There’s Something Fishy about Barcelona’s Public Market

Meet Jaws. I met him at Barcelona’s public market.

Barcelona’s public market, La Boqueria, was on our must-see list when we visited the city in 2015. It’s rightfully famous for its size, variety of food, tapa bars and number of tourists. Not surprisingly, Catalans have become a bit grouchy about the latter. “Buy fish, don’t take photos!” one yelled at me. Little did he know that I was helping him out. If more people featured ugly seafood in their photos of La Boqueria instead of chocolate and oranges and mushrooms, and peppers, and corn, and garlic and strawberries, and cheese, and delightful tapa bars, fewer people would visit. Heck, fewer tourists would likely come to Barcelona. Problem solved.

So think of this as my campaign to help the Catalans who are hoping that the tourist numbers don’t climb into the stratosphere again when the coronavirus ends. The slogan for the campaign is, “Barcelona: Stop and Smell the Fish— but Don’t Let Them Bite You!”

While Jaws won the contest as poster child for the campaign, Ugly was a close second.
I don’t want to discriminate against other forms of seafood. This squid was hardly cute.
It’s hard to qualify shrimp for the campaign, but…
I’ll conclude with this photo, also a serious contender for poster child. I don’t have a clue what it is but I would be hard pressed to identify it as edible! Maybe some of the folks who follow my blog can identify it. Maybe they will even declare it is absolutely delicious!

NEXT POST: It won’t be on ugly seafood. (grin)

A tiny Fawn and a BIG Bear… Nature Tales

“Curt,” Peggy called, “come here quick! There is something small moving through the grass.”

I hurried over to the window. You never know what new animal, bird, snake, lizard, etc. is going to drop by for a visit. This time it turned out to be a fawn, probably on its first venture out from wherever it had been hidden by mom. The doe had just jumped over our fence, leaving her baby behind. Peggy’s mother-instincts kicked in. No need, the fawn easily crawled through the fence.

Peggy started snapping photos. So did I but my camera was beeping at me. I’d forgotten to put the memory card back in after downloading photos. Oh well, Peggy took enough for both of us. It was our first fawn of the season.

The fawn had crawled through the fence and was looking for mom. It is one of the smallest fawns we have seen. And, of course, cute. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I’m coming, Mom! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And I know right where I am going. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Ah, there is nothing like fresh milk. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
If, I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a dozen times: Stop pulling so hard! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
Wait, did I just hear a door opening? (Peggy and I were caught as we tried to sneak outside.)
We got the ‘Leave my baby alone’ look while the fawn hid behind mom and peered out. “What are those strange two legged creatures, Mom?”

And now for the bear.

Peggy and I came out of a deep sleep at 2:30 am yesterday. Something was crashing around outside our bedroom window. “Bear!” we simultaneously exclaimed! Our neighbor Bryan had texted us on Wednesday to tell us that a large, black bear had rummaged through his garbage the night before. Apparently, it was our turn!

I jumped out of bed without getting dressed, grabbed our heavy duty Mag-lite and made a dash for our patio door. Bears can do a lot of damage in a short time. I threw the door open. Nothing. Our garbage can was my next thought. I had spotted fresh claw marks on it a couple of weeks earlier. I ran though the kitchen and threw open the back door. Again, nothing.

Then I heard a crash on our porch. Damn, the bear is going for the grill, I thought, and went charging through the kitchen, dining room and library. We had already had one Weber grill tipped over and damaged by a bear. I didn’t want to see it happen again. I threw open my third door of the night, this time shining my light on the grill. It, too, seemed fine. Then I noticed that the bird feeder was swinging back and forth and been turned into a crooked parody of itself. The bear had been playing tether ball with it! I pointed my flashlight up our driveway to see if the bear had taken off. He hadn’t.

He was standing 30 feet away staring at me. And he was big, as in BIG. I had only seen one that was larger, and given that it was standing on its hind legs with its feet and claws raised above its head growling at me, I may have exaggerated its size.

“What are you staring at Bear?” I asked. “Haven’t you ever seen a naked man before?” And then I yelled. He leisurely turned around and ambled off up our road. I prefer that my bears run.

I’m sorry I don’t have any photos for you. My mind was a bit preoccupied. He really was a magnificent creature. I suspect we will have more opportunities for photo ops. But here are three pictures for perspective. I’ll close with a final ‘cute shot of mom and baby.

This is our bird feeder after I bent it back into shape. And our back porch. The grill is just off to the right. I had come out the door and was standing on the porch. The bear was standing where I took this photo from.
The sound we heard next to our bedroom window was this patio chair being moved by the bear. I’d set my ground squirrel trap earlier in the day and left some sunflower seeds under the table. Apparently, the bear really likes birdseed!
And garbage. This is a close up of our garbage can and the claw marks. We will be moving the can into one of our sheds until the bear goes away. I will also take the bird feeder in each night.
So I don’t leave you with a vision of a bear slashed can, here’s a final shot of mom and baby as they headed out. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

NEXT POST: I’m assuming it will be on the fabulous market in Barcelona unless the bear comes back or more fawns show up. (Grin)

Just a Boy and His Dog… My 11 Years at Burning Man

A robot boy and his dog check out the building of Medusa. She will show up in my next post. Beware of her eyes! (Well, maybe my next post— after I report on how the Russians used WordPress as a key tool in their efforts to disrupt the American elections of 2016.)

