Thursday, July 2, 2020

Paths

A very dear friend of mine gave me a tee-shirt when I retired last year. On it was the imprint of a boot print, but the print was actually words, which said, "Of all the paths in life you take, make sure some of them are dirt."

I've been trying to do that on a daily basis, not always successfully, but the park just north of my house has a nice walking path of dirt, so I count that, but I think I want to amend that phrase to include something about paths covered in flowers. The photo doesn't convey how orange this really is, but it literally is covered with orange petals from the tree at the right of the shot. 

If you can, walk on a flowered covered path sometime soon. It will make all the difference in the world.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Independence

This post title could mean a variety of things, but it is actually the name of the town we spent the night in on July 4th, 2017 on our 16 day road trip to Wisconsin and back. The timing couldn't have worked out more perfectly than it did. As noted in my last entry, we got into town late in the afternoon after driving across the state of Missouri. We had time to check into the motel, grab a bite to eat and then wander around a little bit watching different fireworks displays that were set up in different parts of town. It was a nice way to spend our 4th of July. 

We spent the better part of the next day touring the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, which includes the home he and his wife spent most of their married life in when he wasn't in Washington D.C. We also toured the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. We knew time wasn't going to be a problem today since our next stop was not a very long drive into Kansas.

Our first stop was the visitors center of the Harry S. Truman NHS for information and tickets to tour his home. We walked through the small museum and then wandered over to the historic courthouse. On the back side of the courthouse, we spotted a marker indicating the beginning of the Oregon Trail. By the time we'd gathered in some of the history of the area, it was time for our tour of Truman's house, so we walked the four or five blocks over to the house and took the tour.

Truman's house was built by his wife's grandfather and he and Bess Truman lived there for their entire married life from 1919 until his death in 1972. This was the "summer White House" during the time he was President of the United States from 1945 until 1953 and where he retired to after serving as our commander in chief. Touring the home, you get a real feeling as to how much of a down to earth kind of guy Truman was, not a whole lot of presidential trappings, just an average guy living out the best way he could.

Following our tour of the house, we then walked back over to the visitors center. That's when I saw some fake news, but this was really fake news. The visitors center had an actual print of the famous Chicago Tribune newspaper headline from November 1948, when they famously predicted that Thomas Dewey would defeat Truman based upon phone samplings they'd taken over the past several days. I inquired as to whether this was genuine, or a printed up copy of the paper and was assured that it was genuine. I also learned that the newspaper will not print any copies of that particular newspaper, because it is wrong and they will not be a part of printing things that aren't truthful. The interesting thing about this is, that it literally is fake news, because it has been proven incorrect, unlike a lot of other news stories that are just called fake news because someone doesn't like the coverage. Faulty polling by the Tribune caused the error, they owned up to the error, didn't double down on their error and admitted they were wrong and later printed a retraction.

Following our visit to the visitors center, we then hopped back into the Jeep and drove over to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. The museum and library I found very refreshing and much different than the Lincoln Library that we'd visited a couple of days earlier. While Lincoln's Library was very high tech, I felt that it lacked a lot of memorabilia that one would expect from a presidential library.

The presidential library I've visited the most, mainly because it's the closest to where I live is Richard Nixon's library. Because Nixon's library was created through private funds and through organizations like "Friends of Nixon" I felt that there were many aspects of Nixon's life that got whitewashed in the telling, most notably, Watergate. You don't get that at the Truman library.

On the side of Truman's library is a quote by Harry Truman which reads, "The Truth is all I want for History." Truman felt that a presidential library should reflect the history of the time, the truth of the time, be it good or bad. There was an interactive exhibit regarding the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Visitors could weigh in with their opinion on whether it was right or wrong. Just wandering through the museum, I felt that the exhibits overall, gave a very balanced detail of his time as President and as a human being, complete with all the frailties that come with being human. It wasn't whitewashed at all.

The last place we visited after walking through the entire museum was the garden and then over to President Truman's gravesite which is on the grounds of the library. We paid our respects to a great man, then got back in the Jeep and headed west into Kansas.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Gateway to the West



After spending the night in Springfield, IL, we headed southwest and once we got to St. Louis, MO, we looked for parking so we could explore the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, or at least, that's what it used to be called as it's been since upgraded to National Park status and is now called Gateway Arch National Park. Obviously, the arch is the main attraction, but there's enough here for several hours of discovery, as we soon found out. One of the things we decided to do was the St. Louis Arch virtual cache, which proved to be a small distraction as we actually had to leave the grounds and find something nearby to prove that we were there. I guess posting a photo of us at the arch wasn't good enough. 

