31 January 2009


from william gibson's Pattern Recognition:

~ alone again, suddenly, in the crepuscular calm of a tokyo taxi. (note: three alliterations, evocative and compelling, in an eleven-word sentence!!)

~ liminal. [her] word for certain states: thresholds, zones of transition. does she feel liminal now, or simply directionless?

~ and then she hears the sound of a helicopter, from somewhere behind her and, turning, sees the long white beam of light sweeping the dead ground as it comes, like a lighthouse gone mad from loneliness, and searching that barren ground as foolishly, as randomly, as any grieving heart ever has.


30 January 2009


although 31 january is generally thought of as the start of the Tet offensive during the Vietnam war, preliminary attacks actually took place forty years ago today, on 30 january 1968. the country was divided by u.s. military into four tactical regions called corps, roman numeraled I-IV. the earliest VC/NVA attacks on 30 january were in the more northerly I and II corps, and did not raise alarms among u.s. commanders. early the following morning attacks multiplied and spread across all of south vietnam, taking u.s. and allied units entirely by surprise.

i was stationed at fort gordon, georgia at the time, completing my training as a radioteletype (RTT) operator. i had no orders in hand, but just about everyone knew that we would join the multitudes being funneled into the hungry jaws of The Beast. sure enough, by 11 march i was in country, feeling confused and excited and frightened, not having the faintest idea what to expect. ignorance is bliss. within a month of arrival at my permanent assignment with HHB 23rd artillery group, II field force, stationed at phu loi (about 20 miles north of saigon, near one corner of the infamous Iron Triangle), and with very little OJT training, i was sent out to the first of two 2-month deployments in the field, attached to roving artillery batteries. my travels ranged from the mekong delta to cholon, the chinese district of saigon, to cu chi (of VC tunnel fame) and tay ninh (with nearby Nui Ba Den, the sole mountain for miles around, being a VC/NVA stronghold overlooking the base), and deep into the parrot's beak along the cambodian border. i've described a few of my experiences in previous entries on this website.

forty years. so long ago, and yet only yesterday......


....does that make the Lincoln Highway the father road? there's an excellent PBS special on the Lincoln, which runs (ran) from NYC to San Francisco. like Route 66, it started out as a cobbling-together of existing state and local roads, with periodic shifts in portions of the route. and like 66, the Lincoln fell into relative disuse as the interstate highway system became reality. yet they both remain alive, with enthusiastic supporters and aficianados. sounds like fun on a touring motorcycle! (note: click on map to enlarge the image)

carrying the analogy a bit farther, would the Alaska Highway (the ALCAN) then be the offspring road? it was a big deal during construction, the first road to connect alaska to canada and the u.s. initially it was gravel all the way, and hell on vehicles and passengers alike. now it is paved, and presents another enticing prospect for a leisurely trip through paradise.

29 January 2009


the song "i've been everywhere" has a more global history than i thought.

here are hank snow's lyrics.


If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that's the best.
Get your kicks on Route Sixty-six!

It winds from Chicago to L.A.,
More than two thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route Sixty-six!

Now you go thru Saint Looey and Joplin, Missouri
And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty;
You'll see Amarillo; Gallup, New Mexico;
Flagstaff, Arizona; don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino.

Won't you get hip to this timely tip:
When you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route Sixty-six!

-- by bobby troop, 1946

note: originally recorded by nat "king" cole, "Get Your Kicks on Route Sixty-Six" has been covered by singers as diverse as the andrews sisters, bing crosby, chuck berry, the rolling stones, asleep at the wheel, manhattan transfer, mel torme, depeche mode, michael martin murphy and many others.

i highly recommend the following:

~ the definitive travel book, Route 66: The Mother Road, by michael wallis.
~ Travels With Charley, by john steinbeck (the first to observe that "66 is the Mother Road").
~ On The Road, by jack kerouac.
~ the excellent animated movie Cars.
~ reruns from the early 60s tv series Route 66 or the early 70s tv series Then Came Bronson (try youtube).

all of this is in the spirit of returning travel from just-get-there-as-fast-as-we-can, to taking our time touring and really seeing this country of ours, with frequent stops to look and explore, preferably on the secondary highways described by william least heat moon in his book Blue Highways (routes depicted in that color on older state maps). unlikely places, and unlikely people, have a way of turning out to be the most colorful and memorable.

