Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pater: blueberries and bears...

Pater: blueberries and bears...  At right, my dad walking up from an ocean overlook at Garrapata State Park, south of Monterey, California, April 2006.
Blueberries and bears...

One beautiful sunny day in the late summer, when I was about 13 or 14 years old, my dad and I went hiking to a favorite destination: Doubletop Mountain (part of the Katahdin group) in northern Maine.  For reasons I can't remember now, it was just the two of us – neither my sister Holly or my brother Scott was with us, though both had been up that peak on other hikes.  It was a relatively easy day hike, a 6 or 7 mile round trip and about 2,500' of elevation change.  It was also a beautiful hike, with a very varied terrain that included granite outcroppings, streams, talus slopes, meadows, and lots of forest.  As I recall, only the very top of the mountain was above timberline.

Doubletop gets its name from the two closely-spaced peaks that form its summit, as you can see in the photo at left.  On a clear day you can see a long, long way from the old fire watch tower (now torn down) on one of the peaks.

When we got to the north peak on this day (we hiked in from the south, I believe), my dad looked down at a sort of shelf below us (visible on the map embedded below) – a relatively flat area – and saw a big patch of blueberries.  They were high enough, and it was late enough in the season, that there ought to be ripe blueberries there.  Obviously we needed to go down and pick some for ourselves.

Looking at the map now, I see that this shelf was 600' or 700' lower than the north peak (in altitude) and about a third of a mile north.  There was no clear trail there, though we did see evidence of others having been that way before.  Down we went, through shrubs and under some trees, heading in the general direction of that blueberry patch.  Finally, after 20 or 30 minutes of bushwhacking, we popped out onto the blueberry patch – which was far more magnificent than anything I'd been imagining.  We were hungry after our hike, so we didn't waste any time – we laid directly into that luscious blueberry patch, grabbing handfuls of sweet, juicy berries (the wild ones are smaller and sweeter than any you'll find in a store) and sending them straight down our greedy gullets.  It took a while before we were sated, but I completely lost track of how long that actually was.

Finally, gorged with blueberries, my dad decided it was time for him to take his usual afternoon-on-a-hike nap.  We had stumbled across a small pond in our meandering, and my dad had spied a flat rock nearby – so we went over there, washed our blueberry-stained hands in the little pond, and then my dad laid down and was snoring in no time at all.  I wandered around the edges of the pond, which had a lot of interesting plant life around it.  I was sitting on small rock almost across the pond from my dad, perhaps 15 minutes later, when I heard a noise to my left, the sound of something or someone crashing through the brush, over toward where my dad was lying down.  I looked up, and there was a bear, headed straight for the pond – it probably wanted a drink.

My family were all quite comfortable in the great outdoors.  The presence of a bear wasn't necessarily cause for great alarm, we knew, so long as we didn't do something the bear would find threatening.  So I wasn't immediately alarmed.  But a few seconds after I first sighted the bear, I saw a second one – a little cub, crashing after its mother.  That put an entirely different spin on the matter – mama bears are fiercely protective of their cubs, and not necessarily rational about it.  I was suddenly afraid for my dad.  Not for me, as the pond was more-or-less between me and the bears.  But my dad was just off to the side of the place those bears were heading for.

So I hollered out to my dad, to warn him.  The bears weren't on top of him yet, so I thought he'd have time to get over to where I was, and then we could go back up to the peak.  My dad woke up, looked at me questioningly, and I pointed toward the bears – which were still headed his way.  That got his attention in a hurry, and he jumped up and started moving.

But he didn't move in my direction – instead, he headed straight toward the mama bear, yelling, waving his hands, and throwing anything he could get his hands on.  The mama bear, obviously not used to being attacked (for no other interpretation of my dad's actions was possible), looked very confused.  I suspect she'd never seen anything so frightening in her life.  I was confused, too – that was the last sort of behavior I expected from my dad.  This was not the calm, gentle dad I knew so well – this was fearless, aggressive alpha-dad, a species I'd never seen before (nor did I ever see it again).  He was terrifying.

