Mt. Shasta, California and a Beautiful Lenticular Cloud…

Airplane photo of lenticular cloud over Mt. Shasta on April 10, 2023 by photographer Curt Mekemson.
Flying down from Seattle to Sacramento last Monday, Peggy and I were awed by Mt. Shasta and a lenticular cloud that was hanging above it.

On Monday, Peggy and I flew from Seattle, Washington to Sacramento California. It was cloudy through Washington and Northern Oregon, which was hardly a surprise given the weather in the West this year. In mid-Oregon, however, the clouds suddenly parted. We enjoyed great views of the Three Sister volcanoes and the iconic Crater Lake. 

As we crossed into California, I told Peggy to hold her breath. Mt. Shasta was coming. We would be flying to the East of it. We didn’t have a clue what the weather would be like. Shasta could be cloud covered, partially covered, or totally clear. What we got was a rare treat, a lenticular cloud was perched on top of the mountain. While Peggy oohed and awed, I grabbed my camera to snap a few photos. 

I love Mt. Shasta. It’s one of the most beautiful volcanic mountains in the world. I’ve been driving by it for decades as I made my way from California to Oregon and back. I even climbed the mountain in 1979 with my 75 year old friend, Orvis Agee, who’d been up it so many times that he was  known affectionately as ‘The Old Man of the Mountain.’ For my own 75th birthday in 2018, I had spent two weeks of my 750 mile backpack trek down the PCT enjoying spectacular views of the mountain as I made my way south from Mt. Ashland to Burney Falls.

It was my intention to slap up a quick post on our Monday fly-over but we were in Sacramento for a personal and sad reason. Peggy’s sister, Jane Hagedorn, and my friend of 50 years had unexpectedly passed away. We had come in from Virginia to attend a celebration of life memorial and help her children for a couple of weeks as they sort though things and prepare for the memorial. So, I put the post off. I actually forgot it.  

Until Saturday. I was reading a blog I follow by Bubba Suess,, and he had photographed the same lenticular cloud and others from the ground. I suggest you jump over to his web site and click on his blog at the top. He had photos from both Sunday and Monday. They are amazing, especially the flying saucer lenticular cloud! They inspired me to put up my photos as well. 

Jane drove up to see us several times while Peggy and I were living in Oregon, sometimes with her husband, Jim, and sometimes by herself. She considered our home and property as a retreat. Along the way, she would pass by Mt. Shasta. She shared our awe of the mountain’s beauty. She was a faithful follower of my blog and I know she would love this post on Shasta. This one’s for her.

A distant view.
Closer… The squares are mainly cattle ranches.
Photo of lenticular cloud over Mt. Shasta by photographer Curt Mekemson.
And a final view.

My post on the buffalo sculptures of Custer City, South Dakota that I was going to run today will be posted next Monday. My post on the history and mythology of Egypt will be on the following Monday.

A Garden Tour of England’s Cotswolds… by Peggy Mekemson

Jane and I sit among magnificent Hydrangeas at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). A taste of things to come.

Jane and I sit among magnificent Hydrangea at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). A taste of things to come.

While I was off touring the California coast north of San Francisco in August, my wife Peggy was on a garden tour of the Cotswolds in England with her sister Jane. She’s been eager to blog about her experience, but I had to finish my Olompali series first. Please join her as she shares the beautiful gardens and charming towns she visited over the next couple of weeks. —Curt

My sister, Jane Hagedorn, loves gardens and she loves England. I love my sister. So when Jane called and asked that I join her for a garden tour in the Cotswolds, of course, I said “yes.” I did little research other than reading the notes sent to us by the tour company and checking the weather in England in August. I was going into this with a completely open mind wondering what my impressions would be….and of course, what kind of photographs would reflect this journey of 12 gardens, several abbeys, a cathedral, and seven English villages. The camera was packed!

We extended our stay to join my brother John and his wife Frances for a few days in London. They had been traveling via auto throughout Europe for 5 months. We had some catching up to do. John also had been blogging about their adventures, a great read. Check it out:

When Curt suggested I put together 4-6 guest blogs, I delayed, delayed, delayed! How could I take 800 photos and select a mere 50-75 to share on the blogs? What would I say— Curt is the writer in this family! Nevertheless here you are, beginning with three blogs featuring a brief photo journey of gardens in the Cotswolds. Following the gardens I will feature the Abbeys and small, colorful towns of Cotswolds.

1st Blog: Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey, Camers in Old Sodbury, and Abbey House Garden aka Home of the Naked Gardeners in Malmesbury.

