most natural Breton depiction.IMG_6284 copy

Then underway.  Putting one foot before the other for the next several hours made easier by the views in all quadrants.  Thrust into the North Atlantic, Brittany is known for being cold and wet, although July possesses its most temperate climate and the least rain.  Our trip was bookended with hot spells before and after in both Del Mar and London, so we were ever so pleased with skies like this and temperatures overnight of the low 60s, and mid-afternoon in the low 70s (Fahrenheit) with light winds.  One of our days had partial clouds with a forecast of possible rain, which did not materialize.  The only precipitation was rain after midnight on our last night preceding our train journey back to Paris for the return flight home.  The weather’s here, wish you were fine.

IMG_2870 copyFlowers.  Flowers everywhere.  Songbirds as well.  Yum.IMG_6299 copy

IMG_2932 copyAll of these are of the GR34 trail.  We did occasionally see other walkers, but this accurately conveys the crowd the majority of the time.

Our second day’s walk brought us to the the Hotel Aigue Marine in Tréguier  Aigue Marine is French for Aqua Marine, stones that early Breton sailors often took with them to sea as a superstition talisman.  My least favorite lodging, but only because it was, well, a hotel instead of a manor.  Maybe 50 rooms and all the usual niceties like pool, workout room, sitting garden and bar and restaurant.  The owners and staff were gracious and helpful, and Tréguier is a delightful small community.  Okay I also have to say that the Aigue Marine’s restaurant is Michelin-starred.  That’s a foodie big deal anywhere, and the food, service and presentation here were in keeping with the award.


The impressive Tréguier cathedral.IMG_2941 copy

Within the interior grounds we were treated to handsome gothic architecture, and so much more. Tréguier cathedral copy

The covered walkway around the periphery of the garden allowed peaceful repose both temporary and eternal.  The walkway treated us to a wonderful art exhibit in keeping with the region’s ecclesiastical and maritime history.

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From alongside the sculpture atop the sarcophagus you can see that the linen painting on the adjoining wall is a stylish recreation of the stone pose of the church figure entombed therein.

Along the same walkway several of these boxed pieces stopped me in my tracks.  This first is an homage to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who as the author of Night Flight, Wind Sand and Stars, and The Little Prince, is probably already known to you.  Saint-Exupéry was a French aristocrat, poet, journalist, pilot and philosopher, which speaks as to why he resonates with me.  Themes in his writing often turned on sacrificing oneself to causes in which one believes, in some, pilot protagonists musing mystically on life.  Already an established commercial pilot before WWII, flying in Africa and South America, when war broke out he joined the French Air Force.  When France capitulated to German occupation, he flew for the Free French Air Force.  It was on a FFAF reconnaissance flight in a Lockheed P38 Lightning sortied out of North Africa, that he was lost at sea over the Mediterranean near France’s  southern coastline in July of 1944, presumably in support of the allied advance to liberate Europe following D-Day the previous month.  One of his quotes is “What gives meaning to life gives meaning to death,” which is much in keeping with what little I remember of French philosophy during the last century.  Personally I’d invert the thought, so perhaps some day he and I can discuss the nuances.

Anyway, look carefully at this artistic piece, wood-boxed and glass topped.  Once you get in the groove you can see him standing there looking right, in his leather flying helmet, oxygen mask and hose, his forearms cradling…the little prince?  Above his head is the classic plan-form of the P38.  All of this is done in tiny glass pieces and carefully shaped sand, backlit from underneath.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

And here’s another, representing the loss of the Titanic.  This particular piece seems lifted directly from the imagery of the hull resting on the sea floor as conveyed by filmmaker and deep-sea explorer James Cameron, with the luscious colors reminiscent of his magical film Avatar. Titanic copy

There were several of these boxed glass and sand art pieces, all of similar size around seven feet long and 30 inches wide.  Each conveyed an homage to individuals or groups whose lives were lost in or on the sea.  Others included those who died storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day, Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian polar explorer who disappeared aboard a flying boat embarked upon a rescue mission for an airship.  There was one unfocused, other than paying respects to children lost in oceanic accidents.  And one, referencing the January 15, 2004 capsizing and sinking of the French trawler Bugaled Breizh (Children of Brittany in the Breton language) to the southwest of Lizard Point, Cornwall, England.  Scribed into the sand of the piece are the exact 49 42 34 North, 05 10 45 West latitude and longitude and the time of sinking at 12:25 Greenwich Mean Time.  You can put those lat/lons into Google Earth and see the location.  Did you know that you can e-search “shipwrecks on (in this case) 15 January and will get a list of all shipwrecks on that date over the centuries?

