fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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still here

Like all excuses, mine are more credible to me than anyone else. Our finite allocation of time has been consumed by classwork, the usual demands of full-time jobs, visitors from out of town, tending to the house and yard, emergency response training, dinners and events that keep friendships alive, and a purposeful exploration of local places previously ignored because “we’d get there someday.”

That was January, February and March. Three short months brimming with experiences, mostly good, some not so good.

Apart from spring break next week, the coming months will be just as full. We have one weekend day that remains unplanned. That won’t last long. There’s a shipment of Prager port to pick up.

Though the days are full, there’s a slowness – even if just a few minutes at time – encouraged by the bluebird skies of the last week. Brought to life by the accompanying warmth of the sun, our California native landscaping is putting on a show unforeseen.

Native landscaping in California requires acceptance that the bounty of spring gives way to dormancy during the summer. While manzanita, a huge island mallow, salvia and yarrow remain green all year, the vibrant green leaves of blue-eyed grass turn brown and whither. California poppies die off after scattering the seeds that will become their progeny.

But for now, the yard is playground of color visited by lizards, birds, bees and butterflies.

Blooms on Arctostaphylos densiflora (‘Howard McMinn’ Manzanita).

Lamiaceae Salvia leucophylla (San Luis Sage)

Sisyrinchium bellum (blue eyed grass)

Heuchera (‘Fireworks’ Coral Bells)

And now that the windows are open at night, spring is real and summer looming fast.


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sometimes it’s the place

I held it off as best I could, tried to put some of my favorite waters out of my mind. In the end it was hope, more than gasoline, that propelled me over Sonora Pass a couple of weeks ago.

Over the years I’ve spent many days walking the banks of babbling creeks in the Eastern Sierras. The first to give up wild trout – Molybdenite Creek and Little Walker River – top my list. This is where I landed by first sizable wild rainbow trout.

Moon Over the Little Walker River

Moon Over the Little Walker River

I can’t think of these places and others like them without an intensifying need to return. These are familiar places become less so if not visited every year. Often it’s the memory that fades. Sometimes nature exerts its will on the landscape.

It was clear that this would be the first year in a while that runoff from more abundant – but still not plentiful – snowpack would make many rivers and streams unfishable. But a limited amount of vacation time, and hope, were enough of an excuse to make the trip.

Sonora Pass with more snow than last year. Still not enough.

Sonora Pass with more snow than last year. Still not enough.

I came in from the west across Sonora Pass, early enough that morning to be alone for the 20 miles between Kennedy Meadows and the Pickel Meadow Wildlife Area. It’s a serpentine road that demands attention, a ribbon of relatively new asphalt that twists and turns, rising through stands of pines to wind-scoured fields of granite before dropping into the starkness of the Eastern Sierra.

Six miles beyond the Sonora Pass summit but before my descent into Pickel Meadows, Hanging Valley Ridge comes into view. The morning sun is still low and the ridge still casts a shadow over much of the meadow. From my vista point, distance masked any audible anger, but the torrent of water working itself into a lather over Leavitt Falls offered a clue as to the difficulty to come.

2016.06.25.6.Little Walker River

The first glimpse of the West Walker River was both encouraging and discouraging. It was good to see high waters scouring the river bed and suggesting good summer fishing to come. It also hinted that there’d be little fishing and likely no catching in any of the Walker watershed’s moving waters.

See the path, right there?

See the path, right there?

This day there would be more hiking, exploring and simply being in the mountains. Contrary to the anger on display as water crashes against rocks, the sound is soothing. Delicate flowers sway in winds that predictably funnel through most mountain canyons.

It was a day without fishing, but not wasted.


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in the air and on the road in San Diego

It was in the shade of a concrete canyon that we reminisced over breakfast about those last few days in San Diego. It was a visit without an itinerary but nonetheless full. Balboa Park. A working lunch and dinner. Coronado Island.

The trip last week was free of monetary worries; part of a package to celebrate my having worked 30 years with the company. Whether it was a perk or disruption, the rest of my co-workers would join us for a day at the office and the celebration that evening.

Karen and I were on the road early that Wednesday, weaving through the normal early-morning traffic. Highways 680, 24, 980 and 880 got us to Oakland International Airport in good time. My past airport experiences had been marked by apprehension and anxiety. For me, arriving 15 minutes early equates to being on time; on time is late. Airports bring too many unpredictable variables into play. I didn’t like it and constantly imagined missing a parking lot shuttle or flight.

