Monday, June 27, 2011

Dog Tags

I mentioned a while back that my niece gave me the idea of making ceramic dog tags as gifts for Burning Man. I thought it an excellent idea and as I have access to a kiln, it seemed easily do-able. To make it simple, I made a stamp to stamp them out. I roll out a slab of clay and go to town stamping my design in the soft mud. Then I cut them out.

In a 4-hour session, I can roll, stamp and cut several hundred dog tags. I began making them in February & now have about 1,000 made up. To keep it even simpler, I left them unglazed but used various oxides to color the white clay.

I was sitting in Open Studio making several hundred dog tags one Friday and my introvert’s brain began telling me, “These things are really stupid. No one’s going to want one of these things!”Yikes! Self-doubt crept into the room. What was I doing?

The following Saturday, I showed them to my friend Sy. Sy is painfully honest: tells the truth no matter how brutal it may be. And he has good taste, too! Sy looked at my bucket of hundreds of dog tags and exclaimed, “I want one! I want one now!” So I strung it up on a length of hemp and he’s been wearing it ever since.

He reports back whenever he gets a compliment. Sy & I are in Pilates class three days a week and in every class he’s telling me about another compliment received. Yesterday, another friend begged me for one & immediately tied it around his neck.

Self-doubt has been chassed from the room.

One Monday, during virtual cocktails with our friends in Seattle, Garret asked, “So, Jer, are these dog tags you’re making like for a dog or like a military dog tag?” Now, that never occurred to me! I call them dog tags only because I used my military dog tags as a reference for size. And, yes, I still have my USAF dog tags issued to me in 1970.

I now have a box of 1,000 Burning Man dog tags individually strung up and ready for Burning Man. I’ve been talking with a veteran burner who’s giving me pointers on the protocol for giving. I appreciate Jim’s advice. I don’t want to just “hand them out”. There should be purpose behind the giving of gifts.

Today, I was thinking about the money I’ve put into making these dog tags, not that THAT would stop me. Breaking it all down, it comes to about 3 cents each. That doesn’t include my time/labor.It is certainly affordable and I’m now wondering why I made only 1000 of them!

Chelsea, that was an excellent suggestion!

Thank you for listening,

Jerry L. Hanson

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Hike

I love to go hiking in the hills that surround the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. Sometimes, my love of hiking clouds my thinking.

Last week, I received an e-mail notice from one of my hiking groups. Steve wrote: “Celebrate the Summer Solstice. It may be heating up in the Valley, but up Highway 74 temperatures are still in the 70's…” I’m suckered in & reply that “Yes! Of course I’ll go! See you there!

Today being the Summer Solstice, I notice Palm Springs temps are expected to be 113F and I’m supposed to go on a hike. As I’m driving to the usual meeting point, I realize I can always back out. I committed to show up but did not commit to actually, like, hike. Several of the other hikers had this same thought.

Our group leader reminded us that the temperatures are 10 to 15 degrees cooler in those elevations. Well, OK! Let’s go! We did not stop to think: 10 to 15 degrees cooler than 113 is still hovering around the 100F mark! Ah, well, I have my 2-liter camelback, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and a baggie of M&M’s.

We drove the 22 miles out of Palm Desert up into the hills along State Hwy 74. We parked in the convenient parking lot near the Elk’s Club and Cactus Canyon. Sixteen of us headed into the canyon: beautiful blue skies, warm weather and sun-caressed skin.

In my infinite wisdom, I had decided to wear my new Doc Marten boots – to break them in for Burning Man. These boots are way cool. All leather, steel toe, water proof and just too cool looking. Thirty minutes into the hike, I notice my feet are on fire. These damned boots are hot as hell! They don’t breathe. There’s no air circulation. And I’m working on a blister on my right heel. What was I thinking???

We’re hiking in a spectacularly beautiful canyon. The yucca is in in full bloom. There is brittle brush past their bloom tempting us with seedpods. The Manzanita’s red bark is just too beautiful. We’re hiking down hill most of the way into the canyon but I’m distracted by the flora.

We hiked 2.5 miles down to Horse Thief Creek. The trail is well maintained and clearly marked. Steve, our guide, spent much of last year creating the trails we hiked. Clearly, he loves this area of Cactus Canyon. We hiked down 2.5 miles and 900 feet into the canyon to the creek where we stopped for lunch.

This was the turn-around point. We lingered for an hour & a half. Most of the guys took a dip in the river to cool off. My refrigerator is set at a higher temp than the creek. I decided NOT to freeze off various sensitive body parts. I hung out on one of the huge boulders soaking up the heat & sun.

And then it was time to head back. Sixteen guys, just finishing lunch, drinking our share of water: time to walk back up the hills – 900 feet of hill. It was 1:30 PM; the sun is high in the sky, We are an older group of men. OK! We’re old farts with a median age of 55 or better. This hike back was no easy task.