Let me start by noting that all of the gardens were gorgeous. The colors, the size of the flowers, the hedges, the orchards, the kitchen gardens, sculptures and water fountains— wow! It was really, really hard to limit myself to 15 photos per blog that Curt suggested. I quickly learned that gardens came in all shapes and sizes ranging from 1 acre to 5000 acres. They were attached to castles, farmhouses, abbeys, manors, courts, parks, and houses. Also, I love architecture, so I have included photos of the various residences.

Historically, what was once a medieval palace became a house and then a castle rebuilt between 1838-1878. Over 1000 acres, it is considered a parkland featuring lawns, cedars, and deciduous trees….and a few gardens.

Historically, what was once a medieval palace became a house and then a castle rebuilt between 1838-1878. Over 1000 acres, Highclere Castle is considered a parkland featuring lawns, cedars, and deciduous trees….and a few gardens.

First stop on the garden tour: Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey. Although its location is actually in Berkshire, it was on the way to the Cotswolds and….we had tickets! With the popularity of the PBS series Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle has become quite a challenge to visit. It is open to visitors only 60-70 days a year. It is privately owned and family still lives in part of the castle! Add to this the fact that August is also a heavy month for tourism— well, there were a lot of people wanting to share this experience.

Second stop: Camers in Old Sodbury (love the English names) was an absolute delight! It is an Elizabethan farmhouse and is part of the National Garden Scheme. That means it is open occasionally for the charity to raise money. We were greeted by the elderly couple who, with their son, own and manage the gardens. They now live in the converted outer building while the son lives in the farmhouse (not open to the public).

We wandered the 2 ½ acre garden which is part of the wooded 4 acres. It was amazing how much color and variety could be found!

We wandered the 2 ½ acre garden which is part of the wooded 4 acres. It was amazing how much color and variety could be found!

Add caption

As I soon discovered, hedges are everywhere…all sizes, shapes, and forms.

One of many intriguing garden walkways at Camers.

One of many intriguing garden walkways at Camers.

This got our attention. Jane provides perspective! There must be plenty of water in England.

This got our attention. Jane provides perspective! There must be plenty of water in England.

Brilliant colors galore. My last photo at Camers.

Brilliant colors galore. My last photo at Camers.

The final stop today is Malmesbury, the oldest inhabited town in England. Abbey House Gardens is also known as the Home of the Naked Gardeners, Ian and Barbara Pollard. (Their web-site claims clothing is optional on six Sundays during the year.) I couldn’t help but wonder what the monks who lived here in the 12th Century would have thought about going naked. The Pollards purchased the residence and abandoned 5.5-acre garden in 1994 and revitalized it, adding their own touches. I found their design both amusing and eclectic.

I found the Abbey Gardens eclectic and amusing.

I found the Abbey Gardens eclectic and amusing.

Ad caption

The gardens can be almost overwhelming when trying to capture the design, color, depth, lushness, and uniqueness. However, I had a good time trying!

Leaving the Monastery one is greeted by this sculpture at the entrance to Abbey House Gardens.

Leaving the 12th century abbey grounds,  one is greeted by this sculpture at the entrance to Abbey House Gardens.

Next blog: On to Hidcote Manor, Kiftsgate Court and Mismarden Park.

The American River Parkway: Part 2… Featuring Flowers

California Buckeye found on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson

This beauty found along the American River Parkway in spring is the California Buckeye. Each individual flower is a potential buckeye.

The concept of creating the American River Parkway can be traced back as far as the 1920s, but the actual creation of the park took place in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Impetus came when land speculators begin buying up the relatively inexpensive land along the river for future development.

Conservation-minded visionaries of the time realized a regional treasure was about to be lost.  A prized riparian habitat of great beauty and recreational value to the community of Sacramento would soon give way to bulldozers, for sale signs, and limited public access. Armed with passion and facts, these early environmental leaders were able to persuade the City and County of Sacramento to create the parkway.

And for that, we owe the environmentalists and elected officials a deep vote of gratitude. The American River Parkway is an urban asset that few communities throughout the US, or for that matter around the world, can claim.

The battle to maintain the natural resources of the parkway continues. The balance between recreational use and protection of the riparian habitat is a delicate one. Tough financial times and deep budget cuts led local politicians to insist that the parkway pay more of its maintenance costs. And this, unfortunately, has led to a demand for increased recreational use to pick up the tab, which is threatening the natural environment. Birds, plants and animals don’t contribute to the public till, at least not directly. Nor do they vote.

