A Life Well Lived

In February of this year I got a call from Nan sea Metts telling me that a book was now available: Stories for My Friends by Robert L. Metts. Bob had passed away the previous year and he left a gift of this book. It’s well worth reading, chronicling a life well lived.

Bob was a classmate of mine at San Lorenzo High School. After high school I went off to college and lost track of many of my high school friends. That was 1968. Then in 2004 I got a phone call from Bob and we reconnected. I was astounded to learn what he had accomplished in the years that had gone by.

In the mid 1970s Bob had become somewhat of a legend on the Stanislaus river with his good friend and rafting partner Dennis Fantin. You have to understand that Bob was crippled from polio. He could not row. Dennis was blind. Somehow the two of them learned to work as a team to guide a raft down a raging whitewater river. You have to read the book to get a sense of how they worked as a team. Once you get into the stories you won’t be able to put the book down.

I bought a copy of the book shortly after Nan sea called me. I read a few pages and put in on the coffee table. Before I could get back to it my wife picked it up and read it. She passed ot to my son, who then passed it on to his father-in-law who was also a river rat on the Stanislaus River in the mid-70.

Not wanting to wait for the book to come back to me, I ordered a second copy to read on my Kindle.

From his rafting adventures Bob went on to become a professor of economics, and he helped develop policies and programs to assist disabled people all over the world. His travels took him to Viet Nam, Yemen, Indonesia, Lebanon, Switzerland, Chile, Kenya and Russia.

Bob also liked a party. He was known to host parties at his house, a log cabin that he and Nan sea built in Chilcoot. Parties would go on for days with musicians jamming and everyone eating delicious food.

One quote from the book that strikes me is the mantra one of the river guides gave Bob: “Focus on the channels, not the rocks.” Good advice for any life journey.

Get the book. It’s a great read and a source of inspiration.

Immersed in Van Gogh

With museums opening up we decided to visit the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in San Francisco. We bought tickets ahead of time for an off-peak visit for an 11 AM entry on June 22. This was our first venture out into a public space in over 15 months.

To experience the exhibit you enter a large room where animated images of Van Gogh’s work are projected on all four walls of the room as well as the floor. Music accompanies the visuals. It’s a spell-binding experience. In the middle of the room is an elevated viewing platform. We waited for the opportunity to climb the stairs and spent some time on the platform letting the images and music wash over us. Then we returned to the ground floor where we found a spot to sit with the cushions provided and experience more of the show. My still images do not do the show justice.

I’ve been around long enough to recall when a high tech slide show used two slide projectors and dissolve-synchronizer, so this seemed mind-boggling considering how many projectors were involved and the technology required to create and produce this show. The show was created by Massimiliano Siccardi and a team of creatives.

We were mesmerized by the moving visuals and the music, and we found ourselves using our iPhones to capture video clips. Here’s a two minute compilation of clips that will give you the feel for the show.

The show cycles about every 35 minutes and we found ourselves staying through two cycles. Our only regret was driving. Parking was a challenge. In hindsight, it would have been easier to take BART. After driving around looking for parking we ended up paying $25 for public parking a short distance away.

Distributing Food

Today’s adventure started with a bicycle ride into Berkeley where we met with a team of people to help distribute food to those in need. The event was sponsored by CityTeam, a faith based organization united by the belief that God has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The venue for the event was provided by First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, and since my wife Joann and I both serve as deacons here we decided we would see if we could rally a few people from our neighborhood parish to help with the event. We joined a number of other people that had volunteered for the event.

Our work involved unloading groceries from the City Team truck, opening boxes and organizing the food into bags for distribution. People could then drive up in their cars or walk in for food pickup.

Since most of us have been away from the church campus for over a year it was also fun to see our church friends face-to-face rather than the Zoom meetings that have served us through the pandemic.

We were a little disappointed that more people did not show up to collect food, but with this being an ongoing event happening the first and third Saturday of the month, we’re hoping that more people will take advantage of future event. We’re also looking for volunteers for future events.

You can also view more photos of the event here

Paddle & Party

April 1. Our adventure today includes a paddle on Tomales Bay followed by a party at Heidrun Meadery to celebrate David’s birthday. Seven of us were on the beach at Marconi Cove ready to get on the water at 10:00. We launched on a low tide and paddled across the bay to the Point Reyes Peninsula and then north paddling in flat calm without a breath of air. Temperatures were predicted for mid-70s so I opted to leave my dry suit behind. The calm water gave us a view of thousands of jellyfish just below the surface.

I stuck my waterproof Olympus TG-5 under the surface of the water and snapped a bunch of photos hoping my might capture some of the moon jellies. Low and behold, I actually captured a few images that were worth saving.

