by Bob Sparrow

Happy new year 2013 Thank you to my sister, Suzanne for introducing me to the idea of the ‘upside down bucket list’, for it was that concept that has inspired me to look at New Year’s resolutions differently.  Like many, I typically resolve to be a better spouse, parent, friend . . . person and include the requisite increase in exercise and consumption of much healthier food resulting in a painfully slow, if ever, decrease in weight.  Like many, I also have a bucket list of places I want to visit and things I want to do and resolutions always include checking off a few of those items during the ensuing year.  While resolutions and bucket lists look great in late December, reality seems to find its way into the new year and render many, if not most, of our resolutions unattainable.

 So this year, rather than ‘dream’ about the places I’d like to go in 2013, I thought I’d do the ‘upside down thing’ and look back at 2012 and review what I’d done and where I’d actually been.  Then, rather than be disappointed at not doing or getting to the places I resolved to get to, I’d be able to just ‘grade’ myself based on what I’d done and where I’d gone and hopefully put a few checks on that big bucket list.

Twenty-twelve will not be marked in my memory by the many places I visited or the life I led, but rather by the life I lost – the passing inscan0041 February of my best friend, Don Klapperich.  For more than 50 years he was a best friend, a mentor, a singing partner, a moral compass, a confidant, the little voice in my head and so much more.  He was a most talented, intelligent, entertaining and complex man.  He knew me better than anyone and I knew him as much as anyone could.  I miss him dearly.  I regret not spending more time with him, not talking to him more on the phone, not emailing as often as I could have, not going to visit more often.  I suppose it’s natural to now have a better understanding of the tenuousness of life; to better appreciate each day we’re given and to not take those around us for granted.  I don’t know if it’s a resolution, but I will try harder to remember these things – they have become more important to me.

Those who have followed our blog know that I’ve had the privilege of going to some wonderful places this year.  In January I was in Hawaii, on the Big Island to watch the PGA Senior’s golf tournament at Hualalai and then on to Maui to play golf and just watch some sunsets at Wailea.  I had a much too up-close and personal look at ‘senior living’ at my mom’s facility in Sonoma and while I was in the area I hiked through historical Jack London State Park in the rolling hills of Glen Ellen.  I traveled across country on business to Sunriver, Oregon, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Holyoke, Massachusetts and I HAD to return to the island of Kauai to attend a conference.  I lived on a boat in the harbor in Cabo San Lucas for three days while not photo (77)catching a single fish, but I did get to hang upside down at the Giggling Marlin.  I spent a week in our timeshare in Palm Desert for the 18th year in a row and hope I can play another 18.  I revisited the differences between northern and photo (74)southern California as I returned to the palm and pine trees on Highway 99 out of Fresno, and I spent several days not quite 26 miles across the sea on Catalina Island.  I thought I saw John Lennon at the Laguna Sawdust Festival, twice!  I stood at the lowest point on the North American continent in surprisingly stunning Death Valley, and I stood on top of Half Dome in not-so-surprisingly stunning Yosemite National Park.  And I had my annual martini with my Dad in his final resting place at Lake Tahoe.

That’s an upside down list that I may have a hard time topping in 2013.  I feel so very privileged to be afforded the opportunities to experience all that I have in 2012 and I know I was privileged to have such a great best friend for over 50 years.  It was a memorable year in so many ways. I recommend looking back at your year and the only resolution I would make is that in a year from now you’re going to look back at 2013 – make it memorable.

I know I speak for my dear friend and wonderfully talented sister, which she doesn’t often let me do because she can speak so well for herself, in thanking all of you who read our blog and especially those who send us back comments to let us know our words don’t all end up in cyber space.  May you all have an extraordinary 2013.


And now a word from our sponsor

Most of you know I’m now working for Zipz Gear, a unique shoe company, but may not know that I am now writing a ‘shoe blog’ called ‘From the Lipz of Zipz’.  You can find the blog by going to our website at www.zipzgear.com.  Feel free to check out the shoes while you’re there.


