Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our Friendly Dog Named Sunny

About 1957 my folks brought this puppy into the family. They named him Sunny. Sunny turned out to be a very friendly dog, as evidenced in this film taken probably early 1958. We've had a ton of laughs watching this.  It was filmed in our backyard of our fairly new house in the San Fernando Valley; this was the first house my Mom ever lived in. She grew up in New York City apartments.

Sadly, Sunny misbehaved in so many ways that he eventually had to go live on a "farm," if you're familiar with that euphemism. His greatest sin was shredding my Dad's dress shirts that Mom hung out on the line. Hard to resist for a sprightly puppy dog, those taunting shirts swinging in the breeze.

I have wondered who took this movie. It's possible my grandparents were visiting from New York, and that Grandpa was taking it. But Gram does not appear in it, so I don't know for sure.

That's my brother and me running around.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Clouseau?

If you are the type of person who enjoys reading or watching mysteries on TV, you have an idea of how police and detectives work to solve the crime of murder.  We know from writers such as P.D. James (RIP) and Raymond Chandler, and programs such as Midsomer Murders, Law and Order, Ironside and Wallender, that homicide investigators treat everyone as a potential suspect, particularly the person who found the body and the last person to see the victim alive.   The authorities thoroughly interview those persons at their home or the crime scene, then the suspect or witness comes down to the interview room at the station to give an official statement.  Their home, car, and stuff are searched.  Detectives look for inconsistencies in their statements.  They compare statements of various witnesses to paint a picture of the crime, and if those don't jibe with each other, further investigation is done to reveal who is telling the truth.  It's all very detailed, acutely methodical, intensely  thorough.  And then Detective McGarret says, "Book 'em Danno," and the case is wrapped in pretty paper with a frilly bow on top and the investigators slap each other's backs for a job well done.
Hawaii Five-O: "book 'em Danno"
[Note: names have been changed]
Ummm.  The reality is . . . not.   I know personally that it isn't nicely cut and dried.  Because 20 years ago I found my dear neighbor, Lee, deceased in his garage.  And the ensuing investigation into his demise was so vastly different from the fiction above, that I actually found myself thinking stuff like, "aren't they curious how the window got broken, because hello, deceased person in the garage," "do they wonder how today's newspaper got into the house, because hello, deceased person in the garage," and "why haven't they pressed me about why I was snooping in Lee's house, because hello . . . "
Lee had had a drinking problem that resulted in hard falls.  Late afternoon was when he drank to excess.  A couple of times he backed his car out of the driveway, plowed into my mailbox, then drove off, never knowing.  I called his daughter Linda who lived 20 miles away to tell her he was driving drunk, could she take away his keys or something?   She said she would deal with it but if I saw him pull out in the afternoon I should report him immediately as a drunk driver.  Sad.  Whatever Linda said to him worked.  He went out every morning but stayed home after that.

And then that February bitter cold weather set in.  On a Tuesday night I noticed that Lee had left a light on in the front study.  That never happened.   The house was always dark after 8 because he turned in early.  On Thursday morning we woke up to 6" of snow.  I noticed there were no tire tracks leading out from Lee's garage.  Snow had never stopped him before.   The bedroom light was still on.  I phoned Linda to ask if Lee had gone out of town.  A pregnant pause, then: no he had not, and would I please go over to check on him.

At Lee's I knocked, rang the bell, tried the door, circuited the house looking in the windows, called through the windows, banged on the windows.  Nothing.  I reported back to Linda and her thought was the same as mine: Lee has fallen and can't get up.  Would I please break one of the little square panes by the front door and find him.  Done.  My son and I looked through the house, no Lee.  It was getting a little creepy but I knew we must make a second pass.  This time we searched under the beds, in the showers, the closets, the yard.  All that was left was the garage.  I held my breath and opened the door.  And there was Lee, sadly silhouetted in the gloomy winter half-light, lying frozen on the floor.  He appeared to be deceased, but no way was I going to go out there to check.  What if a perp had knocked him on the head and was waiting for another victim?  (I've read too much Agatha Christie).