We arrived at the airport more than two hours before our flight, allowing time for a leisurely breakfast. It made me feel like a real traveler. I was relaxed, in fact.

And my wife had a plan. Her mother was a stewardess back when that job title wasn’t outdated, but the knowledge she imparted still applies today. My wife would take a window seat, and I’d take the aisle seat. As long as the flight wasn’t completely full, this might, deviously, deter anyone from taking the seat between us. It worked. No more than 70% of the seats were occupied, allowing us to enjoy some elbow room.

The flight was comfortable. The first landing attempt waved off, the second attempt turbulent but successful. The weather was clear and San Diego almost seemed to sparkle.

I was originally under the impression that my boss, the company owner, would be our chauffer. But I was handed the keys. He’d be our navigator. Along the way we were regaled with tales of his family’s history in San Diego. The first relative arrived in the late 1800s. During his youth, he wasn’t allowed south of Broadway. Our hotel, Hotel Palomar San Diego, was just north of the old Woolworths, where he never had a sandwich.

What would be the view from our room on the 18th floor of the Palomar.

What would be the view from our room on the 18th floor of the Palomar.

San Diego is one of the more puzzling cities I’ve visited. Its waterfront is wide open, as most are. But a few blocks in, it’s a mashup of old and new, with older buildings’ blank walls facing a street for two or three blocks. Often, only a single door or parking garage entrance hints that there is something behind the featureless edifice. While development of the city’s Gaslamp Quarter does seem offer a mix of people living, working, shopping and dining, most areas don’t.

This isn’t helped by the many, multi-lane one-way streets. I read somewhere that one-way streets encourage greater car speeds and discourage pedestrian and bike traffic. This seemed to be the case in the one-thousand block of Fifth Avenue, our home base for three days.

If our stay is any indication, San Diego has some of the best weather anywhere in the country. After our quick tour and dropping the boss off at the office (farther up Fifth Avenue), we ended up in Balboa Park. We took a quick tour of an anemic display of California native plants, the headed toward the Spreckels Organ, lucky enough to quickly find a parking stall.

More people than you’d expect for a Wednesday walked up and down the sidewalks. Balboa Park’s landscaping isn’t easily described. From any single location one might see five or more different species of trees. Lawns lush by California standards give way to xeriscaping, planted with succulents from around the world. There was a remote familiarity to it. This is what I grew up with in the San Gabriel Valley.

Karen had suggested The Prado for lunch. (I silently mulled over feelings that any restaurant with a name that starts with “The” could quickly empty my wallet.) Located in the House of Hospitality, it’s at the center of Balboa Park and was built for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. The building echoes the Spanish Colonial Revival style apparent throughout the park, though there is an argument that, being an architectural stylistic movement that arose in the United States during the early 20th century, it’s wrong to connect it with Panama.

We were seated immediately and our server was almost doting. Splitting the entrée, as we often do, limits the choices bit – it’s well known that Karen doesn’t eat cheese (I do) – but we agreed upon steak tacos.

Often it’s the entirety of a meal that makes it better than good and that was the case with this meal. The rice and beans were better than most, the steak cooked well but still tender, and the tortillas were more flavorful than their thinness would suggest.

It was a delicious start to a trip that would end up offering much good food, fantastic weather and a lesson in slowing down.


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factory tour/flashback to childhood

Years ago in cities and towns far and wide Dad had a knack for finding a factory tour, usually free and with goodies. Often edible goodies. It was an inexpensive activity to keep us kids busy, though in the years after my siblings and I left home, it was clear that he himself enjoyed these tours. Nearly every vacation since, dad has dragged mom on tours of factories across the country.

SafetyGlassesGrowing up we visited the Martinelli’s* operation in Watsonville, Calif.; the Blue Diamond Growers* plant in Sacramento; the Graber Olives packing operation in Ontario, Calif.; and the Boeing factory in Everett, Wash., to list just a few. Dad’s predilection became a tradition with me. A few of the tours my kids experienced included the Jelly Belly, Marin French Cheese, Anheuser-Busch, Tillamook and Liberty Orchards (Aplets and Cotlets) factories as well as local glass blowing studios. Now empty nesters, Karen and I have been on more than a few tours ourselves, including a recent visit to the Franz Bakery in Portland, Ore., as well as breweries and distilleries, like local favorite Anchor Brewing and the more distant Sierra Nevada Brewing. I still want to visit the Its-It factory and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie and Boudin bakeries (San Francisco sourdough!).

