Learn Something New Every Day!

A few little fall surprises

img_3387Recently I took a trip to find the reds and golds and oranges of fall leaves, announcing the ongoing change of seasons.  And I found those glorious colors almost everywhere.  But I was also surprised by some other little delights along the way.  These little surprises remind me to always be willing to stop, look and listen for little wonders that are all around!

As Ralph Waldo Emerson explains, “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting—a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, every fair sky, in every flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.”

Here are some of the treasures that were waiting to be noticed while I was hunting for autumn leaves:

The first golden hues I noticed were not falling leaves but the golden bushes blooming in the Mojave Desert.

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North of Bishop on Highway 395, Mono Lake was still shining forth, patiently holding on until the end of the drought.

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This flag kept flying even through the rain was pounding down all day long in Redding.

Green—my favorite color—was evident all over.  Always is.  We just need to remember to notice and marvel at its persistence.

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I am always pleasantly surprised to find wildlife along the road.  This little guy was wandering the road in Yosemite National Park.

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In Yosemite, I also had a little passenger for a bit, while sitting at a road block when crews worked on trimming and removing some trees.  She did not pose very well, but I felt lucky all day having spent some time with this little ladybug—especially in October.

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At various stops on my trip, I was delighted by the flowers that caught my eye.  Not the fall colors I was looking for, but gorgeous nonetheless.

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I really enjoyed the rain that punctuated this trip.  The impressive clouds were just an added bonus.

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My trip was great, but it was made better by these unexpected delights.  My best advice?  Always keep your eyes and heart open for whatever delightful surprises might come your way.  As Boris Pasternak explains, Surprise is the greatest gift that life can grant us.”  But it is up to us to notice the wonders along the way.

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A FEW QUOTES ABOUT SURPRISES

“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Albert Einstein

“Things never go the way you expect them to.  That’s both the joy and frustration in life.  I’m finding as I get older that I don’t mind, though.  It’s the surprises that tickle me the most, the things you don’t see coming.”   Michael Stuhlbarg

“Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and strange surprises.”  Mark Oliver Everett

“Surprises are everywhere in life.”  Brownell Landrum

“Life is full of surprises and serendipity.  Being open to unexpected turns in the road is an important part of success.  If you try to plan every step, you may miss those wonderful twists and turns.  Just find your next adventure—do it well, enjoy it—and then, not now, think about what comes next.”  Condoleeza Rice

“The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”  Marcel Proust

 “God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, ‘Ah!’”   Joseph Campbell

 “In all things of nature there is something marvelous.”  Aristotle

 “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”  Socrates

 “The whole of life lies in the verb seeing.”   Teilhard de Chardin

 “Learn to see, and then you’ll know that there is no end to the new worlds of our vision.”  Carlos Casaneda

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FINDING FALL COLORS

img_3129If I needed a reason to go on a Nature Trek to find some fall colors to rejuvenate my soul, I had one.  I am not teaching online this fall so did not need high speed secure access to the internet, which is not always feasible from hotel rooms.  And I would not have to be grading way too many essays, so could devote my time to the solitude and contemplation found in Nature.  So why not go on a road trip?  Besides, I had a new dash cam to play with, trying to capture some videos of the great roads I planned to travel.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

This little road trip took me on a loop from Bakersfield to Bishop to Reno to Redding to Fresno and then back to Bishop and home.  The Lassen Volcanic National Park that was on the route was closed already for winter travel, so I only saw about 10 miles of it—I will have to try visiting there again sometime.  I also was grounded for a day due to a steady all-day downpour.  The sky was all dark grey clouds and the mountain roads I would have been on were twisty and steep, so I opted not to press my luck.

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Tioga Pass, Yosemite

Tioga Pass, Yosemite

On the whole, the trip was a great success!  Most of what I saw were lots and lots of pine trees, given the elevations I was traveling.  But some splotches of fall colors stood out to brighten the drives.  I even traveled across the Tioga Pass in Yosemite again, even though I figured there would not be much fall color.  It offered some dramatic views that I will share in a later post.  The rain that punctuated several days of my trip did not diminish the glorious wonders of the drive either.  I like driving in the rain, especially when the rain is so needed in California to fight against the five-year drought.

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The first stretch of fall colors popped up along California Highway 395 outside of Bishop, California, as captured by my dash cam.  I’m having fun learning to make use of this new little toy.  Light and shadows really are evident in the video, but it captures the colors rushing past.

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I’ve visited Yosemite National Park in the fall before, so I knew there would be some impressive color to appreciate.  This time, the colors came through even on a rainy day.


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I’m not sure if this little video caught the leaves falling steadily from the trees as a breeze swept through the area, but it was a great little show.

