Monthly Archives: July 2009

Simple Vacation Pleasures: A Pictorial Essay

Climbing volcanoes and hiking across obsidian landscapes and seeing grand vistas and rafting rivers and riding horses are all fine activities, of course. But everyone knows that the best vacation pleasures are the simplest ones, such as those depicted in the pictorial essay below:

Alaska plate Counting License Plates. So far this trip we’ve seen Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and British Columbia.

Making a PuzzleMaking a puzzle…

Finishing Puzzle…and finishing it!

ReadingCurling up with a good book.


TennisAnd finally, perhaps the greatest pleasure of all, sending the children off to a tennis clinic for a couple of hours to give their parents a little time to themselves.

Please note: We’re off to the Columbia River Gorge and Portland tomorrow, and I’m not sure if I’ll have time to do any more vacation postings. If so, thank you so much, dear readers, for your patience and understanding in this perhaps self-indulgent enterprise, and I look forward to resuming my normal blogging activities shortly.


Leave a comment

Filed under Adventures in Writing, Personal, The Dangerous Quest

Living with Chippy, and Other Natural Pleasures

Where we are staying is a place called Sunriver Resort, which can best be described as “a family resort.” But really, it’s a resort for chipmunks. There are more chipmunks in this place than people, I think. The day we arrived we were unloading the Highlander and bringing our stuff inside, leaving the door to the cabin open as we went in and out. The boys were in the kitchen. They said, “There’s a chipmunk in here,” and so there was. It had come in through the open front door. We opened the rear patio door and out it went, our official chipmunk welcoming committee.
We have since named him “Chippy.” If Chippy had his (or her) way—I’m no expert on the gender markings of chipmunks—he would probably pull up a chair and eat dinner with us. And breakfast too. Certainly Chippy has been fed a lot by previous occupants, and that’s why he’s always hanging around.
Of course, Chippy has lots of brothers and sisters, and they’re all around too, conspiring on ways to get food from the humans. They live under the house or around it. Yesterday I was reading on a deck chair on the grass, and Chippy kept poking his head out from under the deck. Chipmunks are fidgeting little nervous things, but the more I sat there, the bolder he became and I was able to get a pretty good shot of him.Chippy 2

Jennifer, who rode and own horses when she was a girl, went on a trail ride yesterday with the boys, the first time she and her sons had ever ridden horses together. Here, they are scouting out their rides. Gabe’s horse was called Bonecrusher, Hank’s was Nightmare, and Jennifer’s was Princess Polly.At the corral

That was the morning. In the evening the four of us rented a canoe and took a guided float trip down the Deschutes River. We started at a bridge and floated about three river miles finally ending at the Sunriver marina. Jennifer was “the pilot” in back, I acted as “the motor” in front, and Gabe and Hank sat between us. Everyone took turns paddling, and it was wonderful to be out on a river so late in the day, with the water calm and the weather cool and the sun dropping below the trees.

On the River

Leave a comment

Filed under Adventures in Writing, Personal, The Dangerous Quest

Be Still Your Hearts: Beautiful Vistas and Buff Guys!

Ray Atkeson landmarkRay Atkeson was the Ansel Adams of Oregon, photographing its places of beauty to inspire people to preserve and protect them. Named the “photographer laureate” of the state, the only person to be so honored, he confessed late in life that he thought the most beautiful vista in all of Oregon was at Sparks Lake at the base of Mt. Batchelor on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. When Atkeson died in 1990, at age 83, the people of Oregon erected a roadside marker in his memory at the spot he so loved. Yesterday we drove the Cascade Lakes Byway, a highway of lakes and mountains and endless trees, and stopped at Sparks Lake. It is truly a magnificent place, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and this photo doesn’t do it justice. Nevertheless here it is:

Mt BatchelorIn our short time here we’ve noticed some differences between Oregon and California. Oregon has fewer fancy places to eat and seemingly fewer highway signs and good maps than its neighbor to the south, but it also has more of certain things. Here is a short list of what Oregon has more of:
• More trees and greenery.
• “More extremely large insects.” (This, from Jennifer.)
• More chipmunks.
• “More eco-terrorists.” (This, from me. When I said this Jennifer replied, “Oh, I haven’t seen any of those this trip.”)
• More dirt roads.
• More Oregon and Washington license plates. (This, from Gabe.)
• And, for the moment, as the picture below shows, more muscular guys:


1 Comment

Filed under Adventures in Writing, Personal, The Dangerous Quest

Postcard from Oregon: Ouch, Those Darn Mosquitoes!