I often think about how are lives are impacted by robots. Peggy and I even have one of the small vacuum cleaners that runs around and cleans our floors and carpets. We call her, Robota. As I grow older, I look more fondly on the robots of the future. In 10 or 15 years from now when the world decides my driving leaves a bit to be desired, I am hoping there is a self-driving car sitting in my yard or readily available to zip me around to where I want to go. Next stop, Grand Canyon. Then there is the downside. Maybe when robots are given quantum computer brains, they will decide we aren’t necessary. I seriously doubt that they will approve of our ‘pulling their plugs,’ under any circumstances.

What’s the danger of a flower sniffing robot, however? This fellow was given one of Burning Man’s prime locations, just in front of the Center Camp Cafe bordering on the Playa. The woman provides some perspective on his size.
Fido appears a little questionable. Maybe she is howling at the moon.
It appears our robot is more sinister here. What happened to the rider of the bike he is holding? Is it time to run?
This robot looks like it was an extra in a 1950’s sci-fi movie.
No question here. Run for it!
Spotting this creature, I’d want a bunch of Burners between me and it.
I think the red eye glowed a dangerous red at night.
A bit more personality.

Aliens are another matter. Maybe they are already here. I’ve blogged several times about the UFO I saw over Sacramento circa 1968. If there are aliens, it seems obvious to me that they would show up at Burning Man. Think about it: a remote desert where it is easy to disguise yourself and people don’t care if you are an alien. Each year there are a number of candidates.

This guy shows up as a master of ceremonies every year at the annual costume contest. What better way to infiltrate Burning Man?
This one showed up in our camp and demanded a beer, an expensive beer. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)
I’ve always been suspicious of purple people. Remember, “He was a one eyed, one horned, flying purple people eater?” Or are you too young?
Or maybe their disguises are more subtle. Slap on a few tattoos and you can get into any party at Burning Man.

Flying saucers aren’t unheard of in the Black Rock Desert. One year we even had one crash.

How much more attractive can a flying saucer get? Aliens contracted with a group of kids in the Bay area to create this one.
But then there was the crash…
Rumors were that a human the aliens had captured was a notorious back-seat driver and had caused them to crash.
The way she buddied up to aliens later seemed to confirm this suspicion.
Undoubtedly part of the crew.
Alien buzzards tend to be a little scary.
And they may be the reason that there are so few alien bodies found. They are also known to snack on Big Foot, or is that Big Feet?

Enough on Invaders from Outer Space. My next post will feature invaders from Russia.

What’s in Your Home? Weird Things Hang Out Here…

A quick glance at any room in our house will confirm that weird things hang out here. Since I am normally blamed for this phenomena, I want to note from the beginning that Peggy shares equal responsibility. As an example, she collected these two mola designed creatures in Panama years before we met.

You can blame Leonardo for today’s post. That’s Leonardo as in Leonardo Da Vinci. I was reading Walter Isaacson’s magnificent biography about him on Monday and he attributed Da Vinci’s genius to “an omnivorous curiosity, which bordered on the fanatical, and an acute power of observation that was eerily intense.” So that’s what it takes to be a genius, I thought, and determined to test the theory by curiously observing my surroundings in an intense, eerie way. A large toad stared back at me. A sometimes doorstop, sometimes bookend frog was lying down on the job. I don’t know if my I.Q. jumped, but I did observe that weird things were hanging out in our home. I decided it was a subject worthy of a blog post.

This toad is relatively harmless but you don’t want to stub your toe on him. He’s heavy. Nor do you want him staring at you.
This lovely gal makes an excellent door stop and can double as a bookend in a pinch. She also serves as a conversation starter.

Who is weirder than Bone? You’ve all met him if you follow this blog. This past summer he hiked down the PCT with me. And of course he loves Burning Man. He has traveled to over 50 countries with people on adventures that have ranged from being blessed by the Pope to deep sea diving. There is much more. What you may not know about Bone, however, is that when he is at our house and isn’t carousing with his wife Bonette or the jackass Eeyore, he likes to hang out on a pedestal.

Bone on his pedestal.
He and Eeyore have been bosom buddies ever since Eeyore rescued him from being hung in Tombstone.
Wyatt Earp had arrested him for robbing a bank. Here, Doc Holiday was checking him for weapons.
Eeyore now shares our bedroom. Way back in time when Peggy was an elementary school principal, he lived in her office. It was bad enough being pawed over by every kid who came through, but one day Peggy walked in and discovered Eeyore was missing. A ransom note had been left behind. He would not be returned unless Peggy refilled the candy jar that she kept for teachers with chocolate. Great trauma was experienced in the school when Peggy got on the intercom and announced to all of the classrooms that Eeyore had been kidnapped!
While we are on the subject of cute, furry animals, I might as well introduce this engaging bear. Nothing weird here. There are millions of cute bears. I gave this one to Peggy on Valentine’s Day in 1991. Ever curious, she decided to open the zipper. Out popped an engagement ring! My ever voluble buddy became scarily quiet for a very long minute. Then, she squealed.