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QUOTES ABOUT AUTUMN’S BEAUTY  & WONDER

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”    L. M. Montgomery

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”    Albert Camus

“Fall has always been my favorite season.  The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.”    Lauren DeStefano

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.   Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.  Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.  Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”   Yoko Ono

“Autumn is the hardest season.  The leave are all falling, and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground.”   Andrea Gibson

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”   John Donne

“Autumn. . . the year’s last, loveliest smile.”   William Cullen Bryant

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”   Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”   Jim Bishop

“There is something incredibly nostalgic and significant about the autumnal cascade of autumn leaves.”   Joe L. Wheeler

“And I rose in rainy autumn and walked abroad in a shower of all my days. . . .”   Dylan Thomas

“Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”   George Eliot

“I saw old Autumn in the misty morn stand shadowless like silence, listening to silence.”   Thomas Hood

“Autumn burned brightly,  a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.”   Faith Baldwin

“Autumn is the season of change.”   Taoist Proverb

WHERE DO YOU GO TO SEE THE BEAUTY OF AUTUMN ALL AROUND?

NATIONAL PUNCTUATION DAY

Today is National Punctuation Day, founded twelve years ago by Jeff Rubin.  The intent of this holiday is to encourage the appreciation of correct punctuation.  I know, that does not sound very thrilling.  In fact, many people think that those of us who actually enjoy correct punctuation are rather odd—and perhaps even annoying if we point out errors wherever we happen to see them.  Yes, I said “us.”  As an English teacher, I have always been one to celebrate all punctuation, used correctly of course!

punct-marks-2My favorite piece of punctuation is the lowly comma.  It is used more than other punctuation marks.  Unfortunately, that means commas are often misused, dropped in where they are not needed.  I also cringe when I see exclamation points overused or semicolons put on the page only as part of emoticons.  Apostrophes are probably the most misused, so maybe should be abolished.  However, until they are as part of the natural evolution of language, there are still rules to follow.

eats-shoots-and-leavesCorrect punctuation, however, is more about clarity of meaning than about following rules.  In fact, punctuation marks were developed over hundreds of years to avoid confusion in printed documents.  Lynne Truss’s delightful little book Eats, Shoots & Leaves presents some great examples about the necessity of correct punctuation, the need for sticklers to protect our use of language, and how incorrect punctuation can distort meaning.  (For a fuller review of her fun little tome, see my earlier post.)

Listed below is my favorite example of how punctuation dictates meaning. Truss shared it in her book, but it has been shared in many other places.  Even though you may have seen this example before, it is worth repeating.  Which man would you want in your life or in the life of someone you know?

LETTER ONE:

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours? Gloria

LETTER TWO: 

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Gloria

How are you celebrating this wondrous holiday?

Memorizing punctuation rules?  Proofreading a document?  Looking for examples of outrageous errors in commercials and store windows?  I might suggest mastering Victor Borge’s “Phonetic Punctuation.”  It can be quite fun as the video clip with Borge and Dean Martin demonstrates.  Of course, you could figure out some sort of drinking game as well—take a swig any time your conversation requires a comma or maybe an apostrophe.  Two drinks if used correctly?  Whatever your plans, have fun!

Star Trek Logo, Stock Photo

Star Trek Logo, Stock Photo

I was eleven years old when the first episode of Star Trek was aired in September 1966.  In a review of the first show, Bill Ornstein concluded with the line, “Should be a winner.”  For me, he was right—the show was an immediate favorite.  I especially liked Spock!  At the time, I would not have been able to offer any sort of critique about the quality of the show.  I was eleven—I just liked it.  I also liked The Monkees, which first aired three days later, and Super Chicken, a cartoon which started airing the next year.

Now, Star Trek is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and I am a senior citizen. I still love the show, realizing that some of my enjoyment stems from the kid who is still inside me watching for the first time so long ago.  But with hindsight, I can also better articulate why the show has stayed so popular for so long and through so many iterations.

Star Trek Insignia, Stock Photo

Star Trek Insignia, Stock Photo

First, Star Trek offers a hopeful view of the future.  Gene Roddenberry created the show and set it in the future, about the year 2260.  By then, the countries of Earth had stopped warring and had actually banded together with other worlds to form the United Federation of Planets.  The Enterprise was on a mission of adventure and exploration.  As the show’s opening noted:  “Space: the final frontier.  These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”  In addition, it became clear, that the crew were bound by the Prime Directive, an insistence to not interfere with the internal workings of the worlds the crew encountered.  In some episodes, it was harder to follow the Prime Directive than in others.

Oh, to be sure, it was not a perfect world out there among the stars.  The world of Star Trek was still very white-and male-dominated, even heading to places where “no man” had gone before. [The opening couldn’t say “no one”?]  And it seemed to be that in many episodes, Captain Kirk was always flirting with or falling for some woman or another. Still, the crew itself was pretty diverse: human and alien, male and female, and a range of hues (black, white, yellow, even a green alien in one episode).  There was even a Russian, which admittedly was a bigger deal in the 1960s than today.  The women were there, but tended to serve in secondary roles (nurse, yeoman) and were stuck wearing short, short skirts rather than the pants that the guys got to wear.  But Lieutenant Uhura served as the communications officer, and even though her role could be dismissed as basically a secretary, without Uhura things would just not get done!

