A Tiger and Headhunters: Flying Across the Hump… Part 3 of 3

The plane John Dallen was flying across the Hump in World War II crashed in Manipur and John walked out.

This photo was taken of John immediately after he walked out of the jungle when his plane crashed while he was flying the Hump in World War II. He is holding the boots he wore. His parachute pack is in front.

 

This is my final post on Peggy’s dad, John Dallen, when he was forced to bail out into Burma jungle when returning from a flight into China across the Himalayan Mountains. 

 

“The conditions were at their worst—raining, pitch black and over territory regarded as plenty rugged. I landed in a jungle so dense that I couldn’t even move. The only sensible thing to do was to pull part of the parachute over me and try to catch some sleep.”

John Dallen in a letter to his wife Helen on February 18, 1945— eight days after he had parachuted out of his damaged C-109 over an Indian jungle when flying the Hump in World War II.

Saturday, February 10, 1945

I left John in my last post as he jumped into the pitch-black night and watched his plane erupt in flames as it went down. Below him was a jungle he couldn’t see. “I had no idea of what I was jumping into,” he reported to his niece Jennifer Hagedorn Mikacich in an oral history. “I hit one layer of the jungle, and then a second, and then a third— crashing through each one and hit the ground hard.” John was battered and bruised but not seriously injured. It was close to midnight.

Catching his breath, and I suspect calming what had to be raw nerves, he pulled out his 45 caliber pistol and fired it into air. John was hoping for a response from his crew members; there was nothing. They had either landed too far away or couldn’t respond. They might be hanging in a tree 100-feet off the ground.

Caught in undergrowth so thick he could barely move, he gathered his parachute around him to stay as dry as possible and tried “to catch some sleep.” At some point in the night he heard a tiger cough.

“Weren’t you afraid, Grandpa?” Jennifer asked.

“I was uneasy,” he confessed some 40 years afterwards. This was Bengal Tiger country and the big males could weigh over 500 pounds and be up 10 feet long. A few, usually older ones who had difficulty catching prey, turned into man-eaters. John had actually seen a record size Bengal Tiger that had been killed because it had been preying on livestock. I’m sure he pictured it in his mind when the tiger coughed.

But John had other concerns as well. The plane had crashed near Nagaland and the Naga were renowned as headhunters. Hump pilots dreaded landing in their territory. The army manual for jungle survival in World War II stated that there were only two areas in Asia where soldiers had to worry about natives: “in New Guinea and certain parts of Burma.” He was quite close to those “certain parts of Burma.” In fact the Naga had a significant presence in the state of Manipur, where his plane had gone down.

Ursula Bower, a pioneering anthropologist in the Naga Hills who became a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese in World War II, noted, “most villages had a skull house and each man in the village was expected to contribute to the collection… There is nothing more glorious for a Naga than victory in battle and bringing home the severed head of an enemy.” Men who failed, she noted, were known as cows. Head hunting by the Naga would continue up until the 1970s and possibly even 80s. John was wise to worry about keeping his head.

A third concern of John’s was that local villagers might turn him over to the Japanese. The US offered rewards to natives who helped downed crews get back to American bases, but the Japanese had a similar program. John might believe he was being led to safety when actually he was being led into a trap.

Sunday, February 11, 1945

All of these thoughts were going through John’s mind the next morning when he awoke at first light and made a pack out of his parachute to carry his Army-issued jungle survival kit. It contained, among other things, water purification tablets, anti-malaria pills, and sulfonamide, the first of the ‘miracle’ drugs discovered that fought bacterial infection. John would use all three. Other standard items in the kit included matches, a compass, a signaling mirror, bouillon/tea, and even fishing gear.

John knew he had to travel west to find US bases and safety. The Japanese were to the east, the Naga to the north, and more jungle to the south. Travelling west was a challenge, however. There are no landmarks in a jungle, only trees and more trees. It is easy to end up traveling in circles. Fortunately, John had a compass and the sun to serve as guides. He also had Boy Scout training, which he would credit later with helping him find his way.

“Part the jungle, don’t push it,” the Army’s World War II jungle survival manual urged. “Keep your head up and your chin in. Try to follow a stream downstream, and try as far as possible to stick to natural trails, or native trails. Don’t try to break your way through.” The best trails, apparently, were elephant trails, jungle freeways three to four feet wide.

John followed the advice— sort of. “I hacked my way through the mess for several hours.” It would have been excruciatingly slow going; especially since the only thing he had to hack with were his hands. The jungle was close to impenetrable. Numerous scratches on his face and hands joined his bruises from the night before. Eventually, he found an animal path that led him to a trail that showed human footprints. And the trail led to a small village.

The natives looked quite “primitive,” and dangerous. Armed with machetes, they were dressed only in loincloths. Animal tusks and silver jewelry adorned their ears and body. It seemed, however, that they were friendly. John could keep his head. While none of them spoke English, “A native boy kept pointing in a general direction, which I assumed was the direction for me to follow. He led the way and I gradually picked up quite a following of natives.”

After passing through several small villages, John and his parade came to a village of about 75 inhabitants, where a surprise was waiting: one very excited and worried, co-pilot, Ronald Anderson. “Ron was a big guy, an ex-football player,” John reported. But he hadn’t had John’s luck. His parachute had become entangled in a tree and Ron had to cut himself free, leaving the parachute with its survival kit hanging high above his head. He was genuinely shaken up. Like John, he was battered, bruised and scratched, but he had no serious injuries.

The villagers took John and Ronald to the village headman. Fortunately, a villager was found who could speak some English. Food was generously offered, but John had no idea of what he might be eating; he stuck to bananas and rice. It seems that Ron was equally conservative. That night they slept on sleeping mats next to the headman. Somewhat humorously, John reported in his letter to Helen, “This type of sleeping is ideal for the figure, and even I was sore all over the next morning.”

Monday, February 12, 1945

The headman offered to guide John and Ron on to another village and John woke up early, eager to get started. But he didn’t dare get up.

“I had to pretend sleep because the women of the household were preparing their food in the same room where we were. There are castes in India where the women cannot associate with the men—-especially outsiders— and had I shown signs of awakening, they would have left the room. Eventually they finished and we got up at which time we were offered more rice and the native tea. It is made from a spiced leaf and the liquid content is mostly goat’s milk. I did not touch the rice that morning but did finish the banana from the previous day.” He didn’t report on whether he drank the tea, but he must have been ravenous. At six-foot-two and 150 pounds, John was a skinny guy without an ounce of fat.

When they finally hit the trail, it immediately disappeared into the jungle. They were forced to hike cross-country. Adding to the difficulty of the route, it started to rain again. “We waded down streams for miles and crawled up and down practically impossible hills. Several times we heard planes overhead, but could make no attempt to signal to them because of the thick jungle vegetation overhead.”

(By 1945, sophisticated search and rescue efforts were under way, but the majority of crews that survived crashes still walked out on their own. Many airmen shared John’s experience. During the first three months of 1945 alone, 92 planes crashed while flying the Hump.)

A small village provided a lunch of two hard-boiled eggs. Afterwards, their guides were reluctant to start again. So was John’s co-pilot. The difficult route had begun to wear on him. “Here’s where that Infantry training paid everlasting dividends,” John observed. He was pushing hard, and he was a fast hiker.

“Several times I thought of pulling out my pistol and shooting him.” Ron claimed after they had returned to base.

They arrived at their next destination just at dusk and made a meal of “tea, oranges, bananas, eggs and even cigarettes, such as they were.” The natives were eager to help and would not accept any payment. They were “curious about our complexion, clothes and equipment.” John was amused when a few of the natives tried to break strands from the parachute with their hands. “The look of surprise on their faces was something to see.”

John had even more powerful magic. He was taken to a man whom a tiger had mauled. He treated the wound with sulfonamide. Gangrene had set in, however. John doubted the medicine would do much good, but the villagers were grateful for his effort.

Tuesday, February 13, 1945

“The day’s trip was a repetition of the previous day, possibly a little harder since our muscles were already sore,” John wrote to Helen. At noon they arrived at a village where they met the first and only native “who did not cooperate with us wholeheartedly.” The man had an “extremely mercenary attitude” and wanted to be paid for help. Obviously John and Ron were getting close to civilization.

That night they arrived at a village that was an outpost of the Indian police but the two police officials were away. A young Moslem merchant invited them to his home and fed them nuts and dates while they had “quite the gabfest on India and the British.” They slept that night in the jail under mosquito netting the merchant had loaned them.

Wednesday, February 14, 1945 (I wonder if John realized it was Valentine’s Day?)

The young Moslem provided John and his co-pilot with breakfast the next morning and John provided their host with Atabrine tablets for an attack of malaria he was suffering from. Their host also had another request. Since “most of the natives had never seen a pistol or seen it operate, he asked us to fire a few rounds. When both of us opened up at rapid fire, half of the villagers ran away in alarm— It even frightened our friend.”

With an option of continuing the trip by boat or walking, John chose walking since it would get them out faster. Travelling over relatively flat ground, they hiked 16 miles in 5 hours and arrived at a village where a sub-inspector of police was stationed. A telegraph line ran out of the village and John was able to send a telegram to his CO that he and his co-pilot were alive and well.

Their host that night provided them with their first bath since their ordeal started: “out of a pail of course, but at least the water was hot.” He also offered “some food other than the fruit prepared in a manner we could eat… He had cauliflower tips French fried crisp in butter that was exceptionally good.” John urged Helen to cook some up for herself.

That evening they ended up with a long discussion about India and her problems. “Our British allies ears would burn had they heard some of the opinions expressed about them.” John noted.   After eating again, they ‘hit the sack’. “Our host proved that snoring is a universal custom.”

Thursday, February 15, 1945

The trip the next morning had a twist. They rode on an elephant. “I believe it was the hardest part of the trip,” John whined to Helen. “The animal is rather broad-beamed as you can imagine and even my legs couldn’t quite make the spread.” He jokingly reported in his oral interview with Jennifer that he was “worried for his manhood.”

