We Were Eight

This is a short story I wrote for the Bookshop Santa Cruz 20th Annual short story contest. First time I’ve ever entered a competition like that. I entered it on the deadline date, Feb. 15, 2023. The judging was on March 30, 2023. My youngest child, ten years old for another few weeks urged me to write an entry. How could I let her down? So I did it. The two of us were having such a hard time being patient and waiting. On the thirtieth and every day after that I would check my emails and the bookshop website to see if they had announced the winners. Well yesterday they made their announcement… the first three place winners. We were disappointed. I read them online. The first was a retelling of a story that has been written and published many times. We had read a children’s book with woodblock prints that told the same story in a different voice. So I was confused. The entries were supposed to be original works of fiction. I don’t want to sound like a sore loser, but I am struggling to understand how “Wind Phone” is an original work. It read like something someone would have written in the comments section in response to one of the other previously published pieces on the same subject… the telephone booth that a grieving Japanese man made as a tribute and a way to deal with the grief of losing so many in the Tsunami in Otsuchi Japan in 2011. I should leave it to the readers to decide that for themselves.

Anyway, here is the story I entered. I hope you enjoy it.

We Were Eight

My words stayed on the playground after recess. I could still hear them playing exuberant and free, uninhibited, almost laughing. Meanwhile the springy restless bodies of my friends and I couldn’t quite settle into our hard desk seats, fidgeting. We were eight years old and already knew better than the grownups that it was folly to expect us to settle neatly into rows and a quiet receptive state so quickly after the chaotic liberty they had just interrupted.

I had watched my mom folding sheets a hundred times, pull the hot jumbled tangle out of the dryer and silently, serenely transform that mayhem into a tidy stack of sheets in minutes. That was a basket of sheets. We were nothing like that. We had imagination, ideas. We were made to move. How come our teacher wanted to fold us and stuff us into a basket right after recess?

Charlie Martin was making a little bit of noise in the desk behind mine. He was folding paper. Miss Sample was talking about something. Who knows what. Fifty years later I sure don’t. But I do remember the feeling when Charlie’s paper airplane hit me in the back of the head. It was a light crisp impact. Better than the time he’d used a pencil and the point had gone through my skin and made me bleed. I wanted to laugh. It made me happy. Just a little sign from behind the periphery of my vision that another kid was thinking about me and dared to show me.

Miss Sample had another interpretation. I’m not saying she was wrong. But she really didn’t understand what was important in life. Neither did Mr. Barker, the principal. When he talked to Charlie and me that day about paying attention and respecting adults we knew it was bad advice. We understood that he was giving us a recipe on how to turn out just like him. He was really good at making kids feel small and insignificant, turning them off from the fun of school. We determined to be sure that was never going to happen to us.

Miss Sample droned about stuff that would be forgotten before my head hit the pillow that night, while Charlie Martin, through his actions made a lasting mark. And I’m not talking about the pencil scar. On the bus after school he showed me how he’d creased the paper just so, carefully aligned, symmetrical. I imitated his design as best I could. His stop was before mine and I saw him send his new glider off into flight as the driver ground the gears lurching jerkily away. It was a clumsy insult to the lilting grace of Charlie’s sailing handiwork.

My imitation flew! It left my hand without bursting into flames! Sure it spiraled wildly, nosing hard into the soft ground a few feet from where I stood, but I surveyed my creation proudly. That pitiful unbalanced disaster in the dirt had just given me my birth as an aviator. Sad as it sounds now it was a triumph then. I picked it up and pitched it at the clouds again and again. Then I ran home and sputtered the news to my mom.

“It flew! I made it. And it flew!”. Mom hugged me and fed me a peanut butter and jam sandwich with milk and listened. She didn’t care about paper planes. The interest in her expression, nodding and smiling, watching my hands fold and smooth a flat rectangle of letter stock was full of love. She knew what was important. And when I was with her I knew it too.

One day Charlie brought a book to school. We were allergic to books. This was different though. It was a book all about paper planes. We tried them all. We read it cover to cover. A first. We were focused and worked diligently. Inside my desk became a hangar for my fleet. Different shapes. Different types of paper. Slow planes, fast planes, loopers. For the first time I would open my desk with pride.

Tragedy struck the day Miss Sample stood between Charlie’s desk and mine and made us take our airplanes out and put them in the wastebasket. Right in front of all the other kids, I cried. Charlie seethed silently. I rubbed my puffy eyes. Charlie steeled his and locked them on Miss Sample. She turned away from him so fast. She seemed to lose her balance for just a second. Was she scared? Of an eight year old kid? He never broke that hot beam as he emptied his desk.

After I dropped my last plane in the bin I slumped back into my seat. Not Charlie. When he picked up his final plane he held it above his head and crushed it in his small hand. From the full height of his outstretched arm he released it and it tumbled down from his raised fist coming to rest atop the discarded fleet. I thought that bit of bravado was brilliant! What a punctuation mark! He wasn’t done. Without hesitation he took his math book and dropped it in. Then his reading book, his spelling list, pencils, ruler, crayons, every last thing from his desk went into that bin. Then he sat down.

Charlie missed a week of school after that. “It is for your own good”, we were told. “You’re never going to amount to anything if you cannot learn to follow rules”, we heard it more than once. “Mr. Barker has his eye on you”. What went through our heads was, “Who is it that doesn’t seem to be learning anything?”. We were learning what it took to break the tethers that hold us to the ground, if only for a short time. It was far from clear to us then, but by their example these grown-ups were planting the seeds that shaped our young minds as we grew, in ways they had not foreseen.

In my headset I hear the words, “Airbus 3545Kilo you are clear for takeoff on runway 27”. As I ease the throttles forward and feel the jet engines respond with a controlled roar I am transported back to that time when I folded that first paper airplane with Charlie Martin on the seat of the bus. I think of his dramatic flare, crushing his paper glider overhead in second grade and chuckle imagining the powerful persuasiveness his arguments must carry in the courtroom nowadays where he litigates for plaintiffs hurt by bad products and corporate malfeasance. I’d say we learned more from them than we gave Miss Sample and Mr. Barker credit for. Though it certainly wasn’t what they wanted nor what we imagined when we were eight.

In Response to Emily Oster of the Atlantic

I know the internet has exploded with responses to Emily Oster’s article “Let’s declare a Pandemic Amnesty”. Dr.John Campbell posted the first commentary I saw on his youtube channel. I wanted to link to it below, but I can’t find it on his channel anymore. In fact this Goat Rodeo is mainly links to commentary that I believe needs to be heard. I don’t agree with every word, but the reminders of the atrocities are important. So many people have picked her nonsense apart so well, I don’t feel obligated to do the deconstructing all over again. I’m sure I will have some thoughts needing expression in my own words too , but let’s start with some videos and articles by others:









If you have so much as sampled the above links you will get where I am coming from. Terrible things were said and done to people who were trying to bring a voice of reason to the Covid mismanagement. As I mentioned in the previous Goat Rodeo Dr’s Jay Battacharia of Stanford, Martin Kulldorff of Harvard and Sunetra Gupta of Oxford were attacked and called Fringe epidemiologists in an effort to discredit the different plan they laid out in the Great Barrington Declaration. https://gbdeclaration.org/. This was a roadmap for a different, and far more intelligent pathway to rein in the galloping advance of Covid-19. They were joined in signing the declaration by over a thousand other highly credentialed doctors and scientists. But Their reputations were deliberately trashed by Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci. There is no excuse for what was done. The damage done to America and the world. The pain and suffering. The anguish of those who died alone needlessly, The despair of those who took their own lives, the confusion and in-fighting caused by the lies started at the top and amplified via senseless media hyped coverage. The denial of access to inexpensive effective early treatments. The prolongation of the pandemic. The rise of multiplicity of variants of Sars-CoV-2 virus all were known about or predicted early on, but were not permitted to be spoken of. The loss of jobs, of homes, of businesses of friends. The government collusion with social media moguls to crush independent thought and ideas were all unnecessary and never aimed at improving public health. What was done was about control. That is becoming more obvious by the day. This plea for Amnesty is a first glimpse of an admission of wrongdoing. But it is a thin and limited hangout.

What was done has been on a scale that is hard to fathom. An ordinary person can not begin to contemplate what depravity must reside within the minds of those who would perpetrate such crimes upon the entire world. It is too dark. Too Evil to even ponder. I know this by the reactions I get when I try to get good people to face the idea that this was something that was done to us and never for own good.

I echo the sentiment that the most important thing now is to carefully move forward in a way that ensures Nothing like this is ever done again. Never again. The rotten roots of power that corrupts must be pulled up. The branches must be cut back. Those responsible must atone and never be let near the levers of control again as long as they live. The wrongs we have suffered must not be forgotten. Forgiveness … it is hard to imagine when I remember mothers arrested in front of their small children because they took them to an outdoor park… when I revisit the times I had to keep family members out of the ED where their loved one really needed their presence and they needed to be able to be there for their mother or father or wife or son who was scared and suffering… when I think of Emmanual Macron saying we must make it difficult for the unvaccinated… when I think of Jacinda Ardern saying, “Yup. That is what it is.” When she was asked if her plan wasn’t to create a divided society where those who had complied and taken the shots would be the privileged class and those who had declined the experimental mRNA products would be second class citizens, recipients of institutionalized discrimination and targeted by government policies designed to make them suffer. Forgiving these people is a lot to ask. If they had consciences I would ask “Can they forgive themselves?”, but I think they must not be equipped with that human sense, the conscience. I hope I can access mine.

If it’s True

Note on Self Censorship:

I have been grappling with the ideas I am going to talk about in this Goat Rodeo for a long time. I have been turning them over and over in my head. But I have not had the courage to go public with my line of questioning. Why not? What has kept me from sharing? These are just ideas and questions after all. You can take them or leave them. Well, for one I have seen how sharply criticized those people are who have had the courage to question, to expose ideas to the public that run afoul of what we are being told to think and believe. For the most part I don’t care. But I do care deeply about my family, my friends, my colleagues, and honestly you are my audience for the Goat Rodeo. So I have been imposing a self-censorship on opening up what may be a can of worms. It has been bothering me that I have done this. In so doing I have been dishonest with myself… put a gag on ideas that should and must be brought out into the light and spoken about. Debated. I welcome that. It’s time for the Goat Rodeo to get real.

Here goes.

What if the pandemic started with a leak from a lab? That would mean people were actively involved in developing a virus with artificially created features making it more dangerous to humans. If that is true, as seems to be the prevailing hypothesis now, then one of two things happened. Just two. It escaped accidentally. Or It was released intentionally.

