Sunday, June 29, 2008

And Mosquitos and Ticks There Were!

After shoots it was time to head to Itasca park, after I had fueled up on authentic German goulash at the restaurant in Park Rapids. No sooner had I took my seat in the German-themed establishment, when a round and smiling man to my left started up a conversation. He liked meteorites and had just sent in some tektites he had found for examination. We shared a little conversation on ejecta extraterrestrial geology until my food came. Soon there was another friendly conversationalist to my right. Younger, but of the same Germanic girth, this lad was a prep cook at the restaurant and was happy to tell me all about how the food was prepared and how authentic it was. Joerg, the owner, was from Germany and his parents had started this business.

I finished up my goulash and coffee and hit the road. Itasca Park is only about 30 minutes north of Park Rapids. I could have the company pay for a room, but I thought, “take advantage of circumstance and get out into the woods!”

It was just after 5pm when I pulled up to the camping headquarters and they helped me find different camps and estimate distances. I wanted a primitive camp, so I could be away from other people and alone in the woods. This would mean hiking my gear into the woods, but all the more reminiscent of what voyageurs had to endure in similar conditions, eh?

I found a nice spot, a mile in, with its own lake. Being that I sometimes think distances will be shorter than they actually are in situations such as these, I allowed myself a light initial load on this scouting expedition. Besides, I did not think it realistic to carry all that I should in one trip.

Down the trail, the width of a car path, but overgrown with fresh green grass, ankle and knee-high. It wasn't long before the inevitable swarm approached. At first I kind of thought it funny – the ridiculous amount of mosquitoes. They were thick and hungry and sought any open flesh with sudden urgency. I swung my arms, ran at times and continually brushed off my exposed flesh. “At least they are not black flies,” I thought. Those buggers get everywhere – eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hurt something awful. Remember that time my folks counted something like 140 bites on me after a trip to the BWCA? Then it was to a soccer game in 100 degree weather. So, I thought, this can’t match that.

At every other bend of the trail or rise of the path I thought I had arrived. But, I had not. Eventually, I took the path in a jutting out little peninsula and beheld my camp. It was perfect. Open to the sun, a tall red pine rose up at the termination of the spur and there was a pretty little lake all to myself! The sun helped to disperse the maddening mosquitoes and I erected my tent.

On the return trip to the car I formulated a plan of attack for the return. Wearing my blousy flannel and placing a t-shirt about my head I packed my backpack in a most practical fashion, threw my tripod over my shoulder and sunk back into the woods. I was a wee bit apprehensive about leaving the rental car, with rods and reels and a trunk full of expensive gear, alone by the side of the road. Yes, it did have an alarm, but all the same. I would be a mile away. “Distinguish such thoughts from your head,” I told myself, “best to enjoy this as much as possible.”

Sure enough, the mosquitos attacked the hands with ferocity. Thinking a portion of your hand would go unmolested would reveal quite the opposite when you turned your palm to discover four greedy squitoes, fixedly pulling blood from your hand. I did the best I could to keep them from drinking and moved on. It would be nonsense to stop for a break. Must move, must move. About you was the sounds of millions of mosquitos, very similar in sound to a million miniature Stuka dive bombers, coming in for the kill. It also has the same dissonant tone as the tense violin strings in a horror film, as the sadistic murderer’s deeds are revealed to the screen. I hungered for that clearing!

Once at the camp, I had hundreds of new friends. You’ve heard tell of this “bumper crop” of mosquitos this year? Well, there be a bumper crop of there arch nemesis too – the dragonfly. The great big blues, quad-winged dragon flies were assembled in taxi formation upon my tent. As I brought the meal in to camp, they launched into the air. To the sound of old radial prop engines, they’d attack, grab one, then go find a stopping place to eat. Sometimes it would be back on my blue tent, sometimes it would be on me. It was quite fun. I somewhat wished my eyes could be cameras! I looked down, inches from my nose and there was a great big blue beauty. You could watch the whole mosquito disappearing with a munch, munch, crunch, crunch of the dragonfly’s mandibles. “How incredibly fascinating! This is PBS Nature material!” They were also kind of cute. They would land and wait on me. I’d look at them and ask if they were hungry. They would tick their wee head back and forth in what looked like a, “What? Are you talking to me,” but assuredly was a scan around my body for the next meal. I was so glad they were hungry. After they ate one, they would attack once again.