An English tea plantation was waiting for him at the end of the journey, however. John found it “remarkable to find a veritable mansion stuck in this wilderness.” A drink was immediately placed in his hand and a meal ordered. “The house was spotless with beautiful furniture and silverware all around. There were acres of lawn, flowerbeds and even a stable of polo ponies. The servants were perfectly trained and dressed as if from a scene in Arabian Nights.”

Even more welcoming, after they had washed up and eaten, the plantation manager gave them a ride in his truck to the nearby airbase of Shamshernagar. The ordeal had ended.

John’s first acts were to borrow some clean clothes and have a hot shower. After “a meal of real American food and not a few drinks under my belt, I dropped you a line which I certainly hope reached you in the fastest possible time.”

The letter tag John wrote to Helen immediately after walking out from the airplane crash.

The letter that John wrote to Helen immediately after walking out from the airplane crash. He had hoped that the letter would reach her before the telegram announcing that he was missing in action. It didn’t.

On returning to his base at Kurmitola, John learned that “the rest of my crew turned up a few days later after having a much easier time of it. They landed on a mountainside and had practically a road all the way to a base. As a matter of fact the last few days were a lark to them, having spent them at a most hospitable tea planter’s estate. Personal servants, meals in bed, etc. I could kick myself for having worried about them so much.”

John was given a week’s R&R in Ceylon and then returned to his flying duties. He would fly 55 more missions across the Hump. On July 26 he transferred to Tezgaon (now in Bangladesh). Every flight from that point on was in a C-54. His last flights were on September 26, 1945 from Shanghai to Liuchow to Tezgaon, piloting a C-54 for seven hours of daylight flying, four of nighttime flying, with two hours on instruments. He had logged 2788 hours since his first student flight.

I would like to conclude with a special thank you to John’s son, John Dallen Jr., our son, Tony Lumpkin, and my friend Mike Sweeney for helping in the research for my three blogs on the Hump pilots.

Hump pilots from World War II being honored in China in 1996.

In 1996 China invited Hump pilots and crews back to China to honor their World War II efforts and establish a memorial in Kunming. John is in the middle of the lower row next to the woman with the dark blouse.

John and Peggy on the American River in 2006. Every Wednesday, I was privileged to pick John up and take him for a walk on the river. Even in his late 80's, he still loved to hike.

John and Peggy on the American River in Sacramento in 2006. Every Wednesday, I was privileged to pick John up and take him for a walk on the river. Even in his late 80’s, he still loved to hike.

 

 

 

 

Bailing out in a Stormy, Dark Night into an Unknown Jungle: Flying the Hump in World War II… Part 2 of 3

An Army Air Transport plane flies across the Hump in World War II.

For years, this painting of a C-109 flying the Hump was hung in my father-in-law’s home. It reminded him of his experience in World War II of flying supplies from India to China across the Himalaya Mountains. The painting now hangs in our son Tony’s home.

This is part II of my story about when Peggy’s dad, John Dallen, was forced to bail out of his plane on a pitch black, stormy night into a Burma jungle while returning from a flight across the Himalayan Mountains during World War II.

On February 10, 1945, my wife Peggy’s dad, John Dallen, began an adventure that would become an important part of our family history. At the time, he was  serving as a World War II pilot for the Army Air Corps, flying fuel, ordinance, and troops from India into China to support Chinese and American efforts in the war against Japan. His 15th mission across the Hump began as routine. It would end with him parachuting into a raging storm, a pitch-black night, and an unknown jungle as his plane crashed in a ball of flame.

The Mission:

The briefing that morning would have been straightforward: Fly 900 miles from his home base of Kurmitola, India (near what is now Dhaka, Bangladesh) to Chengdu, China, deliver several tons of airplane fuel, and fly back to Kurmitola. (The fuel was used to support B-29 bombers that were based in Chengdu.)

The Fine Print:

John would be flying a C-109 tanker, an airplane that had been converted from a B-24 bomber by removing all of its armaments and adding extra fuel tanks. John was an experienced B-24 pilot from his training and instructor time in the US. While the B-24 was never known for its ease of flying, the converted C-109 was even more difficult to fly, especially when loaded. Landing at high altitudes with a load of fuel, as he would be in Chengdu, was particularly dangerous.

He had never flown this particular C-109 or with any of his crew, which was normal when flying the Hump. His crew members on this flight included a co-pilot (Ronald D. Anderson), an engineer (James E. Hatley), and a radio operator (John D. Beach).

His route was known as one of the most difficult anywhere. He would be flying over trackless jungles in Burma and the rugged, uncharted Himalaya Mountains, the highest mountain range in the world.

The only thing predictable about the weather was that it was unpredictable. He could have a relatively uneventful flight, or it could be filled with storms, turbulence and winds well over 100 miles per hour. Regardless of what the weather would be, he was expected to fly through it. This was standard procedure for Hump pilots in 1944/45. He did know that he would be aided by a tailwind going over and would be fighting a headwind coming back.

The Flight:

Both the flight and landing at Hsinching airfield in Chengdu were uneventful, or at least uneventful from the perspective of a Hump pilot. They made it with minimal bad weather. The flight had taken 5 hours and used 1100 gallons of fuel. At 2:30 p.m. they were ready for their return flight to Kurmitola. Using a stick measurement, the engineer estimated that some 1700 gallons of fuel remained. John and operational staff at Hsinching determined that this would be adequate for the return flight.

It was one of those times when the fuel tanks should have been topped off. The headwinds were stronger than the predicted 60-70 mph. The trip back would take longer than expected. John climbed to 17,000 feet and flew the plane to conserve fuel. Eight hours later at 10:30 p.m., the plane was still 300 miles out from Kurmitola. The engineer reported that there would not be enough fuel to make it. John decided to make for the much nearer air base of Shamshernagar near Talagaon, India.

Dropping down to 13,000 feet, he immediately encountered a snowstorm with moderate to severe turbulence and light icing. While he had to fly by instrument, it wasn’t the snowstorm that created close to impossible flying conditions; it was the thunderstorm waiting on the other side. “It was the severest I ever encountered,” John stated in his official post accident report.

He was more descriptive in the oral history he would give to his granddaughter Jennifer 50 years later. “The plane was tossed from side to side and up and down. There was no way to control it.” Breaking out on the other side, the plane was hit by an “extremely violent jolt,” (probably a lightning strike) which apparently damaged the plane. “It started turning to the left in spite of full right rudder application.” There was more bad news.

His co-pilot reported that engine number one had shut down, apparently out of fuel. John immediately ordered cross fueling from the fullest tank. The engine sputtered back to life. The engineer reported that there was 80 gallons of fuel left, but all gauges were now showing empty. Other engines began to sputter in and out.

Surrounded by thunder and lightning, his plane circling to the left, and his gauges showing empty, John was out of options. He ordered his radio operator to send out a Mayday. They were going to bail out of the plane before it was too late. The engineer and radio operator jumped first, the co-pilot next, and John last.

They jumped into a pitch-black night, lit only by lighting. It was impossible to see what they were jumping into. Would it be a river filled with floodwaters from the raging storm? Would they crash into the jungle trees that were known to grow upwards to 150 feet? Would their parachutes get caught in the trees leaving them dangling a hundred feet above the ground in the dark night? Would the crew members land close to each other or be scattered miles apart across the jungle? Would they survive?

As John’s parachute snapped open and he began his descent into the darkness, the horizon was suddenly lit by a ball of fire as the plane crashed into the jungle. It had been close, too close.

NEXT BLOG: Landing in the jungle and walking out.

John Dallen circa 1930

A photo of young John looking quite studious, which he was.

Photo of John Dallen as a First Lieutenant in World War II.

John’s official First Lieutenant photo.

A photo of John and Helen Dallen during World War II.

John and his wife, Helen (Peggy’s mom) stateside before he was sent overseas to India. They were to be married for over 66 years.

“Your husband Lieutenant John A. Dallen has been reported missing.” Flying the Hump in World War II: Part I

John Dallen on first solo flight as a member of the Army Air Corps in early World War II.

Dressed up in his pilot’s gear and ready for his first solo flight, Peggy’s dad, John Dallen, climbs into the open cockpit of a Boeing Stearman PT-17 biplane. With World War II raging and the need for pilots desperate, John would become an instructor pilot within months of his fist solo flight.

 

My friend GP Cox has finally reached the point in her massive blog history on the Pacific Theater during World War II where she is discussing the heroic efforts of American pilots who flew across the Himalayan Mountains (The Hump) in an effort to keep China’s fight against Japan alive. Peggy’s dad, John Dallen, was one of the pilots. In honor of G’s efforts at capturing WW II history, I’ve decided to republish a series of three blogs I posted on John in 2014. I was privileged to spend a fair amount of time with John in his last years, picking him up at his senior residence in Sacramento every Wednesday and taking him for a walk on the American River. We became good friends and he shared many of his stories. I think you will enjoy this story of how he survived a crash in the jungle.

 

In the age before instant communication, the quickest way to reach someone was by telegram. One of the most frightening messages that people received at home during World War II was that a loved one was missing in action:

World War II telegram to Helen Dallen informing her that her husband, John Dallen, is missing in action while flying over the Hump (Himalaya Mountains).

“The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your husband Lieutenant John A. Dallen has been reported missing…”

John was Peggy’s dad, my father-in-law. He lived to reach the very respectable age of 92 and became a good friend. But when Peg’s mom, Helen, received this telegram on February 16, 1945, his future was very much in doubt. John was a Hump pilot, and this meant that he flew perilous supply missions from India across the mountains into China. It was likely that the C-109 he was flying had crashed— either on the icy, snow-covered slopes of Himalayan Mountains, or in the steamy jungles of Burma or India. Both areas were remote, basically uncharted, and filled with danger.

