The National Parks.

George Will once wrote about Ken Burns’ film, The Civil War, “If better use has been made of television, I have not seen it.”

I have come to the conclusion that Burns’ craft, his art–is creating masterpieces of democracy. His skills as a documentary filmmaker are legion and as I write this, I’m watching his latest on The National Parks: America’s Greatest Idea.

My own fascination with National Parks began when I was about 9 years old. We lived fairly close to Gettysburg, PA and my father fed my fascination with the Civil War. He’d bring me books, read me stories and eventually, took me to Gettysburg. My whole family was there, but I felt that the trip was for me, somehow. I still remember it with the clarity of a young boy’s memory: the diorama, Devil’s Den, the Peach orchard, Little Round Top. Hallowed ground that was the site of the decisive battle in the American Civil War. Three days of slaughter and blood that proved that even the brilliant and crafty General Robert E. Lee was no match for the grinding machine of the Union infantry and its junior officers.

Later, during the stormy time of my parents’ first separation, they took me to Antietam Creek, site of yet another terrible battle between north and south. In less than two days, some 25,000 men fell at Antietam. I waded in the creek and got my feet wet there, where the water ran red they say when the battle was over.

When I was 18, my dad moved to Southern New Jersey, transferred from California by the company for whom he worked. Dad grew up in Pennsylvania and for whatever reason, did not want to live in the state again, so he made his own crossing of the Delaware on a train, not a boat, and settled in Lindenwold, N.J.

But his office was in downtown Philadelphia and though I later went to live there, I first visited him and he encouraged me, while he worked, to go tour Independence Hall. I walked across Chestnut Street and took the tour. I stood in the room where John Adams pontificated and Thomas Jefferson sat quietly. I saw the green walls and the furniture, spare and simple, where the founders debated issues that led to our Independence. I climbed the stairs to the bell tower and I was hooked. History would be my passion and reading would become my escape.

As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to visit Bryce and Zion Canyon National Parks with my church youth group. I went to the Grand Canyon for the first time at 16 and sat at Bright Angel trail with my friends watching thunderheads roll toward us from the distance, their rumblings cracking open over our heads just in time for bed that night. I walked Canyon de Chelly and marveled down the alien carvings of villages out of bare rock under a relentless sun.

Later, when I was married, before our daughter was born, my wife and I drove from our home here in Ventura County across the west to the western entrance of the grand-daddy of them all, Yellowstone National Park. We were transfixed for three days by the otherworldly geography, the sulfurous smells, the radiant beauty and unending majestic mountains. We stayed in a cabin by Old Faithful and each night, I read as much as I could about the park, the history, the geography and the science. On our way out of the park, we drove the distance from the western end through the mountains up above 9000 feet and into Roosevelt Country where a wolf pack had been recently released and still runs free.

Just two years ago, I experienced Yosemite for the first time though I’ve lived in California more or less for 34 years. We had Sofie with us at that time, our foreign exchange student from Belgium, and Sue secured a house for us in the park in Wawona at the southern end. We stayed for three nights in a house in Yosemite and drove through to the Ahwannee twice, ice skating beneath the granite cliffs in the valley, drinking hot chocolate and marveling at the coyote that walked along the road next to our car. I wrote about it extensively, here.

That same year, while Sofie was here, we went to the Grand Canyon again, too. It was as glorious as I recall and this time, we rode the train in from Williams, AZ and enjoyed the afternoon lightly hiking and marveling at the scenery.

Just last year, we went back to Yosemite again, staying this time just southwest in Bass Lake near Oakhurst, but making the trek into the valley and capturing again the sense of wonder at the sight of Half Dome and El Capitan. Grander scenes of nature simply cannot be found. Restorative, peaceful and haunting, it’s nearly a requirement for me now that my family will see as much of our National Parks as I can get them to see.

Burns’ film is beautiful and simple storytelling, peeling back layers of years and revealing the people that loved these places and fought to keep them wild. They are uniquely America and we cannot be defined without them. They are the refuge of what the U.S. stands for, good or ill, and they do indeed belong to everyone and no one.

To coin a phrase from Will, if better use has been made of the United States, I have not seen it.

The Long and Short.

It’s rather remarkable that a weekend has come along. The weeks are going much faster, even than they did in the summer when a week is supposed to go fast. Surveys show that the average summer week, particularly when spent in vacation destinations such as camping, Disneyland, hotel rooms and out on the road, goes exactly 1.265 hours faster than its counterpart during the rest of the year. OK, I exaggerate.

If you saw this space yesterday sometime between 9 and 10 in the morning, PST, what you would have seen was a kind of melange of cynicism laced with just a touch of optimism.