The timing could not have been better. I arrive with plenty of time to set up in sunlight. As that sun touched the tree tops it was a signal for me to begin the camp fire. Gathering wood and tinder with great assistance from the materials left by previous campers, I began to assemble my fire kit.

One of the main reasons I did this camp venture was to do a bit of on-camera time. In the nature of Les Stroud or Bear Grylls, it was time to explain a small bit about building a fire. Good thing conditions were so perfect, because it could not have gone smoother. As the fire got underway I then did a little bit on the mosquitos on the trail and then returned to camp for a closure piece.

Then it was time to myself. I was ready for a good pipe. In the process of lighting up my travel tobacco, I came across my next important task.

Ticks were everywhere! I knew they had been bad this year and I knew that I would have to deal with them, but I should have known how all-ecompassing this task would be. They were in parade up my legs, arms, and all about my clothing. Some would search for a place to nestle, whilst others would just dig right in and suck in a rocking back and forth motion that made it all the more repulsive. With my fire next to me and daylight still around, I stripped down and began the removal. So, there I was, in shoes and underwear, holding body parts and clothing over the heat of the flame. The most alarming thing for me was the amount of deer ticks. They are much smaller than the regular ‘moose’ tick and are popularly known for their transmission of the Lyme disease spyrochete. Finding one searching about you is one thing, but finding one feasting is another. I searched best I could. Cleansed in heat and smoke best I could. Just as you think you are done you look down and, “Unbelievable!,” more are marching up. I did my most and lit my pipe.

As night set and the fire produced a steady stream of smoke lakeward, I crouched by the glowing warmth and listened to the night sounds. Frogs were loud and boasting, loons were calling, great horned owls produced that wisened “Ah ha hoo,” fire flies danced around and the fire crackled.

As the last pieces of wood dissolved into embers I retired. The frogs provided a perfect ambient noise. This is good for me, because most oft, I tend to react with a “what’s that?!” to the cracks and crunches in the woods. We’ve got but raccoon and black bears (more or less a big raccoon) to be fearful of in Minnesota. I’ve done plenty of camping in grizzly country too, always placing my tent the closest (but not intrusively) to their territory. A ‘seasoning’ exercise for me and smacking somewhat of pride…but anyway. I get somewhat scared, zipped up in a tent, when I can’t see anything. I’ll take sleeping out in the open any day!

Sleep. What’s that flashing? That would be one heck of a fire fly! Oh. Thunderstorm. And then it came and it was long one. Initial wind, heavy rain and booming cloud to cloud thunder. I packed up gear weather-tight and rode out the storm in the bag. It was kinda fun, alone in my tent, flashing boom right above my head and all. But I knew I wouldn’t be getting much sleep until this passed. And in time, it did.

Rising early in the morning, I packed things up and packed well enough to make it in one trip. I’d make it to my shoot and then head back into Park Rapids to do an interview of Aunt Belle’s Candy shop. The weather had paused for me to pack out of camp, stormed, paused for me get my shoot and then I moved on.

Nevis was home to the world’s largest tiger muskie and had a decent burger at the Iron Horse Bar. Akelely was having their festival and I made time to visit good ol’ Paul Bunyan as well as listen to some banjo pickin and chatted with locals.

Storms began to roll in as I neared Sugar Point on Leech Lake. As I pulled up the curvy drive lined with sugar maples, the lake ahead looked large and forboding like Superior, especially now, with the amount of mist and wind chop.

After checking into my cabin a rap came on the door and I was invited to dinner with the owners, a reserved but likeable couple. Not wanting to attend the dinner empty-handed, I shot out into the remote north woods in search for something to bring. Knowing that any large town was at least an hour away, I shot towards the nearest village that might have any establishment whatsoever. My Neverlost brought me down dirt roads, that ran the perimeter of the stormy lake. With wind blowing rain and gravel-mud beneath my wheels, I found it fun but a wee bit nerve wracking, wanting to get something and get back in time and not get lost or stuck. I found a bar with no one inside but the tender and grabbed some ice cream bars. When I presented them as dessert, the owner was impressed that I got Blue Bunny bars and wanted to know what establishment I got it from. He carried Blue Bunny for years but his distributor no longer could get them, to his disappointment!