This is a post about how John hiked out after parachuting from his damaged plane, but it is also the story of what flying the Hump (over the Himalayan Mountains) was like, and what resupplying Chinese troops meant to the World War II effort.

Peggy and I are fortunate to have copies of several letters that John wrote to Helen immediately after he had walked out. We also have an oral history that John’s granddaughter and our niece, Jennifer Hagedorn Mikacich, recorded that described the crash.

And finally, there are the stories he shared with us. He was particularly forthcoming with his son, John Dallen Jr., and our son, Tony Lumpkin, both of whom also had wartime military experience. John Jr. graduated from West Point and fought in the Vietnam War. Tony graduated from Annapolis and flew helicopters for the Marines in Iraq. Tony now flies helicopters on rescue missions for the Coast Guard off of Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Both John Jr. and Tony have been enthusiastic contributors to this post. Tony has contributed his flight expertise. John Jr. has dug into the flight logs and followed up with Internet research. We now realize that John Sr. flew into many more sites in China than we were aware of. We also have a record of the various planes he flew. The sheer number amazes me. Prior to his deployment to the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater he had flown the PT-17, the BT-13, the AT-17, the AT-9, the AT-7, AT-18A, the C-60 A-5, the AT-11, the B-24 (D, E, G, J, and H versions), the C-56D, the UC-45F, the BT-13B, the UC-78, and the Link trainer— some 18 different planes considering makes and models. It’s small wonder that he was an Army Air Corps instructor before leaving stateside.

I have had this post in mind for over a year. My recent trip to the Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon inspired me to write it now. I was walking through the vast hangar, originally built to house blimps in World War II, when I came upon a flight simulator for the C-46, one of the main airplanes used to fly across the Hump.

A sign on the simulator reported that the trainer had opaque windows to force pilots to rely on the instruments for landing in all kinds of weather conditions. In flying the Hump, weather was considered more dangerous than the Japanese. Monsoonal storms created dangerous turbulence with winds up to 150 miles per hour. Severe up and down drafts in the mountains could send planes tumbling for thousands of feet.

“Planes would come into base beat up and barely able to fly,” John reported. “I’d watch pilots stumble out of the planes, throw down their helmets and walk away, swearing that they would never fly again.”

Weather also meant that pilots were often faced with close to zero visibility for take offs and landings. Weather forecasting was primitive. “If you can see the end of the runway,” they were told, “it’s okay to fly.” Except it was more like, “you have to fly.” Numerous crashes took place at the beginning and ending of flights. Use of instruments was critical. But it was not a given. Flying by instrument was relatively new going into World War II. Many of the pilots recruited from civilian flying jobs at the beginning of the war had depended on landmarks to tell them where to go. They had to be trained to use instruments— and to trust them.

I couldn’t resist. I climbed into the C-46 simulator to get a sense of the cockpit and its instruments.

Flight simulator for a C-46 at the Tillamook Air Museum in Oregon.

With my hand on the tiller, I checked out the instruments on a C-46 simulator. The C-46 was originally designed as a passenger plane by Curtiss Wright. When it was converted and brought in to fly over the Hump because of its high altitude and large cargo capabilities, it was still close to being an experimental plane. Its many bugs were worked out in action, sometimes with disastrous results. Hump pilots referred to it as the flying coffin.

Flying over the Hump saw its beginning in the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942. Five years earlier Chiang Kai-shek, long time leader of the Republic of China, had utilized some 200,000 peasants to build a road to the border of the British colony of Burma. The purpose of the road was to supply Chinese forces with the arms, munitions and other supplies necessary to wage war against Japan. By 1941, the Burma Road was the last remaining supply route into China.   The Japanese invasion in 42 eliminated it.

The only choice left was to fly supplies in over the Himalayan Mountains. China was an important ally in the fight against Japan. But even more important from a strategic point of view was the fact that Japan’s war with China tied up some one million Japanese troops. If the Japanese defeated China, these troops would be available for Japan’s war against Allied forces in the Pacific. The decision was made to move ahead with the massive supply effort. Until the Berlin Airlift, it would be the most extensive, sustained airlift in history.

When the Japanese took Burma, their conquest included the airfield of Myitkyina in the northern part of the country. This forced the Allies to move their supply routes further west if they were to avoid Japanese fighter planes. While the effort was successful in eliminating most attacks, it meant that pilots had to fly at much higher altitudes to climb over the Himalayas. They found themselves flying between mountains over high passes at elevations up to 16,000 feet. “It was like flying between giant ice cream cones.” John reported. In addition to the turbulent weather and navigational challenges, severe icing and a lack of oxygen were added to the list of dangers faced by Hump pilots.

As one pilot put it, “Imagine flying 25 tons of metal, gasoline and high explosives under these conditions at 250 miles per hour through an unknown sky.”

Next Blog: Further information on flying the Hump with a focus on the crash of John’s airplane in the jungle and his eight-day hike out. Note: Because of Christmas, this blog will be delayed for a week. There will be a Christmas Eve blog, however. Think snow.

John Dallen on an Indian Motorcycle wearing his Lehigh sweater just prior to World War II.

One of my favorite photos of John, proudly perched on an Indian Motorcycle prior to World War II. The L on his sweater stands for Lehigh University, where he received a degree in engineering.

 

A Trip to the Cannabis Fair? What??? No Way!

I didn't expect to find George at the fair.

I didn’t know what type of things I would find at the Cannabis Fair, but a painting of George standing in the middle of a marijuana farm and glowing green wasn’t one of them.

 

Occasionally, I slip in a blog that is outside of my 10,000-mile bicycle trek series. Today we are going to a cannabis fair…

So here I was on Saturday morning, staring out our windows at the mountains, listening to the morning news on TV, and wondering what I was going to do with my day. Peggy was back East playing with the kids and grandkids. I had just put up my post on the Scopes Trial, responded to all my comments, and checked in on the people I follow. I was actually caught up on blogging, a rare occasion— as most of you bloggers will recognize.

The weather person was predicting a 110° F degree-day. Playing or working outside wasn’t an option and I had completed most of my indoor chores. In fact, I had just pushed Robota’s button (Robota is our iRobot vacuum cleaner), and she was charging around, sucking up dirt, and cleaning rugs and floors. She’d return to her dock and plug-in when she needed recharging. I do wish she would learn to clean out her dirt bin, though. It’s such a bother; I could use the two minutes for something else… (Grin)

In other words, I had time on my hands. What’s a fellow to do? That’s when the local television anchor announced that the Cannabis Fair was being held at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in the main exhibit hall. Now I love fairs, and I have been seriously deprived this year (if you don’t count the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage, Alaska and the International Ice Carving contest in Fairbanks). We missed the local Jackson County Fair because we had to go to Sacramento and arrived in Sacramento just as the California State Fair ended. To top off this tale of woe, I am taking a break from Burning Man.

But go to the Cannabis Fair and blog about it? No way! What would people think? And then I thought, why not. Marijuana is now legal in Oregon. In fact, I voted for the measure to legalize it. The majority of Americans support the idea. Why? One reason is that prohibition doesn’t work; it never has. Look at what happened with alcohol in the 1920s. If people wanted a drink, they found it. The main result of the Prohibition was the creation of the American Mafia. The Mob Museum in Las Vegas provides an excellent history of how it happened.

A similar thing happened with marijuana. Smoking a joint in the 1950s could lead to a 10-year prison sentence and a fine of $20,000— for a first time offender. Did this stop marijuana use? Remember the 60s? I do, vaguely (kidding). Our demand for marijuana, combined with laws against cultivation, led to its illegal production. What a surprise. Millions, and even billions of dollars were to be made. Drug cartels sprang up like weeds outside of the US to supply us. Tragically, thousands have been killed and whole political systems corrupted as a result. Here, billions of tax dollars (that is your money and mine) have gone into creating large government agencies that haven’t made a dent in the flow of pot.

Maybe the billions we spent on trying to suppress marijuana would be worth it, if the drug were the devil it was portrayed to be in Reefer Madness and other such anti-pot campaigns. But the truth is— it isn’t. The negative physical and social impacts are no worse than alcohol, and may indeed be less. A growing body of evidence suggests that a number medical benefits derive from cannabis. Contrast this with the health effects of tobacco. Numerous states have passed laws making medical marijuana use legal. And several have now made it legal for recreational use as well.

Cloth hanging art found at the Cannabis Fair in Jacksonville County, Oregon.

I am not sure what the artist had in mind with this cloth hanging I found at the Fair, but I thought it provided a good perspective on how people view the effects of marijuana. On the left is the perspective of the cannabis industry, the pro-legalization forces and most users. On the right is how those who support the Reefer Madness point of view see it.

But it’s time to climb down off my soapbox (sort of). We have a fair to go to! I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to find. Let me start with noting there were no pigs, or goats, or bunny rabbits— the usual reasons I go to a fair. This was a serious endeavor. Pot growing is big business for small farms in my neck of the woods. Six are visible along the 30-mile road between where I live on the Applegate River and Medford. They hardly blend in.

The law requires that marijuana farmers put their crops behind 8-foot fences if they are located within 150 feet of the highway, supposedly to protect children from seeing them. Instead the fences serve as huge billboards that scream: WE GROW POT! If you can find a six-year-old in Jackson County that doesn’t know what is happening behind those fences, I’d be surprised. And you can bet they are much more intrigued by the hidden marijuana than they would be if the plants were simply grown out in the open like any other crop. Plus the fences are butt-ugly.

Marijuana farms that are visible from the road in Oregon, are required to be surrounded by 8-foot fences.

This fence, legally required by Oregon law to conceal a cannabis farm, is about a mile away from my house.

I wandered around from booth to booth at the fair, taking photos for my blog (after asking permission) and chatting with folks tending the booths. There was potting soil and pot pots. There were salves and seeds. There were lawyers and accountants and security specialists and equipment sales people. One man was offering a bud trimmer for $300 that looked like a combination of an electric razor and a mini-hedge trimmer. He provided a demonstration. Bzzzzzz! I could picture him at a cannabis shop saying, “This Bud’s for you.”

