I Didn’t Know Jack . . . London

by Bob Sparrow

     When someone would say the name Jack London to me I’d think Call of the Wild, and . . . well, not much else.  Maybe because I am from northern California, I’d think of Jack London Square in Oakland and perhaps have a vague notion of something to do with Jack London up around Sonoma.  I had an opportunity a couple of weeks ago to visit that ‘vague notion’ up around Sonoma, which is Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.  It is truly amazing, as was Mr. London.  What follows for some will be ‘old news’, but there are some, me included, who didn’t know Jack!

     He was born in San Francisco in 1876 to a father who didn’t own up to him and an unwed mother, who shot herself, not fatally, shortly after his birth (talk about a disappointed mother!), became temporarily deranged and turned the care and raising of Jack over to an ex-slave.  Not your ordinary start to life, but Jack London was no ordinary person.  From an early age he was an avid reader and definitely had a case of wanderlust.  At 13 he bought a boat (yes, 13) and became an ‘oyster pirate’ (yes, a pirate!).  A few years later he signed on as a ship’s crew member to hunt seals in Japan.  When he returned, the ‘Panic of 1893’ (The forerunner of The Great Depression and whatever it is we’re going through now) was in full swing.  He regularly voiced his opinion about poor working conditions, and for it he spent time in jail which helped him develop his strong political views regarding the value of unions and the virtues of socialism.  At 17, after several years of being on the road and at sea, he returned to Oakland to attend high school!  Yep, he owned a boat, was a pirate, hunted seals in Japan, became a political activist, spent time in jail all before his senior prom.  At 20 he entered college at Cal Berkeley (of course), but stayed only a year as the Klondike gold rush beckoned him north.

     He would always record his adventures on paper and at a very early age realized that he could actually make a living with his writing.  The Reader’s Digest version of his life would look something like this: He got married, but was not faithful (he said morality was a sign of low blood pressure.  Honest!), he was an honorary member of the Bohemian Club, he became an alcoholic, he got divorced and remarried, he built a boat and took off for nearly two years sailing to Hawaii, Australia and several south sea islands, he ran for political office (and lost), he was often accused of plagiarism (and sometimes pleaded guilty), he bought 1,000 acres in Glen Ellen where he tried, unsuccessfully, to introduce new agricultural techniques to the world and through it all he wrote over 20 novels and dozens of short stories and essays, all by the age of 40 when he died, some say by suicide.

     The 1,000 acres he purchased is now the Jack London State Historic Park.  It features miles of great hiking trails, Jack’s man-made lake, his cottage, the house his wife lived in (pictured at right) after his death, which is now the museum holding the artifacts that Jack collected on his many travels, numerous farm out-buildings including the ‘Pig Palace’ and a fancy manure mover, an open-air theater and his gravesite.  But among the many buckeye, fir, madrone, oak and the magnificent coastal redwood is the gem of the park, the ‘Wolf House’

     Jack decided that he wanted to build a most magnificent house on this beautiful property; a place where he could write, entertain and just relax and enjoy the beautiful nature around him.  Construction on the Wolf House started in 1911; it was built of volcanic rock, slate and redwood on an earthquake-proof concrete slab.  There was over 15,000 square feet of living space on four floors with 26 rooms and 9 fireplaces.  The house contained its own generating plants for hot water, laundry, heating, electric lighting, vacuum and refrigeration – not common in those days.  It also had a milk room, root cellar and a wine cellar.  In today’s dollars it cost over $2,000,000 to build.  As you might suspect, Jack London was often criticized for espousing a socialist philosophy, but living a capitalist’s life.

    In 1913, two weeks before Jack and wife, Charmian were to move into the Wolf House, a fire, caused by spontaneous combustion, burned it to the grown, leaving only the volcanic rock of the foundation, walls and fireplaces, which is how it remains today, nearly 100 years later.

Jack was crushed, but vowed to rebuild it, but illness and a lack of money and time prevented that – he died three years later.  But when you’re deep in the redwoods walking around the remains of the Wolf House, you swear you can almost hear the call of the wild.

     If you’re planning a trip to the Napa/Sonoma wine country, I’d recommend taking a break from the lectures about why the Cabernets have such big noses and visit this historic site; if you’re lucky you’ll go at a time when they’re doing Broadway in the open-air theater at sundown.

Hawaiian Postscript – OK, OK I Didn’t Work the WHOLE Time!

