Sunday, December 28, 2008

Looking Back 2008

Many television shows, especially the news and information ones along with specials, take a look back at 2008, the people who left us, the events which changed the times, and places changed. And we all do that individually sometime between Christmas and New Years. I'm no different, so here's my thoughts looking back.

First, I didn't know John Stewart, the musician and later member of the Kingston trio died suddenly in January. I just now heard on a CBS Sunday Morning's look at people. I'm sorry. I followed the Kingston Trio with my brother from their founding to the split, and I saw them in concert later in the 1970's at a reunion show. I have many of John Stewart's albums after he left the Trio. A great writing and performing talent. I'm sorry.

Randy Pausch. What else is there to say, except watch his video or read his book.

Food. I love to eat many foods, and especially Mexican, Italian, German, and Japanese (no sushi though) foods; almost any meat, such as seafood and fish, poultry, and a really good roast and steak; and especially good old fashion American, from Pizza to hamburgers. But this year food doesn't like me, or worse, my body, namely my digestive system, doesn't like food. The tests to date can't find the cause or a cure, only that food, while enjoyable, isn't fun anymore.

Alas, I miss food. There's a hope an answer will be found in 2009. And it left me feeling tired most of the year making it harder to get back to where I was when it started. The best I can do is try, and I will.

Running and hiking. I didn't do enough. My mountain bike collected a lot of dust too.

Photography. I'm better but didn't do enough. I'm still learning large format (4x5) photography and it's still fun. Sometimes frustrating, mostly because you work for 30-60 minutes setting everything up and it's all in the last minute when you insert the film holder, cock the shutter, remove the film cover, trip the shutter, and put the cover back.

And you won't know if it worked - the exposure - until you get the film back from the lab. At $4+ a sheet now, there's not much room for many mistakes. And you feel good about your work when it does work. There's nothing like a 4x5 slide.

Ok, enough of not doing enough. The Mt. Rainier NP photography guide got a lot of new Web pages on-line. I have more in the works or on the list to do next year. But it was the 1896 expedition and the first USGS maps of the NP that took on a life of their own.

The period, 1890-1899, was a very important time in the work to get Mt. Rainier designated as a National Park. There was a lot going on in and around Mt. Rainier, namely a lot of people living and working in the area, and within the eventual NP boundaries, and a lot of pressure to develop the area and mountain.

It's turned out to be an interesting venture in learning about something we take for granted today, and see the history behind the work for its designation and the work afterward to preserve it with the pressure to develop and promote it. And overall they succeeded to give us the NP we have today.

Tying the past to the present is the fun part as well as learning about that period in the Pacific Northwest. To find archive material, from unpublished manuscripts and letters to published reports, is more than worth the work. To stand in the same places and see the same mountain, what more could you ask? And then read their thoughts expressed.

You can read all the reviews and news of the national events of 2008, I've added my opinions over the year in this blog and my other news and opinion blog. Mostly they're just thoughts and ideas in passing. I still believe what I wrote, but time has put them in perspective, sometimes right, sometimes wrong, and sometimes just there.

I'll continue into 2009 to do more as there's always something to say about the news, events and people. So, until this time next year, I'll just write about life as it is or I see it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008

I'm not a Christian, so the whole Christmas season and especially the day has different connotations and values for me. It's not that I don't believe in God, or some higher universal power, all religions and faiths and even agnostics believe in God. It's the religion and all its tenets, arbitrary values and innane practices that bothers me about all Christian religions.

And no religion is immune from the criticisms I level at Christian ones and Christianity. Being a Taoist I understand it's simply human nature and the social contract people create and make with each other. It's the simple reality and simply just is. There is no value judgement of good or bad, right or wrong, us or them, and so on with all the issues that Taoists believe, but the simple reality of humanity.

This doesn't mean we accept everything that happens. No one can argue that people do bad things, whether it's a common crime that occurs everyday in this country or you swindle people of $50 Billion. No one can argue that discrimination happens every day by ordinary people, many believing their faith assures or affirms it's right and just. It's not, but that fact doesn't stop them. And no one can argue that we're all self-centered and self-serving for most, all to some, things in our life.

Knowing it happens doesn't alter the truth and reality of it, only keeps in present in our consciousness that it's ever present. And we're just one of 6-plus billion people on this planet. Nothing more, nothing less, just one of the many. The difference is the qualitative judgement we make about it. And that always leads to the saying, "Everything is relative."

So, it's always our relative. Just don't make it universal to others. Be understanding and forgiving. After all, they're doing the same to you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Observational Photographer

I've always, like we all do, searching for the word(s) that describes me. It's the old question after we meet someone for the first time, "So, what do you do?" And we try to answer with short, cryptic words which summarizes our work to date. Like it really means anything?

For instance, I've always considered myself a geographer by education and a hydrologist by work, but it's really more than that. I'm innately a geographer. I'm a visual person, but more so, I see almost everything in terms of images and places. I see everywhere I go, not just seeing but remembering. I don't navigate by directions unless it's a place I've never been. I always navigate by scenes and places.

Geography is interwoven into my being, it's really that simple. And I'm a hydrologist by my career, but it's also more than that. I love rivers. Yes, I like being there and trying to understand them. But it's the flow of water that takes a whole new meaning to me. As a Taoist. It's a metaphysical thing. Rivers are just cool for themselves, and in and of themselves, and everything about them.

The whole dynamics of a river, the water, the landscape, the river course, the energy, and on and on. It's a Taoist experience. And that's interwoven in my mind.

But then I've always called myself a nature/landscape and street photographer, but that really not it. It was a handy description to use with people because they have an idea what and who that is. But then I found a term which fits the best. You know when something, like a word or a decision fits best when it both feels and thinks right?

And that is something Kent Budge uses. I'm an observational photographer. I take pictures of what I see. I try to capture and present that, what I saw. Nothing more and nothing less. Just what my photo-mind saw at that instant and decided to capture in the camera.

Almost all my street photographs are taken at eye level, looking in whatever direction I point the camera. The same is true of my nature and landscape photography, most are at eye level. I don't usually try to squat down or stretch up for a shot. I just see, capture and move on. Only occasionally will I spend more time looking for different angles or views, but almost always still photograph at eye level.