"open-road travelers are made more than born. they are as different from theme-park tourists as anything you can imagine. tourists rush; travelers mosey. tourists look for souvenirs; travelers seek out the souvenir makers. tourists want to see all the right places; travelers simply go into the country. travelers are openly romantic about the going itself, the adventurous possibility of it all."

so yeah, get your kicks on route 66!

(left-click on map to enlarge)

28 January 2009


in nearly 62 years, i've had:

5 dogs

9 cats

1 horse (briefly)

1 desert tortoise

3 parakeets

6 cars and trucks

3 motorcycles

0 aircraft (so far)

____ lovers, of whom 3 became life partners (serially, i.e.)

1 child, my son upon whom the sun rises and sets

1 grandchild, my son's son who is bathed in starlight and mist

37 homes in 9 states and 1 foreign country

7 traffic accidents, 2 of them on motorcycles

0 fistfights, though i'm trained in karate, boxing, fencing, and army hand-to-hand combat

10 long-term jobs, and nearly as many short-term jobs

3 university or college experiences, with 2 degrees

0 major surgeries, and 3 minor ones

too many broken bones, joint separations, lacerations, contusions and concussions to count

0 venereal diseases

1 hell of a wild ride

26 January 2009


this morning i received a lovely email from a woman in tubac, arizona. she was very kind (some might say deluded) in her compliments toward me and the colorful life i've led. at the same time she expressed reservations over several of the recreational pursuits i've enjoyed over the years (motorcycling kayaking, flying), which to her seemed dangerous. as a trauma nurse, she's seen the extremes of damage inflicted on the human body by sports which are pursued beyond the bounds of safety and common sense.

her concerns are valid, in this sense -- there is a continuum of mindset among physically active folk, ranging between (a) adrenaline-rush thrill-seekers (mostly young) who are pushing the boundaries of their own experience, without necessarily understanding what lies beyond (and often ending up as a statistic), and (b) those who thrill at the newness and sense of wonder, but take a more considered approach, with thorough training and safety highest in priority. i'm definitely in the latter group.

taking flying as an example -- to become a licensed private pilot, which is merely the first stepping stone (literally a license to learn, since all good pilots are always learning), one must complete 40-60 hours of ground and air training, pass a stringent physical exam, pass rigorous written and oral exams covering everything from navigation to weather to airspace classifications to aircraft systems to FAA regulations and much, much more, and then take the actual skills test in the air with a designated examiner. that's just for the license. after that, pilots must continue to hone their skills, understanding and experience, since they must retest every three years (every two years for older pilots). like most active pilots, i am a member of AOPA, the aircraft owners and pilots association, and receive both their monthly magazines (one for training pilots, one for those already certified), as well as AOPA's online newsletter. i can't begin to describe how many articles and recorded reminiscences i've read that cover the full range of pilot experience, always with an emphasis on education, skills and safety. before undertaking even the most mundane flight, every pilot is trained to know from moment to moment every factor that could affect the flight, including weather, the condition of the aircraft, and the pilot's own level of experience.

compare that to what people go through to renew their driver's license in most states -- a multiple choice written test, and a prefunctory eye exam. that's it. road tests are conspicuously absent, and something i've advocated for many years as part of every single renewal, regardless of the age of the driver. considering that most of us have a license to operate a guided missile ranging in weight from one to twenty tons or more, on streets and highways crowded with hundreds of other such missiles, the licensing requirements are scandalously lax -- as testified to by the number of highway fatalities and injuries that happen every year.

the continuum of thrill-seeking to safe operation i described above applies to all sports, including those considered extreme. skiing, motorcycling, kayaking, you name it. being responsible (and just plain looking to protect oneself from injury or worse) means seeking qualified instruction, and then learning the sport gradually, testing limits safely, coming to understand one's own abilities and limitations in a range of circumstances. the difference between kayaking the san juan river in southern utah during moderate flow, and kayaking the yampa river in northwest colorado during spring runoff, is day and night. one is fun and forgiving, the other is challenging and potentially deadly.

this is where the push-pull of "fear and lust" come in. most solo outdoor sports carry both -- the fear of getting in over one's head, with maybe a brush with injury or death on the one hand, and on the other hand the fierce gravitational pull, that ol' black magic exerted by an adrenaline rush. with training and forethought and self-control, it is possible to feel both, be influenced by both, and enjoy the experience while minimizing risk. the critical component is right between the ears -- thinking, not acting impulsively. the more advanced one's learning and experience, and the more respect one has for the forces of air and water and momentum and the absolute non-negotiable physics of solid objects, the easier it is to really enjoy oneself out near the edge, without fear of disaster.

so there !