Shoots the next day brought me into Bena. Here I sat at a café and drank coffee with the owner of the establishment. In his late 30’s, we exchanged stories and travels. He had fished for 3 years in the Aleutian islands and spent a good 10 years doing construction in Arizona. One of his workers was a self-declared ‘southern’ girl but currently looking after the family’s homestead up north. We humored over equal love of the south, whether it be Georgia or that country called Texas and shook our heads at the misperceptions people have of those generous latitudes.

After shoots saw another chat with the owner of a small bar. He was a truck driver and spoke of his recent divorce. He fried up some spectacular northern and presented it gratis. It ended very agreeably, having started with a fury upon seeing my camera. He had apparently been harassed quite a bit during the divorce precedings and thought this another ruse on the part of his ex.

Tomorrow is a very early start and a two hour jaunt to a place called Lake Shore. I’ve met only one local who has heard of the place and hope that the GPS does not guide me down yet another logging road. But I did see a black bear on such a detour and perhaps I’ll see another!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

World's Largest Tiger Muskie

Ah yes, now where was I? Another early start and I was off to see one of the big character statues that are so prevalent in Minnesota. This one commemorated Chief Wenonga. He led a small war party of Ojibwa down to attack a Dakota village. His war party was forced to retreat into a swamp. The small band was sure to be decimated, but Chief Wenonga and his sons performed a holding action, allowing the survivors to retreat while he and his sons met their fate.

While not cartoonish, the statue is not the most authentic. But you have to hand it to the people who erected it, for honoring the noble actions of a great leader. This statue now looks over what is now known as Battle Lake, the name of both the body of water and town adjacent to it.

{Work tirade removed}

Detroit Lakes is a larger town, but centered around its lakes like most of these north western destinations. The bigger towns (and smaller lake communities too) all seem to have a Zorbaz restaurant, a beachfront and lots of resorts. Most of the resorts have cabins built some 40 feet away from the shoreline, docks for fishing and landing boats, an assortment of canoes, kayaks and water toys, one fishing boat per cabin, a pontoon boat and some sort of lodge that may have a game room, ice cream bar, etc. On one end of the spectrum you have busy places with jet skis and motor boats towing tubes, kids runnings around and adults drinking. The more low-key places can have a quiet and serene atmosphere. Right now I hear nothing but crickets, loons, “boinging” frogs and occasional owl.

I make a point of going out of the way to take in the more rural of towns. Mahnomen, the home town of one of our favorite characters, was grain elevators and train yards. Search for the business district and you’ll find a storybook main drag. The Red Apple could not be a more welcoming small town café. Sit up at the bar and get a coffee and piece of rhubarb cream pie. Next to you you’ll hear a sad character dispense the news of a local’s passing. “Are you going to the funeral?,” the waitress will ask. Another gentlemen, every bit the Sam Elliot will come up and greet this fellow with a “You’ve got a moose tick on you!” He will then affectionately remove it.Meanwhile, the somewhat aloof elderly woman seated at the cash register, asks a new customer what she planted this year. Upon hearing that she didn’t plant anything save tomato plants in her washtub, says, with a elderly chuckle, “Well then we ain’t got nothing to talk about!”

Park Rapids is a more bustling of towns. On Main street you’ll find a great mixture of restaurants, cafes, antique shops, odds and ends shops, outfitters and a movie theater. A distinctive feature of Park Rapids is the cars parked in the middle of the street, as well as angled parking on either side. It immediately strikes you as a great idea and you wonder why more towns don’t have this feature. Sure makes it easier to find a parking spot. In fact, being that they are under new construction, the town was asked what they wanted, and this was one of the main features they wanted to stay!

Dorset is the “Restaurant Capital of the World.” You see, if you have 4 restaurants and a population of 26, you can call yourself this.

My stay at the Sleeping Fawn was very relaxing. This was one of the more tranquil of sites. Coming back after shoots I made sure to leave a little evening time open even though I got some evening shots for the property. I jumped in one of the kayaks and went out into the lake, doing a circuit and then returning for my rod and reel. I tied on a stinky rubber fish (as I have no bait) and went out near the lily pads. Lots and lots of hits, but the lure was intended for larger fish, methinks. So, I pulled me in a rock bass. That little guy did the playful leaping out of the water that bass do. I can see why people like to catch them so much. I looked at his red eye to confirm what he was. (I’m still not the best at fish identification.) I got plenty more hits and a sunny was my last catch. Returned both right away after catching. The water was like glass otherwise it would have been a pain to keep correcting that little kayak.

