Coming back from Montana…

August 31, 2010

Cruised though Missoula, Montana, my sister and I, on the way back home to California. I have some relatives who live there, some of whom were at the family get together at Polson. Just went through for a look-see. I was impressed with the downtown and some of the surrounding neighborhoods.

I usually prefer the older and more settled parts of towns than the new additions — but I’m not putting them down and I didn’t go there anyway in this case, except to drive through some of the urban sprawl on the outskirts.

There’s a vibrancy from the mountain air and the feeling of Big Sky Country. And I like towns that have old buildings that are still functional and have not been turned into tourist traps.

But probably my biggest thrill and surprise on the way back so far was a stop off at Oregon City, Oregon.

Now here is a place I have been in and out of along 99-E for the last decade and more. I often pick up loads of newsprint at the mill there, called Blue Heron these days.

From the mill I have often looked straight down the main drag of the historic section but never had a chance to go into there. This time, not being tied down by the truck, I did . What we (my sister and I) found was the town elevator. It even has its own operator.You get a free ride up the mountain the town butts up against and on top a bird‘s eye view of the whole area. Spectacular is the only word I can find, but that does not do it justice.

We ate lunch at Oregon City before heading out on 99-E and then crossing over I-5 and eventually connecting up with 99-W. I had driven that route years ago and it‘s still just as scenic as it was then. It‘s quite a break from what becomes the monotony of I-5 (having traveled it so often). You‘re more up close and personal with nature and the small town and country life on that route. But don‘t plan to be in a hurry. A trip that would have taken about an hour and a half on the interstate ate up all afternoon — but an enjoyable afternoon.

Soon I‘ll be going back to work, maybe driving along some of the same routes as the past few days.

Go figure. A truck driver‘s vacation.

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The Montana visit….

August 29, 2010

(written evening of Aug. 28)

It was cool and overcast with a little rain today, but I enjoyed the weather and the day even so. Heck, why not? I’m in Montana!

While I doubt that as a Californian I am hardy enough to withstand the coming winter, it’s only August, and I won’t be here then anyway.

Tagged along with the family gang for a round of golf at a local course. Didn’t play. Never have. But I think I can see how one could easily get hooked. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to tell that I tagged along. Don’t know if that’s allowed.

Someone said if you can get off a couple of good shots or drives or whatever, you get your confidence built and tend to forget the rest of them — I could see that.

“The idea out here is to have fun”, one of my nephews told me, adding that you also should strive for not hurting anyone and not putting yourself down range (and I myself would suggest that if you’re with the gang I was with learn to duck). And he said you should try to refrain from getting into arguments — it tends to defeat the purpose of the whole thing.

Both my nephew and one of my brothers hit a ball into someone’s front yard. They threw my nephew’s ball back. My brother had to retrieve his. I guess there’s a limit.

The Golf game over, some of us took a drive around Flathead Lake — stunning! They tell me it’s bigger than Lake Tahoe back in California — I’ll have to check that one out (should be able to quickly look that up on the computer).

Okay, I guess what I was supposed to say is that Flathead Lake is slighlty bigger than Lake Tahoe and it is the largest natural fresh water lake in  the western part of the lower 48 states. Hey it’s big and beautiful.

I knew I had one musically-inclined nephew, but I didn’t realize I had two. They gave us all a little Blue Grass music concert, one on the guitar and one on the mandolin.

I’m more than a year into my sixth decade now and I got a chance to reunite with one nephew I haven’t seen since I was a teenager.

One of my other nephews has designed a portable combination weather station and highway camera that the state road department uses on its projects. I have to say my oldest brother has raised some big healthy boys — no longer boys; well into-middle-aged men now — must be the Montana air. And they are all quite talented. And let’s don’t leave out the girls. One of my nephews has a daughter who teaches at a college back east. Met several other people, family and in-laws of family and so on. All healthy and good looking and sturdy stock.

The only downside to family reunions is that you get reminded that you may have been shorted in the family gene pool.

My sister and I are probably leaving for home tomorrow. Don’t know if I’ll ever get back this way. But if I don’t make it to Heaven, at least I got a glimpse of it. Glad I finally made it to Montana after all these years of my oldest brother and long-time Montana resident urging me to come.


The Road to Montana, Day 3:

August 28, 2010

Friday dawned clear in Spokane, no smoke or dust left over from the previous day and the wind had died down.

