Friday, June 26, 2009

Fishing For Answers

It's interesting to see where people go when they want answers to life's questions. One of the big unanswered questions is "what does the future hold?" Fresno has at least three palm readers. Once I was tempted to call one of those telephone psychics who advertise on t.v. just to entertain myself. I've always suspected the psychic's game is to "phish" for the subjects that goose their subjects, then feed them what they want to hear.

I don't want to hear what I want to hear. I want the truth. Don't worry, I can handle the truth. There's an unbelievable amount of information available through the internet. All that "knowledge" can make you smarter and more confused at the same time. Is coffee good for you or not? For sure you can get answers, but maybe not to your personal life's questions.

Me? I fish for answers. The water and the sky and the wind and the trees and the birds and the fish and the other animals who inevitably show up for the seance have wisdom to impart. Do I get answers? Not usually. But I get peace and sometimes clarity. And when I come back from a good day of fishing, I don't really feel a need to have answers anymore. I'll settle for peace of mind and a big dose of vitamin D.

Along the lines of truth and peace of mind and getting answers to the questions of the day, Sarah Groves wrote a song called "Word."

"... while I attempt to help myself
my Bible sits upon my shelf
with every promise I could ever need ..."

"And the Word was
And the Word is
And the Word will be."

Venting Ventanas

In the foothills near Fresno is a real estate subdivision called "Ventana Hills." Ventana means window in Spanish. Anyone who's ever climbed a hill or a mountain and enjoyed the vista can appreciate the monicker "window hills."

The windows in our 1912 era cabins at Lakeview Cottages are hand-poured and there are lots of waves and imperfections in the glass. They are quaint but they distort your view of the outside world. When you walk by them stationary things outside appear to move and details of things outside are sometimes obscured.

We have a friend, Chris, whose brother Scott, washes windows. Scott comes to our house once or twice a year to clean our windows. You don't really notice over time how much dirt gets on the glass and how it diminishes the light coming in and your view out. Clean windows let you see better. I clean my truck windshield every time I stop for gas.

In the same way as wavy or dirty glass, pent up emotions can cloud our view of things. William Shakespear wrote that "the eyes are the windows to the soul." Tom Hunter, a singer-songwriter from Washington state wrote a song called tears. The song includes the line: "And if it's true that eyes are the windows to the soul, then tears are what can make the windows clean."

I'm not a guy who likes to sit down and have a good cry though my eyes do water a little bit now and then. I'm not ashamed of that. Hunter's "Tears" song also expresses the thought that tears can be what we say when we don't know what to say. "When words don't come easy and neither do the thoughts, then tears can sometimes say best what we mean."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

To Be, Or Not To Be

Brent Auernheimer is a guy I've known since about kindergarten. He's one of those guys with a million megawatt brain. He writes a blog, and I occasionally venture there to see what subjects currently occupy the brains of the intelligentsia. Back in May Brent posted the link to an article by Matthew B. Crawford that I actually could understand titled: The Case For Working With Your Hands. Crawford was a PhD who abandoned his cubicle career to open a motorcycle repair shop. I abandoned my law practice in 2004 to become a property manager.

Crawford's article is about doing real work that engages you and is meaningful. In making his case, Crawford references the poem To Be of Use by Marge Piercy. The poem ends like this:

"Hopi vases that held corn are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

The question I am circling around here is when does one become irrelevant? On death? Or when one ceases to feel useful or to be useful? Piercy says that a person longs for work that is real, but really not all people seem to do so, and Piercy acknowledges this in the beginning of her poem. More, she states a strong preference for people who "jump into work headfirst" and she implies disdain for those who "dally in the shallows."

"The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows ...

"I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

"I want to be with people who submerge in the task ..."

If, as I suspect, Piercy's sentiments are commonly shared by those who submerge in the task, where does this leave those who, like the Hopi vases, once held corn and once were of use, but due to circumstances are relegated to being non-working museum pieces? In some native-american cultures, those who couldn't contribute to the community were expected to leave the community and quietly die. Is that what we want from the non-contributors among us? Or is it enough that the vase is simply interesting or pretty or that we like having it around?

Yackety Yak

Sue's been doing a lot of yacking with her friends and family these days. She's on the phone constantly when she's not talking with someone in person. Someone's always calling or stopping by. it's good for her. I think it lifts her spirits up.

The other day Maggie and Cindy happened to be up at the lake for different reasons; Cindy was delivering a water heater and Maggie and Mike were decompressing from their own medical drama. Anyway, the sun was out and "the girls" decided to take a kayak ride in their namesake kayaks, the Suzy Q, the Cindy Lou, and the Maggie Mae.