Last night there was quite the storm that came up. I saw the news today talk of the big storms that hit North Dakota but die off here. Well, I was hit by that. About 2:30 in the morning and the windows flew open. I secured them but they flew open again. Normally quite enjoying storms, I thought it would be good to pack and get my gear safe in preparation for the worst. I did so as the wind buffeted the cabin. I also worried for the rental car underneath the tree. It’s been weird weather up here this spring and almost each of these areas have been hit with tornadoes. After consolidating and preparing, I returned to bed. By morning it was peaceful.

This morning I thought I should get shots of Itasca, being so close. Today, the park encompasses and protects the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca.

For hundreds of years explorers had be trying to find the true source of the Mississippi. But it wasn’t until 1831 when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, led by Ojibwa leader Ozawindib, discovered it. He gave the lake the name Veritas Caput, or “True Head.” By removing the ‘Ver’ and the ‘Put’ you get, ‘Itasca.’ (I never tire of telling that one.)

Anyhoo, the headwaters are bunch of piled rocks separating the lake from the river and forming a little cascade. Waves of visitors come, but you can find some alone time with it if you desire.

After the next shoot I head to another small town. Nevis has the “World’s Largest Tiger Muskie” as well as bars like the Iron Horse and the Muskie café. It had quite the ice cream bar and a candy shop in the back with barrels of toffee and a small, but wide selection of fun toys, preserves and the like. “Resorters” frequent it the most but locals do as well. I ate at the Iron Horse, had their burger with sauerkraut, bacon, swiss cheese and fries. I decided to come off of my diet of dried fruit, graham crackers and yarba mate tea from the previous day. Next door had a root beer float awaiting.

So, that is what it’s been so far. I love this state and love the time I get to explore. I must admit, however, that the pace is becoming wearisome. Soon I’ll be back for 4 days but hit the road again. We’ll see what balancing acts can be performed.

Tomorrow, I may be sleeping in the woods. The sales peeps have a way of neglecting to mention my comped lodging when they close a deal. Some times resorts have a tiffy. So, tomorrow I may be sleeping in the woods. I’ll let you know how that goes. Mosquitoes and ticks here I come!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

From Spicer to Battle Lake

Thursday morning started early as 694 brought me up to 94 and then, just south of St. Cloud, 23 dropped me down past the towns of Cold Spring, Paynesville and then Spicer. The early morning sun cast the longer waves of the spectrum, making the fresh summer greens all the more lush. Given time to spare there was no hurry, and each hill would present a new farmyard, cow pasture or miniature town.

In Rockville there were these great majestic boulders, reflecting in ponds, glacial erractics deposited ions ago. Unlike most, these would not be lodged free by farmers and had been there ever since the glaciers melted. A unique site in open farm country.

Spicer was hilly, green and, splotched with patches of trees, growing more free than those found in windbreaks. The properties shot would run the gamut. From a fishing resort of trailers and cottages to one of the most historic houses remaining in the country.

Green Lake is the main attraction in Spicer and this and many others, have fed a resort business catering to water recreation. Plenty of fishing boats could be seen out in the expansive waters as well as drifting in the smaller and lushest of lakes and ponds I have seen. Old grain elevators and train track routes provide echoes of a farming history that has given way to bike paths and boat dealerships.

A friendly Italian woman laughed and showed me around her property, waving and chattin
g to her regular guests as we passed. Like many owners, she spoke of the great fishing and what people had been catching, but noted that they've hardly been able to get out themselves.

Lunch was at the Westwood Cafe "For regulars and other special people." It was small and home town - exactly the thing I search for. Eggs, toast and salty and savory wild rice sausage.

The next property was owned by a more reserved fellow, seated at an outside table and who patted his lips clean of lunch as I approached. His family had owned this land for three generations and were continuing the tradition.

I would be lodging at the site of my next day's shoot. That makes it nice and convenient. I wake, pack and then shoot, with no call for transit. The name 'Spicer Castle' could mean many
things. Was it large and decrepit? Fancy and elitist? Or just another property raising expectations with its name only to greet you with a gift of the mediocre? This would be none of those things.