NOTE: the above photo of me alongside a Diamond DA-20 was taken at Summit Aviation in Bozeman, MT. Summit is one of the few aviation schools in the country whose entire training fleet consists of Diamonds -- single-engine two-passenger, singel-engine four-passenger, and twin-engine four-passenger. my thanks to the training staff there for their enthusiasm, professionalism and courtesy during an hour-long visit to the school last spring. i still hope to get my own training there, one day.

23 January 2009


so a priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar, and the bartender looks up and says, "what is this, a joke?"

22 January 2009


sorry, all you harley fans, in this case "chopper" means helicopters. my thanks to my friend bill for turning me on to this blog, written by an accomplished and active chopper pilot in california. what a treat to see someone so actively and successfully pursuing her dreams!!

20 January 2009


(note: at left is a satellite view of the eastern half of the national mall on inauguration day. i believe the image was taken around mid-morning, since the entire mall was jammed with people at swearing-in time. place your cursor on the photo and left-click to view it fullscreen. funny how the people look like plant spores.)

i spent two hours this morning watching (and taping) the ceremonies leading up to, and including, the swearing-in of barack obama as our 44th president. how i wish i could nave been there!! the excitement was electric, and contageous. all the tv long/wide views reminded me of my own visits to washington, d.c., in the 1990s -- the national mall itself, two miles long, with the magisterial lincoln memorial at the west end (with the vietnam memorial nearby), the imposing washington monument in the middle (with the WWII memorial nearby), and at the east end the capitol building, where the inauguration ceremonies took place. flanking these, the smithsonian institution's many museums, the white house, the supreme court, and others too numerous too mention.

the day was cold by d.c. standards, but that didn't keep well-wishers away. what a grand spectacle, to see all that space filled with hundreds of thousands of cheering, flag-waving, hopeful people celebrating the ascendancy of our first black president to office. many smiles, many tears -- tears of joy over this transcendent achievement, tears of sorrowful remembrance of the long decades of struggle, sacrifice, sweat and blood that made this day possible. i like to think that somewhere, abraham lincoln, john and bobby kennedy, and martin luther king, jr., among many others, were looking down and smiling with pride.

i was moved by this momentous moment in history -- the sunshine, the celebrants, the stirring oratory, and especially by the music. even an old cynic like me was touched deeply, listening to the queen of soul, aretha franklin, singing "my country, 'tis of thee", and to the quartet made up of yoyo ma, gabriela montero, izaak perlman and anthony mcgill performing john williams' arrangement of "'simple gifts."

obama's inaugural speech was sweeping and eloquent, consistent with his vision. one phrase sticks out -- that in the darkest times, "nothing but hope and virtue can survive." in these dark days, i cross my fingers that hope and virtue remain our guiding lights. an aside: barack is 47, and i was born in '47. coincidence? i think not.

as i type this, the rituals and protocols continue. the inaugural parade is to begin shortly. but i've already seen the best of this day, and like so many citizens in washington, i too feel a complex mix of pride and hope and poignant remembrance. mostly, mostly hope.

18 January 2009


this is the third (or fourth?) day of freezing fog in missoula. it creates beautiful frost patterns on the ground, on shrubs, but it makes taking my daily walk painful -- breathing in supercold, superhumid air has done something to my lungs and throat. but i hate missing out on the exercise.

plus, i've been keeping my driving to a minimum and my apartment thermostat set low, during this time between jobs. living close to the bone, watching every dime, since it's unclear how long it may take to find work in our wonderful GWB economy, especially here in missoula. add to that the truism that most employers are reluctant to hire older applicants, even though it is illegal to discriminate based on age. i have to be prepared for a long dry spell.

thankfully, this experience isn't new to me. i've developed inner resources for coping when discouragement, loneliness, or hopelessness raise their ugly heads. it is important to take one day at a time, and keep forging forward.

still, i'll be glad when this particular passage is at an end, and the next path reveals itself.