I called 911.  The paramedics did their duty and headed into the garage.  What I heard one say as they approached Lee was, "Look out for a weapon, Mike!"  As soon as they confirmed Lee was deceased, I broke the shocking news to Linda.  The paramedics called the sheriff which set an investigation in motion.
Deputy Somebody arrived, saw the suspicious broken window and concluded this was a crime scene.  While he waited for a detective, he never asked me for my story of how I found Lee.  Guess it wasn't his job.  But the detective didn't do much more.  Looking back, it was a while before he was told that I had found Lee.  From the get-go he assumed the broken window meant this was a crime scene.  When I heard him discussing a perp breaking the window, I spoke up to say it was me who did that.  He were surprised.  Sheesh, if he had just asked me to tell my story as Barnaby or Ironside would have done, it would have saved brain strain.  Inspector Clouseau???

Then there was the tale of the mysterious newspaper.  The coroner had arrived and determined Lee had been dead possibly several days.  The investigator must have been wracking his brain to figure out how Thursday's newspaper ended up inside Lee's house.  It was me again.  Before entering the house to look for him I grabbed that day's paper from the tube outside and set it in the front room.  So that Lee could read it while recovering from the fall I was sure had occurred.

The questions below went unasked:
When I had last seen Lee
Why I was inside the house
How did I get inside
What did I know about the broken window
Did I know anything about Thursday's paper being inside
Did I see anything odd going on around Lee's house

When someone dies at an unknown time in non-crime situations, the coroner told me they assign the date of death as the day they were found.  The coroner determined that Lee's death was accidental, caused because Lee banged his head very hard on some woodworking equipment in the garage, which cause him to fall and strike his head on the garage floor.  I felt terrible about this, knowing how cold it had been.  If he was conscious he suffered miserably.

Because the death was ruled accidental, the coroner didn't go any further determining the exact time of Lee's accident and the investigator no longer needed to string clues together.  Except that he found Lee's previous day's (Wednesday) paper shoved into the depths of the paper tube, showing he was not able to bring in Wednesday's paper.  From all these clues it wasn't hard for me to figure out that Lee's fall occurred on Tuesday, sometime between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., but almost certainly early Tuesday morning  Clues:
  • The study light had not been burning Monday night but was burning Tuesday night, so fall happened after Monday night
  • Wednesday's newspaper was never brought in, so accident happened before Wednesday
  • Lee had brought in Tuesday's newspaper, likely early in the morning as was was his habit, so accident happened after that
  • Lee might have gone out Tuesday morning as he did every day (either golf or a friend gathering), but no one saw him do so; accident could have happened early Tuesday morning before his normal leaving time or after his return, but again, there was no witness who could attest to Lee's actions that morning, so no helpful clue here
  • Lee did not put out his trash can out like he always did about 4 p.m. Tuesday, so accident happened before 4:00
  • I had observed the study light on since Tuesday night, so fall had already happened; Lee would have not left that light on all day Tuesday unless he was powerless to turn it off
  • Tuesday's newspaper was found in Lee's study by where the light was burning; therefore I believe his fall happened early Tuesday morning, when that light was still needed for him to read his newspaper 
  • NOTE: I don't remember whether there was any evidence of Lee's breakfast in the kitchen, so he may or may not have eaten yet that morning
Here's my scenario: Lee had gone out for the paper early Tuesday morning, then read the newspaper by the light in his study.  He left the light on and went to the garage, possibly tripped on something, bumped his head hard, then fell and hit his head; was completely immobilized.  Died.

In defense of our local investigators here, I must say that they do their jobs well, because I've seen them in action at other times solving cases.  And in poor Lee's case if it had turned out to be a crime, I would like to think the investigators eventually would have caught up with the facts.

Friday, November 28, 2014

My Cousin Laurie

For over 40 years I have been researching my family lines, and have built up a teeming data base of personal information, vital records, newspaper articles, photographs and so on, of people connected to us.  But I sort of neglected the line of my great-grandmother's brother, M.J. Doyle.  Some distant relatives of mine told me he had descendants, but no one seemed to have actually met them or knew anything about them.  Typically I would dive right in to solve a mystery like that, but this one fell by the wayside.

Last winter I wrote a series of 3 blog posts (here, here, and here) on the Irish famine and its aftermath, including the story of one of my families--the Doyles who immigrated to Massachusetts in 1880.  There were 11 Doyles all together.  The eldest child, Mary, remained in Ireland, and 2 of the older daughters, Bridget and Nell, had come earlier to work in the Holyoke cotton and paper mills to earn ship passage for the others.  The parents and the youngest 6 of the children landed in New York on May 10, 1880.