I pulled up the drive, a shaded gravel path that climbed some 100 yards towards an old, wooden mansion. It had a Germanic half-timber style about it, but was clearly aged authentic as it showed the weathering as an old house should. I parked and wandered the old grounds, half gazing at the dark structure above me, half looking for the owner. I entered the door into a house that had elements of Mrs. Haversham's from Great Expectations, old and just a wee bit spooky. I found a college aged worker that was looking for the same person as I.

By one of the outside cottages I found her. The great grand daughter of John Spicer now ran his old summer house as a bed and breakfast. She showed me the cottages where I would be staying, but upon hearing that I like history, took my on a tour of the entire property, leaving the site of my respite entirely up to me. My gosh, what a treat! How would I deal with indecisiveness? While the outdoor buildings would offer more privacy, the house itself may hold more antiquity. "Are you sure you don't mind?", I ask several times. "Whatever is easiest for you!", I remarked, but she insisted that it was more than fine. She would lead me to this room and that, "This was the master bedroom... this has a hanging bed...this has its own outside porch...," well, you get the idea. I hoped that the spirits would speak to me, as each room was named for the member of the family that used to reside in it. I chose "Mason's" room. He had been a captain in the Spanish-American War and afterwards an attorney in the district courts. His room felt of study and legacy and had windows facing the lake, that allowed in the sounds of the shoreline. Tea would be at four.

One lump of sugar in my peppermint tea, a spoon full of peanuts, a tart, a marshmallow bar and a seat in the wrap around second-story porch. The many-payned windows looked out at the immense lake and an open door blew in the afternoon breeze. Damn! I must remember not to put my elbows on the table and in such a canine fashion!

I spoke a good while with the owner and another elderly woman quite witty and full of information. They recommended Manny's for dinner.

At Manny's was bacon-wrapped, cream cheese-stuffed jalepenos and, what else, walleye.

I suggested that I film the setting sun, as Mr. Spicer had chosen that l
ocation specifically for the grand view of the setting sun. When I returned to do so, an elderly fellow thought it would be a good idea to shoot the property from out in the water. Capital idea! I grabbed my gear and this fellow and idea motored out from shore. The 3-ton vessel was one that he had built specifically for the property. Accommodating up to about 40 peopled, this modernized river boat guided us away from shore. I shot as much as I could, not knowing how much pitching, yawing and engine vibration would appear in the shots. It was special.

Before I head up to the house I entered a conversation with the aged chap. He had been a mining geologist. He also liked to dispense information about everything, in a slow...
purposeful... and pre-meditated fashion. In was more a one-sided conversation but interesting nonetheless. He said many things that made you want to look them up later as well as those things I knew, or at least, shared the perspective of. "Contrary to...the popular belief... the issue...was not so much about it was... about tariffs..."

I broke away in time to catch the setting sun, from the main room, where a 30's-ish couple was speaking to one in there 80's. I found it apropos to light up my pipe and wander the grounds. These were remnants of the past. Walking the grounds of a large country house you could imagine yourself back in time. With a pipe or cigar you'd walk. Slow-paced strides with a syncopated puff, puff. Inside they'd be gathered round the piano signing "The Third Verse of Mary and John" (click HERE to listen) and you could here Parker hamming it up even from where you were.

Sleep was in Mason's bed and the sound of the lapping water below. Before bed I tried to wrap up my work as soon as possible, very conscious that each foot step produced a "creak, creak, creak" that reverberated through the house.

The day before they invited me to breakfast before I shoot. Under such a special circumstance I took them up on the offer. It was me and three different couples (a formula I have grown quite accustomed to) at the northern end of a long table in another windowed porch. A glass of tangerine-like juice sat awaiting. Upon drinking this, my server gave me coffee and we were then presented with a large glass full of a creamy-white concoction. It ended up being granola and strawberries in a rich cream. The strawberries became almost overpowering, but the granola and cream came to the rescue! Alright, I was more than full. Next a plate of frosted cupcakes were placed upon the table. I held back, knowing very well that a main course might be coming. As I sipped my coffee, in sauntered the very man that I had been speaking with the evening before. He introduced himself as John Spicer's grandson. It was the man who built the boat. The geologist guy.

