Rockin’ in Cleveland

We posed for this photo in front of the Rock n Roll hall of fame in Cleveland before launching along the southern shore of Lake Erie. We said goodbye to Ohio and passed through a corner of Pennsylvania where we spent one night in Erie.

Waiting for Rain in Amish Country

This is typical of the rail trails we have been riding for the last two hundred miles since leaving Cincinnati four days ago: flat, mostly straight, gentle curves, bridges, more bridges, and a lush tree canopy arbored over the path. Leaves are sprinkling down like gently falling rain.

A storm is headed our way, so we are sleeping under a large pavilion at the campground. We may have to ride in the rain tomorrow.

Some photos taken today:

First Days

Over the years I have donated to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, but until now have never cycled on a rail trail. The three hundred mile ride through the state of Ohio is almost entirely on a beautiful rail trail. And it was gratifying to see all the people using the trail. What a fantastic transformation of old abandoned railroad routes.

We are about half way through Ohio. We are quickly falling back into the travel routine. Most of our meals are group meals and we take turns shopping and cooking. Today I was the last one out of camp. Doc lingered behind to lead me out to the route. We enjoyed a tailwind most of the day.

Over the years I have donated to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, but until now have never cycled on a rail trail. The three hundred mile ride through the state of Ohio is almost entirely on a beautiful rail trail. And it was gratifying to see all the people using the trail. What a fantastic transformation of old abandoned railroad routes.

We are about half way through Ohio. We are quickly falling back into the travel routine. Most of our meals are group meals and we take turns shopping and cooking. Today I was the last one out of camp. Doc lingered behind to lead me out to the route. We enjoyed a tailwind most of the day.

Launching to Bar Harbor

Fully Loaded for short “shake-down” ride today

In the morning seven of us will leave from Cincinnati and pedal 60 miles to a campground with pit toilets and no showers. Bob, who planed this portion of the ride, is a rip-the-band-aid-off kind of a guy.

Perhaps it will rain and flood too, and then we’ll see as bad as it can get…right away. And everything that follows will be an improvement.

We are launching on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I’ll be thinking about that watershed event tomorrow. It had a great impact on me…

Clarie Johnson, 1922 ~ 2021

Mom died during the great pandemic but not before it retreated dramatically because of the near-miraculous vaccines; family had time and opportunity to be with her in her waning months/weeks/days. Great hospice care helped immensely. What follows is my eulogy….

Mom loved a good story. After Dad died, she read lots of fiction. Brother Bob supplied a steady diet of books for her kindle device. As Mom’s vision got worse and worse, the type size got bigger and bigger. When she could no longer read, Bob switched to audio books. As her hearing got worse and worse, the volume got louder and louder. After her stroke she relied on “Alexa” for help. I’d call, and a book would be blaring in the background until she would say, “Alexa, stop!”

Through each new challenge, she adapted and persevered. This, it turns out, was a major theme in her own story. Adapt and persevere. Months ago…when Mom had suffered yet another decline and was struggling just to walk…you’d think she might complain. She’d certainly earned the right to complain! But she looked at me and asked, “Do you think I’m gonna pull out of this?” How could you not love that kind of spirit!

The truth be told, Mom was not one to seek out challenges or take bold initiatives. Rather, the twists and turns of life were imposed on her. She was always a bit anxious and worried about what might come next. The irony is that playing defense in life turned out to be a winning offense. It resulted in the long and fruitful life we celebrate today.

Right from the start, life offered-up the unexpected. At nine months old, Clarie was brought to America from Sweden. At Ellis Island she had to be quarantined: a smallpox risk. The young family settled in the northern Illinois town of Rockford, where there was a vibrant community of Swedish immigrants. Mom’s father was one of five brothers who all came to Rockford with their respective mates. The Lutheran Church anchored the close-knit community as they pursued the American Dream. Through their work ethic, sacrifice and mutual support, they helped write the story of America’s ”Greatest Generation”.

When Mom was a young girl, now with a younger brother, the unexpected hit again; her parents divorced. Scandalous for the times. Mom moved in with her aunt and uncle, and her cousin, Rosemary, became like a sister. Meanwhile, Clarie’s mother and the baby brother moved to Minneapolis and the stage was set for mom to meet her future husband there. At the time, Bill Johnson, was a Minnesota farm boy one-hundred-eighty miles to the north.

