Friday, August 31, 2007

More Religious Ed Mizukus

Ah, the High Holy Days. The food! The music! The arguments! And the annual Four Weeks of Elul posts sent out by the congregation. The combination can create quite a bit of mizukis (loosely translated as "insanity") in my mind.

Today, I opened my e-mail for the Week 3 of Elul study from the congregation. I read:

Four Weeks of Elul 5768 Week Three: Communal Lives
August 30, 2007

Dear Elisheva,

I recently had a discussion with a Rabbinic colleague about how our b'nai mitzvah students approach their mitzvah projects. We both agreed that most our children are very creative and industrious in the way that they go about researching and implementing their chosen acts of tseddakah. From recycling projects to working with animal rescue groups; volunteering in the school system and planting trees, our children do a wonderful job of finding ways to make a difference in our communities. And yet, we both expressed a sense of sadness and frustration that, increasingly, many of our b'nai mitzvah students are not choosing Jewish organizations that can benefit from these projects.
Now, I am probably being overly-sensitive here, but the whole thing kind of tee'd me off, if you know what I mean. First of all, the congregation provides very little guidance and support in the choice of projects or in the execution of the service work. The onus is on the parents and the child to develop a project and follow through on it. Secondly, there are limited opportunities within the Jewish community for young people to provide meaningful service. In our case, I wanted N. to get involved in service that would be on-going, that would be more than make-work, and in which there was room for increasing scope. I also wanted him to find service that flowed from his deepest values and concerns about the world. I wanted the project to reflect who he not only as a Jew, but as a member of the larger community. As a member of a minority religion, I think that any opportunity to express Jewish values in a larger community context is valuable public relations.
So, being a Jew, myself, I immediately sat down and wrote an essay responding to the posting. Remember: "Two Jews, three opinions." It is a sort of "My Turn" essay, that could generate discussion, but probably won't. So I am excerting it here, where I hope to get comments and discussion.
Excerpt I: In which try to demonstrate the rich growth in stewardship that N. has experienced from his non-Jewish community oriented mitzvah project.

Shalom, Rabbi ______,

I am the parent of one of those kids who did a tzedakah project that did not directly serve the Jewish community for his Bar Mitzvah this past year. Perhaps I am feeling a little bit defensive here, but I wonder about separating the choices the kids make into “better” and “lesser” categories depending on who benefits from the services volunteered. Yes, I would like my son to be more involved in the Jewish community and at the same time, I also guided him toward a project that would extend beyond the “one-time deal” into something that he could and would continue to do after all of the hoop-la was over. In fact, for N., the commitment to animal protection projects increased after the Bar Mitzvah, because he began to have more time to devote to it. He is now our neighborhood ambassador for Sandia Mountain Bear Watch, writing and distributing information about how to co-exist with bears, rattle-snakes and mountain lions in our East Mountain community. After the Holy Days, he will begin a volunteer project with the Sandia Mountain I-40 Safe Passage Corridor, in which he will observe and count animals using the safe-passages that were part of the I-40 Tijeras Canyon reconstruction.
Excerpt II: In which I argue that the scope of the service work is universal, the values it represents are important to our future, and spring from our core Jewish values. And that N. serves as an ambassador for Jewish values to the larger community.
These projects are ongoing, and involve doing important work for our mother earth, upon which our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren ultimately depend. This work is done in the company of other teens and adults. The opportunity for others to get to know N., and hear him explain how his commitment to conservation is aligned with his Jewish values (Bal Tashit (do not destroy wantonly), Shomrei Adamah (protect the earth), Tzaar ba-alei chayei (respect and care for living things), etc.) cannot be discounted. People of other faiths and those with no faith do learn from him about our Jewish faith and commitments as we live them.
Excerpt III: In which I point out that religious expression and spirituality must flow from our lives as we actually live them, and that American Jews generally live within the larger community.

If our religion is to mean anything to us, it must extend from and be applied to the choices and decisions we make in our daily lives. As it happens, our daily lives are lived largely outside of the Jewish community...
Excerpt IV: In which I express the age-old frustration that you can lead a kid to religion, but you can't make him pray. OR kids grow up to choose their own expressions of spirituality--or not:

(MLC) currently expresses a good deal of contempt for organized religion in general.... and is much more captivated by the unity of all life that she sees in her studies of biology and chemistry than she is by Torah and Mitzvot. She’d probably end up a pagan except that she also "eschews" (she uses that word—really!) the magical world view. Currently, she claims to be an atheist, (at least when she is not an agnostic). When she is present for Shabbat or Holy Day she participates by cooking and conversing, but refuses to sing the blessings. I live in fear that she might end up writing the next version of The God Delusion. I can see myself, like Woody Allen’s (movie) parents, wearing the nose-and-glasses disguise while I explain to reporters where I went wrong.

N., on the other hand, is far more receptive to and appreciates Jewish life as it is lived in our household, but he seems to desire a more personal (or maybe natural?) and less formal approach to his spirituality, and so really enjoys going to small group Torah study with (another rabbi in another congregation). He likes to pray at home, outside, and interrupts his worship to watch the hummingbirds, the coyotes and the deer that feed in our meadow. I sometimes wonder if N. is going to take off into the woods someday to find “the Spirit that moves through all things” in the natural world. He might end up being more like Starhawk with T’fillin than like Moses Mendelsohn.
Excerpt V: In which I point out that we, as a ReformJewish community, tend to sweep the fact that our children leave the practice of the faith in large numbers under the rug OR The "We need to talk about this..." plea:

As a parent, I have received little information or help in dealing with my children’s alternative approaches to religion and spirituality...(within Judaism). I suspect that the expression of spirituality is part of the make-up of the person (i.e. the heritability is high), so what does a mother do? I can make rules and boundaries, but I cannot force a specific kind of expression of religion or spirituality on another. Coercion tends to lead to forceful rejection, especially from independent thinkers like (my kids).
Excerpt VI: In which I discuss my concerns about the nature of the current culture in Reform Judaism and my concern with the lack of a clear philosophy of education there:

One concern I have about the current direction of Reform Judaism, is that there is much conformity of behavior but little philosophical justification for it. I think that a child—or rather a young person—like (one of mine) would have done better with the concepts of ethical monotheism and the prophetic voice that were taught in the more classical expression of Reform Judaism. The mix of lock-step adherence to certain ritual and custom (this is how we all must bow, dress, etc.) and rejection of other historic ritual and custom that seems willy-nilly, along with the materialistic values modeled in the current culture of Reform, does not appeal to (my kid's) idealism or ... desire for intellectual rigor. There was a heated discussion of this problem at our Passover table by the four Jewish young people there ( all in college)—two of whom were educated (here), one of whom was educated at a reform congregation in (another state), and one who received no Jewish education. The three who did receive a Reform education were very vocal about the materialism and “country club” atmosphere of their respective Reform congregations. Young people do notice when behavior does not model values preached! They are less tolerant of hypocrisy than are those of us who are older.
Excerpt VII: In which I point out that one-size fits all education does not work OR the "we need some educational flexibility to meet special needs" argument that I have unsuccessfully expressed here and here and, (weary sigh), here:

N., who does respect genuine Jewish values and ritual, would do better with religious instruction that is less formal and more connected with his life and passions. He needs teaching that starts where he is at, and role models that can appreciate, or at least attempt to understand, his child-like lack of sophistication in the social realm. He also needs to see values expressed in the every-day action of individuals, rather than the “do as I say, not as I do” approach, but for a different reason. People with Asperger Syndrome really do not understand the sophisticated social posturing that goes on among neurotypical people. For kids like N., values must be modeled in concrete ways—specifically in interactions between adults such as teachers and rabbis and him. It must be personal. Saying “we are going to spend quality time together” and then spending twenty minutes hurrying him through a hoop is sending a confusing message. So is the use of sarcasm in the religious school classroom—whether it is directed at him or other students. He notices and he does not understand and that hurts him. He wants to be part of things and sometimes his behavior is the result of trying too hard, or misunderstanding what a kid’s got to do to be accepted. He feels accepted among the people of Bear Watch, who appreciate his love of bears, mountain lions and snakes, as well as among the people of Children of the Earth Foundation, who share his love of the wilderness. So this is where his “action potential” has the best chance of taking root and thriving. This is where his life is lived and this is where his spirituality must be nurtured.
Excerpt VIII: Finally, after much digression, an attempt to bring it all back to the original message:

Anyway, maybe we should be happy that our kids want to repair the world a little bit, rather than consider those who choose ways that do not fit into the narrow range of options... of lesser value. Maybe we can see that they are ambassadors of the more universal values in Judaism to a world that does not know about them. Maybe we can include and learn from expressions of Judaism that do not fit the norm.

So, gentle readers, please chime in. Am I being overly-sensitive, maybe?
Is this, as the other testament likes to say, 'pearls before swine?'
Where do you think I might be missing something important?
Are there other ideas I might want to consider?
Sometimes I honestly get the feeling that our religious leadership doesn't really have a clue as to how the am ha-aretz (hoi polloi, for the Greeklings out there) live their lives. Or what our deepest desires concerning the religious upbringing of our kids are. Or what goes on for our kids religiously outside the synagogue. I get the sense that the good rabbi doesn't think we are capable of a deep commitment to our values. Or that our expression of them may differ.
And, as always, remember: Two Jews, three opinions. This is one of mine. In other words, you may not agree.
And finally, after much frustration editing, can anyone tell me why this compose editor does not always recognize hard returns for paragraphing? Oy!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling: The Random Edition

The Headmistress has been busy over at The Common Room. So on this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, the posts are simply put in the order by which they arrived in her In-Box.

So when time is available, you'll want to go over to the Carnival for some random reading!

Happy Random Access!

Eclipse: Three A.M. On a School Night?

What? Three A.M. on a school night? Meshuggeneh!

Yep. We got up at that time, early Tuesday morning. We could have gotten up earlier to watch the pennumbral phase, but we thought some rest might be nice. After all, Bruce had to go to work and I had two classes on Tuesday.

So we chose to get up close to the beginning of totality during the total lunar eclipse, visible from 5 continents early yesterday morning.

At three A.M., the moon was somewhat obscured by clouds, but by about 3:30 AM, when the eclipse was just beginning totality, we could see the moon--deep red in the shadow of the earth.

So we had our science "lab" there on the back patio before the birds even thought of stirring. We defined the phases of a lunar eclipse and we talked about how the shadow of the earth always projects into to space, opposite of where the sun is shining on earth. A lunar eclipse happens when the moon happens to be inside the bounds of the shadow. Wed talked about why a lunar eclipse happens more often near the equinoxes--it has to do with the tilt of the earth and where we see the moon relative to the sun with respect to that tilt of 23' 27" from the plane of the ecliptic. We talked about how people in the past have interpreted lunar eclipses--and indeed solar eclipses. We used the Astronimical Calendar to find the times of each phase of the eclipse, and we discussed what Universal Time is and how to calculate where we are in time (Greenwich -6 during Daylight Savings time) in relation to UT.

Toward dawn, when the moon was moving out of the earth's shadow, we took some pictures. We talked about why we could see the eclipse through the binoculars at 3:30 AM, but not with the camera lense.

N. guessed that the binoculars had a greater magnification. But that's not true. Actually, the binoculars we were using magnified by 12X wheras when the zoom was full-strenth on the camera, it has a magnification of 15X.

The most important aspect of viewing astronomical objects is the apeture of the lense--that is the diameter of it--because as size increases, the light-gathering ability of the lense increases. The more light the lense can gather, the more you can see. The apeture of the camera lense is small compared to the apeture of the binoculars. So, to take pictures, we had to wait until there was more light in the sky. Successful pictures happened as the earth turned toward the dawn.

We learned quite a lot really. To review:
  • the mechanics of a lunar eclipse (astronomy)
  • the seasonal effect on the moon entering the earth's shadow (astronomy, earth science)
  • where the moon appears in the sky related to time, lunar phase and earth season (astronomy, earth science)
  • the phases of a lunar eclipse (astronomy)
  • the relative importance of apeture v. magnification in astronomical viewing (optics)
  • the cultural meanings of lunar eclipses (anthropology)

And we got to share some time out in the dark while most of our part of the world was sleeping. We noticed that the dawn breeze actually brings the temperature down just at sunrise. We noticed that some animals are out hunting at night.

When the sun rose the moon was just setting, as happens during the full moon, and this day it settled into the rosy western horizon with a tiny bite out of it.

Beautiful. And that was the last of our learning. We learned again that all times of the day and night have their own beauty.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Not Back-to-School Today! Unschooling, Formal and Informal Learning

The coming of the school year for our friends and neighbors has had some influence on us as we begin our second year of homeschooling. I have previously discussed the evolution of our homeschool adventure here. We changed over time from a formal, scheduled school-at-home approach to the more fluid approach of unschooling. Last year, we did do some back-to-school-type shopping and even took advantage of the govenor's tax-free back-to-school shopping weekend. This year, we did no back-to-school type shopping. Oh, N. did propose to use The Teaching Company's Great Courses DVDs as a means to his goal of reviewing basic math and learning algebra. And I ordered them when we agreed on that. But we felt....well, a teensy, weensy bit left out of all of the excitement. We had no reason to read the Back-to-School insert in the newspaper. N. gets his clothes as needs them now, so there was no need for a school clothes shopping trip. And anyway, we were getting ready for our California trip. It was this, in the end, that helped us over the "wow, we're not going 'back to school' " left-outness.