I went through and explained that we are upside down on our house and then I went through and explained the doom and gloom scenarios that might occur. But, I really had not sat down to figure out our finances with Sue and I really hadn’t looked at our income versus our outgo and my predictions were, shall we say, the work of a man who has imagined only the worst for far too long.

There is a new day and there is a morning and it appears as though, while things are a bit tight, we are OK. In two years, our interest rate adjusts and at that time, it may well be that we can no longer afford our home. But, that’s two years down the road and we’ll do everything we can in the meantime. We start tomorrow with a possible loan modification and no, it’s not some fly-by-night organization. All is well I am happy to report.

The real issue these days is Peanut’s new phase of lying and storytelling. Yes, we know it’s a phase–but lying is never something I countenanced very well. I rather demand honesty of myself and of others with whom I’m close. That sounds egocentric and I don’t mean it to be so. What I mean is that I can accept a lot of things and a lot of life situations, but I cannot accept dishonesty. It’s a shabby and horrible failing. And when you’re own daughter is doing it, it’s rather painful to watch.

So, a few reminders of why lying is wrong–a loss of temper on my part at one point and that is my own issue on which I have to work–a read through of Proverbs 6:16 as well as the inestimable Aesop’s Fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and a rougher night’s sleep than I would have liked. Peanut, the stress of her punishment as well as the fact that she didn’t drink a lot of water yesterday, wound up with a terrible headache around midnight. Motrin, water–back to bed–sleep. She’s still up there right now which is good.

Me? It’s Sunday morning and the fog has rolled in, cooling things down nicely. I’m tapping away here while eating a quesadilla of my own making and a cup of coffee. The house is quiet, the deadlines are met and today is a day of reconnecting, rejoicing and communicating.

It’s a lot to be thankful for…

An unrelated phlog–that’s me and Doug Braun, owner and winemaker at Presidio Winery, at his home and vineyard near Lompc, CA.
Presidio 007

1000 posts

An auspicious occasion, this–for you are reading the 1,000th post of Pretty darned cool if I do say so myself. Huzzah, Hoorah and all that. For today’s august moment, I share with you a video I made on our flickr account. I tried to paste it here, but it won’t let me. It says the file is too big–and the video is only 1:23. Hmmmm…Well, go here.

Just a bit of video. Don’t want to make full blown movies, you know. I wanted to be Spielberg or Lucas once. Now, I just want to sell wine.

The fire has been burning pretty hard for a few days now–but they have it 65% contained today. It’s a smokey hot inferno out there–and I’m just talking about the weather. Every year this time….every year. Don’t believe me? Let’s review.

Finished a deadline tonight and still have another one to go–not sure when I’ll knock that one down, but it’s due Monday, so…soon.

I’m boring these days, aren’t I? I cannot talk about politics because I get too angry. I guess I could talk about money–but that’s no fun at all. Money rather blows. Rather a lot. Of course, that’s because I don’t have that much. But who does?

Friday tomorrow and not soon enough…

Threat Alert: Orange.

This is the night that the girls went to see Hannah Montana. Yes, I know. And I didn’t even get invited to go along…..heh. Well…

So, I was a bachelor tonight. Aunt Laurie (Sue’s twin sister) came over and brought dinner–Chick Fil A, don’t you know. Good stuff. I thought ahead for a long time about what I would do. Movies? Video? Cigar? Wine? Nah. Nothin. Haven’t been feeling myself these past few days. Frequent headaches brought on I think by dehydration. Why? Don’t know. Hot out, yes. I talk a lot at school and that causes thirst. Salty food? Perhaps. Don’t know.

Stroke? Blood clot? God, I hope and pray not. But I’m a hypochondriac and that rather comes with the territory.

Fire burning over in Fillmore and Moorpark and it’s getting bad, apparently. The weather isn’t helping as the Santa Anas, albeit a mild set of them, have settled in. Offshore flows, high temperatures and low humidity and that there is a recipe for autumn in Southern California. The color orange is often associated with autumn. Pumpkins, early sunsets, leaves turning, you know the drill. Here, though, autumn is orange because September and October are our hottest months and then the winds blow and fires break out everywhere and then the orange is fire–and smoke drifting across the sun turning the whole landscape orange. It’s not pretty, though. Far from it.

Well, not much to do but simply accept it. So, I will.

Nothing else much to discuss. Trying to get some wine writing done, trying to sell tickets to the fundraiser for the CAF and really, just plain tired. Good night.

New Tweeting–

Presidio 031
This here is the new image you’ll find at our twitter page. Just go to biorganicwines on twitter. Follow if you will, I’d be happy to know you. That’s me standing in Presidio Vineyards, which is owned by my pal Doug Braun. Doug’s winery will be on our site when we’re up and running.