The egg dish came and people did their best to listen and engage themselves in the lecture. In time I got the shoot and wrapped things up. During the shoot I asked if we might shoot from the turret and up through the attic we went. Old Mrs. Spicer used to play bridge with her friends up there! I also climbed to the very top as well! Before I left I took a picture of the grandson. In an old tractor he seemed to be imitating one of the first pursuits of his grandfather. From farming to bringing the railroad in to town with J.J. Hill. Anyway, this grandson was a piece of history himself!

Final shots of Spicer included more of the lake and Sibley State Park. I found a pull off where an old farmhouse used to be but had been since removed. So there I did takes of small bit and shots of the surrounding. There were big rolling cumulus clouds running behind the oak trees. The grass waved in pulses across the glen. Red-winged blackbirds sung up in a bare tree next to a large pond and dragonflies buzzed spasmodically to and fro. Something crawled in the grass near me but disappeared completely. The only interruption was the army of ticks crawling up my legs. Every 15 seconds or so, I would knock them off, only to have more ascend. I was impressed with their persistence but aware of their intent. But all things considered, I'd have it no other way.

I searched Willmar for dinner. What I found was predominately Mexican markets and barber shops. I was fascinated at the strong Hispanic presence and indebted to them for reinvigorating a dying downtown. There was an northeaster African presence as well.

I ate at Jack's pizza, the only restaurant that I could find that was not a Taco Johns or the like. There sausage, mushroom, green olive pizza was superb!

Another very early morning jaunt brings me into Dalton to shoot a resort that had been owned by the same family for 110 years! I had passed that giant crow in Belgrade and a brief stop at the local filling station gave me a chance to hear farmer gossip. "He's put that fertilizer on too early... he's planted those rows too close together, a pheasant couldn't even walk between 'em... no wonder he's getting 500 bushes per acre..." Is there anything more rich than that?!

Having earlier seen the Dalton Cafe, it became pressing upon me to eat there. Small town cafe for sure! The walleye breakfast was still available. Walleye in a salted batter, chopped potatoes, two sunyside eggs and toast. The farmer folk made there plans for the day and I wondered when I might return here. I also made a quick stop at an old 66' GTO on the side of the road.

On the road again. This drive to Battle Lake brought more swervy roads and greenness. I did the shoot and it was suggested to eat at Zorbaz. It was a pizza/Mexican chain big in this northwest lake area. It was a party bar for sure. Boaters could pull up in the rear and bikers in the front. It was predominately families however. The enchilada made me wonder if I've been exaggerating, it too may have been the best enchilada I've ever had. I'll this best food so close to home!

Earlier that day I saw the final weigh-in at the fish tournament. Catch 1 and 2, number of fish and total weight. Top prize was a few thousand.

Well, that's this leg so far. Mighty happy to be doing the next few in the best state I know! Still, it makes you realize that the exploration will never be complete. What a nice thought that is.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Desert Days

It’s been pretty warm in Palm Springs. Each day the temperature touches 100 degrees and the skies are clear of any cloud whatsoever. But since the humidity hovers around 8% the heat is not as oppressive as it could be. It fits the desert nicely and adds an air of authenticity to the place.

One of the properties that I was able to both shoot and lodge at was a single level flat with its own private pool. The wall hugged the back yard nicely and you could do as you will, free from any onlookers. In the distance, the mountains baked in the sun and were framed by California palms. The palms here have a ‘beard’ of dead leaves which collapse and provide a nice little scarf for the tree.

This particular place had music pumped throughout, and I kept that dial where it was. Playing was the tunes of the late 40’s and on. Music of the likes of Frank Sinatra and Burt Bacharach filled the rooms and spilled out to the desert beyond. Martini sipping all the way!

Reluctantly encouraging that previously canceled property to shoot later in the day brought me, once again, up that precarious route through the mountains. I was glad to get those shots done and back down the mountain! Our friend the dead squirrel was still there, lying beneath the Dodge Ram.

Today I made a visit to a popular attraction here called the Living Dessert. It is pretty much just a zoo - a desert zoo. On display are both the plants and animals that have adapted to extreme desert conditions around the world. Giraffes and zebras, agave and acacia trees were in the mix. It was a nice way to highlight the diversity of desert life, but easy to be done with it in a hurry.

One of the main attractions was near the entrance of the zoo. And it was…… a model train set. An enormous model train set! With several different scale locomotives crossing large bridges, stopping at miniature stations and traveling over waterfalls. It was the small-scale railroaders dream! “Odd,” I thought, but why not. In a region that only sees a thimble of rain every year it would good place to set something like this up.