Although free parks benefit everyone, there is nothing wrong with insisting that people who use the park help pay for its maintenance. And it is healthy that volunteers have stepped in to take up the slack created by fewer park staff. Continued government support is needed as well, however.

The City of Sacramento recently voted to spend $250 million dollars to build a basketball stadium downtown. While it isn’t my purpose to oppose the stadium, it does seem to me if local politicians can find money to support what is basically a private venture that will serve some 700 thousand basketball fans per year, they should be able to find funds to support the community’s greatest asset that serves 5 million people per year. And will continue to– far into the future. Don’t you think?

The American River Parkway is used by people of all ages and persuasions. Below is a photo of Peggy with her dad, John Dallen, on the river. When John and his wife Helen reached their mid-80s, their children– Peggy, Jane Hagedorn, and John Jr.– insisted that they come out and live in Sacramento. John Sr. was not happy leaving his nature walks behind in Florida so I started taking him out to the parkway on Wednesday mornings. He absolutely fell in love with it, and I like to believe that the parkway made his last years much happier. The experience reminded me just how valuable the parkway, and other such natural areas around the world , are to the billions of people who live in urban centers.

John Dallen and his daughter, Peggy Mekemson, on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California.

John Dallen and Peggy Mekemson on the American River Parkway

Three community-based organizations work exclusively to preserve the American River Parkway and deserve public support.  These organizations are:

The Save the American River Association (SARA) was founded in the 1960s to advocate for the American River Parkway. Its mission “is to protect and enhance the wildlife habitat, fishery, and recreational resources of the American River Parkway.”

The American River Parkway Foundation (ARPF) “coordinates programs and works with volunteers to foster environmental stewardship, facilitate volunteer opportunities, as well as fund and implement Parkway projects.”

The American River Natural History Association (ARNHA), “supports educational and interpretive activities in the American River Parkway through operating and funding Effie Yeaw Nature Center, a program that introduces thousands of school children each year to the beauty and diversity of the American River Parkway.”

Each spring, the parkway bursts out in bloom. So my photographs this time will feature flowers of the American River Parkway.

California Buckeye trees along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Bursting with bloom, these buckeye trees are found at William Pond Park. A close up of the flowers is found above.

Almond tree blossoms along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Pioneer farmers once raised crops along what is now the parkway. These are blossoms from a remaining almond tree.

Dutchman's Pipe plant on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Dutchman’s Pipe is one of my favorite flowers. It obtained its name, so they say, by looking  like a Dutchman’s pipe.

Pipevine caterpillar dining on Dutchman Pipevine Plant on the American River Parkway.

Here we have the Pipevine Caterpillar chomping away on a pipevine plant.

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly on the American River Parkway

The caterpillar morphs into the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly. The pipevine plant is poisonous, which doesn’t harm the caterpillar or the butterfly, but does harm predators that might want to eat them.The distinct marking on the butterfly’s wings translates into an “eat me and die” sign. Other butterflies mimic the wings in hopes of taking advantage of the message..

Opening Jimsonweed flower on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Speaking of poisonous, this stunning flower belongs to the Jimsonweed plant, which is a member of the nightshade family. It is just opening up in this photo.

Jimsonweed flower on the American River Parkway.

Most people are more familiar with the flower looking like this, which is a perspective made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe. Note the extremely long pistil.

Evening Primrose found near the Effie Yeaw Nature Center on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

An Evening Primrose, which I found near the Effie Yeaw Nature Center.

Scotch Broom found on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Another yellow beauty, Scotch Broom. This plant was brought over from Scotland because of its beauty. Unfortunately it is a highly invasive plant that replaces native plants. Efforts are underway to eradicate it on the parkway.

Yellow Iris growing on the American River Parkway.

And a yellow iris.

Blue Elderberry flowers along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Elderberry flowers. The blue fruit of the plant was prized by  Native Americans. An elderly woman once tried to entice my father, who was in his late 70s at the time, by making him elderberry wine. He refused to comment on the success of the strategy.

Winter Vetch along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Another invader, winter vetch was originally brought in from Europe as a forage plant for livestock.

California Poppies and Winter Vetch growing together on the American River Parkway.

A mixed bouquet of California Poppies and Winter Vetch.

Plants don’t have to be flowering to be attractive, as the following photos demonstrate,

Seeding Milk Thistle plant on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This Milk Thistle is in the process of distributing its seeds. Note the insect that seems to fit right in.