Many of the ‘strange’ art pieces found in our home reflect that both Peggy and I like so-called ‘primitive’ art. Like children’s art, it carries a level of creativity and even power that is lost as children and cultures ‘grow up’ and lose their connection with nature, “omnivorous curiosity,” and “acute power of observation.” The mola at the top of the post was obtained by Peggy in Panama from an indigenous tribe. A number of modern artists such as Picasso have used primitive art for inspiration.

I’m sure that most of you as parents or grandparents have had the opportunity to post your children’s/grandkid’s art on the refrigerator. Maybe you even have some of your own childhood efforts buried deep in your memorabilia box. This fantastic beast jumped out of the mind of our grandson Chris. A budding Picasso, perhaps.
This is an authentic African medicine mask from the Ivory Coast that I picked up as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa,
You are greeted by Jungle George, the Poro Bush Devil, every time you visit my post. He was carved by a leper in Liberia and came home with me.
He’s quite proud of the fact that I chose him for the cover of my book about the Peace Corps.
The fact that many cultures have discovered the commercial value of traditonal art and replicate it to sell does not take away from its unique look. These Mayan dogs are an example.
And here we have a Mayan god.
Several examples of Mexican folk art can be found in our home. This frog in its Zen-like pose is from Oaxaca.

Our kids, recognizing our quirkiness, have contributed some of the weird things but I am usually the target. Mom gets more practical things, like chocolate.

Our daughter Tasha gave me this. It sits on the edge of our bathtub with a continual look of shock and amusement on its face. I like the way it is reflected in the faucet.
The bear and the moose are from our son Tony and his wife Cammie. Peggy once spent a whole year looking for moose, and I have had more than my share of finding bears.
This is here because it reflects Tasha’s sense of humor, and hopefully mine. We were visiting the San Diego Zoo, which I really like. But the visit went on and on and on. And I got a little grouchy. It happens. So I left Peggy, Tasha and the grandkids and headed back to the car to read. When the family finally returned, Tasha proudly presented me with this.

Much of what we have simply reflects our own unique brand of quirkiness and can be found outside of our home as well as inside.

Three buddies. Lots of Eeyores remain from Peggy’s days as a principal. The pigs seem to be attracted to me.
We were both attracted to this giraffe.
If our bird houses seem to be a bit rustic, Mr. and Mrs. Chickadee don’t seem to mind. Note the head staring out the hole. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The last time you saw this rooster, it was covered in snow. While its strange eye makes it look like a dead rooster, it’s the tail made out of tools that amuses me.
We liked the rooster so much we commissioned a pair of Stellar jays!

There are more, lots more in fact, but you get the idea. And that leads me to a question: What strange things hang out at your house?

The Beauty of the Black Rock Desert… My 11 Years at Burning Man

Deserts can have great beauty. The Burning Man festival is fortunate to be located in the remote Black Rock Desert of northwestern Nevada where it is surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery.

Situated on a flat playa that stretches out for over 100 miles, Burning Man is dwarfed by surrounding mountains and a vast, flat, desert floor. Once, the playa was filled with a huge, glacier fed lake that was over 500 feet deep. Wooly mammoths and Native Americans lived on its shore and called it home. Like other Great Basin Lakes, there were no outlets. Water that flowed into the lake stayed there and sediments carried in from the surrounding mountains sank to the bottom. As the climate changed, becoming hotter and drier, the lake dried up and the sediments became the base for today’s Playa.

By the 1840s and 50s pioneers and gold seekers from the young United States of America made their first forays into the desert heading for the goldfields of Northern California and Southern Oregon. The Applegate brothers created a trail through the Black Rock Desert that bears their name. I live in the Applegate Valley of Oregon beside the Applegate River, all named for the family. I also have family connections. Applegates and Mekemsons intermarried in the early 1800s.

Today, I am going to post several photos that place Burning Man in its Black Rock Desert surroundings.