    If you’re reading this from Facebook,    we’d like to ask you to ‘subscribe’ to our blog – it’s free and easy, just fill in the blank at the right hand side of this article (Follow Blog on Email) with your email address, go to your email and ‘confirm’ – that’s it.  You’ll then have our weekly blog come directly to your email.  If you’ve already subscribed . . .  send the link to a friend and Thank You!

by Bob Sparrow

     For those who may have questioned my veracity regarding the story on my recent trip to Hawaii (I Had To Go To Hawaii To WORK! – A Picture Story), in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that while the conference I attended did go from Thursday – Saturday, the vendors (and I’m a virtual vending machine) were not included in Saturday’s agenda.  Since I was wasn’t sentenced to spend five hours on a ‘red eye’ strapped into the last row of seats for my flight home until 9:00 pm Saturday, I had the whole day to explore Kaua’i.

     On Friday evening, while not sitting at one of those tiki bars not having one of those umbrella drinks, I struck up a conversation with a young man who had just returned from a hike.  I asked him to tell me about it.  He had me at “at the end is this beautiful waterfall.”  My Saturday was planned.

     I took the Kuhio Highway – the term ‘Highway’ here is used in the most colloquial sense – it is a narrow, two-lane road, when it doesn’t cross a river and go down to a one-lane bridge, that winds past the posh resort, homes and golf courses of Princeville and then through the quaint and euphonious town of Hanalei until it just ends.  I think it was the first highway I’d driven on that just came to a dead-end.  I parked.  I was at Ke’e Beach in Haena State Park, on the Na Pali coast, trailhead for the hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls.  This was the setting for Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific; beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe it.

     The trail to the falls goes up the mountain then down to Hanakapi’ai Beach, which is two miles away.  It is narrow and drops off rather dramatically.  Here is part of the ‘Hazard Warning’ for this trail:

Extreme inclines and declines on uneven, narrow footpath on high cliffs.  Loose rocks underfoot and from eroding cliffs above.  Strong currents and flash flooding can occur at the river.  Dangerous shorebreak and riptides at Hanakapi`ai beach – use extreme caution.  Hike Rating: Strenuous

      So one false step could send you down the cliff, careening off lava rock into a watery grave several hundred feet below; but you will have died in a most beautiful place, so you’d have that going for you.

     It was about mid-morning when I reach Hanakapi’ai Beach and it was becoming quite warm; I considered a quick dip in the ocean (I read the ‘Hazard Warning’ after I did the hike) when I noticed a wooden sign stuck in the sand at the entrance to the beach.

 In case you can’t read it, it says, “BEACH WARNING! DO NOT GO NEAR THE WATER, UNSEEN CURRENTS HAVE KILLED (82 in Roman numerals) VISITORS.  I noticed that there was plenty of room for more hash marks so . . .

I splashed a little water in my face from the stream, turned and got on the trail toward the falls


     The trail cuts through the rainforest and crisscrosses the stream several times.   An agile hiker could use the large rocks in the stream as ‘stepping stones’ for the many traverses that are required.  I, on the other hand, had shoes and socks that were soaked by the time I reached the falls.  And I’m sure a less-experienced hiker might lose this poorly marked and seldom traveled trail, but . . . OK, yes, I misplaced the trail a few times, but I told myself I was just being adventurous, not lost; the road less traveled and all that.  I was less cavalier about losing the trail when I remembered that Jurassic Park was filmed around here and wondered if any of those creatures were still hanging out here.  Instinctively my step quickened.  As I was making my way back to the trail I came upon a fairly wide clearing in the otherwise thick foliage.  I noticed a sign at the other end of the clearing and made my way over to see what it said.


     What?!  I could have taken a helicopter here?!!  Don’t tell anyone, but I did ‘linger’ there for a while and thought that anyone coming to see the falls by helicopter would have missed the beautiful scenery along the way, and probably had very dry shoes and thus would not have appreciated the experience nearly as much as I did.

   Moving a little further up the trail, I reached the falls.  The view was spectacular and well worth the four mile hike, OK, it was worth the eight mile hike since I was planning on making the return trip.  The falls are several hundred feet high and cascade into a crystal clear pool, complete, as you can see in the photo, with nymphs, mythologically speaking.  I included them in the picture to give a perspective of the size of the waterfall.

       The return trip was uneventful, although I think someone moved the rocks in the stream further apart.  By the time I got back to the trailhead, my shoes were completely soaked, but my throat was quite dry, as I had run out of water on my return trip, so the young Hawaiian selling fresh coconuts filled with milk, complete with straw, at trails end, was a welcome sight.