Some backstory.  The creator is glass sculpture artist Jean Divry, a resident of  nearby Paimpol in Bretagne, and his works conveyed at the cathedral all relate to the strong influence of man and the sea we saw in so many ways during our time there.  I tried to engage the gatekeeper woman who sold the 1.5 Euro exhibit entry tickets to learn more about what we were seeing.  It was a thing of painful beauty to see her try to reach out with her limited English to edify us about the artist and the art.  She and I created a whole new language of facial expressions, eyebrow accents and raised shoulder and arm grammar.  What a sweet woman, so intent on conveying the magic of art and shared experience.

The walk back to the hotel was typical of the sorts of small communities we meandered.IMG_2895 copy

Our next day’s walk was billed as two choices—long and longer.  We selected choice one.   The hike began with a drop-off by taxi near Castel Meur (pictured at the very outset of  this missive) at a tiny spit of land called le Goufree on the peninsular thumb of Pointe du Chateau.  It takes another fold of the map to sort this one out, sorry.  There were plenty of other rocky sights, heading southbound along the eastern periphery of this thumb bordering the Jaudy river.

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Our choice of abbreviated hike required a pre-arranged taxi to pick us up at a tiny cafe on the equally tiny harbor at La Roche Jaune (The Yellow Rock).  We arranged pickup for 3:45 at a café, suggested by our driver, which we heard him say was called “Le Café Biscuit.”  I even repeated it to make sure I had it right.  Talk about being a stranger in a strange land?  The actual name was “Le Café Pesked,” with Biscuit, or Pesked—whatever!—referring to something about fish or the sea in Breton.  What a hoot.  That’s what 20,000+ hours of jet engine noise does to your hearing.  Don’t know about the yellow rock, but the cafe walls are bright yellow, red, and orange.  Did I mention that I go gaga over color?  Yep, that’s a local lobster trap over the door, and is there anything more sensible after five hours of walking than a two-scoop bowl of glacée (ice cream) and a cold local brewski? Why it’s called a holiday.

The next morning our taxi delivered us to the starting point of the day’s hike on to our final lodging.  I was wowed by the lovely quaintness of Port Blanc…Port Blanc 1 copy

…and all of the water activities for the children on this summer morning.  The scene reminded me of my own youth and even young adulthood with activities at Santa Clara Point in Mission Beach.  It’s this starting point that is referenced in the textual directions at the outset of this post, both images taken while on said promenade.IMG_2949 copy

After a longish day of walking including a picnic sitting on granite next to the water, we finally arrived at the yacht harbor announcing the beginning of Perros-Guirec and our lodging at the Manoir du Sphinx  Funny name, right?  It’s perched on a bluff directly above a rock and sand shore, with the map conveying that spot as Sphinx point.  I couldn’t see the similarity, but what’s in a name?  Anyway, before we left the harbor and trudged the final kilometers to the manor, at a local café we elected a Breton delicacy pick-me-up, a pomme et glacée galette (sliced baked apple and ice cream held in a buckwheat crepe) washed down by icy local beers.  I was the  thirstier, why do you ask?IMG_2953

To say that the manor has a commanding view is a bit of an understatement.  This is a panorama of about 150 degrees taken from the fully openable window of our room (21) which jutted out several feet from the face of the building like our own personal aerie.  This was taken at low tide, and herein is another Breton worthy-mention.  The biggest tidal differences correspond to full and new moons, and in Del Mar those might be as much as an 8 foot difference.  This picture was taken when the moon was half full, or a period of modest tidal change, and yet with the local bathymetry, the tidal swings were in the neighborhood of 23 feet.  During high tide, those rocks below were fully covered, with the water up against the greenery of the manor’s lower garden.  At the far right of the frame you can just make out the curving shoreline of a gorgeous sand beach—Plage de Trestignel.  Cathy and I both cavorted in the water there, albeit in short doses given the 62F water temperature.  You can make out the bird sanctuary of Les Sept Iles (Seven Islands) offshore.