If an accidental leak was the cause of the utter meltdown of free societies and has led to the blindfolded wrecking ball approach to public health that has been imposed upon us… and now, after more than two years the architects of our response have obviously been a failure to control the spread of the disease and have been responsible for untold economic, psychological and physical damage to millions if not billions of people. Those responsible should be identified and held to account. Whoever was working on corona viruses in a lab from which they could accidentally leak should be called out and made to answer for their part in this. Recklessness in a setting where the consequences are this dire really ought to merit a tenacious investigation. If “We’re all in this together”, (remember that slogan?) I would expect a unified voice, rising in pitch and volume demanding an inquiry into the origins of SARS-Cov-2. Wouldn’t you? But I don’t hear that. There was a farcical shim-sham investigation fronted by Peter Daszak over a year ago, but that was shown to be nothing more than a distraction. Why? Maybe we’re not all in it together after all. In fact I can say for sure that an appalling cleft has been riven through the heart of our society and, as a people, we are more distantly divided than at any time I can remember.

Why was Anthony Fauci’s first action to have a secret teleconference with Jeremy Farrar of Britain’s Wellcome Trust and a few other select individuals when on February 1, 2020 a conclusion by Kristian Anderson, and others, that the virus genome was, “Inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory”, suggesting rather that it could have been the product of genetic engineering… of lab origin. They went into damage control mode right from the outset. The decision was made to crush any notion of a lab origin and form a lockstep PR juggernaut with the message that the only scientifically tolerable hypothesis was zoonotic escape.

If Sars-Cov-2 was intentionally loosed on the public we have a much larger problem. Any argument there? The question is: Can we rule this possibility out? Think about that for a moment. I don’t mean simply dismiss the idea out of hand and slam the steel doors shut. Sure the very idea is so disgusting and repugnant to decent human beings that it should be inconceivable. Sadly it is conceivable and in some think tank somewhere it has already been pondered and the pros and cons weighed out and the and the cost vs profitability has been calculated. That is the nature of the work some people do. If you or I or anyone we know can think of it you can bet those dark schemers already have. So I am asking seriously, “Is it possible to say with certainty that the pandemic was not intentionally started?”. Please show me the proof. That’s what I’m asking for here. We need to see solid evidence that can put that concern to rest once and for all. To prove that the pandemic was NOT planned. Don’t just sit back on your comfy couch and say, “Conspiracy Theory”, “Misinformation”. Really confront, even embrace the question: Could this entire Covid worldwide phenomenon have been an orchestrated program? I know you want to say, “No”. So do I. But how can we be sure? Viewing the notion of such utter depravity with revulsion so strong it makes one recoil and abandon that avenue of inquisition is not the same as proof.

If it is true that SARS-COV-2 was developed in the lab AND intentionally released (I’m not saying it was. Just what if) then isn’t it also possible, likely even that those responsible for the development of that virus would have the jump on everyone else in developing and promoting a “Vaccine”? That would seem to be the next logical step if this was planned. What are the implications of this if it’s true? Think of who started promoting the line that this would only end when everyone in the world had been vaccinated. This statement surely started making the rounds long before it would have been scientifically prudent to assume anyone would be able to develop a vaccine. This is especially noteworthy given the fact that no vaccine had ever been successfully developed against a Corona Virus. Ever. But decades of sweat had been spent in that effort. Could the profit motive, or social control motives be strong enough for nefarious actors to pull the trigger on such a scheme?

What if it is true that there have been effective early treatments all along and they were suppressed and prohibited? If that is true (and there is an abundance of evidence to show that it is) then Moderna, Pfizer and J&J would not have been able to get Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for their Covid “Vaccines”. In order to get that EUA classification there must have been no other effective treatment. Why would anyone suppress life-saving treatment? Especially during a global pandemic. Why were certain medications banned from use for Covid-19 when multiple credible sources from all around the world were reporting and continue to insist that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of lives could have been saved if these treatments hadn’t been suppressed? Turn that idea over in your head. Why would any person or group do that? (Hint: You will have to think like a psychopath).

What if the “vaccines” were the objective all along. When you take a step back from it all and look at the way the narrative has played out it really looks like getting shots in arms of everyone on earth has been a primary objective since the Covid narrative from the outset. “Wait for the vaccine” implies a certainty it would be able to be mass produced. That would have to be called a Wild Assumption. Then, “Everyone Must Get the vaccine” became a despotic and tyrannical dictate. A dividing line was drawn based on an individual’s personal decision to take the shots or not. Enough people had decided Not to risk taking these inadequately tested experimental genetic products so mandates, shaming, institutionalized and media driven discrimination and segregation followed. Disruption of social networks, loss of friends rifts within families and loss of employment resulted. Isolation was imposed upon people but we humans are social in our deepest nature. Isolation is injurious to a person in very real ways. Prolonged isolation is used as a form of torture.

What if the shots are injuring people? Did the vaccine makers know about it before mass marketing their products? Was there anything in the abbreviated trials that would have shown this? If not, then why did CDC try to hide the trial data for 75 years? Why did health freedom advocates have to sue the government repeatedly in order to have their FOIA requests begrudgingly granted? Why is there such push-back when it comes to looking at the VAERS data, the V-Safe data, the UK Yellow Card data, all the post market surveillance systems that are tasked with monitoring signals of injuries and deaths in temporal proximity to the shots? How is anyone comfortable with over 4,000,000 reports to VAERS of adverse events from these vaccines? How does anyone with a conscience shrug that off?

Imagine if the media was used as a tool to direct and shape the public’s conception, beliefs and fears about Covid-19. It shouldn’t take much imagination, even for the imaginatively impaired among us. What if the New York Times, Washington Post, the Lancet, Nature, CNN MSNBC, FOX, NPR and others all ran similar stories to ramp up fear of Corona Virus Death and direct the public’s attention away from the promise shown by repurposed drugs and quell concerns about the likely lab leak origin? What if those media outlets ran misleading stories about therapies and physicians that were showing success in treating and preventing Covid infection? Would there be a greater probability that such a lockstep trajectory in reporting was co-incidental or co-ordinated? STOP! Really think that one over. Don’t squirm subconsciously because in your own private thoughts you may just have to venture into the realm of “Conspiracy Theory”, because that is the radioactive ground you will have to tread in order to examine all the possibilities of this Pandemic…if you dare .

What if our government health agencies and pharmaceutical and medical oversight agencies were withholding information and therapeutics that could ease suffering and increase understanding of what we’re really up against with Sars-Cov-2? Evidence is emerging that points in that direction. Why would they do that? Why would they insist on a hard sell of experimental vaccines, the likes of which have never before been employed in humans, and ban and censor anything and anyone who voices alternate possibilities, regardless of their credentials or merit? Would that seem like an enlightened approach to easing and ending this worldwide problem? Would that seem scientific? Would not an open forum of wide-ranging ideas create the most verdant environment from which to harvest the most fruitful, best strategies for getting out of this mess? Hasn’t that approach always been shown to produce the freshest and most innovative results? Why is this not happening? Why are censorship, coercion, force and autocratic dictates employed instead? And why is the conversation being throttled down to a narrower and narrower area of acceptability? Any reasonable person should be able to appreciate the need for large, open forums of discussion in order for the world to be able to understand and mitigate the damages of Sars-Cav-2.

There is something dangerous in the air. And it is worse than any virus. It smells of rotting fish and your masks will not protect you from it. Our ability to think for ourselves and freely voice our observations and ideas is in danger. Our own federal government created a Department of Misinformation and has vomited up billions of dollars with the express intention that your tax dollars and mine be weaponized against us in an information war in which only an approved narrative would be permitted and all dissent would be crushed. “Misinformation”, “Disinformation” and “Malinformation” are terms used against us for thinking for ourselves and voicing facts and opinions that are in conflict with the approved story. Thankfully that ill-conceived bureau has been dismantled due to uproarious outcry from the people, who for that moment did find their voices.

In my state of California Governor Newsom has just signed into law AB2098 which is said to be aimed at stopping “Misinformation” being spread by doctors. It sharply limits what doctors can publish, or even say within the confines of their offices to their patients regarding Covid-19 treatments, Public Health Policy and vaccines. Now licensed physicians in the state of California can be sanctioned and even have their licenses to practice medicine suspended if they so much as say something that calls into question the dominant narrative regarding Covid-19 and the “vaccines”. Since the first days of the pandemic there have been highly credentialed and respected doctors, MD’s and Phd’s who have taken a view that is much different than the one dictated by the CDC, FDA and WHO. These institutions have even disagreed among themselves on certain aspects of what constitutes best practices in the care of Patients with Covid-19 and the Public Health measures needed to try to limit its spread. Much of what was “Required” early on has now been rolled back. The mRNA inoculations were at first touted as preventative to CV-19. Rochelle Walensky, Tony Fauci, Joe Biden and their minions in TV newsrooms all stated, If you get vaccinated you will not get Covid-19. You will not spread it to others”. Now they have all had Covid-19 themselves. And almost certainly spread it to others.

What was “Conspiracy Theory” six months or a year ago has now, in many cases held up to scrutiny and proven to be true. The Public Health officers and politicians dictating policy have all had to redefine the playing field repeatedly since early 2020. At what point is what they said and did early on going to saddle them with the moniker of Disinformation Spreader?

What if the vaccines are not really vaccines? This is a view voiced by many well credentialed scientists and doctors. It is well known that the public has a certain level of distrust when it comes to drug makers. The large criminal and civil penalties paid out by big players like Pfizer and Johnson&Johnson are undeniable proof that these corporations operate like well dressed criminal syndicates buying their way into the halls of government minimizing their trouble in the courts. The fines, into the billions of dollars in Pfizer’s case sound astronomical to the average American, but to these fat cat corporations such figures amount to not much more than a slap on the wrist and seem to be considered part of the cost of doing business.

Think about the opioid epidemic, the Vioxx scandal and right now there are a shelf-full of blood pressure medications being recalled and pulled from the market due to cancer causing components in their formulations. We are witnessing an interesting disconnect that happens in the minds of people when the subject of vaccines enters the discussion. People have a strong faith in vaccines and see them as an unmitigated good. Some invisible barrier has been constructed within the psyche of the mass populace and they cannot look at Big Pharma through the lens of its criminal record when examining the subject of vaccines. A strange trance state has been achieved that renders it impossible for the majority of people to look critically at vaccines and dig down underneath the claims that are made about their miraculous history of vanquishing terrible diseases. Neat and handy labels have been drummed into the collective mind like “Conspiracy Theorist” or “Anti-Vaxxer”. These terms have the bizarre strength to be able to shut down inquisitive thought and open dialogue. If the discussion becomes uncomfortable and you have no facts upon which to base a rebuttal just wave one of these slogans and you’ve effectively erected a shield to hide behind and exit the encounter.

At what cost are vaccines given. At what point is there a critical analysis weighing the good against the harm? In March 2019 Dr. Peter Aaby uttered these words, “Most of you think we know what our vaccines are doing – we don’t”. Who is Peter Aaby? He ran the Bandim Health Project in West Africa for almost 40 years. It was a vaccine program for children aged 6 months to 5 years aimed at reducing childhood mortality in Africa. After all that time and with total confidence in the program, he noticed an oddity. The vaccines were given at certain ages and by happenstance there was a sizable group who were not able to make it to the vaccination centers on time so they missed their vaccines. These kids were found to be more susceptible to the target diseases, but they were five times less likely to die from all other causes. Dr Aaby dove into the data and found that the vaccines were responsible for an increase in all cause mortality among the vaccinated group compared to the unvaccinated.

