Stonehenge with Mimi and Kathy

July 1970. On a student charter flight from Los Angeles to London, I met Mimi who was going to spend two months in Europe and Kathy who was going to Scotland for a year. “We have a few plans for London.” I didn’t have any plans. I hadn’t been overseas before. I had my backpack and this was a stopover on my way to Swaziland to visit my sister.

There was a Pink Floyd concert in Hyde Park that afternoon – couldn’t miss that. Then we planned to hitchhike to Stonehenge the next day. We all had backpacks and sleeping bags so we slept in St. James Park that night. Technically that was illegal, but there were so many young people there, they didn’t bother.

We hitched to Salisbury and stayed at Mrs. Turpin’s – small supper, private room, and breakfast for 10 shillings.

At Stonehenge it took a while for the mystique of the place to sink in, and when it did, I knew I wanted more time here. But I had a connecting flight to catch, so it was a brief time at this incredible site.

As most travel encounters go, I didn’t keep in touch with Mimi and Kathy. But it was a fine introduction to travel.


Pepper Trees

Crush a pepper tree leaf and smell the pungent sap.  The world around me dissolves and I’m eight years old again climbing the old pepper tree on Oak Creek Drive. We had two big trees, but it was the one near the hen house where we spent so much time.

The older boys had built tree houses there and outgrown them.  My best friend and I inherited them.  The were two good-sized platforms and two smaller ones.

Our pepper tree forts were in that tree in the middle. But it was much larger when I was 8.

We would climb the ragged trunks to our favorite spot.  We added a few 2x4s, borrowing the hammer from Dad’s shop, and keeping a stash of big nails in a coffee can, which itself was nailed to a joist.  The wood is soft and took all the nails we hammered into it; within minutes white thick sticky sap spilled from the wound.  It had a peppery smell, but not as strong as the leaves.  It stuck to fingers and arms and legs, collected dirt to cover us in smudge scars.  We hung up pictures we liked, made shelves, kept magazines and toys there.

I wonder what we did the last time we were in the pepper trees.  There’s no knowledge that it was the the last time.  Someone said once we commemorate so many firsts in our lives, but often never know the final time we do something.  At some point I walked away from the pepper tree fort, but if I smell that crushed leaf, I instantly return.

Call Mountain Lookout

In the summer of 1987 I was fire lookout on Call Mountain in the central California coastal range. It was a shared position – I’d work four days on, three days off for one week, then three days on and four off for the next. I took my two cats, Ozzie and Goose (named for baseball players).

Call Mountain is oak woodland and overlooks the Paicines Valley to the Central Valley. I could see the Sierras on the eastern horizon – Mount Whitney to north of Yosemite.
To the west I could see the mountains of the Ventana wilderness.

The lookout is 40’ tall and i could park my truck inside the base. During WWII it was used to watch for enemy aircraft.

Ozzie out exploring on the rock lower right.









Looking down at Goose and a deer as they startle each other.


Goose hiding near the water.









I loved the fire finder. I’d like to have one on my porch.

Two scanners, a tv, refrigerator, stove, and a radio.








The bed at window level – windows all around. I could live there forever.

The fog flowed like water making mountain tops into islands.

Sometimes it was smoke – this from a fire in Yosemite, 100 miles away. There were no fires to report on my watch.

My parents came to visit one day. It was fun to show it to them.

I think my father would have liked this job.

Mom and I share lunch and a laugh.

I loved this job – the solitude and the fine working conditions.

Dressed for work; on the job.

The next year, the Forest Service closed most lookouts. People were getting cell phones and could report fires before we could see them.

Spooky Heirloom

Best story from the last family gathering.  Some background: many of my cousins and most of the younger generation just roll their eyes at the mention of genealogy.  But at our last reunion in Illinois we had the rare chance to see a friendship album from a distant branch of the family.  This contained poems, obituaries, and locks of hair.  It was started in 1860.  I wrote about it here for my genealogy blog.

About ten of us went to LaMoille, Illinois to see the album.  My niece went with us, but chose to stay outside.  She thought a book of hair was too creepy.  I persuaded her of its historical significance and she reluctantly joined us in the dining room.  We stood around the table as Wanda explained the history of friendship albums.

I then began to explain our personal connection.  “Our great-grandfather, James Duncan, had a brother, T. C., who married Emma….”  The lights in the house dimmed, went out, and slowly came back up.  We were silent.  The home owners were startled.  And my niece was gone.  We didn’t see her until we went outside.

I took it as a benevolent tip of the hat from Uncle T. C.

News From Home

Traveling in East Africa in 1970s and 1980s was different than it would be now – not much communication was possible.  Occasionally I would see a news story from home in a local paper, but US news was hardly a priority.  I might hear of an earthquake in California, but that’s as specific as it would get – no city, no size noted.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this article in The Standard (Kenya) that mentions my little hometown, Lakeside, California.  Now it wasn’t very accurate – I doubt if San Diego looked like a ghost town.  And El Cajon is not on the river.  And I know that the dam did not burst.  But it sure got my attention at the time.


Fifth grade was a big year for me – I could see! Not that I realized before that I couldn’t see.

I used to sit about two feet from the television. Mom and Dad would tell me to move back. I did, but slowly moved up close again. They’d tell me to move back again and I’d leave the room. I didn’t understand what was so great about TV at a distance.

The school nurse told my mother that I should have my eyes tested. So we headed off to Dr. Root in San Diego – quite a trip in those days from our rural town. I liked the eye tests (still do). We had to wait a couple of weeks for the glasses to be made. Then on the big day, we drove back to the city.

I was astounded – I could see windows in buildings and leaves on the trees and people’s faces. I exclaimed over everything. It made mom feel so guilty for not knowing that I had such poor eyesight. No one else in the family wore glasses. Even now I’m amazed when I see babies in glasses. In those days it was unusual for someone in elementary school to wear them.

On the first day I took the glasses to school and hid them in my desk. When the teacher wrote something on the board, I slipped them on. It was magic! After that I never tried to hide them. I did think I looked awkward in them, but at that age I would have felt awkward anyway.

Zuni Woodcarver

A year ago I camped at the El Morro RV park.  Wandering around the grounds, I came across a woodcarver.  Serendipity.  This was Loy Lewis, a carver from a long line of Zuni woodworkers.

He was working on elaborate pieces, mostly of ravens (crows?).  I bought a small piece; my camp neighbors bought one of the bigger ones.  Mine lives on my RV dash.