The Fence

One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.
—Joseph Stalin

Oblique Strategy: The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten

I started my first “blog” (this was before anyone had thought of the name blog – we called them “online journals”) In 1996 or so. Mine was called “The Daily Epiphany.” As far as I can tell mine was the 13th online journal/blog on the internet. I wrote in it every day for more than ten years.

Tonight I was looking through my files, doing some organizing, and found an entry I had typed while driving back to Dallas from my uncle’s funeral in Kansas. It was almost exactly 20 years ago- November 30, 1997 – four years before 9/11, when our reaction to such things changed, when it became commonplace.

The entry was called “The Fence.” I printed it out and entered it into a writing contest once- It won a prize – ten dollars cash, sealed in a little envelope.

A cold, leaden day. That midwestern wet cold, a little above freezing; with wind that cuts. The sky had no blue, no indication of where the sun actually was. Only ripples, waves of lighter and darker gray.

Interstate 35, between Wichita and Dallas is mostly a straight shot. There is only one jump to the left, and a step to the right, in Oklahoma City. You have to get on I40 going west for an instant and then exit to the left, picking up southward again. Sixteen years ago, when I first moved from Hutchinson to Texas, this little jog shook me up. I hadn’t really been driving very long and had no experience with big city expressway killer traffic. The thought of quickly merging across three busy lanes to an exit filled me with dread and stress.

I was such a geek.

Now, of course, after all these years bumping and grinding through Dallas highways and byways this is second nature. I can merge and exit without a thought. Confidence, aggression, and peripheral vision.

But this time I didn’t exit. I wanted to take a break from the drive, go see something; so I continued West on I40, right into the heart of downtown Oklahoma City.

It’s not much different than downtown Wichita, or Tulsa, or any of the middle-big midwestern cities. A new baseball stadium is going up, new glass office buildings, some older brick hotels. It was Sunday, there was almost no traffic. As a matter of fact, there was some sort of BMX racing going on at the Convention Center. I saw more kids on bikes, jumping curbs, hot-dogging up and down stairs, than cars on the streets.

I didn’t know exactly how to get there, only that I was going between fourth and fifth streets, but it didn’t take long to find my way. I parked next to an older, large dark tan brick building. A typical neo-something older public place. It wasn’t until I got out onto the sidewalk I noticed that the glass had been broken out in all its windows. I knew it had been blown out.

I really didn’t know what to expect; didn’t even know why I had driven there. It has been over two years and I wasn’t even sure what had been done to the site recently. I only wanted to stop and rest for a minute, visit a piece of history, maybe try and fix the actual place that it happened in my mind.

The Murrah building itself is, of course, long gone. The planned memorial hasn’t been started yet. All that’s left is a rectangular grassy field, the lawn was yellow for the winter, that smooth professionally planted turf, put in to cover things up. To the south are some concrete remains of the foundation and parking garage. The entire city block is encircled with a high chain link fence.

And it was that fence that really packed the emotional wallop. You can watch the news stories, read the survivor’s accounts, but it doesn’t seem possible. That something so horrible could occur, not by accident, but on purpose, in the forgotten center of the country, is beyond belief. But walk up to that fence, and it’s all too real.

The worst is the toys. Hundreds of toys stuck into or tied to the bare wire. Teddy bears, stuffed animals, balls, birthday presents for children that will never grow up. A baby’s pacifier.

“Look, Mom! another Beanie Baby!” exclaimed a small girl, poking at a little toy dog on the fence with delight, too young to understand.

Other things too. Poems, letters, pictures, most laminated in plastic. One unprotected sign had run in the rain. The only legible part was the word “crying” in big, thick, colored letters. It too was fading, running, dripping down the ragged poster board. Someone had made little red felt Christmas stockings, each one with a jolly cloth Santa face. I didn’t count them, but I’m sure there were 168.

Many people seemed to go there without plans and put up what they had on hand. There were a lot of keychains. Hundreds of little crosses made of sticks.