It’s that penchant for factory tours that had us on nearby Mare Island during a bright and cool Saturday last February. During the years since naval operations ceased at Mare Island and its decommissioning on April 1, 1996, the city of Vallejo has tried to lure new business to the multitude of buildings on the island. Progress, albeit slow, has been made. Last year there were 105 businesses in operation on Mare Island, filling more than 3.6 million square feet of space and employing 2,400 people.

These businesses, popping up between decaying warehouses and office buildings, include a manufacturer of saw chain maintenance tools, a diving and salvage company, a label design and packaging service, a drawer maker, a dry dock and ship repair facility and a marine contractor. More recent additions include Mare Island Brewery and winemaker Vino Godfather. Other small business and federal agencies occupy many buildings. Mare Island was also home to BattleBots for its sixth season.

The Blu Homes Factory

The Blu Homes Factory

We were on the island to visit of the more prominent consumer businesses, Blu Homes. The underlying concept behind Blu Homes is to build homes in half the time of the traditional on-site method, relying on modular design while incorporating technology, energy efficiency and eco-friendly materials. Various Blu Homes models have been sent (via big rig) to over 30 states. The popularity of these homes has outstripped manufacturing capacity, forcing Blu Homes to restrict production during the next 18 months to California clients.

The factory is tucked into a former abandoned machine shop. Our tour followed the amazingly compact production line, passing raw materials area and assembly jigs to the final buildout area, where cabinets, appliances and sinks are installed – all high-quality with options for upgrades. Using steel-frame construction, with walls and floors attached by hinges, each module can be then folded up for shipment. After slapping on some industrial shrink wrap, a module is sent to the home site, set in place by crane and unfolded by the on-site crew.

A basic home takes less than a day to assemble on site but it takes three to six weeks of work before it can be occupied. Various floor plans are created by fitting modules together, with models priced from $150,000 on up.

The Blu Homes model home on Mare Island, quite nice.

The Blu Homes model home on Mare Island, quite nice.

Even though manufactured away from the home site, these are not mobile homes. The only time they are really mobile is during delivery. We were amazed at the quality of construction and the materials that go into these homes. Karen and I were like kids in a candy store filled with delights we couldn’t afford.

Since our tour I’ve been searching for a suitable site. I’d opt for the Cabana model; a comfortable tiny home just big enough to kick back after fishing.

______________________________

*Sadly, tours are no longer offered.


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winter walkabout, part three – Disney and the best pizza

The afternoon that late January Saturday was devoted to the Walt Disney story and pizza. We wended our way through traffic, stoplights and pedestrians, the three-and-a-half-mile drive from Corona Heights to The Walt Disney Family Museum dragging out to 30 minutes. Entered the shelter of the Presidio, former Army post but now a haven of history and nature and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Found a parking spot nearly in front of the museum.

The stroll from the car to the museum offered views of the parade grounds and, because of the slight incline on this stretch of Montgomery Street, a perfect view past the barracks, the main Post Office, across Chrissy Field March and out to the Bay. Colors seemed more vivid thanks to the rain-cleansed sky. The grass was greener. The mortar between the red bricks of the buildings made more visible. The waves of San Francisco Bay glimmered atop that deep, dark blue only seen in brilliant sunlight.

The Walt Disney Family Museum occupies three historic buildings facing the Presidio parade grounds, filling 42,000 square feet. The Walt Disney Family Museum isn’t formally associated with The Walt Disney Company, and less than half of the exhibits are devoted to the entertainment empire built by Disney. It opened Oct. 1, 2009, as a non-profit established by Disney’s heirs to share the heritage and life experiences that molded Walt Disney, his ideas and ideals. Like any Disney entertainment, whether a film or ride, it tells a story.

Extensive galleries cover his early years in a fashion that is almost too leisurely. Extensive galleries cover his early years on the family farm in Marceline, Mo., and his time in the Midwest and France. The lobby alone contains 248 awards – some obscure – that Disney won during his career. While a gentleness pervades the museum, the detailed backstory may bring clarity to even the most cynical view of the man.

A Multiplane Camera, which that simultaneously shoots several levels of cells and backgrounds to give depth to Disney films.

A Multiplane Camera, which simultaneously shoots several levels of cells and backgrounds to give depth to Disney films.

Unfortunately, without knowing the scope of the museum, we hadn’t set aside time enough. I was only halfway through the exhibits, about where Disneyland was becoming a reality, when it was time to leave.