Dried Milk Thistle on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

An older Milk Thistle looking a bit ferocious. I think it would be interesting in a dried flower arrangement.

Dead leaves form a California Buckeye on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I found these dead leaves to be rather attractive as well. I believe they were on a buckeye tree.

Cluster of young, wild grapes found on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

You can see grapes developing on this wild cousin to domestic grapes.

I conclude this post with a wild rose.

I conclude this post with a wild rose.

A Phone Call Forces Me to GASP: California’s Prop 99

The roots of California's Proposition 99, the Anti-Tobacco Initiative, reached back into the 1970s when the American Lung Association of Sacramento teamed up with GASP, the Group Against Smokers' Pollution, to pass one of the nation's first non-smoking ordinances. (GASP would eventually become Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.)

The path that led me into the tobacco wars had enough twists and turns to scare a contortionist snake out of his skin. There are lots of stories. Two are particularly relevant to the creation of California’s Proposition 99, the Anti-Tobacco Initiative.

I was recruited to become Assistant Director of the American Lung Association of Sacramento in 1971. The organization wanted my environmental expertise, not my anti-tobacco fervor. In fact I smoked a pipe. I loved my pipe. “No problem,” the Executive Director told me. He, his secretary and almost everyone else in the organization smoked. It was almost required.

One day in 1972 I was sitting in my office counting Christmas Seal Dollars and happily puffing away when I got the call that would lead me to sacrifice my pipe and eventually advocate that Prop 99 include nonsmokers’ rights.

“Mr. Mekemson” the caller began, setting off a red flag. I always get nervous when someone calls me Mr. Mekemson.

“Yes, this is Curtis,” I replied. “What can I do for you?”

“My name is Alice Fox, Mr. Mekemson. Some friends and I would like to meet you.”

Alice Fox, Alice Fox, Alice Fox… the name raced through my mind. I had heard about her recently. Then it came to me. I had read about Alice in the Sacramento Bee. She was leading a charge to shut down a nude beach on the American River. But why would Alice call me. I was a Seventies type of guy.

“Exactly what would you like to meet about,” I asked. Now was the time to be very careful.

“Some friends and I would like to talk with you about how tobacco smoke impacts our health,” she replied.

I relaxed. I was on safe ground. “There is a great deal of information that smoking causes lung disease,” I responded in a positive tone. “I would be glad to send you some pamphlets on the medical evidence. I also have a brochure that provides tips on quitting.”

“No,” a somewhat exasperated Alice Fox shouted in my ear, “we don’t smoke. It is other people’s smoke that makes us sick.”

There was a pregnant pause on my end of the phone. If Alice heard me coughing, it may have been because I had swallowed my pipe. Not knowing what to say, I stumbled into agreeing to have lunch with her the following week.

The die was cast. But first I tried to persuade my boss, Larry Kirk, that he should go. He was, after all, the Executive Director.

“No way,” Larry said with a nervous laugh as he took a deep drag. They had specifically asked for me and I was stuck with it. There was nothing to do but square my shoulders, put my pipe aside, and dutifully go forth for Mother Lung.

I expect the nonsmokers smelled the pipe smoke on me 20 feet away. We met at a small restaurant in the old Public Market at 13 and J Street. The Market would eventually morph into a Sheraton Hotel.

“We are so glad you were willing to meet with us,” Ed Randal, their leader greeted me. “We are having a difficult time persuading people that second-hand smoke makes us sick.”

He handed me his card. It read, “I don’t smoke but I chew. If you don’t blow your smoke on me, I won’t spit on you.”  I immediately understood why Ed might have difficulty selling his cause.

“Not too subtle,” I noted.

“We can’t afford to be,” was the response. Over the next hour I was educated as to why. Gradually, I became convinced that second-hand smoke did indeed make them sick. They all had compelling stories.

I also came to understand something of the frustration they felt in convincing society in general and smokers in particular that second-hand smoke was an issue. In 1972 it was a message far ahead of its time. Most smokers assumed they could smoke whenever and wherever they pleased. I know I did. The vast majority of nonsmokers went along with the idea. It took guts to challenge the norm.

I also had an ‘aha’ experience. I started out being resentful about leaving my pipe behind but over the hour my attitude began to change. These folks shouldn’t have to breathe my pipe smoke.

How many other people had my thoughtlessness harmed?

The question had a strong impact on me. Eventually it would lead me to give up smoking. This was something that neither my knowledge of health effects nor my responsibility as a health professional had been able to accomplish.