That particular year, some of the grounds were under reconstruction, so they had limited service for the elevator that took you to the top of the arch and getting there when we did, plus it was the 4th of July and very crowded, meant that the tours were already sold out for that day, so we toured the museum at the base of the arch, plus the museums across the way over at the old St. Louis courthouse.

The museum at the base of the arch gave us good information about the construction of the arch, including a 15 to 20 minute movie that showed how it was constructed. The arch is an impressive architectural feat, standing 63 stories tall. It was completed in 1965 along the banks of the Mississippi River overlooking St. Louis and the neighboring state of Illinois. After touring there for awhile, we then walked the several blocks over to the old St. Louis courthouse where Dred Scott sued for his freedom. There were exhibits here dealing with westward expansion, including areas that were dedicated to the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail.


For those of you following along on this journey, we also contemplated taking in a baseball game or two as we worked our way across the area. Passing by the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals' baseball stadiums, we had quite a choice. However, it didn't work out on this trip as there's only so many things you can do when you're on a road trip like this. In actuality, the only time a team was home as we were driving by was when we were in Wisconsin, but that was the one day when I didn't have to drive anywhere and I really didn't want to drive several hours to Milwaukee in order to take in a game. I think if I'm going to do something like that, it's going to take a lot more planning and logistics to pull that off.

But back to the road trip at hand. Once we were done touring the two museums, the base of the arch and the courthouse, it was time to hit the road, as we wanted to be in Independence where we were going to spend the night. Driving across Missouri, we stopped here and there to find a couple of geocaches, nothing that really stand out, with the exception of the virtual cache we did at the arch itself.

Pulling into Independence, we felt like we'd had a good day. We got to our motel, then found a nearby place to eat and then watched the fireworks play out in several different directions from our room's window. Not a bad 4th of July for my youngest's first out of state 4th, and the first I'd experienced since I was 3 years old. The next day, we would be touring Harry Truman's house and the Harry Truman Presidential Library.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Homeward Bound

The purpose of our 2017 road trip was to bring back family heirlooms from my father-in-law's house to his daughter who lives in Wisconsin. We spent a couple of days with my sister-in-law, then headed for home, taking a more southerly route on the way back to see other things, with our first stop being Springfield, Illinois. The trip out had mostly been scenic, with stops in several national parks, but the trip back would be more historical, with us visiting three different presidential libraries, so the focus of three of the next four posts will be a different presidential library. 

Obviously, we were in Springfield to see things related to Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president. Our first part of the day was devoted to the newly developed presidential library and museum. This particular library has been set up well after the death of Lincoln, so many things that are incorporated into other presidential libraries/museums weren't present at this one. One thing I have to say about this particular museum is, it's slick, meaning there's a lot of high tech things to keep everyone interested, but not a lot of artifacts that one would normally associate with a typical museum of someone's life.

We watched a presentation about Lincoln's time in office presented by a docent as he walked us through the Civil War, only to find out at the end that the docent was a hologram. Like I said, very slick and high tech. Now I have to assume his papers  and writings were probably over in the library part of these two buildings for scholars, but as a history buff, I would have liked to have seen actual artifacts that Lincoln used, etc. The lack of actual artifacts probably stems because of the amount of time between his death and the actual creation of the museum. Things like that tend to vanish into other private collections or, as in this case the National Park Service owns many actual artifacts at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. 

I'd been to Lincoln's home when I was around 10 years old, but wanted to see it again as did my youngest. So after walking through the museum, we drove over to the Historic district and bought tickets for Lincoln's home tour. While we waited, we toured the grounds and the museum learning more about our 16th president. For those of you who don't know, Abraham Lincoln moved from Indiana to Illinois as a young man and settled in Springfield where he made his living as a lawyer and later as a politician. This house is the only house that he ever owned and many of the furnishings are original. You get a tour of both upstairs and down, seeing all of the rooms in the house. I asked about the tree out in front as there's a photo of the front of the house and the tree appears to be about the same height now as it was back in 1861 right before Lincoln was to head to Washington D.C. to become president. For historical accuracy, the National Park Service wanted to keep the tree the same height as it was in the photo, so the tree is literally dug up and a new tree is planted every so often, so the tree is not the original.