     My shoes were not only soaked, but they were severely cut up from the lava rock, so no longer viable for hiking, but I wear them now when I work in the yard, and every time I look at them I think of this most beautiful hike.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week we spent some time in Mammoth Lakes, as we have done most summers since the mid-80’s. We used to hike and enjoy the scenery, but then we started playing golf and such pursuits were given up for the joys of hacking our way around the local courses. In retrospect, and in assessing my golf game, I should have stuck with hiking.

My favorite hike in Mammoth is the one up to TJ Lake. It is a magnificent mountain lake, surrounded on all sides by rugged peaks and tall pine trees. And because of its remoteness, it is quiet and undisturbed – one of the last remaining places on Earth without a Starbucks. One of my fondest memories is of the last hike we took up to TJ in 1986 when I spent an afternoon reading “Gone With The Wind” by its shores. It remains one of the top 10 days of my life. Every year since then I have suggested to my husband that we do that hike again but we never have. Until last Wednesday.

We drove to Lake George, which is the trailhead for Barrett and TJ Lakes. I read all the trail markers – 1/4 mile to Lake Barrett and 1/2 mile to TJ. Doesn’t sound like much, right? But Lake George sits at 9000′ altitude and TJ is at 9265′. Only a 265′ vertical hike, you scoff? Hiking at 9000′ is like sucking in air through a rubber sheet. Shoot, base camp for Everest is 10,000′. I definitely needed a Sherpa.

We also noted numerous signs warning of the bears in the area. But my husband patted his side and confidently assured me that he had his hunting knife strapped to his belt. Every wife knows this moment: do you let your right brain take over and humor him or does your left brain shout “Are you nuts? You will be through that bear’s lower intestine before you even have the knife unsheathed!”. But, like wives everywhere, I weigh 25 years of marriage versus pointing out the ridiculousness of his plan and say nothing.

We set out, channeling our best Scouting tactics. Slow pace, traversing back and forth, stopping to rest. There was a lot of stopping to rest. But we forged on up the mountain, crossing a river using rocks for a path, hurdling a dead tree trunk, we were regular John Muir trekkers. At last we came to Lake Barrett. It is crystal blue, surrounded by pines and jagged mountains. I posted a picture of it on my Facebook page and got lots of “oohs and ahhs”. That would be enough for most people. But I wanted to see TJ. I was sure it was just over the next hill.

It actually was over the next hill, but I had forgotten that TJ is lower than Barrett. So down we went, knowing that with every step down we were going to have to make our way back up. But I was on a mission. And finally, there it was! You know how you go back to something many years later and the object you’ve tracked down is either smaller or less grand than you remembered (or in the case of my high school boyfriend, a lot shorter)? TJ was everything I remembered and more. I’ve attached a picture but it doesn’t do the lake justice. I sat there for a long while, taking it all in. And I have to admit that I got choked up a bit when I turned to leave. I don’t know why exactly, maybe just happy that I’d managed to make the hike again or maybe because I know that making a return trip with my creaky knees and arthritic back might not be possible.

As we got back down to George there was a couple standing at the fork of the trails. “Hey, folks!”, they shouted. I though they had obviously identified us as fellow members of the hiking community. But they went on…”Did you happen to see the big bear that just went through here? We don’t know which fork to take to avoid her.” I just about passed out, but my husband tapped his knife like a regular Daniel Boone, confident that he had the situation under control. I immediately went down to have my golf clubs re-gripped.

And now for the Tom Cruise part.  Turns out that he flew to Mammoth Lakes the same day we arrived to film the last scenes for his new film, “Oblivion”.  According to our waitress at the chop house (and really, who is more of an authority on local gossip than a waitress?) he stayed at the Westin next door to us and was served with more papers from Katie while he was there. Too bad we never met up with him.  I could have told him that the best place to avoid problems was up at TJ.  A New York attorney would never risk dirtying his tassel loafers climbing up that trail.


A Cabo Fish Story

by Bob Sparrow

     I would like to think that the moniker, ‘Bob the Fish Killer’ comes from the many trophy fish and photos that adorn my den wall, but unfortunately I think it’s a reference to my inability to keep even a simple gold fish alive for longer than a week.  The truth is I don’t have any fish on my den wall; I don’t even have a den.  The reason I don’t have any fish or photos on any wall is that I’ve never hauled a big fish into a boat, never had one on the end of my line much less in a picture or on my wall.  In fact, the closest I’ve ever come to a big game fish is when I ordered Ahi Poke at Red Lobster.

