Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Poem: Maurice's Campground

Maurice’s Campground
Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia
to see the total eclipse of the sun.
-          “You’re So Vain,” Carly Simon 

Will we ever know who Carly was singing about?
One man? Three? More than three?
It doesn’t really matter, does it. 

What matters is the walk through the dunes
Back from the beach to Maurice’s campground
On that early evening in July 1972. 

How the sun’s light, extinguished in Nova Scotia
But only partially shadowed here on the Cape,
Grew dimmer as false twilight descended. 

How the dune birds stopped singing,
And how the hawk,
Reacting to the approaching darkness, 

Swooped down in the fading light and
Taloned the skittering mouse
Who’d made a fatal mistake. 

What matters is what happened earlier
In the sand with the ocean nearby
When love had its way 

When we were briefly invisible,
Our ardor sheltered by the incessant
Sound of waves crashing on the shore. 

We remember this in the silent half-light
As we walk back to the campground,
As the hawk, rising above the sandy path, 

Its prey firmly grasped,
Levels off,
Flies into the eclipse.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Poem: Lunar Glare

Lunar Glare 

“Lunar glare can wipeout a good meteor shower,
but that won't be the case this time.” 

He stares through the windshield
of theVW bug, his arm around her shoulder,
her face crushed against his damp collar and neck.
As twilight advances, on the horizon
the crescent moon cradles Venus, Mars and Saturn,
lit gleaming by the vanished sun.

Later the Perseid Meteor Shower
will flit across the sky and it will seem
as if the earth is rising, and with that motion
she’ll lift her head and tears will gleam
against her cheek reflecting the dolphins
dancing atop the moonlit waves. Only then
will she understand the meaning
of the ocean’s rhythms, the certainty
of her far off death, her place
among the distant stars
gathering in her eyes.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Poem: Oats Peak Trail

Oats Peak Trail 

Fog, like a wall of soft gray cotton,
hangs just off the coast.  Wind torn scraps
vanish as they drift toward the inland heat. 

Climbing Oats Peak trail
I slowly rise above the fog, coast, ocean,
switchback through sage and scrub oak, 

coyote scat and shale beneath my hot feet.
Lizards skitter into the brush,
red tails glide and hover on the thermals. 

Alone on the trail, in one hour
I reach the thirteen-hundred foot peak
just as another lone pilgrim appears 

from his Coon Creek approach.
He’s gone now and I sit
on a weathered bench, 

only my thoughts, pen and notebook
to keep me company, blue sky,
wild nature, the distant ocean’s quiet roar.

Montana de Oro

This is an essay I wrote after an autumn 2011 hike. See accompanying poem, "Oats Peak Trail." I will further edit and submit for publication one of these days.

