Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Travel Log

Sabbatical can be defined as a break or change from a normal routine. The term is usually assumed for a term longer than a weekend but I have come to use it to describe my gettings away that I described last week. I got the idea from Larry Niven’s character of Louis Wu. When he tired of human company, he took a vacation or "sabbatical" for several months or more, exploring alone in his starship beyond the fringes of Known Space.
Sunday I left home and look the I-15 to Zzyzx. Zzyzx has been a mineral spa, evaporate mine and is now used by CSU for desert studies. I went to Baker for lunch and then drove into the Mohave Preserve. The weather was cool enough to drive with the windows down and I had made a CD for the drive with lots of Spaghetti Western Music. I visited the Kelso Rail Depot. Then I drove deeper into the park over paved roads and washboard dirt roads to the campsite I had picked out. It was about 4 in the afternoon by then and I had my priorities to consider. I started a kettle of water for coffee. The campsite had a fire ring and I regretted somewhat planning to have no campfire. Prajna recently got a very nice Coleman stove. I pitched my tent and sipped coffee and listened to my tinnitus.
I had canned beef stew for supper and watched the sunset over a nearby hill. It began to get even cooler by then. I lit my lamp and sat down and read my book for several hours. I occasionally got up to check the stars. Although I think I could see the lights of Las Vegas glowing over 100 miles away the sky was unspoiled by any light pollution. The Milky Way arched overhead. It was cold and dark and windy. My tent buckled o few times under the wind until I fastened a few bungee cords to it. When the moon came up the wind died down a bit. I turned in about 11 and slept fitfully with the wind flapping the tent once in a while waking me up.
I thought I would sleep in the next morning. But I woke up before dawn and decided to watch the sunrise. I boiled water and added my Starbucks VIA® Ready Brew. I got some good pictures of the sunrise.
I took my time cooking breakfast and cleaning up. The day began to warm up but AI was still comfortable driving with my windows down listening to Hawaiian Music. I went to the Kelso Dunes. I hiked for about 15 minutes toward the high dunes but I didn’t feel prepared to spend 90 minutes hiking up a high sandy slope so I headed back.
I left the park and took the I-40 to Barstow. I had never been on this freeway and the vast emptiness was exhilarating. In Barstow I had In-N-Out and then got back on the I-15 for San Bernardino and then home.
My goal was accomplished. The solitude was refreshing.

Friday, August 27, 2010

a thirst not for water

I never got island fever living on Maui. Maybe growing up there prevented me it. After moving to Southern California and driving up in the San Bernardino National Forrest I realized that if I ever went back to Maui I would grow anxious with little places to travel.
In 2003 I drove solo up to Santa Cruz for a writer’s conference. It was my first and biggest sabbatical in years. A few years later I went camping at Joshua Tree. I set up at Hidden Valley and spent the evening reading a book by lantern light.
For most of my life I’ve been fascinated by the desert. It is not the heat or the wildlife or flora. It’s the vast emptiness and apparent desolation. Death Valley in particular enthralled me to the point that I wrote stories about it as a kid with secret science fiction bases hidden there.
So last year I went to Death Valley. I loved my weekend away there from the road trip there and back. I camped at Mahogany Flats at about 8 thousand feet above sea level. The highlight may have been seeing the stars that night.
This weekend I still plan to go out to the Mojave National Preserve. I may camp out on the desert floor if it’s cool enough or 5 thousand something feet at Hole in the Wall. It’s another road trip out there and another sabbatical for me to slake my desire for solitude.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Will be worthy to rise and with the Valkyries fly

The top of Haleakala was always cold and often windy. I learned to dress appropriately including keeping my ears covered. Hosmer’s Grove was where the campgrounds were at about the 700 foot level. It was cold here too at least in the morning and by the standards of someone who lived at sea level.
In the trunk of my Mustang I carried a pizza box with charcoal and newspaper. It was an instant fire. I would come down after watching the sunrise and cook myself breakfast each time. One sunny morning I was getting my cooking gear out when a man came up to me and implored me in very broken English that I didn’t need to light my own ire and that I was welcome to use theirs.
I thanked them and moved my car up to his location. He was in a group of about six or so and I heard them speaking German to each other. I nodded in thanks to them as they were gathering up their stuff and I got out my stuff. Then I heard a chuckle. I had just gotten out my portable tape deck and set it on the roof of my American car. It had race car stickers on it and I could imagine their amusement. I figured they were saying to look at the American Teenager with his radio where he will now play Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen songs.
So I reached in my car and pulled out one of my favorite tapes. I knew if was cued to the beginning when I popped it in and pressed play. When the music started I continued to prepare my breakfast. But there was a start from my observers. I noticed their surprise and enjoyed music and the moment.
The group kept packing up their stuff but eventually a woman broke off and came up to me. She pointed to my radio.
“Wagner,” she declared.
“Yeah,” I answered. “Wagner.”
Ride of the Valkeries played on. She gave me an approving look and we both went on our day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sunrise at the House of the Sun