I’d like to have stayed, but we were leaving for pizza. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana to be precise; owned by a guy who’s an 11-time World Pizza Champion. A guy who believes in having the right tool for the job, his restaurant has seven different ovens. Each is matched to a particular style of pizza: a wood-burning oven heating up to 900°F, a coal oven reaching a scorching 1000°F, and various gas and electric ovens that start at 520°F. The right-tool-for-the-job mantra extends to the use of the proper ingredients: imported 00-flour for Neapolitan crusts, Pendleton flour for American-style pies, different cheeses and tomato sauces for each of the dozen discrete styles of pizza offered.

A wait is inevitable at Tony’s; no reservations are accepted and there’s no guarantee that all menu items will be available all day. Instead of just cooling our heels, we walked around San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, with a stop at Mara’s Italian Pastry, a hole in the wall filled with sugary pleasures.

tonny-menuFinally seated at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, nearly elbow to elbow with other guests, we unfolded a menu with three pages of pizza and another of pasta and Italian specialties. Two words stood out: Coal Fired. Below it was a pizza that sounded too good to pass up.

The New Yorker, touted as a gold medal winner at the 2013 International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas. When it arrived at the table I could feel the heat still rising from it. Visually, no single topping – mozzarella, hand crushed tomato sauce, natural casing pepperoni, sliced Italian fennel sausage, Calabrese sausage, ricotta, chopped garlic, and oregano – overpowers the other. We let it cool before picking up a thin, droopy slice.

The almost fluffy crust gives way to a sweet red sauce and seasoning, generous pieces of sausage and globs of ricotta. The intense heat from the coal gave the crust a little char, offering an occasional bitterness. The pepperoni and sausages are counterbalanced by the sweetness and creaminess of the ricotta. It’s astounding and forces me to live in that moment, to savor every bite. It’s clear why owner Tony Gemignani was the first American and non-Neopolitan to win Best Pizza Margherita at the World Pizza Cup in Naples and so many other awards.

Mind and body satisfied, we ended our day. But while writing this I’m trying to figure out when we can get back, if only to try a different pizza.

Tony Menu


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reining in water use

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

It’s been raining here in California; something much appreciated after three years of so little. Watching the drops dance on our patio, admiring our revamped back yard, I know it’s not yet the habitat we’d like it to be but a huge improvement over water-thirsty lawns. About a year ago we decided to tear out our lawns, front and back, and being cheap decided to tackle the job ourselves.

Removing a lawn is one of those jobs for which the thinking about it is more intimidating than just jumping into the work. Jump in we did. Sprinkler heads were capped, a sod cutter rented to make quick work of cutting up the turf, which was then flipped, eventually turning the grass into compost. The bare dirt was shaped and graded with a shovel and rake and a lot of pondering during the process. Hummocks were formed and drip irrigation installed. With only an image of a favorite stream in my head, a faux creek bed was dug and rocks, stones and pebbles placed appropriately.

Although I find it a bit distressing to remove one living plant in favor of another, the over-arching motivation was curbing water used for landscaping. Any new plants, trees or bushes would have to be California drought-tolerant natives. Research led us to the Bay Native Nursery; where a bounty of native plants is inauspiciously tucked between a mix of industrial buildings, open space and recreational shoreline in San Francisco’s India Basin.

Faux creek bed and faux fish.

Faux creek bed and faux fish.

We spent more money than planned but headed home with a few varieties of salvia, a single California currant bush, a low-growing coyote brush, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus (aka white-flowered mountain lilac), soap grass, manzanita (shrub and groundcover), yarrow, checkerbloom and blue-eyed grass. The good part of a day was spent planning and planting. Another few days to spread bark. Neither yard looked like much then. (A big upside: We made money doing it ourselves since both the county and city offered turf removal rebates.)

During the first six months the currant grew from about a foot high to over five feet tall with a diameter nearly the same dimension. The salvias and blue-eyed grass blossomed. Since they were newly planted and the winter of 2015 was dry, the drip irrigation system was put to use, but only sparingly.

Like it does for many California natives, the heat of late summer left the blooms withered and leaves brown. Except the currant; that plant is a juggernaut. Much of the plants’ growth came to a standstill from October through February and a stillness settled on the yard.

Almost a year later, with enough rain to thoroughly soak the soil, the back yard is showing potential of becoming a habitat. The runners sent out by the salvias have emerged with stacks of gray-green leaves. Blue-eyed grass is blooming. Seedlings descended from the few poppies planted last spring have appeared. Their parents are forming flowers.

It’ll be some time before our all-California native drought-resistant landscaping is finished but, for now, they blossom with hope.


