Caveat: Bored in Las Vegas

I know there are some ways that I am quite strange.  One thing that happens, when I’m traveling alone, is that I will go off on long walks for no good reason, or as an alternative to some much more convenient means of transportation.  So this morning, I walked from my hotel on the Las Vegas Strip to the airport, even though a taxi would have probably been less than 8 dollars.
Las Vegas doesn’t really interest me much.  It’s not that I don’t like kitch — I love it.  And it’s pure americana, in some respects.  But it’s very hard for me to find stuff to DO in Las Vegas:  I don’t gamble, I despise dining out alone, and going to shows or movies alone can be kind of depressing too.  I guess all of this could be summarized by stating that Las Vegas might be a fun town, WITH someone, but it’s stunningly dull for someone who’s alone.
I went on a long walk along the strip last night, looking at lights and signs and people-watching.  And I slept a lot, in my pyramid-shaped hotel that I got for an incredibly low rate (because they expect you to spend your money gambling and watching the shows, of course).  And I got up this morning and strapped on my luggages and walked to the airport.
Here is a last look at Zion, taken yesterday upon departure:

Caveat: “입을 다스리는 글”

“입을 다스리는 글” is a title to a proverb (or prayer) that was on a piece of cloth that I gave as a gift to my friends Juli and Keith in Oregon.
I have been feeling somewhat embarrassed because I had not conveyed to them very accurately the true meaning of the saying. Here is an updated and hopefully correct translation for all the world to see (and thanks to my friend Jinhee for her help translating). My friends Juli and Keith may not want to have it on their wall given the new meaning, or they may decide they like it. I spent some time thinking deeply about it today, and decided I like it, after all.

입을 다스리는 글
말해야 할 때 말하고 말해서는 안될 때 말하지 말라 말해야 할 때 참묵해도 안되고 말해서는 안될 말해서도 안되고 입아, 입아 그렇게만 하여라
A note on controlling one’s tongue.

One should speak when necessary, and not speak when one should not. One shouldn’t stay silent when one should be speaking, and one should not speak what one should not say. O tongue, my tongue, I pray you do just that.

I think silence is very important. That’s my vaguely quaker upbringing, shining through, perhaps.
We went hiking this morning up into a “slot canyon” in the eastern part of Zion National Park this morning. There were six of us, walking and tromping and scrambling and climbing and tossing rocks into pools to make fording them possible, and talking. Lots of talking. Finally, we were relaxing on the face of rock above the canyon, and Jay wanted to have a prayer. And I butted in and said, how about a Quaker-meeting minute-of-silence. This was approved, and at last, we were seated, gazing at the sky and rock and trees, and it was silent for about 5 or so minutes. It was very beautiful.
So keeping one’s mouth shut can be nice. There are definitely times for that.
Here are some pictures from this morning.
[this is a “back-post” written 2009-11-30]

Caveat: Bryce Canyon

We drove up to Bryce canyon today. We saw lots of things, including many rocks and trees and a blizzard. Above, you see the clouds carrying a lot of snow, rolling in over a stunning landscape. Below, that’s me standing in the snow, a few hours later as we prepared to leave.
More later.
[this is a “back-post” written 2009-11-29]
[added pictures 2009-12-03:]

Caveat: The Narrows

The most notable feature at Zion National Park is the canyon of the Virgin River.  Above the core area of the park (where the lodges and building and RVs can be found), the canyon shrinks down to only a few meters wide but several hundred deep, as the river snakes through the red rock of the Utah desert.  This river canyon can be hiked, but only by wading in the river bed itself in many locations.  In the summer, a pair of hiking boots that you don’t mind getting soaked, along with shorts, is perfectly workable, as I’m sure the cold river water is refreshing.  But at this time of year, that would lead quickly to hypothermia.  What you can do is rent “dry pants” that have gaskets at the ankles and go up to your torso, and rent some amphibious hiking shoes and wet-suit-type-material insulating socks.  That’s what we did.

We went up The Narrows:  an all day hike.

I’m making a video, which I’ll post here later [Update, 2011 – I never made this video, did I?].

[this is a “back-post” written 2009-11-30]

Caveat: Thanksgiving Moonlit Rocks

I didn't really sleep, Wednesday night.  I've ended up on a night owl schedule staying with my friends Mark and Amy, and I had to get up very early to catch my flight, so I did what I often do when I'm facing the possibility of only a few hours of sleep:  I just stayed up.  Mark did too, and then he drove me to the airport at 520 am.

I flew via O'Hare, because I saved a lot of money on my last-minute ticket, that way.  I arrived at Las Vegas around 11:45 in the morning.  My friend Jay and his accomanying group were running late due to traffic out of L.A., so I killed about an hour in the Las Vegas airport.  They picked me up at about 1 pm. 