The mama bear and her cub took off at high speed to the north.  In just a minute or two, they were even out of earshot.  My dad came over to make sure I was ok, we laughed together about the terrified bear, and then he went back to his rock – and back to sleep.

It was a surreal experience for me, especially for the few minutes right after my dad continued his cherished nap in the sunshine.  He hadn't hesitated, not even for a fraction of a second, to run straight at that bear.   One might say “That’s what dads do when their children are threatened”, and I suspect that's true in a general sense.  But run straight at a roughly 300 pound mama bear with a cub, armed with nothing but a loud voice and some stones?  Would every dad do that?  I don't know, but I do know my dad would.  To protect me.  Adding to the surreality, a minute or so after the event he was laughing about it, and then immediately went back to sleep again.  Remembering the incident brings back that unreal feeling again, but also a smile.  That was my dad, utterly unintimidated by anything a Maine forest could throw at him...

Years later, my dad and I sat by a mountain pond surrounded by blueberries again, this time in the Sawtooth Mountains of southern Idaho.  The scene reminded me strongly of that experience on Doubletop Mountain, so many years before.  I asked my dad if he remembered it, and he did, vividly – what he mostly remembered was being angry at that bear for daring to threaten us.  He also remembered that on the drive home, he had made me promise not to tell my mom – he didn't want her to forbid us from making these hikes.  I don't know if she would have, but my dad told me I'd never said anything to her, which he was grateful for :)

My mom reads this blog, so if she makes it this far in the story, now she knows.  Sorry, mom.  Dad made me promise!

I am a realist...

I am a realist...  At times, a very happy realist!  Via reader Simi L.

The wisdom of Little Johnny...

The wisdom of Little Johnny...  Via reader Jim M.
A teacher asked her 6th grade class how many of them were Obama fans. Not really knowing what an Obama fan is, but wanting to be liked by the teacher, all the kids raised their hands except for Little Johnny.

The teacher asked Little Johnny why he has decided to be different ... again.

Little Johnny said, "Because I'm not an Obama fan."

The teacher asked, "Why aren't you a fan of Obama?"

Johnny said, "Because I'm a Republican.

The teacher asked him why he's a Republican.

Little Johnny answered, "Well, my Mom's a Republican and my Dad's a Republican, so I'm a Republican."

Annoyed by this answer, the teacher asked, "If your mom were a moron and your dad were an idiot, what would that make you?"

With a cherubic smile, Little Johnny replied, "That would make me an Obama fan..."
And what could I possibly add to that?

This is my human...

This is my human...  If you love dogs, you'll understand.  Via reader Simi L.


Cute!  Kids lip-syncing a Christmas carol.  Via my mom.

How to interact with the introverted...

How to interact with the introverted...  Dr. Carmella's guide, via friend, former colleague, and reader Simon M., who says:
Remember when we worked together at FutureTrade? I asked you if you wanted to go to dinner and you said that you wanted to go to your hotel room to work. Classic!
I don't remember that, actually, but it sounds normal to me :)

Aerial saw trimming...

Aerial saw trimming...  Via reader Simi L.  You'll have to see this one to believe it.  Full screen recommended...

On that Iran deal...

On that Iran deal...   As my mother-in-law would say, the more I read about it, the worser it looks.  And the more like yet another politically motivated disaster emanating from That One...

See no evil.  Jonathan Spyer.  An excerpt from this sober (and sobering) piece:
The newly announced deal appears to be the outcome of a long, unseen, bilateral negotiation between the US and Iran, which in recent weeks as it neared fruition began to involve the other members of the ‘P-5+1’ countries. That is, the deal is a US production. The Iranian incentive for accepting it is obvious. So the element of interest is in understanding the US motivation for agreeing to an arrangement which so signally fails to address the core concerns regarding Iranian nuclear ambitions.

What has become increasingly clear, and is now unmistakable, is that the present US Administration is simply unconvinced of the arguments made by its key regional allies to the effect that Iranian regional ambitions represent a dangerous destabilizing force in the Mid-East region.

