Guadalcanal

August 7, 1942.  The date US Marines invaded the island of Guadalcanal.  My dad was there.

He did talk a little bit about it.  The lack of water.  The lack of food.  The lack of ammunition.  The non lack of bugs.  The heavy shelling from (he thought) 14 inch naval gunfire.

He contracted malaria there.

But after all the years there were some now humorous moments.

The reinforcements forgetting to dig a small ditch around their foxhole and suddenly waking to some lizard that had fallen atop them.

The time a shell detonated nearby and caved in his foxhole.  He said as his fellow Marines were digging him out, he was wondering about the horrible smell and almost asked about it when he realized it was from him.  Dad said none of the Marines ever gave him any “grief” about the “incident”.

The time when he growled at a marine for moving around too much before he noticed the marine was a general.

I’m sure there were more things, but I will never know…and maybe that’s a good thing.

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Test Daughter

Test Daughter.  That’s what she calls herself when asked about our relationship.

I worked with her dad and met her when I came by their house to help her dad move some stuff from a pickup truck.  She was 6 years old.

It was one of those relationships that just kind of grew–both with her and her parents.  Our families call her dad and I “the other half of each others’ brain”. I was at their house a few times a week and I slowly, unknowingly, became her 2nd dad.

She had a very strong, “just because I’m a girl, doesn’t mean I can’t do stuff” attitude that I thought was wonderful.  I clearly remember two things from then.  One was that when the time came, I wouldn’t mind having a daughter like her and the other was me grumbling at her dad when he called her ‘my son’.   “No.  She’s your daughter.  Just because she likes boy stuff doesn’t make her a boy.  Girls can like boy stuff.”

When she was a teenager, she told me that one comment was what cemented our hearts together.  I didn’t realize that she had heard the exchange, nor at the time did I think it that important.

Even though she had figured out I was her 2nd dad at age 6, it took me 2 more years to figure it out.  She was 8 when she took her dad and I over to meet her little league coach.  “Coach Kim.  This is my dad and this is my 2nd dad. I have two dads.”   Her coach gave the three of us a faint smile before running off…and I felt HONORED.

Since I was trusted and not living there, it was often easier for her to ask me the “AWKWARD” questions.  I answered them truthfully and honestly, even when I was wanting to run and hide.  Later she said that my matter of fact answers and return questions did much to keep her “out of trouble”.

She and her dad have very similar (impatient) personalities and often clashed during the “teaching moments”.  While her dad taught her how to drive, the personality clash was making it a problem for her learning how to parallel park and use a manual transmission car.   So, I got to do both of those things.  It took her 10 minutes to master parallel parking and another hour for her to learn how to parallel park a car with an attached trailer.  She still shows off that trailer parking skill and taught her husband how to do it as well.  For the manual transmission, I kind of “got even” by borrowing a friend’s 1948 truck with a non-synchronized gear manual transmission (double clutching).  But she showed me.  It took her a couple of hours to not stall the engine when starting out, another hour or two to not give us whiplash and another day to not grind the gears when shifting.

She liked that truck so much that it is the one she used for her driving test.   She called me after taking the test and said her test lasted only 5 minutes, but she passed.  Her dad was laughing and said her wanting to use that truck for the test was a stroke of genius.  Apparently the driving test administrator got into the truck, realized it was 110F and the truck had no air conditioning, asked her why she was double clutching the transmission, had her pull out from one parking lot entrance onto the roadway, made a comment about the perfect shifting and immediately had her pull back into the other parking lot entrance…and announced she had passed.

A year later, some (fortunately it was a false positive) medical tests indicated her dad had a fatal disease.  It took two weeks for the more accurate final test results to come back and, like I said, the initial results were incorrect.  I was pretty upset at the prospect of losing my best friend and his daughter, in tears, came to me, “If dad can’t give me away at my wedding, would you?”. Just like with the 2 dad’s comment, I felt so amazingly honored. Fortunately I did not need to fulfill this role.

When she was 24, I was the 5th person to find out about her engagement…herself, her fiancee,  her mom and dad, and finally me.  At her wedding there was the mother-son and father-daughter dances.  Next, the DJ started going through the father daughter dance part again.  I, and everyone else,  was looking around, confused, wondering how the DJ had managed to mess things up so much.  At this point, I realized she was walking toward me and extended her hand to me.  I, too, got a father-daughter dance.

While we danced, I reminded her of my and her dad’s comment about the quarter.  “If you’re on a date and he wants to do something that you’re not quite sure about, give him the quarter and have him call your dad, or me and we can talk about it.”  We hatched a plan.

After the 2nd father daughter dance, someone asked her about the 2nd dance.

He was just as annoying and protective of me as my dad .  He was my 2nd dad and I was his test daughter…like he was testing the waters to see if he wanted one of his own…that if he changed his mind, he could give me back.