I met Shah and Kong again, two of Jay's friends with whom I've traveled to Zion before.  In fact, when I came to Zion in 2006, Shah and I were the only ones, as that was the year that Jay was sick.  Also joining us this year were Cameron and Kameron.  Really.  I learned a bit later that their nicknames were Old School (Cameron) and New School (Kameron), because the later was 16 and the former was 40's.  I guess New School has been a kind of adoptive son (maybe a big-brother mentoring thing) for Old School, over the last several years, through their church.

So we all piled in and drove the last 3 hours up to Zion, after getting lost in the hellhole known as North Las Vegas looking for a fast food joint to eat lunch.

We arrived in Zion, with a few short stops, at exactly 6 pm.  We checked in to the motel and made our dinner reservation at the Zion Park Lodge at 7 pm, exactly on schedule.  The food's pretty good, especially the chicken bean southwesternish soup, the cranberry stuff for the turkey, the chocolate cake. 

There was lots of interesting converastion:  one thing that intrigued me was when Cameron was talking about a "World Banquet" (I guess a sort of charity event held by his church) wherein the guests would draw a world locale (e.g. U.S.A., China, Gambia, etc.) and then they would be seated a table and could eat what was served for that locale.  All sounds very clever and interesting, but here's the catch:  obviously, a lot of locales, the average diet is both boring and insufficient.  So imagine sitting down at the Bangladesh table and being served only a small bowl of rice; while those at the USA table get many, many courses of meat, carbs, and fruits and vegetables from all over the world.   See?

So, We ate and talked, and then we went on a 3 mile night-hike, up to a place called Watchtower.

We didn't practice very good trail etiquette, as we left Old School down at the vehicle parking area and didn't realize he wasn't along until 20 minutes up the hill.  So Shah went back down and fetched him up.  But hiking in the dark, by the three-quarters moon, was awesome.  I always feel like I'm living out Tolkien's Silmarilion's "first age" when hiking in moonlight (Tolkien's "first age" was the age between the creation of the moon and the creation of the sun, and the elves had whole civilizations rise and fall in the moonlight of Middle Earth). 

Unfortunately, it's hard to take pictures that capture the night-hike experience.  But it was awesome.

And after that long, long day, I slept soundly.

[this is a "back-post" written 2009-11-30]

Caveat: Zion

When I lived in L.A., my friend Jay had a custom of going up to Zion National Park for Thanksgiving, each year, and one hear he invited me along.  It became a sort of tradition for me to go to Zion each Thanksgiving.  We would drive up there Thanksgiving morning, have a big dinner at the park's lodge, and do lots of hiking over the next several days, driving back on the Sunday after.

So, living in Korea, I haven't been joining Jay for Thanksgiving, but since I was back in the US, I decided for old-times' sake to join him and his other friends this year.  Originally, I was going to time my around-the-country road-trip so that I could hit southern Utah at Thanksgiving, but that schedule got all messed up, somehow.   And I'm too burned out on driving to go rushing out there by car, now.  So tomorrow morning I'm flying to Las Vegas (which is the closest major airport to Zion) and Jay will pick me up on his way through from L.A. up to Zion.  I'll spend the long weekend there, and fly back to Minneapolis on Monday.  I'm excited to be going.

I'm still debating on whether to take my computer.  Even if I do, I think I'll declare a 4-day "internet holiday."  So there will be a few days without blog postings or answers to emails.  That will be a nice change, too.

I'll post some thoughts and comments and pictures when I get back to Minneapolis, next Monday.