But even though we are not going back to school, and we are not going to school-at-home, we still made an educational-type transition today. In the Bird Baylor, 'I'm in charge of celebrations' mode, we had our first day of Not Going to School. Today, N. woke up ready to begin some of the learning that he planned with us toward the end of July. And this transition led me to do some reflecting on what it means, exactly, to be unschoolers. The question that I am ruminating on is this: Is having a structure/routine compatible with calling ourselves unschoolers? What about the presence of some formal, structured learning?

Now that we are back home from our trip (it is difficult to call all that busy-ness a vacation), we decided (note the pronoun) to add a little structure to our days. So today we resumed praying the morning service. And since it is the month of Elul (in the Hebrew Calendar), N. decided to practice blowing the shofar, which is the custom in this month of preparing for the Days of Awe.

Is this learning? Well, yes, of course it is! N. is learning content--the adult practices that go with the month of Elul, Jewish customs and tradition, the structure of the Hebrew calendar. He is also practicing skills--how to blow a shofar, chanting prayers in Hebrew, the choreography of Jewish prayer, etc.

But this is certainly not formal education. It is the kind of learning-by-doing that is considered education at its best by such advocates of unschooling as John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, and Alison McKee. It is learning that comes naturally in the process of living our particular lives in our own cultural and social context.

After we prayed the morning service and blew the Shofar, though, N. got out his hunting knife and we opened the big box that had come from The Teaching Company. He examined the three courses therein--Basic Math, Algebra I, and The Joy of Science. He opened up the math workbooks that came with the first two courses, and he read the outlines inside the DVD cases. Then he collected a clipboard, a pencil and a spare, and paper, and popped in the Basic Math DVD and selected Lesson 1--Review of Addition and Subtraction. On the screen, Murray Siegel, Ph.D. was standing in a room full of instruments of math instruction, lecturing from notes and using a white-board.

This would be recognized anywhere as learning; indeed, it looks like schooling. Well....kind of. I mean, how many students in school listen to their math lectures sitting cross-legged in an easy chair, while snacking on nuts and drinking water? How many students in school can literally freeze-frame the professor and use scene selection to replay a difficult-to-understand bit. Never-the-less, this still looks like formal education. It is structured. It has a teacher, it has a white-board, and it has a workbook. N. even had "homework." He had a page of workbook problems to practice after he finished watching the DVD. True, he checked his answers himself using a calculator and then compared that to an answer key. No red pens--thank goodness!--and immediate feedback was his. Still, one wonders, is this also unschooling?

I think the answer to that question is that it depends. It depends on the answers to other questions. Questions like: Who decided that N. would learn Basic Math? Who decided that he would use a DVD course from The Teaching Company? Who decided that he would do it right after morning service without even taking a break? In our case, the answer to each of the above is: N. did. He made a goal for himself to review 4th - 8th grade math so that he could learn Algebra. He got interested in Algebra by watching his sister, Bruce and I solve important problems that way. (Important because they pertained to things we were planning to do). He pored over The Learning Company's catalogue and decided that he would like to use their product. He determined when he would begin and that he would do the math on days that someone would be around to help him if he needed it. And today he got up ready to begin.

Is this unschooling? I think it is. There was no imposition of goals on the learner. We have definitely moved from being 'sages on the stage" to becoming 'guides on the side.' There is structure--but it comes from goal-setting. N. has learned that routine and regular practice are very helpful to the accomplishing of goals. And this is a good thing to learn in this world. Actions do have consequences. How you go about working on goals has a lot to do with whether or not you accomplish them. Practice does make perfect sometimes.

So we are unschooling this year.

And the rest of our day? N. spent the afternoon in his room, making a contour map of his secret spot for Kamana II. He didn't need me at all for that. He had not 'scheduled' it. But he clearly had it in mind for his First Day NOT Back to School.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Travelogue Last: Home At Last!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Morning in Needles, California: Time= 7 A.M. Temperature = 98 degrees F. We can hardly wait to get out of this place and start driving east--and up onto the Colorado Plateau.

Needles lies in the Colorado River Valley, between fault block ranges of the Basin and Range Province. The elevation is low, and the landscape is of the Mojave Desert. Hot. Dry. Barren.

After a good breakfast at a local chain next to the motel, we loaded Henry up. By 8:30 the temperature was 100 degrees (F) and the heat was ennervating.

It was my day to drive again. We had been on the road less than an hour, when the coffee I had consumed at breakfast made a quick stop at a Rest Area west of Kingman vital. I took a picture of the landscape at the Rest Area--still Mojave Desert index plants. This is a Palo Verde plant against the mountains. The temperature here was 101 degrees (F).

And then another stop at Kingman, Arizona, to load up with gas. The prices in Needles were the highest we had seen anywhere. The gas prices in Kingman were more toward the average, and nearly a dollar lower than Needles. I am glad we were able to make Kingman for the gas. The people in Needles are being gouged.

From Kingman, Arizona, we ascended up onto the Colorado Plateau in a series of long hills, and then onto the San Francisco Volcanic Field, dominated by San Francisco Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona.

At about 11:30 MST (Arizona does not observe daylight time), we stopped at a rest stop just west of Flagstaff, which sits just below San Francisco Peak. What a difference in landscape and temperature. We had come quite high, and the landscape was Ponderosa Pine Forest. The temperature was 86 degrees (F). We lingered there, taking pictures of a volcanic cone that was being mined for aggregate.

From Flagstaff, we came down off the San Francisco Volcanics and into the Painted Desert. This area is in an old lake bed, and there are two national parks--Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. The painted desert is called that because of the colors of the sediments from the weathering of certain Colorado Plateau formations.

Here we took a quick stop near the turn-off the Meteor Crater to take this picture. We got right back on I-40. Meteor Crater is a fun stop, but we were eager to get home after 10 days of traveling!

At about 3 PM MDT, we crossed the border into New Mexico! Even though we still had a long drive ahead, seeing the welcome sign made us feel like we had arrived. And just about at the border, the lake sediments landscape gives way to the Mesas and valleys of the Colorado Plateau formations. Coming into New Mexico from the west, you can really see a change!

We had planned to stop at the Welcome Center rest area and eat a late picnic lunch (our body-clocks were set to PDT), but the center was closed for rennovations. So we happily stopped at Blake's Lot-a-Burger in Gallup, and got our first Green Chile Burgers since we had left home. Green Chile--the state fruit of New Mexico--which leads to the official state question: Red or green? Green chile is addictive and New Mexicans long for it when traveling out of state.