They were a colorful, quixotic crew yackety yakking in their kayaks, circling the west end of the lake to spy on the osprey nests. You could spot them five miles away and you could hear them a mile away. Fun. Uplifting.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Beautiful Ride

Sue and I have been going up and down the mountain a lot lately, from Fresno to Huntington Lake and back. The transitions from the valley floor to the San Joaquin river to the oak dotted foothills to the pines to the high Sierra are terrific. Our drive takes us past Millerton Lake and Shaver Lake. Hawks kettle on Pine Ridge and there've been a lot of deer this year, especially up on Tamarack ridge. When you hit the pines you can roll down your window and gulp in the cool air and fresh pine smell. In the daylight the sun lights up erratic sprays of wildflowers and multi-colored verdent meadows. Rustic cabins nestle in the trees. Every turn yields familiar rich views. Salt and pepper granite peppers every scene. If you go during sunrise or sunset or at night you get bonus views. It truly is a beautiful ride.

Sue has a friend, Jullie, a ranger who works in a ranger station above Huntington Lake, who has volunteered to drive Sue down to her whamo therapy sessions on Monday and Thursday of this week. Sue and Jullie have a lot in common. Jullie, like Sue, is a college home-ec major, a quilter, and one who loves the wilderness.

Sue's had a lot of physical and emotional pain lately. The other morning she hurt a lot and she didn't like the ugly red sores all over her from the shingles she's trying to recover from and she broke down crying while she was getting dressed. Said she was just feeling sorry for herself a little bit. After a good cry she got dressed and had some pancakes and got back to her usual cheerful self. She watered her baby trees, sat in the sunshine in her green adirondack chair sipping tea, chatted with the guests, and later made some business phone calls.

I had a Kings View Corporation board meeting to attend in Fresno on Monday evening. While enjoying the ride back up the mountain I pondered things while listening to country music. A Gary Allan song called "Life Ain't Always Beautiful" got me a little teary-eyed. The chorus goes like this:

"No, life ain't always beautiful
Tears will fall sometimes
Life ain't always beautiful
But it's a beautiful ride"
"What a beautiful ride"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

All Choked Up

Saturday Sue and I started a two week stint of managing the Lakeview Cottages. We take turns managing the place with the other co-owners. Saturdays are our change-over days because most of our guests check in on Saturday afternoon and check out the following Saturday morning.

On a usual Saturday there is a lot to do, and it’s not a one-person job. This particular Saturday had the extra bonus and extra work of a wedding taking place at Camp Keola at 11 a.m. Chris Janzen and Robin Linscheid, the groom and bride, are two young people we watched grow up and who both have strong ties with Keola. Some of the wedding guests were staying at the Cottages, and wouldn’t you know it, the sewer system on the wedding guests’ cabins was not working. And Sue, my main co-worker was totally zonked from two weeks of whamo therapy (my term for chemo therapy). She wasn’t working either this particular day.

Thank goodness for good friends. We had the help of three couples, Mark and Cindy, Phil and Debbie, and Loren and Margie, but for which we would have been in trouble. I got a little choked up after they all left, thinking of all the things they did to bail us out.

Mark and Phil and I did a fair amount of digging and roto-rooting to get the sewer pipe unclogged. While the system was draining, it appeared to be not quite right. We couldn’t get the roto-rooter past a certain part of the pipe. I did a little more digging on Monday and got to the root of the problem. The roots of a tree had literally choked the four inch pipe down to a one inch pipe. Sort of like a tree root anaconda.

Sue wanted to go up to Keola for the wedding ceremony. It was about all she had energy for on this particular day, but this was important. It was about being the church and being community and being supportive, things that had meant a particular lot to her lately, since our church community has been so supportive of her and us. Mark and I were trying to clear a choked up sewer line, and that was important too. Sue and Cindy walked off with a stern warning -- a sort of look you get to recognize after 28 years of marriage -- to Mark and I that we’d better show up for the wedding ceremony. We could come back to our sewer problem later. Classic dilemma: either way we were in it deep. We decided to throw down our shovels for a half hour and save our marriages.

The wedding was a nice affair, held on the deck of the newest building at Camp Keola. You could see right through the two glass walls of the chapel to the trees on the other side. Sue and I had met at Keola, raised our kids there, had a hand in building this building, and, in our own small takes-a-village way, had a hand in raising the bride and groom. Keola had been important in our faith development, and a lifelong mission for us. For a lot of reasons we got all choked up during the ceremony.

All these emotions are draining. Backed up, choked up, roto-rootered, dirty water flowing draining.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Needles, Needles, Needles

I dropped Sue off at the Church Wednesday morning so she could join her (mostly older) friends at the quilters’ group. Sue’s been a sewer and a stitcher and a weaver and a quilter practically since birth. Her fabrics and notions and thimbles and needles are part of the essence of who she is.

