Earth Day 1: 50 Years Ago… It Changed My Life

Sand dunes in Death Valley. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.
The world is full of incredible beauty that is worthy of our love and protection. These are sand dunes in Death Valley National Park.

I was recruiting for Peace Corps on the Davis Campus of the University of California on April 22, 1970, 50 years ago. For those of you not familiar with the date, it was Earth Day I. At the time, I was running the Peace Corps’ Public Affairs office for Northern California and Nevada out of Sacramento. Curiosity pulled me away from my recruiting duties to check out the event.

UC Davis puts on great fairs. It probably has to do with an event it calls Picnic Day, a rite of spring with roots as deep as humankind. The birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and the snow is melting in the mountains; let’s have a party! All of the departments become involved, put on shows, put up displays, and do silly things.

The flowers were blooming.

Earth Day at Davis was similar, but it incorporated a vitally important message.

Somehow we had forgotten where we had come from in our rush toward progress and the good life— and in the desire to maximize profits. As a result, we were chopping down our forests, polluting our streams, poisoning our air, destroying our last remaining wilderness areas, and saying goodbye forever to innumerable species whose only evolutionary mistake was to get in our way.

We had forgotten that birds can make music as beautifully as any symphony, that peace and balance can be found in the wilderness, and that somehow, in some yet unfathomable way, our fate might be tied to that of the pup fish. It seemed okay that the last brown pelican was about to fly off into the sunset forever so we could squeeze one more bushel of wheat from our crops, and that it was appropriate for the great redwoods, silent sentinels who had maintained their vigilance for over 4000 years, to die for our patio with a lifespan of 20-30 years.

Brown pelicans, once near extinction because of DDT used on crops, have made a dramatic comeback since the use of DDT was banned. I took this photo south of Santa Barbara, California.

Rachel Carson, in her landmark book Silent Spring, had sounded a clarion call to a Holy Crusade: saving the earth. Others, too, were raising the alarm. Earth Day I was an expression of growing concern. Its message struck a deep chord with me. The years I had spent wandering in the woods while growing up, my exploration of the rainforest around Gbarnga, Liberia during my Peace Corps assignment, and my hiking in the wilderness as a backpacker, all came together in a desire to join the environmental movement and help protect the wilderness I had come to love.

Some of my happiest moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa were spent exploring the rain forest surrounding where I lived.

I wandered between booths on campus, talking to the representatives of various organizations and picking up materials. There was information about the redwoods, over-population, water and air pollution, land-use planning, mass transit and the protection of valuable farm lands. I learned about all the species that had become extinct because of our activities— and that many more were threatened.

Giant redwood tree at Redwoods National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.
How could one not feel awe when confronted by giant redwoods in their cathedral like setting at Redwood National Park. It seemed terribly wrong to me that the life of a 2000 plus year old giant should be ended with a chainsaw to meet our short-termed demand for wood products.

I went home that night inspired, concerned, and more than a little frightened about what we were doing to our planet— the only home we have. Three weeks later, I had left the Peace Corps and become Executive Director of Sacramento’s first Ecology Education/Environmental Action Center, working 50-60 hours a week for one hundred dollars a month. I would continue to devote a significant amount of my time to supporting environmental causes for the next 20 years of my life, working beside some of the most dedicated, selfless and talented individuals I have ever known.

Our efforts, and those of hundreds, even thousands of others, made a difference. The majority of people in the US as well as in numerous other countries around the world became convinced that protecting the environment was a worthwhile endeavor. Air pollution was reduced, waterways were cleaned up, wilderness areas were saved, and a number of endangered species were brought back from near extinction. Once again, eagles soared, buffalos roamed and wolves howled.

But the progress has never been easy and the war is far from won. Nothing represents this better than our present battle against global warming, a reality that was dramatically brought home to me two years ago as I hiked down the Pacific Crest Trail dodging huge fires in Oregon and California. A drought created by climate change had killed millions of trees and those trees were burning.

The massive Carr Fire near Redding sent fire tornadoes shooting into the air, reduced visibility to close to zero, and filled the air with choking smoke for hundreds of square miles. This was the view I faced on the PCT near Chester, California.

The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day 1 is an excellent time to take stock of where we are in our efforts to protect the environment. The news is not good. Over the past three years we have seen our national government withdraw from international efforts to combat global warming, eliminate many of the protections that we have fought so hard to put in place over the last 50 years, back away from using science designed to measure the impact of pollution, and systematically dismantle the EPA. Continuing down this path will once again lead to air filled with pollution, waterways poisoned, wilderness areas eliminated, and species exterminated. This isn’t an exaggeration; it is reality.

But it doesn’t have to be. The time to renew our commitment to the environment is today. Each of us can take action on the personal level to reduce our negative impact on the environment, support positive efforts on the local, state, national and world level, and insist that our political leaders do the same. The future of our children, grandchildren and future generations depend on it.

Grand Tetons National Park photo by Curtis Mekemson.
A final reminder of the beauty that exists in our world. This are the Grand Tetons. Happy Earth Day. May we have 50 more!

Lucifer, Guccifer and WordPress… A Detour

Since my blog features travel, outdoor adventures and Burning Man, I usually don’t discuss politics here, other than an occasional comment. This doesn’t mean that I’m not concerned about what is happening in the nation and world. In fact, I am deeply concerned. And occasionally this concern slips over into my blog. Today is one of those occasions. I have been reading the Mueller Report.

I highly recommend that people who are interested in the future of America (and other democracies throughout the world) do likewise. Going to the source provides a different perspective that is well worth the effort. The report is on-line, easy to download, and free (download a copy here). Regardless of how people feel about the relationship between the Presidential campaign and Russia, there is no doubt that the Russians made an all-out effort to impact the American election and sow discord in the nation by utilizing social media in 2016— all the while posing as someone else. 

We’ve heard a lot about Russia using Facebook and Twitter, but it also used YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram. But what about WordPress? That’s where Lucifer and Guccifer come in. Lucifer, as you know, is the devil. You might think of Guccifer as his evil twin brother in disguise. Guccifer 2 was the WordPress site created by the GRU, the main military foreign-intelligence service of the Russian Federation, to release the data that it had stolen/hacked from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Here is a section of the Mueller Report that addresses Guccifer 2 found on pages 42-45:

“On June 14, 2016, the DNC and its cyber-response team announced the breach of the DNC network and suspected theft of DNC documents. In the statements, the cyber-response team alleged that Russian state-sponsored actors (which they referred to as “Fancy Bear”) were responsible for the breach. (145) Apparently in response to that announcement, on June 15, 2016, GRU officers using the persona Guccifer 2.0 created a WordPress blog. In the hours leading up to the launch of that WordPress blog, GRU officers logged into a Moscow-based server used and managed by Unit 74455 and searched for a number of specific words and phrases in English, including “some hundred sheets,” “illuminati,” and “worldwide known.” Approximately two hours after the last of those searches, Guccifer 2.0 published its first post, attributing the DNC server hack to a lone Romanian hacker and using several of the unique English words and phrases that the GRU officers had searched for that day. (146)”

(If you want to keep a secret, you shouldn’t leave behind such an obvious trail)

“That same day, June 15, 2016, the GRU also used the Guccifer 2.0 WordPress blog to begin releasing to the public documents stolen from the DNC and DCCC computer networks. The Guccifer 2.0 persona ultimately released thousands of documents stolen from the DNC and DCCC in a series of blog posts between June 15, 2016 and October 18, 2016. (147) Released documents included opposition research performed by the DNC including a memorandum analyzing potential criticisms of candidate Trump, internal policy documents (such as recommendations on how to address politically sensitive issues), analyses of specific congressional races, and fundraising documents. Releases were organized around thematic issues, such as specific states (e.g., Florida and Pennsylvania) that were perceived as competitive in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

“Beginning in late June 2016, the GRU also used the Guccifer 2.0 persona to release documents directly to reporters and other interested individuals. Specifically, on June 27, 2016, Guccifer 2.0 sent an email to the news outlet The Smoking Gun offering to provide “exclusive access to some leaked emails linked [to] Hillary Clinton’s staff.” (148) The GRU later sent the reporter a password and link to a locked portion of the website that contained an archive of emails stolen by Unit 26165 from a Clinton Campaign volunteer in March 2016. (149) That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DC Leaks websites tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.”