Caveat: Hangeul on the Prairie

It was a few days early, but I was feeling very thankful last night. I had dinner with Jeffrey, his parents Randy and Barb and their daughters (his half-sisters). What’s my relation to them? It’s complicated: Jeffrey is my stepson, by my marriage to Michelle. So Randy was Michelle’s first husband, before she and I got married, and Barb is his second wife. And although we’re as different as people can be, we have a certain family-like relationship, that came about in the wake of Michelle’s death.
I feel very thankful that after Michelle died, Randy and Barb stepped up so completely to provide a healthy and relatively stress-free home for Jeffrey, as that was a very hard time for him. Of course, when Michelle and I were together, she had very little positive to say about Randy and Barb, and their relationship as “exes,” with arguments over things like visitation for Jeffrey, etc., were fraught. This is typical of such relationships, of course. The fact that when Michelle died, everyone involved (barring, perhaps, Michelle’s parents) were able to set aside those earlier acrimonies and do what was “right” for Jeffrey has always struck me as a minor miracle of human interaction. And as such, I’m very thankful.
We met for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Maple Grove that the girls (Jeffrey’s sisters, Ashley and Tiffany) like. I best recall them as around 3 or 4 years old, but now they’re 10 and 11. After dinner, we made a little parade driving in the rain and fog back up to Albertville, where they live currently, and spent some time just hanging out. The girls, especially Tiffany, asked me, spontaneously, to write their names in Korean. This was the first time I’d interacted with American kids who seemed genuinely interested in Korean culture, and as an unrepentant language geek, I was pleased to try to sound out their names and write them in the Korean alphabet, Hangeul.
The girls were fascinated, and soon had me writing the names of everyone in the room, then their friends and teachers, on scraps of paper. Tiffany’s face lit up as she suddenly realized the phonetic principles behind the Hangeul writing system, and with no timidity, she began trying to “guess” how to write various names she could think of. I was stunned and amazed – you always hear Koreans (and rarely, Westerners) talking about the simplicity of the Korean writing system, but watching a midwestern 10 year old grasp all its essential principles in under 30 minutes in a casual exchange was amazing.
Finally, I taught them a few simple phrase, such as 고맙습니다 (go-map-seum-ni-da = thank you), and Tiffany did a perfect-looking Korean-style bow and uttered it repeatedly. The whole experience felt like a charming reversal of my normal role and job in Korea, but it was additionally pleasing because Americans normally are so uninterested in foreign languages and cultures, yet here was this unassuming midwestern kid, with whom I have a “relative-type” connection (how else to explain it?) showing true interest and excitement for Korean.
Well, anyway, that was my Tuesday evening out on the prairie in the northwestern suburbs of Minneapolis.
Here’s a picture of the clan – Randy, Barb, Jeffrey, Ashley, Tiffany:
Here’s a picture of Tiffany, and you can see quite clearly she’s writing her teacher’s name, Miller, sounded out in Korean letters (밀러):

Caveat: Xelaju en la 35W

¿Cómo puede ser que, parado en tránsito en la 35W en Minneapolis, me puse a meditar sobre mi tiempo en Xelaju?  Xelaju es el nombre en el habla de los maya por la ciudad de Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.  Pasé un par de meses ahí, estudiando, en 1989.   Pero encontrar el nombre Xelaju fuera de aquella ciudad es algo raro.

En la carretera 35W había un taxi con nombre de ´Transportes Xelaju´.  Algún inmigrante guatemalteco, sin duda.  Pero era un momento de nostalgia.

Caveat: Just for doing the dishes, here is the title to your car

I did the dishes this morning for my friends Mark and Amy, and as a reward, Amy gave me the title to my car. 

Hmm.  Really?

I had left the title to my car with them, in case something happened when I was in Korea and I needed to have them do me the favor of disposing of it.   So now I have the title to my car, which I had forgotten I had left with them, and had been worrying that I'd lost.

Actually, Amy not only gave me the title to my car… she also gave me the title to today's blog entry.

I'm having a kind of unproductive day, overall.  I confronted the big pile of stuff I need to sort out in my storage unit, this morning, and promptly spent the day doing other things.

Caveat: $6,468.52! I’m jus’ sayin’

As many of you know, I've been wrestling with my accountant and the IRS over some "tax issues."  It was one of the reasons why I viewed it as absolutely necessary to return to the US for a while.  And today, when I checked my "home" mailbox in Minneapolis, lo and behold, there was a contrite-looking little check from the IRS for $6,468.52.   I feel… vindicated.

Now, I will acknowledge that some of this money will rotate right back out, again.  I have to pay my accountant for the quality time we spent together.   And I suspect the "2001 tax-year odyssey" will require a return of at least some of those funds to the government.  So it's not "mine, all mine," yet.

Still, it was a pleasant surprise.  I was expecting less than half of that amount.   And it's what you might call an "I'm jus' sayin'" moment.  I'm jus' sayin'.