Clarie’s mother and her new husband owned a large house in Minneapolis where they rented out rooms to college students. Mom stayed there one summer to help with the boarding-house chores. Bill was tipped off by a friend at the house about a lovely Swedish girl, the landlord’s daughter. Bill showed up for a visit. A romance blossomed and the new boyfriend and girlfriend carried on a distance relationship between Rockford and Minneapolis.

Historical events struck next. After Pearl Harbor, Dad enlisted in the Navy and went to San Diego for training. The farm boy from frigid Minnesota got a glimpse of the promised land, and the stage was set for California to become their future home.

Dad called Mom from San Diego with news of his orders to be shipped out to the war front, and they decided to get married right away. Train tickets were hard-to-get but Mom got one by posing as the wife of a sailor. It’s hard to imagine her at bustling Union Station in Chicago, approaching a total stranger to ask if she could be his wife. Whoa mama! Now, you’re playin offense! Bill and Clarie were married in San Diego on leap day in 1944. Technically, they only had seventeen anniversaries. Dad could only be accused of forgetting an anniversary once every four years.

A wonderful turn of events imposed itself on the newlyweds.

Instead of being shipped overseas, Dad was ordered to San Francisco! They rented a room in the fabled city by the bay and enjoyed an

unexpected year together. For their honeymoon they went to Lake Tahoe and got so sunburned they couldn’t touch each other. Wartime secrecy prevailed at the time, and one day Dad shipped out without warning, leaving Mom a note under her pillow. Clarie left her secretary job and returned to Rockford.

After the war, Dad wanted to settle in Los Angeles. Mom didn’t want to leave Rockford for a new place far from friends and family. But Dad was determined, and Mom had to adapt and persevere. Later in life, the kids were grown and Dad worked for the Irvine Company. He wanted to move to the new promised land of Orange County, but mom didn’t want to leave the San Fernando Valley. They ended up moving, and we bought Mom a wall plaque that read, “Bloom where you’re planted”. Turned out, Newport Beach wasn’t such a bad place!

Mom and Dad were devoted to each other and their three boys.

They lived in service to their family. Allen, Bob and I had the benefit of unwavering love and support. The people at Emmanuel Church became our extended family. We attended the church day school, the church picnics, the church summer camps.

I remember Mom and Dad having only one fight. We were young children, and Dad was president of the congregation at Emmanuel. One evening, he went to one too many board meetings. After a long day, Mom was left alone to wrangle the three boys through dinner and homework and bath time. What could possibly be a problem? We couldn’t walk past each other without throwing a punch, or walk through a doorway without slapping the overhead with a greasy hand. We’d re-enact TV wrestling matches, posing as “The Destroyer” “Mr. Moto” or “Tricky Ricky Star”. When Dad got home that night, there was an animated discussion. And then, it was over. I think they even apologized to us afterward.

And “oh-by-the-way” Mom led a professional life as well. In addition to the shopping/cooking/cleaning/laundry and non-stop schlepping at home, she was the secretary at a local real estate office. Eventually she became executive secretary at Coldwell Banker in the Valley and then Newport Beach. She also managed our family rental units: placed the ads, showed the apartments, wrote the leases, managed the money.

Throughout life, Mom made friends readily…and kept them. She was a great listener, she had a keen intuition, and no big ego to feed. Cleaning up at the house a couple weeks ago, I found a folded paper in mom’s address book that had been put there sometime after her stroke. A contemporary had died in Rockford and it was a condolence note to the daughter. Mom scrawled a message with her shaky hand, crossed it out, and then tried again without any improvement. Then, she must have dictated it. This was such a reflection of her essence: always trying to connect with family, always thinking of someone else, always willing to adapt and persevere.

She outlived nearly everyone from her generation. Today we celebrate and honor the matriarch of our family. She was the glue that held us together. She kept track of what everyone was doing right to the end. And she worried on behalf of everyone right to the end. We used to tell her not to worry so much. Then we realized it was actually her secret method for focusing the mind and staying mentally fit.