There were quite a few people, but thankfully nobody selling anything. Many were obviously tourists, some taking pictures. Many appeared to be locals, though; alone, slowly, solemnly working their way around the fence, reading the notes, looking at the wreaths and the pictures. I wondered how many of these people had lost husbands, wives, children, friends in the blast; how many had actually been there , wondering why it hadn’t taken them; how often they went down there on cold, windy winter days to walk that stretch of chainlink.

The day was dark, but I was glad that I was wearing my sunglasses, I didn’t really want to show my eyes.

I drove on, and stopped for lunch at a Wendy’s south of town. I don’t eat fast food hamburgers any more, but I remembered being there seven years earlier with Candy and Nicholas, when he was an infant. I remember holding him, spooning a little Frosty into his mouth.

I sat at a table typing on the laptop for a bit. A crowd of kids, a ball team or bible class, boiled around me. They all had little plastic toys from their Happy Meals or whatever. They were all laughing, showing each other what they had, seeing who had the coolest toy. They were loud and a bit wild, bumping into me as I typed, but for some reason, I didn’t mind.

All Day Holiday

All day holiday
All day holiday
Home is so far away
“Where should I land?” My hollow voice is carried away on the wind
—-Shugo Tokumaru – Parachute (English Lyrics)

Clarence Street Art Collective, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Discard an axiom

Our two sons drove back to Dallas, from New Orleans and Houston, for Thanksgiving. They always try to come back to run in the Turkey Trot eight-mile race on Thanksgiving morning. We used to always go down there with them, but now I sleep in and they drive themselves.

Turkey Trot 2011

Turkey Trot 2012

Turkey Trot 2013

Lee and some friends had tickets to see the Dallas Cowboys get the crap beat out of them at the death star – so he was gone most of the afternoon.

I ate too much and did, well pretty much nothing. I did get a little bike ride around the hood on the folder as the sun set and that was surprisingly enjoyable. There were a lot of people out and about.

Holidays are odd – they feel like wasted time, but they string together in your memory. At first you think they are the same, but there are changes.

From my old journal “The Daily Epiphany” – Thursday, November 25, 1999 Thanksgiving – The kids were what? seven and eight.

The feeling of satiety, almost inseparable from large possessions, is a surer cause of misery than ungratified desires.
—-Benjamin Disraeli

We have a family tradition of going camping over Thanksgiving. It’s usually the most pleasant time of year here in Texas, cool nights, warm days. Sometimes we get caught in rain but most years are clear and crispy. A four day trip to a nearby State Park, maybe Fairfield or Bob Sandlin. Red fall trees, inky sparkling night sky, the smell of wood smoke, brown curious deer paying a shy visit, bold nighttime raccoons looking for handouts. Out of the rat race, out of the stuffy too much food too much television couch potato place.
This year we couldn’t do it though. Candy Mom’s illness, soccer games, my work, all conspired to keep us in town; no matter how much we needed to get away, get out of the city.

We went to Candy’s sister’s for Thanksgiving dinner. I had an odd hankering for Chinese take-out, eating out of white foam containers, but the traditional turkey ‘n fixins’ was pretty good. Despite my forewarnings to myself I ate too much, and sank into that holiday hyperglycemic funk.

Nick and Lee played a tough, energetic two-kid soccer game out in the small back yard. The dead and desiccated landscape plants, dormant for the winter, brown, cracked and shattered as the ball whizzed back and forth, showering up a small cloud of bits of leaf and stem.

Poor Lee wore himself out, though. He curled up on the couch, blanket in hand, fingers in mouth, and looked awful while everybody else chowed down. Instead of the traditional watching of the Cowboy game I drove Lee home. We stopped for gas and I promised he could pick whatever he wanted out of the station’s cold-drink case. The poor woman working the counter on the holiday beamed at the cute little pouting kid rummaging around. He, not surprisingly, picked out a half-gallon of chocolate milk, the artificially thickened rich brown sugar stuff that kids love. I thought he’d pick a small bottle but the half gallon was only a dime more, so I guess Lee knows best.

