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I’ve always liked the question, “What three things would you take with you if you were shipwrecked on a deserted island?”  It does give you pause about what’s important to you.  I always wondered if it would spoil a budding romance if I embarrassedly admitted that one of my choices would be a jar of mayonnaise.  I seem to use it on everything.  Maybe it’s because when I was in college, my roommate’s mother used to send us homemade mayo with fresh California lemons right off her tree.  There’s never been any other like it but because she hooked me on it, I use whatever brand I can find on sandwiches, vegetables, fish, and a lot more.

When I was in the Navy and flew to islands in the Pacific, we took a lot of odd items to “make a deal” with the locals.  The natives loved trading with us.  They would give us monkeys, fish, and bowls carved from mangroves or palm trees, fans handmade using seashells and braided coconut husks, carvings from coral, and giant turtle shells.  We gave them cans of paint (don’t ask me what they used them for), tools, cigarette lighters, and yes, I’m ashamed to say it, cigarettes and cheap jewelry.

This was many years ago.  I wonder if they still live there, still have coral, turtles, and giant clams?  Anybody been to Ponape, Ulithi, Yap, or Truk lately?

Sandy Blood

In one of the creative writing courses I took in college, I was writing a piece about the time in the Navy when I visited the flag-raising monument on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima, where some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting took place in WWII.  On the way up the mountain, actually just a hill, I and my fellow sailors, all of us in uniform, passed a group of Japanese tourists coming down.  We eyeballed each other and probably had the same thoughts.

But what I wanted to refer to in this blog post was that, in my writing that day, I wrote that when I looked over at the beach from the trail we were walking, “I could almost visualize the sandy blood.” My professor made a big point of stating to the class that this sentence would have had far less impact if I had written “bloody sand” instead of “sandy blood.” He said that while one was a rather trite phrase, the other said a lot more about the carnage that had occurred there.  I’ve always taken that to heart and tried, in my writing, to use little twists like that for effect.  I suppose sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. But maybe my point is to occasionally “think outside the box.”  (oh, how trite is that?)

I’m Dreamin’ My Life Away

When starting to write this blog, I thought of the old Everly Brothers hit, “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” in which there is a line that says, “I’m Dreamin’ My Life Away.”

I can’t remember the name of the first creative writing instructor I had in college, but I can remember how he got me to consider writing a novel.  We had just completed an assignment of writing our first short story.  Mine was about a boy growing up on a Pacific Island and his adventure at taking his father’s fishing bird out in the lagoon of the coral atoll.  Instead of fish for dinner, he catches and kills a shark with just a knife.  I assume I must have done a good job with it, because, after reading it and the others in classes, the teacher caught me after class and asked, “Do you have any more of these stories?”

I was caught by surprise, but with little thought I replied, “Sure.”  Having spent two years in the Navy flying down to small islands in the Pacific, I figured I could come up with more.  “I suggest you write them, then,” he said.  So I did.  I wrote a couple more for that class and then, after graduation and getting a real job, I wrote every day on the 45-minute bus commute into and out of Boston.  The result was The Ages of Oosig, my first novel, which to this day I am still working on publishing.  And then I wrote another novel.  And then I started on a third.

My intent here is not to brag that I accomplished this feat since all of them are unpublished at this loin.  But I wanted to reflect on the fact that, while writing that first story, I was in college as an Electronic Engineering major, a career that I achieve only tangentially as a marketing writer for a high-tech company.  I was taking the writing course as a diversion from the complexity of engineering studies.  Those few words from a professor gave me a dream that I have carried with me ever since.  Now that I am retired, I can work harder at making that dream a reality.

I wonder if you have similar dreams of a future unfulfilled? Is that so terrible?

Don’t Pet the Cougar

Life growing up on the Oregon Coast was not like being raised in other parts of the United States. One day while I was traveling from my home in Oregon to San Jose State College where I went to school, I stopped at a Sambo’s restaurant for breakfast. I think it was in Eureka, California. You may remember it as the breakfast place whose logo was an unfortunate takeoff on The Story of Little Black Sambo and featured a black boy eating a pile of pancakes while a tiger circled him.  Founders Sam Battistone, Sr. and Newell Bohnett thought it would be cute to play up the reference to the popular book by Helen Bannerman, despite the fact that they were just combining parts of their names for the restaurant.

[This might actually be a photo of the Sambo’s where I stopped, although this photo is from 1974, probably 10 years after I was there. Note the more generic logo.  Out of 1200 restaurants in its heyday, only the original in Santa Barbara still exists.]

But the name is not what I’m writing about.  After I ate, I was walking back to my car when I past a dusty, beatup car parked on the street.  A movement in the vehicle caught my attention for a second and I glanced in as I walked past to see a large reddish-brown dog climbing over the seat.  It wasn’t until I was 10 steps past that it dawned on me that it had an awfully long tail for a dog.  I started back for a better look and pulled up short as a huge cat face stared out at me.  It was a mountain lion, often called cougar or puma, or even panther depending on where it roams in the world.