“The GRU continued its release efforts through Guccifer 2.0 into August 2016. For example, on August 15, 2016, the Guccifer 2.0 persona sent a candidate for the U.S. Congress documents related to the candidate’s opponent. On August 22, 2016, the Guccifer 2.0 persona transferred approximately 2.5 gigabytes of Florida-related data stolen from the DCCC to a U.S.blogger covering Florida politics. On August 22, 2016, the Guccifer 2.0 persona sent a U.S.reporter documents stolen from the DCCC pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement.” 

“Around the same time, WikiLeaks initiated communications with the GRU persona Guccifer 2.0 shortly after it was used to release documents stolen from the DNC. On June 22, 2016, seven days after Guccifer 2.0 ‘s first releases of stolen DNC documents, WikiLeaks used Twitter’s direct message function to contact the Guccifer 2.0 Twitter account and suggest that Guccifer 2.0 ” send any new material stolen from the DNC here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” (160)

“On July 6, 2016, WikiLeaks again contacted Guccifer 2.0 through Twitter’s private messaging function, writing, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next two days preferable because the DNC is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Guccifer 2.0 persona responded, “ok… i see.” WikiLeaks also explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.” (161)

I don’t have a clue if other WordPress sites were created to generate conflict in the US. WordPress has been conspicuously silent on the whole issue. 

Now, your feeling might be, “Oh this is just politics as usual.” And if the election turned out the way you wanted, you might even feel that the interference was a good thing. Except it isn’t. Consider this. What if a Russian sub slipped along the Maine Coast and a group of armed soldiers disembarked for some nefarious purpose, say knocking out the power grid for the Northeast. It would be an act of war. And it would be an act of war regardless of whether you were on the right, left, or center of the political spectrum. Millions of Americans have given their lives to protect us against such a scenario. If an American of left, right or center persuasion aided the Russians in their efforts, it would be considered treason. Plain and simple.

Next, think of this. Vladimir Putin and the GRU are not America’s friends. Their total objective is to weaken the United States and other Western Democracies— to replace freely elected governments with something closer to Russia’s government where tyranny, secret police, rigged elections and controlled press dominate. And to create governments willing to look the other way as Russia re-conquers the territory it lost at the end of the Cold War, using whatever force is required.

And finally, this. The nature of warfare has changed. Yes, ships and planes, and bombs, and missiles, and guns and soldiers are still part of it. But cyber warfare has become a major new player. And it is much more insidious. In 2016, the Russians invaded America. Their efforts went far beyond trying to discredit Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. For one, they tried to hack our voting system. Picture going to the polls, voting, and having your vote changed, or lost. To the degree such an effort is successful, it goes to the very heart of our democratic system. It creates distrust in the system. It destroys the system. 

Even worse, Russia tried to sow hatred and discord between groups of Americans, between ethnic groups, between religious groups, and between political groups. That such tensions already existed in America is obvious. It is also obvious that the strength of our nation, and all democracies, lies in the ability of various groups to work together for the better of the whole, to take advantage of the strengths the various groups bring to the table, and to compromise when necessary. The future of America (and the world) is based on bringing people together, not tearing them apart.

The 2019 San Francisco Writers Conference… And an Argument for Self-Publishing

It used to be that obtaining an agent and a publisher was a lot like climbing this mountain: hard work but worth it when you reached the top. Maybe not so much anymore. (I took this photo of Mt. Shasta on my way home from the 2019 San Francisco Writers Conference.)

I’ve been AWOL from my blog, playing hooky at the San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC). I’d been before, way back when obtaining an agent and a publisher were the primary options for being an author— the gold standard. This time, I packed my bags and headed off to the conference with that objective in mind, but I was also open to self-publishing, which is what I did with The Bush Devil Ate Sam. I bought a book by Andy Ross on how to write a book proposal and went to work. I like Andy, he fights hard for the people he represents. I also like him because he managed Cody Books in Berkeley for several years. 

Cody’s was one of the nation’s great bookstores. I can’t count the number of times I walked through its doors, the hours I spent wandering the aisles, and the great books I bought— even when I could barely afford them as a student at Cal in the mid-60s. The bookstore was always on my to-do list every time I returned to Berkeley, until one day I hiked down Telegraph Avenue eager for a bookstore fix and discovered it was no more. It was like learning that a good friend had died.

Andy’s book, The Literary Agent’s Guide to Writing a Non-Fiction Book Proposal, is packed full of good advice, but it comes with a surprise ending: He self-published it. In fact, I quickly learned that a major thrust of the conference was on self-publishing. It has come of age since I had attended the SFWC in 2010. Still, there was plenty at the SFWC for those following the traditional path.

A number of agents were present and they ran workshops on how to pitch books to them during the agent speed-dating part of the conference. Think query letter with a lot less time. “You should be able to sell your book with one sentence.” Good luck with that. It’s the old Hollywood elevator pitch idea. When you catch a producer in an elevator, you have one floor to sell your movie script. Something like, “My movie is about Godzilla and Lassie teaming up to save Timmy.” 

I sat down with Andy for 15 minutes to talk about my book, It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me.I had a one page, carefully-thought-out summary that introduced the book, my writing style, and relevant background. Andy liked my writing and even more my sense of humor, but, he noted, travel memoirs are hard to sell and Bill Bryson and Cheryl Strayed had already written the books on the PCT and Appalachian Trail. (I don’t agree with that, obviously.) He did suggest that I seek out agents who focus on adventure travel, and made several other good recommendations.

I listened carefully to presentations by the other non-fiction agents who were attending the conference and none seemed particularly interested in adventure travel books. I wasn’t particularly disappointed. Finding an agent and a publisher are incredibly difficult, even more so when your book is a memoir. Rejection is the name of the game—unless you are incredibly famous, or have a ton of good luck. Being a decent writer with a good story is rarely enough. There are millions of us. Too bad my name isn’t Curt Kardashian. Wait, I’ll pass on that. I’d much prefer to self-publish. 

The battle between print books and eBooks is a lively one. Pundits were ready to pronounce the print book industry dead for a while. But it has come roaring back. People still like the feel of a book. The 3000 or so in our library and scattered throughout our house certainly endorse the hands-on approach. But we also use our Kindles extensively. Travel, poor light, tired eyes, easy access to millions of titles, and cost are all factors. Both industries are here to stay, at least for now.