At home he sucked down most of the carton and that revived him some, enough that he was up to playing some video games. Lee didn’t want to be alone, though, so I went back to his room with him. I climbed the steel ladder and curled up in the top bunk, it’s about a foot shorter than I am. I spent the bulk of the day there, fading in and out, dreaming strange and terrifying dreams while Lee sat below guiding Banjo Kazooie through his fantasy world.

…..

Old Found Poetry

Reality only reveals itself when it is illuminated by a ray of poetry.
—-Georges Braque

de1

A taste for pure pork fat, long restricted to a furtive devouring of the white nubbin in the can of baked beans, can now be worn as a badge of honor.
(Julia Moskin, New York Times, 5/7/03, article on pork fat in high-class restaurants)
hrule
Under 6 years: 1 pastille as required. Maximum 5 pastilles in 24 hours
(Meggezones 24x)
hrule
…on a long bus ride, you should always choose to sit next to Mrs. Robinson, for example, rather than Benjamin.
(Roger Ebert, from a review for Death to Smoochy)
hrule
Daisy, the this pretty sea, and the wind.
(Bablefish translation of the first line of a Ruben Dario poem I have stuck in my head… the Spanish is: Margarita, esta linda la mar, y el viento.)
hrule
IAGO
I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter
and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
-From Othello, by William Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 1
(The opening quote of The Daily Epiphany, my old journal- Thursday – July 25, 1996)
hrule
Dolly, Good, Hernia, Bad
(big block letters on the side of a Budget rental truck in my neighborhood)
hrule
When I cruise, I’m an adventurer, eager to try new experiences. So on the second day of my first Carnival vacation, I found myself lying on a massage table wrapped in a crisp, clean sheet.
(From Currents, a magazine for people taking Carnival cruises)
hrule
I had a dream last night. I dreamt that I worked in a time factory. My job was to take the one-hour time disks out of the oven and carefully cut them into six equal wedges. These ten-minute time slices were used on alarm clock snooze buttons.
I don’t know what happened next, it was time to wake up and go to work.
(The Daily Epiphany – Wednesday, May 30, 2001 )
hrule
Often Imitated, Never Duplicated-Great for Men and Women-As Seen on TV-It’s not magnetic, not copper…it’s the Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet designed to help balance your body’s Yin-Yang. Worn by professional athletes striving for energy, strength, flexibility and endurance, it’s also worn by people looking for natural pain relief. According to the oriental theory of Yin-Yang, we remain in good health when our negative (Yin) and positive (Yang) ions are in balance.
(from an ad for the Q-Ray bracelet, $49.95, in Dr. Leonard’s America’s Leading Discount Healthcare Catalog)
hrule
Prankster of Love – Ashton Kutcher – the newly single ‘punk’d’ star on the nonstop party he calls life
(cover of the Rolling Stone)
hrule
Sriracha, made from sun-ripened chilies, is ready to use in soups, sauces, pasta, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, chow mein, or on anything to add a delicious, spicy taste .
(from the bottle, of course)
hrule
WARNING
Pucks flying into spectator area can cause serious injury. Be alert when in spectator areas – including after the stoppage of play. If injured, notify usher for directions to medical station. The holder of this ticket assumes all risks and all other hazards arising from or related in any way to the event for which this ticket is issued, whether occurring prior to, during, or after the event. These hazards specifically include (but are not exclusive to) the danger of being injured by hockey pucks and sticks, other spectators or players, or by thrown objects. The holder agrees that the arena, the league, it’s officers and employees, the participating clubs, their officers, players, employees and agents are expressly released by the holder from claims arising from such causes.
(On the back of a hockey ticket)
hrule
Unheard Poetry

I arrived too late to the poetry reading – having spent too long drinking my cup of coffee. The poets had already started reading and all the good seats were taken.
I had to sit too far away and I couldn’t hear the words. All that made it to my ears was a cadence.
Still, that wasn’t too bad – the rhythms and emotions fan out like waves without the cluttering words to get in the way.