This blindspot of the Administration is strange. The evidence is plain to see. Iran is an active participant in the Syrian civil war. It dominates Lebanon through Hizballah. It is closely allied with the government in Iraq. It is engaged in subversion in Bahrain, north Yemen, Kuwait and eastern Saudi Arabia. It actively sponsors Palestinian terror groups engaged in violence against Israel – most importantly Islamic Jihad and Hamas, but also elements within Fatah.
 Trust but verify: missing in 2013.  Austin Bay.  Another experienced and knowledgeable voice weighs in.  His conclusion:
There are no assurances in this deal. Inspectors will have access to several key Iranian nuclear sites, but numerous experts have found major loopholes in the new agreement. In fact, the new agreement is really an agreement to talk again in six months. The Iranian dictatorship, in exchange for a relaxation in economic sanctions (worth an estimated six to seven billion dollars) has merely promised to restrain its nuclear weapons program for six months.

Is six months Obama's new nuclear red line? If it is, the mullahs are betting it is as firm as his last one, the one prohibiting Assad's use of nerve gas on defenseless civilians.

 Iran: the White House is lying.  Lying about the deal being done (it's not), and lying about what it says.  Why am I not surprised?  And I am sad to note that my first inclination is to believe the Iranians, as opposed to That One.

An Iranian insider's view of the Geneva deal.  Sohrab Ahrami, in The Wall Street Journal.  My short summary: we were played...

Matt Welch isn't happy with the hyperbole, and doesn't think the deal is all that bad...

ObamaCare debacle update...

ObamaCare debacle update...  Because it's something I am most definitely giving thanks for today!

Online enrollment for small businesses rolled back a year.  But the mandate is still on – now they have to enroll the old-fashioned way.  This is really just another way of saying that the web site sucks scissors...

More details on the security problems.  It's all stupid, all the time here folks...

The big new PR message for December – is that there will be no big new PR message for December.  Don't want to overwhelm that all-singing, all-dancing site now, do we?

The dog ate ObamaCare.  Taranto at his scathing finest.  Note to self: don't ever get on the wrong side of James Taranto!

An executive without energy.  William Galston on That One.  He isn't kind.

Tick, tick, tick...  Steven Hayward is starting the ObamaCare repeal watch.  More popcorn, quick!

Rate hikes hidden in California's glowing ObamaCare reviews.  As I have personally seen, these aren't small rate hikes, either.  The news gets worse, too – my current insurance company is warning that because the mix of early enrollments is heavily leaning much more toward older, sicker people than they expected, the rates are going to go up even more.  As much as 70% more than previously estimated.  Oh, goody...

Bullet train to nowhere shot down?

Bullet train to nowhere shot down?  Well, the court took a good swing at it, anyway.  But I'm wise to the ways of Alinskyite progressives – there are some gaping holes in the case against funding the bullet train.  The most obvious of these is that That One could make it's judicial woes disappear with the stroke of a pen, just by waiving the federal requirements.   That doesn't seem unlikely at all...

Free speech?

Free speech?  Not in many (most) American universities that have “speech codes”.  One of these just stopped just stopped a Modesto Junior College student from distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution – on Constitution Day, no less.  In this case, it's not just happening in California, it's nationwide – the progressives practically own our higher educational system.  Doubt me?  Try talking with a recent graduate of a U.S. university ... any university!

Stay home, America...

Stay home, America...  Don't shop today.

NGC 1999, South of Orion...

NGC 1999, South of Orion...  Via APOD, of course.  Full res image.

“I want you to die a painful death, and soon.”

“I want you to die a painful death, and soon.”  So says Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) in a powerful blog post, to any politician who has acted, or plans to act, in a way that keeps doctor-assisted suicide illegal.  He's completely serious.  His wrath is derived from watching his father suffering until his death just a few days ago.  As you might imagine, this piece resonated strongly with me.  He's also got a follow-up post in which he defends his stance, reiterates his sincerity, and backs off not a single inch.