I imagine the Butana Death March felt much like this. Several of our group are not seasoned hikers. The hike in took about 90 minutes: the hike out too more than twice that long.

I have COPD… There I’ve said it. I have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Twelve years ago I quit smoking after 32 years and it’s taken its toll on my lungs. I did it to myself. So, if you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start! This brought to you by the American Cancer Association…

I have lots of strength. I have little stamina. I can pick up & move 5 tons of rock: just not all at one time! Space it out over the day & I’m OK. Same with the walk back UP the 900-foot rise. I needed breaks along the way: along with Mark and John and Jay and Joe. To complicate matters, they ran out of water. You do NOT want to run out of water on hike in 100-degree weather.

We plodded on stopping in the shade as it presented itself. Why do you not notice there are few shady spots on the way down?

We all made it back to the parking lot and our cars AND more WATER by 3:30PM. I had another three bottles of water in my truck and thankfully drank one down even though it had the heat of tea without the Earl Gray.

This is not the first time I’ve been on hikes with these guys. This is not the first time several of our group had difficulties hiking back from the turn-around-point. Why do we do this???

We go on these hikes because we still can. It may be difficult but we can do it. Jay had a rogue virus 6 years ago and was paralyzed from the waist down. He had to learn how to stand up; how to walk; how to use the bathroom;. Mark nearly died of HIV, and through modern medicine his life has changed. John is 75 years old, healthy and determined. I have COPD and refuse to let it stop me. We go and support one another. We can do this.

These hikes are a bitch and I love them. If I can do these hikes, I can do pretty much anything.

Oh, and those M&M's? They melted into a messy glob at the bottom of my backpack.

Thank you for listening.

Jerry L. Hanson

Monday, June 13, 2011

Camping in Yucca Valley: Part III

The last time I went camping was in 1977 or 78: just me and my dog, Zeke. We used to take off across the desert with a backpack for me & saddle bags for Zeke. As Zeke ate his kibble, I off loaded my stuff into his saddle bags. Hey! He’s a dog! What did he know? He loved it.

Forty-plus years later, I’m going camping again. This time I had a truck loaded with supplies. How can you go camping without that portable iPod speakers? Or an eight-man tent for two? Or a down comforter? Sheesh!

We went camping at Star Struck. The name sounds idyllic. Names and places are often not in synch. At this campsite, the stars were definitely the draw. (Read my prior two blogs to catch up, if you’ve not already.) Steven & I retired to our spacious, luxurious accommodations after an evening of gin rummy, dinner and two bottles of wine. OK, we drank three bottles of wine if you count lunch.

The wind had kicked up while we were playing cards and having dinner. The wind was howling by the time we returned to our tent. The tent was holding up to the wind and performing admirably. AND it was cold. We hung a spotlight from the center point of the tent and placed other on each “night table”. The tent was aglow with warm light.

Then we dove under the down comforters for warmth. We talked for what seemed like hours. “Hey, Steven. What time is it?” “9:30….” “That’s ALL??” We both dozed off. I dozed off… Steven is a light sleeper. He didn’t doze off.

I awoke with a start and a bladder in need of emptying. Steven was still awake. The lanterns were still alight. The tent seemed alive. It felt as if we were inside a living, breathing being. The tent’s walls were expanding. Contracting. Expanding. Eerie

“I gotta pee.”

“Me too.”

“It’s cold out.”

“Yeah, but I’ll bet the stars are incredible.”

“Let’s go.”

We did. The stars were incredible! We identified the Big & Little Dippers, Orin’s belt and others Steven knew. The lights were also on in the neighbor’s cabin. Curtains open. Yikes! Back into the tent and the warmth under the down covers.

I fell asleep. I can always fall asleep. Although, I woke often during the night to the breathing of the tent and the wind. Canvas tents don’t’ make much noise. These modern nylon/plastic tents make a hell of a racket. I’m half deaf. If it can wake ME up, I can only imagine how noisy this tent was! Did I say Steven is a light sleeper?

I woke again with the tent aglow with dawn’s light. I knew I was awake for the day. You know, it’s the type of awake where you just know you’ll not roll over for another 30 minutes of shut-eye. The kind of awake where you just gotta get up & moving.

Steven was awake. “So, What would you like to do this AM?” I asked. There was a brief pause. “I want to break camp & have breakfast in the truck on the way back to Palm Springs.”

I volunteered to head up to the kitchen with the tea kettle to boil water for our tea while we packed up. That done, we packed up our belongings, carried it all up to the truck, stuck the tent & folded it up in the howling wind. It was an excellent exercise in folding up that tent. We were able to get it down, folded up and stowed in its bag within 15 minutes! AND in howling winds! We froze our butts off in the process. Thankfully the sun was warm.