What if this level of Big Brother authoritarian control was part of the plan all along? What if this Covid is a bioweapon let loose in order to create enough fear and confusion so as to make the People malleable enough to accept societal changes we would never accept under normal circumstances? What if Event 201 really was a blueprint for reshaping the world? That would mean there are people planning and directing this worldwide catastrophe. It would necessarily mean a Deep State or a Shadow Government or an elite class is at the levers of control from behind the occulting cover of a sort of curtain. It would make the word coined early on but fiercely attacked, “Plandemic”, accurate and correct. Would it mean that this Bio-Weapon Virus and the experimental gene therapies are the tools of a New Genocide? I would love to say, “No”, but can I?

What are they doing at Boston University and why? What does it mean that Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer chose not to appear before the European Parliament to answer questions about the Pfizer contracts with the EU? What are the implications of the statement made by his stand in, Janine Small that the vaccines were not tested for their ability to stop transmission of the virus before they were marketed to the general public? Who is to be held responsible for all the hate, discrimination, segregation and damage done by the policies that targeted those who did not trust in the vaccines and who expressed their legitimate concerns about the vast landscape of unknowns relative to the potential short, mid and long-term effects of these experimental products? These are a lot of uncomfortable questions and ideas. I hope this Goat Rodeo will encourage some reflection of where we are and how we got here. The shape of the world has changed so drastically in the past three years and so much of what has been done has made no sense. Unless we are free to ask questions and look at problems from an abundance of angles, unfettered by stigmatization, censorship, shaming and deplatforming we are hobbling ourselves and severely limiting the possibilities for asking and answering such questions and creating a better vision for a brighter future.

Blindfolded Wrecking Ball

The man in the cab of the crane
Sat upright
Thick hands on the levers
Shaking visibly at idle
A hint of the power of the machine.

Heavy canvas work clothes
Bear marks that tell a story
Of years layered deep
Built upon debris
From his wrecking ball.

Mindful always of the force
He delivers, where he strikes
Laying down the condemned
Preparing a groundwork
For Renewal. With Hope.

Like a hawk's his eyes
Miss nothing as he arcs
The mighty arm precisely
To the chosen point of impact
For measured deconstruction
Conducted with care.

He is quietly proud.
Years of honest labor unfold
Opening on a tender heart
Under a hard earned
Grizzled leather hide.

"Two weeks", he was told
"You must wear a blindfold
While you whirl the ball".
Science dictates it must be done.
It is the only way.

He has flattened so many things
Why should he ask, "Why?"
When he was told to flatten a curve.
And by the way, he couldn't look
While doing what he did.

"Don't talk to your neighbors".
"You are Essential". "Front Line".
"Keep the blindfold on".
"Don't hug. Don't laugh. Don't sing".
"Let that Steel Ball swing!"

So he did what he was told
violated Oath and Creed
Feigned he could not hear
The crushing Boom
Over his uneasy beating heart.

Two weeks became two more.
Two Months. Two Years.
And flatten he did:
Social Bonds. Freedom. Autonomy.
Recognition of a Smile

The rubble heap grew.
Steaming. Shredded. Pulverized.
What had been Unique and Vital
Noble, Elegant, Alive
Lay Crushed, bloodied, Dying.

He did his part well
Sacrificed to make it so.
Blindfolded Religiously
In the name of the Father
Son and Holy Ghost.

A day came the blindfold could come off
He was told. But wait. Could he?
Would he wake without pants on
In a public place, ridiculed?
He'd dreamt it so often.

After all this time he felt
It might be safer to keep it on
Not risk such an exposure
Of standing out, a Heretic
Of seeing with his naked eyes.

Disused, in dark so long
Could he trust them now?
Would a suddenness of Light
Blind him? Burn his optic nerve?
He was, unlike himself, Afraid.

Those fears were out of place.
When he let the blindfold drop
His eyes saw far too well
Too clearly...What was it?
A landscape alien and mean.

Where was what he'd known? And Loved?
What had been was gone.
He himself had done this.
Had followed faith in Experts.
Done his duty well.

He knew he should have known.
He'd violated Oath and Creed.
Had swung his wrecking ball
Blindfolded religiously.
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.


A Cold Day in Roswell

January 11,1962

Walker Air Force Base, Roswell, New Mexico

Temperature High: 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Low: -19. (The local paper reported the low at -24 on the day.) Average for the day: -4.25. According to several sources I have searched it is the all time coldest day on record in Roswell, NM.

This was the day I came into the world.

My dad says they barely made it to the hospital. Not because of a precipitous labor. Nothing like that. When Mom went into labor they had to drive from their off-base housing about three miles to the base hospital. But because of the frigid temperature the coolant in the engine block and radiator was frozen and just as they got to the hospital parking lot the radiator hose blew up. The car abruptly halted in a riotous eruption of steam. It was barely after 2:00 AM. Weather Underground historical data shows it was about minus ten degrees at the time and falling. It would bottom out about 5 hours later. Steam was billowing from under the hood of their car that wouldn’t go another foot. They abandoned it right where it had died and walked through the sub zero temperature to the building entrance.

Here’s my father’s description: “The car was Mom’s 1953 Mercury 2 door sedan, stick shift on the steering column with “Overdrive”, two-tone light green color that she bought when she was working at the VA hospital in Oakland in 1959. The coolant, which had anti-freeze, had frozen solid in the engine block and radiator, and hoses-which we did not realize as we drove the three miles or so to the Walker AFB Hospital. We knew it was very cold, but did not know that it was -24 degrees F., the coldest day on record, which still stands today. We looked it up this morning and the official recorded low temp is stated to be -19.8 deg F., but the local newspaper reported -24 at the time.. The coolant in the engine block must have thawed as we drove, but the coolant in the radiator must have remained solid preventing flow of coolant through the block. The pressure built up and it blew off the top radiator hose just as we turned into the hospital entrance, spraying coolant all over the engine and totally fogging the windshield and the engine died. So we got out and walked the rest of the way to the hospital entrance. Once we got inside we were told that the hospital heating system had failed. There’s more!

Luckily, before being posted to the 6th Armament & Electronics Maintenance Squadron in Roswell, my dad had been stationed at Thule Air Base, Greenland where the average daily low for January is -19 degrees, coincidentally the same as the temperature this day. So even though he was a kid from the East San Francisco Bay area of California, he had seen this kind of cold before, and not too long ago. But the young woman in labor had never. As a comparison, the low temperature on the day my sister was born, seventeen months before was 71 F., higher by 90 degrees. On this morning my parents had left her in the care of their friends and neighbors, Bud and Mary Lowe.

My mom says things were not much better when they got inside. “Why is it so cold in here?”, Mom wanted to know. A nurse explained to her that something was wrong with the furnaces and the heat wasn’t working. Add to that that this was an era when fathers were not allowed into the births of their children. So young Bonnie and Daniel were separated by the staff. My dad was not allowed in as was the custom of the time, but there was a group of medical students observing the labor. Mom was all alone. Had anyone asked if this was alright with her? Was this part of her “Birth Plan”? Who was going to coach her with her breathing through the contractions? Forget all that. This was 1962. In an Air Force Hospital. Suck it up!

At 11:00 am the Mercury had just risen above zero for the first time that day. I was born 14 minutes later. The first thing Mom says she heard after delivering her baby was the doctor saying, “Oh my god! Would you look at that! I’ve never seen anything like this before!”, or some equally unprofessional, thoughtlessly negligent utterance. What? What was it? What was so out of the ordinary as to provoke such a calamitous sounding exclamation from someone who was supposed to have been through this a thousand times.

It was this: and in providing the answer the doctor did nothing to assuage the anxiety of the new mother, “This umbilical cord is tied in two knots! I’ve never seen a baby born live with two knots in the umbilical cord!”, addressing the students and not bothering to reassure my poor mom that everything was ok. What a Bozo!

Eventually it all settled down. Mom got to hold the baby. At some point later Dad was permitted entrance and we were all united. I was the firstborn son of the firstborn son. For what that’s worth. My Dad is Named for his father and grandfather, Daniel Henry Hudson. He is the third. As Mom and Dad tell it there was considerable pressure to to pass that name along to me. But my parents wanted me to be my own person, with my own name.

My mom would celebrate her 23rd birthday a month, to the day later and my dad 5 months and change after her. They were just kids. They grew up across the street from each other. They first met in the sixth grade. They married at 20 and are married still and living in the house I grew up in in Ben Lomond, Ca., only about 10 miles from me.

For me it is cool to be able to say I was born in the UFO Mecca of the US…but nowhere as cool as it literally was on that cold day in Roswell.

This was meant to be out on my birthday as a sort of 60th celebration. I guess a week late is not too bad. Cheers to all!

Little Eagle

Up near seven thousand feet among the ancient cedars and granite resides a little spot where our family goes camping. We have gone every Summer save one since our older children were pretty small. Tatiana was seven and Ollie four when first we went. Elciana has been, since, well, in the womb. She was making Seal queasy in early August 2011 when she was just about 4 weeks into her pregnancy. In 2012 our youngest was but 4 months old on her first trip up there. It wasn’t her first time camping. She had been to the Northern California Women’s Herbal Symposium, camping with her Mama and I guess a couple hundred other mama’s and children when she was little more than a month old. Our little Pip.

We don’t go alone. We coordinate with friends who, like us have found the place special and worth the six or seven hour drive from our home. Different families will go different years and a few, like us go every year. We camp. Do a little fishing… a little hiking. Swim in the river and tube down stream through alternating rapids and smooth placid runs. Some jump off the rocks for a plunge into the tea colored water of the lake which is earned on the one mile hike uphill from camp.

This year Elciana’s goal was to jump off Little Eagle. Standing up from the surface of the lake there is a rock that looks like the head and shoulder of an eagle at it’s top. Eagle rock. That’s the highest place to make your leap. I don’t know how high it is. I do know it’s high enough to make you think about it before you jump. If you jump. It’s high enough you don’t want to look too long before you go, or you may just be standing there for an hour talking to yourself. It is a decision. Even if you’ve done it before. So it’s plenty high enough.

Little Eagle is eight or ten feet down from there. Second highest spot. I’ll give her credit it was a pretty lofty sight to set for a nine year old. Only a few of the teenagers or grownups will do it. She’s a little bit small for her age. Like her Mom and I had been.. We can relate to her urge to show bigger folks what energy, will and confidence can accomplish wrapped up in a little package.

I enjoy the jumping. Always have. But I would never push her to do it. Either you want to do it or you don’t. She does. She has built up to it from successive heights in prior years. The lowest rock is about 8 feet high. It’s a big flat spot where you might have your picnic lunch then go in from there if you’re going to have a swim, or maybe just Sun yourself. About seven feet higher is a little spire of granite you can scurry up to. To be honest I’m nervous when she stands on top of that because it’s precarious footing and if she should fall it could go badly. Little Eagle is about twice as high as that.