At the home, we were able to see a top hat that had been worn by Lincoln, furniture that was actually in the house when he moved to Washington, plus the bed that he slept in while living there for 16 years. The photo doesn't do the bed justice, but that bed is no longer than about 5 and a half feet in length and it could possibly be shorter. Knowing that he was our tallest president at 6 feet 4 inches, he had to have slept diagonally across the bed as there's no way he would have fit lengthwise. And yes, that's a chamber pot under the bed that would have had to have been used, at least in the winter months, due to the cold weather. I'm not sure if that was actually used by Lincoln or not and I didn't ask.

The house and grounds surrounding the house (they extend for several blocks in all directions from the house) are extensive and have many historical plaques to read as you wander around the grounds. Overall, this led to a much more pleasant experience for a couple of reasons. The museum was loud, there weren't as many actual historical artifacts that could be traced directly to Lincoln, while the Lincoln Home NHS had many artifacts and buildings that were standing during the time that he actually walked the streets of Springfield. Couple that with it being outdoors and the atmosphere was just more pleasant. I'm not saying to not go to the library. I thought it was a neat experience, but I thought his home was a better place representation of his life there in Springfield.

The next day was the 4th of July, the first that I would spend outside of California since I was 3 years old. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Keeping busy

It's the end of the month (wow, it almost felt like a normal month) and it's time, once again for P.J.'s monthly photo blogging challenge. This month's theme was keeping busy and the tough part of this month was to narrow down my selections to just five photos and I actually cheated a little bit on one of them since it's a collage, but you'll see why I did it in the story. This is also the 1 year anniversary of my retirement of teaching. May 31st last year was my last day on the job and ironically, I was much busier in the early part of this first year than I am now, but then again, you could say it's a different kind of busy. Here's my five photos interpreting the theme of Keeping Busy.

1. Environmental art

I viewed part of this theme as not necessarily all me keeping busy, but seeing how others are also coping with this. I go on photo walks on a daily basis around my neighborhood and one of the neighbors just up the street from us has been creating some environmental art as a way to keep busy during this strange time we're having. She walks around the neighborhood looking for stones that she can use in her art projects. She told me she has a mental image of what she wants to create and then goes out looking for stones to help her create her image. She glues the stones to a tile and inlays the tile along the sidewalk in front of her house. This is the third of about 7 or 8 she has created over the course of the last month or so. There is a piece depicting a couple canoeing, a child holding a bunch of helium balloons and a couple backpacking. The backpacking piece just showed up this morning and she has room for about 3 or 4 more pieces along this part of her front yard. Since they live on a corner, I'm hoping she continues with this around the other side of their house.

2. Cairns

Another house near us has created cairns using their existing rocks, at least I'm assuming they're only using their existing rocks. But as you can see, they have a lot of rocks in their front yard in which to choose, so I think I'm safe in assuming this. The cairns actually have changed a number of times over the course of the month. I suspect that others in the neighborhood either are attempting to add to the cairns, or are just deliberately toppling them over. Either way, I've noticed that they take different heights and positions, so the owners don't seem to be deterred by their cairns changing shapes. They also have a rather large collection of gnomes and buddhas in the front yard, many of which are also balanced on some of these stones. You can see examples of both of these in the background of my second shot.

3. Angry Bird©

About three weeks ago, I noticed this Angry Bird© plush toy appear in our local park. I figured it would last a day or two before someone would pick it up and take off with it, but it kept showing up every single day in a different part of the park. Eventually, it made its way out to the front of the community center, where I figured, for sure, it will disappear as soon as a worker sees it just lying amongst the shrubbery. Nope, it continued to be busy and move around and I started documenting its movements as it spent each day in a different part of the park. Several times, I thought it was gone, but it showed up again, or I'd just missed it the last time I was out walking in the park. The park is a fairly large park and there's lots of nooks and crannies in which to hide something like this, but someone or several someones are having fun kicking it around. I guess that's why it's probably an Angry Bird©.

I thought about taking it myself and making a photo journey of it as I wandered about the park, but my wife convinced me that the spirit of the Angry Bird© was that it needed to just move naturally, by others, not manipulated by me, so I left it for others to move around. The only manipulation I did with the bird was to place it upright before taking its photo.


Unfortunately, I haven't been able to spot it for the last four days and I'm worried that it might have flown the coop. It's gone MIA previously since I first noticed it in the park, but this has been the longest period of time that I haven't been able to see it somewhere in the park. Ironically, the last time I did see it was back in the far reaches of the park, that very few people go to, so I don't think it was regular foot traffic doing it in. There is a day care on the other side of the fence from where I last saw it so perhaps someone thought it was from there and tossed it over the fence. I went and looked over the fence this morning to see if I see it, but it didn't appear to be there. Hopefully, it'll show up shortly in another part of the park, but if it doesn't, I hope whoever took it will give it a good home.