There was a period of a year between my high school graduation and my first year of college that I called a moratorium. I worked at Lahaina Pizza Hut and drove my Mustang. This is when I learned that I liked to take sabbaticals.
I would leave my home in Lahaina at about midnight and gas up at the Minute Stop in Kahului. Before I resumed my drive I would deliberately look up at the top of Haleakala. The lights of the upcountry communities ended about halfway up. The ten thousand foot mountain was visible as a wall of earth even in the dark of night.
I would usually listen to the Chess soundtrack driving up. The air turned cold and the road would be dark. Sometimes there was fog and once I rounded a hairpin turn to have a cow standing in the road.
I would get to the top of the mountain before three in the morning and nap. I would wake up and hour or so later to the sound of rent-a-cars laboring their way up. Getting up and looking down the mountain I would see what appeared to be a hundred eyed snake on its way up the mountain as tourists, downhill bike vans and tour buses vied their way for a space at the top of the mountain.
I would bundle up with an old army coat and a genuine Arabic headdress my aunt brought me and sit in my usual spot outside the observatory building at the crater summit. The sky would begin to brighten. Tourists, dressed for the Hawaiian tropical climate would shiver and urge the sun to hurry up. (I’m not making this up; someone did it every time.) And the air stayed cold.
The clouds to the east would begin to glow and a brilliant light would trace their tops. Hundreds of people all stood or sat facing east. And then the sun came up. As often as I did this I never go tired of it.
I would drive down to the campgrounds at Hosmer’s Grove at about the seven thousand foot level and cook my breakfast. I always carried a pizza box in the trunk of my car with charcoal and newspaper for an instant fire. One time I didn’t end up needed it and I’ll blog that tomorrow.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

hard lessons

Our church in Lahaina had a bazaar once a year. They sold plants and rummage and plate lunches. One year when I was still pretty young I went around selling tickets to a scouting event as a fundraiser. I had the tickets and cash all in an envelope and went only to people I knew and asked if they wanted to buy Scout-O-Rama tickets. I did well. My mom taught at the local preschool and I saw her boss, the director of the preschool. She knew me and her daughter baby sat my sister and I at least once.
Yes she would buy a ticket from me. Then she also asked for me to change her five dollar bill. Later on I realized that I was short five dollars. And then years later I learned about an easy little scam that someone can pull by asking for change during a transaction. My mom’s boss had stolen money from me when I was selling Cub Scout fundraiser tickets.
I don’t think I was ever shocked at this because it was perhaps ten years later when I was a cashier for the summer at Jack-In-The-Box that I was warned against the scam. But I hadn’t forgotten the incident even ten years later. Minutes after the transaction when I discovered I was 5 dollars short I suspected that Mrs. M- had done that but I didn’t want to believe it. I had no problem believing it ten years later because I had grown some and learned more about human nature.
Not all learning is pleasant.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

my first dollar

I still have a lot of my old Matchbox and Hot Wheels Cars. I contribute a few to the family every now and then. I still have a Cadillac Ambulance that was one of my favorites. I remember racing it on the track my cousin gave me. I don’t have the track any more. The track was made up of several connectable parts of orange racetrack with curved pieces and even a loop. The cars were launched through a pseudo-garage that actually had two rotating wheels. The wheels flung the car outward with enough force to return.
Watching PBS one day an announcement came on between Sesame Street and The Electric Company. The local announcer warned that these shows along with Mister Rogers may be discontinued due to lack of funding. I had to ask what it meant. My friend told me that my favorite TV shows needed money or they would be stopped.
I loved television. Aside from Adam 12 all I watched was public television. I thought that Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and the CTW shows being canceled would be an atrocity.
So I sold my track for a dollar to my friend Chuckie. When the time came to make the exchange I felt a little guilty about taking my buddy’s dollar but we went through with it. Back then a dollar would buy ten bags of M&Ms. I gave the dollar to my parents and they sent it to KHET channel 8, Phoenix. My mom was so impressed that she wanted to include a note that I had sold my toys to send them money. I didn’t see what the big deal was. I had succumbed to emotional blackmail. And the shows stayed on.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Be prepared

If my past blogs have painted an abysmal picture of abject misery I may have exaggerated. It is true I had very few friends and did poorly in most classes. But I made do with what I had and by my 8th grade year was pretty active in boy scouts. I had been a cub scout for several years but shied away from boy scouts when I saw the big rowdy guys at the meetings.
When I rejoined up with the boy scouts in my 8th grade year there were just a handful of boys about my age. We didn’t work hard on earning badges or rank. We hiked and camped. Our first campout was at the beach after a seven mile hike. We got to the campsite with and our scoutmaster was there with his tent and truck and music playing. But then he didn’t cook our meals. We had to do that. We had to build and light our own fires. We had to set our own tents up. Mine blew over in the middle of the night.
This first campout with Troop 26 was a deliberate wake up call to us that we were no longer in the cub scouts where our needs are catered to. Our scoutmaster began to teach us in earnest after that.
A year later we would arrive at a campsite and set our stuff up. We would cook dinner open fire we made ourselves. Once we shared a campsite with another troop and watched incredulously as their scoutmaster arrived early and set the tents up cooked their meals while they played and drove the boys home before returning to break camp. We weren’t jealous, we felt pity for them.
In my junior year of high school my scoutmaster had to ask me to repeat that I was attending a Thespian conference instead of a troop meeting. I drifted away from scouts to the theatre after that. But I can still build a decent campfire thanks to him.