She has asked me about how best to enter the water. She wants to have a plan. She has wondered about how to position her arms and hands. This way or that. Should she plug her nose? Point her toes? The main thing I told her is to watch the surface of the water approach so you time your entry and pierce the surface cleanly.

The other advice I have shared, what works for me is to Not Look for more than a few seconds when you stand at the edge of the rock. If you do thoughts will enter your mind that have no place in that moment and you will hesitate. It doesn’t do to ponder once you are at the edge. The time to resolve your questions is before you step up. Before you make the climb, or during it. That is when you must decide, “I am going to leap off this granite cliff, fly through the air and splash into the lake”. That is the appropriate time to run it through and visualize it. See yourself succeeding, pushing off, arcing through space and slicing through the surface poised and graceful.

We went up together. People were watching, shouting encouragements to Elcie. I don’t think that helped. It seemed to make her more self conscious. It detracted from her mental focus. So when we reached our spot I gave her the little pep talk but also let her know she didn’t have to go if she wasn’t feeling positive about it. She assured me she really wanted to jump off Little Eagle. I said, “Ok”. She asked me if I would go first. “Of course, if that’s what you want”. I told her, “Watch how I make my decision back here, away from the edge, that when I step up I am going to jump. I just have a quick peek to see where the water is then I push off the rock… not too hard and just focus on entering the water with my arms tight to my sides and feet together”. With that I step forward and am off. A brief rush of air brushes my face as the water approaches. Time seems to elongate just a pinch and a little butterfly stirs in my stomach as I drop and…Splash! As quickly as I can I bob back up to the surface and swim a few yards farther out, beyond where Elciana could jump if she lunged her hardest.

Treading water I am looking up at my little girl. I know she will do it. No doubt she will jump. She has stated this was her one goal for the trip. People are shouting, “You’ve got this Elciana!” She looks at the water and back at the people on shore and at me. I can see her rocking forward and back trying to unlock that moment’s courage that will release her from her earthly bounds for an instant. I know she has stood too long at the edge and she’ll have to go through it all in her head again. The cheering onlookers are having the opposite effect than they intended. I’m treading water. Marking time. She is growing up.

Only she can do this now. I am below her. That 30 feet or so represents an enormous gap between the little girl standing high on the rock and the big girl who’s head will resurface after she makes that leap. These are parenting’s proud moments. I feel like we have done something right in raising LC. I know she has the self confidence and the strength and the will to do this. It is natural to hesitate. This will be the biggest jump she has ever done, by far. She doesn’t just have to overcome the physical challenge of it, she has to overcome the bigger, more frightening barrier of the unknown. I have jumped from here and higher and I still had to will myself over that edge just a minute ago. I knew from experience what to expect. She does not.

So I’m treading water and holding space for her. I know she’s going to do it and she does too. She just has to find the that trust to let go. While I’m in the water another friend has been climbing up to where Elcie is. She gets up there and asks if Elcie would like to go before her or after. Elcie lets her go first. (She can be thoughtful that way). So, after a few moments of looking our friend pushes off and jumps with a joyful hoot. After that Elciana is not going to turn around. With just a few more moments deliberation she does it. What a beautiful sight, that little body soaring through the high Sierra air, past that solid granite and with perfect form entering the lake and a new understanding of herself.

The shouts of celebration echoed from peak to peak and Elciana’s smile was as bright as the Sun and as broad as the sky when she surfaced. I can only imagine how her heart was pounding in her chest as she made that swim back to shore, that little flat rock just eight feet high and the exuberant hugs awaiting her.

Someone wanted to know, “What made you finally jump?”. Elciana answered, “Well, when my dad jumped it wasn’t really a good example for me because he does crazy things. But when she jumped (our friend) I knew it was actually safe”.

Later Elciana told me she thought her form might have been a little off, but she still felt good about her jump. I told her it was nothing less than amazing to witness. And I was proud of her for doing it. That she impresses me with her courage and her abilities. How glad I am to know her and to get to spend this time with her…my Little Eagle.

Fifteen Years and Fifteen Days. (a celebration and lament)

“It’s only temporary.”

In my lifetime, how often have I heard those words? Hundreds? Thousands? I can’t say how many times. But I hear them now, rattling around, muffled and tinny, like in a crumpled and rusted can half covered in ash.

The phrase is meant as a balm to help take some of the sting out of an unpleasant situation that is not expected to last very long. But how long? How long is “Temporary”?

Fifteen years and fifteen days. That is how long we lived on my Aunt, Yana and Uncle Bob’s land in Bonny Doon. We built a yurt and had a separate bath house for the four of us, my wife Cecile, our two children, Tatiana and Oliver, who were five and two years old at the time, and myself. We moved in August 3, 2005. It was our ninth anniversary.

It’s all gone now. The wildfires wiped it away. Dust and cinders. The last time we had our home was August 18, 2020.

I remember it was hot when we moved in. The yurt got direct Sun from late morning until about 6:00 in the evening when it would begin to be filtered by the tall redwoods and firs on the other side of the meadow and across the creek where the land started to rise. That’s where Yana and Bob’s house sits. It was over 100 degrees and dry inside that yurt when I was putting in the wide plank pine floor. You can ask PA Paul who helped me with that job. We laughed a lot as we suffered and sweated inside that empty shell that acted like a solar oven. Paul would ask himself which was the better job, laying a wood floor in stifling heat or digging the pier holes by hand as we had done. All eight of them had filled with ground water at about two feet in depth, where the decomposed granite intermingled with clay and the shallow water table resided. The earth had been so heavy and sticky all the way down to six feet which was their final depth. I think the digging had been the slightly preferred job. Because the floor had to fit the circular shape of the yurt, each line of planks had to be cut at an angle to match the outer circumference, but also had to be notched to fit around the upright wall studs already in place, fifty of them. It wasn’t hard, just absurdly time consuming, especially in the delirium from excessive heat.

How does the saying go? “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun”? Only them and PA Paul and me. I could just call him Paul. But I never have and now it just wouldn’t feel right. He is a Physician Assistant and we worked together in the ER at the time I was building the yurt. I don’t know how it began, the calling him PA Paul. Rightly it should have been PA Lewandowski for that’s his last name. Even when we run into each other in the world it’s still PA Paul. He calls me Nurse Miguel to keep things even.

The first party we ever had there was for my Dad’s sixty-sixth birthday. The first of many parties to be enjoyed in that space. It was July fourteenth. Before we moved in. We hadn’t finished the floor yet so there were stacks of planking up against the walls. It smelled like sawdust. There was no furniture. We had cake and ice cream and we danced around the wide open space… 706 square feet of uninterrupted circular floor space with the ceiling peaking at 15 feet and nothing to run into but each other. What a joyful way to christen the Roundhouse as it later became known. Years later,in 2019 we had two huge parties on consecutive days: The annual Pie Party (more on this later) on July 13 and my Dad’s 80th birthday the following day. That was a colossal double header! A little bit insane, but in the context of what has transpired since with Covid and the Wildfires I am eternally grateful we pushed ourselves over the edge those two remarkable days.

Tatiana had her first day of kindergarten at Santa Cruz Waldorf School that first Fall. She was already so bright and radiant then, with a clarity and confidence you could see in her eyes. Since the children didn’t read, their teacher meditated on each child and drew from their natures a symbol to be used as a marker for their things, their work, their cubby, anything. Tatiana’s symbol was the angel. I felt it was right. Her sixth birthday, in February was blessed with the warmth of a spring day and we had live fiddle music played by Ami and Sumaya, two older girls at the Waldorf School. Tati had fallen in love with Celtic music when we had lived next to the covered bridge in Felton. There was a very accomplished player named Tim who would practice on the bridge, making the most of its acoustics. We would hear the music and two year old Tatiana would grab my hand and we would run over and listen and dance. And she would charm Fiddler Tim with her smile and precocious ease with talking to adults. That February birthday was just sweet and special.

One month later, to the day, we celebrated Ollie’s third birthday. Who could have predicted that the sunny warmth we enjoyed for our February birthday would be replaced by SNOW? We invited friends and family up and sledded in the meadow. We had snowball fights. Grandpa Dan got hit in the face from point blank range by 3 year old Rio and just laughed it off. I will never forget Olivers rosy cheeks and gigantic smile… those big round eyes as he played in the snow for the first time and slid down the gentle slope from the base of the persimmon trees towards the the big walnut that stands above the creek. We came inside and stood warming ourselves ’round the Jøtul wood stove and drinking hot cider full of joy .

In 2011when we were expecting our third child, we built another structure next to the yurt and connected by a deck to provide two bedrooms, so everyone could get a little privacy. The two bigger kids would share one room and Seal and I would have the baby in the other with us. It felt like staying in a hotel at first… or maybe one of the creekside rooms at Tassajara. There was a clean sparseness to it. There wasn’t such a feeling of glorified camping, like you got when sleeping in the yurt. We couldn’t hear every animal noise as if were out in nature with them. But when the Tan- Oak acorns dropped onto the metal roof in the late Summer through Fall it sounded like machine gun fire! I think the squirrels up above got a kick out of the percussive staccato as they bombarded the place. It must have been the most noise they ever made or ever will. Our cars still display the peening on their hoods and roofs to tell the tale of Tan Oaks and their resident squirrels that are gone now.

Once when I got home from work one of those squirrels had gotten a finger stuck between two body panels on the Eurovan we had at the time. It must have been Summer because there was still plenty of light in the driveway at 8:00 pm.. That poor fellow was in a panic! I looked to see how it was trapped. One finger (or is it more properly toe?) on a front hand (or foot) had become wedged between the driver’s side fender and quarter panel. It was hanging from this one toe and trying to get free. It was (and this is the gruesome part) running in circles around that point of connection with the car… just twisting the lodged finger around. I tried to imagine a way of loosing that finger without hurting the squirrel any more or getting scratched up myself by the frightened animal. I couldn’t see any way to do it. I ended up donning my Carhartt jacket, our thick, gauntlet fireplace gloves, a chainsaw protective face shield/ hardhat and got ready. I draped a towel over the frantic squirrel and quickly snipped the toe where it was stuck, using garden shears. Instantly the squirrel dropped to the ground and shot off through the fence and into the woods above the driveway. I was shaky. I felt badly for the squirrel, but thought living minus the tip of one finger wouldn’t kill it. I neglected to divulge the remnant of that squirrel toe to the new owner when we sold the van later that year. That was my story. Not theirs.

Elciana was born in the yurt in April 2012. Somehow Seal knew it was the day. We kept Ollie home from school so we could enjoy his last bit of time as the baby of the family with him. He was nine. His hair was cut into a Mohawk then. It would be two years before he added color. We went to Davenport Landing and walked on the beach. That day remains in my memory as peaceful and timeless. Like a dream. I still have a beautifully serene clip of video, shot on my phone of Seal and Ollie on the bench swing by the ocean there. When we got home from the beach we walked across the meadow to where Bobaloo was working in the garden (always a safe bet you’d find him there). Seal told him the baby was coming that night and would he please tell Yana. He gave a little laugh as if to say, “Oh is that right? Tonight is it?” Of course Seal was right. She knows these things. Elciana was born at 8:53.. Yana and Bob were there to greet her as she emerged. Mimsey and Grandpa drove up the mountain an hour later to meet her.

