Thursday, May 26, 2011

Connections to the past

I don't think I have anything unique in this regard, but.......one thing that drew me into history, and the grad program at UC, was the connection I've always felt to the past. I was a late child, born in 1946, to a father that was in very late middle age, at best. He was born in 1889. Yep, you read right. My father was born before the Spanish-American war. His dad was born in 1856, nine years before the Civil War. My grandfather was of an age to remember well the civil war, except he was in Oregon, where it was not a part of day to day life.

I grew up hearing stories of life in Oregon before electricity, cars, and most things we think of as everyday life. Going fishing on the McKenzie River in a wagon pulled by a horse with his brothers, camping where now there are suburbs and malls. The Willamette Valley before there were paved roads, let alone freeways. His stories of the depression, when he and his brothers took to the rails, wandering the US looking for work. He had a game-to-game contract with the St. Louis Browns, and according to his brothers was a hell of a pitcher.

I"ve always felt that through my dad and grandfather, I have memories of life long past. It's given me a life view that hasn't always been helpful to everyday life. I saw the war in Viet Nam as an extension of the policies of containment laid out by George Kennan in 1948, this while on the ground there as a corpsman with the Marines. I had a lot of Marines listen to me and shake their heads in either wonderment or boredom.

I see the drug laws and public attitude with a view of how laudanum was popular in the late 19th century.  I drive over the Willamette Pass past Odell Lake in Oregon, where the old state highway crew barracks were, and hear my dad on the radio talking to the drivers plowing snow, the only way they could communicate. I remember the kids from Brooklyn who came out to Silver Lake, to work for the USFS in the summer of 1963, as part of LBJ's Great Society program, having taken a bus cross-country. First black kids we'd ever seen, and at the time I thought of FDR's CCC program. Neither my buddies or these Brooklyn kids had ever heard of him.

I'm not saying that I have any special knowledge, or any special aptitude, heaven knows. It's just that being seeped in the past, I tend to live there, and see things through that lens.

Link to my dad:
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=65493319

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Montefioralle

While living in Germany, we took several trips around Europe. Our favorite, at least my favorite, was Italy. We went to Venice for the first Thanksgiving, and in March went to Tuscany for a week. A friend from the states came over for the trip, and through contacts of hers we were able to rent a house in Montefioralle, a hilltop 'castle village', overlooking Greve in Chianti.

Montefioralle was first noted in documents around 1050, and was a military and administrative center for the local governing family. It had, and has, a wall around the town, with houses built into the wall.

It has a 'street', generally too small for cars of any size, going around inside the town. I would guess the population is around 500, and when we were there no tourist housing was present. We were fortunate to have our friend, L., along, who had a friend that had family that owned a house. Also, she speaks Italian, a big plus, it wouldn't have been the same trip without her.

Our place was the first door on the left side, two stories, a worn stone staircase going up to the second floor, where we lived. My understanding is the second floor had been constructed in the mid 1700's, and electricity brought in perhaps in the '60's....wires coming through the windows and walls. The bathroom was about 5x4', sink and toilet, and the 'shower' was a faucet head in the middle, near the window. One had to take everything out of the bathroom to shower, and the hot water would last maybe 3 minutes. There were two 'water heaters', one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen. You had to be careful about using too many electrical things or a fuse would go. A couple doors down the street was the birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci, marked only by a wasp engraving over the door.
The view from the kitchen

The hills of Chianti from the terrace outside the kitchen, opposite side from the previous picture

The same street on the other side of the village

The land around the village was agricultural, with lots of olive trees. Down the hill in Greve, you could get olive oil in a couple shops from a big vat, you bring your own container. If you've never had good olive oil, it's delicious. One can actually sip it like wine, it's that good.

Olive orchard just outside the village


In the week we were there we took day trips, to Sienna, where the famed exercise in treachery, bribes and anarchy, the Palio, occurs every Summer. It's a horserace between districts of the city.