Writers have a different perspective on the issue. Having a publishing house print your book still has a certain prestige to it. And the advantage of getting your book into book stores. An agent and publisher also help assure that your book is well-edited and has a good title and cover. But the odds of getting a publisher, especially one of the big five in New York, are extremely low. They are now owned by large corporations who have one criteria: profit. Their only concern is will your book make money, lots of it. And that’s the tail that wags the dog.  

There is more. 

Publishing house contracts are notoriously one sided. A small advance with minimal royalties and maximum control are what first time authors can expect from a publisher. Time is also a factor. The project can easily take two years, and that’s after you have landed an agent and a publisher, which might take another year or so, if at all. Shelf-life is another concern. Yes, your books may get into bookstores, but if they don’t sell quickly, off they come. Bookstore owners have an agreement with publishers to take back unsold books and space is limited. Three months seem to be the outer limits. Your book is then destined for the burn pile— ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Marketing is part of the answer. Publishers used to take this on as part of their responsibility. No more. Unless your name is J.K. Rowling, or David Baldacci, or Catherine Coulter (she spoke at the conference), etc., you are expected to do your own outreach. In fact, most agents and publishers won’t even consider your book unless you have a ready-made platform. Jane Friedman, who is a guru on authors’ platforms (and was also at the conference), defines platform as “an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.” A blog, for example, is a platform. Having one was highly recommended by just about everyone. There was a slight catch in the fine print: It helps to have 100,000 followers. My 5,600 followers, 530,000 views and 20,000 comments count as something, but not much. Get to work, Curt!

It is easy to see the appeal of going the Indie route and self-publishing. Your digital book has a virtual shelf-life of forever. From start to finish, you can have it up and out in months instead of years. Your profit per book sold comes in at between 50 and 100% as opposed to 15 and 20%. Modern print on demand capabilities mean your readers can still get the book in print as well as digitally. And, finally, you are in total control. Whether your book is published or not doesn’t depend on a 15 second decision by an agent or editor, who may be having a bad day.

None of this might matter if the publisher handled all of the marketing and used their considerable expertise to push our books. The effort and rejection that goes into obtaining a publisher would be worth it. But they don’t. If our success is going to depend on the energy and skill we bring to marketing as well as writing, then self-publishing becomes a viable option, and may indeed, be the preferable option.

It was a great conference. I felt I learned a lot. Now it’s time to get back to blogging and writing the book. The decision to self-publish or not can wait until the book is finished.

NEXT POST: I came home to snow. Not much but it was pretty. It’s time for my annual snow post!

The Great Tree Race… Blogging My Book on “MisAdventures”

Incense cedar tree in Diamond Springs graveyard

A view of the tall incense cedar in the Graveyard today.


Two incense cedars dominated the Graveyard. From an under five-foot perspective, they were gigantic, stretching some 75-feet skyward. The limbs of the largest tree started 20 feet up and provided scant hope for climbing. As usual, my brother Marshall found a risky way around the problem.

Several of the lower limbs came tantalizingly close to the ground at their tips. One could be reached by standing on a convenient flat tombstone. But only Marshall could reach it; I was frustratingly short by several inches. Marsh would make a leap, grasp the limb and shimmy up it hanging butt down until it became large enough for him to work his way around to the top. Then he would crawl up to the tree trunk, five Curtis lengths off the ground. After that, he would climb to wonderfully mysterious heights I could only dream about.

Eventually I grew tall enough to make my first triumphant journey up the limb. Then, very carefully, I climbed to the heart-stopping top, limb by limb. All of Diamond Springs spread out before me. I could see our school, and Caldor (the lumber mill where my father worked), and the woods, and the hill with a Cross where I had shivered my way through an Easter Sunrise Service. I could see my whole world. Except for a slight wind that made the tree top sway and stirred my imagination about the far away ground, I figured I was as close to Heaven as I would ever get.

View of Caldor Lumber company circa 1958

The view from the top of the incense cedar tree in the Graveyard looking toward Caldor Lumber Company circa 1958. The mill had already closed down by this time.

By the time I finally made it to the top, Marshall had more grandiose plans for the tree. We would build a tree house in the upper branches. Off we went to Caldor to liberate some two by fours. Then we raided Pop’s tool shed for a hammer, nails, and rope. My job was to be the ground man while Marshall climbed up to the top. He would then lower the rope and I would tie on a board that he would hoist up and nail in. It was a good plan, or so we thought.

Along about the third board, Pop showed up. It wasn’t so much that we wanted to build a tree fort in the Graveyard that bothered him, or that we had borrowed his tools without asking. He even seemed to ignore the liberated lumber. His concern was that we were building our fort too close to the top of the tree on thin limbs that would easily break with nails that barely reached through the boards. After he graphically described the potential results, even Marshall had second thoughts. Pop had a solution though. He would build us a proper tree house on the large limbs that were only 20 feet off the ground. He would also add a ladder so we could avoid our tombstone-shimmy-up-the-limb route.

And he did. It was a magnificent open tree house of Swiss Family Robinson proportions that easily accommodated our buddies and us with room to spare. Hidden in the tree and hidden in the middle of the Graveyard, it became our special hangout where we could escape everything except the call to dinner. It became my center for daydreaming and Marshall’s center for mischief planning. He, along with our friends Allen and Lee, would plan our forays into Diamond designed to terrorize the local populace.

Cedar tree in Great Tree Race, Diamond Springs, CA

Looking up from the base of the tree today. The aging fellow is 65 years older from the days when I mastered climbing it. Pop’s tree house was built on the lower left limbs.

It also became the starting point for the Great Tree Race. We would scramble to the top and back down in one on one competition as quickly as we could. Slips were a common hazard. Unfortunately, the other boys always beat me; they were two to three years older and I was the one most susceptible to slipping. My steady diet of Tarzan comic books sustained me though and I refused to give up.  Eventually, several years later, I would triumph.

Marshall was taking a teenage time-out with Mother’s parents who had moved to Watsonville, down on the Central Coast of California. Each day I went to the Graveyard and took several practice-runs up the tree. I became half monkey. Each limb was memorized and an optimum route chosen. Tree climbing muscles bulged; my grip became iron and my nerves steel. Finally, the big day arrived and Marshall came home. He was every bit the big brother who had had been away at high school while little brother stayed at home and finished grade school. He talked of cars and girls and wild parties and of his friend Dwight who could knock people out with one punch. I casually mentioned the possibility of a race to the top of the Tree. What a set up. Two pack-a-day, sixteen-year old, cigarette smokers aren’t into tree climbing, but how can you resist a challenge from your little brother.

Off we went. Marsh didn’t stand a chance. It was payback time for years of big brother hassles. I flew up and down the tree. I hardly touched the limbs. Slip? So what, I would catch the next limb. Marsh was about half way up the tree when I passed him on my way down. I showed no mercy and greeted him with a grin when he arrived, huffing and puffing, back at the tree house. His sense of humor was minimal. He challenged me to a wrestling match and I pinned him to the ground. It was the end of the Great Tree Race, the end of big brother domination, and a fitting end to my years of associating with dead people.

Cedar tree spike in Diamond Springs Ca

This spike is all that remains of our treehouse dreams. As I recall, Marshall drove it into the tree with thoughts of several more to provide a way up the tree.