People move to Bonny Doon for the space, the Nature and privacy of living on a wooded mountaintop. The roads are twisty and narrow. You need to know alternate routes off the mountain, because sometimes a fallen redwood or douglas fir will have your primary avenue closed. Maybe your secondary option is closed too, sometimes by a landslide. You may be re-routed ten or more miles out of your way just to get to work. You may have to pull a chainsaw out and clear the trees yourself if they’re small enough to wrestle out of the road on your own. The benefits of living in The Doon come with a cost.

You may not be able to see your nearest neighbor’s house but you will know their names. And their phone numbers. And e-mails. You will know most of the people on your road, at least a little. This despite the fact you live up here to get away from too many people. It’s a lovely irony that this choice to be further from people brings you closer to people as well. In town you may never know the person two doors down, or across the street. Never know what they do for work, what their dog is named or where their oldest goes to college.

When you live in Bonny Doon you learn that the knit is loose but strong here and you are gradually woven into the structure of the community. It started with families from school for us. Then Little League, and soccer. Your kids connect you to people and place. There’s the Coffee-House at the community church Thursday mornings where people meet over coffee and fresh baked goodies. Art and Wine fundraiser for Bonny Doon Union Elementary school brings people out of their homes to support our kids. There’s the Fire Department Dinner twice a year. The local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) maintains plans for local emergency infrastructure. RBDA (Rural Bonny Doon Association) who meets almost monthly. They discuss matters of importance to the community and publish “The Highlander”, a periodic newsletter that comes in your mailbox. Best of all though for me there’s the BDGLC…Ping Pong and gentlemanly camaraderie every Thursday night at rotating secret venues. Invitation Only. Rare and Exclusive (in a low key haphazard way). The group has marked its fifteenth year and going. I’m forbidden to say more and may already have said too much. Covid has taken a toll on attendance and now that I have relocated to town it’s harder for me to make it.

In Bonny Doon our house was round. What else is round? Pie. I am so thankful for the tradition our family started…The Pie Party. It’s something that keeps me grounded to the Magic of that place and time. And to the people. It became a rite of Summer for us. It was the brainchild of my wife Cecile. In July we would host a party on the land and invite pretty much everyone. We would set a date and invite people to bake a pie to be judged by a panel of volunteers (without conflicts of interest in the judging). We had categories for fruit pies, Savory pies and Chocolate/cream/Ice-Cream pies. People were asked to bring a dish to share in the big pot-luck and some talent to be performed at the talent show. Once invitations went out word would spread and it was (I hope) understood that if you heard about it you were invited. Luckily we have many musician friends who were happy to perform and set a mellow friendly vibe . Thanks to Steve Kraft, Michelle Yahn, Charlie Powell and Jessica Vaughan, Ivo Obregon, Walt and Nicole Anderson and everyone who played and sang and gave to make it special. Tyler Loftis Belched the ABC’s. We have one friend who sang opera, solo, unaccompanied in the bowl of the big conifers and he filled that space in a way that brought silence and stillness to the gathered crowd, none of whom I think ever expected to be party to that experience. All were amazed. I’m still amazed. Thank you for that Delmar.

I am still connected to my people…Dooners. I wear my “Bonny Doon Strong” sticker proudly but sadly on the back of my motorcycle helmet. But it is gone, it was only temporary what we had there. Where my children were small, joyful beings filling the woods with their shouts and laughter. Where my baby girl was born right in our yurt. Where our dog Freckles lies beneath the ground marked by a circlet of stones up by the Meyer Lemon tree. And now I live in Town in a house, surrounded by other houses. But it isn’t Home. Hopefully this exile is temporary too. Everything is.

We plan to have one more. A Pie Party to end all Pie Parties. Next Summer God willing. Have everyone back out to the land, changed as it is, to remind ourselves that it was real. It happened. To gather and bake. To sing and laugh and let go. To dance and have the Sun go down and be there. To celebrate that we can celebrate again. To see the Phoenix Rising!

It’s Not Always Like This

Once Upon a Time I was a new nurse. No. It’s true. I had the uncommon good fortune to start right out in the ER for my first job. That’s not the case for everyone and I’m thankful it worked out that way for me. I’m still in the ER and sometimes I have the honor and privilege to shepherd a new nurse into our group.

Not too long ago I was chosen to orient a nurse who I had often heard mentioned outside the context of the hospital. She is an acupuncturist and has worked with my wife for several years in the birth community. In the ER we do just about anything we can to avoid delivering a baby in the department. We really will muster a sudden burst of energy and drop whatever we’re doing to redirect that imminent labor upstairs where that is what they do…what they expect to do and what they are trained for. Sometimes though it does happen that a delivery in the ER cannot be avoided and having a nurse who has attended births and is comfortable with the the perinatal milieu is a great asset.

This nurse is not just new to the ER.   She is a new grad as well, just out of nursing school like I had been. One of the benefits of working with students and new orientees is that it brings me back to the beginning.  It forces me to think about why we’re doing what we’re doing…why one thing is prioritized over another. During twenty years in the ER one develops shortcuts and workarounds to keep up with the pace of things. But this is a time to go back to basics and model correct methods, doing everything exactly as it is meant to be done, remembering pitfalls and pointing them out to someone who hasn’t yet been exposed to them… maybe keep her from stumbling.

Reflecting on where I started and where I have come I realize there is a lot to keep track of.  Luckily starting out you don’t know what you don’t know so it’s not too intimidating. Her whole career is ahead of her and now is the time to establish strong habits that will serve her as time goes on. Am I really the right person for this? My mind is kind of like a corkscrew. Not linear and methodical. Not by nature anyway, but I can squeeze myself into that mold when it becomes necessary. May I tell you a secret I have discovered? I think a too linear, methodical mind may be a liability in the ER. The way a day descends into barely controlled chaos lends itself to the person with the corkscrew mind. (I tell myself that).

You never know what to expect going in to work in the ER. I have probably said in the past that that is one of the things I really like about my job. It is one of the first things I stress with my orientee. Some days are Sunshine and Roses. Other days are … Not. Some days you have time to talk to the 75 year old children of the 98 year old woman you are taking care of. You can learn about where she grew up, what she did as a child and as a young woman living in a time so different than our own. You can hear about how it was on the family farm in South Dakota… how her husband had a farm accident and a suture was improvised from the E String of a violin by a neighbor who had the ingenuity and the nerve to close the wound with it.

You can learn about the soul damage of a Viet Nam Vet still broken and tormented by events that took place when he was just a kid of 18, now 50 years ago. That’s almost three quarters of his entire life defined by that time and place. The shock of the experience has chiseled deep and disturbing graffiti into the bedrock of his existence that he will never heal. It’s something he carries as a sort of sign saying “Keep Out”, and it works, because, to a large extent people don’t come near him…for better or worse. Guilt and pride for one’s service can be so fatally conjoined for some men I have spoken to that they can’t separate them and remembering either is a minefield they will not enter.

Having time with people brings gifts wrapped in lifetimes of emotion that you must open carefully. If you open them at all.

Some days there is no time for talk. No time to get to know the human side of the person you are caring for. The relationship can be so thin it is frustrating. You can feel like you are running full speed just to stay several steps behind and still lose more ground while doing the bare minimum… so much less than you know you are capable of, so much less than you know the person deserves. You would happily give so much more…but there’s no time. You just hope you don’t miss something important in times like that. Consequences are real and the weight pulls at you.

When I started the first day with this new nurse, as her guide and resource person, I never imagined that what had happened to me would happen to her. On my first day here we had a patient who died. It hadn’t occurred to me we would be dealing with the many tiers of issues that come with a death in the ER. The vast majority of shifts go by without a loss of life. But we heard the voice of the paramedic over the radio. It was a Code-3 ambulance… a cardiac arrest at home. Resuscitation was well under way, CPR was in progress. A tube had been placed for ventilation. Epinephrine and Amiodarone (Potent Cardiac Drugs) had been given through the IV. They had defibrillated the patient. (Delivered powerful electric shocks through the chest) to try to trigger an intrinsic heartbeat. They had repeated the process again…


Was the patient alive when he got to us? Legally yes. Physiologically? I believe not. We heard the report of what had happened at the house…what the paramedics had done and what response there had been, how long the man had been without a pulse. We asked the questions about past medical history while assuming responsibility for chest compressions. My orientee did them. It was her first time. We asked about medications the man takes while we started a second IV and drew blood. Respiratory therapy took over manual ventilation. Between cycles of compressions the heart rhythm was analyzed on the monitor. Asystole (No activity). Pupillary responsiveness was assessed. (Non-reactive and Dilated). Compressions were continued. Another round of Epinephrine was given…

This procedure…following ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) protocols for pulseless cardiac arrest can bring a person back. When you hear a person say they were dead for 2 minutes, or what have you, but they were brought back, this is what they are talking about. They were successfully resuscitated after their heart had ceased to beat. That is actually the miraculous success story of a friend of mine who was brought back after sudden cardiac arrest. But that is the exception. That is not what happened this time.

This time the patient died. He had a large family. Several people were on their way to be with him in the hospital. Thankfully we were not too busy at the time and we were able to give the family time to grieve …time for the people on their way to arrive and be together with the others. Time for it to sink in that he was gone. It is a small mercy, but can mean a lot.

It was sinking in for our new nurse too. She had never done CPR, had never felt the sensation travel up through her hands and arms to her own heart of how violent an act a cardiac resuscitation is. It is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. A hell of an introduction to ER Nursing, having to figure out on the fly how to master your emotions in a hectic situation and keep your focus where it needs to be so you can do your job. And it’s all new. The team chemistry where everyone has isolated tasks and a practiced way of communicating and performing their role so the person you’re working on can have a chance at life. She had never been a part of any of that.

It’s interesting to be made aware that the person you are helping learn about her new workplace has just been closer to a dead body than she has ever been before. She has never touched the lifeless body of another human being. Thinking about it, most of us probably have not. I have. Many times. It is not easy, but there is a certain getting used to it in the context of the medical setting. It is a fact that one must be ready for. We weren’t.

She had lots of questions. Naturally. We have a checklist to help us remember all the important steps to be taken when you have a death in the ER. I guided her through all the things we do. We didn’t yet speak of what was going on below the level of our brains. What was rattling around untended in our hearts would just have to rattle there for a bit. We went down the list: Call the California Transplant/ Tissue Donor Network. This is required for every death in the ER. They have trained staff who take the calls, gather information on the person: age, sex, prior medical conditions, “Is the patient on a ventilator, or had they been during their treatment?”, is there family with them?, are we able to provide contact information of the next of kin?, will this patient be a coroner’s case?. The Donor network contacts every family at some point to see if there is any interest in donating any organs or tissues for transplantation to give hope to another person. That is a job that must take some finesse.