Oh, the plan we hatched.  That evening, after the reception, my wife and I and my own daughter were sitting with her parents and reliving the memories.  The phone rings.  It’s her.  “Dad.  I gave Mark the quarter so he could call you.  He wants to talk to you.”  Her dad laughed and hung up the telephone.


Happy 40th birthday, test daughter.  You have an awesome husband and your boys are awesome too.

By the way, the test worked out perfectly.  My daughter is much like you..and I could not be more happy.

 

Atlanta

This past week, I was in Atlanta, GA, in training sessions for my government job.  It was an all inside 3/4 mile (1-1/4km) walk between my Omni Hotel room and the meeting rooms in the Georgia World Congress Center.  After a 12 hour day, the walk back to the hotel felt good and it was also a good check to ensure my work boots (shiny black leather boots that most would call “combat boots”) still fit perfectly.  They were perfect.

I did get outside two evenings and ran around Olympic Park.  I would get back to my hotel room, eat downstairs, then wait a bit before going running.  It would always be late by the time I got out to run, so I could only go 5-6 miles (8-10k) before the park closed at 11pm.

I knew I’d be “nasty sweaty” after the run, so I first checked out using the stairs to get to my room, but found I couldn’t exit the stairs except at the ground floor….so I had to take the elevator.  Running that late was good as it ensured that the elevators were mostly deserted.  I really didn’t want to inflict myself upon everyone riding with me in the elevator.

 

Carlsbad Caverns

We also stopped at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, located near the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The person credited with discovering the cave, a teenager named Jim White was likely not the first person to walk around in the cave.  Still, he did explore the caverns and bring others out to share in their beauty.  According to the accounts, the first people Jim brought to the cave were far more interested in the bat guano (a profitable fertilizer) than in the beautiful sights within the caverns.  I guess this a good example of “batsh*t crazy”!

I do not have any pictures.  I find that when I take a  camera with me, I tend to spend more time looking for the perfect picture than just taking in the experience.

We (wife and I) arrived just after the last below ground tour of the day had left. This sounds disappointing, but it turns out it was the best thing that could have happened. By being “late” we got to do so many more amazing things than just “walk around in a cave”.

 


BAT FLIGHT

The cave is the home to more than 400,000 bats and many thousands of Cave Swallow birds. Because of this, the park service has many experts available to answer questions on both the bats and the birds. A ranger “spent” nearly 2 hours answering my many questions about White Nose Syndrome, a deadly bat disease, and also about their echo-location (kind of like SONAR). The engineer in me is amazed when I think about the ability of a moving bat to echo-locate things in its vicinity even when nearby there are hundreds of thousands of other moving bats doing the same thing and I’m saddened that this disease is killing so many bats…bats that eat things like mosquitoes.

We then went down to the cave entrance to watch the “bat flight”..the time in the evening when the bats leave the cave to begin foraging for flying insects.  Shortly before the flight, there is a ranger presentation about the bats and the importance of them.

The cave entrance is a sort of horizontal shaft (gallery) leading off from what looks like a large diameter hole in the ground. The bats leaving the cave fly in a large corkscrew pattern to gain gain enough height to get above ground level and then fly off into the night. While they are flying their corkscrew pattern, it looks like a bat cyclone. As they leave the cave area, groups of bats fly off together and in the distance they look like black moving clouds.

It takes about an hour for the estimated 400,000 bats to leave the cave. According to the park ranger, the bats “hang out” (literally) about 1/3 of a mile inside the cave, so the bats must navigate that far before reaching the cave entrance….if I could ever be in the cave as the bats leave……

It. Is. Totally. Amazing.

When things calmed down, my wife and I continued to sit there, “listening” to the silence. We both grew up in small towns, but now live in a city, and silence is a rare treat for us.

If you ever get a chance to do this, you should take advantage of the opportunity.  Bats are not “Count Dracula”, nor are they rabid creatures doing all they can to infect a human.

Go see them.  You will not be disappointed.

 


DAWN OF THE BATS

Remember how I said arriving after the last tour only *sounded* disappointing?

Well, the next morning was also special. One day each year, the park opens before sunset for the “Dawn of the Bats”. This is where people can sit near the cave entrance when the bats arrive “home”.

We arrived at 5am. Even the moon had set, so it was very dark. We made it down to near the cave entrance and quietly sat down and waited There were only a dozen people there and it was nearly totally silent–only the sounds of breathing could be heard. At first I heard a series of sounds that I thought was someone trying to quietly open a backpack zipper. Then I realized the sound was moving. That is when I understood that this sound was the bats flying overhead on their way to reenter the cave.

My less comforting description of the sound is “sounds like a bullet flying by my ear”.

As it became light, I could see the bats diving toward the cave entrance, their tails and wings set to quickly slow their speed while, at the same time, a few adventuresome Cave Swallow birds began leaving the cave. Once the bats had returned home, the remaining Cave Swallows began to leave their nests and fly out of the cave. As the sun continued to rise, the chorus of bird chirps began.