Cut down incense cedar tree in Diamond Springs graveyard

The jungle of Heavenly Trees that once covered the Graveyard has long since been tamed. Imagine my dismay during my last visit to Diamond Springs when I found that the cedar tree’s twin in the Graveyard had been cut down.  Could our tree be far behind?


MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: A continuation of the trip through the Grand Canyon. How did we end up there? It’s an interesting tale.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: We’ll visit the ancient city of Pompeii in Italy that was buried by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE.

FRIDAY’S Blog-a-Book POST: There’s some catching up on the education front. I’m allowed back in school and try to take over the first grade.



Nancy Jo and the Graveyard Ghost… Blogging a Book

A photo of Nancy, Marshall and me somewhere around the time of the Graveyard Ghost. I’m on the left and my dog Tickle is next to me.


This is one of my Halloween favorites that I post every few years. Since it fits here in my blogged book on “MisAdventures,” I’m posting it again. 

My sister was seven years older than I and lived on a different planet, the mysterious world of teenage girls. Her concern about ghosts makes this story a powerful testimony to teenage hormones. If Marshall and I had a healthy respect for the Graveyard at night, Nancy’s fear bordered on monumental.

This story begins with Nancy falling in ‘love’ with the ‘boy’ next door, Johnny. His parents were good folks from a kid’s perspective. Marshall and I raided their apple trees with impunity, and Mama, a big Italian lady, made great spaghetti that included wild mushrooms. I was fascinated with the way she yelled “Bullll Sheeeet” in a community-wide voice when she was whipping Papa into line. He was a skinny, Old Country type of guy who thought he should be in charge.

I use the terms love and boy somewhat loosely since Nancy at 16 was a little young for love and Johnny, a 22-year-old Korean War Veteran, was a little old for the boy designation, not to mention Nancy. Our parents were not happy, a fact that only seemed to encourage my sister.

Her teenage hormones aided by a healthy dose of rebellion overcame her good sense and she pursued the budding relationship. Johnny didn’t make it easy. His idea of a special date was to drive down the alley and honk. Otherwise, he avoided our place. If Nancy wanted to see him, she had to visit his home. It should have been easy; his house was right behind ours.

But there was a major obstacle, the dreaded Graveyard. To avoid it, Nancy had to climb over the fence that separated our houses or walk up the alley past the Graveyard. Given her feelings about dead people, the solution seemed easy— climb the fence. Marsh and I had been over it many times in search of apples. Something about teenage girl dignity I didn’t understand eliminated fence climbing, however. Nancy was left up the alley without an escort.

While she wasn’t above sneaking out her window, Nancy asked permission to see Johnny the night of the Graveyard Ghost attack. She approached Mother around seven. It was one of those warm summer evenings where the sun is reluctant to go down and boys are granted special permission to stay up. Marshall and I listened intently.

“Mother, I think I’ll go visit Johnny,” Nancy stated and asked in the same sentence. Careful maneuvering was required. An outright statement would have triggered a parental prerogative no and an outright question may have solicited a parental concern no.

Silence. This communicated disapproval, a possible no, and a tad of punishment for raising the issue.

“Mother?” We were on the edge of an impending teenage tantrum. Nancy could throw a good one.

“Okay” with weary resignation followed by, “but you have to be home by ten.”

What we heard was TEN. Translate after dark. Nancy would be coming down the alley past the Graveyard in the dark and she would be scared. Knowing Johnny’s desire to avoid my parents, we figured she would also be alone. A fiendish plot was hatched.

At 9:45 Marsh and I slipped outside and made our way up the alley to a point half way between our house and Johnny’s. Next we took a few steps into Graveyard where weed-like Heavenly Trees and deep Myrtle provided perfect cover. Hiding there at night was scary, but Marshall and I were operating under inspiration. Marsh stripped the limbs off of one of the young trees, bent it over like a catapult, and draped his white T-shirt on the trunk. We then scrunched down and waited.

At exactly 10:00, Nancy opened the back door and stepped outside with Johnny. Our hearts skipped a beat. Would he walk her home? No. After a perfunctory goodnight, Johnny dutifully went back inside and one very alone sister began her hesitant but fateful walk down the alley.

She approached slowly, desperately looking the other direction to avoid seeing tombstones and keeping as far from the Graveyard as the alley and fence allowed. At exactly the right moment, we struck. Marshall let go of the T-shirt and the supple Heavenly Tree whipped it into the air. It arched up over the alley and floated down in front of our already frightened sister. We started woooooing wildly like the eight and eleven-year-old ghosts we were supposed to be.

Did Nancy streak down the alley to the safety of the House? No. Did she figure out her two little brothers were playing a trick and commit murder? No. Absolute hysteria ensued. She stood still and screamed. She was feet stuck to the ground petrified except for her lungs and mouth; they worked fine.

As her voice hit opera pitch, we realized that our prank was not going as planned. Nancy was not having fun. We leapt out to remedy the problem.

Bad idea.

Two bodies hurtling at you out of a graveyard in the dark of night is not a recommended solution for frayed nerves and an intense fear of dead people. The three of us, Nancy bawling and Marshall and I worrying about consequences, proceeded to the house. As I recall, our parents were not impressed with our concept of evening entertainment. I suspect they laughed after we went to bed. Sixty years later, Nancy, Marshall and I still are.

MONDAY’S POST: Join Peggy and me as we begin a raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Back to Sedona’s red rock country for another Wednesday photo essay…

FRIDAY’S POST: The Great Tree Race… My brother and I face off in a race up the Graveyard’s 70-foot tall cedar tree.



The Banning of the Animal Kingdom from My Bed… Blogging the MisAdventures Book


Big feet and army cot

A few years after the animals had been banned from my bed, I still had the old army cot, and bigger feet. I am reading a Western… serious literature.


In my last post, I related how I had hired the family pets to sleep on my bed when I slept outside in the summer to scare the ghosts away that lived in the Graveyard next to our house. Ir worked, but I had grown older and bigger. The pets were becoming more of a problem than the ghosts…

The night of the skunk was an exception to Pat’s normal stay-at-home routine. As usual, I had crawled into bed with an assortment of animals. That evening, it was minus Pat. Good, she took up a lot of room. Somewhere around midnight I half way woke as she hopped up on the bed, completed three dog turns and snuggled down. Consciousness made a quantum leap as my nose was assailed by an unmistakable perfume.

“Seems we have a skunk visiting,” I told Pat and reached down to scratch her head. The fur was moist. As I pulled my hand back, the skunk suddenly got much closer! Now, I was totally awake. Ms. Greyhound had been bullying the wrong pussy cat. It was a night to sleep inside. In fact, Marshall had a roommate for several days. I don’t know how many times I washed that hand but I do know that the bedding was tossed and Pat learned what a tomato juice bath was. When I finally made it back outside, the animals were put on notice, one more problem and off they went.

Then Demon made her contribution.

She was well into middle age by this time and there had been no pause in kitten production. Every few months she shelled out another litter. She had long since finished overpopulating Diamond and was working on surrounding communities. We were teetering on becoming known as the Cat Family of Diamond Springs.  She started hiding her kittens and became a master at subterfuge. If someone tried to follow her, she would stop and nonchalantly give herself a bath, her whole body, one lick at a time. Then she would wander off in the opposite direction.