Montana de Oro
            I first discovered Montana de Oro State Park in the fall of 1979, a couple of months after I moved to San Luis Obispo from Ft. Collins, Colorado.  After finding a place to live and a job working at the old Sebastian’s restaurant near the Mission, I started to explore the beautiful Central Coast. A friend told me that Montana de Oro was a must see, one of the area’s natural wonders.
            I drove west along Los Osos Valley Road not really knowing what to expect. The Irish Hills to the south were promising, and I knew the park was right next to the ocean, so I hoped for some good views.  Much more than I expected awaited me.
            My first stop after turning south and climbing the hill out of Los Osos was the pullout to the right just past the park entrance. Even from this relatively low elevation I was stunned by what I saw: the astonishing curve of land to the north that included Los Osos; Baywood Park and the Back Bay; Morro Bay and Morro Rock; the coastal mountains sweeping out to Cambria, San Simeon and Big Sur. In front of me the dunes sloping down to the sand spit that stretched all the way to the break water and south to Hazard Canyon; rows of white crested waves rolling in from across the Pacific; the vast expanse of ocean extending west to a distant blue horizon.
            That first day I walked the beach and even braved the freezing cold water for a swim. I explored Spooner’s Cove and the mouth of Islay Creek. I walked the bluffs and marveled at the blow hole on one of the finger-like inlets that reached in from the ocean. I sat on the beach of the little cove that harbored many seals and otters. I watched squadrons of pelicans skimming the bluffs and laughed at their gracefully awkward plunges into the waves. It was World Series time, and for some reason they reminded me of the “We are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates ungainly submarining reliever, Kent Tekulve. Overhead, red tail hawks searched the chaparral for mice, squirrels and rabbits. I was blown away but what I saw that day.  If I needed any further convincing that I’d moved to the right place, seeing Montana de Oro did it.
            Over the last thirty-two years Montana de Oro has been a regular playground for my family and me.  I watched my young children windmill down the dunes, spend hours exploring the tide pools at Hazard Canyon, and, later, surf sand spit, south jetty and Hazard’s. I watched them crawl through the caves and over the rocks at Spooner’s Cove or build dams and skip rocks across Islay Creek. My wife and I have many times walked the bluff trail and enjoyed the spring wildflowers. When running became a big part of our family experience, my sons and I would run the long bluffs/Coon Creek out- and- back trail, starting and finishing at the parking area above Spooner’s Cove.
            Lately, having retired from my career in education, I’ve started to hike the trails that lead to the park’s many peaks. I’d hiked to the top of Valencia Peak a few times, but never to Hazard or Oats Peak, both of which I’ve recently climbed. Hazard Peak is on the Ridge Trail which starts right next to the road a quarter mile from the Spooner’s Cove campground. It’s a relatively easy 4.6 mile up and back hike with a 1000’ elevation gain to a 1076’ summit. At the top the hiker’s reward is a view that includes everything along the coast from Point Buchon to Point Estero. It’s a great introduction to the inland wonders of Montana de Oro.
            On an early November Tuesday I decided I would hike the complete Ridge Trail-Barranca Trail-Islay Creek Loop that would include Hazard Summit, an eight mile round trip.  However, when I reached the trail head I found that the Islay Creek Trail was closed for a seismic survey, so I had to regroup. I checked my copy of Robert Stone’s Day Hikes Around San Luis Obispo and decided to try Oats Peak instead.
            I parked near the park Visitor’s Center and started on the Oats Peak Trail at 10:30.  It was a gorgeous day, with a light wall of fog hanging just off the coast. The trail is just to the right of the road leading to campsites, and I was quickly climbing above the fog, the campground and Spooner’s Cove with the inland side of Valencia Peak ahead of me and to my right. At 1373’, Oats is actually taller than Valencia by 26’, with a total elevation gain of 1300’.
            On my way to the peak I traveled through chaparral and open meadows with views of Valencia, the Coon Creek drainage and the Irish Hills backcountry.  I hiked for an hour, stopping to take pictures along the way, meeting no one, but noting the frequency of coyote scat along the trail, the lizards skittering into the brush and the red tails gliding and hovering above me.
            It may be a stretch to call the Montana de Oro wilderness, but alone on the trail I felt completely removed from the busier life of folks in the close-by towns to the north and east.  The only sound was the muffled roar of the ocean and the occasional passing airplane.  With each step I experienced the increasing lightness and joy that accompanies good exercise on a splendid day.
            At the top I ate an apple and a granola bar, wrote a poem in my notebook and enjoyed the beautiful view. Coincidentally, another solo hiker reached the top from the Coon Creek trail at the same time I arrived from the other direction. We said a brief hello, but each of us was lost in his own thoughts and didn’t pursue a lengthy conversation. He left within minutes and I was alone again.
            I consulted my trail book and decided to hike down to the Coon Creek trail and follow it to the intersection of the Rattlesnake Flats trail which would take me back to the coast and eventually to my car. I estimated that it would be roughly the same distance I had planned on my original hike. After about 30 minutes on the summit I started down and found that it was steep with a lot of loose rock underfoot.  Conditions improved after a while and I was rewarded for my choice by several lovely oak groves featuring gnarled trunks and branches, cool shade and more photo opportunities.
            About half way to Coon Creek I caught up with the other hiker and we started a conversation that lasted the rest of the hike. Both former teachers and runners, both doing less running and more hiking due to persistent injuries from age-related wear and tear, we found that we had a lot in common, including mutual friends in the area. His truck was parked by the Coon Creek trailhead so I altered my plans, dropping the Rattlesnake Flats trail, and we talked all the way back on the same trail we had run many times when running ten miles on a Sunday morning seemed like a fun and reasonable thing to do.  I checked my watch when we reached his battered pickup truck and was happy to see I’d been out for three hours.
            Not long after my first visit to Montana de Oro, way back in 1979, I had a dream that I was standing on the beach at Hazard Canyon. My back was to the ocean. I was looking back over the curve of the continent and I could see my progress from my childhood home in Philadelphia to my new home on the Central Coast.  I woke up feeling like the dream was a pleasant message that I had moved to the right place and that life, overall, would be good.  Thirty-two years later, after a glorious hike in our local wonderland, it seems there was a lot of truth in that dream.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Article: Soul Men

This article appeared in the February issue of Journal Plus: The Magazine of the Central Coast: www.slojournal.com.