I am not one of the 49% (read his follow-up post to understand what I'm saying).

Pater: Not exactly politically correct...

Pater: Not exactly politically correct...  The photo at right is from June, 2007, from Lassen National Park in northern California.
Respect must be earned...

Way back in one summer in the late '50s, my dad piled me and my younger brother Scott into his old 1948 Dodge (similar to the one below, though his wasn't nearly as good looking) and we headed out for a grand trip to the western U.S.  I was, I think, just 7 or 8 years old; my brother a year younger.  I have lots of fine memories from that trip, but today I want to focus on just one.

We were driving on a hot, dusty dirt road in middle of Texas, headed toward Big Bend National Park.  We had left the Ozark Mountains of southwestern Missouri early that morning, and now it was the hottest part of the day.  The high humidity had us dripping with sweat – cars back then didn't have air conditioning, and opening the windows didn't help very much when the humidity was so high.  On top of that, it was dusty – the gusty winds picked up grit and powder off the fields and roads.  It was just plain miserable out, and all of us badly wanted to get this section of the trip over with.

At one point, our road climbed a long uphill path, up from a dry gully to the bluffs above it.  My dad downshifted and pushed that old Dodge up the hill, past an older gentleman walking slowly up alongside the road, hauling a heavy-looking homemade rucksack.  He slowed down to keep from blowing dirt all over the guy, and looked over to the right as we passed him, and waved with a smile, just being friendly.  Then his face changed to one of concern, and he stopped our car.  He got out, and my brother and I clambered out as well, happy for a chance to be out of the car and moving around after a few hours stuck inside it.  My dad walked back to the old fellow and started talking with him.  I wasn't near enough to hear the conversation, but I wasn't at all surprised when the guy climbed into the front passenger seat (my brother and I were in the back), put his rucksack on his lap, and rode with us for a while.  That's just the kind of thing my dad would do.  But the old fellow looked a bit surprised by his good fortune.

Not far from the top of that hill was a gas station, and we stopped to fill up.  I don't remember the price of gasoline back then, but it was probably something like 10 or 15 cents a gallon – and the attendant filled the tank, not us.  That's when my dad did the first thing that day that surprised me: he offered to buy our passenger a cold soda.  Now we didn't have much money, and we traveled very frugally – buying one of those expensive drinks at a gas station was not something my dad would normally do.  Furthermore, we never had soda – milk or fruit juice or iced tea, sure.  But soda?  Not happening.  Our passenger accepted the offer, and eagerly – he must have been very thirsty, and my dad must have seen that.

My dad and that older gentleman walked together into the tiny store built into the gas station, and my brother and I tagged along.  We were hoping that some of my dad's new-found willingness to buy soda might benefit us (it didn't).

What happened next is one of those memories of the permanent kind.  I can still remember tiny details about that little gas station store: the dirty floor, the torn and faded posters and advertisements hanging, the wind making everything move about, the noisy soda cooler that looked like a chest freezer, my brother heading for the rest room, and, most especially, the clerk telling that old gentleman that he wasn't allowed in the store.  The old gentleman, you see, was black (though that term wasn't used back then – the polite term then was “colored”).  This was an example of “segregation” and overt racial prejudice at its most basic level, but it was completely new to me.  I grew up around “colored people”; one family were tenants in a house on our farm.  I played with their kids, and their mom (Gertrude) was often our babysitter.  I'd never before seen anything remotely resembling the naked, blind prejudice this clerk so nonchalantly displayed.

My dad's face got very hard at the clerk's words.  It scared me, and my little kid self was feeling danger close at hand.  I know now that my dad had seen this sort of thing before, both in the Army and in his travels, so he knew exactly what was happening there.  He told the clerk that he was buying the gentleman a soda, and his expression said he wasn't going to take “no” for an answer.  The clerk hesitated for a moment, then took my dad's money and handed him a soda.  The tension eased.  My dad opened the soda, and gave it to our passenger – who took a long, appreciative slug and handed it back to my dad, to share.  To my absolute astonishment, my dad took a swig and handed it back, telling him to finish it off.  That surprised me so much because my dad would never have done that even with a bottle one of us had drunk from, much less a stranger.  He would have carefully wiped it off first.  But here he was with this guy we barely knew, with a small gesture of intimacy that I don't think I'd ever seen him make before.

