For the October 31, 2022 KGUA Radio Writer’s Hour hosted by Peggy Berryhill and Mark Gross, we are asked to freewrite to the following prompt:
“Death and Dying: This is What I Think…
Though I am getting on in years (75 come December), I really don’t think much of dying. As you can imagine, the subject just hasn’t come up in polite company. Perhaps because I’m reasonably healthy. In fact, in conversations with my wife Hannah, I find that this last decade of my life has been my favorite. By the way, my twenties is #2 and my fifties is #3.
As a young man, I thought if I made it to 80, I’d call that a W (a win). As I knock on the door of 80, I figure anything after that is bonus.
Of course, I want more. Seeing our grandkids grow into likeable, responsible young adults who still want to hike, play games, and pickle with me would be a big part of that more.
But dying is out there, I know. So I live today like I have two years left. I don’t miss the chance to winter in California, plan trips to national parks with our kids and grandkids and lead an active Fitbit life.
But I do think about is what if I were on my own. What if Hannah died first? Life would not be so simple. It would be quite an adjustment after 50+ years together. But I’m healthy so I don’t think about that possibility. What’s the point?
Of course, it could be me that cashes in my chips first. But then I’d have no worries.
You see, thinking about death and dying focuses my mind on living today, this moment and as many more as the Universe wants to offer me.
Let me state for the record, I have never come close to getting some ink in my arm. Never thought twice about a sleeve of tattoos. Maybe it’s just me, but ink under my skin never seemed like a good idea and besides, it gives me the willies even thinking about it.
But you might wonder, what would be a second best visible way for me to show my individuality? You guessed it, a vanity plate.
My current plate is a state of Maine-issued traditional four numbers followed by two letters. Traditional and institutionally boring!
Now if the last two letters were RF, I’d be all in as I’m a lifetime member of Fed Nation (fans of the tennis champion, Roger Federer).
But my VR? Vroom, vroom maybe. Just doesn’t do it for me.
Our friend Karen has a cool vanity plate.
So how do I go about picking the right vanity plate for me.
Mark Gross of KGUA radio in Gualala, California comes immediately to mind. He has thrown me a lifeline throughout the Covid pandemic and now beyond. Each week he comes up with a writing prompt that gives me a chance to create and tell my story. During that time I have written over one hundred of these 200-300 word short stories that I now realize have become my autobiography. Writing for KGUA has energized me and given me new purpose over the last three years.
So quickly I choose KGUA for my vanity plate. I have space for three more characters.
Being California-based, KGUA gets me thinking Left Coast. Let me outline my California credentials for the skeptical.
As 60s child, I loved the Beach Boys. That certainly checks off one box. The Mamas and Papas with their anthem “California Dreamin’” spoke to my wanderlust and getting as far west from New Jersey as I could. My first teaching job as a social studies, science, and Spanish teacher for fifth and sixth graders was at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Anaheim, California.
Having come to the Santa Barbara area for winters since 2014, I am solid sunbird of the Golden State. Each winter I am a regular pickleball player at the Santa Barbara Municipal Tennis and Pickleball courts. And! I have a Carpinteria (CA) library card.
Sterling credentials, you must be thinking!
The 805 area code for Santa Barbara County is a natural vanity plate selection for me. It connects our lives in Maine to our wintertime home away from home in Carpinteria.
Though it took three weeks for my vanity plate to be approved by the state of Maine and three more to be delivered for a $25 annual fee, I now drive in style and you can better believe that I’m California Dreamin’.
It’s the last week of our two months in California during the winter of 2022. Sunday we attend the Unity of Santa Barbara service and learn the exciting news that a new team of ministers (Cathy Norman and Temple Hayes) are going to lead the church. It’s our spiritual home albeit three thousand miles from York, Maine.
That afternoon Hannah and I take part in a popular ritual of winter in this area – the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. We attended the showing of King Richard with Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis (both up for Academy Awards) in the 2000 seat Arlington Theater on State Street in Santa Barbara. Loving the movie, we listen to the director after about the making of the film.
We are looking for one final warm weather hike into the mountains of the Front Country of Santa Barbara before we return to the snow and cold of Maine in March.
Choosing the San Ysidro Trailhead, after a half mile we turn east (right) on the Pueblo Trail immediately above some of the poshest estates in Montecito. Though we have been by this turn-off for years, we’ve never explored its trail until today.
Meeting up with another hiker, we listen how he is surprised that the county has let this homeowner rebuild their house in this fire zone. Five years ago this very house burned to the ground in the Thomas Fire in 2018.
Soon we are on the Wiman Trails then hike along Park Lane to the Buena Vista Trailhead.
