"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

where it began...I can't begin to knowin'...

For the second time in 2 years I made it out to the park by 6:00 pm for the takeoff of the "Fast 50" ride (a name that doesn't necessarily apply to the ride I did in speed or distance, but so it's called). Even though everyone is dressed weirdly at these events it was exciting to ride through town in a group that was about a block long and a lane wide. It was a lycra parade. I really like the clicking sounds of all those shoes detaching from all those clipless pedals at the stoplights.

No doubt I've made some kind of cycling progress since I did this ride last year...heck, last year I didn't even have clipless pedals. I sure feel like I'm faster. But everybody else must have felt that way too. I was dropped in pretty much the same place as last time, shortly after we got out into the orchards. The "péloton" moved ever farther away, then around the next bend and out of sight until I had turned back onto the River Road and saw a bunch of the Tri Group women showing solidarity for a sister with a flat. At least it looked like somebody was fixing a flat and everyone else was standing around. So I felt free to pass by on the other side and they didn't catch me again until we were back in town.

The high point of this ride, and other rides I've been on in these parts lately, is the smell of the fields and orchards in summer when there are sprinklers going or as today, it was threatening rain off and on during the ride and the air was muggy. Muggy but about 10 degrees cooler than the past couple days (only 94 instead of 104--felt like heaven). It's a smell that seems natural and cultivated at the same time. It's almost a food smell--which makes sense--sort of the primeval food smell. Here and there are undertones of fermentation, decay and manure which add complexity. It's also a homey smell. This is what a place with open fields and irrigation smells like in the summer, and my hometown smelled something like that in its pre-stripmall & subdivision days. I think most of these really good smells have since retreated north to Idaho, perhaps with a few remaining outposts south of the border. I never expected to find myself in Chico, and I never expected to be so pleased by the landscapes and smells...orchards, fields and a river to the east with an outline of the Coast Range in the distance; rolling buttes and Sierra / Cascade mountains to the west. While the heat isn't easy to handle, it brings out some of these good smells. Slow-cooks 'em.

Along the route there is one stretch however that is a bit too complex in fragrance. The water treatment site. It's almost completely hidden behind big flowering hedges but it smells like shit, and not in a happy California cow sort of way. Well, when it happens, it has to go somewhere.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

strange dilemmas of our time

We saw Al Gore's film today and I am just about ready to move to the Arctic to build rescue rafts for the polar bears. It's one thing for humans to screw up our own existence but we have to make other species suffer with us. We are incredibly lousy stewards of this planet. To use a metaphor from the dominant paradigm, if the planet were a business God set us up with, we have been "running" it with all savvy and sensitivity of, say, G.W. Bush. No wonder he's our president.

It's weird...it's not like much of the information in the film was news to me, but perhaps the presentation and the visuals gave it more impact. I was / am so upset that after the movie when I rode my bike to the Co-op, to post an agenda for our next board meeting and buy a few things, I picked up a hand of bananas and put them down again because the sticker on them announced they had come from far, far, away.

So here's a dilemma: these bananas are certified fair trade and organic. These particular bananas were from Peru. After all the damage U.S. foreign policy has done to South America in the last several decades, does the good I can do by supporting fair-trade organic agriculture in those places outweigh the bad pollution generated by shipping bananas from Peru to Chico, California? Coffee poses a similar problem. As far as I know, the nearest coffee plantations are in southern Mexico. I can get "Triple Certified" coffee which is 1) organically grown 2) shade grown, so as not to ravage the rainforests and leave the songbirds homeless, and 3) fair-trade so that the farmers get a decent price for their beans and hopefully can support themselves and their families. I feel like this is the least I can do if I'm going to drink the stuff. BUT, the shipping! There's the rub.

At the Co-op I also purchased a package of spicy veggie dogs (on sale) only to read the fine print after I got home and learn they came from Canada. Closer than Peru, but not exactly local. I just don't know what level of emission-conscious orthodoxy I can maintain. If I abstain from bananas and coffee on ecological grounds, it would be a personal ethical statement as opposed to an action likely to have any measurable impact, and I like the idea of my American dollars supporting organic farming in other lands. I also really like bananas and coffee, and no doubt countless other things that have been shipped halfway 'round the world. However I am also lucky to live in California where in theory we could feed ourselves pretty well without crossing oceans or continents. If I wanted to, I could be well nourished on things that came from within 100 miles of Chico. (20 miles, if I switch to a diet of rice and almonds.) I could even have decent cheese and some of the best ice cream on earth if I extended that to 200 miles or so.

What to do. Maybe I should start with the things that seem easier. I can ensure, at least, that the final stage of the journey of my food and drink is not gasoline-powered. Eventually when I get a trailer for my bike I will never really need to drive to buy groceries again; as it is now, only the 20-lb bags of cat litter and occasional large water jugs are an obstacle. We can buy more food from the farmers' market. And I'm on the Co-op board, so I can try to give the "buy local" campaign more of a push. Our patio / yard in the current location isn't gardenable; maybe I could borrow a piece of someone else's yard until we have our own. Anything to absorb a little more of the CO2 I create. Anything to help the polar bears hang on a little longer, and the local farmers while we're at it.

On a related topic: in a recent post I mentioned that our emergency roadside assistance company is not AAA. Here's why.

Monday, June 19, 2006

don't take no cutoffs, part II

After my last posting I went out for a bike ride, thinking I'd like to ride somewhere new with maybe a little hill climbing to make it interesting. I looked at the map and decided to ride down to Durham and then out to Butte College. Which I did, though I hadn't really established my return route. I ended up riding from the college to Lime Saddle Rec Area on Lake Oroville. While I was refilling my water bottles at a drinking fountain I overheard some boaters say they were going to drive 5 miles up the road to Paradise. I thought, well now that's not so far, I've already dragged myself up this great big hill to the lake, might as well make a loop of it.