Sphinx room view

After getting situated and gawking at the view, it was time for dinner.  Brittany is known for its seafood.  I hope you came hungry.  Oh yes, another Michelin-starred restaurant.IMG_2957 copy

It turns out that the nighttime views from our room were equally astounding.  That would be the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) in the lower left, the right lip of its pan pointing, as always, at the brightness of Polaris to the right of center near the top of the frame.  Known also as the pole star, it is a delight to navigators, as it defines one’s latitude in the northern hemisphere—it’s on the horizon when at the equator, and directly overhead at the north pole.  Here in north coastal Brittany at nearly 49 degrees north, it’s a tad above halfway betwixt the horizontal and vertical.  You’ll notice that each of the bright stars in the frame are tiny sideways teardrops, reflecting the amount of movement by our rotating earth during the ten second exposure.  More on that anon.  Love those dark nighttime skies.IMG_6435 copy

On our second of three days in Perros-Guirec we stayed and visited local sights and scenes.  We strolled some ten minutes to the centre ville (city center) where we caught a local bus towards Ploumanac’h, getting off at the Chapelle Notre Dame de la Clarté, named for the patron saint of sailors.  It’s prominence was supposed to have been a targeting reference for pre-D Day bombers attempting to take out a nearby German radar. Breton foggy weather blanketed the peninsula and saved the church, leaving its blessing of sailing ships and pipes intact.

Following a wooded path, and then meandering through byways, we eventually arrived at the lovely sheltered harbor of Ploumanac’h where we took sustenance before resuming our walk to return to the manor a couple of hours later.  An observation on the French way—we arrived at an outdoor café here at 11:45, but were declined service because it was not yet 12:00.  Waiters were ready, the tables set, it just was not midday.  This wasn’t delivered with down the nose insult, more a perplexed confusion over how anyone could wish it otherwise.  We continued our walk another quarter hour and spent our Euros at another restaurant adjoining a lovely plage a kilometer farther on.IMG_2966

And so we come to 20 July, 2018, which began with an auspicious sunrise at “Oh-Dawn-Early” on this 33rd anniversary of our marriage.Dawn of Year Thirty-Four

Another taxi ride to what was billed as possibly the most scenic stage of our journey, beginning on Ile Renote, actually a peninsula by means of a narrow stretch of connecting land at the island’s southwest extremity.  Ol’ What’s Her Name taking in the view. IMG_2972 copy

And what a view it was.Ile Renote1 copy

By now we are starting to get this Rose Granite thing.Ile Renote 3 copy

This fantasy-land stretch treated us to luscious low light and solitude.  That’s the duck under and twist through trail here.IMG_2979 copy

There were gargantuan apparitions like this leaping bear, its left wing shot through.Granite beast copy

And tranquil spots to feel the air, absorb the vibe, and perhaps take a water break?  Double entendre.IMG_2980 copy

You can’t overstate the raw beauty of the region.  This particular stretch drew modest crowds, which is to say we actually saw other walkers.  To give us space, we took our picnic lunch ensconced on boulders we had to scramble to, gazing toward this maritime navigational light.IMG_6465 copy

Ceaseless wildflowers.IMG_6481 copy

GR34 ambling on the right.Granite and Flowers copy

We returned to the manor, and went for a swim at Plage de Trestrignel, then dressed and repaired to the lounge for champagne and on to the restaurant for our anniversary dinner.  Our three course meal began with a gazpacho appetizer accompanied by a glass of Sauterne.  That grin is because she’s unwrapping a velvet-bagged lovely silver and glass bauble I slyly acquired days before at an artisan’s studio next to Tréguier cathedral. IMG_3002