Second, Star Trek takes its viewers on a wondrous adventure each week that emphasized a clear moral message.  This level of storytelling was reminiscent of the good old westerns that were part of Roddenberry’s writing background.  The captain is not really the sheriff, but he does lead his posse into adventures each week, helping the underdog and righting the wrongs that surface along the way.  For viewers, it was always heartening to see not just that the good guys won, but that the moral, ethical option was what was followed. From Roddenberry’s view, he was writing morality plays set in the stars.

Kirk & Spock, from The Star Trek Compendium Cover

Kirk & Spock, from The Star Trek Compendium Cover

Thus, doing the right thing became a cornerstone of many episodes, demanding some social commentary to surface through the plot twists.  It was often easier to accept the social criticism being offered because the behaviors—although familiar and very human—were exhibited on alien worlds. Whatever the conflict, the nature of the main characters allowed issues to be explored through both an emotional as well as a logical lens.  Spock—of course—brought the persistent logical take on any situation, but that was tempered by Kirk’s impulsive need for action and McCoy’s emotional but more reasoned humane take on things.  It was worried that network executives would eliminate these moral lessons, but somehow they did not seem to notice them; some speculation is that they just did not expect them since they thought the show was basically for kids.

Kirk & Uhura Kiss, Stock Photo

Kirk & Uhura Kiss, Stock Photo

Tackling these contemporary moral problems is a good part of what helped Star Trek rise above some of the other sci-fi fare at the time, like Lost in Space.  That the issues would never really be resolved also led to the show’s ongoing popularity through syndication and new shows.  Some of the topics addressed in the original series include global war, both its futility, nuclear proliferation and war protesters, as well as slavery, prejudice and the environment.  Other shows explored more general historic, spiritual, literary and patriotic themes.  In one episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren,” a brief interracial kiss was almost eliminated from the footage by the show’s censors. But some behind the scenes maneuvering kept it in place; because of that kiss, many stations and markets refused to broadcast the episode.  These moral and ethical issues attracted part of what network research eventually called its “quality audience” because they represented “upper-class” and “well-educated” viewers.  It was not just eleven year olds watching the show—then as well as now.

The Original Crew, The Star Trek Compendium Cover

The Original Crew, The Star Trek Compendium Cover

Third, one of the best things about Star Trek was the characters. The main characters—although adjusted a bit from the first episodes—were set by the second season:  Captain James T. Kirk, the half Vulcan/half Human Mr. Spock, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and Montgomery Scott were the main officers.  Then, the secondary characters were Nyota Uhura, Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov, and Christine Chapel.  All the characters worked together to solve whatever problems surfaced and often added humor to their exchanges.  Also, every week one could count on the good-natured jabs between Bones and Spock as well as Kirk and McCoy’s frequent comments on Spock’s ever present logic.  Of course, whenever some unnamed new character showed up—often in a red shirt—he quickly became the crew member who was killed off before the end of the hour.  Such mishaps were part of the danger of traveling in space, after all.

Overall, Star Trek’s main and secondary characters were likeable and worked well together—and that chemistry helped make the show work week after week.  The crew members were obviously friends, exhibiting the loyalty and concern one would expect from such relationships.  And viewers got to know them pretty well too.  Each season, episodes would focus a bit more on the characters, letting their individuality shine through a bit.   It was fun to see Sulu’s expertise with a sword, to note Nurse Chapel’s crush on Spock, to hear Chekov brag about Russian accomplishments, to enjoy Uhura’s singing especially when she brought Tribbles on board, and to worry about Scotty being convicted of a murder the viewers just knew he did not commit.

Spock's Vulcan Hand Gesture, Stock Photo

Spock’s Vulcan Hand Gesture, Stock Photo

My favorite character was Spock. Like Nurse Chapel—and many other viewers—I had a crush on him.  I loved the episodes that focused on his past, introducing his parents and fiancé, for example. These plots often provoked him to emotional outbursts that he so worked against.  As his character often said, “Fascinating.”   It was in “Amok Time” that viewers first saw the Vulcan hand gesture that became an iconic greeting for the show along with the oft-repeated phrase, “Live long and prosper.”