I find I don’t listen to the poems much, anyway, I listen to the poets. It’s not the same thing.
(Bill Chance, The Daily Epiphany – Friday, September 6, 2002 )
hrule
“This is a poem I wrote back when… well, I still have a boring day job but this was when I had a really boring day job and I’d get back at them by sitting there writing poems all day.”
(Amy Jo Hylkema – Introducing her first work of poetry at a reading, 2002)
hrule
Glorious, stirring sight! The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here today-in next week tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped-always somebody else’s horizons! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!
(Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)
hrule
There is a poetry to daily
modernlife
so empty of everything else.
The staccato rhythm of the
traffic reports
off on the shoulder
one lane only
eastbound
westbound
backup
clearing

Or the shouts of the Barista
as he calls out the orders
(actually, I think
he’s making most of that stuff up).
And though my lawn has gone to weeds
there is still a bird
that kawarbles at me
as I put the key
in my car
to drive to work.
(me)
hrule
Come ride that little train that is rolling down the tracks to the Junction,
Petticoat Junction!
Forget about your cares, it is time to relax at the Junction,
Petticoat Junction!
Lots of curves, you bet, even more when you get to the Junction,
Petticoat Junction!

(the theme song from “Petticoat Junction.”)
hrule
So I went in to look at the thing, to see if I could figure out how to keep it from beeping. Right in the middle of all the gauges, knobs, buttons, dials, and controls was one big, square touchpad button that was labeled simply with the word “Silence.”
I pressed it and the beeping stopped.
( Silence, The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, October 06, 1998)

de5

Homemade Habanero Hotsauce

According to WordPress, this is the one thousandth entry in my blog. I’ve written a little over one blog a day, not missing a day, for almost three years now.

This is the third or fourth blog I’ve done over the years – the first one, The Daily Epiphany, was the thirteenth (as best as I can tell) blog in the world, started in July 25, 1996. Of course, there weren’t any blogs in those days – we called them online journals. It was a lot of work back then – the entries were written in Notepad and all the HTML tags were written out by hand. Think of how much work it was to add new entries with back and forward links and tables of contents – all done without electronic help and uploaded by FTP. Within a year I had developed a series of Microsoft Word Templates with macros to help do all that – but it was a long way from today’s fully automated content systems.

I wrote every day for seven years or so, until my kids grew old enough to read the thing and share it with their friends and I had to give it up. For a long time then, I switched to paper – looking to my left I see a stack of Moleskines I filled up in the years I would write every day in longhand.

Finally, a friend of mine started a WordPress Blog and I thought it would be fun, so I cast my line in. Old habits die hard and I found that putting an entry up every day was important to me, even though I hadn’t intended to do this starting out. I don’t put much effort into the thing – most of my writing blood, sweat, and tears, nowadays goes into my pitiful attempts at fiction. I know I often only put up a single photograph… maybe a bilious quotation – but I have learned that if you are going to put something up every day you have to give yourself permission to sometimes do something easy.

If you don’t like it, I’ll refund your money.

At any rate, a while back I came across a recipe for Habanero Hot Sauce on the Facebook page of a friend.

6 habaneros
1/2 can peaches in light syrup
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 T salt
1 T paprika
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp allspice

Whirl it all up in a blender or food processor until it’s smooth.
I poured mine into an old 12 oz Crystal hot sauce bottle I’d washed out. The ingredients sound a bit strange, but it works!

A similar recipe I found also added 1/4 cup of molasses, but I didn’t have any in the house.

I like hot sauce and this one looked good… so I bought a handful of red, round peppers and ground it all up.

It tuned out very good… and very hot. There is a lot of talk about bhut jolokia – Ghost Chilies and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and such – but let’s face it – habaneros are pretty damn hot and they are readily available. I still have wonderful memories of fresh grilled seafood served with an Habanero paste that I had on Passion Island off of Cozumel – the best meal of my life.