My sister and I went down to Riverfront Park and parked across from City Hall and viewed the Spokane Falls — a spectacular sight in the middle of a city! Still trying to make photos with my cell phone. I used to be a news photographer and saw a perfect shot with some wild apples in the foreground and the falls in the background but I could see with my set up it would not come out (and maybe not wild apples, but not a domesticated orchard).

Went over to the Merry-Go-Round. I didn’t go on the ride but I bought one of those throwaway cameras and retraced some of my steps and made more photos.

I kept wondering what that strikingly huge and magnificent castle-like building was in the distance. Drove over there and found out it was the county courthouse. Never have seen anything like it.

If you haven’t been to Spokane — go. The downtown with its magnificent buildings — lots of brick– is worth the trip alone.

Oh, and I forgot. You can get an aerial view of the falls by taking a gondola ride out of the park — but we were too chicken for that.

I still needed the sleeping gear I forgot to bring and some other items. We headed west out U.S. 2, which doubles as a local thoroughfare, and stopped at The General Store. Didn’t buy my bedding there, but I did buy a western belt and a Stetson hat and my sister bought me a new pair of outdoor shoes as a belated birthday present (Aug. 13). I was going to buy some cowboy boots, but the shoes seemed more comfortable for now. Great selection and great prices. I highly recommend the store.

We needed to get heading east again to Montana and so we did. But I still needed a sleeping bag or some kind of sleeping gear. We stopped at the Paul Bunyan hamburger place for lunch in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. No Walmart in town, but the girl told me how to get to Kmart, but I messed that up so we headed east, hoping to find something on the way. I was holding forth with a discussion on economics and was suggesting we throw up tariffs and that by buying cheaper costing goods from China we were cutting or own throats.

As it happened, out of the clear blue a Walmart appeared just before Kellogg Idaho. I bought a ten dollar sleeping bag made in China and on the way back out to the car told my sister to forget what I said about how bad it is importing all that stuff from over there.

And let me go back and mention that the Coeur d’ Alene downtown is pleasant and I noted an interesting turret on the corner of a building going back out of town.

It wasn’t long and we arrived in Montana and headed northeast at St. Regis.

I knew Montana was beautiful, but I was surprised nonetheless — it’s downright gorgeous!

It was an enchanting ride along the Flathead River and the road up through Ronan and up through Polson where my brother lives was scenic as well. And then there it was spectacular Flathead Lake.

Oh, yeah, at Ronan I called my brother on the cell phone and asked whether we should stop to eat or whether there would be dinner at the cabin camp we were supposed to meet at. Found out it was about a half-hour drive and family members were waiting on us — no pressure.

And we arrived. I talked to nephews I had not seen in years. More family coming tomorrow.

This Montana country is great. I think I could get used to it — that is until winter hits.


Road to Montana, day 2:

August 27, 2010

Left the small farming town of Madras, Oregon and headed north on U.S. 97.

Oh, I neglected to mention that on Day One, North of Redmond and Terra Bonne, I pointed out to my sister the crossing of what I call the “little Grand Canyon”. If you haven’t been on that route, it takes you by surprise — all the sudden you cross a bridge and it almost looks as if you are crossing the Grand Canyon.

Anyway, headed out into the dry hills and through Cow Canyon and across the high desert plateau and took a ever-so-slight detour down the main street of Shaniko where a magnificent and quite authentic Old West style hotel sits — it’s closed, but it’s for sale. The whole town looked empty. But it’s a fairly genuine-looking relic out of the Old West, with only a hint of an attempt at an amusement park.

Back out through the high desert on 97 we slowed down as the speed limit sign calls for us to do through the farm town of Grass Valley — some of the sagebrush lands give way to dry land grain fields there.

A man sitting contentedly in a lawn chair out front of his Airstream trailer was watching the traffic go by.

I convinced my sister that we should take 97 on over the Columbia River into Oregon, even though the quickest route to Spokane, our next rest-for-the-night stop, would be to hang a right on I-84.

Got back into the evergreen trees and climbed Satus Pass and then down into the dry desert again and into the Yakima Indian Nation Reservation. A flagman stopped us. I told my sister that the Indians sometimes asked for “tribute”. Okay it was road construction. Only a slight delay.

Dropped down some more into the irrigated farming country and through the town of Toppenish and hung a right on I-82 and took a slight detour through the town of Zillah — I like the name. Nice town — built on a hill.