In the spring of 2014, a woman in a small Massachusetts town was searching for her extended family.  She had lived her entire life in the same town, and had known of maybe a couple of cousins growing up, but otherwise was in the dark about any further extended family.  She knew her grandfather's large family had settled in the US over 100 years ago, and wondered how they could have so few descendants.  There must be family out there, but her searches never turned up even a scrap of information.

One day last June she sat down at her computer to look again, and this time narrowed the search by typing in only the title of her grandfather's successful business.  Among the results was the third of my blog posts mentioned above, and she began to read.  She came to this photo which she had never seen before:

And then she read the caption I had written: My great-great grandparents Tom Doyle and Mary Murphy, along with Mary's sister Catherine Murphy O'Connor (on the right); Tom is holding a shillelagh, an Irishman's walking stick.

She recognized the names Thomas Doyle and Mary Murphy as the names of her great-grandparents.  Her heart beating faster, she continued to read:

"Of the 9 Doyle children, Michael was the most successful; he established a printing business called M.J. Doyle Printing Co.  Over the decades he employed his brothers, his children, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, grand-nephews, cousins, and whoever else needed work."

Her grandfather, Michael!  M.J. Doyle.  Michael's printing company.  Her life would never be the same.

After weepily calling all her friends proclaiming "I've found my family!!!,"  Laurie got in touch with me.  And since then we have talked and emailed countless times.  We are second cousins once removed.  There are uncanny similarities in our lives. We have worked on solving the mystery of what happened to the printing company, and how it has affected future generations.  We're on the hunt for a few "lost" cousins.

One of the first questions I asked Laurie after hearing the story of her quest, was, "You mean, you don't know the Mulvaneys or the Griffins?"   No.  "You don't know the Sullivans?"  No.  "How about the Nelligans?"   No.  She is surrounded by dozens of cousins and had never heard of a single one.  She has since met and spoken on the phone with a good bunch of relatives.  They have been nearby her whole life, practically in her backyard.

Meeting a descendant of M.J. Doyle has been a boon to me.  It has given me a chance to say what needs to be said about M.J.: whatever his struggles or mistakes, he kept the entire Doyle family afloat during hard times by involving them in his business.  He could have hired experts in the printing field, but he hired family.  He hired my great-grandfather Matthew Ashe, when he was out of work or too ill to work elsewhere.  He hired my grandfather James Ashe during periods of unemployment.  M.J. hired my Mom and her brother for summer work. He hired his siblings, his nieces, nephews, cousins, and so on.  Thanks many times over to M.J. Doyle for providing for his huge extended family.  His descendants can be proud to be connected to such a man, while the rest of us are deeply grateful to him for his care and concern.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

An Invitation

Last Saturday the Deseret News (newspaper published in Salt Lake) carried an article entitled, "Be Thankful--There's a Theology of Gratitude."

One of the personal experiences the article discussed was of a Christian author named  Sara Hagerty, who suffered through a series of trials--loss of loved ones, troubled marriage, infertility.

Because of her Christian faith she noted the gratitude she felt in the midst of hardship.  She said,

"I can't put a timeline on it, but somewhere in the middle there, when I started to realize that God was inviting me into a deeper encounter with him, even though my circumstances weren't changing, there was a gratitude that wouldn't be shaken by my circumstance," Hagerty said this week from her home in Kansas City, Missouri.  "I've found God here and nothing can shake my gratitude for what he's given me, in himself."  [italics mine]

Trials and tribulations are a normal, expected part of life--I understand that very well.  I also understand how refining those experiences are, and would not trade for the world the growth that comes through difficulty.  But I had never considered the purpose of those types of human experiences in the profound way Sara expressed it: "God was inviting me into a deeper encounter with him."

An invitation.  From God.  Thinking of trials as God's way of getting to know him deeply makes me realize I have some missed opportunities in my past.   To be invited by God is a privilege and a blessing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Chinese Graveyard

Ruiz Cemetery (aka Chinese Graveyard)

We teenagers growing up in a small community sometimes had to invent something to do. In the Santa Clarita Valley in the 60s and early 70s, there were no malls, (hardly any stores period), few restaurants, no miniature golf, roller rink or other recreational activities. There was the Plaza Theatre that we went to once in a  while.  At our small high school clubs and sports were limited, and if you were female, which I was (and still am), you were barred from sports anyway, except for a girls' club that met after school.  But if you were me and were terrible at sports, the choice of activities narrowed further.