When I left the church I went to take my mother out to lunch. She deferred the restaurant choice to me, so we ate at one of my favorites – the House of Kebab. Our waitress was a cute young lady with dark hair and very fair skin. Mom was shocked at the cavalcade of colorful tattoos running up the waitress’ arms and into the sleeves of her blouse. Why would she do that to herself? Mom asked me. It’s needle art, Mom. You know, like Kat Von D? It’s part of her identity. It’s part of who she is.

When I got home from lunch Sue was napping on the couch. I went to the back room to work but was interrupted by knocking on the front door. Nurse practitioner Jennifer had come by with her two daughters to give Sue a lesson on how to give herself her own Demerol injections. Our daughter, Jessica, has been willing to help Sue with this when she’s available, but the other daughter, Valerie, and I are not needle people. N.P. Jennifer is a needler, though, in almost every sense of the word. It’s part of who she is.

It sounds contrived, but it’s true. When N.P. Jennifer left I drove Sue to her afternoon appointment with her dentist … oh, never mind.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raptor Rescue

At least five pairs of osprey and a pair of bald eagles nested at Huntington Lake last summer. That’s a far cry from the year Sue and I met at Huntington Lake – 1977. It wasn’t until the next year, 1978, that I recall first seeing “the” osprey nest that appeared on a tall dead tree behind dam number two.

Sue loves to keep an eye on the osprey nests on our end of the lake from her little red Suzy Q kayak. Astute observers can discern the flight patterns, preferred fishing holes, regular observation roosts, and yes, even “personalities” of these magnificent birds. I love to watch them fish, circling overhead in concentric patterns and then diving on their prey, grasping the wriggling victim in sharp talons and flapping free of the water back to the sky from whence they came.

[Picture at right taken by by James A. Galletto]
© Copyright 2009 Smithsonian Institution

On Monday one of the Lakeview Cottages guests was out fishing in one of our newly “repowered” boats when he rescued one of our osprey. The bird became tangled up and injured when it caught a fish with fishing line attached. The fisherman covered the panicked bird with his jacket to calm it. The bird shredded his jacket with its sharp talons. He managed to calm the bird and get it into the boat with him. When he got back to the Cottages a group of interested guests helped cut the fishing line off the bird and to place the bird in one of the life vest storage lockers.

While other concerned osprey circled overhead crying out to their wounded kin, Mark placed four insistent calls to the Forest Service until he got connected to a “live person” to whom he could report the injured bird. Someone would be there soon, he was assured.

An hour and a half later, not one, not two, three or four, but five people showed up to take custody of the bird with the intention of nurturing it back to health for future release back to the wild. According to Mark, they were part of a non-profit group called “Raptor Rescue.” I googled Raptor Rescue and was astonished at the number of organizations dedicated to the rescue of wounded or troubled wildlife.

Yesterday Sue, nurse Debbie and four other of the ladies who have supported Sue through her cancer experience met to discuss Debbie’s vision to start a ministry response team to respond to the needs of the wounded people they know who are struggling with cancer. One should figure if a fisherman would put himself at risk and sacrifice his jacket for a distressed osprey, and if a half dozen people on vacation would also put themselves at risk to cut fishing line from the bird, and if Mark would make multiple insistent phone calls to get help for the bird, and if five volunteers would make a half day 140 mile round trip excursion on a Monday to rescue an osprey they never met, then surely every one of the local cancer stricken people we know should at least warrant a comparable response.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Lately I have been contemplating cycles. Business cycles. Two cycles versus four cycles motors. And life cycles.

Anyway, Saturday I drove down from Huntington Lake to Shaver Lake to pick up four new Honda outboard motors for our Lakeview Cottages fishing boats. The old motors were, well, old. They had developed a number of ailments old things tend to get – less power, a lot of coughing and choking and conking out at inopportune times. Frankly, they had become undependable.

The old motors were from a different era. They were two cycle motors where the gas and oil are mixed together. Two cycle motors typically generate more horsepower per pound of weight and RPM than four cycle motors, because they have an ignition stroke every two cycles, versus every four cycles. However, this power advantage notwithstanding, two cycle motors are out of favor. They are noisier, smellier, and discharge more pollution into the air and water than four cycle motors. There are now a number of lakes and rivers where use of a two-cycle motor is prohibited.

So we bought four new Honda four cycle (4 Stroke) motors. Clean and green. Eco friendly and fuel efficient. Quiet, shiny, young and strong. By the time I rolled back in to Lakeview Cottages with four big boxes marked “Honda Outboard Motor” strapped to the back of my truck, most of the guests for the week had already checked in. The new motors generated quite a buzz among our fisherman guests. Too many years they’d suffered through the declining health of the old motors. Suddenly our old fishing boats were getting a new lease on life. Huzzah!

Honda has a term for exchanging old motors for new. They call it “repowering” your boat. Wouldn’t it be great if we who are becoming old and in declining health could just repower ourselves?