When I first tried the sauce my lips were swollen, my face burned, and the top of my head was drenched with sweat. When I tried the same dose a couple days later, it wasn’t nearly as toxic. At first, I thought it was losing its punch – but I realized that I was quickly developing a resistance. I began plotting meals that I could use to eat a little (only a little) of the sauce.

When my two sons came home for the holidays, the remaining sauce quickly disappeared and I knew I had to kick up the production and at least triple the batch sizes. I had to go to work for a while today and on the way home stopped off at the local Fiesta Mart for a bag of habaneros.

Recently, Candy bought a Ninja Master Prep food processor – Hey… just because it’s on TV doesn’t mean it doesn’t work – and it’s perfect for the dangerous task of chopping up the toxic peppers. My first batch had the seeds in it, which tended to stop up the dispensing apparatus, so I thought about cleaning the peppers first – but that’s a tricky proposition, so I simply screened the seeds out afterward.

This batch came out even hotter than the first – but pretty darn flavorful. I have a feeling I might be making more of this stuff in the future.

Funny, they don't look that hot.

Funny, they don’t look that hot.

Habaneros and other main ingredients

Habaneros and other main ingredients

Ninja Food Processor with hot sauce and spices

Ninja Food Processor with hot sauce and spices

Final product - filtered into re-purposed containers.

Final product – filtered into re-purposed containers.

Two Years and a Ride to Denton

I’ve now had this WordPress blog up for two years. I jumped in after a friend of mine, Peggy, started hers.

Of course, I’ve done this before… As best as I can tell, back in the 1990s I was somewhere around the thirteenth blogger on the internet – though this was years before the term “blog” was coined. We called them “online journals” or a “digital diary.” I started writing web pages using notepad and posting them in the five megabytes or so that America Online used to give you. I outgrew that and bought a URL and some web space (from what turned out to be the world’s worst online service provider). For well over a decade I wrote something every day. I had to quit when my kids reached high school and too many people I knew in “real life” started reading the thing. Actually, I didn’t quit – I simply went to paper.

Now, this time around… it’s completely different. I don’t write as much in it (my writing addiction is mostly served by fiction now) and do too much photography. But it is what it is.
Two Years
773 posts
2,667 comments
Days missed – none.

At any rate…

A few weeks ago, Candy and I went up to Denton for the Arts and Jazz festival. The last time we went, a couple years ago, it was way too crowded and we had a tough time parking… so this time, we decided to go earlier and to ride the Denton County Transit Authority A-Train up to Denton. This was a great idea – the train ride was fun and the festival was cool – we headed back before the crowds really began to build.

Denton is a cool city. To a big extent, it is a college town, almost like Austin-lite. I enjoyed the pedestrian and bike-friendly areas around the town square and decided I wanted to go back there with my bicycle.

Looking at Google Maps, I noticed the telltale green line that represented a hike-bike trail that ran from Lake Dallas through Corinth up to Denton – a little more than eight miles. It paralleled the A-Train tracks and I was able to get a good look at it from the train windows. It’s called the Denton Katy Trail – and it looked like a nice bike ride.

So, one Sunday that promised nice weather (and light winds) I decided to pack my camera, drive to Lake Dallas with my road bike and head up the trail to Denton. There, I would wander around a bit, take some photos, and then ride back down.

The start of the Denton Katy trail off of Swisher Road, in Lake Dallas.

The start of the Denton Katy trail off of Swisher Road, in Lake Dallas.

The trail was nice – really nice. There is a great feeling of booking along fresh, smooth, level concrete. Not very many people using it – a few walkers from the suburban neighborhoods… I only saw one or two other bicycles. Still, it was fun and an enjoyable ride. Until…

The trail ended.

The sudden end of the Denton Katy Trail

The sudden end of the Denton Katy Trail

Along the south side of Denton is a loop expressway, the 288 and the trail stopped there. They are building a big new pedestrian bridge over the expressway, and it looks finished… but isn’t.