Sometimes my friends and I would just walk around for something to do.  When we were old enough to drive and lucky enough to have a turn with the car, we would drive around for something to do. We explored Hart Ranch and remote wilderness roads.  I rode my friends' horses after school, or went to farm auctions with a particular friend.

The more daring among us bragged about going to Colored Sands Cave on weekend nights. I didn't know what they did once they got there, but we can be sure it wasn't looking at the stars.  Another place teens gushed about was the Chinese Graveyard.  Everyone talked about how scary it was and how gutsy you had to be to go there.  Even the upright Mormon kids talked about the mysteriously creepy haunted ghostly Chinese Graveyard.

So, when I worked the late shift at newly opened Magic Mountain, sometimes that's where a few of us would go. It was always after midnight when we got off work.  Out to San Francisquito Canyon we would drive. Back in the day this was almost the middle of nowhere. There were a few ranches on the narrow curvy road.  No lights. The graveyard perched on a hill on the west side of the river but we parked on the east side, because the cemetery was on private property, so we couldn't go cruising up the long rutted driveway in the middle of the night.

Once parked, we hiked across the broad shallow river bed, which was usually dry. We counted on there being moonlight enough to see.  I'm surprised we never stepped on any rattlesnakes. The graveyard was easy to spot even in the dark because the only trees in the vicinity grew among the headstones. We headed straight for the looming spectral pine and pepper trees.

I should comment on the name of this place. Why it was called the Chinese Graveyard, I have no idea.  There are no Chinese buried there. We heard that the graves were those of flood victims from the 1928 dam break upstream. The truth is, there are some victims buried here, and most of the graves are related to the Mexican Ruiz family.  6 of the Ruizs were wiped out that terrible day of the flood.  I only recently found out the place is rightfully called the Ruiz Cemetery.

Ruiz family, flood victims who died March 13, 1928

Even though the graveyard is on private property, we had no qualms about sneaking up there under cover of darkness.  I never participated in shenanigans such as hiding behind a tree to spook someone.  Or draping white sheets in the trees to frighten newbies.  I never saw a ghost up there or felt the frosty chill that kids believed signified the ghostly presence of a mournful flood victim.  It was a place of fascination and reverence to me, because every gravestone represented a life.  And every life has a story that intertwines with the history and landscape of a place.   Sometimes the stories are upbeat and lengthy. And at times they end prematurely, as with the Ruiz family which has lain here together for most of 90 years. Their holy terror probably lasted only a few moments as they heard the thunderous crashing and felt the rumble of the approaching water. It enveloped them and their terror was swiftly over.

The cemetery is now abutted by development. It is still on private property though. Even though my nocturnal visits there were illicit, I am glad to have spent some meaningful moments there so many years ago.

William S. Hart (kneeling in center) and his cowboy friends place a memorial marker in Ruiz Cemetery to the 1928 flood victims

closeup of the marker
photo by Leon Worden

NOTE: read here for more about William S. Hart

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"I Envy the Dead"

To complete the saga of the gifted water-engineer William Mulholland. . .

In 1926 an additional water storage reservoir and electrical power facility in the Los Angeles system was added, the site chosen by Mulholland.  The new dam was christened the St. Francis Dam, and it was located in San Francisquito Canyon (near Saugus CA) not far from where I grew up.  Only, by then the dam had not been in existence for decades.  The St. Francis Dam had failed in 1928, a scant 2 years after its completion.  It was a catastrophe that has never been surpassed in California, in terms of number of lives lost in a man-made disaster.

the completed dam and filled reservoir

Multiple problems contributed to the failure of the dam, most importantly its placement against unstable rock and a fault line.  Water leakage occurred through cracks in the concrete.  Repeated inspections called for minor repairs but the experts were not alarmed by what they saw.  Pipes were installed to divert spillage from leaks in and around the concrete.

Downstream from the dam, farmers and powerhouse employees became concerned, then nervous, as anyone would, knowing 12 billion gallons of water was precariously perched not far above ones head.  On March 12, 1928 an additional leak was discovered by the dam keeper, Tony Harnischfeger.  He called for the experts and that afternoon William Mulholland and Harvey Van Norman arrived from Los Angeles for an inspection.  They found about 20 gallons per second rushing from the latest leak.  Yikes, I say.  They expressed that repairs could be done in the future.

