Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Wednesday, 31 May 2006

South Dakota's Tractor Museum

Nebraska City, Nebraska - 31 May, 2006

We pull off Interstate 90 east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The museum has no other visitors. Ray Janish comes to meet me. Mrs Phred stays in the RV on her cell phone.

Ray is in his 70s. He is an Austrian immigrant. There are lots of Germans immigrants and pretty Lutheran churches in this area. Ray takes me through the blacksmith shop, two barns full of restored tractors, a barn full of farm equipment and an old one-room school house.

I really like the 1937 Thielman tractor. It cost $185 during the Depression and came without an engine. You added your own Model A or Packard straight eight engine. There is also a two cylinder gasoline engine washing machine. Ray threw his away after they brought electricity to his farm in the 50s.

There are potato planters, corn planters, bob-sled type hay wagons, grain elecators, combines and a nice assortment of antique automobiles in addition to the tractors. Some of the old one-lung gasoline engines are called 'hit-and-miss' engines and fire off every once in a while when conditions are right.

There are few of the steel wheel tractors I had hoped to see. Ray tells me most of these were melted down for scrap during WWII. Also the big new diesels with enclosed cabs, air-conditioning and headlights are missing. Ray looks sad about these when I ask and says they never should have put diesels and headlights on tractors. It killed the family farm. He says all the kids go off to college now and don't come back.

Most of these tractors run and have been restored by a local farmer who is about 85 now and has been restoring them in his barn for the last 25 years. I'd like to touch one of these paint jobs but it would be like using your flash in the Versailles Palace. I sense that if I did touch one, Ray would just look at me with sad disappointment.

After the museum, we veer off the Interstate and cut south on farm roads though 400 miles of South Dakota and Nebraska farm country. Then seven more days of driving brings us back to Florida to deal with the sale of our house.

Monday, 29 May 2006

Tiny Climber

Devil's Tower, Wyoming - 29 May, 2006

You may have seen Devil's Tower in the 1970s movie, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind? Or maybe on the three cent American commemorative stamp that came out in 1953? It's the first American National Monument and was created by president Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.

The tower goes more or less straight up for 1,267 feet. The first shot in this series shows a very tiny climber going straight up the rock face.

The tower is closed to climbers for the month of June by Presidential executive order to show respect for the 22 different Indian tribes who use the tower as part of their spiritual practices. On July 4th, 1893, William Rogers and Willard Ripley made the first known ascent with the aid of a 350 foot ladder. In 1895 Mrs Rogers used the ladder and became the first woman to reach the summit.

The strange part of the day is not the Tower, it is the minds and motivations of the small creatures driven to climb to the top.

Friday, 26 May 2006

A Change of Plans

Butte, Montana - 26 May, 2006

We got an offer on our house yesterday, printed out the PDF file, signed it and faxed it back. The closing is June 30th which means we have to get our 'stuff' out and stored by June 30th and make a trip back to Tampa, Florida rather sooner than anticipated. We knew this could happen but moving from our home of 30 years is a strange feeling. What do we care about? Books, pictures, my tools, our dive gear, an old Victrola case that reminds me of a mummy and my depression glass collection. The rest can go. Hoping for no hurricanes just now.

The last two weeks we have been hiking in the North Cascades National Park in Washington and Glacier National Park in Montana. When they put a National Park out in the middle of no place that there is always something there to see.

We find bear signs in both parks, including piles of deer bones and scattered fur.

If you go outdoors where there are bears you should wear little bells and carry pepper spray, be alert for signs of bear and be able to distinguish black bear droppings from grizzly bear droppings. Black bear droppings are smaller and full of berries and squirrel fur. Grizzly bear droppings are full of little bells and smell like pepper spray.

The contrast in communications and connectedness between a long camping trip in 1986 and 2006 deserves some comment. In 1986 you were lucky to find a pay phone. In 2006 you may each have a cell phone, a GPS hooked to a mapping program, an IPOD, a constant wireless broadband connection to online friends and the ability to Google for infinite information. Many channels of satellite radio are available as is television by cable, satellite and antenna. Signals are everywhere.

The people you meet on the road can often be interesting. Yesterday we met a very old couple, both with arthritis and other serious medical problems who love to fish and travel continuously with no fixed home. They advise us to follow their 2-2-2 rule. Drive no more than 200 miles. Quit by 2 PM and stay at least two days before moving again. Or you may meet a blue-eyed young Mormon mechanic, a meth freak iron-worker, an albino snake breeder or a big ugly biker with earrings and a poetry book in his leather pants.

Give me a moment of breach
A second chance
To proof my existence
Let me tumble in the leaks
Though the cracks
and slants of light

- Found scrawled on the window of a long abandoned business in Butte, Montana in the cold wet drizzle of an empty street.

