Monday, August 19, 2019

Reno Duck Race

How do you dump 20,000 little rubber duckies into a river and then pick them all up again? And, how do you determine the winner when hundreds of people are watching the process hoping their Duckie is the one that will bring them a new car?

Just another day in Reno on my morning walk as I happened upon the Nevada Humane Society setting up for the Duck Race. This afternoon they will release a flock of little rubber duckies into the Truckee River and the fastest ducks will win prizes for their sponsors. It's all part of the Duck Race for the Nevada Humane Society … a race organized by a fund-raising game company that says it has raised over $280 million partnering with more than 2000 organizations.

How could I resist? As I shelled out $20 for a Quack Pack (5 ducks), I learned that these weren’t MY ducks … they were only leased. If I wanted one to keep, I could buy one for another $3. At the end of the race the volunteers would have to fish all the ducks out of the water to return them to the originator of the event.

Finally, it was time. The crowd did a 10 to 1 countdown; the assisting firemen opened the gates and the yellow duckies flooded into the rushing waters on their way to making a few people happy. As of yet, I haven’t gotten the call telling me to pick up the keys to my new car.

I knew Reno was quirky, now it turns out that they are also quacky. 


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Love Letters to my life #14: Stop letting worry steal joy

by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)

Twisting around another narrow, hairpin turn, I knew I was on the wrong road. There was no signal on my phone to show me where I was or how to get to where I wanted to go, so frustration rose as I did an ungraceful 3-point … or 13-point … u-turn.  
What was I doing out here in the middle of nowhere? 
I could be home, safe in my little nest. 
Thank god I’m not pulling the trailer I almost bought. 
I’d just unhitch it and leave it.

Thoughts about what I was doing … and why … jumbled through my brain. Was I crazy to be trying to go kayaking by myself? Had I just wasted a bunch of money on the kayak and an easy-up rack? I’d never kayaked by myself before … at 73, did any of this make sense? 

Of course, it wasn’t like I was wandering the mountains of Patagonia. I was a few miles outside Grass Valley, California, looking for Scotts Flat Lake, where I had swum many times before. But, still, I was lost: hot, tired and frustrated, not at all sure I was up to the task ahead of me. What if the rack didn’t work? What if I couldn’t get the kayak to the water? Did I remember the paddles? What if … ? What if …?

What I really wanted was to go home … curl up on my comfy couch with my computer. When I finally knew where I was, it was a crossroads decision: lake or home? 

Scotts Flat Lake
An image of cool water and my lime-green kayak on the soft turquoise lake carried the day, but the challenges weren’t over. The kayak is light but awkward and the haul from the parking spot to the water stretched across an eternity of concrete. I tried but couldn’t carry it more than a few feet without being a siren screaming for help: Old lady needs rescuing! 

Once more, visions of the comforts of home filled my head, but it was now or never. Finally, I just grabbed a handle and dragged the boat to the water. Of course, it was down hill and  the thought of dragging it back up again launched a dozen new worries.

I would like to end this saga with an upbeat statement about how the gloriously cool, beautiful water washed away all my frustrations, and I kayaked into the sunset … however, it didn’t quite work out that way. The water was wonderful and it was great to be back in a kayak ... but, my hat was wrong, I didn’t have sunglasses or straps for my prescription glasses, my water sandals vacuumed up sand and rocks, hobbling me when I beached, and I didn’t know if my waterproof camera bag would work. Plus, I kept thinking about that long haul back up the hill.

In other words, worrying and fretting stole much of the joy of being in and on the water, something I had yearned for. The trip home continued the frustration. I was going to explore Donner Lake but my low fuel light came on just as I exited toward the marina. Another u-turn, a minimal input of $4.15 gas, and a bag of potato chips and I was headed for home where I arrived … exhausted, sore from uphill hauling of the kayak and an hour of qi gong in the morning, and basically brain-fried.

Morning after: Amazing what a good night’s sleep will do. Showering off the after-effects of yesterday, I realized I’m not ready to give in to the entropy of age. I don’t worry about gray hair and wrinkles, but I don’t want to lose the strength needed to live the life I want to live. I walk every day, but I need more upper body strength and I need to keep pushing into the activities that bring me joy.
All of this morphed into an acronym formula for this stage of life … SAG: Strong - Active - Growing … and a bit of humor …

When you start to sag, at least SAG right.

Then an E showed up … SAGEStrong - Active - Growing - Enjoying life.

That’s what I want to be as long as possible.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Book Review: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Normally, my reviews of anything Barbara Kingsolver writes are filled with superlatives. As I approached the end of this book, picked up by happenstance at the library, my only words were: brilliantly boring.

Boring isn’t exactly the right word … maybe normal? A perfect family … a perfectly imperfect family … with no happy ending in sight. 
Kingsolver skillfully skips back and forth between two families more than a hundred years apart, sharing only a town and a falling down house between them, never depending on the novelist’s grab bag of dramatic arcs to manipulate the tension. 
The metaphor of the lives of both families is a failing house deteriorating under the relentless assault of time with little hope of repair or renovation; a home that does not shelter and holds no hopes for the future.