Caveat: Tammy’s Magic

When I was in fifth and sixth grades, I attended that alternative, art-oriented, “hippie” school called Centering School (see blog from 2009-02-02). It was a great place. There was a student named Tammy, who fascinated me from the first time I met her. She was two grades behind me, but that didn’t seem to matter much at such a small, non-hierarchical place. I could somehow sense that Tammy didn’t necessarily come from a perfect home-life (her mom, in her red Volkswagen Beetle always seems kind of “scary” to my young eyes, to be honest, and I knew her dad died in Vietnam). I think knowing about some of the difficult and complicated and fractured home-lives of some of my peers at Centering School was the first time I had the thought: my family may be weird and crazy, but it’s maybe not as messed-up as some others.
Anyway, despite her background… despite the occasional flashes of sadness… she was an amazing, intrinsically happy person. Infectiously cheerful. For no apparent reason.  And so, because that was mysterious to me, and unfathomable, I decided that Tammy was magical. That was all I could figure out.
But when I graduated sixth grade, and plunged into the trauma of the public middle school in Arcata, I mostly lost touch with the former friends and playmates and denizens of Centering School. But I never forgot about Tammy. In fact, there were times, when I was struggling to make myself feel happier about life, when I was feeling down, or alone, or overwhelmed, sometimes her name and goofy smile would come to me, and I would think: well, SHE can be happy; why can’t I?
Still, I couldn’t ever really successfully articulate Tammy’s magic. It was just strange and impossible and yet something to aspire to. Until I was teaching at LBridge in Ilsan, Korea. I had a student named Jenny (see blog from 2009-02-12), who seemed like a reincarnation of Tammy.  I even remember thinking that about her.  And then one day, Jenny, who was fond of writing little “stationary aphorisms” in English on the corners of her assignment papers, wrote the following:  “I am happy because that is the most important thing.”
It was like a weird epiphany, when I realized this wasn’t a syntactical mistake, it wasn’t a logic mistake, but rather, that it was simply true and obvious. And it was like, in that instant, that all those years of cognitive behavioral therapy, all those years of puzzling over Tammy’s magic or the mystery of human happiness, congealed into a moment of insight.
It was around the same time that I reconnected with Tammy, after over 30 years. Such is the magic of facebook and the internet. And last night, I stayed with Tammy and her husband and two daughters.
Life is never perfect. Happiness is sometimes elusive, even for Tammy, in her updated, adult form. She’s been through a lot, too. At least as complicated and traumatic as my own life, if not more so. I suspect she’s not always “simply happy.” But she still has that weird ability to look on the bright side of things. She jokingly said, “I can cut off my arm, and see all the blood and feel the pain, and think to myself, ‘well, but I’ve still got my other arm! things aren’t really all that bad.'” That’s Tammy’s magic. And Jenny’s wisdom, which finally allowed me to understand it.
Tammy in 1976, exactly as I remember her:
Jenny in 2009:

Caveat: Flatland

The Red River Valley is the about the flatest place that I know of. Parts of California (like around Sacramento) are just as flat, but the mountains are always visible in the distance. Likewise, I remember southern Louisiana being very flat, but the plethora of canals and small bodies of water, on the one hand, and the trees and dikes, on the hand, make it seem less flat somehow.
The Agassiz plain of northwestern Minnesota, eastern North Dakota, and south central Manitoba is just plain ol’ flat. And to me, it’s spectacularly beautiful in a weird, expansive, desolate sort of way. More beautiful than the rugged Pacific coast or the mountains or desert. But very hard to capture on film.

Caveat: “the ashtrays aren’t even full yet!”

My friend Gerry (of Teulon, Manitoba), whom I visited today, is an astronomer and "space geek."   The very moment I pulled into his driveway, he accosted me and pointed upward and said, "there goes the International Space Station, just in time to see it!"

Sure enough, the glowing object was passing directly overhead, zooming along.  To my uninformed eyes, if I'd seen it without that introduction, I'd have thought it was just some airplane. 

Anyway, a little bit later we were talking about the ISS because it showed up in the news on the television that we were sitting and watching, in his living room.  And he was complaining about NASA's shortsightedness in wanting to end the program and shut it down.  He was talking about the Russians having showed interest in taking it over and continuing to maintain it, if the US gave it up, and he explained the Russian perspective memorably, saying, "… but the ashtrays aren't even full, yet!"  That sounded so stereotypically Russian, and it made me laugh very hard, conjuring up the image of a bunch of Russian cosmonauts sneaking cigaratte breaks on the space station when those uppity Americans finally weren't around.

Hmmm, aside from the fire and health hazard, are there other possible issues with smoking in space?

["back-post":  posted 2009-11-20]