Then back eastwardly bound on I-82 and we stopped where I wanted to go on this route, the Teapot Dome Service Station. The little building is built in the shape of a teapot, with shingled exterior walls and a roof that looks like the lid of a teapot, and there is a handle and a spout on either side. The service station is no longer in operation. I understand it was built in 1922 as a kind of spoof, if you will, on the Teapot Dome Scandal of the early 20th Century that involved illicit activity in the granting of federal government oil leases in the Harding administration. We did not have regular cameras, but tried to get shots with our cell phones. You know? When the outside sunlight is glaring it’s hard as heck to see what you’re shooting with those cell phone cameras.

Into Washington State, north of the Tri Cities, Pasco and Richland and Kennewick, we ran into a dust storm out of the rolling sagebrush and grasslands. Not bad enough in most places to really obscure vision to the extent that it prevented safe driving, but a lot of dust nonetheless. There was a fairly high wind, and I presume the dust was coming off of cultivated lands that I know are close by. Lots of farming in the area. I have hauled many a load of potatoes out of the region in my time.

Where U.S. 395 joins I-90 is the town of Ritzville. And I know I describe all towns as “farming towns”, but that’s what it is. We took a little detour through what is described by sign as the Historic downtown of Ritzville. If you never have and have a chance to do so, I would recommend you do. It’s still appears to be a going community and you will see what old towns with their main streets and businesses looked like years ago. I’d give you any number of modern shopping malls and big box stores for an old fashioned Main Street any day.

Reached the edge of Spokane by late afternoon (I‘m actually writing these words on 8-26-10), which we plan to take a little tour of tomorrow.

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ADD 1:

That dust I mentioned earlier seems to be smoke now — there are several wildfires in the region.

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I jumped on the free wi-fi, something I’ve just in the last day become accustomed to. It’s sure a lot faster than my AT&T mobile card or even my DSL hookup at home — and it’s free (with the motel room).

P.S.

This is not meant to be an exciting travelogue — just some musings by a somewhat lost soul who misses his dearly departed wife and best friend ever of 43 years and who is taking a trip with his sister.

P.s. P.s.

I highly recommend the Best Western Motel in Madras, Oregon.

I do not recommend the Best Western Motel in Spokane on Geiger — unless you like slamming doors. I haven’t gone to bed yet — but that can’t be good.


The Road to Montana, day 1:

August 26, 2010

As a truck driver, I’m taking the proverbial busman’s holiday, helping my sister drive to Montana (in her car) for a family get together. I’ve never been to Montana.

Day one got off to a good enough start, leaving Redding, California, where I live, that is until we were many miles into the Sacramento River Canyon and too late to turn back and some chance remark I made to my sister reminded her to ask if I had brought my sleeping bag and some towels, things we were told we all needed to stay in a cabin in the woods — uh, no, I forgot.

I drive U.S. 97 frequently, but I’ve always wondered what that weird statue object in front of a place called the Chrome Shop, between Klamath Falls and Chemult, Oregon is. It’s kind of a cross between a dinosaur, and rhinoceros, and a, well I don’t know, some kind of wild creature.

Stopped and spent time at the High Desert Museum just south of Bend, Oregon. Lots of parents with little children were there and a bus load of school kids had just left. Quite an extensive display on prostitution in the old west — I guess a new emphasis on telling it like it is or was in history. But, honestly, if you’re ever up that way you should stop. Lots of interesting things on area history and native Americans, okay Indians. Also plant and wild creature exhibits, inside and outside. And also a play area for the kids, and even a temperature controlled place to leave pets. And one feature that was especially good was sound effects in some of the old west exhibits (but no sound effects for the first exhibit I mentioned). Also quite a display on card cheating apparatus used in the old west — and a pretty good replica of an old west saloon.

We’re not going long haul each day. We only got as far as Madras, Oregon (I think a five or six-hour drive out of Redding).

Stopped at a motel. I had been driving. Got out of the car. Later my sister asked if I had the keys. I thought I left them in the car (something I never do, but). I didn’t; they were in my pocket.

Probably the only real excitement of the day.

I’ll try to update as I go along.


Food and clean water and medical care is what we should send to Middle East (Pakistan) — not bullets…

August 24, 2010

With their Middle Eastern garb, especially the women in their veils and shawls, it all looks so biblical, and what could be more biblical than flood and famine?