Reading this book is like having coffee with a friend whose luck has been on a long-term downward slope: a train wreck in progress. It is an uneasy feeling, made worse by caring about your friend, but wishing you could just walk away or snap your finger for magic to appear. 

Kingsolver is not a Hollywood writer. 
You just know that no one is going to gallop in and save the day.  
So how will it end?

The ending begins in the middle of page 400, in a cemetery where a mother-daughter sit talking in a way that made me want to run away as the truth unfolded and I saw myself as both mother-daughter and as human being in the current state of our world. The next fourteen pages are some of the most honest I’ve ever read.

It wouldn’t be fair to even give a glimpse of their content. I just hope you don’t miss them.

For more of a detailed description of the Amazon Best Book of October, 2018:  In her insightful and politically charged new novel, Barbara Kingsolver finds deep resonances between the Victorian era’s attitudes towards science, and our own. Unsheltered begins on the eve of the 2016 presidential election, when Willa, a freelance journalist whose family has fallen on hard times, discovers that the house they’ve moved into has a “nonexistent foundation.” Hoping to enlist restoration help from a historical society, Willa traces the origins of the house to Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher who lived there in the 1870s, and his neighbor, a real-life woman biologist named Mary Treat, whose research supported Charles Darwin’s theory of the origin of species. Just as Darwin’s theory challenged the Victorian belief in the Judeo-Christian creation myth, so too, in Willa’s era, does global warming challenge prevailing myths about the future of civilization. Kingsolver, whose 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, carries off this cleverly structured dual narrative with aplomb and with a certain degree of rage at charismatic politicians, both past and present, whose disregard for science puts humanity in peril. –Sarah Harrison Smith, Amazon Book Review

Friday, August 2, 2019

Lake Tahoe's Impossible Trail

"The path is made in the walking of it.” 
— Zhuangzi

I left Reno before sunrise to walk the new Lake Tahoe Trail. It wasn’t till I got there that I learned it was called “the impossible trail.” 
In an interview with Amy Berry, CEO of the Tahoe Fund, she said, "We call this the impossible trail, because for years people said that's a nice idea, but that's impossible. You'll never be able to build that,”

The need for a trail was great because as people stop to park or look at the lake on this stretch of State Route 28, it became the site of frequent accidents. Now pedestrians and lake are separated by a path ten feet wide, with seventeen vista points and multiple staircases giving people access to the beaches. 

At 7 am, I had my choice of the 91 parking places at Ponderosa Ranch Road, the beginning of the trail. The sun was still behind the mountains so the light was dim, the air brisk, and the world quiet … not quite silent because early morning traffic was already on the move. The first mile is on the uphill side of the road and then descends through a tunnel and emerges next to the lake for the next 1.5 
One of the plaques at the viewing stations
As I walked, I imagined a conversation among trees and water and sky. Plaques attached at the viewing stations added words and quickly turned my thoughts in new directions.
Toni Morrison: At some point in our life, the world’s beauty becomes enough.
Henry David Thoreau: A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eyes looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.
John Muir: In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.
Albert Einstein: Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything.
John Muir: Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Perhaps “the impossible trail” is a metaphor for our lives. We may think something is impossible, and then the right time attracts the necessary will and resources and suddenly it’s as if something that was thought impossible is just there … as if it had always existed. 
 If you decide to visit this amazing trail, I suggest early morning (7ish) as the parking lot was filled when I returned around 9ish. And for a great breakfast afterwards (with free coffee), try Sunshine Deli and Catering.
This video gives you another view of the trail:
Click here for video.
Thank you to everyone who made this impossible trail possible. Apparently 550 people donated over a million dollars to the Tahoe Fund which triggered more money from the government to make the trail possible.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Pride Reno 2019

What could be better than a Pride reflection?
I've been to several Pride parades and all have been filled with color and joy. For some reason though, Reno's Pride seemed more joyous and more inclusive. All the boundaries were erased and I had little sense that this was a parade for a certain segment of people; that I was at "their" parade. 

There was a joyous feeling of inclusion ... gay, straight, trans, queer, old, young, brown, black, white, weird, weirder and totally boring (like myself). All in this little city that likes to bill itself as "quirky by choice."

I'm sure Reno has its struggles and hate, but today we were all basically human.

Here are just a few photos to give you a sense of the day ...

 One of the first people I met was Francisca Acks-Ramos. I stopped her for a picture because of her tiara. 

Turns out she is Ms. Elite Nevada from National Woman of Achievement for her work on body image disparity. She explained that it is a contest about passion rather than just beauty and said, "Whether we're a size 2 or a size 22, we all have body issues. I'm one of only two plus-sizes who have won a platform award."  I can see why she won, she has a smile that lit up Reno.