I could see that it didn’t have a chain or collar around its neck.  No, I didn’t go up and pet it.  Thankfully the window was rolled up. If I had had more time, I might have waited to see who came out of Sambo’s and got into the car.  But I needed to get to San Jose to pick up my roommate at the San Carlos airport.

At the time, it didn’t strike me as too odd for someone to have a mountain lion for a pet.  Today, looking back, I understand why everyone I’ve told who was from outside of Oregon was amazed.  But that was life in rural Oregon.  In fact, my wife laughs that, while other kids had bomb scares at school in the 1950’s and 1960’s, we sometimes had cougar scares.  They would infrequently be seen wandering the school grounds.

Life on the Oregon coast is still rough in many places.  But that’s part of its charm.  If you haven’t visited, do so.  You never know what you might see.

Calling All Wildlife. Please Come In. Ten-Four.

My wife and I have been planning on taking a trip to Africa, Kenya and Tanzania in particular, to witness first-hand the Great Migration and to see the Big Five close up, that is, relatively close up. My concern is to get there before they’re all gone.

If you wanted, you could read every day about the overwhelming reduction in elephants, rhinos, zebras, mountain gorillas and other beautiful creatures due mainly to poaching for ivory, horns, pelts and .  The black rhino alone is down 96.7% since 1960; 35,000 elephants were killed last year. Poachers ride into reserves on horses or attack in helicopters carrying AK-whatevers and night-vision goggles and slaughter complete herds.  Despite bans on the sale of both ivory and horns in many countries, we are still losing ground.  The economic rise of one huge nation in particular, one that seems to be oblivious to animal endangerment, is resulting in the deaths of thousands of animals.  Efforts to implant cameras in horns and sensors on tusks in order for governments to more quickly react to poachers are just experiments.  Bloodhounds might be able to track poachers after the fact, but too late to save the animals.

So what does the world do while the irreplaceable animals of Africa are being wiped out?  Apparently the same thing we do about the impact of climate change–little.  It appears that other countries feel it isn’t their duty to help contribute to the effort to fight poachers alongside the African nations.  Why would they? Most countries do little to prohibit the genocide of millions of people who are being slaughtered on the lands of their neighboring nations.  So why would they give a hoot about dying animals in distant lands?  And don’t get me started on reefs and creatures of the sea.

Where has all the coral gone? Short time passing.

When I was in the Navy (please don’t ask when that was), I was stationed at the Naval Air Base in Agana, Guam.  Part of our mission was to support the natives on the various islands in the Marianas Islands and other islands in the area–Saipan, Tinian, Palau, Ponape, and many others.  Some of these names will sound familiar to those of you who are into the history of World War II in the Pacific.

I was part of a seaplane crew that flew down to these islands.  We flew HU-16 Albatross seaplanes.  [See one here – ]  Many of these islands were coral atolls, meaning that they atoll2were roughly a ring of coral with a lagoon inside and some raised land areas on which the people lived.  For those islands too small to have a landing strip, we would put down inside the lagoons.  The only problem with that is that coral can grow at 2-4 inches per year and our maps were often old, old, old. Although we could see coral spikes in the lagoon from the air, when we landed in the lagoon it was difficult to know we weren’t running into one as we water-taxied into the beach.

So a couple of us crew members would put on our bathing suits, don snorkels and diving masks. and swim out to the pontoons.  Hanging onto these with our faces in the water, we would guide the pilots through safe waters using clever left- and right-hand motions.  When safely close enough, we would either beach the aircraft or anchor out and let the natives paddle out to fetch us.  While the “important” people with us conversed with the natives–sometimes a doctor tending to a patient, sometimes an admiral there to watch a school graduation– we crew members would often snorkel around the lagoon, collecting unusual shells, sharing space with spectacular schools of fish, or shallowly diving down among the colorful corals.

Often called the “rainforests of the sea,” these reefs and those around the world are dying at a rate similar to that of the true rainforests.  Coral reefs provide about 30 billion dollars worth of goods and services related to tourism, fishing, building materials, and coastal protection and that figure is diminishing rapidly.  The cause of the problem?  The primary one is carbon dioxide emissions, resulting both environmental warming and acidification. Read this for more.

When will we take our heads out of the sand–or coral–and admit to global warming?  Will it be too late for the coral and for the marine life it supports?

Fine, Furry Fellows with Flippers

What if the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911 never existed?  Or if people ignored it? That’s the premise behind my novel With Which The Waters Swarm.  When a world-wide recession hits, all bets are off with seal-hunting crews.  One band of fur seals, realizing it could be wiped out, vows to have experiences on their next Long Journey that will help them fight the sealers when they return.  They enlist the aid of whales, puffins, octopuses, porpoises, even a Dachshund and Great Dane along the way.  If you have ever wondered why seals bark so frantically, With Which The Waters Swarm gives one possible explanation.