Caveat: Immigration Risk

I crossed the border into Canada, today. Barely.
I spent two hours being intensively interviewed by a Canadian border official. It turned out that they had decided I was an “immigration risk.” Yes, that was the term used.
I was meticulously honest about my life. I prefer to operate that way, with officialdom. But I could offer “no fixed US address,” I had a passport full of exotic stamps, no “proof of current employment,” a truck full of “junk” (things I’ve been carrying around with me to sort through along with some books I collected in Arcata), and, probably most alarmingly, a bumper sticker reading “migration is a human right” (yes, I really believe this, and I’ve written about it before in my blog).
The potentially offending sentiment:
I really didn’t think about these things. I’ve entered Canada so many times, in life, and they’ve almost always hassled me about one thing or another (always very politely, as that’s the Canadian way), but in the past it was always because they were worried about drugs or some kind of customs-related thing. Or who knows.
In fact, I’ve probably crossed at the I-29/MB75 crossing at least six times. And I’ve done my recent travels in Asia and to Australia last year utterly effortlessly, when it came to border crossings. Japan to Korea by boat was easier than England to France – they asked me no questions, despite the fact that I’d prepared a complicated explanation for returning as a tourist only 10 days after the expiration of my work visa, which I was worried would raise alarm bells.
Well, so… anyway. The Canadians didn’t want me to immigrate. The man was very nice, but very firm, and I was deferential and scrupulously honest. He wrote it all down – I’m thinking of going back and offering him a job as my ghost writer for my autobiography, because he really got quite detailed. “You have to see it from my point of view,” he said, and I nodded sagely.
I offered to go online and show them receipts from my storage unit in Minneapolis, the ticket back to Korea that I’d recently paid for, this blog, even, where they could spend time reading about my vacillations about future plans over the past year or so, but could clearly discover that immigrating to Canada was NOT one of the many options I’d been contemplating.
But they strongly resisted the idea that I lived my life “online,” and they couldn’t seem to understand that I didn’t carry paper copies of these things. I finally sighed, and said, “well, I guess it’s not that important to visit my friend in Winnipeg, it was a kind of spontaneous, impulsive decision, anyway. How about I just turn around and go back into the US?”
The friendly Canadian went off to have a “little meeting” with some of his coworkers, or supervisor, or something. Or maybe he googled me – that’s what I would have done, maybe. To try to check me out.
I sat and pondered what would end up happening if I turned around and then had to pass through US border controls. The US people are always hard-asses anyway, and much less polite than the Canadians, and I began to visualize trying to explain to them that the Canadians had rejected me. That would, of course, set off alarm bells with the Americans. I started developing a little scenario where I lived out some weeks or months in my little truck, parked in the no-man’s land between the Canadian and US border control stations on the Manitoba / North Dakota border, because neither country would let me in.
And then the big, burly, boy-scout-freckled Canadian waved me over and said, very seriously, “we’ve decided we trust you. I’m giving you a one month visa.” And he stamped my passport. And then proceeded to try to convince me to stay more than just one night in Winnipeg, which is what I’d told him my plans were, because, after all, he said, “there’s a lot of fun things to do in Winnipeg.” Really. He said this.
And then, like a latter-day Colombo (70’s TV police drama), he held up a finger and said, “Just one more question.”
I smiled, “Sure, anything.”
“Why was it, again, that you said you had all this stuff in your truck?”
Here we go again, I thought. I began to give, with more detail than before, the story of how I had landed at Minneapolis, and preliminary to driving to California, I had collected some boxes of stuff to “sort through” on my travels.  He said OK, but nodded skeptically.
I shook his hand, went back out to my truck, and drove away from the setting prairie sun, toward Winnipeg.
My friend Gerry said that, on the contrary, it wasn’t the bumper sticker that freaked them out;  it was the laundry basket! “People don’t travel with laundry baskets. Only people who are moving carry laundry baskets.” Hmm… is this a Canadian proverb?

Caveat: Doctor of Interstate Commerce

When I take long road trips, I often return to my youthful fantasies of becoming a truck driver. I used to imagine “finishing my PhD” and then, rather than going off into academia, instead going out and becoming a truck driver. I liked to imagine hanging the little degree in its frame like professors and professionals do in their offices, but hanging it up in the little sleeper cabin attached to my big rig. Really! I thought like this, sometimes, right through college. As much as I’ve always enjoyed road-tripping, truck driving always seemed like something that would make a good career for me.
pictureWell, I never finished the PhD. And I never became a truck driver, unless you want to count some months as a primary tow truck driver for my support battalion on Korea in 1991, and some cross-Korea convoys we participated in during weeks-long field exercises, from Geumchon north of Seoul over to Wonju and down to Daegu. Yes, I was one of those US GI trucks cruising on the Korean backroads dodging “kimchi wagons,” way back when.
But driving across the country as I have been, I return sometimes to those truck driver fantasies. That’s a job that, if all else fell apart, I could manage, I’m certain.
Drive, drive, drive.