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a fall vacation, part two – early dinner and street life

Having found a burger joint on Yelp, Karen and I decided we could stroll from our hotel to a dinner spot. An earlier-than-expected arrival in San Pedro allowed time to get a few kinks out and unpack, and a walk would be welcome relief after six hours in the little CR-Z.

Cruise.2015.09.Union Sign Bunz

Clearly a port town.

There’s no denying San Pedro’s connection to the sea. It’s on the south side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, with two sides directly adjacent to Pacific Ocean. Now a working class community (it’s within the city of Los Angeles), it has roots in the fishing industry and from 1919 to 1940 was home to the United States Battle Fleet. The battleship USS Iowa (BB-61) remains in San Pedro as a museum ship.

Walking the streets of any city offers an upfront education of both the neighborhoods and the people who live there. The character of the local area was revealed as we walked the six blocks from our hotel to Bunz Gourmet Hamburgers. (Yes, “gourmet” is thrown around a lot in the culinary world and I’m always skeptical, but we do love our hamburgers.)

A couple of blocks away from the hotel, a strip shopping center partially revealed the character of this neighborhood. At one end, you could get some money at a check cashing store and with that cash you could step a door down to purchase vapes and/or medical marijuana, get a tattoo and, if inclined, buy lingerie (not the Victoria’s Secret kind). Buildings in the next block were occupied by a liquor store and a vacant car wash. Across the street were three national fast food chain restaurants. One more block down was another marijuana dispensary. This was the theme on this stretch of Gaffey Street.

Just down the street from the hotel, where one could cash their paycheck, pick up some vapes and medical marijuana, get a tattoo and some lingerie.

All what you need.

Bunz Gourmet Hamburgers is a about half a block off Gaffey, down Fifth Street, in a nondescript stucco building painted an adobe pink color. Tucked between apartment buildings and homes now used for commercial enterprises and medical offices, Bunz is one of two tenants in what appears to originally have been a dedicated retail building. While signs clearly point out the restaurant, the space occupying the other side of the building was devoid of any indicator as to its purpose. It was dominated by the type of plate glass windows that formerly displayed wares for sale but now obscured by curtains.

Bunz and the suspicious co-tenant.

Bunz and the suspicious co-tenant.

Bunz is decidedly a neighborhood joint, small and focused. The menu is easy to figure out, with plenty of options for building a burger. The easy-going atmosphere is aided by a fun music selection and friendly service. Our order placed, we took seats at a table outside, watching the world go by as we waited.

Karen could see the other side of the building. It seemed vacant. Until someone walked up to the door, went in, and walked out a few minutes later.

Then a young woman hopped out of her car with a dour look on her face. She took her young daughter into Bunz, where one of the wait staff gave the girl a drink while mom went next door. The woman emerged with a smile on her face. This pattern would repeat, every two to five minutes, the entire time we ate lunch. Thankfully there was a light breeze that allowed us to eat relatively odor free.

Then we got a whiff – urban skunk.

Thankfully, the wind had shifted by the time our burgers arrived. “The Paradise” for me, loaded with pineapple, bacon and teriyaki sauce, and it was pretty fantastic. For Karen it was a basic burger, the “control” by which she judges all burger makers. The burgers were good and the fries close to excellent.

The walk back to the hotel was interrupted by a stop at a local doughnut place, ‘cause doughnuts can be dessert. Racks displayed all varieties of doughnuts and related sweet pastries, but some lonely cronuts caught our eye. There was nothing but empty air behind the counter, and Karen called out quite a few times before an older woman appeared. We inquired about the cronuts only to be assaulted by the woman’s brutal honesty that they probably weren’t the best choice this late in the day. Intent on not leaving without sugared dough, we settled on half a dozen mini doughnuts that disappeared before we returned to the hotel.

Being that we were on vacation, we spend some time that evening at Jackson’s Place, a fun little lounge that offers beer, wine and table top games. Though only three blocks east of the old neighborhood surrounding Bunz, Jackson’s Place is closer to the port and on the edge of San Pedro’s historic downtown, which seems to be undergoing a revitalization effort. Buildings in the area show a mix of updated architecture designed to echo the history of the area and buildings clearly in need of repair, while established trees and new street lamps line the streets.

Being on vacation when others aren’t, particularly in a town that’s not a vacation destination, can be odd. Only a handful of people were scattered about Jackson’s, lending a low-key feeling to the place. That’s not to complain; we got more than a fair share of the bartender’s attention. After a few games of Uno, it was back to the room to sleep.

The next day our ship would sail.