4. Birds

In this post, I talked about the different kinds of birds I've been noticing in the neighborhood. I've been keeping myself busy rediscovering my DSLR and the main subject over the past couple of months have been birds. The same park where the plush toy had been found is also a great area to go bird watching. I discovered why one day while I wasn't in the park, but the day that I took this shot of a western bluebird. This shot was taken in the front yard of a house that abuts to the rear end of the park. On the park side is a nice fifth of a mile trail that winds in and out of some citrus and juniper trees. Five times around and you've walked a mile and probably seen a lot of nature.


Still, I kept thinking there seemed to be an inordinate amount of birds back in this area. Then I started noticing a peacock call. Hmmmm. So as I was out walking, I spotted the bluebird and got several good shots of it and the owner of the house came out and we had a nice conversation about birds in general. And yeah, he has a peacock in his back yard and so spreads seed around quite generously, which attracts other birds including the western bluebird pair.

So because of the neighbor keeping busy taking care of his own flock, I've been kept busy taking wildlife photos. We sort of have a symbiotic relationship, although he's not really getting much from me, but I seem to benefitting greatly. As noted in my other post, my overall knowledge of birds has increased in the last couple of months and I've been able to up my photography game as well. It's keeping me busy and I'll take that. Walking around outside is much better that sitting home inside on your butt all day long.

5. Speaking of butts

This particular nesting site is in the opposite direction of the park where I take most of my bird shots, but the acorn woodpeckers holing up here some to like this particular tree. There are a couple of different nests inside this tree, not all of which are acorn woodpeckers. 

Over the course of my many daily walks, I'd see the woodpeckers  flying to and fro from other trees back over to this one, but could never spot where their nest was until one day a week ago, when I came upon the tree from a different angle than what I'd normally been approaching the tree. That made all the difference in the world. I watched one of the two parents swoop down from a neighboring palm tree, alight on the trunk of the tree and then quickly disappear inside the hole. I feel fortunate that I was actually able to get this shot, but those two parental birds were busy flying here and there taking care of their young. I guess it's a concentrated burst of parenting as opposed to a longer period that we do over the childhood of our own offspring.

And there you have it, my five photos interpreting the theme Keeping Busy. Please stop by P.J.'s blog and check out some of the other photographer's interpretation of the same theme.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Day the Music Died

After leaving South Dakota, we continued our travels eastward toward Wisconsin, but as we worked our way across Minnesota, we turned south and headed down into Iowa. We were close to Clear Lake, Iowa and if you at all familiar with the town, you know that's where Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson, aka the Big Bopper and Richie Valens met their demise on February 3, 1959 - the Day the Music Died.

Tired of riding in cold busses, the three up and coming singers decided to charter a plane after their concert in Clear Lake, Iowa and fly to the next city on their tour. Unfortunately, sometime around 1 in the morning, the plane crashed in a cornfield just out of town and all three singers plus the pilot Roger Peterson perished. Holly was 22, the Big Bopper was 28, Valens was 17 and the pilot Peterson was 21. Adverse weather conditions and the inexperience of the pilot were both contributing factors in the crash.

As we came into town, we had several spots we wanted to visit, all of which were centered around the crash and geocaching. The first spot was a cache that took us to the dirt road that led to the crash site. There's a large monument of Buddy Holly's signature glasses at this spot. The next stop was a virtual cache a short quarter mile walk in between fields to the shrine that has been erected over the years in memory of the singers. 

At the shrine, both my son and I took each other's photos. Usually when crashes like this happen, the big name star or stars are listed, but no one else is reported or very rarely mentioned at spots like this. How many of you can name all of the people who died in the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash? I can probably dredge up a couple of names, but most of them are already lost due to Bryant's fame. At least at this shrine, there is mention of the pilot who also died in the plane crash, which I liked to see.

Following our stop there, we walked back out to the car and then headed into downtown Clear Lake to the Surf Ballroom, where there is another small area dedicated to the last concert the singers gave the previous night of February 2, 1959. After that, we left and headed east to Mason City, Iowa where we would spend the night.