We also went to San Gimignano, the city of towers

We also too trips to Rome, Pisa and Florence, I'll post pictures of that another time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Raw and the Cooked (apologies to Jim Harrison)



Last night after dinner I decided to do a food/cooking post. I made salmon patty and salad, and it was good. I'm not a gourmet cook by any stretch, but I like to cook, and enjoy good food. I can't account for this; growing up I was neither exposed to good food/cooking or adventurous eating. My mother was an indifferent cook at best, the standard meal I remember was hamburger or liver fried, boiled potatoes and canned vegetables. Her method of cooking any meat was to fry it until it was reduced in size by half. My first year at university I ate dorm food, and thought it great.

It wasn't until my late 20's that I started cooking passable food, and for some time followed my mother's example of overcooking what would have been good food. My time in the military and living in Japan helped, I was exposed to Vietnamese and Japanese food, and first had sushi.  Living in Alaska in the 70's helped, having access to freshly-caught King and Red salmon and halibut. And, oddly, this is where I first had good wine.

In a previous post I mentioned 'happy hour' in the ICU at Anchorage Community Hospital. Every Friday we would get wine and cheese from Madeline's Wine Shop, and Madeline would pick the wine. Prior to this, my wine exposure was limited to Mad Dog 20/20 for camping trips (high alcohol content for volume), and Tavola Red or Boone's Farm.

I 'cut my teeth' on Madeline's wines: 1970-71 French Burgundy...Grand Cru Pommard, Bonne Mares, Echeczeaux, Rhone wines like Hermitage, etc. The downside to this is when I had developed a taste for these delightful wines, I later had to pay for them. A few years later in grad school, I lived in Sonoma County and sampled the big reds of that bucolic area. This was also when I started sampling the food of the area: Italian and Chinese, San Francisco had it all. Abalone was readily available and cheap, and the Sand Dabs at the fabled North Beach Restaurant were fantastic. My friend David and I had a house in Sebastopol, he tended our large garden, and we cooked.

Neither of us were of a disposition to follow recipes, and my ad-hoc style of cooking developed. So if I were to write a recipe for last night's salmon pattys, it might look like this:

A nice large Salmon Fillet, cut up into smallish pieces
A bunch of green onions, also chopped fairly fine
A couple garlic cloves, crushed up
A bit of mayo and good mustard
Some bread crumbs, panko if available
A sprinkle of salt and pepper, fresh parsley is ok too

Combine ingredients in a bowl, shape into pattys

Saute (ok, fry) in a big pan with olive oil till nicely brown on both sides, roughly 4 or 5 mins on each side on medium to high heat.

Serve on a nice salad.

I'm now limited somewhat in what I cook, due to where I live. Butte has no good seafood markets; the closest is Bozeman, some 75 miles away. We're luckier with meat, there is a good butcher only a couple miles away. In the summer we have the Farmer's Market every Saturday for 4 months, and for that short period some great, fresh vegetables and fruit are available. Other than that, it's pretty standard supermarket fare. One of them has a fish counter, and occasionally has a decent selection. In the Spring, Summer and Fall of course there is fresh trout from the streams and lakes, but frankly I find trout a bit bland. Nice once in a while, but I want Grouper, Monkfish, Smelt and Flounder. And rabbit. Rabbit is fantastic.....a saddle of rabbit, slow cooked in a burgundy, mushroom and garlic stock. Sigh. When I lived in Germany a few years ago, rabbit was available in the markets, as was a hundred different kinds of wurst. And don't get me started on bread. Good, fresh, crusty bread. The one good bakery in Butte is long gone, and in Germany there were 6 bakeries within walking distance, each with different 'brot' every day.

I almost forgot duck. Another post perhaps.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Road Trip 1973, pt. 3

We got back to Dawson, re-supplied and headed onwards, crossing the Yukon River on a ferry, then climbing up the hills towards the border crossing near Chicken, Alaska.


Nearing the border, the road went over the tops of rounded hills, there was little traffic. We had been on the road for over a week, the Land Cruiser was caked with mud, and we probably looked like the Snopes, just getting to California.