Then it was time to get some gas and hit the road for the last leg of the journey. Bruce and N. both napped as we already had the Roadside Geology for this stretch of I-40 pretty well memorized. I tuned the radio to the Oldies Station broadcasting from Cortez, Colorado, and headed east. We traversed the northern part of the Malpais Volcanics (some flows are less than 1,000 years old) and then through the Mesas near Acoma Pueblo. At the top of Nine Mile Hill, we left the Colorado Plateau behind to descend into the Rio Grande River Valley and into Albuquerque. The Sandia Mountain Fault Block--our beloved and familiar mountains--can be seen rising above the city and the river in the distance from the top of Nine Mile Hill. Bruce woke just in time to take some pictures.
We drove down across the Rio Grande, then ascended to the foothills of the Sandias. Then into Tijeras canyon and along the creek that runs down Tijeras fault, up to Zuxax and then up Sedillo Hill to our road and home!

It was a good trip. And a wonderful homecoming.

And it's great to finish the travelogue, so that I can have my mind squarely in the present!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

In the Meantime... has been going on here at home while I have been feverishly documenting our California 'whirlwind tour.'

Here, the sunflowers are blooming and the highways, byways and fields are turning yellow with their colors. Helianthus neomexicanus, our very own New Mexico sunflower is the color of August and harbinger of the approaching autumn.

My coursework for the Ph.D. began again this week at my alma mater, UNM--the University Near Mom.

The left side of my milk-crate bookshelf is evidence of the major gelt I spent getting books for my classes. This semester, it is eight hours of coursework, all for the neurospychology emphasis:

  • Biomed 533: Neuroanatomy and Neurophysiology--4 hours, with a brain dissection lab
  • Biomed 535: Neurosciences Seminar--1 hour, listening to weekly presentations of current research
  • Psychology 533: Psychological Evaluation: Cognitive and Neurospychological Functions--3 hours

Rainbow season is upon us once more!

We seem to get the most spectacular rainbows in August as the monsoons settle into the 'isolated showers and thunderstorms' mode.

This year, we brought the rain home. It did not rain the whole time we were gone and then, on Thursday evening, we got 0.35 inches during two rainy periods. And a double rainbow! Look carefully above the more visible one for traces of the double.

And my guys are 'getting her done' as they have a great time installing the dining room flooring. They hope to finish it this weekend. I will be happy to have the dining room back--sort of. A finished dining area will mean taking the living room furniture out to start there!

And no, the picture is not totally crooked. The chandelier is swinging. Without the table under it, Bruce keeps running into it when he stands up. It causes a great deal of "guy" humor and giggling to burst from the dining room at somewhat regular intervals.

These guys are having too much fun altogether on this part of the project!

That's the news from Sedillo, NM--where life is going on this week while I am blogging last week. One more Travelogue and I am done with that bit!

Travelogue VIII: Morning at the Beach and Starting Home

August 18, 2007

We woke in the morning on S.'s futon in Pacifica, California. It was a cool, foggy morning on the coast and we would have snuggled under the sleeping bag longer, but S. was up and ready to take us to breakfast.

S. lives in a small house that he has renovated about three blocks from the beach. I was really impressed with his bathroom renovation, for he had completely rebuilt the bathroom and it was beautifully done, with the claw-foot tub, and old fashioned fixtures. The original garage is now his bedroom and he has plans to add a sun room where the deck is now. S. is a very interesting person; he builds steam engines, has a restored Model A "woodie" and he grows Shitake mushrooms in his backyard. He also knows Bruce completely, and teases him about his perfectionist tendencies. "That's right, Bruce, get that crease just right, so you can jam it into a bag!" They are very good friends and I can hardly wait to have S. visit us here.

After breakfast, we visited the beach at the center of Pacifica. I was anxious to get on the road home, but N. was having a difficult morning. He was tired from his week at camp and he was needing to adjust to the noise and confusion of riding on freeways, being with adults (who talk as if he isn't there), and, especially to being with parents. We had debriefed the camp experience with him only a little and so he was reserved and what was meant to be gentle teasing on the part of S. and Bruce annoyed him tremendously. The beach was a good place for him--he worked out his frustrations by jumping from rock to rock on the breakwater. In the absence of his beloved swings, he had to find another physical outlet for his mood.

S. and Bruce, ambled along the waterfront, talking and teasing each other, sounding for all the world like they were still teenage friends. I let them be to themselves, and enjoyed trying out different features of my new camera by shooting pictures of the incoming tide, surfers and the shorebirds.

The cool, foggy air and the salt spray felt wonderful on my skin, and soon the half-an-hour turned into an hour-and-a-half. It was all to the good. N. got his tensions worked out physically and returned from the rocks at peace emotionally as well. Bruce had more time with S., and I had some down time alone with my camera. All was needed before the long drive home, where we would all be confined together in the truck for hours at a time.

We left Pacifica a little after noon, crossed the Bay on the San Mateo bridge and got to I-5 near Livermore by about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I-5 runs right along the boundary of the Coast range and the Central Valley for about 60 miles south of Livermore.

The great water projects that make the Central Valley fertile can be seen from vista points along this stretch of the freeway. Water is pumped across the hills from the Sacremento River Delta, and then runs by gradient and pumping down the Central Valley from Sacramento to the Tehachipi Mountains, a distance of more than 300 miles. The irrigation canals cross back and forth across the immense valley. The energy and scale of this immense project is awesome to behold. We said the blessing that translates to: Blessed are You, Eternal our G-d, Creator of the Universe, who has endowed the human being with wisdom and knowledge."

From the vista point, the immensity and fruitfulness of the great Central Valley can be seen very well. If not for the irrigation canals, and the hills under my feet, the lack of cornfields and the dry air, I could have imagined that I was in central Illinois, standing on the Bloomington moraine, which overlooks the immense flat farmlands to the south.

After the first hour of driving south, the mountains retreated to the west, and the highway followed the middle of the central valley. We drove past immense groves of fruit trees and fields of lettuce, strawberries and other fruits and vegetables. Somewhere between the exits of Merced and Fresno, we transitioned from Northern California to Central California. And at the California Route 46 exit, we left I-5 to turn east-south-east to Wasco and then Bakersfield. Tired of reading the infrequent entries in A Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California, I brought out a set of Lake Wobegon tapes, and we traveled across to Wasco listening to stories about farming and fertility told by Garrison Keillor. It was quite fitting, really.