Mother paid me in cookies to track Demon down. When the Graveyard was her destination, I had a flat tombstone I would stand on as a lookout. There was an added advantage; Demon didn’t check for people perched on tombstones. Who would? Eventually, the missing litter would be discovered. I felt like Daniel Boone.

Demon’s special home delivery took place the same summer Pat had her close encounter with the skunk. As noted earlier, my attitude about bed companions had become testy. I wasn’t above rolling over quickly to see how many I could dislodge. A really good roll would net three or four. Sleeping with me was like living on the San Andreas Fault.

I did feel guilt over routing Demon. Once again she was pregnant. I watched her balloon out. By this time, I was a veteran of the birthing process and found it interesting rather than troublesome. One night I had awakened to Pat howling, found that she was delivering puppies, and sat up with her through the process. Another time I had gone out with Tom Murphy, our grocer, and assisted in the delivery of a calf that wanted to come out the wrong way. It was messy, up to the elbow work. I really didn’t expect to be around for the arrival of Demon’s kittens. That would take place in some hidden nook. One should never make assumptions.

It started as a normal night. Roll over, kick off the animals, and go to sleep. Wake up and repeat the process. It was not a normal morning; I woke up with wet feet.

“What the heck!” I exclaimed as I sat up quickly, dislodging Pat in the process. Demon looked innocently back at me from the foot of the bed. Okay, nothing suggested why my feet were wet. Then I noticed movement. Demon was not alone. Several little black clones were lined up for breakfast. Demon had delivered her litter on the bed and my feet were awash in afterbirth.

That did it.  My bed was not a home for wayward dogs who encountered the business end of skunks and it certainly wasn’t designed as a maternity ward for unwed cats. I bought a water pistol and initiated a campaign of terror. Any four-legged critter on the bed became fair game. The cats learned quickly; getting shot with a water pistol was not their idea of a proper bath. The dogs were more resistant. Usually it took several squirts and then I would get the look: big brown eyes accusing me of dark deeds. But I was tough and my canine companions eventually vacated the premises. As soon as I fell asleep, however, the whole menagerie, fleas and all, would quietly slip back up on the bed.


Hiring the Family Pets to Scare Away the Ghosts…

Curt Mekemson and pets

The Graveyard was just across the alley from our house. As usual, I am occupied with some of the our family pets.


Each summer I slept in our back yard. I would move out as soon as school was over and stay until school started, or longer if parents and weather permitted. At first I slept on the ground in a cheap cotton sleeping bag. The ground was hard, the nights cool, and the mosquitoes persistent, but these were minor drawbacks. I was free. If I had to pee, I’d climb out of bed and find the nearest bush. If I woke up thirsty, a convenient garden hose provided water. I would go to sleep watching the stars and listening to a giant bullfrog croak away in the ditch in front of our house. I would wake to cool morning air and chirping robins.

Life was good. And then it got better. The grandparents bought me a real bed— a wood framed, steel spring army cot complete with mattress.

Graveyard ghost

The thing about graveyards is that dead people are buried there. This seemingly innocent tombstone was once hidden among the heavenly trees that turned the Graveyard into a jungle. Except it wasn’t totally hidden. I could see it from our backyard at night. It was, um, ghostly.

My paradise was marred by one thing, the Graveyard. It was always there on the edge of my sight.  White tombstones glared at me. As hard as I would pretend, the cemetery and its frightful inhabitants would not go away. So, I developed an elaborate set of defenses. The simplest was to sleep facing the opposite direction or to hide under the covers, ostrich like. A more sophisticated approach was to locate the bed where I couldn’t see the Graveyard.  Our seasoned cars worked in a pinch, but they weren’t large enough. Bits and pieces of the Graveyard would creep around their sides, peek over their tops and slink under their bottoms. A trellis built by my father was much better. Its luxurious growth of honeysuckle created the perfect Graveyard screen. I set up a permanent residence behind it.

House next to graveyard

These were more tombstones I could see from our house, whose roof can be seen in the back of the photo.

But even the trellis wasn’t enough to calm my imagination. I decided to hire protection. It came in the form of various family pets. Their job was to chase the ghosts away. Payment was made by allowing them to sleep on my bed. Apparently, the scheme worked. At least no ghosts attacked me during the years I slept outside.

The downside was I didn’t have much room. Two dogs, three cats, and me on a one-person army cot constituted a menagerie, or a zoo, if you counted the fleas. It was difficult to move. At first, I was very careful not to disturb my sleeping companions. I became a circus contortionist frozen in place with body parts pointed in every direction. If this meant a restless night, so be it. It was a small price to pay for keeping the ghosts at bay.

Gradually, my attitude changed. I grew larger, the bed space shrank, and animals started sleeping on top of me. Meanwhile, the ghosts, who tend to hassle little people more than they do big people, became less a threat. Therefore, I needed less protection. Neither of these factors led to the final banning of the animal kingdom, however. It was the shameless shenanigans of Demon and Pat.

Demon, the alpha family cat, was as black as the darkest night. As such, she was appropriately named and attired for graveyard duty. In fact, she spent a good deal of her life there stalking mice, lizards, birds and anything else she could get her claws into with impunity. Captured prey would then be brought home for approval. My job was to dispose of the half-eaten carcasses. Depopulating the Graveyard was not Demon’s claim to fame, however; motherhood was. She had kittens often and everywhere. I suspect that half of the cats living in El Dorado County today can trace their lineage back to her.

Two instances of kitten production bring back vivid memories. The first took place on the living room floor. Demon was a young cat at that time and a neophyte at motherhood. Her impending delivery was quite apparent from her large belly and ceaseless exploration of clothes hampers, cupboards and other dark places.

With high hopes of avoiding a misplaced litter of kittens, Mother arranged her bedroom closet as a maternity ward. Several times each day it was my duty to show Demon her new home. I would carefully pick up the very pregnant cat, carry her to the closet, and deposit her in a box filled with well-used clothes. Demon didn’t buy the program.  It seems my bedside manner was faulty. She would climb out of the box, give me a glare, and stalk out of the bedroom.

When the joyous day finally arrived, I was home alone.  Demon was practicing her would-be mother waddle walk across the living room when she suddenly stopped, squawked and squatted. Neither she nor I was ready for what followed. After all, how prepared can a young kid and a first-time mother be for birth? In a massive surprise to both of us, a tiny black bundle of fur emerged from Demon’s undercarriage. Surging emotions paralyzed my seven-year old mind. One thought stood out, the closet! If Demon hadn’t memorized her delivery lessons, I had.

I jumped across the room, grabbed Demon by the nape of the neck, and raced for Mother’s bedroom. As fast as I ran, it wasn’t fast enough. In the middle of the kitchen the new arrival completed its journey and was heading for a crash landing. Somewhere, somehow between Demon and the floor, I caught a warm, wet ball of fur in my free hand. After that, the memory fades. I know the three of us made it to the closet. Demon accepted her new home and four more kittens followed the first, although in a less dramatic way. The population explosion was underway.

We have to fast-forward several years to Demon’s next memorable delivery. This one was outside and led to the bed-pet-ban. But first I need to relay how Pat the Greyhound set the stage. She joined our family as a stray. For weeks, Mother had watched this large, starving dog wander the countryside and survive by catching rabbits and squirrels. One day she stopped the car, opened the door and invited Pat home for a meal.

Pat the Greyhound

Pat looking regal.