     It’s not just big game fishing where I’m ‘the cooler’; I’ve not caught salmon in the Northwest when they were jumping into boats; I’ve never seen a lake or a stream from which I could extract a trout, a cat-fish or even a decent boot.  While fishing I’ve caught a cold, I’ve caught hell, I’ve even snagged a fishing buddy’s shirt while casting (really!), but I’ve never caught a big fish.  Even if Grunion are running, I’ve pulled a hamstring and can’t catch them.  If fish are hitting on worms, I’m using Day-Glo cheese that scares the hell out of them.  You get the picture; fish are never so secure as when I embark on a fishing trip.  But all that was about to change.

     Two week ago I was asked to accompany a friend, Randy to ‘The Cape of St. Luke’, more commonly known by its Spanish name, Cabo San Lucas (a noted fishing mecca for centuries), to meet up with another buddy, Gary, who keeps a boat in the Cabo harbor all summer.  This was no ordinary buddy and no ordinary boat.  Gary has been big game fishing his entire life, as a youth in Florida and as an adult in California and Mexico.  He knows fish.  The boat, Grand Legacy, is a beautiful 70 footer with the most sophisticated ‘fish finding’ equipment known to man.  There were no less than 16 ‘big rods’ on board with assorted lures and 25 ‘other rods’ and one of those chairs at the back of the boat that looks like a dentist’s chair that one sits in when landing ‘the big ones’.  I told Gary about my lack of angling prowess and he told me not to worry that he’d never been out for two days at this time of year and been ‘skunked’.  To further explain ‘this time of year’ below is a chart I came across that shows ‘Fish Species Availability’ in Mexico, month-by-month.  The chart rates availability with a ‘check system’, 3 checks for excellent conditions, 2 checks for good conditions and 1 check for not-so-good conditions.  Here’s what the chart read for the month of June for Cabo:

-3 checks: Dorado, Striped Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna, Grouper, Snapper, Donner & Blitzen      – -2 checks: Wahoo, Blue & Black Marlin (and they get 3 checks in July – a few day away)      – 1 check: Yellowtail

     I was understandably excited; we had an experienced and knowledgeably captain, a well-equipped boat and it was a month when the big fish were hungry.  I was cautiously optimistic that my frustration from all those previous fishing misadventures was going to be wiped away.  I envisioned myself sitting in that dentist’s chair watching one of those fish with a pointy nose leaping out of the water at the end of my line and me, exhausted after hours of reeling, finally hauling on board the subject of what would become my very first big fish photo-op.

     We headed out on day one and I realized that deep-sea fishing is mostly a rather passive experience.  Once we were out far enough, deck hand, Paco set about five poles in their holders at the back of the boat, lets out some line with lures on them and . . . well, that’s it.  After I watched him do this, I went into the galley, grabbed a beer, climbed up to the bridge where Gary was driving the boat and I asked him, “Are we fishing now?”  He turned around, looked at the back of the boat, saw that the lines were in the water, turned to me and said, “Yep”.  I sat next to him for a while, occasionally turning to see if anything was jumping up and down behind the boat, I finished my beer and went below and watched an episode of Three and a Half Men, with Gary’s son, Parker; then stared into the sea from the back of the boat for a while.  It turns out that deep-sea fishing is even less strenuous that regular fishing, which itself ranks fairly low on the cardio-vascular exercise depth chart.  No putting hooks on a line, no constantly affixing bait to the hook, no casting, no reeling, no checking the drag, no wading in the water, no tying flies to lines, just watching.  The only time you have to work is when you catch a big fish, and you should be fairly rested up to handle that.  I kept watching.

     You know how this is going to end, don’t you?  You’re right, two days, not a nibble – the water was too cold.  How could that be?  I went in and it was just fine; what kind of wussy fish are hanging out down there anyway?  Oh, I guess they’re actually not hanging out down there after all.

     So below is my ‘Big Fish Photo Op’  The first is me displaying the only fish I caught – it was with a net out of the bait tank; the second is the real ‘fish’ hanging up at the Giggling Marlin, a local adult beverage establishment.  The Marlin were indeed giggling.


Gary, sorry I ruined your ‘no skunk’ record, but thank you for a wonderful time.  ‘The Cooler’ lives to fish another day.

I Had To Go To Hawaii to WORK! A Picture Story

by Bob Sparrow

Two weeks ago I had to go to Hawaii to attend a conference for work.  Economic times being what they are, I was asked to keep the expenses down, which I did.

My flight over to Hawaii on economy airline, ‘Pan Chance’ was highlighted by sitting next to a family with two whining, snot-nosed, germ-infested kids, while the flight home was a relaxing ‘red eye’ in one of those oh-so-comfortable, non-reclining coach seats in the very last row – if I had been any further back in the airplane I would have been handing out toilet paper.