There it is a steady climb on the driest of crumbly sandstone (there has been no rain during our nine weeks here during their January to March rainy season!). It’s quick turning switchbacks which has me breathing heavily.
One mile straight up the Buena Vista Trail we hit the Edison Catway.
Descending rapidly on the Catway of crumbly dry on dry pebbly sandstone, we arrive in no time at the San Ysidro Trail a mile from the trailhead. It’s all downhill from there.
With one thousand feet of elevation, Hannah and I have ourselves a wonderful two-hour workout just fifteen minutes from our condo at Carpinteria Shores.
For the October 17, 2022 KGUA Radio Writer’s Hour hosted by Peggy Berryhill and Mark Gross, we are asked to freewrite to the following prompt:
“What Makes You Feel Safe?”
I take you to the College of Wooster in central Ohio in the mid-1960s. A freshman comes to campus with multiple insecurities. Can he make it academically? He graduated high school realizing that he couldn’t much read, write, speak, or talk about anything more than sports. He had gone through the motions of schooling, passively sitting back and succeeding superficially by being pretty good at regurgitating for the test. He perfected the “study, test, and forget” style of non-learning.
Can he make new friends? He grew up with other baby boomers who lived up and down the same street so “friends” were just always around.
And it was dark and cold in Ohio that winter, 500 miles from home.
And then he met a girl out of his league. But what the hey! Go big or go home. They danced at the gym, rallied on the tennis court, played euchre in the lobby of her dorm, and shared cake and ice cream for $0.25 at the student union.
Whenever they were together he left his doubts, fears, and insecurities back in his dorm room. He felt safe with her.
Alas, after a whirlwind sophomore year, sadly they broke up.
Still the story has a happy ending. Two years later they reconnected in Arizona. A year after that Dan and Hannah married on a hill where her father planted Christmas trees in upstate New York.
He’s felt safe and sound on a daily basis ever since.
Have you ever been to the highest point in your state? It would be impressive indeed if you have been to California’s Mount Whitney (14,505’)! In Florida it’s Britton Hill at 345’ on the Florida/Alabama border. Mount Katahdin in Maine at 5270’ would be a ten-mile roundtrip for Hannah and me so that ship has sailed.
Fifteen years ago, I hiked up the Mount Washington rockpile in New Hampshire (6286’). Five years back, Hannah and I hiked the Appalachian Trail to Clingman’s Dome (6643’) on the Tennessee/North Carolina border, which makes it Tennessee’s highest point. Click here to find the highest point in your state.
Today I will add the Bay State as to my hiking to the highest point in a state when we hike to Mount Greylock in northwestern Massachusetts.
Taking back roads through western Massachusetts, Hannah and I eventually arrive at the Visitor Center at the south end of the Mount Greylock State Reservation.
Once inside, we are greeted by Mike, a knowledgeable ranger, who tailors his hiking suggestion to our desire to hike two to three hours. He recommends driving five miles up the Rockwell Road to the Dynamite Parking area. It seems when the Civilian Conservation Corps was building the roads and the stone walls to the summit, they would store the dynamite for blasting well away from the road to avoid any damage that might be caused by an accidental explosion.
Arriving at the Dynamite roadside parking area for ten cars, we cross over the road and take to the Campground Trail towards the summit.
It’s a peak foliage season this first Friday in October 2022. At the start the carpet of yellow and orange leaves with the occasional red leads us up the gentle mountainside trail.
Along this popular but hardly crowded trail, we meet up with three delightful women in their 50s. As we talk and hike, one woman brings up that her hiking partner has just completed her forty-eighth 4000’ mountain peak in New Hampshire. Duly impressed, we then see her quickly pivot to minimizing her accomplishment by letting us know a four-year-old just did the same thing.
Whether that was wise for four-year-old to do such climbing is not the issue. The issue I have is that so many of us women and men have the damnedest time accepting a compliment without deflecting, poo poo-ing, or annulling the kind words. I would have loved to hear more about her amazing accomplishment.
After taking the Hopper Trail, we jump onto the Big Daddy of them all, the Appalachian Trail which takes us to the top with the war memorial tower of Mount Greylock.
Hannah and I climb the tower steps and are rewarded with its 360 degree views.
Later we step into the rustic Bascom Lodge to see what Appalachian Trail thru-hikers see as they take a break.
The AT hikers heading north note the next shelters and the end game.
Southbound hikers have miles to go before they sleep to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Today feels like we are in a national park with Mount Greylock’s extensive trails, welcoming rangers, and visitor-friendly atmosphere.