“Oh, it is just until she gains a little weight,” Mother explained to one very disgruntled Pop. Later it became, “Oh, but it would break Curt’s heart if we had to give her away.” Mother was a master at manipulation. Pat, who I named after the local Greyhound bus driver, had found a home. Like all of our pets, she lived outside. It was Pop’s rule; pets were limited to daytime visitation rights only. The pregnant Demon had been an exception imposed by Mother. Since there were no leash laws, Pat was free to come and go as she pleased. Mainly she chose to hang around with her food dish in sight. For a dog that had lived out in the wild, she had impeccable manners. Thus I was surprised when she joined Demon in abusing her bed rights, but that’s a tale for next Friday’s post…

MONDAY’S POST: It’s back to the central coast of Washington where global warming makes a point

WEDNESDAY’S POST: A photographic essay on Scotland

FRIDAY’S POST: The animal kingdom is banned from my bed


Boston: A Cradle of Liberty Where Freedom Still Rings Out

Boston's Old State House has been a symbol of American liberty for over 300 years.

The Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians in 1776 from the balcony of the Old State House (shown at night above). John Adam’s bright and articulate wife, Abigail, wrote to her husband that as soon as the Declaration was read… “three cheers rended the air.” She went on to report, “Thus ends the royal authority in this state.”

A fierce desire for independence and freedom has existed in Boston dating back to its very beginning in 1630 when the city was granted a charter to self-govern. Britain’s decision to limit the city’s freedom and tax its citizens starting in the 1760s led to protests that ended in the Revolutionary War and American independence. Beginning in the early 1800s, a strong abolitionist movement opposing slavery grew up in the Boston that would play a key role in leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. When Peggy and I visited the city in December, we were able to visit a number of sites that reflected Boston’s historical contributions to liberty in America, but we also found ample evidence that the call to freedom still rings out in the city.

My experience in Boston combined with the fact that Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President this week led me to ponder some the most powerful statements that underlie our nation’s commitment to freedom and equality. Here are my favorites:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —US Declaration of Independence

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. —Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. —The First Amendment of the US Constitution

Slightly different but reflecting America’s original openness to immigration, and I might note, recognizing that we are a nation built by and with immigrants…

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! —Quote on America’s Statue of Liberty

These are words of wisdom from the folks who “made America great,” and have inspired generations of people in the U.S. and around the world. It is my hope that our new president will take these words to heart  in his efforts to “make America great again.”


Neither Peggy nor I had been to Boston before, which is a bit surprising considering the importance of Boston to the nation’s history— and to my own. My Great Grandfather to the umpteenth on my mother’s side arrived there in early 1630s from England, when the city was founded. Ultimately, we are all immigrants.

Boston Commons plaque that commemorates the founding of Boston, Massachusetts in 1630.

This plaque located on Boston Commons commemorates the founding of Boston in 1630. My Great Grandfather to the umpteenth is helping pull the boat in. (Just kidding.)

It was ‘love at first sight’ when we arrived. I had managed to find us an affordable hotel in the center of the city. Most of Revolutionary Boston was within walking distance and I am a big fan of Revolutionary War history. The red brick Freedom Trail was a short 10 minutes away. “Just follow the yellow brick road” was bouncing around in my mind. Instead of skipping off to Oz on yellow bricks with encouragement from Munchkins, however, the red bricks of the Freedom Trail connected us with many historical sites central to America’s struggles for freedom and equality.

Today, I want to share some of the things we saw in Boston that seem particularly relevant to this week in American history. Next Monday, I’ll be more focused on Boston’s Revolutionary history.

The Tremont Temple in Boston, Massachusetts.

I photographed the Tremont Temple because I thought it was a unique building…

Tremont Baptist Church was the first integrated church in America.

Not having a clue that it was a Baptist Church, or that it was the first integrated church in the U.S. It is a fitting photo to commemorate the week of Martin Luther King’s birthday.

I normally wouldn't take a photo of a Chipotle Restaurant, but this one happens to locate in the Old North Bookstore Building where Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published, which was both a classic of the Abolition Movement and a key factor in leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves.

I normally wouldn’t take a photo of a Chipotle Restaurant, but this one happens to be located in the Old North Bookstore Building where Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published. The book was both a classic of the Abolition Movement and a key factor in leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves.

Historic Faneuil Hall located in Boston, Massachusetts

Faneuil Hall is located just across the street from the Old State House. It was from this building that the fateful words were uttered, “No Taxation without representation.”  Maybe today’s declaration would be focused on the ultra-wealthy and declare “No representation without paying your fair share of taxes.” (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We found this Gatling Gun in the military museum on the third floor of Faneuil Hall. While it may seem strange to include it here, it's inventor, Richard Gatling, believed that by employing increasingly deadly weapons that the size of armies could be reduced and that deaths due to combat and disease could be reduced as well. History has taught us a much different lesson, one that should be considered in any discussion of renewing the nuclear arms race.

We found this Gatling Gun in the military museum on the third floor of Faneuil Hall. While it may seem strange to include it here, the inventor, Richard Gatling, believed that by employing increasingly deadly weapons, the size of armies could be reduced and deaths due to combat and disease could be lowered. He also believed it would show us the futility of war. History has taught us a much different lesson. Millions upon millions have died because of the ever-increasing sophistication of weapons. And now our new president is talking about renewing the nuclear arms race…

This plaque on School Street notes where the Latin School stood. Founded on April 23, 1635, it is the oldest public school house in America. People such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and John Hancock attend the school. Public education in America may become a thing of the past under Betsy DeVos, his new Secretary of Education, who will gut public schools in favor of private schools whose motivation is either profit or the promotion of a particular belief system,.

This plaque on School Street notes where the Latin School stood. Founded on April 23, 1635, it was the first public school in America. People such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and John Hancock attended the school. Public education in America may become a thing of the past under Betsy DeVos, Trump’s new Secretary of Education, who’s proposed voucher system will gut public schools in favor of private schools whose primary motivation is profit or promoting a particular belief system. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy and I wondered what the significance of theses rocks were when we were on our walk. The we come on the plaque featured below.

Peggy and I wondered what the significance of theses rocks were we found on our walk. Then we came upon the plaque featured below.

The Boston Peace Garden.

The Boston Peace Garden.

Peggy and I walked over to Newbury Street where the New England Genealogical Society is located. Along the way we came across the very impressive First Church of the Covenant that has long been a leader in promoting social justice.

We walked over to Newbury Street where the New England Genealogical Society is located. Along the way we came across the very impressive First Church of the Covenant that has long been a leader in promoting social justice.

This banner was stretched above its door...

This banner was stretched above its door…

Peggy and I found these T-shirts featured in Boston's Old State House where freedom still rings.

Peggy and I found these T-shirts featured in Boston’s Old State House.We decided that they would serve as an appropriate conclusion to this blog.

NEXT BLOG: Back to the Sierra Trek




A Trip to the Cannabis Fair? What??? No Way!

I didn't expect to find George at the fair.

I didn’t know what type of things I would find at the Cannabis Fair, but a painting of George standing in the middle of a marijuana farm and glowing green wasn’t one of them.