Finally, in a review of Star Trek, its gadgets and special effects must be addressed.  Were the special effects spectacular?  No, not by any means.  But they did their job and created other worlds and a range of aliens who populated those worlds.  The viewers were able to travel into the stars and believe they were no longer on Earth each week.  Part of that believability came from the various aliens that appeared, often in non-human form.  One alien was simply a cloud of lights (“The Metamorphosis”) while another looked like a big rock (“Devil in the Dark”). That the rock could eat through walls and kill off miners made it very threatening, no matter what it looked like.  Other aliens were not seen, but their weapons proved formidable, such as a planet eater (“The Doomsday Machine”) or a destructive energy web (“The Tholian Web”).  Time travel was also a possibility in the future as seen in such episodes as “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “Assignment: Earth,” and “All Our Yesterdays.”

The everyday world of life on the Starship Enterprise also helped place the series firmly in the future.  For one thing, Spock was an alien in more ways than his pointy ears, green blood, and penchant for logic.  His best two abilities were the Vulcan Mind Meld that lets him read the minds of those he connects with and the Vulcan Nerve Pinch that lets him knock out just about any adversary with a simple touch. I would guess that those abilities were generated as plot devices that helped move the action along, but they were fun and unique anyway.

The Communicator, from The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The Communicator, from The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The transporter was also a fun but practical mode of travel that made the action work—and viewers were willing to accept its abilities. But it also could malfunction, creating problems for the crew.  In “The Enemy Within,” Kirk is split in half, becoming a good but weak Kirk and a bad but strong Kirk as well.  One of my favorite episodes is “Mirror, Mirror,” where a transporter malfunction replaces members of the away team with their evil counter-parts from another Enterprise in another dimension.  No matter how far fetched the stories sound, they were fully believable in the Star Trek world.  In 1966, talking to computers and having them talk back was very futuristic.  It was also not realistic to talk via a communicator, a small device that could be flipped open to talk to others far, far away. At the time, these unusual details helped sell the world as the future.   The ship itself was impressive, growing in size and technical capability through each new television series.

The Enterprise over the Years, from The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The Enterprise over the Years, from The Star Trek Encyclopedia

Even amidst this praise for the original Star Trek series, its initial history is not that unusual or impressive.  Its numbers were not that great, so it was in jeopardy of being cancelled by the end of the second season.  Fans wrote in and saved the show!  But the third season was still rocky as its time slot was moved to Friday night and its weekly budget was drastically cut, undermining special effects and plot development.  By the end of season three, the series was over, even though fans once again tried to save it through a letter-writing campaign.  It is through syndication that Star Trek became the icon it is today.  It started in syndication during its first season, an unusual occurrence fostered by some executive’s notion that it would be good counter programming to other shows on other networks.  Thus when the series was over, all three seasons (79 episodes) went into syndication, even though the norm was to not syndicate anything that had fewer than four seasons’ worth of shows to offer.

Original Crew & Ship, from Original Movies CD Set Packaging

Original Crew & Ship, from Original Movies CD Set Packaging

The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The Star Trek Encyclopedia

The Star Trek Compendium

The Star Trek Compendium

More and more fans found the show via syndication in the early 1970s, and it is that popularity that has kept Star Trek going for the past 50 years.  It has generated films, spin-off television shows, and some fun parodies.  There is even an animated series narrated by most of the original cast members.  Many books have also been written to continue the stories as well as to document the various iterations of this terrific series. As a fan, I must admit that I own all the movies, the animated series, and a couple books about the franchise.  There is even a Tribble living in my back bedroom!  Being a member of Amazon Prime, I can watch any of the television show episodes whenever I want—and I do!  “Trouble with Tribbles” is still one of my favorites, as well as its counterpart “Tribble Infestation” in the animated series and “Trials and Tribble-ations” in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.   

The Animated Crew from The Star Trek Compendium: Scott, Kirk, Spock & McCoy

The Animated Crew from The Star Trek Compendium: Scott, Kirk, Spock & McCoy

As the movies and new series of Star Trek were developed, they maintained the core ingredients that made the show popular.  The characters were strong, and the ensemble casts worked well together. The viewers liked the characters and their unique quirks.  With each iteration, there were also new aliens who populated the show, including more in depth treatments of Klingons, Vulcans, Ferengi, and even the Borg. Of course, in every species, there seemed to be a core of humanity that the viewers could relate to, even the Borg’s 7 of 9 and Hugh as well as the android Data, who wanted nothing more than to master being human.

Crew & Ship from Next Generations Movie CD Set Packaging

Crew & Ship from Next Generations Movie CD Set Packaging

No matter which series or film, the focus was on adventure and exploration, on the wonder of the future.  Of course, each series addressed a little different focus as it developed its niche within the franchise.  The Next Generation was the most like the original series with a strong captain and weekly adventures. The android Data became the new Mr. Spock, offering vast knowledge and insistent logic whenever needed.  Deep Space Nine was the most military of the shows, as it basically protected a fort in space.  Voyager had the distinction of having a female captain and for really exploring new places, since the ship was lost far from home.  Enterprise explored the first flights of the crew, allowing the viewers to be hesitant about using the first transporter and figuring out how to interact with alien species.  The newest movies retell the early adventures of the original crew, but they are set in a different timeline, so the stories follow different paths, even while maintaining some core details.