As we turned south towards "Baker's Acres" as Bruce calls it, we began to notice that the sky was becoming dusky and smoggy looking. Bakersfield was in the thick of a dust storm, and when we stopped for gas there at about 5 o'clock, I took a picture of the red sun, still high in the sky. We all had that heavy depressed feeling that lack of direct sunlight gives New Mexicans, and Bakersfield did not seem like an appealing place to me and N. Bruce, who has been through there many times, said that he had never experienced a dust storm there before. He wondered aloud if it was an anomaly or if it was a seasonal occurence. We never did find out the answer to that question. As we continued southeast from Bakersfield toward Tehachipi, the thickness of the dust in the air began to dissipate, but it was completely gone until we crossed the Lone Wolf fault and begain to climb into the Tehachipi Mountains.

These mountains are fault block mountains and they divide the Central Valley from the Mojave desert. They look quite a bit like the Sandia Mountains except that they are more rounded and the underlying igneous rocks are not as striking.

For the second time that day, we saw the huge windmills that generate electricity. The first was in Livermore and now near Tehachipi. They are both projects out of Sandia National Labs, Albuquerque. We turned off Lake Wobegon so that Bruce could tell us about them. Although he is not in this area, several people who work on his floor do engineering for these wind farms.

As the evening rolled across the land, we descended across a fault zone from the Tehachipi Mountains and into the Mojave desert. This brought us out of Central California and into Southern California, so the Roadside Geology was no longer useful to us. And anyway, it was getting too dark to see the landscape we were traveling through. Even though the darkness deepened as we traveled southeast through Boron ("Gateway to Edwards Air Force Base--Landing site of the Space Shuttle!"), the temperature was climbing. Creosote and Joshua trees replaced the sparse Pinyon-Juniper woodlands of the Tehachipi. In Barstow, the truck thermometer read 95 as we caught the start of I-40. When we pulled into Needles, California at 10:30 PM, it was 103 degrees (F). We made two decisions: 1) Needles was a good stopping point for the night and 2) we would not attempt to camp because we were not acclimated to the heat. When we opened the doors to get out at the motel, it felt like opening an oven door.

Our day had started in the cool, foggy air at 58 degrees (F) on Pacifica beach. It ended far to the south and east, in the Mojave desert air at 103 degrees (F).A big Change over a long drive.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Travelogue VII: Coyote Tracks and the Slow Road to the Golden Gate

Friday, August 17, 2007

The day began in Vacaville, where we checked out of the motel, stopped at a store for some tylenol and then began the drive up the coast and across the coast range to Bolinas. We took the way through Novato and across to Olemas, rather than go through the city and hit highway 1. According to Google Maps, it was only a few miles longer and way less congested.

Novato is situated among the hills of the Coast Range, and when we stopped at a gas station, I took this picture. The beauty of the hills with the dry grass and open oak groves is so different from what we are used to that I just couldn't get enough of them.

When we reached Bolinas and drove up to the camp, the campers were engaged in a closing activity. I intended to get a photo of N. doing the activity, but he saw us and ran toward us as I depressed the shutter button.

He came running up to us, happy, dirty and smelling of wood smoke, sunshine and salt water. His first words to us were, "I want to do the next class. The one in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey!" We laughed and sent him back to the group.

We followed the group up to the fire circle, for the closing ceremony. Some of the campers started the fire using a bow drill that they had made. This one was large and required three people to work it and make the fire.
One held down the fire stick and two others worked the bow drill. Finally, smoke. Quickly, several others worked with the tinder, sheltering it from the wind and breathing on it to encourage it to burn to coals. Then, in triumpth, one of the campers held up the burning coal to the wind, where it ignited and the fire was transfered to the fire pit. The closing ceremony included a thanksgiving address, then a smudge ceremony, a story and song. The campers were reminded to take their skills home with them and to teach others.

I could tell that those who attended the camp had become close from all of the unself-conscious hugs and good-bye's that took place. Each of the camp leaders had a word for us about N. Tom said that he "really got into this stuff and had learned much." Rick said that he was "very focused and had great patience with the younger ones." Matt pulled N. in for a hug, saying, "Even Navy Seals need a hug!"

Meanwhile, Bruce had gone looking for the latrines and found the Yurt. Since he now wants to put a Yurt on our land in Madeline and have star parties there, he investigated it closely. It had a beautifully finished pine platform floor, a woodstove and was as comfortable as my living room. Bruce wrote down the Yurt makers name and address for further investigation. We lingered a while longer, talking to the Commonweal Gardens people about getting off-grid using wind and solar energy. As we were driving out, we were passed by a little car with New Jersey plates--the camp teachers. I wonder how far they got that day.

As for us, we decided to take the slow road to the city. We found one on the map that lead from Bolinas across the hills, through a resevoir, and into San Rafael. We turned on what we thought was road, which was unmarked, hoping that it was the right one and knowing that it would be beautiful. It climbed immediately away from the coast, providing the most wonderful views of Bolinas Bay and the ocean beyond. In the background is Mount Tamalpias.

Soon, the road took us across a small divide, and we began to descend through redwood forest. The tall trees made a green and cool cave across the road, as it twisted and turned through hairpins on the way down to the resevoir.
We stopped to marvel at the ferns and moss that grew in the shadow of the redwoods. In many places, Australian Eucalyptus trees added a shaggy beauty and a pungent odor to the woods. There is something about the twisting, turning road and the deep shadows and pools of sunlight in the redwood forests that beckon one forward. We were silent for a long time in awe of this shaded, green world, in which the sound of our voices seemed to be an intrusion. And then we began to see a few other vehicles as we came down to the lake.

We followed the road as it crossed the dam and then began to climb again, among hills bordering the north bay. We were once again among the dry grasses and open oak groves. Near the top of the divide, we stopped to have a picnic lunch under an oak tree. Here, at last, we began to talk again. N. did most of the talking--unusual for him, as he told of the adventures he had and the things he had learned at Coyote Tracks. We told him that we noticed that he had grown a bit and that he seemed happy and relaxed. After our picnic lunch, we continued on the road and found that, indeed, it did come out at San Rafael. I had phone service again, there, and we were able to call an old friend of Bruce's family in Oakland who was expecting us to stop by.

W. lives in the Oakland Hills, which was wiped out by a great fire a number of years ago. He took us out on the deck and pointed out that all of the houses we saw, including his, are new. 300 homes were lost to that fire and 17 people lost their lives. W. had been Bruce's religious school teacher at Temple Sinai in Oakland. He and Bruce caught up while we ate home-made ice cream (peach from the trees in the hilly yard) and had coffee. N. almost fell asleep at the table, so W. showed him a place to rest. Then he took us out to a funky hamburger place on Peidmont street, just up the hill from Fenton's. And then it was time to say good-bye.