So, that's the best word I've found to date, I'm an observational photographer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ten years later

When I was 49, shortly after my birthday, I was in the best physical shape I had been in since my military days. I'm not much of an exercise person per se, just enough to stay fit. Partly because I discovered I don't have fast twitch muscles to build strength and my metabolism doesn't allow prolonged activity such as running or hiking. At 49 I peaked at running 4-5 miles 3-4 days a week with once a week weight training.

And then the proverbial bottom fell out at work, they added additional work on unrealistic deadline, and my fitness fell along with it. I ended up in six months later 20 pounds heavier losing all the fitness I had spent the previous 3 years working hard to achieve. By my 50th birthday I was back to about half the running and nearly the same weight training, but not the same anymore.

At that time I made the promise to get better every year and evaluate my progress every birthday, and see if I can get back to the same level of fitness (and health associated with that fitness) as I was at 49. And you can guess the results, and while I found I didn't gain much ground I didn't lose ground either. I was ever so slowly getting better.

Until my 57th birthday when I started losing. And now at my 59th birthday? Well, I didn't lose but I haven't gained either.

I remember reading a story with Alan Page, one of the famous Minnesota Vikings defensive players during their heyday. He said he quit football in his 40's when he discovered it took more energy and time to keep the same level of strength and fitness the year before. And experts have said after 50 the best you can do is slow the decline of your body, fitness and health.

And so for my 59th birthday I'm trying to make the promise I made at 49, to be better by my next (now 60th) birthday and ever so slowly get better, or at least not get worse. Or so that's the new plan. I have no ideas anymore if that is realistic, let alone possible, but considering the alternative, it's better than them.

As for progress, I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Stay warm and dry

I joined the USGS August 14, 1978 with the Eugene, Oregon office. I spent the Friday before starting the following Monday in the Portland, Oregon office with the personnel specialist becoming a USGS employee and civil servant with the US federal government. I was then a "civil servant" and relished in the role representing the public in my job and work with the USGS. Linda and I went back to Eugene where we found a house to rent to get ready for Monday.

My first few days with the office was sitting at a desk, getting organized - meaning getting my own streamgaging equipment tested and ready, reading manuals and becoming familar with the place and people. I spent most of the first month on field trips with the three other field people learning the basics of stream gaging and producing the data (called records then). I learned three different ways to service gages and making discharge measurements.

I wasn't until the late fall where I got my own field trip (Willamette River trip from Eugene to the headwaters in the central Cascade Mountains) after going on the trip with the lead technician to learn the gages and work. And it wasn't until the winter when I got my first real experience streamgaging in cold, rainy weather. But Linda helped getting what she thought was a good rainsuit. And I thought too.

Well, my first field trip entirely in the rain was interesting. I hate being wet. I don't know why, some childhood trauma or some such thing, but I hate being wet. Anyway, but Friday afternoon the raincoat was shredded. The seams tore and leaked and the pant ripped. The whole rainsuit was junk, plain and simple, and after the last gage on Friday I was thoroughly wet. I drove back to the office and put the stuff on my desk, and said I would clean out my truck Monday.

But just after bitching about my rainsuit, and Mikey (lead technician) listened with a smile of knowledge and experience ("Been there, done that."), the boss walked up to me and in a callous tone said, "There is no excuse for being wet or cold.", and walked out the door to go home. That pissed me off.

So, the next day I went to an outdoor recreation store in Eugene and bought a new (then) technology Gore-Tex rainsuit for $100 (remember it's 1978 prices). It was plain and simple. No pockets, minimal seams (sealed), and totally rainproof. I also bought some good wool blend long underwear and an English wool fisherman's sweater.

I spent the next years in the field with the Eugene office being warm and dry, and only my hands got wet. I have never regretted the money spent then, and all of the clothes are still in use. The sweater still fits and works great. The underwear has been replaced with synthetic wool-blend ones but I still wear them in very cold weather. And the rainsuit?

Well, its survived through the four years in Oregon and five years in Arizona before the seams leaked after washing and resealing and the Gore-Tex began delayering (bubbles) on the inside. But it's sits in the emergency clothing back in the Van to use if and when it's needed. It still does a great job except in downpours and long periods of rain. For that I upgraded to a new rainsuit.

In 1988 I bought a North Face Expedition Rainsuit at their store in Seattle ($750 in 1988 prices). It has a lifetime warranty and has done weeks on end in the rain and cold and I'm always warm and dry. I couldn't be happier with it. It doesn't work well in warmer rainy weather but I have other raincoats for those period, but once it's below 50 degrees, and especially below 40 degrees, it's a godsend.

And so my advice to anyone who works or wants to be outdoors is the same, "Stay warm and dry." And I am quite comfortable and warm no matter the rain.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My Thesis

I was wandering around the Internet the other day and found the the on-line listing of my Master's Degree thesis in the catagory of the library at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. My sole claiim to academic fame, well outside, of the one study I've had published, which was an article for "Shore and Beach" professional journal in graduate school for a professor researching coastal erosion.

Both were interesting to do, but the thesis was the second attempt at one. I actually left the university in 1978 to start my career with the USGS in Eugene, Oregon. Since my first thesis topic, the perception of floods and flood hazards in the Skagit River valley, Washington, imploded, with well over half of it done - long story about doing survery in small populations where you need a high level of cooperation and participation, I bagged the whole idea until a few years later.

When I went through college after the service (USAF 1969-73), I started with a local community college (American River College) and found a terrific instructor, Bob Christopherson, who went on to write a series of "Geosystems" text books, and travels, lectures and other publications after his retirement from ARC. And I found what I like to know more than anything, geography.

After getting my basic course and introductory geography courses done, with a few not so great grades in classes I didn't care much for, after all it was the early 1970's and I was young, married and working - ok, nice excuse but the stuff was boring and I wanted to learn other things, I transferred to California State University Sacramento. For all of $100 per quarter plus books I got a BA degree in Geography and got accepted to Western's Geography Department.