Pots for growing marijuana on display at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I couldn’t help but think pot pots when I saw these. And please note: they are made in the USA.

And of course you need potting soil for pot pots.

And of course you need premium potting soil for pot pots. What better than Cloud 9, Zen Blend, and Gaia’s Gift?

And you have to decide what type of cannabis you are going to plant. There are literally hundreds of string that have been developed, all with different strengths, and if you accept the literature, different qualities.

And you have to decide what type of cannabis you are going to plant. There are literally hundreds of strains that have been developed, all with different strengths, and, if you accept the literature, qualities.I wonder which one will give me an irresistible craving for ice cream?

In addition to all of the services available for growers at the Cannabis Fair, there were also items for consumers, such as this magical butter makers. Grind up your cannabis, drop it in the pot, add butter, simmer for an hour, strain the results, and you are ready to make cookies!

In addition to all of the services available for growers at the Cannabis Fair, there were also items for consumers, such as these magical butter pots. Grind up your cannabis, drop it in the pot, add butter, simmer for an hour, strain, and you are ready to make cookies!

I wandered into a dome tent set up by Pacific Domes. It reminded me of the structures at Burning Man. Even some of the wall hangings seemed familiar. And there was the painting of George Washington enjoying a pipe I featured at the top of the blog. Robert, the account executive, told me that a lot of their tents do make it to Burning Man. I asked him how they handled the windstorms. “They are designed to withstand gusts up to 8o miles per hour,” he told me.

A dome tent from the Pacific Dome company on display at Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

Both domed tents and greenhouses were promoted at the fair for growing marijuana.

Dome tent for growing cannabis at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

The tent was appropriately camouflaged.

Cannabis art found at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

The wall hangings in the tent reminded me very much of Burning Man, although you don’t flaunt marijuana use in Black Rock City. The event is crawling with law enforcement people happy to bust you.

All types of pipes were available for smoking, some even glowed in the dark under a black light. The folks at Bayshore Smoking Glass from Coos Bay broke out several for me to photograph. Some of the pipes were quite attractive, and some were downright funny. How would you like your pot pipe to look like an octopus?

Cannabis pipes for smoking marijuana found at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I found the variety of pipes fun. What can I say. An incredible amount of creativity goes in to producing them.

A variety of pipes for smoking marijuana at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

This one even glowed when placed under a black light.

This one even glowed in the dark.

"Living the Pipe Dreams" cannabis pipes on display at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

Dianne told me I could photograph her art work if I put her card in the picture.

Bongs for smoking cannabis at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I also found these bongs, or water pipes, rather unique.

Maybe you aren’t into smoking but still want to indulge. Then there are edibles, or medibles for medical marijuana. I stopped by a booth featuring Mary Lou’s Edibles and talked with Mary Lou. She had some delicious looking peanut butter cookies on display. “Are these samples?” I asked. (While no marijuana was for sale at the fair, some booths were offering free samples that you were required to take off of the premises before consuming.) “No,” she said, “but you can go online and order them.” She handed me her card. It announced, “Made with Oregon Cannabis and Love by the Happy Granny.” I’ll bet she is.

The rules were quite clear about not consuming marijuana at the Fair.

The rules were quite clear about not consuming marijuana at the Fair. Oregon state law prohibits consumption in public areas.

Kettle Corn anyone?

Kettle Corn anyone? A number of booths had edibles on display. They ranged from kettle corn, to chocolate, to cookies, to brownies and candy. An important issue is keeping these products away from children.

Mimim's medical marijuana being displayed at the Cannais Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

When edibles are used for medical purposes, they are called ‘medibles.’ I share a concern with the cannabis industry that the pharmaceutical industry will step in, patent medicines, and charge a hundred times more for medical marijuana than people presently pay. I feel the same way about agribusiness stepping in and wiping out the thousands of small farms that now grow cannabis.

A series of lectures were being offered and I stopped by to listen to one being given by Pioneer Pete Gendron. Pete represents Oregon’s marijuana growers on the state level. I am assuming that his pioneer status comes from being one of Oregon’s original pot growers. He certainly looks the part. He is also a highly intelligent and articulate man. He talked about cannabis politics in Oregon. I learned the reason behind the 8-foot fences from him. I also learned that marijuana isn’t quite the water hog it is claimed to be. Alfalfa requires seven times as much water to grow.

Pioneer Pete was one of a number of people who made presentations at the Cannabis Fair on the various aspects of marijuana farming.

Pioneer Pete Gendron was one of a number of people who made presentations at the Cannabis Fair on the various aspects of marijuana farming and consumption.

Today, the Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA, continues to label marijuana as a class-1 drug, on par with heroin. Pete told us that when the cannabis industry requested an opportunity to prove it didn’t belong at that level, the DEA said, “We can’t do that. It is a class-1 drug,” i.e. it is illegal to use so any evidence you gather using it is illegal. Makes complete sense, right. Have you ever read Joseph Heller’s Catch 22?

The times they are a-changing, however. Cannabis plants will join carrots and cabbages at this year’s Oregon State Fair. How much more mainstream can you go? California will vote on legalization for recreational use this fall. On the national level, the Democratic Platform includes a plank that would push for legalization nation-wide. It is only a matter of time.

That’s it for the break! It’s back to bicycling in my next blog. We have a mountain range to climb over: the Great Smokies!

The Very Large Array and Messages from Space… A Bike Trek Special

The radio telescopes of the Very Large Array are situated on the eastern edge of the Continental Divide, 60 miles east of Socorro, New Mexico.

The radio telescopes of the Very Large Array are situated on the eastern edge of the Continental Divide, 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

 

Perhaps we’ve never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there’s no sign of intelligent life. -Neil deGrasse Tyson

 

July is just around the corner. And that means the Mekemson household will soon be watching Independence Day. Again. Peggy has her favorites. Some movies, like Willow, I swear we have watched 30 times. And I don’t know if I can count how many times August Rush, the movie about the little boy who finds his parents through music, has appeared on our TV screen. Each viewing guarantees Peggy will get out her Martin and strum it.

Peggy snuggles up to a sundial at the VLA, counting down the hours until she can watch "Independence Day" again.

Peggy snuggles up to a sundial at the VLA, counting down the weeks until she can watch “Independence Day” again.

A close up of the sundial featuring both of us in the mirror. Sort of a selfie...

A close up of the sundial featuring both of us in the mirror… and an alien. Sort of a selfie.

But Independence Day has a special twist. July 5th is Peggy’s Birthday and the movie kicks off her Birthday Week, during which “whatever Peggy wants, Peggy gets.” (Remember Whatever Lola Wants?) If it appears she is a little spoiled, well yes. But Peggy has earned it— and she spoils me, too.

You’ve probably seen Independence Day. Nasty aliens invade the world with the intent of wiping out humanity and sucking up all of the earth’s goodies. The movie starts with a scientist in a lab whiling away the wee hours of the morning practicing his golf game by sinking putts in a glass. Suddenly the computer screen that monitors messages from outer space goes bonkers. And everything changes.

Here’s the point of my little detour into the world of Science Fiction: The scientist is working at the Very Large Array of radio telescopes in New Mexico, which is the subject of today’s post. An even more famous movie including the VLA is in the Jodie Foster flick, Contact, based on the book written by Carl Sagan where humanity first meets up with aliens. SETI, the search for extra terrestrial intelligence, is a subject that has fired the imagination of much of the world’s population, a fact that Hollywood has taken to heart, and the bank.

The scientists at VLA have mixed feelings about the movie depiction of their giant radio telescopes being used in the search for aliens. On the one hand, movies increase public awareness about the facility, and this awareness can be translated into increased funding. On the other hand, the VLA is used for hard science. Instead of searching for little green men, it is used for unlocking the secrets of quasars, pulsars, black holes, the sun, the Milky Way Galaxy, and numerous other astronomical phenomena including the very beginning of the Universe. Not bad, even if they aren’t talking to ET on the side.

Besides, as one astrophysicist at the facility told Peggy and me, if an alien civilization has mastered the difficulties involved in traveling/communicating over the vastness of time and space, they would be to us like we are to ants. Why bother with checking in or stopping for a visit. The tongue-in-cheek quote at the top from the astronomer and popularizer of science, Neil deGrasse Tyson, reflects this perspective.

In my last post, I passed by VLA as I zipped down New Mexico 60 from Pie Town and the Continental Divide heading east on my bike. I vowed I would be back, which was a vow Peggy and I kept as we retraced my route through the area. We were lucky. We arrived on the first Sunday in April, which just happened to be VLA’s annual open house. The red carpet was rolled out.

Peggy and I lucked out in our April visit to VLA. It was the facilities annual open house. People were taken on tours by scientists who use the radio telescopes for probing the Universe.

Peggy and I lucked out in our April visit to VLA. People were taken on tours by scientists who use the radio telescopes for probing the Universe. A visitors center and self-guided walking tour are available for people who come at other times. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Scientists were everywhere— answering questions, leading tours and being friendly. I suspect it was a command performance required by the higher-ups. Most scientists prefer to be locked away in their labs discovering things. A young post-doc from India, who is using the VLA to probe back several billion years to the beginning of time, took Peggy, me and several others on a tour of the facility.

But first I chatted with Diego Montoya, the Mayor of Magdalena, a town just down the road from the VLA. Diego wasn’t at the event in his official role, however, he was there because he had a speaking part as a third grader in Contact. As I pointed out, the VLA recognizes the importance of publicity to its well-being. Magdalena recognizes the importance of VLA as a tourist draw.

Diego Montoya

Diego Montoya looking very much like a mayor of a Western town.

When I rode my bike by the VLA in 1989, the 27 huge radio telescopes were spread out for over 22 miles of the San Augustin Plains. When we visited a couple of months ago, it was under a mile. Given that each antenna weighs 230 tons and comes with a dish that is 82 feet in diameter, moving them is something of a challenge, to say the least. How is it accomplished? Slowly and carefully (grin). A railroad track system shaped in the form of a Y has been designed for the effort. Each arm of the Y is 13 miles long. Special trains with the power to lift and move the telescopes have been designed for the job.