I like this photo because it emphasizes how flat the Playa is. You can barely see the fence that marks the outer boundary of Burning Man. Art can be found even in this remote section but it takes a bit of effort to get there. The flat playa has enabled some land speed records to be set here. It has also provided a good base for launching rockets.
Of course, I like to spend time out there given my love of wide open spaces, desire to escape the crowds, and interest in the art. Here I am on the outside looking in. It was shortly after this that the Black Rock Rangers, the Border Patrol of BMO, came roaring over in an official truck. I hopped the fence and zoomed off on my bike. (Photograph by Peggy Mekemson.)
The Border Patrol is wise to be vigilant on the outer edges of Burning Man, however. Aliens are known to hang out there.
Some even resemble cats. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve always thought that cats have a taint of alien blood. It may be more than a taint. Have you ever found your cat staring at you in a strange way and wondered what alien thoughts were passing through its mind?
Another perspective. Note the rain clouds. The Black Rock Desert receives less than 10 inches a year, which is the definition of a desert. At times, it seems like the majority falls during Burning Man! All traffic is stopped. A thick, caky mud clings to vehicle tires, bike tires and shoes. A small garbage bag worn on the shoes helps feet avoid the worst of it.
We’ve seen some spectacular rainbows accompany the storms.
Another example.
My friend, Ken Lake, caught a photo of this double rainbow hanging over Black Rock City.
The first rays of the morning sun touch the mountains surrounding Burning Man. Early morning and evening are the best time to photograph the scenery.
A few minutes later.
This sunrise photo is an example of how the large event is dwarfed by its surroundings.
Another example.
The sun sinks into the west, signifying that life at Burning Man is about to be seriously ramped upward.
While many Burners think party as night approaches, others pause to enjoy the beauty.
And beauty there is.
As the sun sets, the moon rises.
With a beauty and drama of its own. (Photo by Don Green.)
I’ll conclude with this photo of the moon hidden by the clouds— a contrast in light and dark.

NEXT POST: I was reading Walter Isaacson’s book on Leonardo Da Vinci this morning and Isaacson was discussing how incredibly observant Da Vinci was. This led me to look up at our house from a slightly different perspective. I was struck by some of the weird things we collect and decided it would make a fun post. The next post: A Home Full of Whimsy… What’s in your House?

Rabid Transit, Never Was Haul, a Vast Vase and Other Mutant Vehicles… 11 Years of Burning Man

The Rabid Transit mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
This scary/wonderful creature called Rabid Transit is another creation from the fertile imagination of Duane Flatmo, the same person that brought El Pulpo Mechanico to Burning Man. In fact, Rabid Transit is built on the same Ford chassis that El Pulpo was built on.

Duane Flatmo lives in Eureka California, a short 3 plus hours away from where I live and a million miles away in imagination. Wanting to create a new creature, he struggled with a concept that would live up to his fantastic El Pulpo Mechanico.

El Pulpo

Rabid Transit was his answer. Like El Pulpo, Rabid Transit was created from items gathered at a local junk yard in Eureka. Note El Pulpo’s legs made out of abandoned barrels.

Rabid Transit mutant vehicle at Burning Man
A full view of Rabid Transit. Various animals are situated around the vehicle. Note the sharp toothed fishy hood-head.
A side view of the Rabid Transit mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
A side view of Rabid Transit.
Rabid Transit shoots out fire.
Rabid Transit in full fire! As you might imagine, you can feel the heat and hear the roar.

Never Was Haul comes as a Victorian home on wheels with a cow catcher on the front. (Cow catchers are what trains use to put on the front of their engines to remove cattle, moose and buffalo from the tracks.) Born in Berkeley as part of the steam punk art movement, Never Was Haul has been to Burning Man many times.

Never Was Haul mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
A photo taken of Never Was Haul by Tom Lovering. When Tom first saw the mutant vehicle, it was love at first sight.
Photo of Never Was Haul at Burning Man by Tome Lovering.
Another photo by Tom.
Never Was Haul mutant vehicle at Burning Man closeup.
A close up side view.
Front view of Never Was Haul at Burning Man.
And a front view.

For sheer fun, I’d have to list the large vase mutant vehicle shown below as a top candidate. I was even more entertained when I discovered it changed colors at night.

Mutant vehicle vase at Burning Man.
Settled into camp, this is what the vase looks like during the day time.
Vase mutant vehicle at Burning Man at night.
And here it is at night.
Mutant vehicle vase at Burning Man during twilight.
In twilight’s glow.
Nighttime view of mutant vehicle vase at Burning Man.
And a final night time view.

Several trains have appeared at Burning Man. There has even been a caboose, the Dust Bus, which proudly claims it is part of the Nor Cal Black Rock Railroad..

Train mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
One of the trains, complete with cow catcher.
Side view of mutant vehicle train at Burning Man.
A side view…
Mutant vehicle train at Black Rock City.
Another train.
Burning Man mutant vehicle train at night.
Here it is at night with its cow catcher lit up.

Before trains, people got across the US in Conestoga wagons. The Oregon Trail passes through the Black Rock Desert not too far from Burning Man and would have seen many of these wagons carrying pioneers west, among them, my Great, Great Grandmother.

Conestoga Mutant Vehicle Wagon at Burning Man.
This giant rendition also transported many people across the desert, or at least the Playa.
Conestoga wagon mutant vehicle at Burning Man. A side view.
A side view.
Conestoga Wagon mutant vehicle at Burning Man at night.
At night.

I’ll finish today’s post with four individual mutant vehicles:

Kilroy mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
I’d go with Kilroy, here.
Phone mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
Needs no introduction for those over 40. It’s a phone. (grin)
A brain mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
A brain.
I will conclude today with Walter, the giant VW van from Arizona. I think they used an airport firetruck as its base.

NEXT POST: Peggy’s perspective on our hike on the PCT this past summer.