On the way to Bellingham, being December 1975 when it was under a 100-year flood, we crossed the Skagit River valley and I was enthralled and amazed at the place, the sheer extent of flooding and flood damage. I wondered how in the world could people not see the potential destruction and the reality of floods. I decided then and there that was my thesis topic, and everything else was secondary.

Nice concept, and it almost worked. I spent my independent study credits to do the background research and get the thesis framework done. I used the coastal erosion study to research and learn natural hazard perception study pioneered by Gilbert White at the University of Chicago Geography Department. When I had finished the formal coursework I had two of the three chapters for the thesis done.

I only needed to get the result of the surverys. I had surveyed three communities in the upper Skagit River valley, Concrete, Hamilton and Lyman, all in the floodplain and severely flooded in the December 1975 flood. Each had about 50 houses, so I needed 30-40 respondents from each town. That was the plan. I got about ten from each, even after followup contacts to help get responses.

I later learned from some people that while there were the best places for the study I simply picked towns with people who hated government and/or anyone like me who wanted them to fill out a survey or respond personally to someone. Several professors said I had the perfect case study, one suggested making it PhD dissertation since I was pushing the envelope of the technique and application.

I just wanted people to fill out my survey or answer them in person. I and the thesis was stuck and I needed a job. Anyway, two months later the USGS called with a job offer which I accepted to start in Eugene, Oregon office.

When I was (forced) transferred to Phoenix, Arizona, meaning move or be fired (long story about management ineptness and dumbness) I decided to get a conversion from being a hydrologic technician to a professional hydrologist. Why? Money, pure and simple. I wanted to get to a GS-12 and higher if possible to retire before 60 with a good annuity. That was the plan and as that plans needed, I needed the MS degree to get the conversion and promotions.

And so reviewing the old thesis I discovered it wasn't worth the time and travel, so I found a new one. Bob Hirsch, currently Associate Director for Water Programs but then a research hydrologist had developed a statistical technique to assess water quality data over time. They applied this to the NASQAN program data being collected at several hundred stream gages around the country.

Their results determined that some basins didn't have any significant or even discernible trend, two of which were on the Oregon coast where I was one of the two technicians who collected the data over the years of the data. I wanted to know why there wasn't a trend in the data. So I found Hirsch's study and report he developed with Jim Slack.

And yes, I discovered why, which wasn't the fault of the data so much as the timing of the data collection and flow for the period of data collection. But I also discovered the coastal rivers were unique in that the water quality was unusually low in major constituents with significant contributions from precipitatioin and that the water in the groundwater system has a short residence time, meaning from precipitatiion to streamflow was measured in a months than the normal years.

When I reported the results of my research which showed we (USGS) needed better ways to monitor the timing of routine water quality data collection, I was ignored. The problem is that consistently timed samples are the best for time trend studies but not good for representing flow, and samples collected for representing flow don't do well for trend studies. The answer was a combination where you sample for flow within time windows.

But this isn't what management wanted to hear. They liked work scheduled, and let the rest take care of itself. That, however, misses the importance and power of the data to be useful for additional analysis of other factors besides just time. It's sometimes more important to have the data represent the basin characteristics other than time, such as flow, events, surface/groundwater contributions, etc. Or so I thought but they didn't.

Anyway, I think it's funny that something I did over 20 years ago has come back to find me, or I found it. And sorry, it's a very dull read, so don't waste your time.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My Father

Father's Day is this weekend. My father died November 8, 1994, just two days past his 75th birthday. In his later years of life, after a quintuple heart bypass, which the cardiologist said would only extend his life a year, two at most, he set three goals in his life, to pay off the 30-year mortage to his home in Aurora, Colorado, the first and only home my parents every bought and then owned, to celebrate the 50th anniversary with my Mom, and to see his 75th birthday.

And the morning after this birthday, he didn't get out of bed. He fell into a semi-conscious state and died the next day. He didn't recognize anyone around him and he kept having conversations with people long dead. My sister and brother's children were there and try as they may to say goodbye to their grandfather, he didn't even recognize them. My Mom was saddened that he, the man she spent over 50 years with, didn't even recognize her. I doubt she ever got over it, until she died in 2006.

So what can I say about Father's Day? Not much because I was estranged from Dad and he was enstranged from us kids. He kept to himself for the entire time we grew up. He was an Air Force officer with a career goal in mind, which I suspect he didn't quite get there, retiring one rank lower than he wanted, as is the politics in the military. When we were in Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, he wanted to be a full colonel, but that wasn't in their plans.

So he agreed to transfer to Germany, get the promotion to lieutenant colonel, and retire with 23+ years. I can't argue with the time we had there, it was great for a kid to live there in the early 1960's. And while he made time for some events in our lives, he mostly spent the time working. I can only really thank him for the trips to auto races in Germany and France, seeing international Formula and sports car races and some of the greatest drivers in the world.

It was at one of those races I pretty much lost any interest my Dad had in me, and really more of anger and maybe even hate. It's a long story but my brother and I were horsing around and caused a pot of hot water to spill into his lap as he was making dinner for us on the last night there. He was taken to a local hospital, but he blamed and never forgave me. I can understand but can't understand. Aren't parents supposed to love you?

Anyway, he was also a little angry at Mom when we left Germany. He was being transferred to the States to retire (requirement). Mom wanted the family to go home, visit the folks (both) and then move to Colorado. But Dad had a lucrative job offer to work in London with a significant pay raise in the same field of security. Mom threatened to take the family home if he took the offer.

I'm not sure if she would have done that but Dad decided to decline the offer. My brother and I agreed with Dad. Having lived in Eurpore for half my life then I liked Europe and wanted to grow up in London and England. And Greg was in his first year of college so he could transfer anywhere and also liked living in Europe. I don't know what my sister wanted, but it always seemed Mom was the only one who wanted to go home.

After we travelled around and settled in Denver, Dad found a job with the Civil Service as an entry level property manager. Over the years he rose to a GS-1, a grade lower than he wanted, but always took pride in his work. Then when faced with some extensive surgeries his boss told him to retire instead. Again, faced with the choices, he didn't meet his own expectations. And in retirement, he rarely did anything as his ailments and conditions simply caused his body to slowly quit.