The next morning was the first Saturday of the month and as is my custom, I host a monthly morning coffee event. It's a nice way to meet and greet the local geocachers. Almost exclusively, they are held at local coffee shops near where I live, but I was out of town on this road trip, and so I planned one for that morning in Mason City. It was the first geocaching event ever held in Mason City. I've hosted a couple of other out of state events when I've been out and about, and it's always fun to meet the local cachers in a particular area, this one being no exception to that rule.

We talked geocaching for about an hour or so, then went our separate ways, us heading eastward to Wisconsin. Our timing was impeccable  as we ended up meeting up with another group of geocachers in eastern Iowa for lunch that day as well.

I've always enjoyed attending geocaching events and as soon as this virus pandemic has eased and it's safe to attend or host events like this again, I plan to enjoy them in the future. As of this moment, we've only been able to connect with our geocaching friends on-line via Zoom meetings, but that will change hopefully in the near future.

By mid afternoon, we pulled into my sister-in-law's town of Beloit, Wisconsin where we'd spend a couple of days just relaxing. It felt good to visit with family and not have to drive anywhere for the next two days.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Badlands

Back in the 60s, my dad's best friend took a sabbatical from teaching to pursue an advanced degree. He ended up getting his degree from a university in Wisconsin and they ended up taking the entire family back for the year. When they returned his son, my friend had new decal stickers, one of which was from Badlands National Monument. Being the map nerd that I am, I was intrigued and looked it up and thought at some time in the future, it would be interesting to visit the park. Since that time, Congress has upped the status of the monument and now it's a national park located east of Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.

As we approached Badlands National Park, we kept seeing advertisements for Wall Drug, which is a major tourist trap just north of the park. Yeah, we stopped there, only to look around, find a tee-shirt of the place, mainly because I like advertising weirdly different stuff I've visited and then headed south out of town into the park. The park is a geologic wonderland of erosion and there were pullouts along the road with many interpretive signs. We ended up stopping at several, including one where there was a herd of young bighorn sheep. The sheep are very hard to see mainly because they blend in so well with the browns of the badlands, which is why there are no photos of them here.


At another turnout, we stopped and took a walking tour of an interpretive loop trail while we gathered answers for an earth cache based upon fossils. The area is rich in fossil life and we weren't disappointed, getting to see several different varieties of fossils in the rock layers. What was also outstanding about the day was the weather. As you can see from the photos, we ended up driving through the beginnings of a large series of thunderstorms as we made our way across southern South Dakota that day. The first storm started while we were on our way out of the visitors center at the east end of the park heading back to the Interstate (third photo). The clouds made for some gorgeous photo opportunities. And, as always, I could have spent more time there, but we had an itinerary to keep to and were actually attending a geocaching event in South Dakota later that evening (who goes to a geocaching event several thousand miles from home?).

I'm sure I'll get back to the area in the future and the plan will be to camp a couple of nights there to fully enjoy the park. We got an appetizer of the park that day, be enough that made us both want to come back.


On our way back out to the Interstate, we got pelted with rain, as we had earlier the day before coming from Wind Cave National Park. This time, the storm got a little bit more severe as we drove across the South Dakota prairie. We had the radio on and we kept getting the weather alerts, those alerts that we rarely get in Southern California because we don't get any kind of severe weather, but scares the bejesus out you when they come on. These were coming every fifteen minutes detailing thunderstorms and worse, hail storms, with hail the size of ping pong balls.  Later, the size of the hail stones were "upgraded" to golfball size hail. Fortunately, they also listed counties where this was likely to happen and my youngest was tracking it using the atlas and checking out where the counties were and all of the major alerts were south of the Interstate, so we missed the hail, but did get an entertaining thunder and lightning storm accompanied by very heavy rain. Fortunately, the geocaching event was under a covered shelter in a park, so we stayed high and dry for the entire event except when we were walking to and from our car. 


I've attended five geocaching events out of state and every one has been very enjoyable. We share a common hobby and it's always fun to swap stories with the local geocachers. We'd had problems with a cache near our motel and I mentioned it to one of the cachers there and he pointed me to another cacher who was the owner. The owner of the cache met up with us back at his cache after the event and we discovered that the cache was indeed missing, so he replaced it with another one he'd had in his car. He had been intending on giving it to us, but instead, gave us a couple others that he had made using his 3D printer. And so I have a cache container that looks like an oak acorn and another one that looks like a pine cone. They are my souvenirs from South Dakota geocaching.

The next day we left South Dakota behind and headed into Minnesota and Iowa, spending the next night in northern Iowa in Mason City.