The moral lessons were also retained as the new shows and movies kept the focus on doing the right thing. Some of the issues that continued to be explored included war in various iterations, including treatment of veterans on their return from battle, the impact of technology on the environment, the displacement of native peoples, profits off of drug addiction, homosexuality, euthanasia, the treatment of the elderly, slavery and rights of the individual, even artificial intelligence.  Through all the versions, the core stayed the same, and the fans stayed engaged.

Here is a list of the television series and the full length films that are the ongoing legacy of Star Trek. 

Animated Series CD Packaging

Animated Series CD Packaging

THE TELEVISION SERIES

Star Trek, the original series, 1966-1969

The Animated Series, 1973-1974

The Next Generation, 1987-1994

Deep Space Nine, 1993-1999

Voyager, 1995-2001

Enterprise, 2001-2005

Discovery, starting in 2017

 

THE MOVIES

The Motion Picture, 1979

The Wrath of Khan, 1982

The Search for Spock, 1984

The Voyage Home, 1986

The Final Frontier, 1989

The Undiscovered Country, 1991

Generations, 1994

First Contact, 1996

Insurrection, 1998

Nemesis, 2002

New Star Trek Movie with the Altered Timeline

New Star Trek Movie with the Altered Timeline

Star Trek, 2009

Into Darkness, 2013

Beyond, 2016

If you have never watched any of the Star Trek shows, I would suggest that you pick one or two to watch as part the Star Trek 50th Anniversary Celebration.  Any episode from the original television series would be good starting point.  You could start with the first episode that was aired called “The Man Trap.”  My favorite is still “Trouble with Tribbles.”  It is really fun!  Although it is not one of my favorites, “The City on the Edge of Forever” is one of the most popular episodes of the original series. I would suggest you avoid the first and the fifth movies—they really are not the best options! Of the movies developed from the second series (numbers 7 through 10), I would suggest First Contact. You could watch “The Metamorphosis” from the original series as a primer for the movie since both have the character Zefram Cochrane, the first human to reach warp speed.

If you have time for a double-feature, you could watch the episode “Space Seed” that was the foundation for the second movie, The Wrath of Khan; these are good examples of the franchise’s hallmark of strong characters and social commentary.  The story rests on the idea of eugenics—creating a master race to rule the world.  Or you could just randomly pick any of the original episodes to watch to get a flavor of the characters and then watch the great parody Galaxy Quest. Movies 2, 3 and 4 star the original crew and work together as a trilogy bringing a long story line to completion.  I also like the episodes in the later television series that include characters from the original series.  “Relics” is from Star Trek: The Next Generation; it features Scotty and his great engineering abilities.  Spock is central to the two-part episode of The Next Generation called “Unification.”

Even if you have never watched the shows, I would bet that you know some of the names from the series like the Enterprise, Captain Kirk, Vulcans, and Mr. Spock.  I even expect you have heard—or maybe said—“Beam me up, Scotty” and “Live long and prosper” from the original series or “Resistance is futile” from The Next Generation.  For me, the idea of a transporter is something I wish were a reality that I could make easy use of when moving or traveling.  I also would love to own a holodeck, the extreme virtual reality chamber introduced in The Next Generation.  These bits and pieces of the Star Trek shows as well as the characters themselves are becoming part of society’s cultural memory.

Once you become a fan, you can get in on the really important controversies associated with the franchise.  Here are a few of the “issues” about which you would be expected to have an opinion:

Are you a Trekker or a Trekkie?

Is Star Trek better than Star Wars?

Who is the best captain:  Kirk or Picard?

Why are none of the captains ever a bigger part of this question?

Which television series is the best?

Which movies are the best, and which are to be avoided as an embarrassment?

What parts of science are validated or violated by the series and the movies, like time travel?

Do the newer movies with the new time line contribute to or undermine the original series?

Whether you are a fan of the series or not and whether you take it seriously or just enjoy the fun of the adventures, you have to admit that after all these years, Star Trek has become a cultural phenomenon.  Of sure, it is also still a fun little western in the stars that offers adventure and a moral lesson while giving hope of a better future for humanity. The show has been popular for 50 years and will undoubtedly continue to entertain and fascinate fans in the years to come.  After all, the most recent film was released this year and a new television series is in the works for release in 2017.  To learn more about the franchise to date, you might enjoy Star Trek 50 Great Years: A Documentary

Live Long and Prosper!

A PARTING GIFT:  This is my favorite parody of Star Trek.  It aired on The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978), another of my favorite shows from when I was a kid.  Enjoy.

Yellowstone National Park was the first national park, initially established in 1872.