Contact Next of Kin (If that hasn’t already been done). Call the Coroner and give them information so they can determine if the Coroner’s Office will require an autopsy… Any time there is a suspicion of foul play, or if the death is unexpected and the person has not been under the care of a physician within a set time period an autopsy will be ordered by the Coroner and they will dispatch an officer to pick up the body.

Find out if the patient or their family have a prior agreement with any local mortuary for their funeral services. If so we will contact them on behalf of the family if that is their wish. Notify the Nursing Supervisor of the death. Make an inventory of any valuables or personal effects on or with the body. Offer for the family to take any effects with them at this time, or they can collect them later according to their preference. Contact Security. Any effects not taken by the family will go with security for safekeeping. Also at this time we will enshroud the body in a post mortem bag. Security often helps with this. Then the body will go to the hospital morgue awaiting disposition, either to a mortuary, to the coroner or with donor services.

File an event report on-line. This is something that goes to the corporate Risk Management Department for follow up, just as a matter of protocol. I’m sure deaths can easily turn into a potential for litigation. Crazy world. That about does it for the checklist. Quite a few tasks and contacts most of us will never have to give a thought to , but my orientee did. On day one. I should say she was strong and professional. That is how you have to be. I was impressed.

Things got busy in the ER. We had a group of other patients to take care of, though none of them stand out in my memory now. You just keep working. Especially when it’s all a new experience for you, you have a tendency to try to find something to hold onto, that will steady and balance the surreality of what you have been part of. At the end of the day I told her she had done well and asked if she needed to talk about any of it. We did have a conversation about what was coming up for her. She said it wasn’t as hard as it might have been because she felt no life in the gentleman when he came in. She said she just felt his spirit had already departed his body before he ever even got to us. So she didn’t have the feeling that we might have been able to have saved him but didn’t, or that he died in our presence…he was already gone. That helped her somehow.

She has a supportive husband who she will be able to talk things through with. Each of us has to find our own way with this part of the job. We all come from different traditions, religions or spiritual practices that may help us have perspective on death. Maybe we don’t have any such thing. To give her hope and minimize the dread of facing another day like this tomorrow, I told her, “It’s not always like this”. “In fact it’s rare”.

We had a little chuckle over that and went our own ways, to come back tomorrow.

The next day started out slowly, as they thankfully often do. A lot of mornings feel like we’re running a pediatric clinic. Babies and toddlers who have fevered in the night, or coughed or vomited keeping their parents awake are brought in to be checked out. Most of the time these are reassurance visits for the parents more than medical visits for the children. We meet a lot of beautiful little ones this way. It’s one of the sweet parts of the job. It was a nice way to begin again and put the darkness of the day before out of our minds.

It wasn’t long before the course of the day veered hard away from sweetness and accelerated us back again to our post on the portal between life and death. On this, her second day in the ER, this new nurse had to face the very situation she had said would have been harder than what she had done the day before. (And is maybe the hardest situation we do face). We had a patient who was alive when she came in. She was very ill though. A child with terminal illness. She was very weak and her degenerative condition had worsened to the point she could no longer carry on. Her parents knew she was dying. Their faces and posture were like stone. This day, which they had known for so long was coming had arrived.

When our efforts to sustain her proved futile and she ceased her struggle, her little body relaxed. Who knows if she had ever, in her brief time on Earth, known comfort and ease? Her parents were so quiet. Sometimes there is wailing and an angry defiance that death has come, a sharp and bitter refusal. But here, there was resignation and letting go. We were witness to a stoic acceptance of fate borne with dignity and grace by this silent couple saying goodbye to someone they had loved so dearly and who had needed them so completely. I wonder how much they needed her too, how much their lives had become about the dailiness of her care, how would they move on?

What can it mean that your first two days as a nurse are like this? Your training is definitely focused on the interventions you do to keep people alive and to make their lives as full and functional as possible. Very little Nursing School instruction addresses how you cope with death or how you’re supposed to help others with their loss. So this? Sure it’s got to be part of the Nursing experience, but maybe you could ease into it over time? This is sort of an assault to be greeted by your profession in such a way. I wish I had some stabilizing and comforting wisdom to share with her at the end of day two. She called me out on having told her, “It’s not always like this”. She asked if I meant it, if I really meant it, or if it really was going to be like this every day. “Hardly ever”, I tried to assure her. Tomorrow would be better. She would see.

So much comes at you in a day, and so much more in a week, that even if you try to remember everything, you just can’t. I should say I can’t. Some things I remember in detail, others not at all. By the end of a day I couldn’t recount every patient I had cared for that day. So when I’m trying to piece together the events of this first part of working with this new nurse a lot is lost. Mostly what I remember is the overall feeling of the days. By the third day I was ready to show her how a normal day in the ER plays out… a day where you take care of your garden variety patients without wishing them bon voyage over the River Styx. She was ready for that too. That’s what we had in mind as we started our third day together.

Oh how I wish we had been able to end that day as we had envisioned it. Maybe a bloody. nose, some sutures, someone falling off a bike or a horse but not much worse for the wear. Maybe a bunch of kids with fevers or asthma or ear infections. Maybe an abscess from skin popping – oh I mean from a spider bite- . Maybe poison oak or passed out drunk or closed their finger in the door. I’m talking about people who come in, you work with them and they walk out the door. That is the day we wanted (and which I had tacitly promised). Not the day we had.

We’re given to a few superstitions in the ER. One is that you are Never to say the “Q” word. SShh. (It rhymes with “Riot”). Say that and your co-workers will be all over you in an instant. And if something bad rolls in, or if it gets really busy you are to blame. You opened Pandora’ Box. As for myself, I’m not given to that particular superstition. I think that when it is not horrendously busy you ought to be able to gratefully acknowledge that. But I’m an outlier on that point. Another superstition (and I am an adherent to this one) is that things come in threes. It has just happened too many times for me to say it’s nonsense. So it was for us. We had our third.

Code-3 ambulance…respiratory distress…Paramedics were giving nebulized Albuterol and had put the patient on CPAP. You know those forced air machines heavy snorers use when they sleep to prevent sleep apnea? They’re used for respiratory distress too. When a person has been working really hard to breathe for a long time they can become fatigued and the work of breathing can tire them to the point of respiratory failure…they just can’t keep working that hard any longer. So the positive pressure of the machine does the work. When they arrived the patient was sitting straight up, restless with the CPAP blowing oxygen into his face. His fingers and toes were becoming bluish. His blood pressure was very high also. There was some obstructive airway process, Air wasn’t getting deeply into his lungs where the Oxygen can trade places on the hemoglobin with the CO2 he needed to get rid of.

The patient needed to be intubated. A breathing tube would have to be inserted and the patient put on a ventilator so he could continue to breathe and stay alive. Since he was awake and alert we would have to use RSI (Rapid Sequence Induction). This is a procedure to rapidly induce anesthesia and paralysis so the patient can be emergently intubated. This is a stressful thing to do. You have a person who is awake and breathing on his own, thought not adequately. And what you have to do is knock him out and paralyze him so he will relax his muscles and you can insert the EndoTracheal Tube. It is a moment of truth when you push that paralytic. It is derived from Curare, the Amazonian blowdart poison that paralyzes the prey so the hunters can bring home food. The only thing is, if you can’t sink the tube once the person is paralyzed you’ve got big problems.

Once the person is paralyzed you have got to be able to provide ventilation, since their diaphragm is immobile. If you fail to insert the ET Tube you can still fall back on forcing air through the nose and mouth with an Ambu-Bag to get oxygen to the lungs, But this doesn’t protect the airway and puts you in a worse position than when the guy just couldn’t breathe for himself. You 100% have to get the tube in place or your patient is going to suffocate right in front of you and you will be, to no small extent, responsible.

The intubation went fine. A portable chest x-ray showed the tube was about a half centimeter too deep, so Respiratory Therapy backed it out and re-secured it. Breath sounds could be heard in both lungs but his oxygenation was still not good. The ventilator was set up, but the patient started to fight it as the meds wore off. This is normal. He needed sedation. So we got out the Propofol and started an infusion, advancing the dose to try to get him relaxed again. He was a large man, so it took a lot to begin to work. We got his Blood Gas results and he was still not getting enough O2 and getting rid of enough CO2 and he was severely acidotic. The ventilator settings were revised to compensate. The other blood tests revealed a dangerous excess of potassium. His blood glucose was sky high, his lungs were full of fluid and his kidney function was failing.

It’s a high adrenaline scenario with a lot to do immediately and no wiggle room in getting it done. Even when all goes well and you’re accomplishing all your treatment goals, to counteract the list of emergency conditions you are aware of, there may still be others you don’t know about and the patient may still deteriorate. Maybe he has massive pulmonary emboli (blood clots in the lungs), occluded coronary arteries, DKA, MI, ringworm. (Alright we’re not going to sweat the ringworm). So even though we were doing everything we could he was getting worse.

Maybe if he had gotten to us sooner? It was her second time doing CPR. But harder this time because this person had been alive for her. She had known him to be a living human being and we had swum against the current to try to rescue him as he went down, but we lost him.

1-2-3 days, beginning to wonder if this career move was such a good idea. “I don’t know if I can take it if it’s going to be this way every day”. “You said it isn’t always like this. But it is. Why did you say that?”. I knew it was true, what I had said. It isn’t always like this. Thankfully I knew that. She had yet to see anything else. What was she to believe? I couldn’t fix it by talking. She would just have to experience better days. We had a few days off after that to try to shake some of it off.

When I first started working as a nurse I had three pairs of scrubs, all Forest Green. A rotation of three pairs is a decent start. My orientee started out with a few pairs, all of them black. After this day she questioned that choice. Was wearing all black inviting trouble? Before we came together again after our days off, she got some colored scrubs and has never worn all black again.

When we started off our fourth day I went out on a limb with her, because I figured,”Why should she believe me”, when I said it, but I told her again, “It isn’t always like that”. (It was probably beginning to sound like a worn out joke) “Most of the time it is nothing like that. It is going to get better and your patients are going to walk out that door like they’re supposed to”. She gave me a hard look. She had seen my quirky side, but she had seen me solemn as well. I believe I am a pretty transparent person and with that penetrating stare I think she could see it in my heart, I meant it. So she trusted me as we began another day.

Nearly a year has passed and she has never seen a stretch of consecutive days like those first three. She made it past that and has it as a foundation in her practice. Trial by fire has formed her and branded an indelible mark that speaks about Life and Death and ER Nursing. With that as a frame of reference, I should think the rest of the job looks pretty good.

Sweetened Condensed Prose

Come on Miguel where do you get that Goat Rodeo stuff and how do you get it out of the can?  It seems too thick  to just pour right out.  So what do you do to get at it?