Caveat: Montana, Montana and more Montana

Montana is a very long state, to drive through. I think I-90 is about 700 miles.
It’s especially long under wintery highway conditions. Toward the end of my day, in the early evening dark, I was going 25-35 mph through blowing snow over very icy interstate eastward from Bozeman.
I saw overturned trucks, jackknifed trailers, cars in ditches. So I stayed slow. And as much as I generally find driving about as close to a meditative state as I can attain, driving through that can be kind of stressful. I’m tired.
Here are two pictures from earlier in the day.
A freeway rest area:
A stop at a “ranch exit” (i.e. there’s no town at the freeway exit) around sunset:

Caveat: into winter

After a week of very little driving, hanging out in nostalgic spots of the Pacific Northwest, I'm back on the road again.  I landed in a motel in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, this evening.  Normally when I'm on one of these typical clockwise semi-continental tours, I do the leg from Portland to Spokane via the Columbia River valley, but I decided to go up I-5 through metro Seattle this time, even though it adds about an hour of driving time, just to vary the routine.  I don't think I've driven through western Washington state since 1996, when Michelle, Jeffrey and I went to my sister's wedding in Olympia from Minneapolis.

It was cool driving up over the Snoqualmie pass east of Seattle.  Snow appeared and thickened on the ground and trees, and from there all the way across Washington, there were varying amounts of snow and ice all around.  I have arrived in winter.  It's beautiful.  I love winter.

I've decided to make a detour to visit with a friend near Winnipeg, which is not really "on the way" to Minneapolis, but I just decided to go for it, as I may not be that close to that part of the world again for a long time.  So that's my next destination.  I'm going to try to make that side trip and be in Minneapolis by around Wednesday or Thursday.

Caveat: SLOW

After doing so much, traveling, keeping so busy… I kind of came to a stop, today. Resting at Juli & Keith’s house here on the Oregon hillside, kind of having a lazy day. I did however make a small, important step. I sent off the email confirming my intention to return to Korea today. So that kind of represents a commitment.
Here’s a picture from Patrick’s Point, a few miles north of Arcata, taken in late afternoon on Tuesday:

Caveat: Small Town

Arcata is a small town.  I took about 5 long walks through and around the town during my 3 day visit there.  Yesterday afternoon, I walked down to where my middle school was, in SunnyBrae.  Then I walked up Shirley Blvd (a very steep winding hill) to Fickle Hill Road and back down to the house.  I went into Redwood Park (which is the name of Arcata’s city park, about 2 blocks up the hill from the house where I grew up).  Here is a picture from a path inside the park:

Caveat: 깊고 간절한 마음은 닿지 못하는 곳이 잆다네

“A deep and sincere heart has no unreachable place.” I had bought a small textile wall hanging with the Korean phrase on it, at a “temple shop” near a Buddhist temple in Seoul. I had that one, and several others. I presented this one to my friends Peggy and Latif who live in my former home in Arcata. They are generous and kind, and the saying suits them very well.
Here is the “A Street House,” where I lived my first 18 years (with a few short periods away from it, in Eureka, Oklahoma City, summers in Washington or Idaho or Boston, etc.):
This is the same house, from a slightly different angle, in 1965 (with my dad’s Model A Ford parked in front):
Here is the back yard, looking from the Kitchen window.  That’s the “pump house” that functions as a kind of detached, outdoor bedroom.  It was my bedroom during my high school years:
This is the same old pumphouse, in 1967:
This is Peggy’s smiling buddha, under the cherry tree that was just a tiny sapling when I was a kid.

Caveat: I walked to high school today

I took a long walk in the rain around Arcata. I walked over to the high school, where I attended. It looked almost the same. Hmm… it’s a beautiful town, but I think it was a good thing for me that I moved away.
Here is Humboldt State University’s “University Annex” building. But in 1965, it was the Trinity Hospital, and this is the building I was born in.
This is Arcata High School, which I attended 1979~83. It basically looks exactly the same as when I was there: California-classic-high-school-as-prison architecture, with its outdoor hallways and grim, utilitarian exterior.
This is the view up 11th street from its foot near Janes Road, looking up. At the top of the hill, that’s Redwood Park, and my house is a few blocks below the top of the hill.