The conference was at the beautiful Kaua’i Marriott, where I only saw the inside of the vendors’ hall, but I did buy a postcard in the airport of the beautiful Grand Hyatt Kaua’i shown below.

I didn’t stay at either of those hotels, I stayed at the Mano Kalanipo,


which was not so beautiful.  I was to learn later that ‘Mano kalanipo’ is Hawaiian for ‘Where Rats Come to Play’

I should have known it wasn’t a first class hotel when a chicken showed me to my room . . .

and the bathroom was ‘out back’

My hotel was several miles from the conference hotel, but I got a good deal on a vehicle from Toro Truck Rental

We were late in signing up for the conference, so they squeezed us in at the last minute.  Here is a booth from one of the other vendors at the conference

Here is my ‘booth’ . . . really!

It was like being back at the ‘kid’s table’ at Thanksgiving

Here is a typical booth banner

Here is my booth ‘banner’ . . . really!

But I remembered what my old college education professor, Dr. Telecky, told our class, “If you’re a good teacher, you can teach in a barn.”  I thought he said ‘bar’ and well, it’s perhaps why I’m not teaching any longer, but that’s another story; the point is I was determined to make the best of this bad situation. 

I was going to overcome all the odds and show my boss that I was there to work – no ‘just hang loose’ for this guy.  As documentation for my Spartanesque time in Hawaii, I attached the following pictures and narrative to my expense report:

Here I am not lounging by the pool

Nope, you won’t find me taking a refreshing dip in the pool either – kids have probably been peeing in it all day

That’s me not tanning myself on the beach – because I fully understand and appreciate the harm that ultra violet rays can cause to the skin

Here’s a picture of me not renting one of those stupid outriggers – it’s probably like riding a bike with training wheels

And don’t look for me having one of those over-priced mai tais at a cute little tiki bar – I hear they don’t put any booze in those things anyway

Here I am not getting a table at one of those open-air, beach-side restaurants – if I wanted to eat outside I’d go camping

No, you’ll find me inside talking to a real Hawaiians about real business

How did I do?  Time will tell, but I’m going to stay away from the boss for a while until the tan I didn’t get goes away.

Pomp & Circumcise

by Bob Sparrow

     This week’s road trip is a virtual one to college campuses – much like how my college professors described my experience on college campuses – virtual. The ‘old’ definition of virtual according to my iPhone is ‘slightly short of or not quite accomplished’.  Yep, that sounds like something my professors might have said.  But I digress.

     This year will see 1,781,000 bachelor degreed students (That’s right, over a million and a half more people out there looking for jobs that aren’t there) sitting through their ‘last college assignment’- their commencement exercise.  Few of them will actually be paying attention to what is being said by their commencement speaker.  Pre cell phone, students who were mostly hung over, stared blankly into space as the speakers droned on.  Today, they’re tweeting, texting, taking pictures of that girl from Psych class who said she wasn’t going to wear anything under her gown, or they’re staring blankly into space.  It turns out students are well-justified in not paying much attention; most commencement speeches are either too pedantic or the start of some comedians summer concert tour.  This year students get the added advantage of having Obama and Romney preach to them about their responsibility to vote . . . for them.

     Advice has come from a wide variety of sources from Winston Churchill to Kermit the Frog.  Guess which one said, “Don’t be content to be a tadpole, work your tail off, get out of the swamp.”  Then there’s the famous ‘sunscreen’ speech.  It was supposedly given by Kurt Vonnegut in a commencement speech at MIT, but was actually written by newspaper columnist, Mary Schmich, as a commencement speech she would have given had someone asked her.  No one did.  In it she extols the virtues of flossing, singing, stretching, but most of all using sunscreen.  Jon Stewart, Will Ferrell and Stephen Colbert have given some truly humorous commencement speeches.  Pulitzer Prize winning humorist, Russell Baker’s comments to Connecticut College in 1995 still hits home today: “The best advice I can give anybody about going out into the world is this: Don’t do it.  I have been out there.  It is a mess.

      One that truly inspires, not only for what it says, but for who said it, is Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, which included the following:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

     He finished his speech with, “Stay Hungry.  Stay Foolish.”

     If you guessed Winston Churchill on the question above, you got it wrong, but he is known for giving the shortest commencement speech on record.  He gave it to his old preparatory school, Harrow School, in 1941 – he was a bit preoccupied at the time.                                                                                                                                                           “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”.

That’s it.  It strode off stage, lit a cigar and got back to the war.