I wanted to video a humorous bit by the trains and, whilst in the process, caught the eye of one of the supervisors. Sauntering over with white conductor hat, rail road outfit and radio in hand, I returned to my study of the small world. But soon this supervisor saw some dilemma on the track, radioed the concern to his cronies and went stomping through the world of little plastic people and tooting trains.

So, while the time here included dilemmas of the less-than-desired nature, it was a visit to a Martini-flavor desert town. Full of the practical styled/modernistic Bauhaus and nouveu-Spanish architecture with clay-shingled roofs; a cosmopolitan flavor of art galleries and hip restaurants with waiters and waitresses clad in black and hair in Emo style; and a higher gay concentration than even San Francisco. The feeling is alive and happening.

The entrance of many an establishment is shrouded in a cloud of mist. These foggers help to cool the surrounding air and are a refreshing escape from the desert heat. In fact, this is the one of the very reason cities like Rome had great fountains. The mist would naturally cool the air and create a great air-conditioning affect. Anyhoo…

All of the above is nestled in a valley between the fantastic San Barnadino mountains to the east and San Jacinto on the west. There a steep faces to these mountains and the town brushes up right next to them. When you drive, they loom gigantic before you. As the sun sets, they are series of dark silouettes, but the sun makes the mist before them glow. The rays band through them every dusk.

Although the broken hot water heater made for a cold shower this evening, I thought it was kind of a funny way to end here. It certainly started in such a fashion. But all is well!

Let’s plan a date for a martini in Palm Springs! Tonight I toast to the end of another journey. At some point it would be good to toast with some of you. But old wood floors await my feet and to once again see the blooms of delphinium, blue globe and the rain on Lady’s mantle - ah, so nice to be homeward bound!

May the beginning of June find you all in wonderful health and happiness. Cheers!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Not Everything Will Go As Intended

As I was getting off of the plane in Phoenix, my phone informed me that my next flight was canceled. Sure enough, US Airways had cancelled at least 3 flights that day. How I was going to get to Palm Springs was going to be quite a pickle. Quite a pickle indeed!

First a frazzled attendant got me a later ticket to LA and then told me I should go to customer service and get a flight from there to Palm Springs. But this new attendant questioned why they would do that when a flight to Ontario, CA was so much closer. I told him that I would just drive from there, being that it was only about an hour. My bags would meet me in Ontario, he affirmed.

So, I waited a few more hours and then fly time! Taxiing down the runway, the captain comes on the intercom and tells us that the noise we here in the nose is not normal and he was going to turn around and have the mechanics look at it. At this point I had to laugh aloud. That seemed about right.

Fortunately, they did appear to fix it and we were off.

In Ontario, the bags, unfortunately, did not come with me. They had gone to LAX instead. With a tired resignation, I filled out the paperwork and would have the bags brought where I was staying. Luckily, there was no property shoot the next day. But I did worry over the equipment, knowing it would have to endure more jostling and abuse.

I kept sullen and sad, preventing myself from venting on the customer service folk. Frustrating disappointment ad nauseum. Reason tells you that it is not their fault, but emotions make you want to bite something. I left the office to the angry military folk, that had operations the next day and needed their gear.

Allowing myself only 3 quick “F-inheimers” as I left the airport doors, that, I told myself, was all the venting I would allow. Next, to my rental can that I rescheduled earlier.

The last 20 minutes was true desert dark as I neared Palm Springs. Quite intimate.

Palm Springs was dimly lit. Whether it was for conservation or light pollution reasons, I appreciated the lack of audacity and found my place of rest.

I was in luck the next day. My bags came in the morning instead of the predicted late afternoon. On my checking out of the hotel, I was greeted by a beautiful golden retriever. I think they got the most beautiful heart of any dog. Seeing each other, she pranced over, I knelt and spoke with her. She, bringing up her left paw to rest on my arm, to the owner's dismay but my delight.

Needing a breakfast, I was pointed in the direction of the restaurant/deli ‘Manhattan in the Desert.” Having a very upper east coast feel, with its Jewish and gay clientele, the people were forward and friendly! Feeling it apropos, I ordered poached eggs, ham steak and tomatoes with a toasted bagel. I put a tomato slice on a bagel half, a piece of ham steak and the oozing poached egg atop that. My gosh it was good! I spoke for a while with the fry cooks and waitresses, who were enthusiastic and helpful.