National Woman of Achievement's motto is: Acknowledging the Beauty in Service, Self-Development and Education Among Today’s Modern Woman.

My granddaughters recently enlightened me about the presence of "furries" among us, and I got to meet some today. Furries are people who are fans of animal characters with human characteristics and enjoy dressing up and engaging as their favorite animal characters. We have a group of them here in Northern Nevada. I'm told their conventions are a hoot.

Best of Awards (according to me)

The Sparkliest - and she made her own outfit.
Prettiest bike.

Best leg warmers (on a hot day!)
Best leggings
Best seat in the house
Most nimble photographer
Great signs:

And one clunker:

And two pics that made me sad:
For all of us who didn't get the hugs we wanted from our dads.
And, for all those lost for whatever reason.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Book Review: “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”

Sometimes a book comes along that grabs you with a powerful story, makes you fall in love with the characters and place, and allows you to discover a bit of little-known history. "Book Woman" is one of those books, deeply researched, honest and lovely on so many levels. Bluet, a mule named Junia and a dozen other characters will stay with me for a long time. This would make a great book club read.

Among the big, splashy programs of the New Deal there was a little known program called the "Pack Horse Library Project as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program that delivered books to remote regions in the Appalachian Mountains between 1935 and 1943.”  - Wikipedia.
Most of the librarians were women who were paid $28 a month and had to provide their own mounts. 
That could have been the story: book women traveling through the remote mountains of Kentucky to deliver books to families with no access to the outside world. However, there's another layer: the heroine, Bluet, is a an outcast, a woman of color ... blue, to be specific. She, and generations of her family, shared a rare blood disorder that turns their skin blue.

An aside: In the early-60s as I was walking across Oklahoma University campus, I saw a woman with blue skin and a week later I saw her again. None of my friends had seen her and there was some skepticism about the story. A few years later scientists discovered an enzyme deficiency that caused methemoglobinemia, which causes methemoglobin levels in the red blood cells to rise above 1 percent. It turns the skin blue, the lips purple, and the blood a chocolate brown. 
Papa Smurf
I have also since learned that a form of silver poisoning can turn skin blue. This man, known as Papa Smurf has skin color like what I remember about the woman from OU. 

Anyway, the point is that when I read the description about this book inspired by the blue people of Kentucky and a woman librarian who delivered books on horseback, it was a must read.
The book is an Oprah's Buzziest Books Pick for May (who knew there was such a thing) and Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, says it is "...a hauntingly atmospheric love letter to the first mobile library in Kentucky and the fierce, brave pack horse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and ― just as importantly ― a compassionate human connection."
Some books transport you to a different time and space. In Book Woman, we find life as hard and hungry as the mountains, meet a cantankerous mule named Junia who is always one step away from being shot, and wonder at the connecting power of books, and the unending dance of generosity and discrimination, love and hate.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Love Letters to my life #13: Reflecting on honeymoons and reflections

Morning in Reno
by Joyce Wycoff
(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)
Everyone loves a honeymoon. Everything’s all bright and shiny and you don’t have to do dishes. 

That’s where I am with Reno … being a casino-town that bills itself as “quirky by choice,” everything about Reno is neon bright and gaudy shiny, and in a tiny house with a tiny kitchen, cooking is minimal and dishes are what you do while the tea water is boiling. The wonder of honeymoons is the childlike delight in discovering each new facet of the beloved.

For instance, on the second morning of the Reno Mural Festival, I had trouble walking the few blocks to my destination. The early morning sun threw reflections across the cityscape that kept blinding me to the task at hand. Like a raven, I kept turning this way and that, not knowing which shiny object to approach first. Finally, I gave in and just started shooting with little thought in mind, until … the whole idea of reflections stopped me.

Reflections aren’t just mirrored images on shiny surfaces. Or, as Wikipedia defines it, "Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two different media so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated.” Talk about a buzz kill! My preferred definition:

Reflection is two surfaces dancing to the music of light. 
Reflections on Lake Chapala
I have long loved photographing reflections without thinking much about the magic of two or more surfaces collaborating in an instant of light. There is a “nowness” about reflections. In that moment, something is created that will never exist again in exactly the same way. There is a creative confusion about reflections: confusion about what is “real” and what merely the play of light on a reflective surface, creative as, in this particular moment, something ephemeral is created.

There is a random and generous abundance about reflections, requiring only that I open my eyes to see them. 

Flags after the Rain in Ajijic
Maybe that’s why I move. Being in a new environment forces me to open my eyes. There is a honeymoon period to each new place. However, honeymoons end and a deeper, more nuanced relationship begins to form. As I go through these early, bright and shiny days, when even the tiles in bathrooms call to me, I think there is enough here to build a lasting foundation.  
Bathroom tiles
Is this forever? In these early days, it’s too soon to say, but I love the wonder of having my eyes wide open.