I’ve been spending more time wandering through the fields of growing stories, inspecting their progress and examining which ones are filling out nicely and which ones are calling to me.  They grow quite a bit on their own and usually just need a little pruning and shaping   At some point I have to harvest an armload of material and bring it into the kitchen.  I’ll start the prep with some idea in mind of what the flavor should be  and I’ll just start working, tapping a bit out , fast or slow and then I’ll taste it.  I work by taste and I adjust it as I go.  Every bit of advice I have ever read about the craft of writing advises against this approach.  “Don’t edit as you write”, they all say.  “It inhibits your free flowing creativity”, they say.  “Just get the story down and then go back and edit it”… they …say.

I might as well jump into a swamp and try to balletically traverse its mires.  I have tried the approach the Experts propound and ended  up with an unruly patch of brambles. I started with a good idea and good energy, liked the flow, but in coming back  have hacked and chopped the poor defenseless words into a stuttering, prickly shrub that is unbalanced and will not flower. So I have been finding my own way.

I nurture the tempo and tend the choice of words turning them over in my head, walking up and down the rows, weeding as I go and trying their feel in my mouth to achieve the aesthetic while also delivering the goods to market, telling the story. Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, I have found I don’t write enough. I don’t dedicate the time to writing that I think it deserves.

That’s why I have joined a writing class, and the method is definitely “Just get it out and onto the page without engaging the “Editor”. And I am learning the value of that…. letting that uncensored part of the creator free to run wild. Loosen up and put the person who wants perfection in the penalty box during this initial phase of the process. That bastard is wiley though, used to having his say when he wants it.

Now I am trying both ways of writing… the slow word tasting, Bonsai cultivator and the open your seed-bag and scatter them in every direction, flying on the wind to surprise you with their arrangement and their beauty when, later on, you stop and assess what you have done.

You hear about being on this Earth for a limited time and how it is important to share your gifts, not squander them. If it is a gift or not is for you readers to say. But if it is I may well have been squandering it. When I think I set out to be a writer after high school almost 40 years ago and have let the fields of ideas lie fallow for that time… well, you see what I mean.

On the other hand one must pluck the fruit when it is ripe, and by gosh, I’ve got some harvesting to do before the crop spoils! The thing is you don’t want to let time pass you by and never do what it is you are meant to do, but neither do you want to rush and puke out some not yet ready rubbish just to have it out there. So as I see it I should be about nicely ripe at this time of my life. The impatience and laziness and unwillingness (or inability) to be still that characterized my younger self have softened and given way to … to what? It feels like a more forgiving and tolerant person lives in my shell now. I mean forgiving and tolerant of myself. I’m not cool. I don’t have to look good or be the best at something. I can just be me. And enjoy it.

When I share that in my brand of writing it feels good. If there’s a way to twist some words out of the air and get their fresh tang onto the page… What else is there? That is me.

That is how I do it.

I Knew I Was in Trouble

Oliver Enzo has an amazing talent. It comes from something innately embedded in his nature but developed by him and honed to a high degree of skill. He is 15 years old now and has his own business in drone video work. At the age of 13 I bought him his first high quality video Drone. At age fourteen he took his talent to Burning Man and was approved for one of just 30 Drone Pilot Permits out of 70,000 Burning Man participants. While there he Shot some drone footage for a You Tuber with over ten million subscribers to his channel. Ollie’s footage can be seen in the You Tube Video the guy produced. His flying skill is impressive. It is matched by his eye for the shot and his ability to edit moving images and music together into a beautiful final product.

I know I already said it, but he is a really good pilot. But he is also a fifteen year old kid. Under the rules for Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (Drones) you have to have an FAA issued Commercial operators certification in order to do commercial work. To be eligible to get the certification you have to be 16 years of age. What’s up with that? Well, the FAA controls all the country’s airspace and drones are just one of the users of that airspace. Actually They’re the new kids on the block in terms of airspace users.

Though many view drones as a nuisance or as as irritating toys, or unwanted invaders of their privacy, Drones occupy a respected place in aviation and provide an impressive array of services beneficial to society. They can also pose a danger. That’s why the FAA requires commercial users to take a test demonstrating adequate knowledge of the airspace regulations to operate safely and in a coordinated manner with both manned and other unmanned aerial vehicles. Within the language of the FAA Part 107 regulations (That’s the rules governing drone use) there is a stipulation that every mission must be under the control of a Remote Pilot in Command. That is the person holding the Certification. But the person doing the actual flying need not be the RPIC (Remote Pilot in Command). The person actually piloting the drone is referred to as “The Person Manipulating the Controls”. This person is under the supervision and direction of the RPIC but isn’t required to be FAA Certified. The RPIC just has to be able to take control of the drone should an emergency arise.

Here’s the little dance with words that has allowed Ollie to operate commercially: I am the RPIC. As a gift to Ollie for his fifteenth birthday I studied the regulations, completed an in-depth online course and took the FAA Proctored exam and have received my Part 107 Certification. This allows me to be the Remote Pilot in Command and Ollie to be the person manipulating the controls. He is a much more skilled pilot than I will ever be. In fact I haven’t even flown one of his good drones before getting certified. You don’t even have to demonstrate competency flying the drone in order to become a certified SUAS Remote Pilot by the FAA. I expect they will tighten that loophole pretty soon. But for now it has worked out for us.

I have since begun to learn to fly drones and how to shoot still images and video with them. Nothing spectacular. When our family were on an annual camping trip to Mono Hot Springs last Summer there were fires in the mountains and some of them were said to be getting within a few miles of the campground. The Camp Host, Jen had been in contact with Cal-Fire who were keeping her updated on the fire status and making contingency plans with her for how to evacuate or lock down the campgrounds should that become necessary. She said evacuation would be unlikely given the nature of the terrain, the woods, the abundance of water in camp and the limited capacity of the roads to facilitate a quick exodus. Also she said that if fire fighters were needed in the area the roads would need to be clear for them and their equipment, so anyone trying to leave under those conditions could get into trouble for obstructing an active firefighting effort.

There were days with helicopters circling for hours, trailing buckets that they were filling in a nearby lake and dropping on the fires. One day, after Making sure the choppers had ceased their activity several of us went on a hike up to a ridge to see if we could see any nearby plumes of smoke. Over an hour had passed since the last sight or sound of helicopter activity was registered. Ollie let me use his Mavic Pro drone to take up in the air and see what that vantage point could afford me. It is strictly forbidden to fly a drone anywhere near where aerial firefighting operations are in progress, and for good reason. You could cause the crash of a helicopter and endanger the lives of the crews in the air and on the ground. So I waited until there was absolutely no other air traffic for an extended period before I launched. From atop a granite outcrop I ascended straight up to a height of 200 feet, through an opening in the trees. Using my iPhone as a monitor the drone was sending me real-time video of the surrounding area. I did a 360 degree rotation and could see no nearby smoke or fires. That was a relief. I buzzed around above the tree tops for a few minutes shooting some video of Thule Lake with its high vertical granite wall standing from the smooth surface of the water up over a hundred feet high. I tried to spy the other hikers who had come out on the adventure with me, but I didn’t get a glimpse of them. I could hear them calling out like peacocks from below, I just couldn’t see them from the air.

After I landed and reported the fire status to the group we hiked back toward camp. One of the group asked if there was any interest on a side trip to Doris Lake for a dip before returning to camp. I wanted to go to get a shot of the lake and of Eagle Rock, which is a granite promontory rising some 45 feet or so above the lake and is a popular spot for thrill-seekers to jump off and enjoy that brief moment in the air that stretches out time, but compresses space into a tiny concentrated point while the experience lasts.

Sarah, her Labradoodle Charlotte and I broke off from the others and ambled the twisting, rugged trail to the top end of Doris. We scrambled over the bouldery stretch to the spot where access to the water is easy. There Sarah and Charlotte went in for a swim. The surface of the lake was as smooth as I had ever seen it. The skyline was beginning to blush as the Sun arced toward the place where it would intersect the profile of the peaks to the West. The quiet added to the beautiful stillness of the scene… It would be a majestic shot. I was excited and nervous as I unfolded the arms of the compact flying camera.

I went through my pre-flight procedure: Pairing the drone to my phone, making sure the drone and the transmitter were functional, removing the brace and cover that protect the delicate camera and gimbal assembly. My heart was pounding and my hands a little shaky as I lifted off. Sarah and Charlotte were just past halfway across the lake, already on their return leg of the swim, making a smooth wake of ripples as they plied the serene water. I flew toward them shooting video as I approached the midway mark of the lake where I intended to hover in place and rotate the drone 180 degrees to frame up the shot of Eagle Rock with the sunset bursting behind it. Instead of rotating the position of the drone though I mistakenly rotated the camera into a downward position, straight at the surface of the water. No big deal. I could edit that glitch out later.

I corrected that and drew the aim of the lens back to the plane I was after, pivoted into position and enjoyed the way I was able to arrange the shot. The smoke from fires brought out all the glory of the Sunset backlighting the scene. There was still more than enough light so the lake and the face of Eagle were fully exposed though. It was as lovely as I had hoped. There is a dynamic way of enhancing a scene like this when making video with the drone. What you do is line up the shot and then fly upwards and backwards, away from the subject. I have seen Ollie use this technique many times and thought it would be the perfect way to record the splendor of nature and preserve that moment. So that’s what I did.

Up and away, the field of view enlarging as I drew further from my side of the lake. Nice. Very nice. Another second or so should do it. Better get a visual on the drone to be sure I’m above the trees on the opposite bank. Just a quick glance up. Oh Fuck!

The drone was close to a tall Pine tree growing out of the rock right on the edge of the far shore and only about halfway up its height. I reversed the stick to full forward in an effort to avoid hitting the tree. But the drone was going fast and its momentum couldn’t reverse instantaneously. My heart landed in my stomach, maybe even my small intestine as I watched the little Mavic Pro impact the needled branch of that High Sierra Pine so close to the water’s edge.

My first worry was that the thing would bounce off the tree into the lake and sink. That would be the worst case. If it went into the water, of course the electronics would be fried and the drone would be ruined. Ollie has it insured, so if I could retrieve it we could replace it. But the water is deep and dark under the limbs of that tree. My heartbeat stopped while I waited for it to tumble down the limbs and splash. My breath caught high in my chest as I awaited the worst. One, two , three seconds passed and the red and green lights signaled that the drone remained high up in those arboreal clutches. Thank God! I moved the two control sticks into the down and inward position shutting down the motors to keep them from burning up, unable to spin as they were.

This is Bad! I have to get that drone out of that tree before it falls out! Before the Sun goes down. I can’t leave it there overnight. “Sarah, I got Ollie’s drone stuck up in a tree on the other side of the lake. You and Charlotte don’t have to stay with me, but I have to go over there and try to get that drone back. I can’t leave it in the tree”. “Oh my God Miguel!”, Sarah responded, “Where is it? “. It’s right across the lake about 40 feet up a tree”, I told her. “How am I going to get over there? I could swim, but then I’ll be across the lake having to climb that tree in just my shorts. That won’t work. I’m going to have to hike around the back of the lake, up and over that high rock and down to where the tree is.” “Of course we’re going to stay with you. There’s no way we could let you do that by yourself. What if something happened? What if you fall out of that tree? I think you should just leave it. You’re never going to be able to get up there and get it back”. “I may not be able to get it, but I have to do my best to try. It’s Ollie’s drone and I can’t just give up on it without trying”. Sara was doubtful, “I don’t see how you mean to get at it. It’s way up there. You aren’t going to be able to climb that tree are you? How do you know you won’t fall?” I was feeling desperate, “I am not going to take any unreasonable risks. I need to get over there and see if the tree is strong enough to climb. The Sun is getting pretty low already. I hate to drag you through this, but I have to get moving or it’s going to be dark.” Sarah was obviously not comfortable with any of this, but she is too solid a person to abandon me to my stupidity and misadventure. She was picturing me lying under that tree on the bare granite, fractured and unable to help myself. I felt terrible putting her through this.