Once across the bay we paddled north along the peninsula landing at Tomales Beach for an early lunch. Then it was back to our launch site. Our paddle was just shy of eight miles. You can view the track of our paddle below or click here to see more details. We were in no hurry, but anxious to go taste some wine.

We packed up or kayaking gear and drove the short distance to the Heidrun Meadery for a wine tasting with wines made from honey. These are sparking wines made with the Champagne method. Who knew there could be so many flavors of mead, with the flavors based on the source of the honey. Buckwheat, sage and wildflowers were among the flavors we tasted. Once we were lubricated with bubbly we broke out the cake.

Since we were all sufficiently vaccinated we opted to enjoy the camaraderie sans masks. The last time I was without a mask in this large a group was March 14, 2020, when we had a party to celebrate my birthday. Plenty more photos to share. Go here to see them.

The Vaccination Experience

After I received my first Pfizer vaccination yesterday, I was handed a card documenting the fact. As I took the card I immediately flashed back to a time in the mid-1950s when I was handed a similar card after waiting in line for the Salk Polio vaccine. I remember we walked from our house to the Community Center where we were given sugar cubes with the vaccine.

With so many people anxious to get the COVID vaccination I thought I might share my experience. With all the news about the scarcity of the vaccine and the challenges in administering it, I did not have high hopes of getting a vaccination in a timely fashion. I have been out of town for most of February which added to the challenge. On Monday though, February 15, I thought I would check to see what was going on in my home county, Alameda County. I was surprised to find that there were a number of slots open for later in the week when I would be home. I signed up for 4:00 p.m. on Friday, February 19. The signup process left me a bit anxious since it said that only Berkeley residents were eligible. I called the phone number on appointment verification email and was informed that all Alameda County residents over 65 were eligible.

I made it a point of arriving a few minutes early, driving the short distance from my house to the parking lot at Golden Gate Fields race track. It was 3:58 when I arrived at the first check point where I was asked to show my driver’s license and to confirm I was over 65. From there I was directed to a line of waiting cars.

At the second check point the attendant noted my appointment reference number. I had printed off the email with the QR code. From there it was a short wait to the vacation station. I had worn a t-shirt with a light jacket thinking I’d want have my arm readily available. I took off my jacket in anticipation. A sign at the second station said no photographs, so I put my phone down.

On the attendant’s cue I pulled forward to the injection station. The attendant was quite friendly, noted I had my BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayaking) hat on and said he “lived to dive.” We chatted briefly and then I opened the car door to give him access to my arm. After the injection, a second attendant wrote the number 442 on my windshield. Then I was off to the next station.

Here the attendant held up a QR code for me to scan with my phone; the code taking me to a website to sign up for my second dose. Then it was off to the “observation lounge” to wait to make sure I didn’t have any immediate allergic reaction. At 4:42 the attendant gave me the thumbs up and five minutes later I was home.

Giving Thanks

This is a day when we stop and give thanks.

We have a tradition here in America of getting together with family for a feast we call Thanksgiving. More people travel at this time of year than any other time to be with family. This year, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc on our lives, traveling is a challenge.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. It is a time to give thanks and to share the blessings of the harvest, although for some it also signifies the conquest of Native Americans by colonists.

For our family, Thanksgiving is about family and counting our many blessings. This year we decided to celebrate early with a get-together on November 21, a few days ahead of the official holiday. With the challenges we faced this year there was much discussion about how we might manage the risks of COVID-19. We decided that an outdoor event in Aunt Sue’s backyard would be appropriate, taking precautions to wear masks when we weren’t eating, and to designate one person to be the server. We used a counter top roaster to cook the turkey; when it came time to transport it, we simply put the whole roaster in the trunk of the car for the drive to San Jose.

Our daughter and her family joined us with a homemade apple pie. Our son and his family had been staying with us the previous week, so we considered them to be in our social bubble. When it came time to carve the turkey, Sue pulled out a set of carving knives with elk antler handles that go back three generations.

Our spread of food included turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish (a recipe from my mother), kale and feta cheese salad, pomegranate and persimmon salad (from Sue’s garden), squash, rolls, and homemade apple pie for desert. Yum!

And, of course, Aunt Sue had to indulge the dogs with a bit of turkey.

After we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves on the delicious food, it was time for a walk. On our walk we passed a frog that seemed to wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving.

I wish you well on this day. And amidst the many challenges you may face, I hope that you can take a moment to find something for which you, too, can give thanks.