Over the generations, world leaders have established limits and safety measures to ensure that we have steady supplies of everything from crops to lumber, from seals to elephants.  These laws do not always work well but they are in place and do help.  There is, of course, one conservation measure we can’t seem to agree on and it is the most important of all, because if agreement isn’t reached soon, all the others become invalid.

So why do we insist on not taking the bull by the horns and doing something about global warming?  I don’t have an answer, do you?

Sinking Islands, Chewed-Up Trees

I was listening to National Public Radio the other day and they were talking about how the melting ice caps were going to pose a huge problem for some Pacific islanders.  Their islands, actually coral atolls, are just a few feet above sea level.  Since scientists predict a three-foot rise in sea level by 2100, you can see this poses a bit of a problem for people living on those islands.

In fact, there are many problematic, yet interesting, potential results of melting glaciers and land-based ice sheets. And we don’t have to wait until 2100 to observe them.

In Alaska, the spruce bark beetle is breeding so fast in the warmer weather, they are now adding a generation every year. As a result, millions of acres of Alaskan forest are being destroyed. Animals all over the world are changing migration patterns and plants are changing the dates of activity.  That can’t be good, can it?

Of course, some don’t believe in global warming and, no doubt, it will take some strong convincing in the way of more and more powerful disasters to sway them.

But global warming aside, there are many other threats to our environment that we all can witness and do something about.  Many of these have been self-imposed through ignorance or over-indulgence. Let me give you just one small example.  On the South Shore of Massachusetts, there is a group known as the North & South River Watershed Association.  Their goal is to “preserve, restore, maintain and conserve in their natural state, the waters and related natural resources within the watershed.”  One of their tasks is to help bring the alewife, or herring that used to be so plentiful “you could walk on them,” according to some old tales.  Having held “Herring Celebrations” as recently as the 1970’s, thousands of residents in towns in southern Massachusetts turned out at town brooks and streams to catch and grill herring without thinking twice about the possibility of the fish not returning the next year.  The NSRWA has been working tirelessly to remove old, failed dams, build fish ladders, and clean waters in an effort to bring the alewife back.

Let’s be honest, many of us say we are too busy to help, me included.  But maybe we can each do a little something, and make it fun at the same time.  One of the ideas the NSRWA came up with is to count the number of herring that come up the rivers each season.  So hundreds of volunteers, me included, go out a couple of times a week and count fish for just 10 minutes each.  I’ve had the 7:00 am-11:00 am count twice a week for the past three years–just 10 minutes at any time during those four hours.  It gets me out of the house, gives me a little fresh air, allows me to connect  in a way with others, is rewarding, and is enjoyable.  I love reading the log to see who counted how many and when.  Little notes about preening herons, huge snapping turtles, eager beavers, and a bevy of other natural wonders enliven the readings.

One of the indirect results of taking an interest in the environment for me is one of my novels entitled “With Which The Waters Swarm.”  It’s about a herd of North Pacific Fur Seals that face extinction due to overfishing and what they do about it.  Could I do more?  Yes.  Will I? Maybe.  But if we all even do as little as I do to help the environment, couldn’t we actually save the world.  And maybe have fun doing it?

The Sad State of Commercial Fishing

Whether you live on the East Coast or the West Coast, you know that commercial fishing seasons have been continually shortened as scientists study the amount of fish caught over the past umpteen decades.  The same is true all over the world.  In the U.K, studies show that in 1937, the peak of fishing there, the haul was 14 times what it is today.   The struggle between conservationists and fishermen has been going on as long as I can remember, including when I was a commercial salmon fisherman as a teenager (ok, so I’m ooold).  Neither party is completely right or wrong.  We do have to protect our resources, but fishermen should also be able to earn a living.  It would be a shame to see an industry like this turned over completely to the big “factory” fisheries and all our wild fish populations disappear.

According to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), “The international trade in coastal and marine fisheries contributes $70 billion annually to our nation’s economy. Understanding and managing the considerable pressures – both human and natural – on these valuable resources will ensure that the country’s long-standing tradition of commercial fishing in our coastal communities is sustained.”

Pass on your thoughts.  Or don’t you care?

Rough, Tough, and Lovable

I’m working on my third adventure novel, this one about the odd people, rough life, and close relationships that I remember from growing up in a fishing village on the Oregon coast. My wife always said that the folks there were more colorful than anywhere else she’s ever been. If you pass on your email address, I will be happy to update you when this one, and two others I have written are ready for publication.  In the meantime, I hope you’ll read my blog postings regularly and let me know your thoughts.  We all grew up with different backgrounds, and I would love to hear about yours as I post my own remembrances and passions.