Friday, August 13, 2010

joining the ends

Typical of middle schools, there was a solid hierarchy at mine. At the top was the most popular girl and her gang.
She and her gang had matching sweatshirts. She was president of the student body but more the typical ‘bad girl’ than ‘smart girl’. I was at the other end of the ladder. I didn’t have a gang. But I hung out with a few other kids with little or no social skills. We were an unathletic, comic book reading collective awkwardness. In between us and the popular girls were the skaters and surfers, the brains, the athletes and the tough guys. And then came the banquet at the end of our 8th grade year.
I don’t know what the original idea was for the banquet and how much say the teachers had. But we ended up drawing names to see who our date was. Late one day in math class our teacher held a paper bag and the guys drew names. There were more boys than girls so some of them would go stag. Several of the tough boys drew stag. At my turn I drew a name. It was her. I handed the most coveted name to the teacher and took my seat and quietly said her name. The class erupted in shouts. I was told she cried when she found out.
The banquet went okay. I had heard couples were supposed to have one dance together but that didn’t happen. What was interesting was that all my friends drew the names of this girl gang so we all sat at the same table.
In high school the girl stayed popular but grew away from the megastardom. At our 10 year class reunion she and her gang all joined me in singing “Love Shack’ for karaoke.
The last time I saw her I was substitute teaching at a new school and she was a full time teacher at the school. We both seemed to recover from middle school nicely.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

no qualms at all

I didn’t know how rotten my middle school years were until my school life started improving. In the 7th grade we had PE. The athletic boys were treated well by the teacher while the handful of unathletic boys were sent to play ball with the girls. The only instruction I ever got was when we had a substitute teacher who had us all play together. He told me how to hold a baseball bat and I hit the ball for the first time.
English was one of my worst subjects because I couldn’t spell and never got the hand of writing cursive which was mandatory. I was never good at math. The subject I did like was science.
Lahaina Intermediate School had a soda machine in the office that kids could use. For 30 cents you could buy a 12 ounce Coke or Dr. Pepper or other sugary drink in a tin can. I think by my 8th grade year the bottling companies all over switched to aluminum. We sipped our drinks during recess and looked down on the town of Lahaina from a thousand feet up. Once we saw a whale out in the ocean. Some days I would walk home from school. I arrived home almost the same time as the bus.
I managed to get through those tough years with the few close friends I had. I would be friends with the new kid until they left after a short time or they move up to more popular friends. My friend, Alan was one exception. I also survived by convincing myself that I really didn’t belong there because I was an alien and my people would be around to fetch me home at any time. It never happened and here I still am. I made it through government school in the 7th and 8th grades. I have no qualms about saving my kids from that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

abysmal harangues

Prajna and I ordered a pretty large package from Sonlight Curriculum yesterday. This coming year we’re going to be spending more hours homeschooling that we ever have before. Part of Homeschooling is learning as we go along. Some years we’ve done more, some less. Prajna tried to do a lot one year but I was working days and never participated in it.
This new school year is going to be a bit of a shock for the kids. I think that Harrison understands the importance because he’s getting close to the age where a lot of his peers are getting ready to complete high school. But the next two kids down may have difficulty adjusting to so much work.
I wish I could tell them how abysmal government schools are. But I would hate to hear the cliché sound of an old dad talking about having to be ready for the school bus at 7:00 in the morning. Waiting with a bunch of unsupervised big kids cussing at each other only to ride a wheezing gear grinding vehicle over town to pick up a bunch more of the same. After disembarking at the intermediate school we waited another 30 to 40 minutes for the bus to bring the next trip up before school began.
There’s too much to harangue and I don’t want to just weep over what a miserable school life I had. A lot of the teachers did the best that they could and loved their jobs.
We homeschool because we love our kids regardless of the condition of government schools. It’s not about making up for miserable childhood. It’s about experiencing a joyful childhood today and building a strong future for tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

rusty wheels

Prajna and Harrison were gone for two weeks. They have been back for almost a week and today was Prajna’s first day back at work. With the major summer event over and done it’s time to think about starting up school again.
Two mornings a week the kids clean the house. One morning a week there is piano lessons for Harrison and now Sarah. I want to move chores to the afternoon to make time for schooling. I have math and spelling that I want to do every day for the three oldest. I would like to do more than just those two subjects but there are so many hours in a day. Recently I was stressing that my children may not learn what the Magna Charta was all about. So much to teach. But we have civics discussions lots of lunchtimes. Benjamin asked me about nuclear power and radiation the other evening. I had done research for Icarus and was able to tell him a lot. I think that’s a lot of what Homeschooling is about.
And on that subject of my writing I have dreadfully neglected my blog. The worst part is no one noticed or at least mentioned it. But I don’t write this for attention. This is to keep the wheels turning. I resolved to write every day. Hopefully soon it won’t be just blogging but getting back into a novel. Well there’s rust falling and the sound of metal on metal as the wheel starts again. I better go get my coffee.