The Mojave Road

The Mojave Desert is a huge swath of land in the Southwest corner of the United States, much of it located in California. It occupies close to 48,000 square miles and is noted for the Joshua Trees that grow only in this desert. The Mojave Road runs across part of the Mojave Desert and through the Mojave National Preserve, a unit of the National Park System. The road was originally a trail for Native Americans stringing together a series of watering holes and providing a route for trade between desert and coastal dwellers. Later it became a route for Spanish missionaries, explorers, and settlers from the 18th to 19th centuries. Today it’s an iconic four-wheel drive road. We spent four days driving the road with a caravan of Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers.

For part of the tour, I had a GoPro camera on the dashboard of our truck. Here’s four days of touring condensed into 10 minutes. Make sure to watch the water crossing at 8:52.

Our tour started at 7:30 a.m. on October 8 in the parking lot of the Avi Resort in Bullhead City. There we met our tour guide, Bob Wohler of the Off-Road Safety Academy. Bob gave us a briefing and provided a radio for each truck to use for communication while touring.

Once we were off the pavement, we stopped to air down our tires. I’ve driven off-road periodically for over 20 years and this was the biggest eye-opener on the trip for me. Less air in the tires gives a much smoother ride. As Bob would say, sympathy for the passengers, sympathy for the equipment, and sympathy for the environment. Our tour passed a number of interest points, the first being Fort Piute. Then it was on to our campsite for the night at School Bus Camp, noted for an abandoned school bus that marked the location until a few years ago when it was removed.

There are numerous points of interest along the road, including a tin can into which you can drop a penny for good luck, the Mojave Mailbox where you can sign your name and leave a comment, and a collection of gnomes and frogs. You just have to see it to believe it. The terrain ranges from sandy flats to rocky road to a dry soda lakebed, traveling through some magnificent Joshua Tree forests along the way. The road has worn down at several points so that you are driving in a canyon so narrow that the vegetation is brushing against the sides of your vehicle.

Once across the soda lake you arrive at a pile of rocks. Bob had instructed us to pick up a rock earlier in the trip, and this is where the rocks are deposited—at Travelers Monument. There is actually a monument buried under this pile of rocks. If you scramble to the top of the pile you can read the plaque. We were sworn to secrecy regarding the words so you’ll just have to plan a visit to read it yourself.

A highlight of the trip was the lava tube, and also the water crossing at the end. We ended up driving the last section of the road from east to west because we helped some travelers who got their vehicle stuck in the sand. Time was an issue, so we took a detour to Afton Canyon Campground for our last night. The next morning two rigs decided to cross the Mojave River with Bob’s coaching.

More photos are available here, and I’ve made a few select images available as fine art prints in my art store.

We logged 180 miles on the tour, some of it on side trips off the Mojave Road. Elevation ranged from 500 feet at the start of the tour to 5,700 feet at the high point.

Have Your Kayak and Eat It Too

Treve with cake to celebrate his 70th birthday.

On Saturday, March 14, we hosted a party to celebrate my 70th birthday. The cake was noteworthy. We commissioned the cake through our local Lavender Bakery & Café on Solano Avenue. They not only created a work of art but also delivered it to our door. Since kayaking is my go-to sport at the moment, I wanted to have a cake with a kayaking theme. Chocolate cake with layers of vanilla butter cream filling and fresh raspberries, not to mention the fondant frosting – a work of art.

We had about 30 people at our home, which was quite a turnout given the advice to practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 health risk. We were quite ambivalent about hosting the party; now, as of March 17, we have a “Stay at Home” order in place so we’re staying close to home. The guidelines say that getting outdoors is an “essential” activity, so we’ll be getting out in our kayak, bicycling and walking the dog at a distance from others, but no group activities.

Take care of yourselves wherever you are; reach out to friends and stay connected.

Pandemic – by Lynn Ungar

At the event we held on Saturday, March 14, to celebrate my 70th birthday, a friend and fellow artist gave me a copy of this poem by Lynn Ungar, printed on paper she had made from Abaca Fiber. The poem seems appropriate for this season.

We too are now limiting our social contacts, but that won’t stop us from reaching out on social media. Stay safe and stay in touch.

Fifty Photos

Fifty Photos

If you’ve been following my blog, you may recall that in December I posted an entry Postcard from the Past. In that post, I mentioned my upcoming 70th birthday and my plan to create a book representing 50 years of photography. Here it is. My birthday gift to myself. A collection of fifty images culled from my film and digital archives.

We’ll celebrate with an unveiling of the book on Saturday, March 14, with cake, champagne and friends. I’ve posted a gallery of the images in the book. Take a look here.

It has been quite an adventure going back through my archives, with many hours spent reviewing film negatives, selecting images to scan, and getting them ready to print. In the process, I rediscovered many long-forgotten adventures and stories yet to be told. You can expect to see more in the future.

I welcome any questions or comments.