Over the years after I was kicked out of the house, we rarely spoke and mostly his advice was do what you're told and don't complain. What could one expect from a career civil servant? He rarely spoke about me with the other kids, let alone having done some of the first thing in our extended family or to accomplish some career goals.

He never understood why I went to graduate school to get a Masters degree in geography, and when I sent him the thesis, he put it away and never mentioned it again. When I was promoted to a GS-12 he didn't say anything. Only when Linda and I divorced, the first in the extended family did he mention I didn't do enough to keep the marriage together for the sake of the family.

The last time I saw him was a year before he died and less than a year after his heart bypass. He was so self-absorbed he didn't really notice much except just living. He looked, as they say, like death warmed over, as I learned the next year when Mom called to say he passed away.

In the end, Dad lived with his own demons, from his time at home in the late 1930's before he joined the Army during WW II, and he took them with him. I'm sorry he never learned to express himself. It was his personality but he missed the opportunity to be a father and a dad.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Being angry

A friend of mine lives in the southeast and her friend is currently in Phoenix for a workshop. She wrote me about a short trip her friend took which reminded me of the nearly five years I spent in Arizona and the big desert rivers northwest of Phoenix on the highway to Williams. I had that area for field work for a year, the standard time after which trips are rotated.

My friend wrote that she was sorry about the painful memories, and I had to think they weren't painful, as I've said the experience there was professionally very rewarding but personally sucked. Not because of the rivers, although there were times I hated the work, but because of living in Phoenix, and one other thing that haunted my entire time there. Having to go there and having to be there after promises by management about my future there.

At the time I was sent there I only had four years in the USGS, all in the Eugene, Oregon office with four other people, an office chief, a secretary and two other field technicians. The office chief and one technician had their minimum 30 years in the USGS and were eligible to retire. But the senior management in Portland had decided they were immune from pressure to retire.

Then the news came down the (Oregon) District wouldn't balance its budget if it didn't lose people. And so employees on a list of people who were single and didn't own homes, meaning could transfer soon and cheaply, were selected and offered to other Districts. The Arizona District which had a problem recruiting people accepted two on what's call forced transfers.

A forced transfer is where your "ticket", meaning your personnel slot - every federal employee has an assigned slot to meet personnel requirements for staffing and quotas - is transferred elsewhere and you either accept the transfer or "be resigned", meaning your resignation will be submitted in your place. That's the deal, keep your job there or you're fired.

Doing some homework, these are technically illegal and the requirements for the list of names is discrimination. In addition, more money is saved forcing a retirement that forcing a transfer, generally two or three to one, based on salary and benefits. So the forced transfers weren't about money or people. So what then? Beats me as I've never understood it.

Anyway, the technician, who like me was new to the USGS, was given the choice of Flagstaff or Phoenix, you can guess which he took, and I got the other one. And so I went to Arizona. I was angry in Eugene getting ready to leave, on the trip there and the whole five years there. It changed my career and life, and I still haven't gotten over the anger at the management in Portland about the decision.

And worst of all is the anger I had there. It shaped my whole attitude there. I was promised a short time and a transfer back within 3 years, except I kept seeing vacancy announcements for the Portland field office for the jobs they sent us here for. But it took applying for two of those vacancies to learn I wasn't even being considered to return. The management had made the decision to forget I ever worked there.

I eventually got a conversion from a technician to a professional hydrologist in Phoenix and some project work with reports which I never got to write after doing most to nearly all of the work on them. I also got the chance to learn a new facet of the USGS, real-time data systems and get the opportunity to transfer to Tacoma, Washington. It's as is always said, "And the rest of the story...."

My friend reminded me of my anger. During our exchange of e-mails I used Google Earth and Map to check out the some of the desert gages I serviced and see how much my anger inhibited me from being open to the desert environment and learning more than I did there. And while I worked in and learned about five of the seven desert zones of the Southwest (California to New Mexico and Nevada into Mexico), I could have learned and enjoyed more.

I wore my anger like a shirt (you don't need coats in Phoenix) and never took it off the whole time. I did a greater variety of field work there than I did in Oregon or Washington combined, and much of it in the desert and moutain backcountry. It's beautiful country and I let my anger prevent me from seeing all I could see.

The moral of the story is that anger never helps you and only hurts. Not just you from having new experiences and becoming a better person, but the people around you who see and feel your anger. You don't hide it, it's as obvious as they say, the nose on your face. It's always there in your body, your manner, your words, your tone and tune, etc. You hand it out every time you work or talk with someone else.

And setting it aside isn't the answer. You have to get through it and forget it. And despite hating your situation, it's all you got at the moment. It's your reality, and that's the one thing you can control. It's your choice, and from experience I can say anger isn't worth the trip and baggage.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Day

This last three years I've let Mother's Day slide. Mom passed away St. Patrick's Day 2006 after a stroke a few days earlier (at age 87). Although I was kicked out of the house at 19, my Dad's famous word, "Son, I want you to have a life, just don't have it here.", and joined the military (Vietnam era), I kept in touch with letters and phone calls. I only went home for reunions and funerals. Suffice it to say I wasn't their favorite child (of 3), and as I learned later in life I wasn't planned and left to my own devices for life and learning.

My Mom was a socialite when she was young, and after marrying Dad, became an officer's wife. She revelled in the social scene. She's a people person who wants and needs friends, and her children were just that, children. We had nannies until we came back from England and once we were in school, she showed us everything we needed to get ready for school, how to fix our own breakfast, make our own lunch, get cleaned and dressed, and schedule our time to meet the bus.

She also showed us how to get through life, from cleaning our room and helping around the house with chores. Although she did the work wifes are expected to do, she only liked it when she was preparing for parties, and when Dad retired from his first career to start another, she went to work for her own career, becoming his equal in the terms of position and pay. She also put the rest of life learning on us to become self-sufficient.

When Mom retired, and after Dad retired for the second time, she became a social person again, joining clubs and doing volunteer work. Simply to be around people and enjoy friends. She even left Dad to his own devices. When Dad passed away, and after the estate was settled, she moved into a condominuim to simplify life and be around people. Until my sister and her family moved back to Montana, where she moved.