Occasionally, I slip in a blog that is outside of my 10,000-mile bicycle trek series. Today we are going to a cannabis fair…

So here I was on Saturday morning, staring out our windows at the mountains, listening to the morning news on TV, and wondering what I was going to do with my day. Peggy was back East playing with the kids and grandkids. I had just put up my post on the Scopes Trial, responded to all my comments, and checked in on the people I follow. I was actually caught up on blogging, a rare occasion— as most of you bloggers will recognize.

The weather person was predicting a 110° F degree-day. Playing or working outside wasn’t an option and I had completed most of my indoor chores. In fact, I had just pushed Robota’s button (Robota is our iRobot vacuum cleaner), and she was charging around, sucking up dirt, and cleaning rugs and floors. She’d return to her dock and plug-in when she needed recharging. I do wish she would learn to clean out her dirt bin, though. It’s such a bother; I could use the two minutes for something else… (Grin)

In other words, I had time on my hands. What’s a fellow to do? That’s when the local television anchor announced that the Cannabis Fair was being held at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in the main exhibit hall. Now I love fairs, and I have been seriously deprived this year (if you don’t count the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage, Alaska and the International Ice Carving contest in Fairbanks). We missed the local Jackson County Fair because we had to go to Sacramento and arrived in Sacramento just as the California State Fair ended. To top off this tale of woe, I am taking a break from Burning Man.

But go to the Cannabis Fair and blog about it? No way! What would people think? And then I thought, why not. Marijuana is now legal in Oregon. In fact, I voted for the measure to legalize it. The majority of Americans support the idea. Why? One reason is that prohibition doesn’t work; it never has. Look at what happened with alcohol in the 1920s. If people wanted a drink, they found it. The main result of the Prohibition was the creation of the American Mafia. The Mob Museum in Las Vegas provides an excellent history of how it happened.

A similar thing happened with marijuana. Smoking a joint in the 1950s could lead to a 10-year prison sentence and a fine of $20,000— for a first time offender. Did this stop marijuana use? Remember the 60s? I do, vaguely (kidding). Our demand for marijuana, combined with laws against cultivation, led to its illegal production. What a surprise. Millions, and even billions of dollars were to be made. Drug cartels sprang up like weeds outside of the US to supply us. Tragically, thousands have been killed and whole political systems corrupted as a result. Here, billions of tax dollars (that is your money and mine) have gone into creating large government agencies that haven’t made a dent in the flow of pot.

Maybe the billions we spent on trying to suppress marijuana would be worth it, if the drug were the devil it was portrayed to be in Reefer Madness and other such anti-pot campaigns. But the truth is— it isn’t. The negative physical and social impacts are no worse than alcohol, and may indeed be less. A growing body of evidence suggests that a number medical benefits derive from cannabis. Contrast this with the health effects of tobacco. Numerous states have passed laws making medical marijuana use legal. And several have now made it legal for recreational use as well.

Cloth hanging art found at the Cannabis Fair in Jacksonville County, Oregon.

I am not sure what the artist had in mind with this cloth hanging I found at the Fair, but I thought it provided a good perspective on how people view the effects of marijuana. On the left is the perspective of the cannabis industry, the pro-legalization forces and most users. On the right is how those who support the Reefer Madness point of view see it.

But it’s time to climb down off my soapbox (sort of). We have a fair to go to! I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to find. Let me start with noting there were no pigs, or goats, or bunny rabbits— the usual reasons I go to a fair. This was a serious endeavor. Pot growing is big business for small farms in my neck of the woods. Six are visible along the 30-mile road between where I live on the Applegate River and Medford. They hardly blend in.

The law requires that marijuana farmers put their crops behind 8-foot fences if they are located within 150 feet of the highway, supposedly to protect children from seeing them. Instead the fences serve as huge billboards that scream: WE GROW POT! If you can find a six-year-old in Jackson County that doesn’t know what is happening behind those fences, I’d be surprised. And you can bet they are much more intrigued by the hidden marijuana than they would be if the plants were simply grown out in the open like any other crop. Plus the fences are butt-ugly.

Marijuana farms that are visible from the road in Oregon, are required to be surrounded by 8-foot fences.

This fence, legally required by Oregon law to conceal a cannabis farm, is about a mile away from my house.

I wandered around from booth to booth at the fair, taking photos for my blog (after asking permission) and chatting with folks tending the booths. There was potting soil and pot pots. There were salves and seeds. There were lawyers and accountants and security specialists and equipment sales people. One man was offering a bud trimmer for $300 that looked like a combination of an electric razor and a mini-hedge trimmer. He provided a demonstration. Bzzzzzz! I could picture him at a cannabis shop saying, “This Bud’s for you.”

Pots for growing marijuana on display at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I couldn’t help but think pot pots when I saw these. And please note: they are made in the USA.

And of course you need potting soil for pot pots.

And of course you need premium potting soil for pot pots. What better than Cloud 9, Zen Blend, and Gaia’s Gift?

And you have to decide what type of cannabis you are going to plant. There are literally hundreds of string that have been developed, all with different strengths, and if you accept the literature, different qualities.

And you have to decide what type of cannabis you are going to plant. There are literally hundreds of strains that have been developed, all with different strengths, and, if you accept the literature, qualities.I wonder which one will give me an irresistible craving for ice cream?

In addition to all of the services available for growers at the Cannabis Fair, there were also items for consumers, such as this magical butter makers. Grind up your cannabis, drop it in the pot, add butter, simmer for an hour, strain the results, and you are ready to make cookies!

In addition to all of the services available for growers at the Cannabis Fair, there were also items for consumers, such as these magical butter pots. Grind up your cannabis, drop it in the pot, add butter, simmer for an hour, strain, and you are ready to make cookies!

I wandered into a dome tent set up by Pacific Domes. It reminded me of the structures at Burning Man. Even some of the wall hangings seemed familiar. And there was the painting of George Washington enjoying a pipe I featured at the top of the blog. Robert, the account executive, told me that a lot of their tents do make it to Burning Man. I asked him how they handled the windstorms. “They are designed to withstand gusts up to 8o miles per hour,” he told me.

A dome tent from the Pacific Dome company on display at Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

Both domed tents and greenhouses were promoted at the fair for growing marijuana.

Dome tent for growing cannabis at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

The tent was appropriately camouflaged.

Cannabis art found at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

The wall hangings in the tent reminded me very much of Burning Man, although you don’t flaunt marijuana use in Black Rock City. The event is crawling with law enforcement people happy to bust you.

All types of pipes were available for smoking, some even glowed in the dark under a black light. The folks at Bayshore Smoking Glass from Coos Bay broke out several for me to photograph. Some of the pipes were quite attractive, and some were downright funny. How would you like your pot pipe to look like an octopus?

Cannabis pipes for smoking marijuana found at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I found the variety of pipes fun. What can I say. An incredible amount of creativity goes in to producing them.

A variety of pipes for smoking marijuana at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

This one even glowed when placed under a black light.

This one even glowed in the dark.

"Living the Pipe Dreams" cannabis pipes on display at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

Dianne told me I could photograph her art work if I put her card in the picture.

Bongs for smoking cannabis at the Cannabis Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

I also found these bongs, or water pipes, rather unique.

Maybe you aren’t into smoking but still want to indulge. Then there are edibles, or medibles for medical marijuana. I stopped by a booth featuring Mary Lou’s Edibles and talked with Mary Lou. She had some delicious looking peanut butter cookies on display. “Are these samples?” I asked. (While no marijuana was for sale at the fair, some booths were offering free samples that you were required to take off of the premises before consuming.) “No,” she said, “but you can go online and order them.” She handed me her card. It announced, “Made with Oregon Cannabis and Love by the Happy Granny.” I’ll bet she is.