Atlantic cod, Breton style.  No newspaper.  A bottle of red the sommelier recommended if we were keen on red in spite of fish.  We were.  An inspired choice.IMG_2958 copy

For the sweet tooth.  Citron something or other.IMG_2960 copy

Observations on the Breton dining experience.  Breakfasts were of the continental variety, with plenty of cheese, meat, cereals, rolls and buttery croissants adequate for the day’s walking.  Our prepared picnic lunches were not what you’d think of as picnic lunches.  Salads, yes.  Potato salad, no.  Dinners were set your watch by it, begun at 19:30.  And people arrived pretty much on time, creating a single—not staggered—seating for supper.  This translates to modestly slammed servers forcing a leisurely dining time.  Method to their madness? The Breton way, a byproduct of which was that we were usually finished by 9:45 PM, about :25 before sunset.  At the Sphinx we invariably took ourselves out to “our” sunset viewing bench in the garden below chambre 21.

Nice light for 10 PM.  Have I mentioned the flowers?IMG_6392 copy

Bench view to the west.  Three separate shots to convey a point.IMG_6426 copy

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You’ll recall the minute sideways teardrops of stars in the Big Dipper time exposure?  These three sunset frames convey the same in their own way—look carefully how the setting sun shifts appreciably right during the sixty seconds duration from the first to the last frame.  This big blue marble in space revolves at a rapid pace, like life itself.  Our time in Bretagne was a slow travel antidote to the daily rush.  No news of presidential taunt tweets, just time spent renewing love for a good woman and enjoying rose-colored stones and sunsets.

Au Revoir, T


An Early Spring in the UK

Spring Break for Cathy at SDSU.  Torrey at Middlesex University,  didn’t really have an official break, but had a week without going-to-class requirements, just projects to keep moving toward fruition in her Master’s studies in Digital Marketing.  Sufficient planetary alignment to jump across the pond for a rendezvous in England.  We arrived the day after the vernal equinox, equally early enough and late enough for England to show both climate and seasonal faces—the first hints of buds, in spite of residual snow on the ground from the previous week’s white blanketing.

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Principal reasons for me to go were to see and visit with Torrey, who is living in London’s Islington borough at this point nearly half way through her studies, to recon her local digs and meet her university chums, with a side dish of all three of us exploring the southwest English peninsula of Devon and Cornwall.

The view from Torrey's flat

The view from Torrey’s flat

Her flat is in a secure apartment complex dedicated to foreign exchange students,  a studio apartment showing her inimitable style in personalizing her living space.  The neighborhood is oh so British, with tea rooms and pubs, and all the usual residential amenities.

Our first three days were dedicated to London cruising and jet-lag adjustment.  We renewed our skills negotiating both the Underground and London’s ubiquitous double-decker busses.  Torrey, the resourceful young adult, arranged for two sim cards for our mobile phones so that we could call and text in the UK, and turned us onto the Citymapper app for our phones that enables knowing and using every sort of public transport, including bus route numbers and tube maps with schedules to the nearest :01.  Essential stuff in a realm divorced from harnessing oneself to the automobile.

Torrey and three of her four favorite classmates joined us for dinner at the trendy COPPA Club just off central London’s bustling New Oxford Street, and a short walk from our Thistle Hotel near the Holborn Underground station, a stone’s throw from the British Museum.


We three and three classmates

From left to right, front row: Emilia and Alessandra—both from Norway—Judith, from Spain by way of England, and Torrey.  Back row, the geezer, himself, and ol’ What’s Her Name.  Unavailable this particular evening was Trang, from Viet Nam.  I’m conveying this to share just how diverse and cosmopolitan London and Torrey’s university are.  Of course some would say that this diversity is the seed bed of Brexit, but I’ll leave that for others to sort out.


Queen Anne at the entrance to St. Paul’s

St. Paul’s dome in the first image, above, is the iconic view I remembered from past visits to London, but lo and behold, there’s actually a front entrance to the cathedral, overseen by the statue of Queen Anne.  The church has been here, rebuilt several times, for over 1400 years.