And can't know the details of her life there, but I gathered from the calls it wasn't what she wanted nor liked, but accepted as my sister was the last of her family, except me who wasn't around and didn't like travelling anymore. She suffered a stroke March 14th and lapsed into a semi-conscious state, and according to my sister, never fully regained consciousness. She passed away quietly the morning of the 17th, was cremated and then buried two months later next to Dad.

When my sister, being the executor of the estate, settled everything she sent me a copy of the will, because I wondered why all I got was the small life insurance. The will explicitly stated that I was to recieve nothing of the family estate. It turned out that since my sister (and parents in the mix) and I have issues with each other, I didn't attend her son's funeral (suicide). Mom never let me know she was hurt and she never understood why my sister and I disagreed throughout our lives on almost every issue.

Anyway, parents are an interesting mix of people and parents. I saw them as people and they wanted me to see them as parents. But how can you when they made your life lonely and miserable? And then come home when they want you to and show your love? For all the guilt they piled on? I know a lot is my own doing, but I'm not entirely to blame, everyone else in the family can stand in line and take some of it to balance it between them and me.

So, in the end, Mother's Day has always been a day of mixed feelings. While I celebrated what she did for me, what she taught me, even though some of it wasn't intentional, and for what she gave me, I can't help but still find my love for her has reservations. The old adage, "I love you (pause), but..."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My first jobs

I was reading an article recently about the prospects of summer jobs for young people. The news didn't sound good since it said the unemployment rate of 16-19 year olds for the summer of 2007 was 35% and most of the new jobs are the obvious entry level, minimum wage jobs. Well, I guess while the minimum wage hasn't increased at the rate of inflation over the years, it made me think of my first jobs.

I graduated from high school in June 1967 (when I was 17) and since I worked the previous summer doing landscaping work for the family and neighbors it really wasn't a real job. So I had the choice before I began college in September of that, which I hated, or find a job on my own. Well, I had applied for the civil service and hadn't heard anything by Memorial Day. But then I got a call for an interview, after which I was hired.

My first job was with testing center for the now Office of Personnel Management. The government in the 1960's used a central test distribution center for all government tests for government and military jobs. All tests were printed, stored and distributed from the one facility in Denver. I would be a sorter and packer at the entry level of a GS-2 step 1, about $1.60 an hour. Really.

My job was to take orders for tests from offices throughout the government, go around the warehouse to collect all the materials needed, such as booklets, forms, pencils, etc. for the number of people requested. We used several long tables where one person would get and spread out all the materials, a second person would check the number and materials, and a third would put all the materials in to boxes.

The first person would then prepare the package(s) so that no tape end seam showed and the last end seam was covered by the shipping label. This would ensure than anyone opening the package in transit would leave a cut or end seam that would be evident when received. We also checked all materials which were returned from offices to ensure all the tests were accounted for by the testing office to us.

That was the whole job. Every day doing basically the same thing, packaging tests and checking the returned tests. Our supervisor did the work if the numbers of returned test didn't match those sent. By late August I had my fill of filling new order and checking return orders, so I quit. They wouldn't let me work part-time or other than normal hours to go to college, so it was the choice of the job or college.

Well, college won but Dad told me I had to continue working. I never understood that logic since neither my older brother and sister didn't have to work while in college. But then I was told that there wasn't any money left for my college. After my brother's five years, his transfer to Oklahoma and return, his marriage and first house, and after my sister's junior college (in western Colorado), Dad was nearly broke.

To pay for my college my Dad, my brother and I split the tuition. In addition I had to pay for my books and car. So I needed a new job. Well, it took a few months into college but driving home one day I passed a small shopping center. One of the stores was a Gold Bond (stamp) redemption store. In the 1960's stores gave stamps as incentive to buyers. The stamps were collected into books and the books could be exchanged for merchandise at their stores.

In the window of the store was a sign, "Help Wanted: Warehouseman". I stopped by talked with the manager a few minutes and about 20 minutes later I was hired. I was their only warehouseman (small store) and the job was to unload truck, usually filled with pallets of merchandise, check it against the shipment inventory, put it all into their warehouse, and then help customers out with the merchandise to their cars.

It too was a $1.60 an hour job. The same rules with my Dad applied for paying for college, but during the next summer I worked extra hours and days to earn money. This included working in other stores, a larger one where I later transferred because it was closer to college with more hours, and the main warehouse in north Denver. I worked there until I left for basic training in the Air Force in March 1969.

Looking back, it wasn't a well paying job, but I liked it. I was in charge of a warehouse, and kept all the merchandise in place and the warehouse clean. And in 1967 and 68, everything else was the greater world I would eventually wander into in my life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My summer of 72

I got an e-mail from someone through my Website after reading my post about my almost court martial, wanting to know if I was one of a dozen or so troops who spent the summer of 1972 (about Memorial Day to Labor Day) working outside of Eielson Air Force Base (AFB), Alaska. I had almost forgotten that time.

I can't remember the circumstances behind the reason the group of a dozen or so of us lower grade enlisted troops were sent from McClellan AFB, but it was the closest unit and base in our organization and being the central global maintenance and engineering unit for the organization. For me, they just wanted me away for a while after winning the initial round of hearings cancelling the rest of the court martial.

Anyway, we flew to Anchorage on commercial airline, transferred to a military cargo plane to fiy to Eielson AFB. It was late May and I remember the sun not setting until after 2 am and rising about 4 am. I didn't sleep well the whole time for the amount of daylight. We had two major tasks.

The first was to remove all the buried pipe associated with the sonic or weather system used to detect, er. monitor nuclear detonations. But first a diversion.

All nuclear explosions have common characteristics, which are part of the actual explosion or material. We had a system for each of the different types of detonations (underground, underwater, surface or atmospheric) and specific characteristic(s). These were housed in ground-based locations, and included seismic, magnetic, electrical, barometric, sonic, and light systems with airborne and ship-based systems for direct observation and sampling.

The barometric system used an array of specific size and spaced pipes and sensors to detect the pressure wave generated by a detonation. The sensor array and equipment are used to capture the pattern of atmospheric pressures changes and any anomalies, such as a sudden pressure wave by a nuclear detonation. This system was being phased out, and under the agreement with any landowners, we were obligated to remove any signs of our equipment.