But there would be no future.  Less than 12 hours later--at just about midnight--the dam failed.  Its collapse unleashed a torrent that few would escape that night.  A mile below the dam, Powerhouse #2 was wiped off the face of the earth, and along with it, nearly 70 people, all employees and their families.  Harnischfeger, the dam keeper, and his son Coder were never seen again.  Churning over farms and fields down the canyon, the towering, thundering deluge followed the Santa Clara River bed 54 miles west to the sea.  Along the way it drowned whole families, buckled railroad tracks, wiped out structures, agriculture, livestock, cars whose drivers were unfortunate to be on the road that night, and it carried away a work camp full of men sound asleep in tents on the riverbank (84 of them drowned).

fallen dam sections

The Tombstone
what remained of the dam (looking downstream from where the reservoir used to be)

Heros were abroad that terrible night.  A switchboard operator 40 miles downstream got the frightful news and stayed at her position until the last possible moment, phoning the alarm to families in the path of the water.  She also alerted the police.  Two motorcycle policemen traveled east with their sirens blaring, towards the oncoming water, to shout warnings to citizens they aroused from their beds. Hundreds of lives were saved.

Victims and debris were washed out to sea, and others were buried by deep layers of mud.  Over the years bodies attributed to this disaster were occasionally recovered, including one as recently as the 1990s.  About 450 bodies were recovered.  It is thought that about 500 were killed.

the disaster was news around the country; this is a New London CT newspaper, March 13 1928

Strange stories circulated after the disaster, and even when I was a teen in the late 60s.  About 5 people had separately passed the dam that night. Some heard eerie sounds--tumbling rocks and moving earth--others heard nothing.  The dam keeper's girlfriend's fully-clothed corpse was found wedged in concrete just below the dam.  How did she get there?   Was she on top of the dam when it collapsed?   Remember, the keeper and his son were never found.  Weeks before the collapse one downstream resident had taken to sleeping in his barn on high ground because he knew the dam was going to fail; that night he heard the thunder of the water from his safe refuge.  Other folks expressed premonitions of disaster.  One woman rode the flood down the canyon on a board from her demolished house.  There is the mystery of a ladder found wedged in a portion of the dam.  Survivors were found in the tops of trees.  Supposedly one survivor was found stuck in muck up to his neck.  Weird.  The dead were dug from the mud over a period of many years.  Tomorrow I'll write about the haunted graveyard of some of the victims.

What about William Mulholland, the creator and engineer of this major disaster?   How did he react to the shock and devastation?   Remember that connected to the dam was a power facility, which generated electricity for Los Angeles.  It is said that when the city went dark that night, everyone employed by the LA Department of Water and Power knew exactly what had just happened.  Including Mulholland.   He and others hurried to the dam site that night, reaching it 2 1/2 hours after the collapse.  I'm sure he desperately wished there was a way to turn back the clock a mere 12 hours.  He later said, "I envy the dead," and  "The only ones I envy about this whole thing are the ones who are dead."
Mulholland and Harvey Van Norman at the tragic site, March 15 1928

During the subsequent investigation, Mulholland eventually took the blame; that could not be avoided.  "Fasten it on me.  If there is an error of human judgement, I am the human."  You've got to give him credit for manning up to his drastic error.  In the aftermath of the flood, a sign popped up urging "Kill Mulholland."  That was hardly necessary; he probably died inside a hundred times, or maybe 500, once for each of the dead.  He resigned his position, crushed and disgraced, and died 7 years later, his brilliant career in ashes.  Mulholland's charmed career made it possible for Los Angeles to become what it is.  It ended horribly tarnished by failure and death.

concrete debris at the dam site today

Monday, November 24, 2014

"There it is. Take it."

 William Mulholland, 1924

William Mulholland is memorialized in the name of the swanky, serpentine mountain road called Mulholland Drive that skirts the mountains north of downtown Los Angeles.  An Irishman, seaman, zanjero (ditch keeper), and brilliant self-taught engineer, he eventually rose to the position of superintendent of the Los Angeles Water Department.   When you know how important the management of water was in arid dusty burgeoning Los Angeles, you know that Mulholland rose to that post because he knew what he was doing.

Except when he didn't.  I'll get to that in tomorrow's post.