Butte had a long history of violent labor problems. The IWW 'wobblies' were involved in the labour disputes with Anaconda Copper and the 'Copper Bosses' and 'Copper Kings'. A book by Jarad Diamond, called Collapse, explores the failure of the Montana economy, Easter Island and other civilizations. Diamond won the Pulitzer prize for Guns, Germs and Steel.

Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel grew up in Butte. He operated a diamond drill deep in the mines and was promoted to driving a huge ore mover topside. He was fired after 'popping a wheelie' in the mover and taking out all the power to downtown Butte. Evel gained fame by making ever longer jumps over lines of parked vehicles. He broke an impressive collection of bones on dozens of different crashes. One of his most impressive jumps was over the Snake River Canyon in a jet assisted motorcycle. His drag chute deployed on the launch ramp and he ended up in the river after his main chute deployed.

Friday, 12 May 2006

Swept Away!

Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, Washington -

As we drive into the Olympic National Park, we pick up a long-haired hitchhiker. He turns out to be Arthur, a physicist from Nottingham, England who studies MRI physics and was in Seattle for a conference of 5,000. He has heard of Arthur Dent.

We hike back into the dense rain forest valley and remember our first overnight hike here on June 5, 1968. I see our young ghosts on the trail. That time I stayed up all night in the dark by the river with a club, waiting for bears while Mrs. Phred slept.

We camp by the Hoh River which rushes past. A sign says 'Dangerous Boating Area'. The swift water is glacier-melt cascading down the rain forest valley. I slip on my dive booties and hand the camera to Mrs Phred. Out into the rushing water, I'm swept off my feet (according to plan). I end up in the deepest, fastest part of the river with no hope of regaining my footing.

Rapidly I float downstream scrabbling at the tiny river rocks. The clock is ticking... hypothermia or loss of strength? Aha! A big rock. Just in time... I love this place! Up on the bank. What a rush! Do it again!

Next day another hike and another helmet warning, this time from a Park Ranger, about Washington State helmet laws. My vehicle registration and driver's license documents come back clean.

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Death In The Morning

Coos Bay, Oregon - 10 May, 2006

I'm writing at the Coos Bay public library. We wait for UPS to bring a replacement laptop. Up at dawn to clean, oil and tighten the motorcycle chain. The beach is 75 yards away just over the sand dunes.

I see and hear a red helicopter... whump! whump!... it's making slow passes along the surf line. There are emergency vehicles on the wide sand beach and an overturned small boat washed up on the beach. The same red helicopter was on the news for weeks after Katrina.

Yesterday I went fishing. The captain said the water was about 47 degrees F. The pounding cold surf breaks on the coast rocks and sand beaches with great force. I caught five black rockfish and we ate one for dinner with a cold very good Oregon Riesling wine and fresh spinach.

The helicopter pauses and comes very low to the ocean. It kicks up a great circle of spray. They winch down a rescue diver. I'm a certified rescue diver myself. Once I saved a two-year old from drowning. She's 18 now, very lovely, a daughter of friends. College on a volleyball scholarship in the fall.

The diver swims in with his burden. There are three bodies on the beach now. The helicopter runs search patterns for two more hours. There is no one left to tell him how many were in the capsized boat. The unused red life jackets float easily to shore.The  new laptop arrives at noon. It works for an hour and crashes hard with the blue screen of death.

Any day you wake up is truly a wonderful day. We are heading further up the coast. Hiking in the Washington Olympic National Park will be the turning point.

Saturday, 6 May 2006

Wild Desert Burros and the Japanese Bombing attack on Oregon

Cape Blanco, Oregon - 6 May 2006

We drive though northern Nevada to Oregon and visit Crater Lake which still has 11 feet of snow. On the way we encounter herds of wild burros in the lonely desert.

The snowpack at Crater Lake is still 20 or 30 feet deep. The indians avoided this place because it is inhabited by spirits.

Then two days hiking in the giant redwood groves of California. They run to a diameter of 22 feet and a 360 foot height. The sequoia trees on the western side of the Cascade Mountains have diameters of up to 40 feet, but they are shorter than redwoods. One of the redwood groves is named the Amelia Earhart Grove.

I scrape a tree in Bay City, California and leave a dent in the RV.

The coast of Oregon is spectacular as we head north. I see a few late migrating whale spouts at dawn at Cape Blanco State park.

On 9 September, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced 25 miles off Cape Blanco. A modified Japanese Zero was assembled in eight minutes and Warrant Officer Fujita departed with two 170-pound thermite bombs to set fire to the forests.

Unfortunately, the fire danger was low that day and the bombs fizzled. In 1962 Fujita returned to Oregon and presented a 400 year old family samurai sword to the City of Brookings as a traditional pledge of peace. Fujita visited again in 1992 and planted a redwood at the bomb site as an act of apology to the forest.