Now, I know that the bridge is expensive and is being built with the best of intentions. That highway is a barrier – though not an insurmountable one. They do have several intersections with lights – you can cross easily if you wait for a green. Once the bridge is finished, bicyclists and walkers can bypass the highway, walking up and over.

The pedestrian/bicycle bridge over 288 in Denton. It will be nice when it is finished.

The pedestrian/bicycle bridge over 288 in Denton. It will be nice when it is finished.

And that’s the problem. In separating the bike/pedestrians from the city, you make the trail into a recreational opportunity and take away the integration of human-powered transportation with the life of the city.

Presented with the closed trail, I considered turning around and heading back, but I wanted to get to downtown Denton. I walked my bike through a bit of thick woods lined with empty wine bottles and found myself in back of a huge Big-Box store of some kind. That area all along 288 is a massive expanse of auto-oriented shopping hell, with every chain store imaginable. No sidewalks, no way through, acres and acres of tarmac covered with clouds of exhaust fumes. Not a fun place to fight through on a bicycle.

This is what I am talking about. They can spend millions on a bridge to bypass the life below, but can't finish the sidewalks. Areas like this are openly hostile to people without cars.

This is what I am talking about. They can spend millions on a bridge to bypass the life below, but can’t finish the sidewalks. Areas like this are openly hostile to people without cars.

The ironic thing is that there were other people trying to walk through there. You would never see them from a car – but they are there… homeless people, young teenagers, poor students – the shadow population, carless by choice or by situation.

Again, I salute the money and effort put into the trail and that impressive bridge, but fear that the people behind this effort don’t understand the idea of making a city where you don’t have to have a car. I don’t think they can even imagine such a thing.

I was able to work my way through the maze of parking lots and fight past the thick streams of tinted-window SUVs and pickups to finally make my way into the old-fashioned heart of Denton… the area around the square and the roads leading out to the universities. There the cars, walkers, and bikes live together, moving a little more slowly, but getting where they need in plenty of time. It’s funny, the part of the city with the most modern, hip lifestyle… the part that everyone is spending millions of dollars trying to emulate… is the oldest, most “outdated” style of a city square surrounded by narrow streets with limited parking.

That’s the part I like.

I Need a Victory

This is the one year anniversary of me starting up my blog again. I’ve gone one year, posting every day. Actually, according to WordPress, I’ve published 369 posts. It was leap year… I know I published two in one day on one occasion… I wonder what the other extras are?

My first post was on the Monk Parakeets that live in a power yard near my house.

My goal was to go a year publishing every day and now I’ve done it. I think, going forward, I’m going to relax a little and be willing to skip a day if I don’t have anything. I want to go for quality, rather than quantity I want to write more and photograph less. I want to try different things, write out a few more ideas and push it more.

Any comments, opinions, or suggestions would be appreciated.

Pack Straps

My bike with an experimental bag I tried out. The panniers work a lot better.

I carry a notebook (at least one) around with me always, along with a quiver of fountain pens, ready to record any fleeting thoughts that creep into my thick skull, on the off chance one might prove useful someday. Things… things have been tough lately and last Friday I wrote down, “I need a victory.” Then I followed this observation with a short list of attainable goals I’ve been working toward. I perused the list, crossed a few off, then circled the item “Ride my Bike to/from work.”

First, I scribbled through the “to.” I have come across a possibly insurmountable obstacle to riding my bike to work – there is no place to take a shower. I’m working on that, but it will take time, politics, and a budget from somewhere. However, there is no reason I can’t ride home after work.

I have been working on a route to/from my work for a long time now, and have it figured out. The route is important because my goal does not include me being killed and ground beneath the wheels of unstoppable traffic. However, I have found a route made up of paved bicycle trails, wide sidewalks, empty residential streets, quiet alleys (I have to be careful there – cars can back out unexpectedly) and parking lots.