Benham Falls

Today I’m thinking, “Oh this is ridiculous, Nelson. You’re going to be blogging while on vacation? It’s like showing home movies of your vacation; nobody is going to want to see that. But then I got three comments on yesterday’s post (okay, so one was from my son), and I’ve suddenly got a new vocation: Travel writer! Read on, my armchair travel companions…
Yesterday’s lowlight: We went hiking at Benham Falls on the Deschutes River (shown above), and the mosquitoes attacked Jennifer. Jennifer is a wonderful person to go hiking with because the mosquitoes always attack her. I’m not sure why this is, but if I were a mosquito I’d dig into her soft succulent skin rather than mine any day. Anyhow, yesterday’s episode brought back memories of other mosquito misadventures in Jennifer’s past: staying at a house on the coast of Maine and being swarmed by bugs every time she stepped outside, and that lovely warm night on the Gulf Coast of Texas when she went out in shorty shorts and a tank top and got eaten alive.

Cinder cone

Yesterday’s highlight: Lava Butte, a volcanic cinder that was formed seven thousand years ago and today is part of Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Apparently back in the days when woolly mammoths roamed the earth, this part of Oregon was the home of the Newberry Volcano, which when it erupted spit out cinders and ash that formed into this 500-foot high cinder cone. It’s a pretty cool formerly hot spot. You can drive to the top of the Lava Butte, walk a few steps up to a lookout station, and see the peaks of the Cascade Range: Mt. Batchelor, Broken Top, the Sisters group, and in the far distance, the intensely beautiful conical shape of Mt. Hood. From the station, you can walk around the rim of the 150-feet deep cinder cone, peering down into it as shown above. Then, after driving back down to the visitors center, we took another short walk through a desolate section of black molten lava.

Hank's dessert More highlights: Goody’s Ice Cream Shop in downtown Bend. Goody’s make its own ice cream, chocolate and many of its candies. After being chewed up by mosquitoes on our nature walk to Benham Falls, Jennifer and the boys (they also got bit) were looking for more civilized pleasures. So we stumbled onto this wonderful old-fashioned soda fountain on the trendy main shopping street of Bend. Gabe had a blue raspberry icie, Jennifer a cool “green river” drink (club soda, lime syrup, squeeze of lemon, phosphate), Hank an orange float (orange juice with vanilla ice cream, seen to the left), and I had a chocolate-dipped vanilla bar. More tomorrow, like it or not!


Filed under Adventures in Writing, Personal, The Dangerous Quest

Real-Time Reports from On the Road: Day One

Hanks Vista signYesterday we traveled from our home in the Bay Area to Sun River in central Oregon, and here is my real-time (okay, so I’m a day late) report on our doings:

Highlights: In Dorris, California (pop. 886, on Highway 97), near the border of Oregon, we saw the world’s tallest flagpole, 200 feet high. Dorris also has two bars, one gas station and one public toilet, behind the City Hall building.

More highlights: A semi truck hit a sheriff’s car, stranding the car in the middle of the highway. Then, a second semi carrying a load of lumber crashed on the highway and caught fire, burning its trailer up. We saw its charred remains as we drove past. Just after this, we saw yet another semi-truck tipped over completely on its side by the side of the highway.
On the radio in Oregon: Country, country, Christian and more country.
In eight-plus hours of travel time, this is what four human beings—two adults, two children—consumed: two Squirt lemon drinks, two Snapple ice teas, three Odwalla mango smoothies, one Starbucks hot tea, one bran muffin, six English muffins (two with cream cheese and jelly, four with peanut butter and jelly), two cinammon rolls, four pickles, ten apricots, four cookies, one banana, ½ bag taco chips, four sandwiches (two turkey and cheese, one roast beef and cheese, one peanut butter and jelly), and several sticks of gum.

We turned off  Highway 97 around noon and found a dirt road on a ridge overlooking Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon. The road is called Hanks Marsh Vista, and we threw a sleeping bag on the ground and had picnic lunch.