A Steampunk Horse and other Small Mutant Animals… 11 Years of Burning Man

Steampunk horse at Burning Man.
Steampunk, the fantasy world where life and machines meld together, is fairly common at Burning Man for costumes, art, and mutant vehicles. This horse is one of the best examples.

As noted in my last post, I’ve been sorting through and categorizing my Burning Man photos from the 11 years I have attended the event: 2004-5-6-7-9-10-12-13-14-15 and 17. I’ve created 15 categories and will do posts on several of my favorites from each category over the next several weeks.

In my last Burning Man post, I introduced some of the larger animal mutant vehicles that roam the Playa at Burning Man. Today is the turn of the smaller mutant animals, like the horse above. Check out the head and the expression in its face. If my innards looked like the horse’s, I’d be a little wild-eyed too. Usually if you see gears used like this, you can assume that you’ve entered the world of steampunk.

Pink pony mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
It would be really hard to find a horse more opposite from the steampunk horse!

There aren’t a lot of insects normally found on the floor of the Black Rock Desert. In addition to being hot and dry, there aren’t any plants. When Burning Man comes to town, so to speak, things change.

Praying Mantis mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
One of the most impressive bugs to ever visit the Playa was this praying mantis.
Being buggy means being buggy eyed…
Buggy eyed mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
And it doesn’t get much more buggy eyed than this.
Beetle mutant vehicle at Burning Man with shell.
Any decent beetle needs a shell…
Bug mutant vehicle at Burning Man with a shell.
Dung beetle mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
Now here’s a sweetie, a dung beetle. It rolls up a large dollop of poop and drags it along behind. I think it is supposed to be the home for its new children.

Burning Man has its share of fur bearing mammals that slip into the mutant vehicle category.

Cat car mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
The cat car is a favorite standby that makes it back to Burning Man year after year.
The kitty from the rear. I confess to finding the tail pipe rather amusing!
Green cat mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
A cool cat of a different color!
Furry rabbit mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
Rabbits range from this friendly, furry fellow you’d probably allow up on your bed if he weren’t so big.
Buck teeth rabbit mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
To this guy you wouldn’t let in your house…
To this one. You would probably get a rabies shot if you encountered it.
Dog mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
Dogs are few and far between. And this one may be a cat. Anyway, one way or the other, I have probably insulted the dog or cat kingdom.
Tutu wearing dog mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
This robot looking dog is wearing a pink tutu, which is what I expect to see at Burning Man.
Normally, one avoids polar bears. But a polar bear carrying a rose? (Photo by my friend Tom Lovering.)
Small dragon mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
A small, Chinese dragon? Or is it a duck?
Duck mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
Now this is a duck! I think. It shoots fire out of its head at night.
Chicken pox mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
Everyone recognizes chicken pox. Especially if it is labeled.
Turtle mutant vehicle at Burning Man.
I’m guessing that this mutant vehicle moves across the Playa slowly. (Photo by Don Green.)
I’ll wrap up today’s post with the king of beasts hitching a ride on a what… a whiskered slug? Do you have a clue?

NEXT POST: These mutant vehicles came out of the deep. There is something fishy about Burning man…

Who Ate the Gingerbread House? … Good Doggy, Bad Doggy

I went searching for three wise men at Carowinds Amusement Park on the border of North and South Carolina. I didn’t find them. Maybe they were lost in the pre-Christmas crowd. But I did find one of their camels.

It’s Christmas Eve here in Charlotte, North Carolina. The tree is up and loaded with goodies. The gingerbread houses have been built and the Christmas cookies are ready to eat. (Minus those that Grandpa has already eaten. I have a serious responsibility to test the cookies as they come out of the oven. Sometimes I have to eat two, or three, just to be sure they meet my high standards.) Our son-in-law Clay will soon be up and preparing tonight’s roast. He’s one heck of a cook. All’s well with the world, or at least all is well with our little corner. And that’s enough for today.

Like Santa, we are in the middle of our holiday rounds. Last week, we were in Florida visiting with our son and his family. This week we are with our daughter and her family in Charlotte. It’s her turn to have us for Christmas. Next year is Tony’s turn, as we have already been reminded several times. (grin) Santa, of course, has the advantage of being able to be in both places. That’s because he has that magical sleigh and eight reindeer plus the red-nosed fellow. We have to travel by airplane, where we are lucky to arrive at all.

Santa dashing away on top of one of the rides at Carowinds.
One of his eight reindeer!

Both sets of kids (and grandkids) decided it would be fun to check out the holiday decorations at major amusement parks this year: Busch Gardens in Florida and Carowinds in North Carolina. They were impressive:

Clay used his Google Android phone to capture this photo at Carowinds. (Clay works for Google as a manager at their data center in South Carolina.)
Both parks featured decorated trees. This is at Busch Gardens.
Another Busch Gardens tree.
This tree with the moon hanging out above was at Carowinds.
Clay caught this ‘bulb-tree.’
And I took a close-up.
As usual, I couldn’t resist a reflection shot. This is Carowinds.
A very big Christmas tree ornament at Carowinds.
As expected, both parks had impressive Christmas trees: Busch Gardens…
Carowinds. This tree, BTW, sits on the border between North and South Carolina.

