Thursday, May 29, 2008

We've come all the way down the coast to Malibu, the gateway to the land of make-belief.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

With the Santa Barbara Pier in the background, we took a break before heading south for the frantic streets of Los Angeles.Sitting on a beach not far from Santa Barbara beside whimsical driftwood sculpture, we find it hard to believe that only a week ago we were riding every day in the cold and the rain in Northwestern California.
THE BIG CHANGE IN LONG-DISTANCE BICYCLE TOURING: Now all of us out there on the road are riding with cell phones. We can make reservations for sleeping accommodations, and we can keep in touch with home. In Ventura, California, Roland is is taking a call from Denise in France.This old bridge north of Santa Barbara is no longer used by vehicle traffic. The busy new 101 freeway is still too close. The noise is sometimes deafening. If you click on the image to see it larger, you'll see that Roland is riding across the bridge.
Margaret's sister Colleen and RolandMy sister Helen and brother-in-law Don.
In “The Prince and the Pauper” Mark Twain wrote a story about two people who looked alike. One of them was royal and the other was common. I have gained a new appreciation for Twain’s story and others about mistaken identity. I have met my double.

I watch this man across the room studying the map, and I see myself. The shape of his head, his nose, and his balding head are the ones I see when I look at a photograph of myself or when I watch myself in a movie. It’s no surprise that people ask us if we are twins. They are incredulous when I say that we are not even brothers. When, on our way down from the Northwest to Central California, we saw members of my family, they joked that I had found my twin.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Bicycling along Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast
with a strong early morning sun aiming sideways
my shadow pedals as hard as I do racing me
past ferns and groves of spruce and backwater bays
but it never moves out ahead and neither do I.

Later in the day when the sun is high my shadow
swirls on the road underneath my running bicycle
touching wheels and dancing with me a pas de deux
we’ve practiced many times never missing a step
and will dance until there is no sun, no music, no life.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pity Poor Sisyphus.
The same rock, the same hill.

The curse was not the rock.
Work, even moving rocks, gives purpose and meaning
to human existence, enriching and lengthening life.

But the hill, the same hill every day.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Clicking on a picture in the BLOG makes it bigger...

A FARM CUT OUT OF THE GREAT FOREST ON THE WESTERN SIDE OF THE HOOD CANALTHOUGHTS AFTER A DAY OF RIDING AND DODGING LITTLE CREATURES TRYING TO MAKE THEIR WAY ACROSS THE HIGHWAY. I could claim this is a picture of me, but it's Roland. Until they hear us speak, people continue to assume we're brothers. I took this photo as he came up behind me on Highway 101 north of Shelton, Washington.


Making its way through the grass
in a few square yards of meadow,
what does the inch worm see or feel of the world?
Maybe feeling is more important than seeing...
The turtle crossing a not-so-busy road
never knows the peril in its journey.
Running in the deep forest or grazing by the mountain stream,
the deer is in little danger if no hunter is near.

Mowing machines, trucks, and hungry wolves change everything.
A lone bicyclist on a real journey seldom thinks he is vulnerable.
Aloneness is delicious and for long stretches of time
the asphalt roadway is the only reality.
A looming log truck in the side mirror changes everything.

Zooming along her trajectory in the solar system,
Mother Earth, like the inch worm, is a tiny living thing
relative to the vastness of space and time.
She is no more aware of the approaching meteor
than the earthworm is of the hooves of grazing cattle
or the deer is of the hunter in the bushes.
Perspective is everything.
We impose terror on ourselves by knowing too well what can happen.
Friday, May 9, 2008

The underbelly of the world is reserved
for train tracks and cast offs,
but I remember once in France
a train fast as a bullet sped
though fields of sunflowers,
so maybe it’s only in New Jersey
and, oh yeah, San Diego
detritus accumulates where trains run.

But wait awhile and as with mourning
the worst of it disappears,
not all at once but in snatches
of beauty unexpected; I remember
a deer looking up unsurprised
at my train window in California
and there was the time in Canada
when a moose seemed not to notice.

Monday, May 12, 2008

MY RIDING BUDDY ROLAND AND I taking a break in Stanley Park near the Lion's Gate Bridge.

Western Canadians present the indigenous people of their region as more than afterthoughts. The artifacts of Native Canadians outnumber those of European and Asian citizens in parks and museums. In the U.S. we pretend that Native Americans are not in any way basic to our existence as a nation. When I was a college student in California in the 1950s, teachers and textbooks referred to the indigenous people of the Central Valley as “Digger Indians” because they included roots and acorns in their diet. The term “digger” was intended and understood to be a racial slur. In the first decade of the Twentieth Century, only thirty years before I was born, “hunting parties” regularly went out into the Feather River Canyon area above Oroville to find and kill “Indians.” Of course, it was against the law, but the law was not paying attention.
CANADIANS HAVE NOT ALWAYS BEEN KIND TO THEIR FIRST PEOPLE. Eastern Native Canadians were often forced into poverty and then ignored. Native children were routinely removed from their families and put into special schools far away from home. If they were successful in school, they were allowed to take jobs in cities. If they weren't successful students, they were sent back into the poverty of native villages. There is irony in the name "English Bay" given to the beautiful body of water near where the totem poles are clustered together in Stanley Park.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