Caveat: Zigzagging across the State of Jefferson

In the 1930’s and early 40’s, the northern counties of California and southwestern counties of Oregon launched a secession effort aimed at creating a new state, which was to be called the state of Jefferson.  It was one of the most successful “new state carved from existing states” movements of the 20th century, but got derailed by WWII.
Even now, however, the region as some distinctive features.  The high incidence (relative to most of the west) of rural poverty means that it has often be attached with the sobriquet “Kentucky-by-the-sea”, for example — at least that was something I heard sometimes, growing up.
Anyway, I was born and grew up in Humboldt County, which is, historically, part of this never-to-be State of Jefferson.   And I was in Roseburg, near its putative northern border.
I stayed the night with my aunt Janet and uncle Bob, who live outside of Eugene.  I saw a lot of relatives at my aunt Freda’s memorial service, some of whom I literally hadn’t seen since I was a child.
Today, I drove back down across the Oregon border and back into Humboldt, to spend a few days in my hometown, in my home “house.” The house isn’t owned by my mother anymore, but a very close friend of ours, Peggy, bought it, so I can “visit” and stay in the house. Although it’s been remodeled and changed a lot over the years, it still has the feel of home. Peggy was one of my babysitters when I was an infant, and she was also, later, my 6th grade teacher. She’s like a godmother to me, in many ways. She has been very important in my life.
I went on a hike in the morning with my aunt Janet, my dad and their cousin Larry.  Here is the view from Janet and Bob’s driveway in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, looking at some very relaxed-looking neighbor cows.
Below is a picture of Larry, Janet and my dad, stopping to talk about something near the top of the hill.

Caveat: Roadtrip Aesthetics 101 (or sentimentality)

pictureIs it possible to love a highway?
I certainly harbor a special feeling toward US Route 101. I was born 3 blocks from it, and grew up 4 blocks from it, and have lived more than half my life (discontinuously) within a few miles of it.
When I left San Luis Obispo on Friday night, I knew I’d have to drive all night to get to Roseburg, Oregon, on time, so I figured I might as well go up 101 (which takes a few extra hours due to its not being freeway the whole way, as compared to Interstate 5) most of the way, just for sentimental reasons.
It was strange, especially from downtown San Francisco on northward through Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino into Humboldt counties, because although I was driving in the middle of the night, I’ve been up and down that highway so many times I was able to visualize the scenery along the way effortlessly. Kinesthetic memory on the curves is almost eerie, too.
Anyway, I got to Arcata and stopped at the beach for a few hours. I watched it get light (the sun was behind thick clouds) and then went on to Oregon.

Caveat: Return to Ragged Point

pictureSome who know me really well know that Ragged Point, California, holds a special place in my personal biography / cosmology.
Ragged Point was the place where, in November, 1998, I reached my lowest point. And where I then took a decision to take an ethical responsibility for my own life and my own being, once and for all. It was a sort of atheist epiphany, where I realized I truly was alone in the universe, but that that wasn’t as bad as it seemed like. “Born-again atheist”? Sounds funny. But it hoves close to the truth.
It’s where I got the name “raggedsign” from, that you see applied to my online identity here and there.  The sign at Ragged Point… is deeply significant – like Saul, on the road to Damascus: but for this Saul, all there was to be seen was my own soul, laid bare.
It’s not always been smooth road, since then. I’ve not always done perfectly with the goal I set for myself that night. The first months and years after were exceptionally difficult, and Michelle’s suicide in 2000 was another low that felt like an inversion, in so many ways, of Ragged Point.
Anyway, part of my traveling, in general, is about seeing new places. But part of it is also about revisiting, paying a sort of homage to, old places.  Important places. Re-integrating all the disparate places that patchwork together to form the narrative of my immanent selfhood.
This current trip back from Korea, all this driving around, has been especially like that. It’s almost only that.
So today, I’m returning to Ragged Point. It’s up the road a ways from San Simeon, on the central California coast. I’ll probably sit and gaze at the ocean for a long time.
Later, I’m having lunch with Wendy, my stepmother (well, ex-stepmother, technically, but still a very important person in my life and one of my most important role-models, growing up). She lives in San Luis Obispo, currently.
Overnight, up to tomorrow, I’m driving to Roseburg, Oregon. My aunt Freda passed away while I was in Alaska, and I’ve decided to go to her memorial service, there.  It will give me a chance to see relatives I haven’t seen much of. And I’ll be re-integrating the length of California, along the way.
I took the picture below right at the county line between San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties, a few miles north of Ragged Point on Highway 1. The ocean that you can see is at least 500 feet straight down that cliff under the tree.

Caveat: Good idea, bad implementation

I spent some time today with my brother Andrew.  We went on a hike in the canyon behind JPL in Pasadena, seeing a lot of fire damage on the hills from the apocalyptic fires earlier this fall.

We drove over to the west side, to get my stuff I'd been storing at Wendy's in Culver City.  Driving around LA is so… unpleasant.  And it was smoggy.  But once on the west side, I took joy in seeing the cultural mix that the city represents:  I could find bilingual signs for churches, dry cleaners, and auto dealers… Spanish and Korean.  No English included. 

I love the cultural mix of LA.  But the city itself… just seems so stunningly badly laid out.  So difficult to exist in on a day-to-day basis.  I was talking with Andrew about it, as we sat parked in traffic on the 110 near downtown, and we decided it could be a new motto for the city:  

      Los Angeles — good idea, bad implementation.