All I remember is much of the old pipes and sensors were buried - meaning long since not working as they have to be exposed to the atmosphere to work, and they were on the University of Alaska campus. Try removing hundreds of feet of pipe with sensor heads about 10 feet, some of which was buried a few inches to a foot or more wasn't fun. And one pipe section actually went under a tree. It was left there broken and the closest joints.

The other work I remember was installing extra cable for the seismic arrary miles from the station on the base. The organization had what they called a "deep hole" seismic sensor, down just over a mile. Nuclear detonations send seismic waves similar to an earthquake which reverberate around the world. Most of the seismic, B system, sites had shallow sensors, about a thousand feet or less, but Eielson had the deepest hole for testing and monitoring.

Every system had its sensors far from any human activity and far from the station to ensure a better signal and reduce noise and inteference. And every system ran a duplicate sets of cables, one set not used, but then avaiable to simply switch connections at junction points during cable breakage or failure, common in some areas from weather or people, or during bad weather or immediate situations.

The problems with cable failure was common as it was normal to go through a complete set of spare cables in 1-3 years. In Greenland and Alaska the problems was simply the cold weather would snap cables or break connectors. In some areas, like Thailand, Iran, etc., sections of cables, which were in quarter mile length between connectors, were stolen by local theives.

In Alaska we were running them a new direction to the station, across the backcountry around the base and along roads to and on the base. In some cases the poles were only just installed a week or so before and hadn't fully settled into the ground to the permafrost. They swayed with leaned against and moved or tilted when cabbles were hung. Not a fun job climbing the poles to secure the cables, something I refused to do.

But it was the backcountry that was the best experience. It was my first trip there. We used a Nodwell, painted bright yellow with a stakeside bed for the cable spools and extra equipment for connectors, etc. This, also, was my first experience with these vehicles. And they are cool.

Our job for the first stretch was to unspool the cable and lay it on the ground. We did this through the forest, just laying it in cable bundles on the forest floor. And we did this across open areas, which is where I learned about fen, a type of subarctic bog. It's different in its structure, composition, soil, plants, water source, etc. from bogs, muskeg and other types.

It's the water source that distinguishes it. It's fed by groundwater where the land is completely water logged with a mass of plants living in an anaerobic environment. Underlying it could be peat or other material and more water, but the permafrost is significantly deeper than other areas around it.

The last distinguishing feature is that it supports weight, almost any weight, including the Nodwell, weighing in with all of our gear and equipment at over 12 tons. I know this because my job was to follow it and unwind the cable(s). And walking behind it across a fen is literally awesome.

It's like walking across a sponge filled shallow lake. You almost float on your feet. Each step sinks about an inch, feels bouncy beneath you, and fills quickly when you move your foot, like you weren't even there. You simply trusted you won't sink and you don't. And the Nodwell only sank a little more than your foot. They just drove it straight across the fen.

I could write more stories about the work and with the Nodwell, like taking it vertical over a railroad bed (it's rear drive literally pushes the front, and as long you can have traction, it willl climb, and almost straight up), or almost losing it when it decided to slide into a lake (we backed out and took a different route around the lake), or after crossing a bridge we saw the sign that read, "10 ton limit", or getting a lesson in ways to high center a 12 ton tracked vehicle (meaning you are really stuck).

It is the fen that I remember the most, those small patches of nature that surprise the senses. I went back to Alaska in the early 1990's, to Anchorage for a week. This wasn't an enjoyable trip and Anchorage in the spring, just after snowmelt, isn't pretty. And I didn't get to travel beyond work and the hotel, and then travel home.

But I will remember the fen, and of course the Nodwell.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The choices we make

I'm writing this on a Saturday where I'm more or less puttering around the place. But it's also a beautiful day here in the Puget Sound, a rare early spring day with sunshine. And even with cirro-cumulus clouds, thin as they are, the sun shines through. And despite the cool temperatures, freezing this morning and barely near normal with the sun's warmth, it's good enough to open the windows wide and clear the stale air inside. In short, a great day to be somewhere, but home.

But home is where I am, today. I often take days off from life, especially now in retirement - I won't say officially that I also took an occasional mental health day from work for days I just didn't feel like being there. Now it's often a day a week, one-seventh of my life, just to be home and not go anywhere, to just be here in comfortable surroundings and do what the moment thinks, such as mentally wandering in a post on this blog.

And I get to not think, but just open the mind to whatever occurs.

And in this day when the temperature barely sneaks into the low 50's, mild compared to the rest of the northern tier of this country this day, where snow falls on everything and freezing temperatures chill the day and people. And melting snow the river valleys south floods land and scurries people from their homes, I like to feel cold. As I get older, I get more sensitive to the cold, but I seem to feel the need to feel cold to some degree.

When I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, I wanted so to feel cold I sometimes drove to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, to just stand on the edge of time and feel cold. Down to my bones, down into my bones where cold had replaced everything part of my body's warmth. And then I would drive home. I still do that occasionally, stand in the cold day to just feel cold until my body is cold. And then I go inside.

I am always struck with this need. I suffer from Raynauds syndrome. I've always had cold hands, even in warm weather. People always said the old saying, "Cold hand, warm heart." Well, it's partly true because it's the result of this syndrome. And it was triggered during some field work at Big Creek near Grisdale. I never recovered and moved into supervisory and later technical management within a year.

And now anything cold, even taking something out of the refrigerator and especially the freezer gives me problems, where my hands begin to get so cold the fingers begin to stiffen. Within a few minutes, if I held it, I wouldn't be able to have much movement. In the winter the skin on my fingers becomes so tight it splits open under and along the nail, at the knuckles and especially at the tips of the fingers.

And in the last few years it's snuck into my toes. I love walking barefoot, even in the winter around the house or even outdoors for quick chores like the taking out the trash. But now, while I still walk barefoot, the toes get cold and start turning white, and turn bright red when blood flow returns. The issues of getting old, nothing new but it's still new to me.