Bats are the night shift and the birds are the day shift.

 


NATURE WALK

After the Dawn of the Bats, we went on a short ranger led nature walk.  Since the bats and the caverns are the headline “acts” in this park, the life on the ground is, sadly, mostly ignored by the park visitors.  I grew up in the Mojave Desert and I had a huge number of questions about the Chihuahuan Desert.   Despite what you might think, the two deserts are vastly different.

Even though the nature walk was only 30 minutes long, the ranger leading the walk stayed around for another 45 minutes to answer my questions.  I even got to answer a few questions from the ranger about things common in the Mojave, but not often seen around the caverns.

 


THE CAVERNS

When the visitor center opened at 8:30am, we went in to buy tickets to allow us to go into the caverns.  At 9am, we rode the first elevator descent into the caverns. This elevator has only two stops, “top” and “bottom”, so instead of the indicator telling what floor the elevator is passing, it shows the number of feet the elevator is below the surface. The numbers stop around 750 feet (225 meters). It only takes a few minutes for the elevators to make the descent into the caverns and it’s almost hard to believe that one has moved that far in so short of a time.

The caverns are HUGE.  We walked almost four miles underground and we only walked around in the areas open to the public. There are more miles of cave that we did not get to see. As we walked around, I kept having to remind myself to look up because many of the most spectacular things to see are overhead. In a way, viewing the cavern is almost a sensory overload.

Even though we had a 700 mile drive ahead of us, and we needed to be home that night, we didn’t want to leave. After finally deciding we *had* to leave (around 2pm), my wife and I made the 1 mile (1.5k) walk up 800 feet (240 meters) to the natural entrance. There were hundreds of people walking down, but I saw no others walking up.

About 10 minutes before we made it to the entrance, I began to smell the bird poop. It’s an almost sour smell, but isn’t offensive…either that or my nose wasn’t working well. 🙂 And then after another 5 minutes or so of walking, for the first time in about 5 hours, I began to see sunlight.

White Sands National Monument

Near Alamogordo, NM is the White Sands National Monument.  It is an “otherworldly” place that is perhaps this way because it’s only 120 miles/200Km from Roswell, NM.  🙂

It has the distinction of being the only place I’ve ever walked in the desert where walking barefoot was better than walking while wearing shoes.  I love going barefoot!!!

 

And now some pictures.

When I plotted the almost 2 mile (3k) long hike route on Google Maps’ satellite view, it looked like I was walking on a frosted cake.

WhiteSandsScreenshot

 

And, here is a view of the dunes that was taken at about the “1” on the map in the above picture.

WhiteSandsDunes_resized

Each time the wind blows, the footprints are obliterated, so one just follows the orange (made by Carsonite) signs as if they were cairns.  It’s kind of a neat experience.

The park service does offer permits to camp overnight on the dunes.  My wife and I are planning to go back there and do this when there is a full moon.  I can’t wait to see what the place is like when there is a full moon!

 

And finally, just in case someone thinks there is no life on these dunes, there were plants, ants, lizards and lots of birds (probably hunting lizards).  The only moving things that moved slowly enough for me to get a picture were some ants.  I followed the line of ants to a plant and just stood there watching them.

WhiteSandsAnts

The ants in the white sand brought back a memory from when I was 5 or 6 years old. My parents bought me an “Ant Farm”.  I don’t know if that was the actual name of it, or if that is just what I called it.  Anyway, it had a green plastic frame and two clear plastic windows spaced about an inch (2cm) apart.  A white sand was put into the “farm” and then ants were then added.  The ants would then dig their tunnels and the narrow gap between the windows guaranteed that the ants could be seen working in the tunnels.    Ants were fascinating to me when I was 5 years old and are still fascinating to me even now.

Teeth

Earlier this week my daughter had all four of her wisdom teeth removed.  My wife and I could tell she was nervous, but she knew it had to be done.

The first few hours after the teeth were removed were a haze for her due the anesthetic and later, the hydrocodone-actaminophen tablets to control the pain.

After two days, except for eating soft foods, she’s pretty much back to normal.  It’s been 24 hours since she’s needed any of the prescription pain meds, so in a few hours she’ll probably drive back to her apartment.

 

June 30

sign

Yesterday my wife and I drove to Yarnell and hiked the 3-3/4 mile (6km) trail leading to where 19 wildland firefighters of the Granite Mountain IHC (Interagency Hotshot Crew) died at 4:42pm June 30, 2013.

sight_signsite

 

After paying our respects, we made the return 3-3/4 mile (6k) trip back out to the trailhead and went to the nearby church where, starting at 4:42pm, each of the 19 firefighters’ names were said aloud.  After each name was spoken, a brass bell was struck.