Making gingerbread houses is a tradition at both houses, which isn’t surprising considering Peggy’s love of all things Christmas. The grandkids join in the effort with total dedication, except for eating half of the house decorations. They are not alone in their passion for jelly beans and M&Ms and candy canes, gumdrops etc. The doggies also have a sweet tooth. But which one ate the gingerbread house?

Was it Natasha and Clay’s dogs: Miss Innocence (Chima) here?
Or, “How could you even think I might eat the Gingerbread House? ” Lexi.”
Or Tony and Cammie’s Miss Definitely Not Me (Lyla).

Chima and Lexi were actually innocent— this time. Not that they wouldn’t eat a gingerbread house if someone left it on the floor by mistake and no-one was home. But they lack Lyla’s long legs. (Clay swears his dogs would not eat the gingerbread house.) Cammie and boys had just finished their house and were briefly out of the room. Cammie returned to find Lyla on her hind legs scarfing down their house. In Lyla’s defense, she had only thoroughly licked one side— but I am pretty sure that the house’s demise was just a matter of time. Anyway, here are the Cox family gingerbread houses:

Cody’s Robot House… Check out the teeth!
Ethan’s Reindeer House…
And Peggy’s. She would never be left out when it comes to building gingerbread houses.
While I didn’t catch Lyla’s well licked gingerbread house, Peggy and I found that our bedroom had been invaded by animals. This was special. Imagine kids loaning out their animals, even for a night! It was the true Christmas spirit.

Speaking of animals, Carowinds had put together a petting zoo for Christmas. It’s where I found the camel. There was also a very, very strange looking goat that looked like it was having a really bad hair day, that it was an ancient goat from another time…

I decided that it was… are you ready for this… The Goat of Christmas Past.



Lyla the Goldendoodle: I Discover a Dog That Is All Legs

The six-month old, long-legged Lyla checks to see where Mommy (Cammie) has gone. Golden doodles  are known to suffer from separation anxiety. “Leave the radio on” the literature suggests. Had Lyla realized that ‘Mommy’ was going to be gone for five days and that Grandpa was taking over, she would have been even more anxious.

Peggy and I are in Safety Harbor, Florida about 45 minutes north of St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast. We came to visit with our son Tony, his wife Cammie, and our three grandkids: Connor, Chris and Cooper. Part of the reason for our trip was to give Tony and Cammie a short vacation. They had a challenging summer and deserved a break. As you might imagine, Grandma and Grandpa have had their hands full with three rambunctious boys aged 6, 8 and 9. They are great kids— but the comparison with herding cats applies here. I never imagined how difficult it might be to get three boys to put on three pairs of socks before the school bus arrived.

The boys were easy in comparison to the fourth kid, however. Lyla is a six-month old goldendoodle. A goldendoodle, for those of you who don’t recognize the name, is a designer dog, a mix between a golden retriever and a poodle. They come in various sizes, from mini to maxi and Lyla definitely fits the maxi description. I have never met a dog with longer legs! Goldendoodles are known for being bright, easily trainable and super family-friendly. They are also close to shed-free, which is a huge plus for people with allergies. The down-side here is that they require frequent grooming.

Cammie provides Lyla with her nightly brushing. (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)

Lyla fell under my list of responsibilities and I soon found myself following her around outside with a bag in hand. Collecting dog poop is not how I envisioned grandpa duty, but a grandpa has to do what a grandpa has to do. I suspect there was a bit of karma involved. I had opted out of changing diapers when the boys were younger.

Mischief might very well be the puppy’s middle name. I had to persuade her that my hand was not a chew toy and that my shoes were off limits. Earlier today we found her chewing up a a pencil and her poop bags. There is a long list of what Lyla has sunk her teeth into. I was rooting for her on the poop bags.

Then there was the night that I fixed Peggy a large bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate, one of her all-time favorite desserts. She had spent an hour persuading the boys that it was bed time and I felt she deserved a treat. I had left the room for five seconds when I heard the ice cream bowl moving across the table. Ice creams bowls don’t move around on their own, I thought to myself, quickly returning. Let me report that Lyla really likes ice cream and she can eat really fast. She also likes lasagna, bread, salsa, chips, cheese, cereal, chicken, ribs, PB&J, and anything else resembling food that her long legs can reach when no-one is looking. I even caught her slurping down Peggy’s coffee and cream, and worse, licking the top of my beer bottle! Think of me as picky, but there was no way I was going to drink from the same bottle as a dog who eats her own poop bags. 

Still, with all of this, or maybe because of it, I really like the dog. She’s a real character. And she is also photogenic, which is how she made it into my blog. I don’t usually photograph pets, but with Lyla I couldn’t resist. Enjoy.