Each of the radio telescopes at the Very Large Array in New Mexico is massive, weighing

Each of the radio telescopes at the Very Large Array in New Mexico is massive, weighing in at 230 tons.

The dish is 82 feet in diameter.

The dish is 82 feet in diameter. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This sculpture at the VLA represents the Y of the track configuration.

This sculpture at the VLA represents the Y of the track configuration.

This photo shows the rails that the radio telescopes travel on. Once the telescope arrives at it preset positions it is bolted down and plugged in to the power and fiber optic cable system.

This photo shows the rails that the radio telescopes travel on. Once the telescope arrives at its preset position, it is bolted down and plugged in to the power and fiber optic cable system. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Four different locations are utilized on the tracks to provide for different types of observations with the telescopes, which rotate through the locations every 16 months. Since the 27 telescopes work together as one unit, they are the equivalent of a telescope with a 22-mile diameter when extended to their farthest point! That’s like the mother of all telescopes.

The telescopes can do their job because they are extremely sensitive to radio waves, the longest waves on the electromagnetic spectrum. And how sensitive do they have to be? Consider this: Cosmic radio waves are a billion, billion, million times weaker than a cell phone signal. (Pretty hard to call home with that ET. Mom would need really big ears.) This sensitivity creates special problems. A cell phone used on the premises sounds like a very large scream (VLS?). Even the remotes for car doors create spikes on the VLA’s measuring equipment. One reason for choosing the San Augustin Plains is because of its remoteness from all things civilized. I can attest to that. The other is that it is so darn flat, which I quickly discovered bicycling across it. My floating down the Rockies came to a dramatic halt, at least for a dozen or so miles.

Messages received by the radio telescopes are sent at light speeds over fiber optic cables to the central processing unit where one of the world’s fastest computers processes the data at 16 quadrillion calculations per second— the equivalent of every person on earth (all six billion of us), doing one calculation per second on a calculator for a month, nonstop. The data is then packaged up and sent out to scientists from all over the world. Scientists compete for time on the VLA by submitting proposals. Their slots may be for an hour or days. After a year, they agree they will release their findings to the public. In terms of scientific data, the VLA has paid its way many times over.

The massive computer room is closed to the public but we did tour the monitoring room. The Array is monitored 24/7 by scientists in case of any problems. This chart shows spikes caused by incoming radio waves.

The massive computer room is closed to the public but we did tour the monitoring room. The Array is monitored 24/7 by scientists in case of any problems. This chart shows data being received from the radio telescopes. I wonder what an extraterrestrial message would look like!

The message from outer space to my readers is that if you get anywhere near the VLA, include it on your itinerary. Even if you only stare at the telescopes, it is a fascinating place, and there is a good visitors center chock full of info. Who knows, maybe even ET will call while you are there. Two final photos:

Radio Telescopes and repair facility at VLA in New Mexico

The large facility in the back is used for repair and maintenance on the radio telescopes.

We took this shot as we were leaving.

I took this shot as we were leaving.

THE NEXT BLOG: Once again you will join Peggy and me as we continue to retrace my bike route. We will stop off at the Trinity site where the world’s first atomic bomb was exploded, visit Smokey the Bear’s birthplace and grave, and end up in Lincoln County where six guns once ruled and Billy the Kid roamed— all of that before we drop into Roswell and its weird world of UFOs.

Rancho Olompali: “The White House of Hippiedom”

It was quiet and peaceful when I visit Olompali. But this platform was once alive with laughter, music and work as members of the Chosen Family made bread to be distributed by the Diggers in San Francisco.

It was quiet and peaceful when I visited Olompali. But this platform was once alive with laughter, music and bread as members of the Chosen Family commune made thousands of loaves to be distributed by the Diggers for free in San Francisco during the late 60s.

Today marks the end of my series on Olompali. Originally, I had planned to write one blog. This is my fifth, and each post has been relatively long. The truth is, I got caught up in the subject, and the more research I did, the more caught up I became. I lived through the 60s and spent considerable time in the Bay Area where these tales took place. I became an activist, committed to change, but I missed the early rock scene, didn’t do LSD, and steered clear of communes. None-the-less, I shared many of the values of those who did travel down these paths. 

The 60s were a time when a significant number of young people rebelled against the world of their parents and went seeking something else. As Don McCoy, the founder of the Chosen Family would say, to “create a new way of life, a new way of doing things, a new way of living together, getting along in a peaceful world.” Looking back, this perspective seems almost Quixotic to me. We were tilting at windmills.

But the windmills were real— and scary. America and Russia had accumulated enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the world several times over. Minorities, women, and gays were buried under a suffocating blanket of discrimination that limited who they were and what they might become. Leaders that promised change, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, were shot down, one after another by people who may have been insane— but were reflective of something deeper and darker. A far-off war in Southeast Asia was sucking us into a quagmire that was tearing our nation apart. And last, but far from least, we were awakening to the fact that our desire for more and more of everything was polluting the planet, literally poisoning our home. “We have met the enemy, and he is us,” Pogo proclaimed.

In spite of all of this, or maybe because of it, change was in the air. People across the country felt it. In the Bay Area it was so palpable you could almost taste it. (Listen to the Age of Aquarius here by the Fifth Dimension to get an over-the-top sense of its idealistic flavor.)

Those of us who got caught up in optimism and passion of the 60s believed we could make a difference. Our solutions varied tremendously. For some, like me, it meant joining groups like the Peace Corps and Vista, and working from within the system to achieve change. Others believed more radical solutions were called for. Massive protests and even violence resulted. And some people opted out, either by focusing inward with the aid of meditation or drugs such as LSD, or, more directly, by simply removing themselves from every day society and establishing a new life.

Don McCoy represented the latter. He and a few friends, plus their children, moved to Rancho Olompali in November of 1967 to establish the Chosen Family commune. “God chose us to be family with each other, and also, we chose each other for family,” he said. McCoy was aided in his vision by a $350, 000 inheritance, which is the equivalent of close to 3½ million dollars today.

By most accounts, McCoy was a generous man. One story that reflects his generosity relates to Alan Watts, the Zen philosopher, who was living on a houseboat in Sausalito (possibly one of Don’s). When the Indian musician, Ali Akbar Khan, told Watts he wanted to start a music college for teaching Indian music in Northern California and needed money, Alan immediately called Don. Within an hour, McCoy had shown up and given Khan a check for $20,000. (Khan, along with Ravi Shankar, was instrumental in introducing Indian music to the West. His college still exists today in San Rafael.)

As for Rancho Olompali, McCoy picked up the full tab. He started by leasing the property around the house and barns, including the swimming pool. When neighbors, who ran a riding school business on another section of the property, complained about seeing nude people in the swimming pool, he leased the whole ranch and kicked out the neighbors.

Olompali provided an excellent location for the Chosen Family and Included this 20 plus room mansion.

Olompali provided an excellent location for the Chosen Family. It included this 20 plus room mansion, beautiful landscaping and an Olympic-size swimming pool. (Archival photo.)

This large fountain with a blue heron sculpture on top was part of the landscaping.

This large fountain with a blue heron sculpture on top was part of the landscaping. (Archival photo.)

The palms seen on the left side of the mansion as they appear today.

The palms seen on the left side of the mansion as they appear today.

Leasing the rest of the property open up several hundred acres for the commune members to wander through.

Leasing the rest of the property opened up several hundred acres of beautiful country for the commune members to wander through.

McCoy insisted that the adults who came to live at Olompali give up their day jobs. The commune was to be the center of their lives. Food, transportation, health care, and even entertainment were to be supplied, everything necessary to live. And McCoy would pay for it. This didn’t mean that commune members didn’t work. There was food to grow, meals to cook, dishes to do, cows to milk and horses to care for. The property had several horses, including one boarded by Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead percussionist. Snorty, the horse, even made it into the group photo taken at Olompali that appeared on the back of the Dead’s album, Aoxomoxoa.

Snorty is in the back of the photo.

Snorty is in the back of the photo to the right of the oak tree.

All of the commune members, including the children, were expected to chip in when it came to chores. One of the biggest was cooking bread. A bakery owner had gone out of business and donated his equipment to the commune. A seven-sided cement pad was poured (it still stands at the park as shown in the top photo), and the equipment installed. Commune members then went to work. Clothing was optional. Twice a week they would bake several hundred loaves of bread in coffee cans. The bread was then turned over to the Diggers to distribute for free in San Francisco.

Pouring concrète for the cement pad.

Pouring concrète for the cement pad. (Archival photo.)

Chosen Family members making bread at Rancho Olompali that will be distributed by the Diggers for free in San Francisco. Clothing was optional. (Photo from the Berkeley Barb.)

Chosen Family members making bread at Rancho Olompali that was distributed by the Diggers for free in San Francisco. Clothing was optional. The bread was put in coffee cans as seen in foreground and rose over the top, giving it the name mushroom bread. (Photo from the Berkeley Barb.)

There was also a side business known as The Garden of Delights where commune members would put on light shows for the various rock groups performing at venues in the Bay Area.

Children were regarded as a communal responsibility. On Mondays, their names were placed in a hat. Adults would then draw names and adopt the child he or she drew for the week. If you had issues as a child, you took them to your adopted parent, not Mommy or Daddy.

A decision was made to educate the children on site rather in local schools. (Otherwise, how could you instill the proper hippie values?) An ex-principal/teacher from the Nicasio Elementary School, Garnet Brennan, was recruited into the commune as the teacher. Brennan had been fired from the Nicasio School District after a thirty-year career in education because she had admitted to smoking pot when she was testifying on behalf of a young man who faced a five-year to life sentence for selling marijuana. She had noted that she knew marijuana wasn’t harmful because she had smoked it for 18 years on a daily basis without any notable damage to herself or anyone else. The issue received national attention including an article in Life Magazine.