We set off retracing our steps around the back of the lake. “How are we going to get over to where it is?”, Sarah asked as we pounded out a brisk cadence. “I’ve been over there with Ollie before, one of the times we camped out up here”, I told her… “the year before we did it with you and Noah”. There’s a trail that goes up and over those rocks and that big humpbacked hill, down to the other bank”. Continuing to walk fast she confided in me, “I should tell you my depth perception is not good once the light is low. I may have a hard time picking out my footing as it gets darker. And also I don’t care for scrambling and off-trail hiking. Jeanie LaPage always wanted to do hikes that way when we would go hiking and I never got comfortable with it.”. “I’m sorry Sarah. I really appreciate your willingness to stay with me. That means a lot. Let’s try to get over there quickly and I’ll see if I can even get into that tree. If I can, then I’ll go up and try to get Ollie’s drone back. If it looks like there’s no way up to it we’ll be able to say we tried and we’ll go back to camp”.

We made pretty good time humping through the back country. Sarah, her caveats acknowledged, had no difficulty arriving on the far side of the lake with sunlight to spare. She didn’t come all the way down to where the tree stood. I think she didn’t want to be that near if I should fall. She did sort of run a monologue of how I might fall. I couldn’t get all the way up there. The limbs probably wouldn’t hold my weight. Though I did appreciate her concern and especially her presence I had to say to myself, “To Hell with that!” I was resolved to get up into that Pine, figure a way to reach out the 8 feet or so from the trunk where the drone was suspended and safely retrieve that thing! I can get very determined and willful when I have to. This was one of those times. I had flown my son’s drone into a tree on the far side of a lake and I could not go back to camp without doing my absolute damndest…without pushing my limits to their utmost so I could to return it to him.

Sarah and Charlotte sat on a naturally formed granite bench about 50 yards up the slope from where I stood testing the the strength of the lower limbs. From ground level it looked promising. The limbs started only about 4 1/2 feet up the trunk and were about 5 inches in diameter. That should be strong enough. The spacing of the limbs appeared to be such that a climber should be able to reach from one to another without having to be a contortionist. I shouted to Sarah, “The limbs seem strong enough. I’m going to give it a try!” “Just be careful Miguel!”, came her reply.

I turned my cap around with the bill toward the back of my head, reached out gripping the dry rough bark of the first branch and hung my weight from it. 200 pounds is a lot to ask of a tree limb to hold. No problem. No crisp crackling noises like the wood was going to pieces. No sagging down. So I put a foot against the trunk, leaned back and pulled myself up into that pine. Once I was standing on that lower limb I could see there was a little issue. There were going to be spots where I was going to have to use little dead limb stubs to transition from branch to branch. That could be a problem. “If I’m going to fall that’s how it will happen”, I thought to myself. Better just test one of them now, while I’m still only a few feet up to see what happens.

These stubs are just about four to eight inches long. They are dead-wood with no bark and many of them are cracked and look to be just dangling from the trunk, waiting for the next breeze, or chipmunk to knock them onto the rocks or into the lake below. 200 pound chipmunk…Jesus Christ, what am I doing? I’m not ten years old anymore. My best tree climbing days are clearly far far behind me. Do I really have any business at more than halfway through my fifties assaulting this dignified, centuries old sentry of the mountain lake? Stop it Miguel! Those thoughts are not going to help you get all that way up there and complete your mission. It is time to simplify your thoughts and refine your focus. Take a few breaths and become one with the tree. Envision your success and then perform the physical steps that bring you to it. You still have that ten year old tree climbing aficionado inside you. Access him and bring that drone safely down.

Upward I continued, testing each branch, each stub, with first a little weight and then more, satisfying myself that that would not be the one to give way. By the time I was fifteen feet up I was crawling with ants. They were everywhere! At first I thought there was just a line of ants in the lower branches and once I was higher I would be out of them, but they were in every inch of the tree. I tried brushing them off. There were just so many! I got the ones off my neck and face and carried on. Every few feet I had to swipe some more off, the most distracting ones anyway. You have got to be kidding me! This is how it’s going to be? “You have gotten yourself into this situation Miguel”, I chided. “These damn ants are just going on with their lives. You go on with yours”. Refocus. Calm. But “Shit!” They’re getting in my nose and mouth! Fuck it! I’ll just have to do my best to ignore them until I get back down.

Let me just say that the bark of this old tree is really sharp and jagged. It is scratching up my skin something fierce! It’s beginning to burn on my arms and legs. At least it almost gets my mind off the ants. Am I breathing this hard because I’m exerting myself at 7’000 feet elevation, or because I’m nervous I wont be able to get the drone back safely, or because I fear I may fall out of this ant farm? Not sure, but I certainly am not used to breathing this fast. Just slow down a bit. Not much further to go. Make your movements deliberate. Now is not the time to rush.

I can’t say how much time I’ve spent in these prickly, ant crawling pine boughs, but I’ve finally reached the level of the drone. The red and green lights are at eye level. Looking down I’d say at least 40 feet up. In against the trunk as I worked my way to this point I haven’t had any real reason to worry about falling, but now I am faced with the problem of how to reach the drone that looks like it’s more like ten feet out the limb than the eight feet I had guessed from the ground. There’s nothing I can use to reach for it. That means I am going to have to go out to it, hang myself ten feet out these limbs. Their diameter isn’t as broad up here as it was below. Hmmm, the branch the drone is in is pretty strong looking. I can put some weight on that one, but not all my weight. I wouldn’t trust it for that. About five feet down there’s another decent sized one. It looks like my best bet is to distribute my weight between the two of them… stand on the one below and hold onto the upper one, not putting too much weight on either. That should work. Hopefully. If one fails, I will need the other to do all the heavy lifting and keep me this side of the River Styx.

A few inches at a time I test the competency of the two limbs I am suspending my life from. Away from the safety of the trunk, where the branches are thick and strong, I continue outward. There is Sarah with Charlotte up the slope a ways. I don’t really know her that well. We have camped together up here with our sons, away from the rest of the group that once. We have shared carpool driving from Bonny Doon to Santa Cruz where our kids are in school together. Her husband, Sam and I are in the same loose-knit group known as the Bonny Doon Gentlemen’s Leisure Club. (Great group by the way!) We have been at numerous social gatherings where we have friends in common… that is what it is to be a Dooner. Everyone knows everyone and everyone helps each other out. Now she’s standing by me in this harebrained photo op come off the rails. She didn’t have to stay. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had left. Would I have done the same for her? I would. Without hesitation. Does she know that? I hope she could guess.

Just a few feet more to go. At this point there’s a fair bit of dead material in the branches between the drone and me. That doesn’t reassure me. I want these to be the healthiest, most verdant goddamn pine boughs I have ever seen! Nothing to do for it though. This dead stuff is in my way. I have to remove some of it to be able to reach the drone. So I snap off a few little twiggy bits and drop them. It doesn’t occur to me that Sarah is going to hear this and think I’m falling. I’m just honestly not thinking about that right now, okay. Who are you to judge? Almost there. I move out a little further. Really. Not. Digging. This! A little further. What if I stretch? Can I reach it? Balancing as best I can I extend my arm as far as I can. I don’t want to test the good nature of these branches any more than I already have. But I have to. I can’t reach. Out I shimmy. Just another half a foot. Reach. Got It!

Unbelievable! I don’t believe it myself! I really, truly don’t. I have Ollie’s little Alpine White Mavic Pro drone in my hand. It appears grossly intact. I powered down the battery. I haven’t fallen. I am going to have to tell him what happened. When I get back to camp I shall have to confess what I have done. It is totally my fault. I did not maintain awareness of my surroundings. But I have rescued the drone. Well almost. I still have to get down from this high pickle, but compared to the climb, when I didn’t know if it could be done… the descent should be easy. Fold the arms and props into their compact positions. Stow it into the cargo pocket of my shorts. (It fits!). Get back in toward the central column of the tree trunk and down I go.

Once I felt my feet back on the ground I let out a grateful sigh. The worst had been averted. The drone wasn’t in the lake. It wasn’t in the tree. It was in my pocket. I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t damaged. It has some delicate parts I had no way to assess at that moment, but it wasn’t obviously destroyed. Now we just had to get back down to camp. After I get these ants off me. I was actually lucky. The ants weren’t too interested in biting and the tree was strangely absent of sap. The scrapes from the bark were the worst I had suffered.

The Sun had fallen below the horizon while I was up the tree. It would be dark before we saw camp. We still had to scramble off trail for a good distance, then it would be a mile hike over rugged granite down to the the streamside campsite where our families would be, worrying over what had become of us. I thought they would be anyway. But Sarah had called them. Her cell phone got reception all the way out there! So much for remote back country experience! She had already told them what had happened and what I was attempting. (That took some of the sting out of the confession I was going to have to make to my son). She called again to let them know we were headed back down.

It was difficult going at first, skirting over, around and sometimes through thickets of wild roses. The major feature of these flowers is not the flowers. It is the thorns. An unreasonable abundance of them. What function can that many thorns serve? Half as many would be twice what’s needed to deter any creature from wanting anything to do with them! I tried to hold them aside, or down for Sarah when I could. Even so this was the worst part of the hike. There was no rhythm and we had to invent our route, since there was not trail on this stretch. Charlotte didn’t seem to mind.

She guided us enthusiastically once we were back on the trail. We had to watch our step. Luckily no rattle snakes had encamped in the trail. They are common up there and enjoy stretching out in the evening. We never heard a buzz. No-one tripped as the twilight deepened.

Before long we were back at camp, where the others were finishing dinner. There was some saved aside for us. The confession I thought I was going to have to make was never needed. Ollie, mindful of the stipulation that I am to supervise him when he flies a mission relished this opportunity to tell me he is going to have to supervise me when he lets me fly his drone in the future. That little turnabout filled him with a certain pride and gave him a good natured way to show he had the upper hand on me. Fair enough. He wasn’t angry. He doesn’t really get angry. (I’m not sure how he does that.) He was gracious enough, not forgetting that he, too has had mishaps in the air. Nothing was lost. The drone wasn’t even damaged we determined. The trouble I was in had trickled away down over boulders and up into the air. I learned through heart pounding adrenaline to maintain awareness of my position relative to potential hazards. Best of all, now I have this tale to tell.