16 January 2009


by now most of us are familiar with the near-miraculous landing of US Airways flight 1549, using the hudson river as an emergency runway following bird strikes that disabled both engines on the Airbus A320 shortly after takeoff from new york's la guardia airport. the story makes me doubly excited and proud -- partly because, as an aviation enthusiast for over a decade, i understand the sterling professionalism and perfect judgment of the pilot, 57 year old chesley b. sullenberger III (sully), who flew u.s. air force F-4 Phantoms, my favorite fighter-bomber from the vietnam era. his long military and civilian experience, combined with the rigorous monthly training which all airline pilots undergo, turned a potential disaster into a source of pride and inspiration. all 150 passengers and 5 crew members were evacuated safely from the downed plane by the prompt response of rescue craft and nearby civilian boats. and in the noble tradition of the sea and the air, the pilot was the last off, after walking the length of his floating plane through knee-deep water to make certain that no one had been left behind.

be sure to check out the interactive graphic showing the flight (third entry under "multimedia" in the article), in the first link above. then imagine yourself as (a) a passenger on that plane, and (b) as the pilot. it takes my breath away.

13 January 2009


since the last two titles seemed to establish a train of thought (however twisted the track), it seems only appropriate to continue with a bird of a different sort, the Beech Staggerwing. there is a Staggerwing museum at one end of the municipal airport in Tullahoma, TN, which i had the good fortune to discover, quite by accident. very cool place. very cool aircraft.

12 January 2009


i am emphatically not a rabid sports fan, though i do enjoy championship play in hoops, football, and (god help me) golf. having lived five years in suburban philadelphia, i confess to a careful affection for the eagles. careful, because from high school through universities to the pros, my home teams have tended to fall short in the clutch. with a few glorious exceptions, like the university of arizona wildcat basketball teams of the 90s. aaaand, the eagles of the 90s as well, back in the day of quarterback randall cunningham and the late reggie white.

philly has always enjoyed a love-hate relationship with its pro teams, most of all with the eagles. philly fans will boo their own team if they aren't performing, and scream with delight if they are. a somewhat neurotic fan base, putting it charitably.

this year, the eagles are looking good for a berth, and quite possibly a win, at the super bowl. there may be some screaming in philadelphia this year.

11 January 2009


for those of you who, like me, love to tread quietly through forest or marsh or desert, or across mountain meadows or sandy beaches, spying on our avian friends, i've discovered a terrific resource online. the site offers a data base in which to store one's own life list of sightings, as well as space for recording field trips, an array of truly outstanding photos, and the chance to network with other birders. i transcribed my own life list from the index of my decades-old Golden field guide, and discovered that taxonomists had renamed a few species while i had my back turned. so far in life i've verifiably observed 360 species, with another 40 probables. nothing near the 700 level that seems to mark the beginning of the realm of truly devoted (or pathological) birders, who have the time and $$ to venture all over the world in pursuit of numbers.

i guess you could call me a serious enthusiast who happened to be in the right place at the right time, more than once. much of my exposure occurred while attending the University of Arizona in Tucson, enjoying the numerous field trips that were part of the UA's prestigious Ecology & Evolutionary Biology program (including, of course, ornithology). another chunk of exposure was linked to my four years as caretaker of the Nature Conservancy's Canelo Hills Cienega preserve. the region happens to include not only migration flyways, but also the southern range limit of some northern birds, and the northern limit of some southern birds. a fortuitous overlap.

later in life, i was fortunate (?) to have moved to Charleston, SC, a month before the arrival of hurricane Hugo, whose path of travel was targeted quite precisely on the suburb of mount pleasant, where i lived. Hugo's devastation of the nearby Francis Marion National Forest created a number of emergency job openings with the U.S. Forest Service, one of which i landed. i spent the next year as a wildlife tech, doing habitat restoration for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, which involved installing artificial nesting cavities (using climbing and safety gear, chain saws and hand tools, and swedish ladders, placing them as high as fifty feet off the ground), and assessing the clan populations throughout the forest, and coincidentally seeing birds on a daily basis that other birders can only dream of.