We were up at 7:55 AM and on the road back to Palm Springs by 10 AM. We dissed Star Stuck campgrounds all the way back to Palm Springs. We both agreed the experience was fun and “trying”. I gained a lot of useful information about my camping gear. Steven lost a lot of sleep.

That evening, Steven & I talked on the phone. “You know, Jer, that campsite just might be fun if you went with a group of guys you knew.” “So, Steven, are you saying you’d be willing to go again?” “Yeah. It was kinda fun in a weird kind of way.” “I know what you mean. The desert there is stunning!” “We did have a good time.”

Is that why the place is called Sun Struck?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Star Struck

The view from our campsite

Last week, I talked about my idyllic camping trip to Star Struck, a 10-acre campground in Yucca Valley. The surrounding landscape is breath taking, wild and relatively untouched by man. Yeah, there are houses dotting the landscape but for the most part, it is untouched.

Steven, my camping buddy, and I pitched the tent on flat piece of ground a bit removed from Sun Struck’s infrastructure. We had a wide-open view of the surrounding mountains and could see for miles and miles. There was only one Sun Struck structure visible from our camp sight. We count our blessings.

After our simple lunch of turkey sandwiches, potato salad and chips, we decided it was time to head out into the countryside. We had pitched our tent along the pathway down to the valley below. Our tent became the reference point for our hike: if we can see our tent, we know where we are. And at times, the tent was several miles away.

Walking down into the wash, I felt as if I was walking back in time. There were no telephone poles. No roads. No tire tracks anywhere we could see. We could see our tent off in the distance but there were few other traces of man. OK, you cannot ever get away from the jet contrails. There were contrails.

We followed animal trails through the brush. We watched jackrabbits nibbling flowers. We frightened a bevy of quail: two adults and about 15 chicks. We watched Red Tailed Hawks circling overhead. We did not see Rattler Snakes, thankfully!

The desert is in full bloom this time of year. The creosote bushes were covered in yellow blossoms and the honeybees were in full attendance. Steven is allergic to honey bee stings. We retreated. I carefully avoided stepping on any of the plants blanketing the desert floor. At times, it was impossible.

After about two hours hiking in the sun, we were ready to head back to base camp. We could still see our tent off across the arroyo. We set our course and began the return trek. If you have ever hiked in the wide-open deserts of California or Arizona, you will know that it is impossible to walk in a straight line to that point off in the distance. There are just too many impediments in your way.

The hike back was nearly as long as the hike out. Sounds like a no brainer…. However, on the hike out, you’re meandering up the hill, smelling the flowers, backtracking, photographing one other, the rock formations and the plants. On the hike back you’re making a straight line for camp. Screw this meandering crap! You want to get back to camp and a martini.

That “straight line” back to camp slogs through the erosion gullies, cholla cactus patches, steep hills and cats claw shrubs. The Cholla cactus and cats claw shrubs should warn you off if the unstable terrain doesn’t. Especially if you are hiking textile free. We took the meander trail back to base camp.

We loved the hike. It was stunningly beautiful. It was sunny and warm. It was exhausting. I needed a drink.

It was too early for dinner so we grabbed a bottle of wine, chips, salsa, a deck of cards and headed to the multi-purpose room. The tent site was hot with no shade and the wind was kicking up. The communal kitchen was being used and we figured the dinning room would be occupied soon after. The multi-purpose room was cool and it was empty.

Empty is a relative term. There were tables and counters and couches and bookcases. Every horizontal surface of the multi-purpose room was covered with…. I don’t know what it was covered with…. dreck? It was just junk; bits of this and bits of that. Ok, it was trash. One could have swept it all into the trash can and no one would have been the wiser.

We cleared off a 3 ft by 6 ft folding table. We washed the surface of the table. We washed it again. We set out our chips & dip and cracked the bottle of wine. Steven dealt the first hand of Gin Rummy after we’d spend 20 minutes talking about how to play the damned game. That settled, we talked, laughed, drank and munched on those corn chips & dip. We had a grand time. And we played Gin Rummy not keeping score or worrying about who was winning.

At about 8:00 PM we realized we’d not prepared our dinner. Back to the tent, we trekked. We gathered up our dinner “stuff” and headed back to the multi-purpose room. Steven had prepared an incredible meal of basil pesto chicken, herb sautéed green beans and salad. Camp may have been squalor, our meal was not. It was yummy.

We dined, drank the third bottle of wine and cleaned up after ourselves leaving no trace – other than an unusually clean and empty table. We headed back to camp. The wind was howling and the air temperature had dropped about 30 degrees.

We had another embarrassing moment walking past our closest neighbor’s window. We’ll not go there,.

The tent was a welcoming sight. We dove through the tent flap & zipped up the windows and doors, sealing ourselves in for the night. We turned on our lanterns, which gave a warm, diffused light. We crawled into bed snuggling down into the warmth of down & flannel. And then we talked into the wee hours of the night. No horror stories, though.

Thank you for listening

Jerry L. Hanson