The next stop was at S.'s house in Pacifica, where we would spend the night before leaving for New Mexico in the morning. S. has been Bruce's best friend since childhood, and I was looking forward to meeting him. After another trip across the Bay Bridge, N. fell asleep on the way. We arrived in Pacifica in the twilight, and we stayed up far too late, talking over apple pie.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Travelogue VI: Back to the Bay Area

Thursday, August 16, 2007

After visiting the Lassen County Offices of Planning and Development and Surveying, Bruce and I talked briefly to the realtor again about our plans for the land. Everyone was saying that we really, really should actually see the land because it is so beautiful. But it would mean about an hour and a half in the wrong direction. It was so frustrating that we did not know where it was when we were in Medford because we could have gone by it on the way to Susanville. Bruce and I debated, but only for a few minutes. It was already nearly noon. And we had to be at the Commonweal Gardens in Bolinas by noon the next day to pick N. up from camp. And we were already facing a 5 - 6 hour drive, depending on road construction. So we determined that we would drive out to Reno another time with no other obligation than to see our land.

A stop at the gas station for fuel--petroleum for Henry and caffiene for us, as we headed back up onto the Lassen volcanic field to the west for the drive. It was my day to drive. Bruce planned to nap, but he didn't do much of it really! Riding with a geologist driver in new country can be kind of exciting at times!

After only about an hour on the road, we came to one of many reserviors in Lassen County.

Actually, we didn't even know it was there, but there was a sign for a Vista Point, so we stopped to get still another picture of Mount Shasta. However, when we drove in, we saw the most beautiful mountain lake, surrounded by tall mixed conifers--including spruce and fir.
The waters of the lake were as blue as the sky, and the scents from the trees were indescribible. And there was a small picnic area there.

It was a little after one o'clock. That settled it.

It was time for lunch.

Bruce brought out the picnic basket and I got out the party mix. Sandwiches were made. It was lovely.

Then it was time to wipe off the dishes, put the cans in the recycle bin--California may be under the 'govenator', but it is definitely a recycle-consciousness sort of place. Maybe the two are not mutually incompatible.

I drove for another hour and more, twisting through the mountains and slowing down for a little mountain town. Then past the sample labs for Lassen National forest. And then we began to descend. Down, down, across the edge of the volcanics, across the faults, and through the foothills to the Central Valley.

In several places along our journey through California, I had become intrigued with the dry summer grasses on the foothills and the lovely open oak groves. Here the oak is not the small stands of Scrub Oak, but rather the full, spreading habit of actual oak trees, complete with acorns still green on the boughs. The lack of brambles and weedy plants on the floor of the community indicates a mature ecosystem. Beautiful. Marvelous.

As the driver, it was my perogative to stop for a picture.

Then it was on down the last ear-popping thousand feet to floor of the Central Valley. And another few hours down I-5 towards Sacramento. And I noticed something else. California drivers are fast, but for the most part, not agressive. Most everybody drives in the right lane and moves left only to pass. Turn signals are used. People move out of the way for faster cars. At least in this place on this Thursday afternoon. Population pressure does have its compensations.

By the time we reach the I-80 by-pass towards Vacaville, I was becoming tired. We had planned to try to camp at a state park near Olema. But as I pulled into Vacaville, looking for a gas station, Bruce realized that I could not continue driving. He told me where to get off the highway for a Nut Farm there, and we saw a wonderful sight. Fenton's had branched out to one of the 'burbs! So we ate dinner there, and while we sipped our raspberry swirl milkshakes, we looked in the AAA book for a reasonably priced motel. From a look at the book, it was apparant that it must be Vacaville. From there we would head back across the wine country and the coast and prices increased accordingly.

We found the Super 8 just up the road. Set back from the freeway quite some distance. Quiet. It was very good. A shower. Rest. And we had only about a two hour drive to Bolinas. Excellent.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Turning Again: The Month of Elul

Last Wednesday, while we were driving to Susanville, the moon was new and the Jewish month of Elul was beginning. At the height of the summer, from the waning of the moon of Tammuz and into the waxing of the moon of Av, we hear three haftarah readings of condemnation. From the great prophets, we hear that we have turned away from the Torah of our ancestors, following after false gods--wealth, power, complacency, destruction of the land, zealotry--all of these and more, idolatries that are every bit as tempting now as then.
But after the fast of the ninth of Av, we began the seven Shabbatot of Consolation, during which the haftarot are read that invite us to return, to begin again to follow the Torah of our people, to renew our hearts. The first of the haftarot of Consolation is taken from the beautiful words of the second Isaiah on Shabbat Nachamu (Comfort):

"Comfort, comfort my people,
Says your G-d.
Speak gently to Jerusalem,
And say to her
That her term of service is over...
I will restore your judges as of old,
And your counselors as of yore;
And ever after, you shall be called
City of Righteousness, Faithful City."
Isaiah 40: 1-2,26
Aside: Being a singer, I cannot help but recall the wonderful and beautiful melodies from Handel whenever I hear this haftarah. Though when in the city youth choirs, I sang them in the winter, I recall them now in the summer--and it seems right to me, because the heat of summer will be followed by the harvest of fall.
The month of Elul, is the last month of the Hebrew year when counted from Rosh Hashanah to Rosh Hashanah. (We mark four New Years in the Hebrew calendar: the new year for counting years from the birth of the world, in fall, the new year for trees, in late winter, the new year for months--at the beginning of the month of spring, and the new year for counting animals' age, in summer). The month of Elul is the month leading up to the Yamim Nora'im, the Days of Awe and Yom Din, the Day of Judgement. During this time before the harvest of the land, we consider the harvest of our spiritual work over the year. It is time to turn inward amidst the busy-ness of our lives and prepare our hearts for the celebration of Rosh HaShanah, the 'birthday of the world,' and for the solemn day of judgement and forgiveness, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. These are the High Holy Days, the season of holiness, when we make a separation between what we are and what we want to become. Although these are the Days of Awe, when Israel meets in solemn assembly with her G-d, this is not a time of despair. Rather, during the month of Elul, Jews practice the art of Cheshbon ha-Nefesh--the repair of the soul. We recognize that we are human--made from the humus of the earth--and as such, we are flawed and fallible. And yet within us we carry the pure soul given to us by the Creator. The art of repairing the soul means that we eschew (I love that word!) the idolatry of pretending we are perfect in order to recognize who we really are. Knowing who we really are is the beginning of finding out who it is that the Eternal created us to be.
The word for repentence in Hebrew is T'shuvah, which means to turn. The word for sin in Hebrew is Chet, which means to aim badly. The assumption is that a person is aiming for the good, but that habits and challenges obscure our vision and so we have imperfect aim. T'shuvah is the practice of taking notice of what is obscuring our aim so that we can come closer to the target. It is a practice of learning from our mistakes, rising up when we fall down, beginning again.
During the month of Elul, the Shofar (ram's horn) is sounded every week day in the synagogue. Or it can be blown at home. Some people even listen to it on the internet. It is a call of warning: "The work before us is great, the taskmaster is exacting and the day draws on towards evening..."
Selichot, prayers of repentence are said every evening (except on Shabbat) and psalms of repentence and reliance on G-d are whispered.
The word Elul in Hebrew is an anagram for the phrase "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li" which means, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." The Eternal is the bridegroom of Israel, and during Elul, Israel prepares with trepidation, excitement and love, like a bride does to come to the marriage canopy.
In the secular calendar, the beginning of fall is full of new beginnings after the summer fallow. School years begin, transitions are made, and they are all full of busy-ness. Those of us who span two cultures, also must find time amidst the busy-ness to hear the call of the bridegroom to the bride:
"Return, O Israel, to Adonai your G-d...
Take words with you
And return to Adonai...
Generously, I will take them back in love...
I will be to Israel like the dew..."
Hosea 14:2-3,5-6
And the bride will say to the bridegroom:
"Forgive all guilt and accept what is good.
Instead of bulls we shall pay the offerings of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us...
Never again shall we call our handiwork our god,
For in You alone shall orphans find pity."
Hosea 14:3a - 4
The month of Elul has come. Time to turn again. Time to turn inward. Time of trepidation, reflection, compassion and love. A time to remember who we really are.