Brennan set up a Montessori-type school that the children named Not School. Children were encouraged to pursue subjects that captured their imagination. Education was slipped in as part of the process. “We had displays, supplies, books, and tests,” Maura McCoy remembers. “She was a professional educator and a great person to have there.” Brennan had been known as a “beloved teacher” at the Nicasio School according to the Life magazine article.

Extensive freedom was granted to the children. If you wanted to skip school or go to town, okay. If you wanted smoke pot or try LSD, okay. If you wanted to ride horses, go swimming, or go for a walk in the woods, it was your choice. You were even allowed to pick your own bedtime. (After all, how could you go to sleep with the Grateful Dead playing music in your front yard or living room?) And, if you wanted to run around naked— well that was okay, too. Understandably, some people would and did condemn the freedom, lack of structure and use of drugs as a form of abuse. For the most part, however, the children who spent two years of their life growing up at Olompali remember the experience as fun and filled with loving support. They even took delight in going into Novato and being the “Hippie Kids.”

Not surprisingly, the media pounced on the commune. It was big news: pot-smoking hippies ran around naked and baked bread while grooving out to music produced by the Grateful Dead. They labeled Rancho Olompali as the White House of Hippiedom and Don was their guru, the supreme Hippie. They also recorded the bad times. A horse escaped, ran out on Highway 101, and caused an accident that killed a trucker. There were two raids to seize drugs. Faulty wires caused a fire that gutted the mansion.

Don McCoy. (Archival photo.)

Don McCoy. (Archival photo.)

Don’s family, concerned about how life on the commune was affecting the children, obtained a conservatorship that took away custody of his children and stopped the flow of money. He ended up in the hospital suffering from physical and mental illness.

The final straw for the Chosen Family was that two of the commune’s children, cycling around the half empty swimming pool, fell in and died. With the death of the children, the commune died as well, its utopian dream snuffed out. The University of San Francisco, who still owned the property, evicted the Chosen Family and set about selling it to a developer who was planning on turning Olompali into condos and a trailer park, an inglorious ending to a fascinating history. But it wasn’t the end of the story.

Olompali was saved by a coin, not just any coin, but an English sixpence found on the property that traced the area’s history all the way back to the initial contact between the Miwoks and Sir Francis Drake. Plans for the trailer park were dropped. Marin Open Space, working with the State of California, obtained the property in 1977 and turned it into Olompali State Park.

Final Notes: Maura McCoy, along with another former member of the commune, Noelle Olompali-Barton, is now making a documentary about the commune. As Noelle says, “We have a lot of colorful history.” Their Facebook page is worth a visit. Scroll down and check out the trailer for the documentary.

NEXT BLOGS: Peggy (my wife) will do several guest blogs on her recent trip to England where she visited a number of gardens and estates, starting with Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle.)

Speaking of Afterlife, Did Pop Actually Haunt Me?

 

One of my favorite photos of my father taken by Glen Fishback at his studio.

One of my favorite photos of my father taken by Glen Fishback at his studio.

Do you believe in ghosts? I’d like to say I don’t. Their existence isn’t rational. There is no scientific evidence that supports their presence. And yet, I’ve had a couple of ghostly experiences that are hard to explain rationally, other than my mind playing tricks (a distinct possibility). But consider the following:

In my last Friday essay on religion, I took readers to Alaska and a campfire discussion with my father. Pop lived for another eight years— and they were good years. He continued to read his Bible, smoke his pipe, paint pictures, and entertain the elderly women in his retirement complex with the photographs he had taken over the years. We had lots of opportunities to talk. I learned a great deal of his past and he never gave up trying to convert me.

Pop painted up until he was 85 or so.

Pop painted up until he was 85 or so. (Photo by Glen Fishback.)

The painting that Pop was working on now hangs in our guest bedroom.

The painting that Pop was working on now hangs in our guest bedroom.

One night I had him over for dinner to meet my new friend and future wife, Peggy. She charmed him as much as she had charmed me. I had already told him I planned on marrying her if I could persuade her to say yes. When I took him home, we shook hands at his doorway and, purely out of instinct, I said, “I love you Pop.” He got one of his big grins and responded, “I love you, too, Curt.”

A week later I found him sitting naked on his toilet, dead from a massive heart attack.

Of course I was grief-stricken. His passing was the passing of one of the most significant parts of my life. And I also felt guilt. I had known he wasn’t feeling well when I left him that night. I’d called a couple of times and he hadn’t answered, but I had assumed he had just been out on one of his walks. I couldn’t help but think if I had stopped by that I might have made a difference. Still, he had lived a full and productive life, taken care of himself to the end, and gone out quickly. It’s hard to ask for more.

The next day I went over to clean things up. I probably shouldn’t have gone alone because I was so stressed. I was in the bathroom cleaning when a light in the front room went on. I went out, thinking maybe the building manager had come by. No one was there. I went back to the bathroom where I had left a faucet on. Just as I walked in it jumped from a trickle to full force. The errant light and faucet shook me up; I grabbed my things and departed, quickly. That night I left the lights on in my apartment. It had been ages since I feared things that go bump in the night, but why take chances.

Just as I was finally drifting off to sleep from exhaustion, I heard a voice in my head. It was Pop. “I am alright Curt,” he said. “It’s okay.” And then I saw a vision of the proverbial white tunnel. It wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel; it was the complete tunnel, the whole shebang— Pop’s spaceship. Were the light in his front room, the faucet, and the voice results of natural causes and my overwrought imagination? Probably. But who knows? Who knows what awaits us when the final bell rings? Maybe it’s a one-way ticket through the Universe.

Afterwards, when I thought about the experience, I was a little amused that Pop hadn’t taken advantage of the moment to say, “Read your Bible, Curt.” I would have started immediately. But maybe it wasn’t necessary. Maybe other fuel drove his spaceship.

CONCLUSION

In this series of essays, I have not argued against religion, I have argued against the abuse of religion. I have contended that the ‘leap of faith’ required by religions, combined with the concept of exclusivity (there is only one way to get to heaven), make abuse possible and even likely. Holding the keys to eternal life provides the holder with tremendous power. It’s something to die for. This power is an almost irresistible magnet to those who crave and need power for any number of reasons ranging from the sublime to the outrageous, from serving the flock to fleecing it, from helping the helpless to offing the opposition. When combined with fanaticism and government support, this mixture can quickly become a dangerous and deadly brew.

Religion has the power to do much good. I used my own personal example of how the Episcopal Church helped me get through difficult teenage years. I have a minister friend, the woman who married Peggy and me, who is known as the Disaster Pastor. She devotes her life to helping out where help is most needed, and has the full support of her congregation. My fellow blogger friend Bill, at Practicing Resurrection, is using his faith to encourage wholesome and humane farming practices, and healthy eating. Pope Francis is undertaking a major environmental initiative. There are thousands of examples.

To me, the greatest role religion can play is to enable us to see beyond ourselves, to understand that on some deep level we are all connected, not only to other human beings but to all life. Our salvation as a species lies in realizing that all of life is sacred and acting accordingly. Few of us have the capacity for sainthood but most of us have the capacity to see a bit further beyond ourselves than we normally do, and think through the long-term implications of our actions— whether it is being unkind, marching off to war, or wiping out another species.

I believe that the easiest way to counteract the negative aspects of religion is to modify the concept of exclusivity. Simply put, it’s okay for us to believe that the path we have chosen will take us toward whatever afterlife has to offer, but we also need to recognize that someone else’s path may be equally valid. Religious tolerance would eliminate one of the primary causes of conflict in the world today. Freedom of religion and separation of church and state are essential to obtaining this objective. Maybe the day will come when people of different religious beliefs (or none), can live next to each other in peace and prosperity throughout the world.

I’ll let Pop get a final word in. He once told me that he regarded his extensive reading of the Bible as an insurance policy. If he were right, it was his key to the afterlife. If he were wrong, what’s the harm? I granted him that. But I countered with the opposite argument. What if he were wrong? What if this is all we have? Then life becomes incredibly important. Each moment is precious. Yes, practice your religion if it is significant to you— read your Koran or Bible or Bhagavad Gita— but live each moment as though it were your last. Be kind, make sure that your loved ones know that you love them, give back to the community, have adventures, expand your mind, practice tolerance, and be passionate.  If there is more after the curtain falls, wonderful. If not, you have lived your life fully and can die knowing that you achieved everything humanly possible from your brief time on this earth. What’s the harm?

NEXT WEEK: Monday’s Blog: A neighborhood goat feast. You’ll meet a clothed Rambo and a naked Pinky. Wednesday’s Photo Essay: I return to the magical island of Santorini. Friday’s Essay: How twenty-five cents saved one million lives and $134 billion in health care costs. Part I.

The Earth Is 6000 Years Old… Or So My father Told Me

My father, Herb Mekemson. I believe this photo was taken by Glen Fishback of the Glen Fishback School of Photography.

My father. I believe this photo was taken by Glen Fishback of the Glen Fishback School of Photography.

I invited my father, Herb Mekemson, up to Alaska for his 80th birthday. My brother Marshall put him on the airplane in Sacramento and I met him in Anchorage. He got off the plane grinning. We shook hands and embraced. He still had a strong grip.

“Curt, have you been causing problems again?” he asked. These weren’t the first words out of his mouth but they were close. There was a twinkle in his eyes, sort of.

“What do you mean, Pop?” I asked in mock innocence. He was gripping his pipe like it was the last life raft on a sinking ship.

“I got off of the plane and the first thing they announced was I couldn’t light up in the airport. I’ve needed a smoke since I left Seattle.” I had been an advocate for smoke-free areas in Sacramento and continued my efforts in Alaska.