I’ve learned to phlog here finally with my new found mastery of iphoto 09. I like it very much and find it intuitive and simple. Now, if I can only find a free converter so I can create movies in imovie with AVI files. Any suggestions anyone? Everything I’ve found so far isn’t free. I’m cheap…

Time and Drive

Well, a fine weekend behind us. We wandered away from our wonderful church in Westlake Village for a few months. We thought to come to church closer to home here in Camarillo. But, it simply didn’t work out and we’re back in Westlake and thankful to be there. Westlake Lutheran Church is our home, our family and our faith is distilled and fortified there. What more can you ask?

So, as previously written–it looks like tomorrow the heat begins and the September/October offshore winds come at us. It’s apparently not a strong wind system, so it won’t be as windy as it will be warm–“for this time of year.” But as I say, warm is this time of year, and pretending that it’s autumn and therefore ought to be cool doesn’t make it so. Since I moved to So. Cal., it has always been warm or even hot in the early fall here.

Read an e-mail from our teacher’s union President tonight that confirms what have been basically rumors: We’re going to get furlough days this year which means those are unpaid days and to tell you honestly, I’m fine with that. Based on the formula that the district and the union worked out years ago, teacher salaries make up 67% if the budget. So, when times are lean, we have to take our lumps and I think that’s the right thing to do. The state is in miserable shape–teachers cannot assume that they get to avoid the pain. Besides, I like time off. I have to admit, there’s always an underlying concern about the money issue because California is so mismanaged and corrupted, but a few days off? I’m good…..

Meanwhile, (which is not up as a site yet) continues to occupy my time. My wife came up with yet another motto for us today: What’s in your crush? Wino’s get that pretty well–the crush is what happens at harvest when the grapes are brought it. Literally speaking, they are crushed and de-stemmed. Many large wineries who don’t necessarily follow sustainable practices load up the crusher de-stemmers with everything that comes in including mice, insects, tarantulas (turns out, those dudes love grapes), what have you. But smaller, craft wineries and particularly wineries that focus on sustainable growing, sort their fruit out and make certain that what goes in–is what you want to drink. And that’s who our clients wineries are. That’s who you want to buy wine from.

OK–Happy Sunday.

And now for the weather…

Friday night and most welcome. It appears that another heat wave is set to grip this area. I’ve lived in Southern California for the better part of 35 years. That’s hard for me to believe, as it was never something I wanted, but it’s true. Still-with all of that, most friends, acquaintances and colleagues balk when I say it–but this is the hottest time of year here consistently. It has been that way since I moved to California in 1975 and it hasn’t largely changed.

My friend Tom likes to say, “you’ll need a jacket on the 4th of July and you can surf in shorts on Christmas day.” There’s some truth to that, though Christmas-time can go either way, warm or cool. September/October, though, is nothing but hot.

Now once again, I have relatives in Phoenix and so when I say hot, they laugh at me. I’m OK with that–this is a coastal plain, not a desert and we cannot compete with that heat. Still, this time of year, it is quite normal to get days that reach the low 100’s, even here by the coast. About 10 years ago, I was living in Ventura and it was 104 degrees on a mid-September afternoon. The Weather Channel said that Oxnard, CA, about five miles from where I then lived, was the hottest spot in the United States that day. Hotter than Phoenix, hotter than Tuscon or Las Vegas, hotter than Alamogordo–hotter than all of them. That’s what happens here–when the Devil Winds come to play.

Mind you, the winds haven’t kicked off yet–but word on the street is that we’ll get a moderate sized “offshore flow” in the next few days. That’s the way it is here. God’s plan is perfect, even when we don’t like it. And I don’t like it–no sir, I don’t like the Santa Ana winds–and I don’t like the heat. So, there you go.

Word on the street is also that this is to be an El Nino year and that means a much wetter winter than normal with cooler temperatures than normal. The rain won’t allow a lot of freezing, which is good for agriculture, and the drought that has hit California (a cyclical drought, by the way) is in need of drenching. It will be a pleasant and good winter if the rains come. That will make me happy.

But, that said-it’s just not enough to complain about the weather. I hope I’ve learned that you really cannot do it. My classroom, the one I teach in, has no air-conditioning and it regularly gets to be 90 plus degrees in there on the hot days. That said, it’s good to learn that you really should not complain about things over which you have no control. The weather here doesn’t ask permission of me and that too is as it should be, no?

Well, anyway–that’s Friday and I’m tired. Early day tomorrow as I am on the road to Edna Valley to shoot some video and photo footage of the Niven Family Wines’ vineyards and winery.