Yellowstone National Park was the first national park, initially established in 1872.

logo jpgToday is the 100th birthday for the National Park Service.  It was President Woodrow Wilson who signed the mandate creating the agency on 25 August 1916.  Since then, its charge has remained the same: protect designated land for its beauty and wildlife as well as its historical significance for the enjoyment of future generations.  That goal expanded to include assuring public access to these protected areas.

That assurance of public access is what makes the National Parks the best gift ever.  Not only can visitors enter the areas, but they will find visitor centers, knowledgeable rangers and volunteers, established paths and scenic drives as well as parking and bathroom facilities.  Not all locations are 100% accessible, but most are upgrading their facilities and have at least some hiking options accessible for wheelchairs.  The access is not free, but the entrance fee is minimal, typically $30 for a car to have access for a week.* Annual and lifelong passes are options as well.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Book heacoxWhen you unwrap this gift, you will find a wide variety of places to visit and enjoy.  To see the magnitude of what the national parks oversee, I went to National Geographic’s The National Parks: An Illustrated History (May 2015).  Through photos and essays, the book explains how the National Park Service “represents freedom, adventure, diversity, dedication, respect, and restraint.”  Here is the book’s opening overview, by the numbers:

84,000,000 acres of land

75,000 archaeological sites

18,000 miles of trails

247 endangered plants and animals

407 park properties including

78 national monuments

59 national parks

25 battlefields

10 seashores

27,000 historic and prehistoric structures

20,000 employees

246,000 volunteers

292,800,082 recreational visits in 2014

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

Not everyone is a fan of the national parks, however.  Some visitors even offer some less than stellar Yelp reviews.  According to a few of these reviews, the parks are too crowded, which can happen in the height of the season. The potential of too many other visitors is why I try to visit places in early spring, before summer crowds start showing up.  Other complaints, of course, are just downright silly and say more about the complainer than the national park in question:  too lonely, too expensive, lack of cell service, poor food, no adequate showers, not seeing enough wildlife, but also seeing rattlesnakes OMG.

More specifically, someone felt Yellowstone National Park smelled too much like sulfur, which—of course—is a bi-product of the thermal features that make the place unique.  And one person advises to be careful when visiting that big hole in the ground, the Grand Canyon, because it is a long fall to the bottom: “Do not hover about the Canyon whilst drunk.  You will fall over the edge and you will die.”  I think my favorite comment was posted about South Dakota’s Badlands National Park:  “Waste of time.  Thank god I was drunk in the backseat for the majority of the trip.” 

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

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IMG_2769I have had the good fortune of visiting many but not enough national parks as I wander on my nature treks, typically in the spring each year.  My most recent visits were to Yellowstone National Park, where I was able to see bison up close and personal, and Saguaro National Park, where I finally saw saguaro cacti in bloom. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the nation, with nearly 10.1 million recreational visits in 2014.   The Golden Gate National Recreation Area was the most visited property with 15 million visitors in 2014.  Utah offers many parks from which to choose, including Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Zion National Parks.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

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Winter at the Grand Canyon

Winter at the Grand Canyon

Two of my favorite destinations are Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon.  They feel the same to me in their majestic and beautiful vistas that encourage quiet contemplation and spiritual connections.  But they are different in mood, I suppose.  The grays and blues of Yosemite are cool and calm, punctuated by the power of waterfalls.  The red and brown hues of the Grand Canyon are warm and soothing, inviting one to sit and enjoy the view of the often muddy Colorado River far below. If you sit quietly at either location, you are apt to see some wildlife as well.

Spring at Yosemite

Spring at Yosemite

Squirrel Enjoying the View

Squirrel Enjoying the View

Running Off with Lots of Nuts! Grand Canyon

Running Off with Lots of Nuts! Grand Canyon

Yosemite Cloud's Rest, Hazy Day

Yosemite Cloud’s Rest, Hazy Day

Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls

Book shiveWhen you visit, wherever you visit, I am certain you will be delighted.  There are three great books that provide magnificent photos and details about the national parks and monuments.  The books themselves became my souvenirs this year to mark the National Parks’ 100th Birthday.

Here are the book titles—they do make great gifts:

The National Parks: An American Legacy (2105) with photographs by Ian Shive.

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea An Illustrated History (2009) by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns.

Book Burns

National Geographic’s The National Parks: An Illustrated History 100 Years of American Splendor (2015) by Kim Heacox (mentioned above).

Of course, it is the visit to any of the parks that is the real gift.  I encourage you to accept the present and get out there visiting a park or monument near you soon!  It will be a gift that keeps on giving!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE NATIONAL PARK? 

WHAT PARK ARE YOU HOPING TO VISIT NEXT?

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*For price comparisons:  Entry fees to Disneyland are $110 per adult per day; San Diego Zoo, $50 per adult per day, and Los Angeles Zoo, $20 per adult per day.  National Parks are certainly a great value!