From the 1880s on, Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California was promoted to Easterners as a healthful agreeable place to settle, and the people came in droves.  They raised stock, cultivated farms, and before long the sweet aroma of tens of millions of lemon and orange blossoms wafted across the land.  The Mexican system of irrigation--ditches diverting the meager Los Angeles River--shortly became inadequate.

a Los Angeles-area scene, early 1900s; wouldn't you want to live here too?

Enter William Mulholland.  By 1887 he was in charge of water in Los Angeles.  Population boomed, growing from 50,000 in 1890 to 320,000 in 1910.  Los Angeles was and is a desert.  The Los Angeles River swelled only when rain or snow fell in the mountains.  Water would have to be brought in from somewhere else.  Somewhere else was the key to LA growth.  Somewhere else turned out to be the verdant, cultivated Owens Valley, 230 miles to the north.  Through a series of shady deceitful dealings by multiple people (including Mulholland), Owens Valley was drained of it's lake and river.  The water was channeled through a brand new massive aqueduct system to supply Los Angeles with liquid gold.  100 years later, that aqueduct is still imperative to the survival of that city.  A second system was added in 1970.

The terminus of the aqueduct was called the Cascades.  The pipe came from the north through a mountain at the northern most point of Los Angeles, and spilled through flood gates to the south.  Water, this expensive purloined water, tumbled down a channel into San Fernando Reservoir, a series of lakes that cradled the liquid gold Los Angeles craved.

a portion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct under construction, 1913

I grew up in the shadow of the aqueduct.  I have passed the Cascades thousands of times.  I have seen the barren Owens Valley.  I have tried to visualize it as it once was: a place of verdant growth and abundant agriculture before Los Angeles got hold of it.  Hardly a year in the last hundred has passed without some aspect of Los Angeles's water-related transgressions tied up in the courts.

On November 5, 1913, a triumphant Mulholland stood at the steel wheel that would release the water taken from the few, for the benefit of many.  As he turned the wheel, Mulholland said, "There it is.  Take it."   And it was done.  Los Angeles got what it wanted, thanks to William Mulholland.

the first drops of Owens Valley water arrive at the Cascades to slake thirst in Los Angeles, November 5, 1913

November 5, 1913: opening day at the Cascades, the southern terminus of the Los Angeles Aqueduct; Owens Valley water filled San Fernando Reservoir (not shown in photo), supplying LA with the water that further fueled its growth
(an interesting side note: Interstate 5 now runs horizontally where the long crowd of people is standing)

TOMORROW: "I Envy the Dead"

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Hike From H-E-Double Toothpicks

a view of Muscat, Oman at the beginning of our hike

We are fairly experienced hikers, our family is.  We know better than to go thoughtlessly rambling through the wilderness, and we have learned the hard way not to tromp off on a hike without knowing where we are and where we want to end up.  We bring food, water, extra layers, emergency supplies, etc., just in case.  The only time I can recall ever being genuinely lost was one time in Forest Park about 20 years ago.  Craig and I had no idea where we were, and tried various trails until we found our way out.  Forest Park in Portland covers hundreds of square miles with scores of trails, and the sweet truth is, you're never going to spend the night there, unwillingly.  If you walk long enough you'll find your way out.  Not every trail system is that forgiving.

In January we went on several hikes in Oman.  Oman is a wonderful place for those who love exploring the outdoors.  Trails are rocky and rugged, and it's worth climbing high for the stunning views of mountain ridges, oceans, villages, and wadis.

We explored the paved corniche area of Muscat harbor, and rather than trudging back through the city to our car, we opted to take this several-mile hike over the mountains.  It would take us from the corniche area up and over the mountain to the colonial-era Portuguese fort that dominates the city.  Our car was parked below the fort.

The trail started out steep, going straight up the mountain.  We noted that the route was marked with Omani flags painted onto large rocks.  All good.

view of Muscat harbor behind us as we ascended the mountain

Omani flag marker

From the top of the mountain we had a breathtaking view of the harbor behind us, craggy peaks all around and the old fort ahead, which was our goal.

In retrospect, I think we were so enthralled with the panorama around us, that we didn't carefully examine the directions for proceeding down the mountain.  I recall that there were no more painted flags in view to direct us, and that we just assumed that the ravine heading down toward the fort was where we should go.