The rules were quite clear about not consuming marijuana at the Fair.

The rules were quite clear about not consuming marijuana at the Fair. Oregon state law prohibits consumption in public areas.

Kettle Corn anyone?

Kettle Corn anyone? A number of booths had edibles on display. They ranged from kettle corn, to chocolate, to cookies, to brownies and candy. An important issue is keeping these products away from children.

Mimim's medical marijuana being displayed at the Cannais Fair in Jackson County, Oregon.

When edibles are used for medical purposes, they are called ‘medibles.’ I share a concern with the cannabis industry that the pharmaceutical industry will step in, patent medicines, and charge a hundred times more for medical marijuana than people presently pay. I feel the same way about agribusiness stepping in and wiping out the thousands of small farms that now grow cannabis.

A series of lectures were being offered and I stopped by to listen to one being given by Pioneer Pete Gendron. Pete represents Oregon’s marijuana growers on the state level. I am assuming that his pioneer status comes from being one of Oregon’s original pot growers. He certainly looks the part. He is also a highly intelligent and articulate man. He talked about cannabis politics in Oregon. I learned the reason behind the 8-foot fences from him. I also learned that marijuana isn’t quite the water hog it is claimed to be. Alfalfa requires seven times as much water to grow.

Pioneer Pete was one of a number of people who made presentations at the Cannabis Fair on the various aspects of marijuana farming.

Pioneer Pete Gendron was one of a number of people who made presentations at the Cannabis Fair on the various aspects of marijuana farming and consumption.

Today, the Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA, continues to label marijuana as a class-1 drug, on par with heroin. Pete told us that when the cannabis industry requested an opportunity to prove it didn’t belong at that level, the DEA said, “We can’t do that. It is a class-1 drug,” i.e. it is illegal to use so any evidence you gather using it is illegal. Makes complete sense, right. Have you ever read Joseph Heller’s Catch 22?

The times they are a-changing, however. Cannabis plants will join carrots and cabbages at this year’s Oregon State Fair. How much more mainstream can you go? California will vote on legalization for recreational use this fall. On the national level, the Democratic Platform includes a plank that would push for legalization nation-wide. It is only a matter of time.

That’s it for the break! It’s back to bicycling in my next blog. We have a mountain range to climb over: the Great Smokies!

Escape from Alaska… Part II: The Friday Essay

Woodland buffalo have become fairly common when driving through portions of the Yukon Territory. As noted in my last Escape from Alaska blog, Peggy and I took these photos two years ago when we drove the Alaska Highway in the summer.

Woodland buffalo like this guy have become fairly common when driving through portions of the Yukon Territory. As noted in my last Alaska blog, Peggy and I took these photos two years ago when we drove the Alaska Highway in the summer.

The next day after my encounter with the Trooper (see here), I zipped down the Alaska Highway through the Yukon Territory to White Horse. With the exception of gigantic trucks on their way to the North Slope, I saw few other vehicles. Snow still covered the surrounding wilderness and the road was frozen solid. The annual migration of tourists traveling north was months away.

That night I chose to stay in a campground, preferring not to repeat my previous night’s experience. I also avoided wasting away in Margaritaville— instead I broke out the brownies.

As a going away present, some friends had given me a gallon Zip Lock bag of Alaska’s finest pot. At first sight, it might seem that they were involved in a criminal activity, but marijuana was legal in Alaska. You could grow your own and somebody had obviously grown a lot. Giving me the grass had been the Alaskan equivalent of sending me off with a bottle of 25-year-old single malt Scotch whiskey, or several bottles.

In honor of lung health, I promised not to smoke it. I practiced my baking techniques on my last night at my friend’s house. The cat, the two dogs and I tested the results. It was a mellow evening and the whole menagerie was allowed to sleep on the bed. We purred, wagged our tails, and had wild dreams.

Here’s some advice to the uninitiated that Alice B. Toklas didn’t provide: go easy on brownies. They have a way of sneaking up on you. The problem is physiological. Long before your body has done its job and processed the herb, you are thinking, ‘this stuff has absolutely zero impact, I should have stuck with wine.’ So you eat another brownie, and then another. By the time you realize the error of your ways, it’s too late and you are wacko.

Luckily, I had already been there, done that. I ate a small piece and waited patiently. Then I broke out an ounce of Swiss cheese. I was all moderation. Marijuana enhances flavor and encourages gluttony. I once watched a woman down a quart of ice cream in one sitting and demand more.

A friend had slipped me a fat letter to read on the way. I opened it as an option to eating the other 15 ounces of cheese. She had offered to pinch hit if my other Alaska relationship didn’t work out.

“We can run off to Mexico and open an orphanage for homeless children, Curt,” she had suggested. She was serious about the orphanage. It was a dream of hers. It made the suggestion of my staying home, writing, and raising one or two kids look like a ride on a merry-go-round. I had declined her generous proposal. The gist of the letter was that the offer was still open.

Sights along the the Alaska Highway include towering mountains...

Sights along the Alaska Highway include towering mountains…

Wild rivers...

Wild rivers…

Reflecting lakes...

Reflecting lakes…

And Dall Sheep...

And Dall Sheep…

Including this ram...

Including this ram…

And this curious kid.

And this curious kid.

Five days later I drove into Sacramento. The grass was green and flowers were blooming even though a major flood had threatened the region in February. I planned on spending a few days visiting my father and some friends before taking off for the woods. As part of my itinerary I stopped by to see Jane Hagedorn at the Sacramento Lung Association. Jane is a fierce friend. Every time I had tried to escape, she had reeled me back in, frustrating my desire to become a happy wanderer by making me offers I couldn’t refuse.

I found my green grass in Sacramento.

I found my green grass in Sacramento.

And California Poppies, plus two job offers.

And California Poppies— plus two job offers.

“You will come back to Sacramento and work for Lung when you are done playing,” she informed me and then dangled the Trek Program in front of me for bait. As I usually do, I tentatively agreed. It’s not wise to cross Jane. As I was leaving the Lung Building, I ran into Jerry Meral, the Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League of California. Along with the Sierra Club, PCL is the main lobbying group for environmental groups in California.

“Curt,” Jerry said with his always-high level of enthusiasm, “I have a job for you.”

“I’m not looking for a job, Jerry,” had been my reply. “I am going backpacking for six months.”

Jerry, who is even worse than Jane at taking no for an answer, continued on, “But this job is perfect for you. I want you to work on raising California’s tobacco tax by five cents so we can use the money for buying parks.” I knew that Jerry and his crew at PCL had successfully done more at raising money for parks than anyone else in California and probably the world. If Jerry was behind the concept, it was legitimate.

“Interesting Jerry, but I am going backpacking.” I figured that took care of it.

“OK and have fun,” said Jerry, “but see me as soon as you get back.”

I half nodded my head in agreement. So here I was, desperate to free myself from any major commitments, and already agreeing to think about taking on two significant tasks— one that was monumental. But they could wait. The next day, I was on my way to the Grand Canyon. And who knew what I would be doing in six months.

NEXT BLOG: The wilderness cure begins. It’s off to backpack the Grand Canyon via Death Valley and Las Vegas.