It’s hard to imagine that the long-legged Lyla started out as this puppy a few short months ago. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Super Pup! (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)
A bit older, Lyla poses in her pre-clipped phase. (Photo by Bailey Bordwell.)
Cammie caught this photo of Lyla with her three boys and Tony in an ice cream cut-out board ad. Connor is on the top, Cooper in the middle, and Chris on the bottom. Lyla is the fuzzy kid with the big nose. Maybe this is where she gained her fondness for ice cream. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
Dirty Dog… after a long romp in the dog park. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
Another furry photo. And a very pink tongue. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
A decision was made to clip the doggy..
Did someone mention food?
While all the boys love Lyla, Connor seems to have a special relationship. Here they are playing who is top dog. (Connor is careful not to put his put full weight on her.) They seem to be evenly matched but Lyla’s teeth are bigger.
We are used to kids today having more toys to play with than we did growing up. But the dog!? Lyla even has her own toy box that she empties out each day. I was playing fetch with her when she got tired and took her ball over to her toy box and dropped it inside. Game over.
I couldn’t get over the length of Lyla’s legs.
Here she looked like she was running full speed. Even her ears look wind-blown.
Her feet matched her legs. Does she look like trouble, or what!
Who? Me? Trouble?
Miss Innocent.
One of my favorite photos. A throw rug comes to mind.
Lyla having a bad hair day?
Peggy says she can identify….
Lyla does have a regal side…
That really came out when she was riding a paddleboard.
Even I was inspired to try my luck. And yes, I  stood up! Just before I fell off. Eventually, I was able to stand up and paddle. (Sort of.)
I’ll conclude with this photo of Tony and Lyla demonstrating how it is supposed to look.

NEXT POST: It’s back to the PCT with the section between Castle Crags and  Burney Falls where I fall asleep while cooking dinner.

Bone Travels the PCT Looking for His Home… Backpacking the PCT at 75— and 40

Bone found this convenient PCT marker on the trail leading south out of the Echo Summit area on Highway 50 going south toward Carson Pass, about five miles from where he was discovered 40 years ago.

It was always assumed that Bone— the diminutive four-inch, five-ounce dynamo that was once part of a horse’s foot— would one day return to his home along the PCT. What’s surprising is that it took 40 years. He’s been riding along with me on my trek this summer and meeting backpackers with that goal of visiting his birthplace in mind.

My friend Tom Lovering, the owner of an outdoor/wilderness store in Sacramento, and I found Bone in 1977 hiding out in a young corn lily patch near the PCT between Echo Summit and Carson Pass.  At the time, I was scouting a new route for the 100 mile treks I led in the Northern Sierras. Tom and three women were hiking with me for company. It was early in the season and the trail kept disappearing under the snow.

Tom and I take a current photo with Bone outside the Fox and Goose Restaurant in Sacramento. The goose seems particularly interested in what we are up to. Alpine West, one of Tom’s outdoor/wilderness stores, was located in the 10th and R Building in 1974 when Tom became a sponsor of my first Sierra Trek.

Here’s the story of how Bone was found from an earlier post:

Our fourth day started out as a typical backpack day. We climbed. It was gentle at first and then became more serious. Once again snow covered large segments of the trail. We spread out and searched for tree blazes. I scrambled over a particularly steep section and found myself in a high meadow.

Something half buried in a field of young corn lilies caught my eye. A few days earlier it would have been covered with snow. Curiosity led me to detour through the still soggy ground. Mud sucked at my boots.  My treasure turned out to be a disappointing, short, squat bone. Gnaw marks suggested it had been part of someone’s dinner. I was about to toss it when a devious thought popped into my mind.

“Trash!” I hollered at Tom and held up the bone. We had a game where if one person found a piece of trash, the other person had to carry it out. But first you had to catch the other person.

Tom sprinted down the trail with me in pursuit. Once we had made it over the mountain, our route ranged from flat to downhill. Tom was very fast. We had traveled two miles and were almost to Showers Lake before he stopped, concerned about leaving our companions too far behind. Very reluctantly, he took the bone and stuffed it in his pack.

“How can you classify a bone as trash,” he whined. I figured Tom would toss his new traveling companion as soon as I was out of sight. Wrong.

Here’s Bone’s perspective on the occasion:

“I didn’t plan on seeing the world and becoming famous. Once I was part of a horse located just above the hoof. I had no freedom; I had no glory. Wherever the horse went I went, a mere slave to his desires. During the summer this meant carrying greenhorn tourists into the backcountry of the mountains above Lake Tahoe. The added pounds gave me bone-jarring headaches. Then the horse died; I like to fantasize that a large bear with big teeth and sharp claws ate him.  Hopefully he ate the tourist as well.

Whatever happened, I was free to be me, Bone. Yes, that’s right, Bone is my name. A kindly coyote picked me up and carried me to a high meadow filled with corn lilies. It was there that I discovered my Zen-like nature as I meditated through the seasons. I was alone except for a mouse that came by and nibbled on me occasionally. That hurt. In fact, it interrupted my meditation and scarred me for life; you can still see teeth marks. I blame all of my subsequent bad behavior on that flea-bitten miscreant.