The numbers are astounding: 20 million people affected. One fifth of the nation of Pakistan is flooded.

On the PBS report I saw, the people were saying that they were getting little to no help — fresh water if they were lucky. Some (probably many) have taken to drinking flood water (that can’t be healthy). And meanwhile, the report showed, babies are born — new lives starting is such misery. People have lost everything. Their homes along with the very earth many tilled and all depend upon, washed away.

But in my check of the news on the web, this flooding, said to be the worst in modern memory, is getting little coverage. (There is flooding in China as well.)

The U.S. and other nations are stepping in to help. But the U.S., for one, seems to be a lot quicker to kill people than to save people in the region — and that may seem unfair to say. But think how we will be remembered in that region of the world.

There is some complaint that the world response to the catastrophe is anemic.

Certainly, I would think, nations of the region should be quick to lend a hand. And one good thing, I understand archrival India has offered help and Pakistan has accepted.

One problem, brought out in the PBS story, is that we are talking about a war zone. There is concern for the safety of aid workers and the security of the supplies. Years of armed struggle in the area has also damaged infrastructure.

Another problem is that many in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Western world see it as us vs. them, them being their Islamic enemy. Why would you save the enemy? The vast majority of these folks, I imagine, are not political (and are not our enemies) — tribal maybe, but not terribly political in the worldly sense.

Also we are talking about rugged and often remote terrain.

But you can bet if the good guys, whomever they may be, don’t get their act together, the Taliban and Al Qaeda will move in as the rescuers and conquerors.

I think many people in that part of the world would really prefer strong men (and maybe strong women) as leaders over what is often pretend and quite corrupt forms of democracy.

A man being interviewed in Iraq complained of deplorable living conditions and a lack of reliable electricity. As I recall, he said that living conditions were much better under Saddam Hussein. But he did not miss Saddam, because under him everyone lived in fear.

But authoritarians can get things done. Mussolini made the trains run on time and Saddam kept the power lines on.

But what the people need more than Western democracy right now are strong men (and women) at the top who can get things done —- but who are nice.

While I think charity should begin at home and while I think we need to watch out for or own flock first, in such a catastrophe as faced in Pakistan, I would rather see our forces (civilian and military) used for good — rescue and delivering food and water and medical care, rather than for killing people.

We may well need the military for security (and manpower) in the aid effort, though.

But think about it. When the day comes, do you want to be able to tell God how many people you saved or how many people you killed. Does the U.S. want to be seen as the world’s savior or killer?


We need to regroup in the struggle between East and West…

August 21, 2010

I wrote this the other night and due to a continuing problem with my computer, especially when I’m mobile, that is remote, away from a landline connection, I could not post it. I note this because as I was driving today (which is now already yesterday on my blog time) and listening to the Ronn Owens show on KGO Radio, San Francisco they were talking about the Saudi eye-for-an-eye method, among other things, and many people were appalled as I was at such backwardness. Also, while the thesis of this post is that we should pull back from the Middle East (I guess that’s what it is, anyway), I also remember now that in the real world what happens is that if one power draws back another steps in. In this case, the Russians are apparently helping the Iranians with their nuclear program. Even though they are supposedly trying to safeguard from the Iranians getting bomb capability and only helping them to create power — well, if you really think that will be the case…. And if we withdraw from Afghanistan, others will step in, to include the Chinese, and grab the abundant minerals that are supposed to be there. And anyway, now that I’ve written this long preamble, I realize that I was writing about the ongoing struggle of East vs. West, so I don’t mean we should quit, rather we need to be more circumspect in our actions going forward.

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First it’s the execution of young lovers  by stoning them to death for the “crime” of trying to elope, done at the direction of the Taliban in Afghanistan; that was a few days ago.

Now today I read that our nominal ally Saudi Arabia may punish a man who took after another with a meat cleaver and left him paralyzed by having doctors paralyze him, the attacker, by damaging his spinal cord.

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ADD 1:

And we mustn’t forget the pending case against a 43-year old Iranian mother who was sentenced to be stoned to death but who now, thanks to the mercy of the Islamic government of Iran,  may only face death by hanging — she is accused of being an adulterer, something she claims she was forced into confessing by means of torture (well, the West, or at least the U.S., is not completely off the hook on that one — i.e. our torture of Islamic prisoners — make ’em talk, do anything to make ’em talk!