We departed, southbound, walking across the Thames on the Millennium Footbridge, a steel suspension bridge dedicated by Queen Elizabeth on my birthday in 2000.  I failed to receive a special invitation to attend the ceremonies.  But the bridge is easy on the eye with great views from it, and of it.


London Bridge and Tower Bridge, seen from the Millennium Bridge


London Bridge, the Tower Bridge and the Shard


The graceful lines of Millennium Bridge directing the eye to St. Paul’s iconic dome

Exiting the bridge on the south bank places you in one of London’s many art districts—directly in front of the Tate Modern art gallery, and a very short stroll to Shakespeare’s Old Globe.  Continuing the stroll eastward, we soon came to our intended destination of Borough Market—a foodie’s nirvana, and sadly, the site of a terrorist attack last year, which had begun overhead on London Bridge.


Teeming with locals and tourists, Borough Market delights the eye in colors and shapes, the nose in fragrances of every imaginable food from a world of cultural appetites, and the palate as you sit in tables amongst the food stalls letting your dietary imagination run boundless.  Everything is freshly caught or picked and arrayed kaleidoscopically in sensory overload.  Cheese from England and Switzerland, fresh fruit from the countryside, or just flown in from distant climes, freshly grilled duck confit on a bed of greens, partaken with chilled Prosecco. Decadence, defined.

Following lunch at Borough Market we used the tube to get to the V & A, the Victoria and Albert Museum, south of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.  That would be Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert.  The Victoria whose name establishes Victorian England’s inclusive descriptor for place and time in the nineteenth century.  Like our Smithsonian, England’s major museums are free, although for certain exhibits there may be a fee.  Such was the case with a newly opened exhibit on Ocean Liners and their place in the 19th and early 20th centuries as both mode of intercontinental travel, and definers of chic elegance for those with means, not to mention proud examples of national technological and style prowess for sea-faring countries’ governments and businesses.


Cunard Lines advertisement

The exhibit showcases liner paraphernalia from the time when ocean crossing was the stuff of curving staircases to grand salons, intentionally designed to showcase the beautiful people in elegant attire descending to the evening’s revelry.  An exhibit of hull riveting, and over the top gowns, custom travel cases, engineering marvels like gyro stabilizers and hydrodynamic hulls, deck chairs, a bit of Titanic flotsam and so on.  A quite fascinating flashback to a time before torn jean short shorts became today’s de rigueur attire for a certain segment of cattle car airline travelers.  All of this, nourishing to me, whose dad had his own music combo performing on numerous ocean liners to alluring distant ports of call during the time between the world wars.  His still lovely accordion and its well-scuffed travel case plastered with destination travel stickers are prized mementos here at Chez Close.   Well, for heaven’s sake, as long as I’m walking down a stream-of-consciousness memory lane, you should know that the first airplane ride I had as a young whipper-snapper was in an old fabric-covered Piper taildragger owned and flown by the gent who had been my dad’s trumpeter in that world-hopping combo.  He flew down from Corona Del Mar, used an unpaved strip somewhere around the eastern edge of Mission Bay, and took me up for a local flight.  Art, airplanes?  The apple fallen not far from the tree.  I thank the V&A for this, shall we say, flight of fancy?

London, the melting pot, sadly has had more than its share of recent terrorist attacks.  The second evening of our visit was the one year remembrance of last March’s auto and stabbing attack on Westminster Bridge, commemorated by this lit attestation on Westminster’s government buildings.  Londoners, are decidedly shoulder to shoulder in their verrrry British undeterred stiff upper lip carrying-on.  These are the people who survived the Blitz, after all.


London United, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben undergoing restoration.

Our plan was to explore another part of England not previously visited, and settled on the southwest peninsula of Devon and Cornwall, which we reached by train from Paddington Station, with a change at Exeter, and arrival at Barnstaple.