Travelogue V: Across to Susanville

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

After spending two nights at R.'s little house in Medford, Oregon, we packed up Henry to travel to Susanville, California where we were to meet a realtor about land that Bruce and R. had inherited in Lassen County. The original plan had been that we would go to Oregon to meet R. and drive him down to Susanville with us to get the lay of their land. But R. is in the middle of sugery to replace the lenses in his eyes. He had the left eye done a week before we left and he will have the right eye done this very week. When he is done with it, he will be able to see better than anyone in the family and his life will change considerably. R. had appointments on Thursday and he also needed some help around the house. It is a small house that R. bought for a song. Built in the 1920's, it has the original built-ins and beadwork wainscotting--and hardwood floors! R. had a front porch added (pictured) and some structural work done before moving in, but much remains for when he can see well. Given the time constraints and the condition of the house, we decided we'd do better to help R. out a little with some housework. He also needed a vacuum cleaner and some other household items. So we drove him to a "club" store for those things and then we helped with some cleaning. Bruce got a little overzealous, trying R.'s patience at times--it's the sibling thing. I guess none of us ever really outgrow it! We did make a sizable dent though, and R. will be more comfortable until his eyes heal. The house is going to be a gem when R. gets done with it!

With an eye toward camping on our own land that night, Bruce and I stopped at Safeway before heading out of town. Back up, up, up out of the Oregon Valley and across to California on I-5. This time, though, we got off the interstate at the town of Mount Shasta to drive southeast to Susanville. Soon we were in the National Forest, surrounded by Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Fir. The road was relatively lightly traveled and we were able to stop to get some really good pictures of Mount Shasta as we went. I was marveling at the difference in the Alpine life zones this far north. Although our elevation was lower than where we live in New Mexico, the life zone of mixed conifer was all around us. Latitude makes a great difference and the life-zones shift down in elevation as you travel north in latitude.

We stopped for lunch at a Mt. Shasta vista point, thinking we'd drive straight on to Susanvill without a stop. But even in the wilds of northern California, summertime is also construction season! Cal-Trans was doing a rather ambitious project to replace the road and widen one stretch. The sign said that the stop time could be up to half-an-hour. So as more and more cars lined up to wait for our turn to be taken through the mess, people got out of their cars to use the conveniently placed facility and enjoy the green shade of the trees, feel the cool breeze and smell the fresh oxygen wafting across the forest. We realized that we were not going to make Susanville by mid-afternoon, and so what? We shrugged and laughed and decided to enjoy the forest.

After a while, the pilot vehicle appeared and a prodigious line of cars, lumber trucks and construction vehicles passed by. Then it was our turn to follow the pilot through the maze of stabilized dirt road, twisting and turning past men and women in hard hats, surveying stakes, and heavy equipment. I was happy that we were driving Henry!

The construction past, we found ourselves in the Lassen volcanic field, the southernmost part of the High Cascades. Mount Lassen stands within the collapse caldera of a larger volcano, Tehama, that 450,000 years ago, stood within the even larger caldera of the massive volcano Maidu. Tehama was at least as large as Mount Shasta is at present, and Maidu, which preceded it by hundreds of thousands of years, was truly a giant! Mount Lassen is an active volcano and last erupted in 1915. Lava flows and ash and mud slides from that eruption are still raw and obvious, and I took this picture as we rounded Lassen's northwest flank. The growth on the ash and lava shows the succession from pioneer species to more stable stages, however the mature forest has not yet appeared. One can see the boundaries of the flows from far away, by noting where the shrub and tangle give way to mature forest.

As we rounded Mount Lassen, we came into Lassen county, and after winding across the volcanic terrain, we descended to Susanville, which lies between the High Cascades and the Basin and Range.

When we met with the realtor, we found out that our land was about an hour north in Madeline, California. Had we realized that, we could have driven from Medford through Klamath Falls, Oregon and come right by it! We also found out that the land in that area had not appreciated in value much since 1969, although sooner or later it probably will, being about two-and-a-half hours from Reno. The realtor advised that we visit the Lassen County Development Office to find out about zoning and restrictions. It was clear we were not going to see our land that day!

Instead of camping on our land, we checked into the River Inn, a small motel near the middle of town. It was an old motel, but very comfortable. While Bruce took a nap, I downloaded pictures and discovered that I had internet access--even in a small town on the road to nowhere! After we had our picnic supper in our room--cold fried chicken, cole slaw, potato salad and Mandarin Lime sodas--we went out looking for ice cream. And the manager of the motel turned out to be a wealth of information about the area where our land is located. "It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen," he told us. "Really dark at night so you can see the stars. It is a plain surrounded on three sides by mountains. There is nobody there. It is definitely worth keeping." Bruce and Dave discussed putting up a Yurt, using solar and wind power to stay off-grid, and running a camp for astronomers in the summer.

Our visit to the county the next morning got us information on the zoning--rural, agricultural, residential. And the county planner also enthused about the beauty of the Madeline Plain. "You gotta see it!" he said, repeatedly. He was planning to buy a piece and put up--you guessed it--a Yurt, live off the grid and hunt and fish to his heart's content.

We decided that it was not a good time to sell the land and that we ought to see it on another trip. In the meantime, the realtor, Elizabeth, would check to see if we could lease it out for agricultural use.