We waited outside for my brother to finish in the restroom, and then we all clambered back into the car and drove up the road another mile or two, where our passenger told my dad that his home was.  We stopped, and that old black fellow shook my dad's hand, thanked him for the ride and the drink, lifted his rucksack, and took off along the dusty path to his house.  He never looked back, and of course we never saw him again.  My dad didn't said a word to us about the incident, but for hours afterward it was easy to see that he was upset about it.

Now my dad wasn't blind to someone's race or cultural background.  Far from it, actually.  He held many stereotypical preconceptions that at times made me quite uncomfortable.  For instance, he thought Italians were somehow predisposed to run in battle, and that Jews were likely to get the good end of any bargain you made with them.

But no matter what someone's race or cultural background, my dad had great respect for them if they worked hard and were honest.  It really was that simple, I think.  The black couple who lived on our farm with their family worked very hard – Wilmer, the dad, held down two (and at times, three) jobs, and Gertrude, the mom, did all sorts of odd work to bring in a nickel. Their older kids worked as well, and helped support the family.  They worked hard and were straightforward and honest folks, and thereby earned my dad's respect as people – and their race then didn't matter to him at all.  His preconceptions didn't enter into his evaluation of them.  Something similar happened with our black passenger, I think.  He didn't have his thumb stuck out begging a ride, and he was obviously working steady and hard to get up the hill.  My dad had a short, simple set of criteria for sorting people into those whom he'd respect, and those he wouldn't.  As best I can tell, race, ethnicity, education, wealth, or celebrity didn't enter into it in the slightest.  The unfairness of that gas station clerk's refusal to serve a hard-working man was just the kind of thing to get my dad's dander up – it was disrespectful of a man who deserved respect.

My dad, through his landscaping business and later work at a private arboretum, rubbed shoulders with quite a few accomplished, wealthy, and famous people.  My brother and I often came along with him in his landscaping work on the homes of some of these people, and I watched his interactions with them.  It was easy for me to tell those people he genuinely liked and respected; his body language was very different with them.  They could be rich or poor, accomplished or not, white or purple, celebrated or unknown – it didn't matter.  If they were hard workers themselves, and had honest interactions with him, they'd have my dad's respect – like that old fellow laboring up the hill in Texas.  Otherwise, he'd just do the job they paid him to do – polite and respectful, but not respecting – and move along.

I was in my late teens before I got an inkling that my dad's selective broad-mindedness wasn't the norm for everybody, and it wasn't until I joined the Navy in the '70s that I encountered entrenched blind prejudice.  In the late '60s I had a job as a sort of handyman for a slumlord in Trenton, N.J., a Mr. van Czak.  He gave me a real education in prejudice.  If you weren't white and of northern European descent, then there was absolutely nothing you could do to earn Mr. van Czak's respect.  Nothing.  He'd consider you fair game for cheating, humiliating, and even injuring; there was nothing subtle about his prejudice.  The contrast with my dad could scarcely be more striking.  Later, in the Navy, I ran into more institutionalized forms of prejudice.  The example that struck me most profoundly were the “stewards” – enlisted men who were servants to the officers, and virtually all of whom were either Filipino or black.  Some of the officers were more like my dad, but the majority – especially the older ones – were offensively demeaning and belittling of these hard-working and much abused men.

No, my dad wasn't blind to race or ethnicity.  But he also wasn't blindly prejudiced, and wouldn't condemn you because of who your parents happened to be, or where you were born.  Work hard and be honest, and you'd earn his respect.  And maybe a cold soda shared along a hot, dusty Texas road...