a third stroke of luck happened in suburban Philadelphia, where i found work as a counselor and teacher at a private residential school for SED teenagers. nearly all my teaching was spontaneous, right off the top of my head, since the material was so familiar to me -- math, algebra, biology. the school administration allowed me to develop my own environmental studies class for more advanced students, a rare privilege. i led field trips to several birding meccas, including Hawk Mountain in PA, and Cape May in NJ.

in my nomadic life (i've lived in MT-WA-AZ-GA-TX-AK-SC-PA-TN, and visited all the remaining states except four), in most places i've tried to take an adult ed birding class, thus hooking up with local experts who could steer me in the right direction. those field trips were as much fun as the university ones. so many colorful memories. and so many more yet to create. you just never know what surprises life is going to place in your path.

08 January 2009


one of my few local friends, a complex character who is gentle and well-read and a formidable chess player, and also rides a harley and is a responsible gun owner, did something inspiring -- he overcame his natural avoidance of being helpless and at someone else's mercy, and went through with open-heart surgery yesterday. the operation, while fairly routine in terms of how often it is performed, was nevertheless a huge deal for Perry. he talked about it a lot, with me and others, before committing to the procedure. even granted that not having the surgery would have meant a high probability of a dramatically shortened lifespan, his was an absolutely courageous decision. now he's in recovery, and doing fine.

here's to you, amigo. salud.

07 January 2009


for all you military veterans out there, or non-vets with an interest in the Vietnam war, my old buddy Wags in Houston sent me a link to a website that is an encyclopedic collection of hundreds of other sites, from maps to individual units to specific operations to the antiwar movement. even if (perhaps especially if) you don't give much thought to wars in general, or Vietnam in particular, i suspect you'll find much of human interest here .

january finds me ten months through the 40th anniversary year of my time in Vietnam. i have three albums full of photos taken with my trusty cigarette-pack-sized Minolta 16mm spy camera, which i carried with me everywhere. alas, how i wish i'd kept a daily journal, documenting chronology and the map of my travels in country. my memory has proven to be less than reliable. fuzzy, you might say. individual events are clear as crystal, but their order is less so. those photos help.

06 January 2009


from gregory benford's The Sunborn:

two men were watching a beautiful pool and the koi fish that swam just below its calm, clear surface.
"the fish are happy", said one man.
the other asked, "how can you possibly know?"
"how can you know if i know?"
"how can you know i cannot?"
"that is not the point," the fish said.

05 January 2009


if one views only the photos posted on this page, one could be forgiven for thinking that the author is a hardcore, militaristic type. the reality is much more diffuse and diverse. i've been studying flying for ten years, and am attracted to a variety of aircraft, ranging from small GA (general aviation) private planes to gliders to helicopters to LSAs (light sport aircraft, a new FAA category) to warbirds both ancestral and modern. here are a few examples:

Diamond DA-40

Cirrus SR22

Staggerwing biplane

Robinson R44 helicopter

FlightDesign CTLS LSA

Javelin jet



there. a small sampling of the variety of flying available to us all -- with training and a well-padded wallet, that is. john lennon said it for all us aspiring pilots: "well you may say i'm a dreamer, but i'm not the only one .... "

04 January 2009


what's worse -- thinking you're paranoid, or knowing you should be?

02 January 2009


from elmore leonard's book Stick:

"i'm not saying she's tough, but she's the only broad i know who kick-starts her vibrator."

"there was the Street and there was the street. one was neither more real nor unreal than the other, except one was concocted, invented in the name of commerce; while the other was concerned with existence, survival."

01 January 2009


as in, each new year rises fresh and newborn from the ashes of the old, phoenix-like. it is an artificial human construct, of course, eurocentric at that. still, as symbols go, this is not bad. a reminder to step back, reassess, consider. a boost to our very human need for hope. i can live with that.

which reminds me of one of the seminal "Pogo" comic strips, whose punchline was "death -- i can live without it."

here's to new beginnings. (no old beginnings allowed.) peace.