Category Archives: The Dangerous Quest

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.


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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

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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:


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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!


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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


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The Daring Quest: Growing Sunflowers, A Photo Essay

Sunflowers are such calm, quiet, peaceful things, unlike boys. But my two boys, Hank and Gabe, are raising sunflowers in our backyard as part of The Daring Quest, and we want you to see the results so far, beginning at the, well, beginning.

Adding Fertilizer

Saturday, May 9, the day before Mother’s Day. Here are Jennifer and Gabe preparing the soil and planting the seeds. Each of us has our various jobs: Jennifer and I shovel dirt and mix in chicken manure to improve the soil in the bed, Hank stays inside the house working on his Alaska state project for school, and Gabe occasionally wields the shovel but mainly collects bugs that he finds in the dirt.

Handful of bugs

Lured by the prospect of seeing something gross, Hank comes outside to see Gabe’s bag of bugs. “Dude,” he says, “that’s awesome.” “Do you want to feel them?” Gabe asks. “No,” says Hank. I confess during the shoveling that in all my life I have never planted anything before-not one fruit, not one vegetable, and certainly not any sunflowers. “That’s amazing,” says Jennifer. “I’m so happy to be part of your first experience.” Hank adds, “I’ve never planted seeds in chicken dung before.”

Thursday, May 14. Gabe and I water the sunflowers. Like the American economy, no green shoots are visible yet. Watering the sunflowers quickly turns into watering Gabe. He starts running around the lawn giggling and exulting as the spray from the hose soaks him like a spring shower.

Hank picking off seeds_1

Sunday, May 17. Success! Here, Hank explores the eight to twelve tiny shoots that are suddenly bursting from the chicken manure soil. This is a testament to the wisdom of The Dangerous Book for Boys, our guide for The Daring Quest, which recommended sunflowers because they grow very fast and children (and their parents) can see immediate results. Afterward Gabe and I go up to my office to download the pictures he has taken, and I teach him how to use the Kodak photo editing  software. He quickly catches on and crops the photos and saves them to the desktop without my help. “I can do it,” Gabe says. “I know you can,” says his father.

In a moment Hank follows us into my office and learns to use the photo editing tools too. The two of them take turns editing photos, and it occurs to me that while the boys are ostensibly growing sunflowers, they are also learning some of the skills I hold dear: writing, editing, photography, design, publishing.

Tuesday, May 19. Before the finals of “American Idol,” I water the sunflowers and the other plants in the beds, something I’m doing much more than I ever have in the past. I feel more connected to the sunflowers because I helped plant them and they’re part of The Daring Quest. This seems a good lesson for teaching children as well: A thing that is done for them will never matter as much to them as when they do it themselves.

Saturday, May 30. I am brushing my teeth when Gabe runs into the bathroom to tell me something. This is not unusual. It is almost impossible to take a shower without Gabe coming in to tell Jennifer or me-whoever is in the shower at the time-his latest breaking news about how he can’t find one of his Warhammer toys or how he had a dream last night about a peanut butter sandwich. But this is truly a dramatic development. “I have good news and bad news about the sunflowers,” he says. “The good news is they’re growing. The bad news is they’re being eaten. By snails, I think.”

Springing into action,  I go down to the garage, find a bag of snail-killing pellets, toss some handfuls in the dirt, and create a snail Maginot Line along the edges of the bed. Take that, you pesky varmints!

Wednesday, June 10. The sunflowers are growing, and growing. According to Gabe’s measurements, the tallest is more than twenty inches high, and there are a bunch of other plants that are nearly as tall.


Thursday, June 18. Gabe measures again and the tallest is now two feet high. Two feet! It’s a miracle!

Big Growth!

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Boys Will Be Boys: Snipe Hunting

Travis and his brothers

Here at Kevin Nelson, Writer, we are introducing a new feature: Boys Will Be Boys. It is separate from, but not unrelated to, The Dangerous Quest, my attempt to do every challenge in The Dangerous Book for Boys with my sons in a year. It came about after I put out a call a couple of weeks ago for “inappropriate” childhood activities, and I was deluged with emails from men remembering all the hell-raising they did as boys.

We’ve already discussed 52-Card Pickup and Arm Farts, Pull My Finger, and Competitive Belching. In the weeks to come we will share more of these tender moments of boyhood, such as lighting farts, shooting rubber bands in class, chasing a babysitter with a dead mouse, setting off firecrackers, catapulting water balloons through open windows, and putting a shotgun shell on a fallen log, shooting it with a BB gun, and watching it explode.

Our initial offering is a childhood classic from Travis Roste of Minnesota: snipe hunting. Travis, the father of two daughters who has been mentioned in this space before (see here), grew up in a family of five boys and two girls. Above is a picture of three Roste boys: Travis and twin brother Trevor on the outside, and another brother Chad in the middle. When Travis and Trevor were young, their dad Myron took them into the woods to go snipe hunting. Here is how Travis remembers it:

“I grew up on a hobby farm, out in the country. It was a fantastic place to play and explore. I don’t have a lot of pictures when I was a kid, a couple of dozen, but hardly any of them show my dad. He wasn’t the kind of dad to pose for pictures. You had to kind of get him in a candid shot when he wasn’t looking.  He didn’t want his picture taken if he could help it. He was the old-fashioned type of dad. Didn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. He showed us he loved us by taking us fishing and hunting and things like that. He’s 71 years old now and in great shape; he cuts wood and is active.

“My dad took me and Trevor snipe hunting in the woods not far away from our house. Here’s how you play: Go to a woodsy area when it is getting dark. Tell your boys to hold a burlap sack open to catch the snipe. You turn a flashlight on and put it in the bag, and tell them it will attract the snipe. Then tell them you are going to walk around in a big circle to drive the snipe toward them, but that they have to hold the bag perfectly still. Otherwise the snipe won’t come and they won’t catch any. To make sure they believe you, tell them that you did this as a kid.

“That’s exactly what my dad did told us, and Trevor and I went along with it all the way. We held the sack with the flashlight in it while my dad drove the snipe to us, as he said. We sat there for a long time while it was getting dark. Finally, when we didn’t see our dad anywhere, we went back up to the house, and there he was inside laughing at us. He told us that his dad had taken him snipe hunting too. We didn’t really get the joke too much back then, but of course we do now. It’s a grand tradition in the U.S. and we were glad to be part of it.”

Myron Roste and friend

Myron Roste and a friend.


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