The US custom's agent at the border either thought we looked suspicious, or perhaps was bored from inactivity. He had us out of the vehicle, and we watched as he crawled in and leaned over the front seat, rummaging through the chaos in the back. We heard him yelp, then swear. He got out, holding a jacket of Tim's, his hand still in one pocket. Tim had done what I often did at his age; when fishing and changing lures it was easier to put a lure in your pocket than find the tackle box. The poor guy had a treble hook firmly embedded in his finger. I'm sure he thought we'd set a trap for him, and he was not happy. Despite assurances this was not the case, after getting the hook out he proceeded to empty the back, putting our stuff on the ground. An hour or so later, finding nothing, he reluctantly let us pass back onto US soil.

Two days later we got to Anchorage. I decided to splurge, and we got a room at the Cook hotel with a view of the end of Cook Inlet, looking north towards Denali (Mt. McKinley).

I remember being surprised at how warm it was, mid-eighties and sunny. The trip thus far had been cool, frequent rain, and even some sleet while were on the Dempster. I thought that Alaska had great summers, not knowing that we were there the week when they had record high temps. We moved up to Anchorage the next April from Grants Pass with our infant daughter, and I waited for the summer to start....I think it might have gotten up to 70 that next summer, and it was then I found out what summers were really like up there.

We spent a day doing laundry and seeing the sights. I liked Anchorage a lot, and was determined to move there.

We decided to drive down the Kenai Peninsula as far as we could go, to Homer. The road goes along Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, so named because when Cook explored the area he thought he'd found passage back to the Pacific, but alas, had to 'turnagain'. Up over Moose Pass, past lower and upper Summit Lake.

After half a day or so we got to the Kenai River, where I'd planned to fish. I saw the masses of fishermen lining the banks of every access and drove on to the Russian River, where I saw my first scene of 'combat fishing'. It was what I later came to call a 'welcome to Alaska' moment.


For the next two days the hard reality of fishing near roads in Alaska was driven home. Few roads, lots of people. After moving there the following spring I learned that there were places that had few people within hiking distance, or unmarked roads that led to 'secret' salmon spots, but for now this was the reality.

We continued down to Homer, the 'end of the road'. Homer was and is, I suppose, one of the most picturesque places on earth that includes a town.

The end of the road is at the end of this long 'spit' of land that sticks out into Katchemak Bay, with Cook Inlet off to the north. At the time, Homer was around 3 or 4 thousand people. In the next few years I spent a lot of time in Homer, and grew to love it. The inhabitants seemed to be either back-to-the-earth hippies-with-guns, living on their gardens, fishing and hunting, or right-wing religious conservatives. My next visit there would be in late April, after moving to Anchorage. I drove down, arriving in early evening. I stopped at a large, barn-like structure that proclaimed it's self to be "The Palace". A tavern, filled with hippies that looked like me. The bartender at the crowded bar walked by, handed me a joint, saying he'd be back in a minute to get me a beer. I was quickly elbowed by the gent next to me, wondering if I was going to just hold on to that thing. But I digress....

Somehow, I decided we were going to experience 'real Alaska fishing', and after asking around, went to a float plane outfit on the small lake just visible in the lower part of the above picture. For a hundred bucks, he loaded the three of us in his Beaver, and we took off on floats. Across Katchemak Bay there was a small lake he knew, Leisure Lake. A short flight took us over the first mountains, we spiraled in and landed on this lake and stayed for three days.

I have no pictures of the lake, having either lost them over the years or one of the boys have them. I remember the fishing was good, rainbows up to 20", and the weather was wonderful. In later years I learned the lake was accessible by trail from the shore, but had infrequent visitors. In the months it was ice-free, there was just too much good fishing more easily accessed.

After two nights, the plane came back and flew us out. We drove back to Anchorage, camped in a city park, and started the marathon drive back. I remember little about that drive, except that for some reason I was in a hurry to get back. I do remember that roof rack had disintegrated, and Tim was really crowded in the back. Russ had long since stopped trading seats with the poor lad. Also, somewhere in the Yukon, I was pulled over by a RCMP. I had apparently gone through a small village going 50, and not even seen it. He gave me a ticket for 15 Canadian bucks, shook his head, and let us go.