As a result, I became convinced that we had a powerful new weapon in our fight against lung disease. If I used myself as an example, “Please don’t smoke around me” was as effective in discouraging tobacco use as it was in protecting the nonsmoker.

Somewhat to my surprise, I volunteered to help Ed, Alice and Company in their effort. An organization called GASP, the Group Against Smoking Pollution, had been set up in Berkeley and the local folks wanted to establish a chapter in Sacramento. I offered the Lung Association for meetings and myself as staff backup. Before we broke up for the day, we had agreed on holding a general membership meeting the next month.

I can’t say that Larry was enthusiastic about my offer or conclusions. A surprising number of Lung Execs smoked and were no more prepared to accept nonsmokers’ rights than smokers in the general public. Mainly they saw their role with tobacco as discouraging young people from starting to smoke.

But Larry had hired me as his assistant because he respected my instincts and judgment. Reluctantly, he agreed to have Lung support GASP. But it would be my baby, not his.

So we set about organizing a meeting. Alice and Ed corralled their friends and I had a small article placed in the Bee. We came up with an agenda and refreshments. I warned our organizing committee not to expect much the first time out. Ten people and a few ideas for expanding membership would be a roaring success.

Fifteen minutes before the meeting was to start the room was packed. Apparently, I was the only one surprised. As we went around the room for introductions two things became apparent. First, this was a broad-based group of people. We had health professionals, a couple of lawyers, several business people, housewives, a househusband, an electrician, and others.

Second, everyone had stories to tell and they were ecstatic they had empathetic listeners. I felt like I was in the middle of a revival, which is often the atmosphere created by grassroots organizations.

Once we worked through the preliminaries and had a semblance of order, I facilitated a brainstorming session on what we might do to create awareness of non-smokers’ rights in Sacramento. If my pipe smoking was to be limited, I might as well have company.

The ideas came fast and furious. We should arm nonsmokers with fans to blow smoke back at smokers. We should print up and distribute thousands of the “I don’t smoke but I chew,” cards. We should picket grocery stores, clothing stores and restaurants. We should create an ordinance.

“Whoa,” I interjected, abandoning my facilitator’s role. “Let’s talk about the ordinance.”

Sacramento would be one of the first cities in the nation (or world) advocating such a law.

“Our chances of winning are slim,” I began, thinking out loud, “but that may not matter. The effort will generate great media coverage, probably more than all the other activities combined. Think of the awareness we will create.”

The idea was greeted with enthusiastic support. The newly formed Sacramento Chapter of GASP had a mission.

“I can take a stab at drafting the ordinance,” one of the attorneys volunteered.

“I know a reporter who will support us,” another offered.

“Anything you need,” another called out. We would not lack volunteers. As for myself, I agreed to set up meetings with members of the City Council. I knew most of them from my work in the environmental movement and had worked on several of their campaigns. We were off and running.

The ordinance seems rather tame now, but it was radical for its time. We targeted grocery stores, retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters. It was still the era when a newly purchased suit might smell like cigarette smoke and a harried shopper might inadvertently lose her ashes in the vegetable bin at the grocery store.

It didn’t take long for things to heat up. As we suspected, the press had a field day. Reporters didn’t necessarily agree with us, one of the smokiest atmospheres in town was the local newsroom, but controversy is the bread and butter of the media business. Imagine a smoker having to wait until he got outside of a grocery store to light up.

Each time the media ran a story, awareness increased. We were achieving our objective. Non smokers were learning it was okay to say “Yes, I do mind if you smoke,” and people who suffered adverse reactions from second-hand smoke were learning they weren’t crazy. We took every opportunity to educate the public and pound home our message to decision-makers.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. We won. A majority of City Council became convinced, as I had, that a significant number of nonsmokers were adversely affected by second-hand smoke.

Of equal importance, the local grocery store chains and clothing merchants let the decision-makers know they would prefer smoke free environments.

And finally, we had minimal opposition from the tobacco industry. It was several years before the industry fully realized the threat posed by the non-smokers right’s movement, or how dedicated the non-smokers’ rights advocates were, or how effective a small group of people can be in making change.

Sacramento had become a leader in the anti-tobacco movement and would continue to be over the next quarter of a century. While I moved on to other issues, the local Lung Association under the leadership of Jane Hagedorn and her Board of Directors became one of the strongest advocates for a smoke-free society in the United States.

Ten years later I would rejoin the Tobacco Wars, this time in Alaska.