Me ReadingI have always loved reading, even when I was a kid. 

But if you need an excuse to read a book, this is it:  Today is National Book Lover’s Day! 

Still—it seems to me—every day should be considered National Book Lover’s Day.  Books are the best gifts and the best friends in the world.  They open doors to adventure, people and ideas.  They build bridges and create communities.  Books inspire awe and wonder, outrage and determination, insight and understanding.  They teach lessons, build awareness, spark imagination, and present possibilities.  They can awaken readers to love and prejudice, commitment and injustice, degradation and renewal—and the courage to make a difference.

One of the best things about being retired is I can spend so many hours reading, without the worry of having to attend an early meeting after a sleepless night, just because I could not stop turning pages!  I always have books going, usually one at a time, but sometimes with several open wherever I sit and relax.  One of the best things about owning a kindle is that I can bring a decent library with me wherever I go.  Getting stuck in traffic as lanes are cleared of an accident’s aftermath or waiting much too long for the doctor to get back from an emergency is not so bad, if I can read.

ladies 16My fall back for fun reading is a good murder mystery.  If a dog or animal is part of the plot, even better.  I do have favorite authors who I wish would publish new books more often:  Tony Hillerman and now his daughter Anne Hillerman, Barbara Kingsolver, and Alexander McCall Smith come to mind.  A favorite I have only recently discovered is Stan Jones, who brings life in small town Alaska to life.

Robert bookJust recently I finished a novel by a cousinit is so cool to know actual authors! His novel turns the fear and hatred from current headlines into a war novel about a terrorist invasion in America in 2016.  I posted my review of his book—Robert Owens’ America’s Trojan War—on Amazon, if you want to take a look.  Yesterday, I reread The Little Prince to be filled again with the love and hope that silencecomes from being tamed as well as the appreciation of flowers and foxes and little travelers that only someone who never truly grows up can understand.  Several books ae coming up next on my to-read list:  Joyce Carol Oates’ In Rough Country: Essays and Reviews; Louise Erdrich’s The Game of Silence; Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, and Carl Safina’s Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. 

terribleWhenever someone asks me for reading suggestions, I mention my favorites.  But, of course, no one can go wrong with the classics from Shakespeare animaliato Angelou, Faulker to Morrison.  And there is not much better than Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find.  More recent authors you might like are J.K. Rowlings for her Harry Potter series, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, or any title by Sherman Alexie.   For kids, anything by Dr. Seuss is always fun as are Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth and Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Even Graeme Base’s picture book Animalia is a great place to start.  The title does not really matter.  If it captures your fancy, it is worth the effort.

The point is to read!

Personally, I would love to hear what you have been reading, so I can add more titles to my neverending list of books-to-read-next.  There’s another fun book, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.

SOME QUOTES ABOUT THE LOVE OF READING

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Dr. Seuss always offers good advice:

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“To be allowed, no, invited into the private lives of strangers, and to share their joys and fears, was a chance to exchange the Southern bitter wormwood for a cup of mead with Beowulf or a hot cup of tea and milk with Oliver Twist.”  Maya Angelou

“Oh, how scary and wonderful it is that words can change our lives simply by being next to each other.”   Kamand Kojouri

“Free time is a terrible thing to waste.  Read a book.”  E. A. Bucchianeri

“With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates.  It is the most democratic of institutions because no one—but no one at all—can tell you what to read and when and how.”  Doris Lessing

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road.  They are the destination, and the journey.  They are home.”  Anna Quindlen

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”  Ernest Hemingway

“She reads books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”  Annie Dillard

“The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.”  Dylan Thomas

“Some women have a weakness for shoes.  I can go barefoot if necessary.  I have a weakness for books.”  Oprah Winfrey

“You can find magic wherever you look.  Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.”  Dr. Seuss

“If you want your child to be intelligent, read them fairytales.  If you want your child to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales.”  Albert Einstein

“You will be transformed by what you read.”  Deepak Chopra

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.”  Marcel Proust

“We shouldn’t teach great books.  We should teach a love of reading.”  B. F. Skinner

“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  C. S. Lewis

“This is part of the beauty of literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”  Lemony Snicket

“From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot in front of the other.  But when books are opened, you discover you have wings.”  Helen Hayes

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”   Confucious

“There are many ways to enlarge your child’s world.  Love of books is the best of all.”  Jacqueline Kennedy

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books.  But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”  J. K. Rowling

“Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.”  Kathleen Norris

“To learn to read is to light a fire.”  Victor Hugo

“The book to read is not one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.”  Harper Lee

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.”  Garrison Keillor

“All I have learned, I learned from books.”  Abraham Lincoln

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”  Cicero

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”  Mark Twain

Some last words from Dr. Seuss:

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IMG_2947For three weeks in May 2016, I was on the road, enjoying my annual Nature Trek.  This year my major destinations included Yellowstone National Park; Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky District; and Saguaro National Park.  I traveled 4,548 miles and stopped to play in five states:  Nevada, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona.   The drives were glorious, filled with wonderful wildflowers, ever-changing clouds, and speed limits often posted at 70 to 80 mph.    And there were no mishaps:  no accidents, no tickets, no problems with the rooms, not even any rude or ugly encounters with fellow travelers.