Reflecting on Devonshire

We picked up our rental stick shift Ford Focus there, and proceeded to our home away, a three bedroom residence in Ilfracombe, a small city on the northern Devon shoreline.  Ilfracombe, pronounced Ilfra-coom, where combe is a bay not coincident to an emptying river, is quaint and walkable small.  This northern shore of the southwest peninsula is approximately 25 miles south, across the Bridgewater Bay extension of the Atlantic, from the southern coast of Wales, which is visible across the water.  There are quaint shops, pubs, even a Michelin-starred restaurant.  We shopped for groceries and took breakfast in our place, but dined out for lunch and dinner.


Ilfracombe from our Air BnB living room


Window menu perusing in Central Ilfracombe

Each day we headed out with only vague ideas about what we wished to do, so long as it allowed absorbing the local vibe and getting some fresh air and exercise on the countless walking and hiking paths.  For pilots, aviating there is half the fun, but driving in Devon was stressful, punctuated by decidedly scary moments.   I was okay with the manual shift, but the typical roads were quite literally 1 car wide, with occasional bow-outs such as you can see on the left, below, to enable two vehicles to pass in opposite directions.  The problem is that hedgerows are universal, higher than the auto height, which with constantly twisting rural roads means that you don’t seen another vehicle coming until you are nose to nose.  The natural response for a gringo is to dodge right, which is precisely the wrong thing to do in England, then there’s the necessary instinctive downshifting, and my neural pathways and muscle memory were all for my right hand to shift, not the left.  To say that there was vehicular tension is a touch of understatement.  We survived and didn’t wreck the vehicle, but good fortune had much to do with that.


Hedgerow road view

Our destinations varied from tiny hamlets to just trailheads around Ilfracombe and Exmoor Forest, the trails through forests and up and down coastal headlands.


Water-powered funicular from Lynmouth, above, to Lynton , below:


Clouds and sun, dry, or intermittent rain showers, calm or windy, temperatures in the upper forties to low fifties…all in the same day.  There was snow on the north sides of the hedgerows, residual from the prior week.  In a word—”seasonal”—for late March.


Villages with hundreds, if not thousands of years of history.  A trailhead just past this bubbling brook.


Along the trail…


…and trailside views, Spring breaking through



Tidepools along a coastal pathway. The Welsh coast on the horizon.

Taking a moment to recharge while savoring the view


Trails that drop down to the sea, climb back up the hills above



Sylvan reflections

Buffeted by winds, cool temperatures perfect for hiking, and muscles mumbling “enough already,” the trails would return us to our starting point in or near small country villages.


“Downtown” Georgeham, trailhead of the Putsborough beach hike and home to the King’s Arms village pub.

Hike behind us, we routinely settled into a bit of mid-afternoon lunch R&R in a local public house, a pub not owned by a beverage company, and thus able to surf all varieties and labels of adult libations.  Many such establishments had been doing business as far back as the 1200s.  Each facility has its own vibe and eclectic decorations, a crackling fire, yummy hearty fare from the kitchen and pints of local draft craft beers, wines and spirits.  Indulge yourself, you just earned it.


Reflecting on the King’s Arms serving wench

On this particular day we had hiked somewhere between six and eight miles before repairing to the King’s Arms for lunch, “rehydration,” and revelry.  The friendly woman serving us mentioned a trail accessed from just out the door leading to Putsborough beach, a local favorite surfing beach.  Lest we settle into an afternoon food coma we departed for another hike of 4 miles or so, with the expansive sand beach our turn around point.  There was a young people’s surf school just about to paddle out into the ill-formed waves and 45F water temperature.  I didn’t notice anyone trunking it!  Looking at a map, it’s hard to imagine how that north shore of the Devon/Cornwall coast could have much in the way of waves, but it is an active surf locale, with surf shops, schools and clubs much as we see here in SoCal.  Who knew?