And I get to putter in the kitchen. I love a nice eye roast. It's one of the few meats I can eat anymore as a result of an overly sensitive digestive system. I describe it as it's not what I can't eat anymore but what I can, all of which can be written on one 4x6 postit note. Makes shopping easy, one would think?

But nay. I love food and I love wandering in a good grocery store, the smell and sight of all the foods. It makes me feel alive and there in the moment. And the thought it all, through the tremendous global ecomonic system of today, exists for me then and there. If only we in America can learn to appreciate what this means when most of the world doesn't even know and many can't grasp the scene.

Because poverty rules the world. Poverty of our own making. Poverty we can overcome if it weren't for politics and greed. Simple human traits. We can't overcome those with our goodness. I haven't figured out why, and likely never will, but accept the opportunity I have now to experience a grocery store. And don't get me started on drug stores. Or shopping centers. The state of the world we have and live in. It should be better, and we're both the problem and the solution.

And so my mind can wander around the mischievous thoughts that happen. Even wonder who left their newspaper. And did they leave any thoughts with it or take them with them.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Court Martial

Well, not quite, because I was saved, but damn near. For a court martial to happen there is a long, involved procedure, from the investigation to the actual hearing and judgement. And before it all happens someone has to read you your rights, usually your commanding officer. And not your immediate one, but usually the senior commander of the organizational unit.

In my case, being in the 1155th Technical Operations Group at McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento California. It was depot maintenance and repair facility for the worldwide operations of the 1035th Technical Operations Command. At the time we were the only Command outside the Strategic Air Command groups with a high priority and classification in the Air Force.

What made us so important? We monitored the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (test ban) Treaty. In the early 1960's the US and then Soviet Union (unofficially) agreed to each having systems capable of monitoring any nuclear explosion (test) anywhere in the world. We each had almost parallel systems of types and locations. It's now done by satellites, but it was then all done with ground systems with airborne and naval systems for live monitoring.

The whole thing required top secret clearances from the lowest level airman to the highest general. I had one as well as many other young enlistees. I served my four years and left, but not without some drama.

When I was on a temporary duty assignment at our headquarters southwest of Washington D.C., I made an off-hand comment to a senior sargent - I was a first year sargent - and he took offense. When I got back to my normal work station two weeks later after being in Germany, I was greeted with a notice by my supervisor that the sargent had filed a complaint demanding I be investigated and court martialed.

Well, the first thing that happens is someone reads you your rights. In my case our group commander, a two-star general stood about a foot from me, looked at me, and read me my legal rights. And then explained the proceedure for a court martial. After a pause, and before excusing me (you just can't leave a room, you have to be ordered or instructed to leave), he wished me good luck.

After I left the room, I talked with the first sargent, a unit's highest ranking non-commissioned officer (NCO) who handles all affairs with NCO's, who also wished me luck. I had a good company first sargent and commander, they knew the situation and the people, and both enjoyed and liked the young NCO's. But they had to follow the rules and intent of Headquarters (where that sargent was stationed and I made the comment), but they didn't have to mean it.

Anyway, after an investigation, there is a hearing. The unit I worked in was technical engineering where my immediate supervisor, a career Captain was an asshole. He didn't like young NCO's. but the office commander was a Lt. Colonel who had served two tours in Vietnam. After reading the charges and the initial investigator's report, he was simply astounded.

The key here is that you, the charged, have a choice. You can admit guilt and accept an adminstrative reprimand or face a general court martial, investigation, hearing and all, and the odds aren't on your side. In almost every case, some charges are found to sustain disciplinary action with the either a demotion or discharge. In short, if you force the issue to the court martial, they will find you guilty.

I was faced with the choice of the lessor or, as they say, bet the farm. I talked with friends, one of whom had accepted an administrative reprimand and regretted it. Everyone, except the Captain, recommended I make them prove their case. I told my commanding officer of my decision. He called me into his office before the hearing. We had an interesting conversation, and all he asked for was honesty and after heariing my side of the story, he told me he would represent me at the hearing.

It was interesting having a senior commanding officer as your representative. He made it clear to the hearing officials the charges weren't worth more than an apology, and that wasn't from me either, but the board. He said he had found a lot worse offenses in Vietnam, almost all of whom were excused as incidental, and not investigated, let alone requiring disciplinary action. And he told the board he was willing to defend me throughout the whole proceedure.

This was my saving grace. Having a respected Lt. Colonel on your side against the establishment changed the dynamics. They couldn't just accept the complaintant's story, since it was just between the two of us, as fact. And they had to face if the charges were really that serious. It was 1972. I was young with an excellent record, no bad or black marks. And while all my supervisors said I did have an "attitude problem" they all said my work was outstanding.

At the time I worked with a variety of engineers. My job was being a member of a team building and testing new equipment, having spent 2+ years repairing the equipment. I had to turn engineering plans into prototype models, test them, and then develop and write instructions and manuals for the installation and maintenance of the new equipment. I also went on world tours installing the new equipment, like headquarters where I made the comment.

In the end, the board dismissed the charges. They didn't have the interest to fight the Lt. Colonel. But they also didn't want me to get away without some disciplinary action, and the most they could impose was removal from consideration for promotion in the next cycle. That's the key, if you lose, you can lose everything, but if you, you win everything and keep them from doing anything against you.

So, that was it. All that was left was the notice about my promotion, or being removed from consideration. I was called into a room with three senior NCO's. They explained the decision and handed me a document to sign accepting it. I read it and asked if it was for only the next cycle. "Yes.", they said. "And I'd be eligible for the one after that?", I asked. "Yes.", they said. I quickly signed the document.

They were kinda' stunned. I smiled and started to leave. They stopped me, and said, "You signed it very quickly. You're not worried about losing eligibility for promotion?" I replied, "No, because I didn't qualify. I will make the cycle after that and be promoted." You could almost feel the sudden feeling of stupidity. I asked, "You didn't with check the promotion board?" "No.", they said. "Well, I did.", I replied.

So I left. And the rest of the story?

Well, I did make the promotion cycle after that and was offered my fourth stripe if I re-enlisted. I didn't, and as luck would have it, I took my discharge. The Air Force even forgave me the 2 year inactive duty required with enlistments, and gave me my full discharge. And so on January 2, 1973, we parted company. I walked out of McClellan AFB and never looked back.