     And finally, Matthew Gilbert, columnist for the Boston Glove gave the speech that no graduate wanted to hear:

     Unfortunately, after a final night of Dionysian revelry, you will awaken to a strange, frightening, and unfriendly world. A world in which you must sacrifice all you hold dear for a paycheck, a world that strips you of your youthful vigor, a world in which a truck driver is paid more than a teacher, a world in which the glass is always half-empty.  In short, you will become that which you had hoped never to be: your parents!”

Congratulations grads and welcome to the mess – you’ll get used to it.


In Search of the ‘Road to Zanzibar’

 by Bob Sparrow

     I’m not sure if it was the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken, Charles Kuralt’s ‘Road Books’ or the old ‘Road Movies’ that got me hooked, but ‘the road’ has always had a certain appeal to me, particularly the one less traveled – like the one to Zanzibar.

     When I was first introduced to the Frost poem in high school freshman English by Miss O’Brien I’m guessing my eyes glazed over as she explained the symbolism presented therein – hey, it was first period and I didn’t drink coffee yet (I was told it would stunt my growth!).  But at some point, much later, I not only ‘got it’, but I embraced it.  So if anyone knows the whereabouts of Miss O’Brien, please let her know that I didn’t turn into the illiterate reprobate that she suggested I might.

     My attraction to Charles Kuralt’s books came later in life – watching him on CBS’s Sunday Morning and then following his adventures through his ‘road books’ as he traveled the back roads of American and, as he put it, ‘drifted with the current of life’.

     But if I’m being honest, my first bite from the ‘wanderlust’ bug came from those ‘road pictures’ (that what they called movies back then) – Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour cavorting in such exotic places as Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Bali – I admit to having all seven ‘pictures’ in VHS and DVD.  OK, I know now that they never got off Paramount Pictures back lot, but as a kid I bought into those phony sets and white men with face-black playing the role of the natives.  It was those movies that let me know at an early age that there were far-off places that were very different from the neighborhood I knew – and I wanted to see them.  Zanzibar sounded particularly mysterious – I wanted to travel that road.

    Now as each summer approaches, I ask myself, ‘Where in the world do I want to go?’  As if in answer to my question, I received a copy of National Geographic Traveler  in the mail.  I don’t remember subscribing to it, but it had my name on the cover label so I guess I did.  I’m a sucker for any travel magazine and subject to impulse buying of such things so I probably ordered it.  In this issue they touted the “50 Tours of a Lifetime”.  I skipped right to page 82 where the article began.  I was intrigued by the kind of places they were naming:  Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Patagonia, Myanmar.  It’s a good day for me when I can work the word Zimbabwe into my conversation – it’s just a fun word to say.  “Oh, that Ivory carving?  I got it in a small village on the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.”  I like saying Mozambique too, so it’s really a good day when I can get them both into the same sentence.

     A further examination of these ‘Fifty Tours of a Lifetime’ revealed two things:

           1)  I’d need several ‘lifetime’ just to get to them all in, and

          2)  I’d need several more lifetimes to earn the money necessary to pay for these tours.

To wit:

     Zimbabwe –15 day tour, $6,295 (Side trip to Mozambique and ivory carving not  included)

     Myanmar – 9 days, $7,495 (Previously known as Burma – you remember ‘Burma Road’, or perhaps Burma Shave?  Doesn’t matter, they’re both gone now)

     Botswana – 15 days, $17,825   ($17,825!!!  Wow, I would like to work Botswana into a conversation as well, but not at these prices!)

      I finally came to the realization that looking at the ’50 Tours of a Lifetime’ was like looking at a Playboy Magazine – I’m seeing places I’ll never get to.

      But I will hit some back roads this summer and see if I can ‘drift along with the current of life’ and report back to you; I’d encourage you to do the same thing.  Let us know about your ‘roads less traveled’.

POST SCRIPT:  I’ve yet to hit the ‘Road to Zanzibar’, it actually requires a boat since Zanzibar is a city on the island of Unguja off the east coast of Africa, but I guess you knew that.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

When we left Annie in Part One, she had just witnessed the shooting death of her mother and was, in the norms of that time, a spinster.  But that was about to change.

In the late 1870’s, John Hoever, our paternal great-grandfather, emigrated from Germany to San Francisco.  After a short stay in ‘The City’, he moved to Willows.  This is the first indication that he might not have been of sound mind.

In any event, he made the move and opened a jewelry store, the first of its kind in Willows.  We don’t know how John and Annie met, but since they lived in a small town, it was either in church or through friends.  That  is how things were done before Match.com.