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.

The Palm & The Pine – A California Story Part II

     So, what about the trees in the picture?  Glad you asked.  If you travel on Highway 99, which goes north-south through the heart of California, about 10 miles north of Fresno, if you look carefully, drive slowly, very slowly, you will see a palm tree and a pine tree together in the meridian.  Nothing else, no grassy park, no plaques, no mention of this being a landmark, no special entrance, in fact, no entrance at all, just rows and rows of oleanders along the meridian, then the trees, then more oleanders, all protected by the freeway guard rails.  Don’t look for a place to pull over to see the trees, there isn’t one. 

     The history of how the trees got there is fuzzy at best.  Most historians suspect they were put there by agricultural students from Fresno Normal School (now Fresno State University – they had to take the word ‘Normal’ out because . . .  it’s Fresno!), around 1915.   We know they were there before 1926 when Highway 99 was under construction.  It was then workers from the Department of Highways (later to become CalTrans) were ready to cut down the trees to make way for the highway, when a crew member (one of California’s first “tree-huggers”) suggested that the highway go on each side of the trees, which it did.

     I was challenged to take pictures of the trees as I drove by (in both directions . . . several times!) window rolled down, one hand on the wheel, one hand on my camera.  As I checked out the pictures that I’d taken I found that they were all a little blurry.  So to get a good look, or rather a good picture, like the one shown here, one would have to illegally pull off to the side of the highway and hope the CHPs are still back at the Dunkin’ Donut cleaning the contents of a jelly roll from their uniform.  Not to be denied a good picture, I got a bright idea.  On my next trip around I pulled off to the shoulder of the highway across from the trees, popped my hood and pretended to be looking under it (which is a fairly common occurrence on many of my road trips), but really I was taking pictures.  Three people slowed down to offer help, but I gave them a big ‘OK’ sign and they moved on; perhaps they didn’t want to get involved with someone who was seemingly taking a picture of his motor.

     The two trees have special meaning for me.  I was born and raised 28 miles north of ‘The City’ (San Francisco) in Novato, and then a teaching job brought me to what my northern friends call ‘the dark side’ and have now spent the past 40 years in ‘The O.C.’ (Orange County) in southern California; so I feel eminently qualified to ponder and pontificate on the state of the two halves of the state.    I have observed this: If you talk to Northern Californians they may refer disparagingly to a number of things in the south, nothing personal, just things like, “How do you stand . . . ‘all the smog?’, ‘all the traffic?’, ‘all the people?’, ‘all the fake boobs?’ And then add, ‘and stop stealing our water!’.  If you ask Southern Californians about the north and those remarks, they say, ‘Chill dude, whatever . . . wait a minute, what did you say about boobs?’  An objective observer might say the ‘North’ is a little up-tight and the ‘South’ a little too laid back.  As the self-proclaimed expert on these things, I have seen these traits exhibited as well as some other differences, but I actually see so many more similarities that it’s not conceivable to me that the state will ever be divided.  When I think of California I don’t think north and south, I think of things like our beautiful coast line, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, the wine country, the San Joaquin Valley, where nearly every crop known to man can be grown.  I think of the creativity in Silicon Valley as well as in Hollywood.  I think of the history of the Missions and of the Gold Rush.  I think of those great writers who lived in and wrote about California, John Steinbeck, Jack London, John Muir, Mark Twain and one of my favorites, Herb Caen, although he had no use for the southern part of the state.  I think of the fact that no matter where you live in California you’re just a few hours (and sometimes just a few minutes) from the mountains, the desert, and the ocean.

     So I think the palm and the pine tree are indeed special, not because they create a ‘border’, but because they’ve existed peacefully, side-by-side for so many years.


     The two trees were supposedly planted in the exact middle of the state, but actually they’re about 25 miles off, not sure which way.  Incidentally, the palm tree is a Canary Island Date Palm and the pine tree is not a pine at all, but a Deodar Cedar; neither is indigenous to California, but then most Californians aren’t.  Viva La Difference!