About that time I started nibbling on the Clif "Nectar" Bar I brought along, noting that it didn't seem to be sitting well as I ate it, but I needed something with carbs. Also when I left Chico at around 5:00, the temperature was somewhere low-90's. I shoulda put some gatorade in my bottles.

When I got to Paradise I called C, secretly tempted to ask her to come and get me. Since I'd been gone almost 3 hours by then, I thought at least a check-in was due. All I had to do from that location was point my bike downhill (but for the tendency to shift into those really high gears you can only pedal when you're going downhill). Half an hour later I rolled up to the door, reflecting that the only parts of me free from pain were my earlobes and nose. I way overdid it. I lost the Clif Bar soon after I got home. While this may not be good timing in this post to recommend a food product, the nectar bars are actually really good. Made of dried fruits and nuts.

46 miles in 3.5 hours. Feeling much better now, thanks, except for being a little too wide awake in the middle of the night. I need a snack.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

don't take no cutoffs

We just returned from two nights at Donner Memorial State Park, a spot selected less for its quiet mountain solitude than for its accessibility from Sacramento (some of C's family met us there) and the fact that the Legal Services picnic was in Auburn on Friday, not to mention Donner Lake, where I was eager to test the waters. We had a good campsite though...plenty of open space around us, so we weren't aware most of the time that we were up there with the masses.

Naturally a visit to this area invites many tired references to the lore of the ill-fated-you-know-who, and of course we had to squeeze the limbs of C's nephew and tell him how tasty he looked. We toured the little museum and watched the 1970's-era 20-minute "documentary" (closeups of paintings of pioneers trudging in the snow with a maudlin soundtrack). Even so, the story provoked some reflection. The will to survive is as powerful a force of nature as any. Whenever a story comes along with a really bad ending, people try to make it into a morality play so that they can detach themselves from it: they were in a hurry to get to California and get rich, they took bad advice, they weren't prepared, they left too late, they fought with each other on the way...and look what happened!

By no means am I suggesting that we can't learn from other's mistakes...sometimes a less painful way to learn than from ones own. My beef (or boiled oxhide, or...other protein source) is that more emphasis is not given to the fact that despite the bad planning, bad luck, disaster and death, quite a number of men, women and children in the Donner party actually survived. That is the only part of the story that captures my imagination at this point.

The nearest brush with disaster we had on our camping trip was when I locked my keys in the truck--with that evening's cache of marshmallows trapped inside! I called our roadside assistance (NOT AAA, but that's a story for another post) and a man in a big towtruck came and plied his ingenious devices to the door, eventually unlocking it and freeing our imprisioned supplies.

Donner Lake and Donner Pass is an historically rich area in ways not related to the Donners. See this from Anthropology.net

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

lost in mapland

I may have mentioned this before...but I love maps. I LOVE them. I have spent the last two hours or so researching the Bartlett Springs road. I am fascinated by the Mendocino National Forest because rumor has it that there are no paved roads that cross it; our camping excursion to Anthony Peak in October 2004 supported that theory. I was hoping maybe Bartlett Springs Rd was paved because the squiggly red line was slightly darker than some of the other squiggly red lines on one of my maps. However you can see in this quadrangle (click on it and it will be easier to see) that the road (roughly in the center) looks suspiciously rustic. I couldn't find the legend to go with these maps on the website but I think it's just slightly better than a ========= jeep trail. The reason for the interest in Bartlett Springs is that it looked like it might be a way to avoid the scarier, fast-cars-no-shoulder stretches of Hwy 20. You ride from Colusa through Williams, see, and then just before 20 heads into the hills, you branch off to the right and head for Indian Valley Reservoir (reputed as a bass fishing paradise). Eventually you're on Bartlett Springs Rd and it lands you in Lucerne, aka the "Switzerland of America." I wonder if Lucerne has copyrighted that nickname, or if I could start randomly applying it to other places that bear equally no resemblance whatsoever to Switzerland.

When my touring bike is built, it will not require pavement due to its suitably fat tires. I will ride it to the Switzerland of America and beyond.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

la paleta mas fina

Little did I know that my favorite paletas are the subject of an intellectual property controversy. Since the arrival of warmer weather, an ice cream truck playing "Music Box Dancer" drives past my office almost every afternoon. The driver's name is Kyle; he is a poet as well as an ambulatory dealer in fine frozen treats. I discovered La Michoacana paletas de coco a couple months ago. Since then, the only time I have picked a different ice cream was when I was a four-bits short of the $1.25. Two-tones (orange and vanilla) are seventy-five cents so all was not lost.

To summarize the controversy, the California company that makes these delights helped itself to the name and perhaps the logo of the Mexican paleteria that started it all. This is apparently O.K. under US law, though the article above is a year old and I haven't been able to find out what has developed since then. Not sure how to feel about this...perhaps my normal sense of fairness is benumbed by "milk, cream, sugar, skim milk, corn syrup, coconut, stabilizers, and natural & artificial flavors."

Saturday, June 03, 2006


The Sycamore Pool is open for the summer so I'm back to my Friday "open water" swims. The water temperature isn't quite "summer" just yet. I lowered myself down the ladder and spent the next few minutes gasping and doing the dogpaddle. It was achy-cold. After about eight minutes I felt acclimatized enough that I could put my face in the water without having the gasp reflex. I swam about twenty minutes by which time I was starting to feel like a small iceberg drifting around in the North Atlantic. Unless we have a heatwave this week and the pool gets a solar charge, I think it may be a great opportunity to practice with the wetsuit.