We got back to Bend some days later in the early evening, I dropped the kids off at my sister's place, and drove back to Grants Pass. Going past Diamond Lake, in the dark, I hit a deer. It had come out of the trees onto the road, and the sturdy fender of the Land Cruiser whacked it's head. I got out, saw it was undamaged but for the head, quickly gutted it, loaded it into the back with the trips detritus, and drove home. Somehow a fitting end to the trip.

During that fall and winter I wrote hospitals in Anchorage and Fairbanks, seeking work. Getting offers from both we decided Anchorage was the best place, and moved up in late March. In the next years I experienced some of the finest hunting and fishing in the world. I caught large salmon and steelhead from streams I'd driven by the previous summer without a glance, and grew to love the place.

It wasn't all roses; it was the pipeline years in Anchorage, I was working long hours and various other 1970-ish things took their toll on my marriage. But that's another story, and perhaps not for this forum.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Road Trip, pt. 2

I started this thinking my memories were pretty clear, the trip still firmly lodged somewhere in my brain. The more I've thought about it, the less I remember the day-to-day details of the actual trip. What I remember are instances, vignettes if you will; the rock tossed by a truck going by taking out the wing window on my side of the Land Cruiser, reaching over to turn the steering wheel when Russ was driving as we left the road headed towards the boggy tundra. Russ walking along a stream swollen by rain ahead of me, then disappearing into a hole, surfacing several yards downstream.

So, I'll describe as best I can, and hope for the best.

After we left Dawson City (vs. Dawson, later visited) we went north, going through Watson Lake, then following the highway as it wandered east, into the Yukon Territory. The road dips back down into BC once or twice before going north again. We camped at Muncho Lake, a glacier-fed long body of water, a greenish blue color.

The remarkable thing that happened here was that Tim took a bath. He put on bathing trunks, waded in to his waist, soaped up and dunked his body, emerging around the same color of the lake. After feeling the water, I decided that I didn't smell that bad after all.

Continuing along, we eventually got to Whitehorse, at which point we examined the map and decided to take the long way into Alaska, and went north towards Dawson. Someone had told us about a lake along the way that had good fishing not far off the highway. Remember, when I say 'highway', I mean a wide dirt/gravel road. Just outside Whitehorse, we stopped overlooking Lake LeBarge, of Robert Service fame. As a boy, I had been fascinated by tales of the north, reading Service and the stories of Jack London. We stopped, looking over the lake and I recited from memory the first couple stanza's of "The Cremation of Sam McGee".

A couple hours further north, we turned east on a four-wheel-drive dirt road, going 10 or so miles to a large, long lake. Ethel Lake had some primitive campground areas, the one we camped at had a large Whitehorse family there canning lake trout, presumably for the winter's fare. They had a large canvas cooking tent where the womenfolk were tending the canning while the men went out and trolled for lake trout, coming back and tossing them out like cord wood onto the beach. I remember a youngish girl fishing from shore, hooking a fish and landing it, then exclaiming "Oh, father. It's just a jackfish..."

We stayed a day and two nights, Tim caught some fish for dinner, and we hiked around a bit, seeing a few moose.
Ethel Lake:

We continued on north to Dawson, made famous by the gold rush and the novels and poems of Service and London. While there, someone told us about a road the Canadian government was building that eventually would go all the way from near Dawson up to the Arctic Ocean. It went about half-way at that time, there were no settlements or services along the way, and one had to carry enough gas to get up there and back. We filled the tank, topped off the two spare 5-gallon tanks, and started off on the Dempster Highway.

The gravel/dirt road started near Dawson, where the Klondike River enters the Yukon River. Apparently now there is a large sign, and the road while still dirt, has markers, mile post and curve signs. Then it was totally unmarked, except for the odd handmade sign naming the rivers crossed. In the three days were were on it, we encountered fewer than 5 other vehicles.


The road followed the Klondike River north, the first several miles of the valley were still scarred by the placer mining that had taken place in the late 19th century, with old machinery still visible on the river bed.
Around 50 miles north, we were in the Blackstone River valley, with the Oglivie Mountain Range around it.