I laughed. He and I had been through the tobacco discussion dozens of times. We had it down to a routine. I’d point out there was a direct correlation between his smoking and the heavy cough he had in the morning. He’d note that he had been smoking for over 60 years and was still going strong, thank you. I’d observe that somewhere his Scotch Presbyterian mother was rolling over in her grave, and so it would go. He liked his tobacco straight up. For years he had smoked unfiltered Camels but they lacked the kick he needed. In his words, he had switched to ‘roll-your-owns’ as opposed to the ‘new fangled tailor mades.’ As a result, most of his shirts were aerated from burning tobacco. Out of self-defense, he had switched to a pipe. He liked to tease me that most of my efforts in the tobacco wars were designed to thwart him.

“Well, Pop,” I announced, “in honor of your visit, you have been granted special dispensation. You can smoke in my truck.” He hurried me out of the airport, barely taking time to pick up his suitcase.

Pop, as in "don't you even think of taking my pipe away from me. (Photo by Glen Fishback.)

Pop, as in, “Don’t you dare think of taking my pipe away from me.” (Photo by Glen Fishback.)

We had quite the adventure planned but first there were social responsibilities. I took him over to meet my roommates Cyndi and Roger. Cyndi owned the house and Roger and I paid rent. It was a good arrangement. Cyndi was a slope worker, which meant she worked for two weeks up on the North Slope in the oil industry and then had two weeks off. Roger was in the vending machine business, which included cigarettes. Surprisingly, the three of us were quite compatible.

When Cyndi and I first met to interview each other over possible roommate status, I mentioned that I was Executive Director of the Alaska Lung Association. She became quite excited and announced she had a Lung Association connection.

“I was a Trek leader in Minnesota before I came to Alaska,” she said. When I informed her that I had created the American Lung Association’s Trek Program, we decided that fate had brought us together. As for Roger, he and I had a penchant for weird movies, the weirder the better. Strange Brew is an excellent example. Many a winter evening was spent happily vegging on the couch, drinking beer, and watching videos.

Once Pop had visited my home, our next responsibility was visiting the ‘girlfriend.’ I had been dating a pulmonary physician and we hung out a lot together. I had an open invitation to move in.

“Why don’t we get married,” she suggested. “You can stay home, write, and raise the children.” I liked the staying home and writing idea but wasn’t ready for the kids and married part. Her English Spaniel had a different perspective. I kicked him off of the bed when I was around. His response was to pee on my side of the bed and mark it as his territory. I would have gone and peed on his bed if he had one. Two can play the dominant male species game.

My friend cooked dinner for Pop and me, which was a little scary. Cooking was not her forte. Our meal was good though and the dog was on its best behavior. We had a very pleasant evening.

Pop liked the idea of me getting married and having kids. He had always wanted me to produce grandchildren and both our biological time clocks were ticking. At 40 plus, I was rapidly approaching the point where having children was impractical. At 80, he was rapidly approaching the point where he would never see them. Actually, Pop had three wishes for me. The first was the married with children bit. The second was that I would become a photographer and take pictures of all the beautiful sites I saw in my wandering. The third was that I would become a good Christian boy and return to the flock.

A few years later I would fall in love, get married, inherit two great kids— and take up photography. I always figured that two out of three weren’t bad.

The next day we headed off to Denali. I had a permit for camping in the Park. Pop went crazy with his camera and the Alaskan scenery; we had to stop every 20 minutes or so for photo ops. Even a moose waited patiently beside the road to have its picture taken. By the time we reached camp, heavy black clouds were swirling overhead and a cold wind was reminding us that summer had yet to arrive. I hurried in setting up the large Coleman tent I had brought along while Pop, who insisted on being part of the action, went in search of firewood. A few minutes later I noticed that he had disappeared.

“Oh damn,” I thought to myself, “how do I explain to my sister and brother that Pop had become lost in the Alaskan wilderness gathering firewood.”

Then I spotted him off in the distance on top of a hill taking pictures.

“I saw some mountain goats up on the opposite mountain and I wanted to get closer for pictures,” he explained to me after descending.

“Do you know there are grizzly bears wandering around up there,” I said pointedly. He just smiled. At 80 he was ready to meet his maker. If it happened with the help of a grizzly bear, so be it. But it wasn’t going to happen on my shift, if I could help it.

After dinner we sat by our crackling campfire and talked for a couple of hours as snowflakes danced around the perimeter. Our family, his past and my future were all topics of discussion. There was something magical about the setting and Pop was obviously enjoying himself tremendously. Sitting in the Alaskan wilderness in the midst of a swirling snowstorm at age 80 was something that he had never envisioned for himself. I had him bundled from head to toe and he insisted he was toasty warm. Eventually the topic got around to one of his favorite subjects, religion.

“You know, I’ve been reading the Bible a lot,” he started. The Pearly Gates were beckoning and Pop wanted to be sure his credentials were in order. He was about to jump in to his ‘You should read the Bible too, Curt’ lecture. To forestall the inevitable, I asked a question out of curiosity.

“Assuming you make it to heaven, what do you think it is like?”

He laughed. “I am afraid my view’s a little unusual. I see myself as a spacecraft hurtling through space. I am not in the spacecraft. I am the spacecraft and I am exploring the universe and seeing all of the glorious sights it has to offer.” Apparently there would be no jewel encrusted buildings and streets paved with gold for him.

While I was contemplating this rather wondrous view of the after-life, I took too long in coming up with my next question.

“You should read the Bible too, Curt,” Pop began. “I’ve been listening to a radio minister and he is going through each Book in detail and explaining what it means. There’s a lot of great stuff. I’ve bought a complete set of his tapes.”

The radio minister part hoisted a red flag for me. Marshall and I had cut our religious eye teeth on a slippery southern radio preacher in the 1950s and I had recently been tuning in to Jim and Tammy Baker. They were prime time in Alaska. It was quite clear to me that they were bilking their flock and the process fascinated me. This didn’t mean that I believed all radio preachers or televangelists were frauds. It seemed reasonable to me that sincere religious people would want to take advantage of modern communication opportunities to share their views. Still, I decided to gently pursue where Pop’s radio minister was taking him.

“Um, what do you mean by great stuff?” I inquired.

“The stories, the history, the messages,” he replied enthusiastically, giving me a catalog to choose from. He was prepared to wax eloquently on the subject, to convert me on the spot. It wouldn’t be easy. I had read the Bible, and found it interesting, educational, and meaningful. But I wasn’t about to accept it as literal truth. I was curious as to where my father stood on the religious continuum between liberal interpretation and fundamentalist dogma. He had always been deeply religious but somewhat tolerant of other perspectives.

“So, Pop,” I queried, jumping to a litmus test of Christian fundamentalism, “do you believe that the world is 6,000 years old?”

“Yes,” was his simple reply and it was immediately clear where the radio minister was leading him: it was over the foaming falls of fundamentalism where a leap of faith assures a righteous landing. On one level this didn’t bother me. Life can be rather short and brutish as Hobbes noted, and full of suffering as the Zen Buddhists like to point out. We find our comfort where we can find it. If Pop’s belief helped him deal with the present and face his future, then it had value for him. Who was I to say otherwise? It wasn’t exactly like he was being misled, either. The Mekemson side of my family comes from a long line of true believers dating back to John Brown the Martyr of Scotland in the 1600s— and undoubtedly beyond.

I have my own share of spiritual genes. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years considering different religious traditions and pondering imponderables. Crass materialism, in and of its self, seems to be a poor reason to exist. I tend to believe that there is a deep, underlying unity in the universe and that all of life on earth is connected. It’s hard to get much more mystical than that.

I was a little concerned that Pop had paid several hundred dollars for the tapes. He lived off of his Social Security pension and the amount represented a lot of money. Bilking came to mind. I was more concerned with the implications of his beliefs as we chatted into the night. It wasn’t enough that he believed the earth was 6000 years old. I, too, should believe it. School systems were wrong for teaching evolution and should be required to teach creationism. He also expressed a strong bias against homosexuality and gay people that he had picked up from the radio preacher. The latter made me particularly sad.

The best man at my first wedding and a friend from childhood, Frank Martin, was gay. When my mother was dying of cancer while I was at Berkeley, Frank would often stop by and visit her, bringing whatever comfort he could. Later, when my former wife and I returned from serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in Africa, Frank and his partner hosted several anniversary parties for us in San Francisco. He was always generous and kind to our family. Now, my father was being taught that Frank was a sinful man, condemned to be burned in Hell.

Beyond expressing my disagreement as gently as I could, I mainly listened. My point of view wasn’t going to change what my father believed. Besides, the old fellow may have expired from hypothermia listening to me. We put out the fire, retired to the warmth of our down sleeping bags, and dreamt we were spaceships hurtling through space.

Over the next few days, Pop and I covered a good bit of Alaska, ending up in Homer. His sister Francis had raised her children there and he wanted to see the town. Afterwards, I drove him back to the airport and made sure his pipe was out before taking him inside and seeing him off. It took months for my truck to stop smelling like tobacco smoke.

NEXT FRIDAY’S BLOG: A final story about Pop. Did he really leave me a message after he passed away or was it the invention of my over-wrought imagination? Plus— My final thoughts on religion.

The Bigger Sacramento Book Club (BSBC)… 26 Years and Counting

 

Books read by the BSBC of Sacramento

This bookshelf includes about half of the books the BSBC has read during its 26 years of existence.

Three things happened when I climbed off my bicycle in Sacramento during the second week of September in 1990. First, I met Peggy and promptly fell in love. (It took me five seconds; Peggy was more like five months. She liked the look of a guy in tight bicycle shorts who had just biked 10,000 miles but was a little concerned about the sanity of a guy who would do such a thing. Rightfully so.)

Two, I was seriously hassled for being one week late. Mind you, I had just travelled for six months on a solo journey around North America. An extra seven days didn’t seem like a big deal. To be fair, however, time is different for someone sitting in an air-conditioned office eight hours a day than it is for someone sitting on the back of a bicycle and peddling 50–100 miles a day through every type of terrain and weather North America has to offer.