And even 36 years later, there hasn't been anything I've done that's been that tough. And I tell people after a two-star general reads you your rights, everthing else isn't all that bad.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Choices we make

The choices we make eventually come back to knock on our door. We don't pay much attention to most, if not all of them, until later in life, when they're standing in front of us and there is little we can do except realize the reality of them. This is an old thought in human history, and something all of us do, the decisions and actions of our youth played out. But they find us as we find ourselves facing our past and facing the decisions and actions of others from what we did and said.

On my desk is a small cutout of one panel of a Peanuts cartoon from long ago. Charlie Brown is lying in bed with the sheets puttled up to his chin and head against the pillow with his eyes wide open. Above him is the caption he is thinking, "Never lie in bed and ask yourself questions you can't answer." It's always stuck with me, because it's something we all do, and we all find ourselves in the darkness wondering, either why or why we're thinking why.

The reason for this thought? My Mom passed away March 17, 2006. And easy day to remember. She lived her later years in Billings, Montana. Not a place she loved, but lived to be near my sister who moved there shortly before from Denver, Colorado where both of them had lived since 1964. After Dad died in 1994, she sold the house and moved into a condominium. But neither she or Dad were good money managers and my sister had to help her manage things.

And this is the reason for this essay. I live outside Seattle, Washington. In December 1968 I was told by Dad to leave his home (essay about it). My Mom was never told about this for another 25+ years and always thought I left for my own reasons. And even after my brother's funeral and my Dad's death, she never understood why I hated to come home.

It's one thing to reconcile past differences and another to ignore they ever happened. My Mom choose the latter and even after our frequent conversations and my letters she never came around to understand my feelings and perspective about what happened between Dad and I in the years between his statement to me and his death. She wanted to make things right with the family, but in doing so, made it worse. She never saw that.

She also never understood that continually asking for me to come there for family events, because I was single and being easier for me to travel, that I stopped going there for several reasons. I never earned near the income my brother or sister and spouses earned but was always expected to pay an equal third for anything. I was always expected to travel there where they didn't have any of the same expenses to get and stay there.

And lastly, no one ever offered to come visit me wherever I lived since leaving home. They always said it was too expensive for their family, but cheaper for me being single to come there. And so after attending the funeral of my brother in 1991, I told everyone I wouldn't come home again. I lost the best person I ever knew to an early death for reasons that no one saw wasn't his but our father's.

My father died three years later and I was told not to bother. He was cremated and buried in the national cemetary in Denver, where my Mom was buried in May 2006. My sister was the executer of the estate. I won't go into the details why I haven't spoken with her in over 30 years but suffice it to say we just don't get along. And I learned this again, and faced the choices I've made.

Once the estate was settled it took me nearly 18 months to get a copy of the will, to discover I was excluded from anything in the estate. Not by giving everything to everyone else, but by writing in it I don't get anything. It's one thing to be ignored and another to be intentionally excluded. I can't say it really hurt that much because I understood and knew it was what happened. The hurt was being mentioned to be excluded.

And so I laid in bed in the darkness one winter morning wondering why but knew the reason. When I left home decades before I didn't close the door, I wanted my parents to open it and talk to me. I discovered it was closed behind me by the same people I wanted to open it. I'm not absolving myself of any blame in our relationship, I'm just not accepting all of it either. My parents never understood the basic rule of being parents, you always love your children.

They made their choices and I made mine. And in the darkness of the morning I know the answers this time. But it still hurts and still makes me wonder why.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Pass

On May 18, 1980, anyone of any decent age, remembers Mount St. Helens erupted. And, like me, many in the Pacific Northwest were awaken to it, even as far as Eugene, Oregon where I was living, and farther by the sound and ash as the eruption spread throughout the region. I remember the sound thinking it was the garbage folks, but a minute or so later realized they don't work on Sundays. It only took turning on the television to realize what had happened.

What few folks may not know is that another small eruption happened a week later, the next Sunday morning. In between emergency search and rescue folks were busy trying to find and evacuate people along with the many scientists and other people trying to evaluate the event and the scene. And in between the folks at the USGS office in Tacoma, Washington were on the phones trying to assemble teams to conduct field studies.

When I went to work in between the eruptions our office chief got a call wanting to know if anyone had the interest to do the field work to assess the event, scene and damage the eruption caused. Both the lead technician, Mike Crimrine, and I quickly volunteered. We didn't give it a second's thought to go. And Monday the 26th we were on the road to Tacoma to join the other USGS technicians and professionals.

But there was a problem the USGS has to resolve first. After the May 18th eruption, since the land was under the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service and Weyerhauser Timber company, the authorities declared a "red zone" surrounding the mountain partrolled by the Washington State Patrol and National Guard. To gain access into the red zone, outside of those agencies and the USFS, you had to have a pass. I got mine May 29th (photo above).

Since the USGS's Geologic Division was the arm of the USGS monitoring the mountain since it first began to spew smoke and ash about six month earlier, the geologists were the folks in charge for the USGS. The hydrologic technicians, like myself then, and hydrologists were called geologist to keep things simple for those checking our id's and passes. No one argued or disagareed, and let us proceed to do our work.

And so I spent the next two weeks working just inside and around the red zone on the team installing satellite telemetry equipment and another doing cross-sections of the North Fork Toutle River, since I was a newer employee, while the more experienced one were in the upper North Fork Toutle River basin doing the same work. Every one of us has some stories, some funny and some serious, even life threatening, about the work we did.

I can even show friends the few pages in the USGS Report on the eruption where the data our team collected was published, pages 470-477. There was a lot more data not included in the report, some of which was more interesting personally but maybe not scientifically or significantly enough to include in the chapter on the ash flow.

Near the last day of the work, one of the senior scientist gave small groups of technicians rides up the North Fork Toutle River, around the mountain and into the crater, and return. I had friends who had to pay for rides around the red zone - since the air space and land were off-limits to non-essential aircraft and people, so this experience was a joy to talk about later. The benefits of volunteering when asked and working when needed.

It was, still is and will always be one of those experience you really had to be there to understand. I haven't forgotten.