With my eyes shut tightly and my other senses shifted to neutral I lift my imagination up to a satellite view of our blue planet. Our beautiful marble Earth is a swirl of clouds and water and patches of green-brown-white continents. I zoom in for a closer look and try to locate all the paths on land, all the trails and roads. The American part of my continent is a scattering of asphalt and concrete tangles connected by furiously busy interstate highways that connect our cities. In this richest of nations, one would expect to see railroad lines everywhere; but there are actually fewer passenger rail connections between towns and cities now than there were in the middle of the last century. When I was a boy growing up in California, my friends and I often took the train on Saturday afternoons from Live Oak, population 2700, to Gridley, six miles up the road with no more people than my town but which did have a movie theater. The little iconic train depot in Live Oak is now a real estate office. I don’t know if the pretty little Gridley station is still there. In those days we took the train to Gridley to the movies rather than to Yuba City or Marysville because the movie theater in Gridley was close to the station. We could have gone on up to Biggs and to Chico. Once upon a time the railroads that transported vegetables, rice, fruit, and nuts outward from America’s primary breadbasket also transported people. OUR BRIGHT NATION of moon walkers and cyber geniuses got many thing right in the Twentieth Century. What it didn’t get right was transportation. We didn’t get transportation right because we didn’t know it mattered... to the environment and to the economy. We were too much in love with our colorful cars and sprawling surburbs. We were smug enough to assume our ways would always be better than the ways of old fashioned, stodgy European and Asian nations.. While we drove with our tops and our minds down, countries that had been brought to their knees in two great wars and a couple of smaller ones were slowly but surely replacing battle scarred infrastructure. While we celebrated the present, other countries built for the future. We thought we were being clever to let Japan and Germany make our cars and our television sets. We preferred to produce the shows for T.V. Sitcoms were more fun to make than automobiles. Blockbuster movies were more our style. We were content to entertain the world. We were amused at little Singapore’s feistiness. With our help South Korea turned from backward nation to prosperous country,. While our backs were turned, the great sleeping giants, China and India, woke up.

On a train journey from San Diego to Vancouver I was reminded that people who need to get somewhere don’t take the train. It takes twice as long to go from San Diego to San Francisco by train as it does by car. We take the train in Western America for sightseeing. The journey from San Diego to Vancouver on Amtrak, a distance of about two thousand miles, takes forty-two hours... if the trains are running. It took forty-four hours for me to make the journey. None of the conductors and service people on the train seemed to know why we were late. It was routine. It didn’t seem to matter. Only in Russia and a few places in Africa and South America are the trains as slow as ours. As long ago as the late 1960s I rode “Bullet Trains in Japan between Tokyo and Kyoto, and you could then and can now set your watch by them. China recently inaugurated a fast train from Beijing to Lhasa in Tibet. Don’t be surprised if Russian has a fast train between Moscow and Vladivostok before we get one between Washington and New York.

It’s not that I personally want to get somewhere fast. After all, I’m the old guy on the bicycle slowly making his way down the West Coast from Canada to Mexico. It’s my country that needs to get itself into gear... and to do it responsibly.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

My BLOG for the next month will be an anthem to our Mother Earth, this mostly beautiful, occasionally ugly, sometimes cruel organic ball of mystery on which we live out our lives. In the months of May and June as I ride my bicycle down the West Coast from Vancouver to San Diego, I will try to enjoy and respect and love every curve and stretch of the two-thousand-mile coastline, every hill and valley, every sheltering grove, every quiet village and every bustling city. Robert Frost wrote his own epitaph: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world,” and the words are carved onto the slab of New England granite that covers his grave in Vermont. I’m not ready yet for an epitaph, but it is time to acknowledge that my life has been and will continue to be a lover’s dance with the earth. I love to go. Anywhere. I once overheard my Mother talking with a neighbor about me. She said, “If someone came along dragging a sack, Jerral would get on it.” I was ten or eleven years old. She had me pegged.