Monday, June 8, 2009

God’s Will For You

Sue didn’t sleep much Thursday night. I left for Huntington Lake at 10 p.m. and Jessica and Valerie climbed on the bed with Sue and gabbed for two hours. Then Val went to bed and Sue and Jessica gabbed for another hour. Wedding talk mostly. Jessica went to her own bed and everyone went to sleep, but when the thunderstorm hit around 2 a.m. Jessica crawled back in bed with Sue.

Sue and I “moved away” from the girls about three years ago. We down-sized, leaving the girls in the big house near Fresno State. A year later Val moved in with us. Then, last August, Jessica, recently returned from adventures in Idaho, moved in with us. Sue gave up her sewing room for Val and I gave up my office for Jess. There was a period following the compression during which I was extremely dubious this could work out. However, we all adjusted.

During this last year, and especially following the cancer diagnosis, Sue and Jess and Val have reconnected. The girls have been a big help to Sue, and it has been a blessing to her to have them here right now.

This and other events that smell and taste and feel a lot like “God things” remind me of a story the Imam of the Madera Islamic Center recently told me when we were discussing God’s intervention in our lives. With apologies to Abdulla, the story went something like this:

“A king had a wise, Godly advisor. When certain things would happen in the king’s life he’d ask the advisor why they happened. Often the advisor replied: ‘God knows what is best for you, Sire. It is God’s will for you.’

One day the king was on a journey and, by accident, he cut his hand quite badly. After the medics patched him up, the king summoned the advisor and asked why he was cut. The advisor replied, “God knows what is best for you, Sire. I believe this is God’s will for you.”

This response angered the king, so he fired the advisor and sent him away. Soon after the advisor left, a band of savages came upon the king. They had been looking for an animal to sacrifice, but decided the king would make a better sacrifice. They bound him and took him to their village and prepared him to be sacrificed. When the preparations were complete, the high priest came out to make the sacrifice, but when he saw the cut on the king’s hand he stopped and said “we can’t sacrifice this man, he is already cut and is imperfect for a sacrifice. So they released the king.

The king summoned his old advisor and told him what had happened. “I think you were right, he said. God used the cut on my hand to save me. But how was it God’s will for you that I sent you away in disgrace?”

The advisor replied, “that’s easy, Sire. If I had been with you, I’d be the one they sacrificed.”

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Snow Falling On Pines

June 5, 2009. Huntington Lake, California.

Woke up at 5:30 a.m. to a heavy thud outside my bedroom window. I pulled back the curtain to peek. Snow. Lots of it. Moist white flakes drifting down, quietly adorning this small corner of the world with beauty. Unexpected beauty. Enough unexpected beauty to slide off my metal roof and start my day with a thud.

Had bacon and eggs with my sister and brother in law at 7:30. Mike and I had a lot of work to do. “Why is it,” I mused, “a kid sees snow and is ecstatic, and we see snow and groan?” “Because we have work to do and the snow is going to get in our way,” says Mike.

All this pristine, virgin snow, glimmering white and gracefully floating about. Beautiful and mysterious. So like a woman. Lovely to behold. Beckoning us to slow down, to linger and enjoy. But look here, son, we have work to do!

So we worked all day and cursed the snow and the next day the snow was gone.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Decisions Decisions

We sat at the breakfast table sipping coffee (me) and tea (Sue) and going over some stuff that needed to be gone over long before the cancer reared its ugly head. Stuff you usually can ignore indefinitely -- until its too late – leaving others to curse your lack of planning and foresight.

Sue teared-up a little when we discussed the end-of-life decisions part of the advance health care directive. She’d done several of these directives years before without difficulty, but somehow when the prospect of actually having an “incurable and irreversible condition that will result in my death within a relatively short time” is real, the choice not to prolong life versus the choice to prolong life is starker. It’s like the difference between the robber you read about in the newspaper versus the robber who just woke you out of your sleep at 2 a.m. by breaking your bedroom window; the former is abstractly informational and the latter is terrifying.

We had just taken a silly on-line life-expectancy test about a month before the cancer diagnosis. I was given a life expectancy of 76 and Sue scored a whopping 93. When you’re 53 thinking you’re going to live to 93, it doesn’t seem too inconvenient to wait until you’re 60 to retire. But when you’re 53 and you don’t know if you’ll make it to 55, suddenly the ideas of working another day or saving one more dollar for “the future” seem ridiculous.

What’s really crazy is that, before the cancer, Sue couldn’t wait to retire. The day could not come soon enough. After the diagnosis and Sue had to take sick leave, about all she wanted to do was go back to work as quickly as she could. Truth be told, Sue loves her job and her kids and her co-workers. Her school friends have shown Sue an extraordinary amount of compassion and love.

I woke up one morning last week to find her weeping on the couch because two old teacher friends whom she had not seen for some time had sent her a gift card for a pedicure. Red toes or pink? Now that’s the kind of decision we want to be faced with.