One weekend a while back I did some extra work and was rewarded with a gift card. Looking around, I found a surprisingly inexpensive set of panniers from Wal-Mart and bought the things. They are cheaply made, but well designed and they fit on the rack on my old crappy bombing-around-town bike. I can haul any work I need, plus stuff extra clothes in them.

On Saturday, I decided to test my route. Loading up the panniers with a dummy cargo, I rode from home all the way to my workplace, about 5.2 miles, along my chosen low-danger route. I looped around the parking lot and rode back home. No problema. So I knew I could make the distance.

Candy agreed to drive me to work on Monday morning, with my bike in the back of the car. I set it in the rack (there are about a dozen other folks riding bikes – a pitifully small number) and carried the panniers to my desk. At the end of the day I changed clothes, clipped the panniers back on the bike, and headed out.

My bike needs some adjusting and lubrication, I need to work on the pannier mounting (my heels clip the bags every now and then), and I look like a complete ridiculous idiot… but otherwise I really enjoyed the ride. The bicycling itself is the easiest part – the difficult thing is the logistics of it – what to take, what to pack, getting this here, making sure that is there…. Everything is too complicated.

Once I was on the bike and moving, it felt like freedom.

My goal now is to ride home at least twice a week. On the days I can’t do that I might get up a little early and ride for forty five minutes around the neighborhood at dawn – that would be nice. I can go to the store too, those panniers will work well for groceries.

Sounds like a plan. Sounds like a little victory.

The Great Dunes

A blogger, surroundedbyimbeciles that has stopped by here has a picture of himself at the Great Sand Dunes National Park as his avatar. He wrote a blog entry about it, check it out.

I knew I had two scanned photographs of Nick at the same spot, one taken in 1996 and one taken in 2001.

I dug around and found the photos and the blog entry I wrote in 2001 to go along with them.

Here’s the eleven year old entry from my archives…. July 3, 2001.


I’ve been to the Great Sand Dunes before, twice. Once, six years ago or so, a year before I started my journal the whole family stopped on the way from Santa Fe to Buena Vista. In 1997 I came here alone, on a solo trip around Colorado. I spent a couple days and camped here, and wrote about it.

Medano creek, this late in the summer, is barely a trickle, and right after we arrived we crossed it and immediately started climbing the dunes. Even when we were walking the wide expanse of level sand before the dunes actually start I had my doubts about whether I could make the seven hundred foot climb up the piles of sand. It’s tough walking and at over eight thousand feet, the altitude doesn’t help much when you’re old and fat and out of shape like me. As soon as the steeper slopes started and Nick and Lee coursed ahead, shooting up the dunes like active ten-year-olds I knew there was no way I could make it all the way. My lungs were burning and my legs felt like Jello.

I decided that I could try to get as far as I could, though. I’ve done this before so I remembered how painful and discouraging uphill walking on sand can be – so I thought I’d be patient, walk a while, rest a while, and see what happened. The day was getting hot, too.

Nick and Lee pushed on ahead and pretty quickly they disappeared. Once you get into the dune field closer ones hide the highest dunes. One good thing about dune hiking is that you can’t really get lost and it’s a lot easier coming back down than going up – so it’s hard to get stranded in the sand.

Each dune I’d climb I divide into three sections in my mind. I’d climb the first third, then pause to try and catch my breath. The second third would be tougher, I’d have to stare at my feet and force them to take little baby steps until I reached my interim goal, exhausted, so I would sit down and rest until I felt my pulse return to normal. The third third would be easy after that long rest, and I’d settle in when I reached the top so I could enjoy the view.

By patiently munching through each set of dunes, higher and higher, I soon found myself walking the last slope to the highest dune, and not feeling too bad. I was worried that Nick and Lee would be impatient and head back down before I reached them, but they were there, digging around in the sand.

There was a gaggle of teenagers with sophisticated hiking gear – daypacks with integrated hydration systems and carbon fiber hiking poles- already there. They referred to Nick or Lee, who had been up there with them for a while before I arrived, as “the kids.” One of the teenagers was trying to impress his girl by talking about Lawrence of Arabia.