We camped just off the road near the small river, and grabbed our rods. We carried a shotgun, and along the river saw some grizzly tracks in the sand. The fishing was remarkable....the river was classic riffle and pool structure, and in every pool the first several casts would yield 15 to 20 inch grayling. Beautiful fish with large sail-like dorsal fins. We kept one or two for dinner, not realizing just how bony they would be.

The next morning we continued on, going up over an unmarked pass out into the treeless tundra.


After a day we got to a newer looking bridge, crossing a larger river, with a sign telling us it was the Peel River. We camped there for the night, and saw some ducks in a large pond. I suggested to Tim that he go get us some duck for dinner, thinking he'd jump-shoot a couple. The young man walked to the pond's edge, and promptly ground-sluiced the flock, leaving 4 ducks floating out of reach. He spent the next hour with his spinning rod, fishing them out.


This old cabin was probably a trapper's wintertime abode, and still had some emergency canned goods and matches in a cupboard.

The next morning I put the two spare cans of gas into the Land Cruiser's tank, and we started back south. It felt to me that I had now done what I'd wanted to do since I was 7.......be in and experience the country that London and Service had written so well about, stirring my imagination and wanderlust.

Two summer's later I would be back on this road, and go further, up past the arctic circle. But for now it was on to Alaska.

to be continued.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Road Trip circa 1973, pt. 1

In August of 1973 I was living in Grants Pass, Oregon. My wife Cary was pregnant with our first daughter, and was going to Europe with her mother for two weeks. We were thinking of moving to Alaska, well...I was thinking of moving to Alaska, and thought that this would be a good time for a exploratory trip.  I also thought it would be fun to take my two nephews along. Russ and Tim, 16 and 13 respectively, were great kids, and over the years had often gone fishing and hunting with me. They lived with my sister Cora and brother-in-law Stew in Bend. I bought a Milepost, the great annual magazine about the Alaska Highway, researched as best as one could in that pre-google era, and made our 1971 Toyota Land Cruiser ready for the trip. A roof rack, a second spare tire, and two five gallon gas cans on the back.


A couple days after Cary left for the mother-daughter vacation, I left Grass Pants (the nickname of Grants Pass, origin unknown), drove to Bend early in the morning, gathered up the nephews and headed north on Highway 97. The plan was to camp at night, drive all day, and decided where we'd go as we got there.

We crossed into BC the first day, entering the Okanagan Valley, and camped that first night somewhere north of Kamloops. That evening we drove to a small store nearby, and the proprietor informed us that our President had resigned. I bought a six-pack in celebration of Nixon's exit, and some cider for the boys. Around the fire that evening, it took me a bit to realize that the kids were getting a bit garrulous and silly. On closer inspection of the apple cider I determined it was hard cider. They were disappointed to hear that the can they had in their grimy paws was the last one they would get.


We spent the next day driving north, stopping north of Prince George, BC. The scenery reminded everyone of the area north of Bend, pine, rimrock, some sagebrush.


The boys proved to be good travelling companions, the Land Cruiser was not the fastest of vehicles, and 60 mph was about as fast as it wanted to go. Stiff suspension made for a bumpy ride, and the one who sat in the back on one of the two sideways-facing bench seat was both crowded by our gear, and had a sore butt and head (from hitting the roof on bumps).

We got to Dawson Creek on the third day of the trip, as I remember. The small town was the 'official' start of  the Alaska Highway.


 The Alaska Highway in 1973 was 1,500 miles of dirt and gravel road. The copy of the Milepost was invaluable, it described the road in detail, and was surprisingly accurate. It warned us of a huge pothole at the start of the road, and indeed there it was. From this point, our speed dropped to around 40 mph, both because of road conditions, but the flying gravel from passing trucks and cars. It was an adventure, and vehicles were either well-equipped, or sitting at the side of the road.

The cover of an old book, the road looked exactly like this.

Note the screen added on the front of this pickup, keeping rocks from breaking the headlights and puncturing the radiator.


A newer picture, but what the road was like then, for 1500 miles.