Here I am biking up a mountain in Nova Scotia with 60 pounds of gear.

Here I am biking up a mountain in Nova Scotia with 60 pounds of gear. I had already biked 5000 miles. Time slows down in such circumstances.

The third thing that happened is the subject of today’s post. My friend Ken Lake informed me that a meeting of the Bigger Sacramento Book Club, more fondly known as the BS Book Club, or simply the BSBC was coming up. Ken had started the book club and recruited me as a member in the fall of 1988, a few months before I started my bike odyssey.

I love this photo of Ken because it makes him look like a Druid Elder, or someone out of Lord of the Rings. I think the look on his face reflected that the 49ers were losing.

I love this photo of Ken because it makes him look like a Druid Elder, or someone out of Lord of the Rings. I think the look on his face reflected his disapproval of a SF Giant’s play.

The BSBC reads a wide variety of books based solely on the tastes of whoever is selecting the book.

The BSBC reads a wide variety of books based solely on the tastes of whoever selects the book.

The rules, Ken had explained, were simple. Members of the BSBC would rotate having the book club meet at their homes. The host would pick the book, provide the main course, and supply whatever alcohol was to be consumed. Other members would provide hors d’oevres, salad, veggies, dessert and breads— plus any insights they had on the book.

BSBC is only partially about books. This particular meeting featured a beer tasting. Dinners are often planned around whatever food was featured in the book.

BSBC is only partially about books. This particular meeting featured a beer tasting. Dinners are often planned around whatever food is featured in the book.

So far it sounded like a standard dinner/book club. And then Ken mentioned the other rule: You didn’t have to read the book. Maybe you ran out of time or couldn’t struggle your way through the first chapter. Fine. It was after all, the BS Book Club. You didn’t even have to confess. I laughed and signed on the imaginary dotted line. I even remember the first meeting. The book was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One of our members hadn’t read the book but had brought Cliff Notes. We gave him an appropriately hard time. When he insisted on discussing the motif, things got even more raucous. It set the tone for future meetings.

Another shelf of our books. BTW, I highly recommend the book just to the left of Lake Woebegone Days. (grin)

Another shelf of our books. BTW, I highly recommend the book just to the left of Lake Wobegone Days. (grin)

So, even though I was still wearing my bike clothes, wasn’t sure where I was going to live, and didn’t own a car, I told Ken that of course I would be at BSBC. And could I please bring something that didn’t require cooking.

It was a while before I was ready to choose a book and host the book club, however. Living with a former girlfriend while pursuing Peggy made things a little, um, awkward. Finally, I obtained my own apartment in downtown Sacramento and hosted my first ever BSBC, on a couch and folding chairs. People ate off their laps. The book was an old favorite of mine: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. If you haven’t read it and enjoy offbeat humor, add it to your list.

The first book I selected for the BSBC to read.

The first book I selected for the BSBC to read.

By 1992 membership had settled down to five couples, the same five couples who are members today. It’s an interesting mix of people including two teachers, a physician, two prevention specialists, a principal, a judge, an office manager, a pilot/man of many trades, and me— a person of even more trades. (Most of us are semi-retired now.) Our politics range from sort of out there to moderate. It’s amazing we have hung out together as a book club, not to mention as couples for a quarter of a century. I once mentioned the odds against all of us still being married to the same person. “We could never get divorced,” one of the couples responded. “We don’t know who would get book club.”

They were semi-serious.

The five couples of the BSBC on the steps of John Muir's home, now a museum, in the Bay Area.

The five couples of the BSBC on the steps of John Muir’s home (now a National Historic site) located in the Bay Area.

To date, BSBC has read 217 books and two magazine collections. We have also watched five movies and been on three side trips that didn’t involve reading or watching anything. That’s a total of 227 meetings.

These days it is more difficult to get together. One couple lives in France six months out of the year, another has moved to the Bay Area, and Peggy and I are living in Oregon. But we still manage. BSBC has priority.

I asked Ken and his wife Leslie why they thought the book club has survived for so long. The essence of their reply was that BSBC’s long continuity reflects the depth of the friendships that have evolved over time and the informality of our approach to books. The club is as much, or possibly more, of a social gathering than it is a discussion of books. Ken described our meetings as “free flowing within a structure of friendship.” And free flow they do. A full hour’s discussion on the book out of a four-hour evening means people really liked the book.

A final shelf.

A final shelf.

For fun today, I’ve posted photos of Peggy and my BSBC bookshelves that contain about half of the books we have read over the years. If you look at these shelves closely, you will see the breadth of books we read. They reflect the very different tastes in books of ten different people. We all end up reading in genres that we normally wouldn’t. We are constantly being introduced to new authors and new ideas. And that, along with the friendships, is what our book club is about.

Strong friendships have developed over the years in BSBC. The photo features LaReene Sweeney and I.

Strong friendships have developed over the years in BSBC. This photo features LaReene Sweeney and me.

Once a year, the BSBC comes to our house in Oregon for 2-3 days. A couple of years ago we took them kayaking on Squaw Lakes. In this photo Ken Lake hides his paddle so it looks like his wife, Leslie, is doing all the work.

Once a year, the BSBC comes to our house in Oregon for 2-3 days. A couple of years ago we took them kayaking on Squaw Lakes. In this photo Ken Lake hides his paddle so it looks like his wife, Leslie, is doing all the work.

From Press Publish to Voodoo Doughnuts

I am convinced this is a new definition of sin— a bacon maple bar from Voodoo Donut shop in Portland. The donut shop was located next to the Press publish Conference I was attending in Portland, Oregon.

I am convinced this is a new definition of sin— a bacon maple bar from Voodoo Doughnut shop in Portland. The donut shop was located next to the Press Publish Conference I was attending in Portland, Oregon.

Peggy and I made a quick trip up to Portland from our home in southern Oregon this weekend. I went to attend a Word Press conference; Peggy was along to play. We stayed at the conference site: Embassy Suites in downtown. The hotel’s idea of a room with a view was a room overlooking the Voodoo Doughnut shop. I think they charged extra, seriously. Peggy, as part of her play-day, checked out the shop and bought the bacon-maple bar featured above. It was waiting for me when I returned to our room. The first bite assured a sugar high, the second a heart attack. My arteries will never be the same again. Later I went over and took some photos of Voodoo Doughnuts and its ever-long line of customers.

The ever present line of people waiting to get into the Voodoo Doughnut shop for their daily dose of sugar.

The ever present line of people waiting to get into the Voodoo Doughnut shop for their daily dose of sugar. Note the young and old. Age is not an issue.

This sign welcomes customers to the shop.

This sign welcomes customers to the shop.

My stomach after eating the bacon-maple bar.

This is how my stomach felt after eating the bacon-maple bar.

Peggy, in addition to descending (or is that ascending?) into doughnut heaven, spent her day at Powell’s Bookstore and Portland’s huge downtown Weekend Market. I was a bit jealous. Powell’s is one of the world’s great bookstores and the Weekend Market has over 250 vendors selling everything from fruits and vegetables to pottery, clothes, jewels, etc. Musicians, mimes and other performers provide unending entertainment. Both Powell’s and the market would have made great blogs. Oh well.

Not that I am complaining. There were several good sessions at the Press Publish conference. I was particularly impressed with workshops on Longreads, travel blogs and book blogging, all subjects of particular interest to me as a writer, travel blogger, and author. The most inspiring workshop I attended featured Eric Prince-Heaggans. I also had lunch with him. Eric is a travel writer and blogger who uses his writing to inspire people of color and disadvantaged youth to discover the benefits of travel in terms of broadening their perspective on life. Check out his post on travel and African American Men. For a more traditional post, visit Eric’s blog on Dubrovnik.

One of my photos looking down on Dubrovnik from a visit Peggy and I made.

One of my photos looking down on Dubrovnik from a visit Peggy and I made and blogged about.

Eric also has a great sense of humor. For example: “I’ve learned through my travels,” he told us, “that I don’t like monkeys.” He had a photo to prove why. I get it.

Monkey wraps itself around Eric's head.

Monkey wraps itself around Eric’s head.

But I must say Eric looked a lot happier about his money than I did mine. Peggy took this photo when she and I were traveling in the Amazon.

But I must say Eric looked a lot happier about his monkey than I did mine. Peggy took this photo when she and I were traveling in the Amazon.

Peggy's monkey, on the other hand, was something of a sweet heart. There was a slight matter of flea bites, however.

Peggy’s monkey, on the other hand, was something of a sweetheart. There was a slight matter of flea bites, however.

Jerry Mahoney, author of Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, was also quite humorous in describing how he and his husband became parents of twins and eventually published a highly popular book about the experience. Failing to sell the book on his first round, his agent told him to go back and establish a presence on the Internet, a platform in social media. It’s a message that writers hear over and over. As a result he created the blog Mommy Man. It is definitely worth a visit.

Jerry talks animately about his book in a panel discussion that also featured four other authors.

Jerry talks animatedly about his book in a panel discussion that also featured four other authors.

I also visited the Happy Lounge and a Happiness Engineer. How could I avoid such an opportunity? It was like I had died and returned to the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.  So I sat down with Happiness Engineer Josh R. He seemed quite happy. More importantly, he immediately solved the technical problem I had in featuring my book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam, permanently on my blog. I was quite happy as well. My thanks to the people at Word Press for a job well done.

Happiness lounge at Press Publish Conference.

Happiness lounge at Press Publish Conference. My answer was yes.

Jeff

Joss R, Word Press Happiness Engineer, answered all my questions and made me happy.

The Happiness Lounge also featured swag you could buy ranging from T-shirts to Coffee mugs.

The Happiness Lounge also featured swag you could buy ranging from T-shirts to coffee mugs.

 

NEXT BLOG: On a recent trip to Reno, I visited the Generator, a huge warehouse where some of Burning Man’s best art is produced. I will take you on a walk-through. It’s a trip you won’t want to miss.