On Hanks Vista


Filed under Adventures in Writing, The Dangerous Quest

My Michael Jackson Memory: Dave Falkowski and the Hayward High Trapping Defense

HHS Basketball 1971_Team

When the Jackson Five first released “I’ll Be There,” a tender pop ballad with the teenaged Michael Jackson singing lead in that distinctive falsetto of his, I was playing basketball for Hayward High School. Our team mascot was the Farmers but we weren’t farm boys; we could play. We had big guys who could muscle and jump and quick little guys who could harass the man with the ball and one of the best schoolboy drivers I’ve ever seen and outside shooters who could sink shots when the other team started collapsing on our big guys. League champions and ranked tenth in the state at the end of the 1971 season, we finished with 23 wins against only three losses. Our final loss came in the finals of the Tournament of Champions, then the biggest prep basketball tournament in Northern California, and we were beaten by a Berkeley High team that featured two future professional athletes (6-11 center John Lambert of the Cleveland Cavaliers) and guard Rupert Jones, who played outfield for the Oakland Athletics and other major league baseball teams.

We didn’t have any future pros in our lineup (although current Giants broadcaster Jon Miller graduated from Hayward two years before me), but when you played us, you knew you’d been in a game. We got after people, using a trapping defense similar to a full court press in which we picked up the other team’s guards as soon as they got the ball inbounds after one of our frequent scores. I played guard for the Farmers along with Dave Falkowski, who grew up on Minnie Street in Hayward up the block from me. The Falkowskis were a popular neighborhood hang-out because they had a ping-pong table in their garage. It was a one-car garage but instead of a car they had the table set up for us kids. Mr. Falkowski was an electrician, and crowded along both walls were his tools, sports gear of all kinds, and lots of other stuff. As I recall there may have even been things hanging from the ceiling.

If the ball went off the table to one side or the other, it’d likely hit the wall or something attached to the wall. And if the ball bounced too high, it might hit one of the things on the ceiling. We played with the garage door open, and sometimes during our games the ball would fly outside, down the driveway and roll into the street as if it were trying to make a getaway from the crowded confines of the garage.

Anyhow Dave was a small, quick guy and a terrific athlete (I think he’s a psychiatric nurse now, though I could be wrong) who teamed with me in our trapping half court defense. We played man to man, and it was my job to pick up the other team’s playmaker, the man who handled the ball, and drive him toward the sideline either just before or just after the half court line. You do this by overplaying his dribbling hand, forcing him to go left when he’d really rather go right, or subtly shading his body so that when he goes right, the way he wants to, he thinks he’s in control of his destiny but really he’s running into a trap.

The trap comes when he hits “the corner,” the point where the half court line meets the sideline, and this is when my ping-pong buddy Dave joins me in our mutual harassment society. Dave leaves the man he is guarding so we can double-team the ball. And we’re all over this poor guy, waving our arms, slapping at the ball, trying to get him to do something panicky like throw the ball out of bounds or pull his pivot foot and be whistled for a travel. Many a time we would strip the ball from his hands and take it back to our basket for an easy lay-up (well, supposedly easy. I blew plenty of breakaway lay-ups in my day.)

This was the way it had to happen: me driving the guy into the corner and Dave coming up fast behind us to work the trap. So in the locker room at halftime during a game we’re sitting next to each other talking over this strategy and I’m saying, “Look, I’ll do it. I’ll get him into the corner where he’s supposed to go but you’ve got to be there.”

And Dave looks at me and in the words of Michael, sings: “I’ll be there, I’ll be there. Just call my name, and I’ll be there.”

We walked onto the floor for the second half humming and singing Michael. It was our theme song for the game and as far as I’m concerned it was the theme song for the vaunted Hayward High trapping defense that struck terror in the hearts of every team we faced during that mostly glorious season. And, for the record, Dave Falkowski always was there.

KN 1971 basketball Dave F

Here is Dave Falkowski in the middle of some defenders, passing to me on the right. Pictured at top,  the 1971 Hayward High Farmers Varsity Basketball Team: From left standing, Jay Hughes, Kevin Nelson, Joe Rucker, Jim Langenstein, Frank Volasqis, Mark Cooley, Mark Jackson. Kneeling from left: Calvin Goward, Dave Falkowski, team star Donnie Schroer, Craig Frye, John Forbes. Missing from this picture is the captain of our ship and the architect of the trap, Coach Joe Fuccy.


Filed under 185797, Hayward, California, Personal