In the following days we went through northern BC, into the Yukon Territory, and on into Alaska. Russ drove occasionally, ran off the road, then while walking slipped into a flooding stream and disappeared for several seconds. Tim on a mission to get dinner, ground-sluiced a flock of ducks, and was responsible for a border inspector getting a fishing hook in his hand.

To be continued......

Monday, February 21, 2011

Brushes with Fame

I was writing someone recently, and an occurrence that I hadn't thought about in years was brought up. So I thought I'd do a post about this kind of thing, and perhaps you've had similar ones. If so, I'd like to hear about it.


Ken Kesey

1970
I was going to school at Portland State University. A day or so after the infamous Kent State shootings PSU, like many other universities across the US, was shut down by protests. Barricades were made at the entrances from park benches, garbage cans and other things scavenged by the protesters. A day later marches occurred, I went on one to the city hall, but on the first day the school was closed I didn't want to deal with the protest. I was active in the local group of VVAW, and most of us felt the same way. We didn't trust ourselves to be non-violent.

So what did I do? I went fishing, of course. I got up early, went through downtown Portland, past PSU where I gave the protesters manning the barricades a mail-fist salute, and headed west. I thought I'd see if there was any spring cutthroat action on the Siletz River. Once I got there, I headed upriver, winding my Land Cruiser around the curves, and suddenly saw a house where none had been before. And a bunch of people, and weird looking equipment. It was a movie set! So I pulled over and parked in a dirt pull out area, got out and was watching the action.

I was standing there gawping, just another long haired, bearded guy, when this stocky, curly-haired, bald on top guy came up to me. I asked him what this was about, he told me that they were filming a movie. He said that it was titled "Never Give An Inch", though this was later changed to "Sometimes A Great Notion", like the book. Of course, it was Ken Kesey.

Then he said something that rather startled me: "Want to go smoke a joint with Paul Newman?" I must have looked like a deer in the headlights, but I replied that sure, don't mind if I do. We walked a short distance to a trailer, went in, and there was Paul Newman, sitting on a sofa. I was offered a can of Coors, sat and listened to them talk for a minute, then left when they had to get to work. The joint was never forthcoming, but hey, I got a can of beer.

Paul Newman was the more famous of the two, but what I'll always remember is meeting Ken Kesey.




Jean Saubert

Ms. Saubert was a great skiier, winning two Olympic medals in 1964, a bronze and silver. She was from Lakeview, Oregon, and skiied at Mt. Batchelor, near Bend, where I lived at the time. I learned to ski at Batchelor, and by the time I was a Junior in High School, I was a part-time instructor in Jack Meissner's Ski School, teaching on weekends. I was a good skiier, but at that time two female classmates were in a class of their own: Kiki Cutter, who went on to be on the Olympic team, and marry the team coach, Bob Beattie, and Karen Skjersaa, a wonderful downhiller. I knew two females who were much better than me, so I shoulda known better.....

I don't remember the exact date, except it was the winter of 1963, and a weekend. My brother-in-law and my sister and I had gone up for the day, I was not working that weekend. I met up with them in the chair line, and my brother-in-law was talking to a young woman, she looked a little older than me, but not much. Short hair and just a cute as could be, I joined them in the line. Stew introduced me, and I'm embarrassed to say that I had no idea who she was, this being the year before the Olympics. Stew and my sister Cora got on the lift, and this young lady and I sat in the chair behind them, going up the mountain.

I had on my instructor's parka, and she commented on it. I must have preened a bit, and agreed that yeah, I must be pretty darn good. Something like that, I don't remember exactly, but I still cringe to think how the conversation must have gone. Somehow, I suggested that we'd ski down together, I'd follow her and give her some pointers.

Sigh. What I do remember is that we got off at the top of the lift, and started down, me a bit behind her. It took about 100 yards before I realized I couldn't keep up with her. She was on the fall line, and something bad would happen if I tried to ski as fast as she was going. As she pulled away, I veered off, going over to another chair. I skied the rest of the day in fear that I'd run into her again.

On the drive back to Bend, I told Stew and Cora what I'd said to her, offering her lessons. They looked at me like I'd grown two heads, and Stew said something about hubris.