Wine and Wings…

Well, friends-there are several things of interest about which I should tell you and the first is the wine and food tasting fundraiser at the Commemorative Air Force Southern California Wing. We’re raising funds to “keep ’em flying” of course. In this case, the “ems” are several really great airplanes including an F6F Hellcat and an F8F Bearcat. We also have a British Spitfire, a Japanese Zero and a couple of T-6 trainers, one of which is the Naval variant known as the SNJ-5. We’re preserving history–all of these planes flew either pre or post WWII, including our China Doll, a 1945 C-46 cargo plane that flew as an airliner in the Midwest and on the East Coast for a while.

$59.99 buys you a ticket and gets you in to taste wines from 6 different wineries and taste food from one of the best Chefs in So. Cal, Tim Kilcoyne of the Sidecar in Ventura, CA. It starts on Saturday at 3:00 P.M. and goes until 7:00 P.M. and you can purchase tickets by contacting me here or by calling 482-0064. If I could get you a discount or in free, I would–but again, that rather defeats the purpose of a fundraiser. Please consider supporting WWII aviation history and enjoying an afternoon of food, wine and stories with us.

OK. There’s that. Meantime, I got bowled over by a migraine around 4:00 this morning. To be honest, I still have remnants of it, though the headache is mostly gone. I take a drug I’ve written about previously called Relpax and it does the trick, but leaves me rather foggy headed. This comes of me not hydrating enough and I really have to work on that. Since August, I’ve had three or four such episodes, two of them pretty bad with this morning’s and the one I had up in Pleasanton. If you’ve ever had one, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t–there’s no way to describe it.

Exhaustion has set in as a result, so I’ll keep this short and bid you all goodnight…

So Not the Drama…

I’ve been falling in and out of sleep and dreaming here in the recliner. It’s quite odd but also reassuring. The dreams have a Christmas quality to them and are comfortable, honest and nice.

That’s even more odd because my daughter is going through a phase right now and a rather dramatic one at that. She waited until about five minutes before bedtime tonight to tell us that she had a “humoungus” problem at school. She was fighting with a couple of friends and she thought it was because she was “tired” and “grumpy.”

Here we go….I said to myself.

You see, the other phase she’s in is that over the summer, whatever stuck in her craw didn’t come out. She has always wigged out at routine changes and that’s our fault, we know it. We set pretty militant routines when she was a baby because she was sick all the time. For the first five months of her life, we have it journaled that the longest she ever slept was three hours. It broke my heart and it nearly broke my wife’s will.

Anyway, we established a pretty serious routine after we found out why she wasn’t sleeping (colicky, brought about by a very real allergy to milk proteins), and ever since then….

OK–so now over the summer, she’d come into our bedroom, wake me up and tell me she couldn’t sleep because she was “afraid we were going to leave.” Now, whether or not this is really what had her afraid, I’ll never know. I rather doubt it-but that’s a longer story. So, we talked to a lot of other parents and we realized many of them had similar situations–8 year olds that generally wouldn’t sleep well. Well, we didn’t feel so alone.

Solution–again, the solution of many we spoke to. From now on, if Peanut gets up in the middle of the night, no more waking us up–just roll out a blanket on the floor in our room, lie down–and go to sleep. End of problem.

Except for a drama queen.

Now, she claims she sees sleeping on our floor as a “big problem,” because it makes her tired and it’s causing her to argue with her friends.

Yes…that was our reaction, too.

But, we also had to be careful not to play into it. “We don’t see it as a problem, kid. As long as you’re getting sleep, it’s not a problem.” Which she is.

The drama in the drama queen plays out like this–she’s decided to tell her friends that she sleeps on our floor and that she thinks that it is a problem and so now they tell her that its not–that she’s “making up stories” and then she gets into fights with…..oy. Anyway. You see the point.

How does one go about de-dramatizing all the drama in a drama queen? Well, I don’t know–but you sure cannot rationalize with her. Tried that. Before I knew it, she dragged me into it and asserted that it was largely my fault that there was drama in the first place.


So, what’s the answer? You guessed it: Bedtime.

Me, too. Good night.

Big Deals

The double super secret project is on track and nearly ready to launch. We’re at twitter, too—@biorganicwines. Feel free to follow the tweets as they happen.

Let’s make it a single super secret project: a new website, full of rich content about sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines where you will be able to read, watch and learn about these wineries and the stories behind the wine. The site is being built by my good friend Greg at rocknmotion. There’s a placeholder now, but it will be here.

So, there’s that.

9/11 is a day that still wears me out. I’m pleased that Jason has written a powerful and simple post in keeping with his tech. sensibilities and I urge you to go and read it.

Tonight, my prayers are with the families of those who died that day. They’re also with our service members and their families-particularly those who have been lost to the war. This is a painful day for them, I’m sure.

So much has happened in 8 years. So much is yet to happen. The only thing left is to pray that we don’t descend into more hatred and division. And to be given the strength to both defend–and heal–our nation and our allies.

A quick update: Bill’s daughter is home and is feeling better. Thank God for healing.