Soul Men
            In a 2006 essay later expanded into a bestselling book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” Matthew Crawford wrote, “Anyone in the market for a good used machine tool should talk to Noel Dempsey, a dealer in Richmond, Virginia. Noel’s bustling warehouse is full of metal lathes, milling machines, and table saws, most of it from schools. It appears shop class is becoming a thing of the past, as educators prepare students to become ‘knowledge workers’.”
            Crawford would be happy to know that shop, better known these days as Industrial Technology (IT), is alive and well at San Luis Obispo High School thanks to the talent, skill and commitment of three exceptional teachers: Jed Bruington, who teaches wood and metal classes; Tim Fay, who teaches drafting, welding and metal classes; and Jeff Lehmkuhl, who teaches auto classes.
            During the second trimester alone students at SLOHS can choose from among the following offerings: Wood I, II/III; Metal I/III; Drafting I/II, Architectural Drafting, Computer Aided Drafting; Welding Technology, Regional Occupational Program (ROP) Welding; Auto I, Auto II and ROP Automotive Chassis and Drive Train Systems.  The classes are immensely popular, with thirty to thirty-five students in all of the introductory classes and twenty to twenty-five or more in the advanced classes.  Clearly shop is not a ‘thing of the past” at SLOHS. In addition to the skill of the teachers, what accounts for the continuing availability and popularity of these classes?
            Bruington, Fay and Lehmkuhl, with a combined forty-six years in public education, shared their thoughts during a recent late-start Monday interview.  All agreed that on a practical level students value the opportunity for hands-on learning experiences allowing them to explore real life career choices and develop skills that can lead to well-paid work immediately after graduating. The technical skills they learn provide a solid foundation for additional education  leading to careers like engineering and architecture that require at least a bachelor’s degree.  They also agreed that the classes teach respect and appreciation for hard work.
            Whether anticipating a future as skilled blue collar or advanced degree workers, students in the IT classes develop a wide range of invaluable skills including planning, designing, diagnosing problems, and problem solving. Creativity also plays a large role, although Lehmkuhl admits there is less pure creativity in his auto classes. Students view their advanced shop classes as the place where they can apply the knowledge they’ve learned in other high school classes, particularly math and science.  Fay remembers how much he valued what he learned in trigonometry as he progressed through the IT classes he took in high school and college.
            Hunter Tasseff is a senior and award winning woodworker. He recently won Best in Show in the Morro Bay Art Contest and has won Best in Show at the Mid State Fair for the last two years. Hunter has taken classes from all of the IT teachers and has applied to Cal Poly in construction management, but also plans to take engineering classes.
            “The IT classes reduce the stress of the competitive academic high school life. They allow for self-expression, creativity and the opportunity to make something beautiful. In auto classes I am helping the people who bring their cars in to be fixed. The stress relief and career exploration keeps a lot of students in school.”
            Students in the IT programs have experienced success in local, state, national and international competitions, and they have earned scholarships to prestigious colleges and IT programs throughout the country. Jesse Castaneda, class of 2010, a state Skills USA champion in drafting who finished 3rd nationally, attends Cooper Union in New York on a full scholarship. Daniel Lehmkuhl, Jeff’s son, was a state and national Skills USA and Ford AAA Troubleshooting champion who has competed in South America and Europe, finishing in the top three both times.    

            Each of the teachers pointed to different challenges they face. Bruington said that while “the school district provides some basic funding for materials and supplies, when divided up by the number of students participating, it falls well short of meeting overall needs.”  He also brought up the difficulty of maintaining up-to-date, state-of-the-art facilities. Fay mentioned the “ongoing fight against the perception that skilled labor is unimportant or not valued in contemporary culture.” Lehmkuhl noted that “students are sometimes put off by how hard they have to work in shop classes,” pointing out that so much is given to young people in our society without having been earned. They all agreed that a common goal is to prepare their students to be positive, confident, productive members of society.
            All three were grateful for support received over the years at the district and site level, and from the community. They talked about the importance of grants available from service organizations like Rotary; the generosity of local businesses like, to name a few, Chicago Bridge and Iron, Seis Pure Gas, Pacific Access, Thoma Electric and Knecht Plumbing; and the internships provided by Villa Automotive, Continental Motor Works and others.  As a result of the combined efforts of the district and the community, they feel as if they have weathered the storm of cutbacks that have affected other districts and feel positive about the future.
            From personal experience I know how many hours Jed, Tim and Jay commit to their work, not just during the week, but on the weekends as well. I spoke to each of their wives, who perhaps have the best perspective on their dedication.
            Dede Bruington, owner of Picking Daisies in The Creamery in downtown San Luis Obispo, said “Jed is amazingly generous with his time. He never puts himself first, loves doing things for others. It makes him happy.” Erin Fay, a teacher at Baywood Elementary School, wrote “Tim is always striving to better his program and help his students learn. He truly cares about his students and loves what he does. He radiates enthusiasm.” Nancy Lehmkuhl, an aide at Sinsheimer School, wrote “I have always been amazed to see Jeff’s care for the kids individually, his passion to teach, and his willingness to guide them to state and national competitons.”
            Later in his essay, Crawford writes, “While manufacturing jobs have certainly left our shores to a disturbing degree, the manual trades have not. If you need a deck built or your car fixed, the Chinese are no help. Because they are in China. And in fact there are reported labor shortages in both construction and auto repair.”
            Fortunately, there are three dedicated teachers in San Luis Obispo who are preparing young men and women to lead successful, productive lives providing exactly the services our society needs on a practical, day-to-day basis. So, if you know students taking a class from Mr. Bruington, Mr. Fay or Mr. Lehmkuhl, know they are in good hands, and might soon be tuning your engine, designing your new deck, or building that mahogany coffee table you’ve always wanted. Following the example of their mentors, their hearts and souls will be in their work.