Our lives have all been touched by Clarie. She taught us when to adapt, and when to persevere. Her story doesn’t end of course; it continues through us as we write our own stories. No doubt, she is singing today to see us gathered together in her name. We’re so richly blessed to have been her family and friends. May her memory always be a blessing.

AMEN.

Pandemic Portfolio ~ Bike Trip 2.0

September 6, 2021

Tomorrow I fly to Cincinnati, meet up with six companions from the 2018 cross-country bike trip, and launch on another adventure. We will cycle from Cincinnati to Bar Harbor, Maine over 42 days and cover about 1500 miles. The trip was supposed to happen in 2020 but the pandemic put it on pause for a year.

During the Pandemic I took two month-long RV trips with intrepid artist and travel companion, Ellen. The first was Utah in October 2020…

The second trip took us to Oregon and Washington….

Then there were the pandemic woodworking projects:

Natural Edge Coffee Table, Polychrome white oak legs and Aleppo Pine top…

And a new entry door, Cherry with bubinga detailing…

And a dining table for the Saul Family, White Oak and powder-coated steel legs…

And finally finishing a drop-leaf dining table, walnut…..

Fallen White Oak & Pandemic Progress

July 24, 2020

I’ve been working on a coffee table project and my garage workshop is tinged with the distinctive smell of white oak, an olfactory delight that conjures a primal knowledge of earth and sky and time. This morning I read of the passing of a majestic white oak tree, 230 years old, planted by George Washington on his Mount Vernon Estate. Caretakers heard it fall around midnight on a windless night last November; it just released itself from mother earth and laid down unexpectedly. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/07/24/washington-tree-mount-vernon/)

Woodworking can be a bit like acting as God; transforming the “dead” wood and giving it new life as a piece of art/furniture. Portable sawmill operators went to work immediately cutting the Mount Vernon Oak Tree into lumber and the wood was already earmarked for several significant projects. May the hands that work the wood honor the life lived by this special tree!

Five years ago my friends, Sandra and Mark, called to tell me that SDGE was planning to cut down a tree in the canyon behind their house in an older part of San Diego. Fungus had weakened the Aleppo Pine about seventy years old and it threatened some power lines. On cutting day, I showed up with borrowed truck, pumped up the tire pressure as high as I dared, and gave the crew a few bucks to cut a prime chunk of the trunk and crane it onto the truck. Later, I enlisted the help of a student from the Palomar College saw mill to come to my house and the two of us chainsaw milled the log into manageable slabs. I kept two book-matched slabs and donated the rest.

The seasoned slabs (shown “rough” above, about 4’x4′ in size) have now been glued together, shaped and sanded, and are ready for finishing. Meanwhile the sculptural “base” of white oak is well under way. Stay tuned for photos of the finished product which will be my first major piece with a “natural edge”.

Meanwhile, we just marked six months since the first reported case of Covid in the USA. There are now over four million Americans who have contracted the virus and over 145,000 dead. The epic failure of our country and our leadership to manage the pandemic is now painfully obvious. With little leadership at the top and little trust at the bottom, we seem resigned to making each other sick and enduring the economic hardship that results. These pitiful conditions cry out for a unifying vision.

And if the pandemic isn’t enough, the recent torture/murder of a black man on the street by a nonchalant police officer in Minneapolis, documented by a citizen video, has ignited activism on the very deep roots of slavery and racism in the American story. The Black Lives Matter movement has gained new life and has, for the first time, attracted many non-black citizens to learn about and protest the profound racial injustice embedded in our social fabric. And if the pandemic and the protests weren’t enough, the executive branch has been taken over by a corrupt mafia boss with sycophants now in place throughout many levels of government. Unidentified federal troops in full riot gear have been dispatched to cities where they are kidnapping people off the street with no regard for constitutional rights.

The George Washington Oak Tree had a cross and a star carved in the trunk by troops during civil war times. One-hundred and fifty years later, the scar was barely discernible. The tree survived and the young country survived. The mighty tree lived long enough to witness the birth of America, see the civil war come and go, see forty-five presidents come and go, see generation after generation pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. After going through all this history, I wonder why this wisened tree-elder decided to quit life now? Rather ominous. In these unsettled times may we gain the vision of an acorn and the perspective of an ancient oak. Amen.