John and Annie married in 1892.  They had a son in 1893 and our grandmother was born in 1895.  Annie got pregnant again in  1899 but John Hoever died months after the baby, a girl,  was born.  My second cousin didn’t have any information on how John Hoever died, but obviously something went horribly wrong.  Another research opportunity!

Unfortunately, this may be a case of “be careful what you ask for”.  After hours of searching on the ancestry data bases I finally found was I was looking for – his census record from1900.  There he was, recorded for official purposes, in the Napa State Hospital for the Insane.  Oh boy…this explains so much about our family.

Annie was no doubt devastated by having to put her husband “away”, especially considering the stigma associated with mental illness in those days.  I imagine that his behavior must have been pretty bad for her to decide it was better to raise three small children alone than live with him in the house.  John died in September of 1900, presumably from his illness.

Faced with this overwhelming loss, Annie might have chosen to do what so many Victorian women did when their husbands died – don a black dress and stay home for the rest of her life.  But Annie was not a typical woman.  She made the decision to keep her husband’s jewelry store open and manage it herself.

In a book published in 1918 about the early history of Willows and its inhabitants, the authors noted that “Annie Billiou Hoever took over the management of her husband’s jewelry store after his death.  She has demonstrated her ability as a business woman and won great success through her own efforts”.   That was quite a high endorsement for a woman to receive in 1918.  Heck, it’s a great compliment today.

Annie not only became a successful business woman, she also excelled in raising her three children.  Two of the three graduated from Stanford University (our grandmother, the rebel, being the lone exception) and they all went on to lead rewarding lives.  She was active in the community and enjoyed a wide circle of friends until her death in 1940.  She is buried in a joint grave with John.

Which brings me back to the ring.  The diamond had been re-set over the years and the latest iteration “smothered” it.  So for our anniversary last year my husband had it put in a new setting so that I could wear it as my engagement ring.  Every day when I look at it I think of Annie and of all that this diamond has “seen” in its lifetime.  I think about her joys and her sorrows and how she persevered through it all.  I wish that I had known more about Annie when I was younger – somehow it gives me strength to know that I come from such an inspiring woman.

So on this Mother’s Day I hope that somewhere Annie knows that she is still remembered and makes her family proud.

Annie with her three children

Road Trip Through the Continental Divide – Part II

by Bob Sparrow

     Just outside the city limits of Denver heading east the state of Colorado quickly becomes Nebraska – not geographically, but visually.  Here the world is flat.  There is nothing but miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.  If in the world of ‘new energy’, corn is oil, then Omaha is the new Abu Dhabi.  Would have made better time, but a McCormick Reaper took 35 minutes to pass a John Deere tractor leading a herd of cattle crossing the Interstate – I’m having steak tonight for dinner, just out of spite.

     Weather is heating up and so is the car.  While I don’t know a great deal about cars, I do know that smoke coming out of the front is not a good sign.  I pull over, pop the hood and assume the requisite ‘guy’ stance as I stare vacuously at the engine even though I have no idea what I’m looking at, much less what I’m looking for.  As far as I know, there could be a nativity scene under there.  I continue to stare.  I see a bundle of wires and a lot of . . . parts, and just generally think that things look pretty grimy under there.  A middle-aged woman stops and asks if I need help.  Not wanting to suggest a lack of masculinity, I assume I can discourage her assistance with some manly ‘car speak’.  I give a knowing, Barney Fife sniff, a tug at my pants and nonchalantly say, “Nah, it looks like the rotator gasket came off the muffler bearing.  I got it covered, thanks.”  She stares at me like I’ve said something really stupid, shakes her head, turns and goes back to her car, returns with a container of radiator fluid and says, “When it cools down, pour this in that thing in the front of the car that looks like a washboard, then I think your muffler bearing will be just fine.”  She continues to shake her head as she drives off.  I make it to Omaha for that steak dinner and good night’s rest.

     Finally make it through Nebraska and into Iowa, which is just the same as Nebraska, but with museums, and more corn, if that’s possible.  In Iowa you’ll find a museum for the birthplace of John Wayne, the museum for former Cleveland Indian pitching great, Bob Feller, the museum of The Bridges of Madison County, the Herbert Hoover museum (be sure to watch the up-beat video, ‘The Great Depression’), the Buffalo Bill museum and somewhere I’m sure is a museum containing the world’s biggest ball of twine.  I drive through the iconic town of Newton, Iowa, long-time home to Maytag, whose repair people could never find work.  Now even the people who made Maytags can’t find work – they were purchased by Whirlpool.    Just outside of Newton is the ‘world’s largest truck stop’.  Top selling bumper sticker: “If it has boobs or wheels it’s gonna cause you trouble.”  I didn’t buy it, never been one for espousing my philosophy on the bumper of my car, but it gave me something to think about for the next several hundred miles.