We weren't too far down the ravine when we questioned the trail.  Scree made our footing precarious.  Going back up would have been too hazardous.  Our progress was measured in inches as we strove to keep our balance and our footing.  Barking dogs on the bluff above yapped relentlessly at us.

serenaded by barking dogs

It was reassuring to see the view shown in the photo below.  There was our destination dead-ahead, the old Portuguese fort!  And we wondered out loud what that "thing" was.  The "thing" that looks like a wall across our gully.  It closely resembled a dam.  And yup, it was a dam.  Blocking our hiking path.

the old fort and the "dam" barrier

Mmmm.  We clambered up the side of the dam--that was not too hard.  The difficulty was coming down the other side which is pictured below.  It was slick and steep.  Below you can see me hanging on to the meager vegetation to prevent myself hurtling to the bottom.  I shortly gave that up and instead, cautiously scooted the rest of the way down on my rear end.

That hurdle behind us, we looked ahead to see an entire Omani family perched on their balcony watching us, taking great interest in our escapade.  Slow day in Muscat??  Apparently so.  Or, perhaps we were the first people to ever make this error and come down the gully, up and over the flood control dam, and then hike through the city dump.  That's right.  They had a front row view of the dump, and the wacky Americans gingerly picking their way through it.

Back at the car we puzzled out our mistake at the top of the mountain.  We obviously erred in our decision to follow a non-trail down the mountain.  Next time we'll look diligently for an Omani flag painted on a rock!

a happier hike in Oman on Jebel Akhdar, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Messy Rooms

I don't make a habit of taking photos of messes in my house.  Just ran across these pictures, and apparently I do (make a habit of taking photos of messes).  With only 3 of us living here now, the house doesn't get messy anymore.  Or, what passes for a mess now takes a minute to clean up, then we're done.

The people who owned these rooms back in the day shall remain nameless.  One day I emptied this dresser, removed it from the room, and gave this person under-the-bed baskets to put their clothes into.  Obviously drawers were too high a level for she/he.  Later I ripped out the carpet on an impulse one day.  It was so disgusting that mealy moths were making a living and raising posterity in it.

Same room after dresser removed.

2 different rooms, above and below.  Stuff really weighs a person down.  It takes space, it requires care, it clutters the brain.  Less is definitely more.   How many clothes can we wear at a time?   How many knick-knacks are too many?  Stuffed animals?  Back in the day one sufficed.  Some years ago I was assisting a poor family who lived in an apartment without a washer/dryer.  The woman was convinced that each of her family members needed 7 more pairs of jeans each, 7 more shirts, 7 more of every clothing item, in addition to what they already had, so that she didn't have to go to the laundromat so often.  I pointed out to her that in their tiny apartment, they would be tripping over clothing all the day long, and that when she did do laundry it would cost a fortune, and take days to get through it, blah blah blah.  I knew what I said was the truth.  She acted like I was trying to sabotage her life or something.  She didn't get the extra clothing.  I sort of saved her from having to spend her life managing stuff.

It feels really good to have a stripped down house.  I could be more ruthless though and dispose of more material goods.   Last year I decided we should get rid of 10% of what we owned, and we did about that much.  It made a liberating difference.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dad in His Early Years

I have never seen a photo of my Dad that is earlier than this one when he was 10.

age 10 in 1931, Star Junction Pennsylvania

age 13 in 1934, Star Junction, Pennsylvania

Dad is in the back row, far right, about age 15 or 16, Perryopolis, PA

1944, age 23, USS Missouri

wedding day, October 1953 in NYC
Dad was 32, Mom was 27

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mom in Her Early Years

I've posted a few photos of my Mom just for fun today.  I was told my entire life that I looked just like my her.  I knew it must be true because in 1989 I attended a family funeral in Mom's hometown.  Several people I did not know said to me, "You must be Jean Ashe's daughter."

About 10 years ago I began to see a little bit of my Dad's looks in myself.

Mom and brothers James and Robert, 1931, Holyoke, Massachusetts

Mom and her friend Miriam, NYC 1940-ish

 Mom's high school graduation photo, class of 1942 (age 16), George Washington High in NYC
I see a bit of Bridget in this photograph

Mom and her friend Miriam, NYC late 1940s 

1953: Miriam Kerans, Mom, Cousin Peggy Sullivan, Marie Hannify


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kindergarten Through 6th Grade, Individual Photos

Lazy post--just an extension of yesterday's--but it's all I had time to do last night!

      1st grade

   2nd grade  
    3rd grade

4th grade
5th grade

6th grade