“No,” Nicholas said, “This isn’t like that, this is like Dune.”

We posed for a photo, then Nick headed back down to check on Candy.

I had a tough time getting Lee to go. There is another high dune, maybe five miles away, and Lee pitched a fit when I told him we couldn’t walk to it.

The teenagers left, then some guy from Switzerland walked up and we talked a bit while Lee dug holes in the sand.

Lee digging in the high dune

“A beeg sander-boxer,” the guy said, in his thick accent, “Een Switzerland, children haf only small boxen wit sander.” He was on a driving trip from Santa Barbara and I think the distances in the American West threw him a little. “Too far for little time,” he said. I said I was from Dallas and he asked if that was over a hundred miles from there. When I told him it was seven hundred miles he looked perplexed.

Meanwhile, Lee had walked over the next dune and was stomping out a giant, “LEE WAS HERE,” in the sand. The dunes are dry and hot on the surface, but surprisingly, are wet only an inch or two down. If you drag your feet it makes a dark line of wet sand, only to disappear a few seconds later.

A cloud blew down from the mountain and it began to rain. “Rain in zee desert!” the guy from Switzerland exclaimed. I convinced Lee to head down then, I was afraid of lightning up on the exposed dune.

“That’s more sand than I’ll ever have to play in,” said Lee.

“Don’t worry, you can play in more at the bottom.”

“Not as much as up here.”

The walk down was a lot easier than the one up. The hot day was suddenly cool from the rain, the dry yellow sand at first mottled, then dark from the falling water. By the time we reached Medano creek it was over and the sun came out again.

Nick and Lee in the parking lot at the edge of the Monument. 2001

Nick and Lee standing in the parking lot of a gas station right outside the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. The dunefield is a lot bigger than it looks, the tallest dune is seven hundred feet high or so. The mountains behind are the Sangre de Cristo range, several are over fourteen thousand feet high.

Lee busied himself in the creek, making a dam. While he worked I chatted with a Park Ranger – he had brought down a special sand wheelchair for a park guest. It had huge red balloon tires so it could be pushed across the soft sand. The Ranger said that the sand was twice as hard to walk in or to climb as firm ground.

Lee getting help with his dam in the creek.

Meanwhile, Lee’s dam was stretching in a ragged arc across a portion of the creek. Medano creek is odd because of the load of sand it carries (the creek is what helps corral the dunes in place, it carries escaping windblown sand back around to the upwind side of the dunes) the stream is constantly moving around in little pulses and rushes as the sediment raises the bed of the creek itself. It was a good lesson in hydrology for Lee, with several lessons:

1: Don’t make a dam out of sand.

2: Little leaks soon become very big leaks.

3: The more you patch the little leaks the higher the dam gets and the faster the little ones get bigger.

4:Eventually, your dam is toast.

Nick in 2001

I posed Nick in this picture at that spot because I wanted to compare it to this picture.

Nick in 1996

This was taken in early June 1996. There is a lot more water in the creek due to spring melting snow. This picture was taken a couple weeks before I started this journal.

This is Nick, Lee, and I, taken at the top of the highest dune at The Great Sand Dunes National Monument. The thing is a lot taller than it looks in this picture – we had to climb seven hundred feet of sand to get there.

The three of us on the highest dune in 2001.


One good thing about keeping a blog (notice I still called it a “journal” – blogs were pretty new in 2001, though I’d been writing online every day in a journal for five years by then) is the preservation of memories. Until I reread this from my archives I had forgotten so many details – the Swiss Tourist that was flabbergasted at the sheer size of the American West, the teenagers with their high-end camping gear, the fact that at ten years old Nick knew what Dune was. In 2001 the Great Sand Dunes was still a National Monument – it became a full fledged National Park in 2004.

This is more than ten years old. Nick and Lee are both well into college now. I would love to go back there with them, pose Nick in the creek again as an adult. But there is so much to do now, so much to do and so little time to get it done in. Everything is so difficult.