     As I near Chicago it starts to snow and although the trip was book-ended with storms, the weather for the rest of the trip could not have been better.  I considered the light snowfall just as I entered Chicago as a ‘ticker tape parade’ welcoming the end of my journey.

Factoids of the trip

  • It’s exactly 1,000 miles from my driveway to the first Irish pub in downtown Denver
  • One-third of the time was spent listening to great CDs, one-third of the time was spent listening to the soybean and hog futures on ‘local radio’ stations and one-third of the time was spent in silence ‘listening’ to what I saw.
  • There are about three times as many trucks as cars on the Interstate between Denver and Chicago.
  • A Corolla gets 37.4 miles to the gallon cross country – even Al Gore didn’t feel the globe warm on this trip.
  • There is a North Platt, Nebraska, but no Platt.
  • I passed through three time zones on the trip, four if you count going back to the 50s while driving through Nebraska
  • Driving time: 30 hours.  Gas: $177.27.  Coffee: 2.6 gallons.  Delivering my daughter’s car to her in Chicago: Priceless

The City of Californicating, Oregon

by Bob Sparrow

    I love Oregon, but as a Californian I always go there in disguise; not the glasses, big nose and mustache kind, but rather with an affected Canadian accent, which ends up sounding more like a drunk Norwegian with a lisp.  Why the disguise?  I’ve found that it’s never a good idea to tell people in Oregon that you’re from California.  The reason dates back to the real estate boom of the ‘70s when California home prices were very affordable and were attracting people from all over the country . . . the world.  Californians, wanting to get away from this sudden in migration, decided that the ‘promised land’ had moved across the border to Oregon, so they started moving north . . . in droves.

     Oregonians, fearing that these new California immigrants would turn Oregon into another California, were not the least bit pleased with the influx of ‘flakes from the land of fruits and nuts’.  While there was some question as to whether signs ever really existed at the California-Oregon border that read, ‘Welcome to Oregon. Now go home!’, Oregon governor at the time, Tom McCall, did set the tone with this quote to a CBS news reporter, “Come visit us again and again.  This is a State of excitement. But for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live”.  But Californians still came, and to this day most things that smack of progress in Oregon are blamed on those who have ‘Californicated’ the state.

     So it was with mixed emotions that I went to Sunriver, Oregon on a recent business trip – anxious to see this beautiful part of the country for the first time, but concerned that there may still be a bounty on California natives loitering in these pristine environs; especially if I was going to enjoy a cigar while I was there. I thought rules for smoking in California were stringent, if you want to smoke in Oregon, you have to go to the Southeast corner of the state and step into Nevada.  If you’re going to continue to smoke, Oregonians would prefer that you just stay there.  I left the cigars at home.

     Prior to my trip I decided to look up a little history of Sunriver.  The short version is that it was built by the Army as a training camp during WWII and then developed as a resort in 1968; I guess that’s the long version as well.  The developer picked the name, so the brochure says, “to reflect the most characteristic features of the area”.  Perhaps I came at a different time of year than the developers, but it was only on the last day of my visit that the sun came out and I caught a glimpse of the river.  Had it been up to me to name the place, I probably would have called it something like Overcastandcold – of the four days I was there in mid-April, it rained once and snowed twice!

     I discovered that Oregonians have never shown much imagination when it comes to naming their cities, to wit: Drain, Sinks, Cake, Bakeoven, Wagontire, Lookingglass and Noon.  There is also the self-deprecating town of Nimrod and one left over from their hippy days, Zig Zag.  When they ran out of domestic objects as names they started just copying other US city – Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City, Detroit, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Nashville are all cities in Oregon.  To add an international flavor, they have cities named Glasgow, Lebanon, Little Switzerland, Paris, Rome and Damascus to name a few.

     I will say that the one sunny day I did have in Sunriver was spectacular, Mt. Bachelor shown as a snow-capped peak set against a deep blue sky, was awe-inspiring (see picture).  ‘The Three Sisters’ peaks of the Cascades couldn’t have been more beautiful; the closest town: Sisters.  I know that I breathed air in Sunriver that no one has ever breathed before.  Oregonians are excellent stewards of the nature around them and I love that.  It was ultimately a joy to fully understand and appreciate how Sunriver got its name.

Aloha, not a Hawaiian salutation, just another Oregon city.