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While having to note our own aberrations from civility, I have to wonder: Why do we even deal with cultures who behave in such barbaric ways?

Yes, once upon a time our ancestors in the Western World did things like this, but we have moved beyond this, for the most part, executions in the U.S. notwithstanding.

In Afghanistan the latest stoning was done at the behest of the Taliban insurgents who were once in control of that country and who well may take over completely again. While some in Afghanistan may not approve of the Taliban action, from what I read many Afghans do — it’s part of their religion and culture.

I know we, the U.S., need oil in the region, and I know we can’t just avoid everyone and everything in the world because it does not always agree with our sensibilities, but it seems we should draw the line somewhere.

I am uncomfortable with the cozy relationship we have with Saudi Arabia. By being on its side we support cruel social practices such as administering justice via goulash operations, amputations and a severing of a spinal cord?

And I always recall that the 9/11 attackers were Saudi Arabians, although supposedly not sponsored by that kingdom itself — but it does seem strange.

There is an ongoing culture clash between East and West.

I for one hope the West wins.

But I am not sure taking the East head on is the way to go. I fear we are being sucked in:

The war in Iraq that is over, but not really over; the quagmire that is Afghanistan; the taunting by Iran, building a nuclear capability and thumbing its nose at us and threatening all the while to annihilate Israel, which for better or worse we are sworn to protect; the temptation for the U.S. or Israel or both to pre-emptively attack Iran, thus threatening global war; the ongoing unprecedented flooding of Pakistan, which adds to the chaos of a nation that has the bomb and is under internal threat by Muslim and anti-American extremists.

It seems to me that we are being played the sucker by our enemies and with the aid of mother nature in the case of Pakistan.

Instead of constantly shifting our forces from one place to the other in the Middle East, we might do better to pull back and regroup into a more defensive posture.

There are far more of them (the hordes of the East) than there are us (the civilized West).

At one time I am sure that the thinking was that we would slowly but surly transform the backward East into a modern civilized (western-styled) society. But while some in the East want to and do follow our ways, a larger number may not.

The Crusades of old were about religion.

The struggle today has religion in it, but it is more about survival of civilization as we in the West know it.

We do face a threat from within as well from the forces of something that amounts to a kind of reactionary right-wing neo-Nazism. But we can’t even defend ourselves against that if we get sucked into a trap in the East.

Right now we are dealing with our own economic and culture change and it is quite painful. And we are extremely vulnerable because it seems our middle class is disappearing. It was the middle class that brought us the form of democracy that we have today.

Technology is moving at an accelerated pace, leaving millions with nothing productive to do.

There is a deep threat to western civilization as we know it.

We need to regroup at home in order to withstand the onslaught of the East.

The proposed building of a mosque or cultural center some blocks away from ground zero of 9/11 is not a threat in and of itself, probably, but it is a symbol nonetheless.

While I think constitutionally the backers of the mosque have every right to go ahead, I would hope some kind of compromise could be reached.

It may be that Islam poses no real threat to the West, but rather some of its factions or some who misuse its name do. But I have not seen enough evidence that such is the case. It seems Muslims are too quiescent in the debate on whether their religion is attempting to take over the West.

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ADD 2:

My newspaper tells me that the Imam who wants to build the mosque near the 9/11 ground zero is now saying that religious extremism is posing security threats all over the world — amen to that. Also there was a story about some American Muslims condemning Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism (they had just returned from visiting former death camps in Germany) — that’s encouraging.

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(Well of course we know good Christians want to be predominate, but they already are in the West — like it or not it is ingrained into our culture, even if you are not Christian.)

The U.S. and others in the West have certainly done things over the decades to bring on some animosity and resentment — kicking out Palestinians to create Israel, as an example (and I know it‘s a long and complicated story, really).

But overall the West has tried to do good, sending much foreign aid to nations of the Middle East and East and all over the world.

Come to think of it, we probably should not have tried to help Afghanistan all those years ago in fighting off the Soviets. In the first place they apparently did not really need our help. In the second place, what did we get? The 9/11 attack on us.

They used to say “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.”

In this modern world that is not exactly true. But there is a divide and we need to keep up our end.

P.s.

I don’t know maybe that last sentence was a kind of mixed metaphor — I just go stream of consciousness sometimes, nearly all the time.