The neighborhood pub is a staple of English life.  Nowadays it is smoke-free, thank goodness, but it continues its long tradition as a central meeting place for locals and passersby.  I think Cathy has hit upon a viable explanation of pubs’ prominence—the homes often have modestly sized living rooms, such that having your mates over for a visit can be problematic.  So why not meet at the pub just a short walk away?  They are rendezvous sites and sights for the whole spectrum of the community—kids, parents, grandparents, singles, the well-heeled and the reprobates.  Think Cheers Bar with a touch of “wi-fi available” modernity’s nose under the tent flap of a centuries’ year old established-there history.

Speaking of which, after a strong wind-buffeted hike on another cliff trail above rock-crashing surf near Croyde to Baggy Point, as we ensconced ourselves with a ploughman’s lunch and a pint of Ureka IPA next to warm sun streaming in a window of The Thatch, Torrey received a text message school assignment on obscure patent issues.  Throughly Modern Milly, she completed her research and finished her assignment on her mobile phone while enjoying lunch and the vibe.  Multi-tasking, anyone?


Millie, hard at work.


Ilfracombe moon

On our last night in Devon, we walked into town, me tired enough to wonder why I wasn’t driving, but concluding the fresh air was much better than negotiating the left side of those twisty tiny streets.  On our walk back from a lovely small café the gauzy cloud cover overhead spread the curtains just enough for this Holy Week view of ancient stones and ancient moon.

The next day we drove to Barnstaple and caught the train back to London.  Dinner that evening at the Museum Pub around the corner from our hotel, and across the street from the British Museum.  Morning tube ride via the Picadilly line and two seats on a United 787 to home and Sawyer.  Yes, he was wiggly glad to see us, and thanks to Nitza for dog-sitting while we were away.

Cheers, T



A Glorious Morning

Dawn Patrol Pelicans

From my vantage point God has made me a quirky sort, and as per the proverbial expression that He clearly has a sense of humor, must find whimsical pleasure in the sort of things that float my boat. This morning my pump was primed when I ambled upstairs, sleepy-headed, and gazed out at the Pacific, with the 3/4 moon high in the western firmament and that before-sunrise sky and sea color that you local early risers know we can experience on clear dawns this time of year. A bluish sky high up, turning to a wonderful pinkish magenta farther down, all of which is reflected in the glassy early sea surface. My dad, a painter, used to remark about the bizarre color pigments he needed to capture the light of various scenes delivered from his palette to the canvas. Nowadays, I very much can say “Amen” to that. This morning I called Cathy’s attention to the color in a “quick, hurry, come look” exhortation in keeping with the little kid within me. Then our canine Sancho Panza chum Sawyer drug himself off our bed downstairs and came up to enquire if it wasn’t time for him to take me for my morning walk?

Finishing up our stroll on the cliff trail, wandering back, I was relishing the beauty of pristinely formed waves, the tops of which looked like they’d been cleaved with a straight edge and Exacto blade, feathering spindrift blowing off the pitching lips in the offshore wind, tiny barrels of aquamarine as glistening punctuation marks to swells having come across the sea from thousands of miles away. And there on the reef break where we often surf, a lone pelican afloat, sitting in the water right where the usual surfer lineup spot is. This morning’s small two-foot size had not tempted any humans out, but there Señor Pelican was, probably digesting a just-swallowed fish caught from their typical near vertical plunge into the water. Materializing from the west a one-wave larger “set” A-frame peak rose up. I thought surely it would pitch over and pummel him. But no—he waited, and at the last second as the pitching swell went critical, he launched, a single push of his webbed feet and effortless extension of his wings, and he was airborne, deep in the peak and gliding effortlessly along the the updraft being forced up the wave face by physics. Ridge soaring in the oceanic way so marvelously accomplished by the lowly pelican, a creature only a mother could love on the ground, and a thing of forever beauty in the air. Surfers and glider pilots of the world, eat your hearts out. This guy clearly planned and pulled off his no-stroke takeoff, no doubt hooting with stoke at the pure fun of it.

Now, isn’t this a wonderful way to start your day? Forget the shopping malls, and the workaday challenges. This is where the glory is. And I bet my maker is upstairs, twinkle in his eye at having made me to see and share this sort of thing. Lucky us.

Shalom, Tom