I am fortunate to have known all four of my grandparents. My maternal grandfather died when I was a child, but I knew him well. The other three lived into my own adulthood. I didn’t know any of their parents, my great-grandparents. My great-great grandmother on my Mother’s side was a Cherokee maiden who survived the forced move along the infamous Trail of Tears from somewhere on the Mid-Atlantic Coast to an Indian reservation in what would become the state of Oklahoma. I know almost nothing else about her besides her having lived most of her life as a refugee. Her grand-daughter, my Grannie Lucy, with her long, dark hair and her almond eyes, was as much Native American as she was European. Only a couple of her children and grandchildren still had some of the look of the Cherokee, but I am not one of them. Most of us look like the Western Europeans that we mostly are. Grannie told us stories about her Mother’s experience growing up a half-breed in Oklahoma Territory; but she didn’t know much about her grandmother, the Indian lady; so that history has been lost. What has not been lost is my native ancestors’ respect for the earth. The older I get, the more I feel it. That’s what the next month’s BLOG writings will be about.Until recently, I had an English teacher’s love for a speech that was widely thought to have been spoken by the great Chief Seattle of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes in response to an offer in 1854 by President Franklin Pierce to “buy” a large area of Indian land in return for establishing a “reservation” for the Indian People. The speech has been circulated throughout the world to promote projects designed to protect the environment. I learned recently that the speech as I know it was actually written in 1971 by a screenwriter named Ted Perry for the movie “Home.” Apparently Perry pieced together and expanded remarks actually made by Chief Seattle when he received President Pierce’s offer. Perry said later that he assumed the Hollywood editors would give him credit for the speech, but they thought the movie would be more successful if people believed the speech in the movie was actually what Chief Seattle said. It was often reported during Chief Seattle’s lifetime that he was indeed a fine orator (in the Lushootseed language, not English), but the only evidence we have of what he actually said indicates that it was something like “Thank you very much.” Of course, that doesn’t serve my purpose for the BLOG, so I’m falling shamelessly back on Ted Perry’s version of Chief Seattle’s Speech:
“How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory and the experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful Earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family.

So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great White Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can lie comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us. This shining water that moves in streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events in the life of my people. The waters murmur is the voice of my father’s father.

The rivers of our brothers they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember to teach your children that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness that you would give my brother. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The Earth is not his brother, but his enemy and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s graves behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the Earth from his children, and he does not care.”

A POET WHOSE WORK I AM LEARNING TO LIKE VERY MUCH is Ilya Kaminsky. In his book, “Dancing in Odessa,” he begins my favorite of his poems with the line, “What ties me to this earth?” The poem hints strongly at a great love (with some fear) of the earth.

by Ilya Kaminsky

What ties me to this earth? In Massachusetts,
the birds force themselves into my lines--
the sea repeats itself, repeats, repeats.

I bless the boat from Yalta to Odessa
and bless each passenger, his bones, his genitals,
bless the sky inside his body,
the sky my medicine, the sky my country.

I bless the continent of gulls, the argument of their order.
The wind, my master
insists on the joy of poplars, swallows,--

bless one woman’s brows, her lips
and their salt, bless the roundness
of her shoulder. Her face, a lantern
by which I live my life.

You can find us, Lord, she is a woman dancing with her eyes closed
and I am a man arguing with this woman
among nightstands and tables and chairs.

Lord, give us what you have already given.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


With every passing week there are more scruffy people with crudely scribbled begging placards taking their places at intersections to ask for money from motorists. Listening to news commentators and to President Bush’s people describing Americans eagerly waiting with outstretched hands for the $300 or $600 gift from the government, one might conclude that America is fast becoming a nation of beggars. Where is the proud nation that was challenged almost fifty years ago by President John F. Kennedy declaring, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”? President George W. Bush has a very different remedy for our country’s problems. He apparently wants individual citizens to ask not how they may help the country pay its growing national debt, but whether they will receive a “gift” of $300 or $600 from his administration to secure their good will and their votes for his party in the next general elections. Instead of demanding to know how we are going to get out from under the burden of a national debt that would cost each of us nearly $37,000 to pay, we stand with our hands out to receive his bribe.

Where is the money for the bribe coming from? Will it be taken from programs that address educational needs of the nation’s children? Might it be generated by reducing services for our men and women serving in the military? Will the Department of Transportation have its budget reduced? What about the Department of Health and Safety? What about Social Security? How about Medicare? The Environment? With no clear statement about where he will get the money, the President is giving me and people like me $600.

It is reported that veterans must wait weeks to see a mental health provider even though it is known by the President and leaders in his administration that in the past year 121 soldiers committed suicide and another 2100 attempted suicide. Soldiers in combat zones are among Americans losing their homes to foreclosure. Lenders can seek a court order to foreclose on a house even if it is the home of a soldier in combat. When the soldier comes home from war he or she must struggle with high gas and food prices. Returning soldiers find that student loans for college are more difficult to get and more expensive than they were before George W. Bush became president. And his solution to the problem is to give me and others like me $600.

I will not let a check in the mail, a $600 bribe, move me to ignore all that this administration has done to bring our country to the brink of bankruptcy. I will not be bribed to forget the damage to the environment, the increased numbers of hungry people in lines at food banks, and the growing national debt.

SECOND THOUGHTS: If spending the $600 "gift" doesn't save the American economy, perhaps the next "gift" from the President will be an American Flag stick pin for us to wear on our collars. That should solve all our problems. If that doesn't work, he can always give each of us a t-shirt with an elephant on it...maybe two elephants.Sri Lanka, March 19, 2005