My annoyance at the mouse, however, was minimal in comparison to my anger at the large, two-legged creature who yanked me from my meadow home and begin yelling I was trash as he ran down the trail in pursuit of another two-legged creature.  Can you imagine the insult? I had no way of knowing that this was the beginning of my world travels or that the two creatures, Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering, would become my servants.”

When I arrived home and emptied my backpack, there was the bone. Tom had slipped it into my pack. I had been carrying him for several days. Small b bone had become large B Bone and begun his 40-year odyssey! A year or so later when Tom arrived in Japan and unpacked his suitcase at the beginning of a three-year journey through Asia, Africa, and Europe, there was Bone. And thus it has gone. He has never stopped traveling. (For those of you who are new to Bone’s world, I’ll list his travels and an interview with Bone in the last two posts of this series. Long time followers will have read these posts. Go here for the complete series of posts on Bone’s discovery: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

The past couple of weeks, I have been exploring the area between Donner Summit and Carson Pass, retracing paths I have been hiking since I started backpacking in 1969. In many ways, I think of this area as my home. My 13-year-old grandson, Ethan, joined me two weeks ago until a sprained ankle cut short our trip. (Ethan carried Bone and now thinks of him as an heirloom. Forget great, great grandmother’s silver.) I went back in to finish this section of the PCT last week, and, of course, go on detours. Why hang out on the busy freeway when there are country roads to explore?

Bone, happy to find a new traveling companion, perches on Ethan’s knee.

When I came out at Echo Summit, my wife Peggy and I went on a day hike toward Carson Pass to take Bone back to where he was discovered. It was a sentimental journey. Bone was very excited.

While I’ve been posting photos to follow the progression of my journey down the PCT, I am skipping forward to honor Bone (and my youth) this week and next with a look at the area between Donner Summit and where Bone was discovered. I’ll then return to my trip between Castle Crags and Burney Falls. I’ll start today with my hike between Donner Summit and the Granite Chief Wilderness.

The PCT follows a ridge line south of Donner Pass. Here it makes its way up toward Tinker’s Knob.

I used to start 100 mile treks near Mary Lake, shown here. The Sugar Bowl ski area is nearby. I cross-country skied for several years along the distant ridges and down through the forests.

Wagon trains into California once made their way up and over Roller Pass. It wasn’t easy, as suggested by information sign located on the PCT. The sign notes that the “drawing is not an exaggeration.”

I’ve included this because I want to recognize the thousands of hours volunteers spend on maintaining the PCT, with some, like Don and Pat Malberg, actually adopting sections of the trail.

The folks who build and maintain the PCT take the ‘crest’ part of its name seriously. The result is great views, lots of ups and downs, and not much water, especially later in the season. I’ve often found myself hiking 10-15 miles between water sources. Anderson Peak is in the distance and Tinker’s Knob on the other side.

A closer view of Anderson Peak.

Another photo of the trail near Tinker’s Knob. The trail cuts to the left of the peak and then drops into a canyon of the American River.

A view back down the trail.

Normally, the PCT is like the ‘freeway of trails,’ broad and well graded. It can get difficult at times, especially when heading across rocky slopes like this. Hiking becomes challenging. Each step needs to be placed to avoid a sprained ankle or a tumble. Care becomes almost instinctual. The granite boulder trail reached the lava cliff and then switchbacked up the mountain.

A snag near Anderson Peak. Peggy thought ‘three witches.’

By now (late August) most flowers are past their blooming stage and have gone to seed. This fellow was still blooming, however, and goes by the rather quaint name of pussy paws because of its resemblance to cats’ feet.

Large volcanic rocks are found along the trail, speaking to the area’s volcanic history.

The trail switched back rapidly down from Tinker’s Knob and I came on my first water of the day. This rubber boa was there to greet me. Known for their gentle nature,  they are sometimes used to help people get over their fear of snakes. I picked it up and repositioned it for a photo-op. 🙂 I filled my water bottles with five liters of water knowing I would be dry camping for the night.

I didn’t have to hike much farther, finding a lovely campsite beneath Tinker’s Knob with great surrounding views.

Looking out from my kitchen as the sun set…

And another photo, a few minutes later.

Slightly later, this was my bathroom view looking in the other direction. Not bad, eh?

Early the next morning, I was treated to a sunrise view of Tinker’s Knob.

It’s for moments like these that I have spent 50 years backpacking.

My hike the next morning took me towards the mountains that form the rim of the Granite Chief Wilderness and back up to Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Needle Peak is seen to the left. I will have hiked across those mountains and several miles farther by night.

My morning walk took me through a meadow filled with drying mule ears that rustled in the wind.

Sierra thistles were looking quite bushy as they prepared to disperse their seeds.

I caught these thistles, along with mule ears, backlit by the sun.

A lone tree decorated a gap in the mountains.

Looking back, I could see Tinker’s Knob and the mountains I had camped beneath.

Looking forward, I was faced with mountains of granite and one of the Northern Sierra’s more wild areas, the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Next two posts:

  • The Granite Chief Wilderness Area
  • The Desolation Wilderness Area and Bone’s home