Caveat: limbo

I feel like I've made a definite decision to return to Korea.   And all of this traveling around I've been doing was obviously part of my own way of finding the gumption to make that decision.  It was a way to meditate on what I wanted next from life. 

But now I've got at least 2 months before I go back.  And so I feel like I'm in a limbo.  That "waiting" state that is hard for me.  I have lots of things to keep me busy:  people to visit, bureaucratic miscellany to sort out, etc.  But in the end, I want to just "get on with it."

I'm still not always very good at BEING in the present moment.  As much as I try to live up to that ideal.

Caveat: old demons

I really like Southeast Alaska.  It's a beautiful and compelling place.  But in one way, it was hard for me to be there.  That's because the first time I went there, in 98, I was at a very low place in my own life.  Michelle and I had separated, and we would exchange bitter emails and hateful telephone conversations intermixed with commitments to try again and reiterations of love.

It was the only time in my life that I tried "writing" full time.  That didn't go well, either.  I sat at my little laptop and produced quite a bit.  But I wasn't happy with it.  Or not happy with myself.  In the end, I deleted over 200 pages of dense writing.  And then I regretted it.  And later, I lost almost an entire novel, begun during this period, to a hard drive failure.  The writing of this time was destined not to exist.

I always felt a weird kind of claustrophobia in Craig, too.  That's not the right word.  The problem is that in small, isolated communities like that, there's no space to be a "stranger."   Everyone needs to know who you are, and what you're doing.  They may leave you alone, but just the need to explain myself to everyone I met was awkward.

So… did I enjoy seeing Arthur?  Definitely.  Will I be moving to Southeast Alaska?  Probably not.

More later.

Caveat: redemption through a heroic deed

Sometimes my dreams have titles. (Sometimes they have commercial breaks, too, but that’s not what I’m going to discuss here. Obviously, I’ve watched too much television in my life.) A dream’s title will come to me in the form of a voice-over, or, more rarely, an “on-screen,” written title.
This morning’s dream had the on-screen title of “redentus heroica.” Seriously. I think it’s Latin. Why Latin? Latin was the first language I studied intensively (in 9th and 10th grades – it’s a complicated story, as I didn’t take Latin in high school, where it wasn’t offered, but rather up the hill at Humboldt State – hence it constituted my first college-level work).
It may not be good Latin. I tried to google it, and came up zero. But, assuming a macron on the last “a” in heroica (making it ablative case) and the ellision of a feminine noun meaning something like action or deed (which is a common syntactical phenomenon in Latin), you could get the meaning “redemption through [or by means of] a heroic deed.” Which seems like the sort of thing you should say in Latin, eh?
The rest of the dream? Kind of foggy, but I was walking around Ketchikan (logical), and trying to find my car (not logical). I didn’t even know which car I’d lost. It was raining (logical) and the town was crowded with Koreans (not logical). There were a lot of airplanes flying around (logical).
And I woke up – to a lot of airplanes flying around outside my hotel. Ketchikan has a lot of airplanes and boats, which makes sense for a town unconnected to the rest of the world by any kind of highway. Here’s a picture of an office where the guy who works there needs at least two parking spaces: one for the boat, and one for the airplane.

Caveat: Revillagigedo

The name of the island where Ketchikan is located is Revillagigedo. There are actually a lot of Spanish names attached to geographic features in Southeast Alaska – something to do with Spanish explorers making the navigation maps later used by Russian and English and American colonists.
It’s a cool name, though the locals mutilate the correct Spanish pronunciation – but who am I to criticize the mutilation of correct pronunciation?
Here are some pictures I took in Ketchikan, over the weekend.
Driving down to the south coast of the island:
The end of the road, at about mile 15. This is about as far from downtown Ketchikan as you can get, using a car:
A great view of downtown Ketchikan from the north end of town (where the “mall” is) (note the disconcerting presence of strange bluish coloration in sky due to absence of normal cloud cover):
Looking straight out from the seawall at my hotel:
Similar view, after the clouds shifted, revealing an unfamiliar but naturally-occurring thermonuclear phenomenon suspended 95 million miles in space above the planet:
Wow, nice. It lasted almost an hour. Then it rained again:
Tug boats, congregating:
Along the main drag, Tongass Ave:
The way in and out – the Alaska Marina Highway ferry Columbia docked:
The strange case where the northbound traffic uses a tunnel, and the southbound traffic goes around the hill – but they’re not even a block apart:
A Ketchikan streetscape
The pale pink skyscraper of downtown Ketchikan, AK:
The town’s famous “Creek Street”:
A fishing boat, heading out southward:

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