All in all, it was a productive visit to Susanville even if we didn't get to camp on our own land--this time!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Travelogue IV: Oregon by Way of Wine Country

Monday, August 13, 2007

Petaluma, California. The morning is cool and the air is damp at sunrise as we get ice into the coolers. Today's objective is to drive up to Medford, Oregon to see Bruce's brother, R.
We are going to cut over to Napa and drive up highway 29, the road through wine country and then, at the north end of it, cut back east to hit I-5 for the run up to Oregon.

It feels really strange to be just the two of us again, after the intense weekend with N. But he is at camp. I wondered how he was doing and checked my cell phone just to be sure that they hadn't tried to call and I missed it somehow. I'm such a Jewish mother!

In Napa, we tried to have breakfast at Bruce's mom's favorite place, but it was not serving breakfast, so we settled (rather comfortably, though) for Marie Callendars. Then it was on up to Yountville, where we drove to the California Veteran's Home Cemetery, where Bruce's parents are buried. Bruce's dad resided at the veterans home during the last years of his life because he had Parkinson's Disease. His mom sold their home in Oakland and lived her last years nearby, in Yountville. When Bruce's dad died in 1992, he was originally interred at the National Cemetery at the Presidio in San Francisco. Bruce's mom remained in Yountville, where she made herself indispensible as a volunteer at the Veteran's Home. So when she died unexpectedly in 2000, the administrators agreed to allow her to be buried there in the cemetery. So Bruce had his father moved to Yountville and buried with his wife, Bruce's mother. The marker has Bruce's father's name and dates on the front and his mother's are on the back. When I took the picture above, Bruce stepped in behind the marker just as I snapped the shutter. But you can see that we had already placed the stones on the marker, as Jews do, when they visit the graves of loved ones. It was the first visit Bruce had made since the unveiling of the gravestone in 2001. So he cried a little and then we admired the beauty of the place--for the cemetery is surrounded by fields of grape vines and that has a symbolism all its own.

Having taken care of his filial duties, Bruce and I drove on down to the road to Cakebread Cellars. Jack Cakebread, proprieter of Oakland's famous Cakebread Garage, had been involved in Little League when Bruce was a volunteer umpire, and he had fixed Bruce's cars over the years.
He was also a photographer, and while on assignment in the Wine Country, he fell in love with the beauty of the place and told a family friend with land there that he would buy if they ever wanted to sell. They did want to sell. Right when Jack had children in college, but he and his wife took the gamble, and then had to learn to make wine! They never expected to be as successful as they became at it, and they marvel at their good fortune. Now semi-retired, Jack works with college students, teaching them how to follow their dreams, and he's still out and about at the winery. He remembered Bruce, and when we told him where N. was, he recommended Outward Bound for him when he gets a little older. He had sent his son, he said, when he was in high school. He said he sent them "a sixteen year old boy and I got back a sixteen year old man." Although we did not have an appointment, we were escorted into a tasting and learned a lot about the Napa Valley. Of course we came home with some really good wine as well.

After the tasting, we drove on up through the wine country, enjoying the sights of all the wineries and the fields. They have all manner of technology to assist in the growing of the grapes, in case "mother nature throws us a curveball," as our guide for the tasting put it. The picture is of a heater for the vines should the temperature become too cold.

The Napa valley can produce all sorts of varieties of grapes because the soil differs so much across it. This is because the coast range to the west is composed of various metamorphics that are part of the Coast Range Amphibolites, and the range to the east is volcanic. The Napa river flows through the middle of it all, and has made lenses of different soils. The climate is mediterranian and quite mild, usually, which is good for the grapes as well. Jack says that you need a good grower and a good wine maker and good grapes and then mother nature can throw all the curves she wants (note the baseball analogy!), but you will have good wine.

We left wine country and continued north through the lake district until we reached the Andersen Valley. There, we made our way east through the open oak groves on the coast range, until we came out into the great and fertile Central Valley. The Central Valley bedrock is the same as rocks in the Coast Ranges, but in the ranges the rocks are a melange--all messed up--whereas in the valley they are almost layer-cake in their simplicity. The Central Valley is a great sliver of oceanic crust that got stuck in the Sierran Subduction Zone, and did not subduct when the subduction then began occuring further east, at the Franciscan Subduction Zone. On that bedrock, alluvium from the Sierras and river sediments have formed an amazing flat, fertile valley that stretches several hundred miles from the Tehachipi mountains in the south, to the rise of the Klamath north of Redding, California. It is incredible in it's flatness, it's immensity and fertility. Although there is not much to see geologically speaking, just alluvial fans here and there, and some stray volcanoes near Colusa, it is still impressive in a way that words cannot describe. I remembered the Central Valley as hot, with a hard brightness that hurts the eyes. And it was. But we zipped as quickly up I-5, getting more than twice the distance that we got while winding through the volcanics north of the Wine Country.

North of Redding, we began to climb into the Klamath Mountains. The Klamath are a block of the Sierra that broke away and moved 60 miles north and east. The terranes are analogous to the suspect terranes of the Sierra, and are every bit as faulted and overturned and sometimes unidentifiable. By the time we stopped at a rest stop for Lake Shasta, I-5 was riding in between the melanges and terranes of the Klamath to the west and the High Cascade Volcanics to the east.

There was no good view of the lake at the rest stop, but I got this wonderful picture of a blue jay working for pine nuts. The jays were plentiful and not too shy--they seemed used to tourists and the sounds of their cameras. As for the lake, the crossing on the bridge was spectacular, but you will just have to imagine the very blue and white waters surrounded by mountains!

Mount Shasta,, the highest mountain in California, was constantly in sight from just north of Redding until our descent into Oregon.
It is a Rhyolite volcano. These volcanoes are very gassy and viscous, producing explosive eruptions, with clouds of glowing welded tuff that can blanket the countryside. Shasta, like all of the volcanoes of the Cascade range, was made by ongoing subduction of Pacific plate crust under the westward moving North American plate. Although the Franciscan Subduction zone was replaced by the San Andreas fault, subduction and volcanism are still occuring farther north. This means that the volcanoes of the Cascades are still active, as anyone who remember the eruption of Mount St. Helens can attest.

As we left Mount Shasta on the horizon behind us, we climbed the pass and then made the steep descent into the Orgegon valley. The descent was so steep, even on the interstate highway, that we were in 4th gear most of the way. When we came to Medford, we had the unique experience of being guided through the streets by a legally blind, non-driver. We had to go slow as the landmarks a walker orients by are different, but after a few miscommunications we made it to Crater Lake Avenue, and R.'s 1920's "diamond in the rough." The day ended with Chinese food and being greated by a big black bear of a dog, Xena, the Princess Warrior. She looks fierce but she is very quiet and friendly. She doesn't wag her tail to greet you. Oh, no! She wags her whole body with excitement!