I will eventually post some blogs about my major destinations, but the day-to-day travels were fun as well.  For one thing, gas was pretty cheap, especially in comparison to California prices that always include high local taxes and fees.  But mostly, the trip was punctuated with quirky roadside attractions and out-and-out surprises.

It is the fun of driving:  Seeing the unexpected!

IMG_9800Have you ever been to Baker, California, to see the World’s Largest Thermometer? It was initially built in 1990 by Willis Herron and then—after it was not working for several years—it was working again in October 2104, thanks to Herron’s daughter.  It stands 134 feet tall.   I get a kick out of it every time I pass en route to Vegas.  On this hot day, the thermometer recorded that it was a scorching 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

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IMG_0398When I think of Utah, my mind always envisions the brilliant red cliffs and canyons of so many of its national parks.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised to detour through Provo Canyon when I was driving from St. George to Salt Lake City.  Highway 189 North weaves its way through this cool, green, winding canyon, following the Provo River and passing at least nine local parks.  I also took the detour up to the Sundance Resort where snow and aspens dotted the route.  It was a glorious scenic detour!

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IMG_0513I was traveling in May and heading at various times into mountains.  I was expecting to see remnants of winter’s snow at some of the higher elevations.  I was staying several nights in Bozeman, Montana, which sits at an elevation of 4,820 feet.  As I was driving in late in my first day there, the clouds were getting darker and darker.  A storm was obviously on its way.  I had already seen rain the day before, but—still—I was not expecting snow.  It was great.

IMG_0535In fact, this odd spring storm continued all of the next day.  Downed trees knocked out a transformer, cutting electric for about 4,000 people—including those of us at my hotel!  While snow accumulation was only several inches in town, several feet of snow accumulated in the mountains.  Although it did not stick around very long, the snow-covered mountains were pretty the next day.

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IMG_1104mom with lilacsBozeman was the location for another delightful surprise on this year’s trip:  Lilacs.  Bozeman was my hotel anchor for several days as I explored Yellowstone National Park.  Every day, I drove several miles through town.  Those few miles contained literally hundreds of lilac bushes!  I counted.  They were everywhere:  outside the hotel, a row along a farm house, several bushes here and there by every other business.  I love lilacs in great part because my mom loved lilacs.  She would have loved this place.

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IMG_2277Have you even visited Moab, Utah?  It is a great little town, located just outside two national parks:  Arches National Park and Canyonlands, Island in the Sky District.  There is a myriad of outdoor recreational activities to enjoy in the area.  When you visit here, you do not have to be scared about anything bad happening along the road.  Moab seems to have its own security patrol.

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Have you ever driven south from Moab, Utah, on U.S. Highway 191 South, heading to Kayenta, Arizona?  Me neither.  I love Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park—it is one of my favorite destinations.  However, every time I have visited, I have accessed the park by driving north from Flagstaff through Kayenta, Arizona.  This year—although not stopping to visit Monument Valley—I drove to the area from the north, coming through Bluff and then Medicine Hat, Utah. I was officially traveling on U. S. Highway 191 S and then U.S. Highway 163 S. The route covers about 70 miles between Bluff and Kayenta, which is just south of Monument Valley.

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IMG_2313Oh my goodness!  That stretch of road is absolutely stupendous.  It stretches straight through open fields for mile after mile.  The clouds and flowers on this spring drive were spectacular.  The best parts, however, were the twists and turns and dips that sprang up occasionally as the road passed through various canyons.  At times, it felt like I could have reached out to touch the rock walls reaching up along the side of the road.  And then the open vistas would return again.  The view of Monument Valley as its iconic rocks and buttes rose in the distance was mesmerizing.  I have to drive this road again!

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IMG_2366DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE SURPRISES FROM YOUR TRAVELS?

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A FEW QUOTES ABOUT SURPRISE

“Each day holds a surprise.  But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us.  Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise. Whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy, it will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”   Henri Nouwen

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.  It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”   Ashley Montagu

“Life is the greatest gift which life can grant us.”   Boris Pasternak

“Searching is half the fun:  life is much more manageable as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party.”   Jimmy Buffett

“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.”   Ellen Burstyn

“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.”   Marcus Aurelius

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.  No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”   Robert Frost

“Life is a celebration of awakenings, of new beginnings, and wonderful surprises that enlighten the soul.”  Cielo

“A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise.  Because that is how life is—full of surprises.”   Isaac Bashevis Singer

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