By the way, in 1933, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president, the unemployment rate was 25%. As part of his plan to combat the Great Depression, Congress created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to put men back to work and protect our natural resources in many places like Mount Greylock.
The evening before the Jimmy Fund Walk all the walkers receive this text – We’re expecting cool temps and wind for tomorrow’s Walk. Please plan to layer up! We can’t wait to see you!
Up before dawn, dressed in two long sleeve tee-shirts under my red Jimmy Fund Walk shirt, I drive an hour south to our daughter Molly’s place to meet up with Owen (10) and Max (8), my fellow walkers. I am reminded of the personal connection Hannah and I have to this fundraiser for cancer research and the care of cancer patients. At the age of four, our daughter Robyn was diagnosed with leukemia (blood cancer). The kid battled through nine doses of cranial radiation and two years of chemotherapy. Robyn just turned 41 and she’s our living proof of the value of cancer research.
Owen and Max with George, our Team Barry captain and my weekly ping pong buddy. Eight years ago George was successfully treated for squamous cell carcinoma (head and neck) cancer at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, hence our direct connection to this fundraiser.
Arriving at the Boston College in Newton, Massachusetts, Owen, Max, and I, supported by the boys’ parents, Molly and Tip, register and prepare for our 10K walk over the next nearly three hours. This morning Owen and Max have hit the mother lode of snacks. Get this, there are six refueling stations over the 6.2 miles of our walk. Favorites of the boys include Cape Cod chips, blueberry cookies, rice crispy treats, and the strawberry/banana and peach/mango Body Armor drinks.
Without further ado, here are the images as we down Commonwealth Avenue to Copley Square in downtown Boston.
Along the way I talk with Derek (above) who is walking a half-marathon to raise money. A yellow hat indicates that one is a cancer survivor. He’s now going strong for nine years. I love the phrase on the back of his hat.
As I was walking by the car behind Owen’s hat, a man pulls out his wallet and gives each of the boys a dollar. That certainly is random. When I ask why, he says, I just saw them and I wanted to do it.
With Max, Owen, and Molly in the foreground and within a mile of the finish line, we approach the Boston Strong sign, a memory of the community’s response to the horrific Boston Marathon bombing in 2013
6.2 miles later we finish at Copley Square. At the finish line, there is clam chowder (two cups for Owen), pizza, Chinese food, and a 1950s throwback – ice cream sandwiches!
Thanks to you all for I raised $5020 for cancer research and the care of cancer patients.
Amey and Bill, Amy and Linda, Andy and Sarah, Ann and Jon, Anna and Matt, Bill and Karen, Cally, Charlie and Maggie, Chris and Jenn, Clarissa and Pat, Cindy and Ann, Claudia and Bill, Corrie and Karl, Dave, Diane and Targe, Doc and Robin, Donna and George, Eric and Genevieve, Fran and Angela, Jane and Tom, Janie, Jeff and Rita, Jenny, Joanne and Neil, Karen, Kim, Laurie, Liesje, Linda and Roger, Liz and Matt, Mac, Mandy and Lisa, Maxine and Don, Mary Lynn and Wayne, Mary and Rich, Melissa and Don, Mitch and Paula, Nan, Nancy and Wayne, Nancy and Duncan, Norm, Patty and Kent, Patty and Glenn, Paul and Heather, Paul and Cam, Paula and Bob, Penny and Mitch, Peter and Cyndi, Rebecca and Derek, Richard and Barbara, Sandy, Shirley and Bob, Stacy, Steve, Susan, Suzanne and Lou, Tammy and Mike, Tara and Anthony, Tree and Scott, Wendy and Bill, and Will and Laurel.
BTW, Owen and Max raised $2405 for the Jimmy Fund.
Days before the race, I received this email from Zack Blackburn, Assistant Vice President of the Jimmy Fund Walk. You all contributed to making this happen.
Congratulations on being one of the top 250 fundraisers for the 2022 Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai. To recognize this accomplishment on Walk day, you will be wearing Top 250 Club bib #T130 and a Top 250 Club patch.Thanks for your significant contributions towards making the 2022 Jimmy Fund Walk a success. See you this weekend!
With gratitude, Zack
This first Sunday in October is another peak experience that I will remember for a lifetime, which, if I have any say in the matter, is 20+ healthy years.
When asked if he has had any contact with his biological parents, Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees outfielder who broke the American League record for home runs with 62 last night (October 4, 2022), said,”
I have one set of parents, the ones that raised me. That’s how it is. Some kids grow in their mom’s stomach, I grew in my mom’s heart.
She’s always shown me love and compassion ever since I was a little boy (Aaron was adopted two days after her was born [April 26, 1992]. I’ve never needed to think differently or wonder about anything.