Before my drive up to Big Bear Lake, I wanted to take in one Palm Springs attraction. This would be the Arial Tramway. Rising 10,000 feet, this was the largest rotating Tramway in the world. You stood in place while the floor spun beneath you. In this way, no occupant felt cheated in the least. You got a panoramic view of the steep climb to the top. Riding up with the large group of Taiwanese students, screeching with excitement when your stomach was tickled by the small drop when we passed a tower, I felt the drop in air temperature.

At the top you are dumped into the museum station which exits into the valley below. You descend a switchbacking path and find yourself in a beautiful surrounding. Great big Jeffrey Pine trees, whose bark smells of butterscotch, rise up from the creek bed. Steller’s Jays, looking like burly, dark bluer versions of their brother Blue Jay, hop, fly and screech about. I helped an overly curious woman up from the crouched position she was sitting in. Drawn to the gold speckles of the stream, she had knelt down to investigate. After helping her on her way, I did the same thing. Running my fingers through the golden speckles in the sand, the feeling was a special one. “They must be pyrite and not gold,” I thought, but did not know.

I smelled the Jeffrey Pine trees and yes, they really smell like butterscotch. Of course they don’t taste like them but I had to investigate nonetheless.

There were warn paths you could take through the woods, which were open and allowed both sun and wind through and all felt quite merry. Climbing some rocks I looked at the desert below. You would see the expansive fields of wind mills, irrigation and further to your right, the city. All felt clean and fresh up above. Below looked like the dry tan desert it was. Amazing we live down in something like that.

The drive to Big Bear Lake was one of the more swervy of mountain routes. Curvy, curvy, twisty, twisty, brake here, gas here and climb, climb, climb. The sun was bright and traffic was steady by not aggressive. It didn’t have the oppressive tendencies of Beartooth pass but it presented demands upon your alertness and kept you on your toes.

Once you drop back down into about 7,500 feet you come into Big Bear Lake. Grown around this has developed a mountain town. Having many resorts and even fast food joints, they were nonetheless tucked into the surroundings and allowed the town to preserve a mountain feel.

The property manager had forgotten that we had a shoot the next day and said she was unprepared. We would have to shoot another time but she would provide me lodging for the night. After the drive, the flights and the rushed scheduling that was thrown in my lap these last weeks, nerves frayed a bit. I said we would work things about in the future, ended our conversation with a good note and took the key. On the way to my car, I almost stepped on a poor squirrel that must have met his demise very recently. He was sprawled out spread eagle and tummy down right near a giant truck tire. I looked at the poor guy. “That seems about right,” I sighed.

I inadvertently locked my key in the house. Oops! Dumb me! Not having another, I felt foolish, but called the property manager. She did not have another, she informed me, but would try to contact her repairman. “If he doesn’t have one, I don’t know what I’ll do,” she remarked, but didn’t seem to upset. Yes, this was inconvenient. But a solution will always present itself. I waited and continued to prod around the house for any possible access. All the windows and doors were locked. I walked around, trying not to get dismayed and instead, look at this as I try to look at any of these frustrations. Whether it’s cancelled flights, bags in LA – these things will pass. In the meantime, how can I utilize this time? They’ll be enough to be distraught about!

I found the small bathroom window was hinged open. It was one of those small ones with a crank that opens to a max of about 8 inches. After examination I found I could pop the arm off from the window. Then, was the screen which had 3 internal latches. I scavenged for some stiff wire, which I found. Poking through the screen and causing minimal gapage, I popped the 3 latches and then screen. Needing a way to get up, I drove the car to its base and shoes off, pulled myself into the small square hole. Now was the contortionist part – seated on the ledge, I had to bring my leg through and straddle, so I could reach the bathtub below, without slipping and falling.

So, I got in and that was that. But I got one heckuva sliver in my toe!

I’m looking forward to get back down to Palm Springs. There is more to explore and the desert is pretty damn neat! It will also be nice to shed some of these little frustrating episodes. Looking out at the lake and flittering bats is enough to make the day and well. And in the morning is the same lake, with the warming sun and smell of pine an d butterscotch. Time to drop down to the 100 degree desert below. Fantastic!