Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fulgurite And Test Hill

When we arrived Wednesday at Silver Lake State Park to pitch our tent, the ranger warned that a big storm was forecast to hit in a couple hours. My wife Wendy expressed her doubts, then asked, "What are we supposed to do. Go to a hotel?" The ranger said he was just passing along the information.

After the designated hour of 3 p.m. passed with nothing but sunny skies overhead, Wendy felt obliged to stop by the ranger's office to let him know he was wrong. "Yeah, we missed that one," was his response. But he actually only missed by a letter. The big storm hit around 3 a.m., not 3 p.m.

That night while we slept in our three tents, a thundershower accompanied by some very strong winds rolled through the campground. Our small tent was weathering it fine, but I peeked out to see part of my son Greg's tent flapping violently, as if it were a flag in a gale. Greg was working on making adjustments.

We had problems of our own. Our queen air mattress developed a slow leak and by the time the storm passed we were sleeping on mother earth. Not as soothing as it may sound. So we escaped to our car, only slightly more comfortable, where we stayed till dawn, occasionally turning the electricity on to check the time, which also turned on our headlights brightly illuminating my in-laws tent and waking up the occupants . . . which they complained about later. Hea, no reason all of us couldn't share the grief.

Next day I convinced my son and nephews that there was gold in them thar sand hills. Gold in the form of fulgurite, a tube formed when lightning hits the sand dunes, fusing the sand particles into a type of glass. Four of us scoured the pedestrian area of the dunes but camp up empty-handed, though I did get a digital photo of a bobcat track.

Later when we took our traditional MacWoods dune scooter ride I asked the driver who said he had been roaming the dunes for over a dozens years whether there were bobcat prowling the sandy hills.

"No," he said simply.

Bummer. No fulgurite, no bobcat.

But I did experience something new this year that I hadn't in our 15 or so previous trips to Silver Lake. My brother-in-law Randy and I got to ride in the public ORV portion of the sand dunes, the only such designated area in Michigan.

My son Greg joined us. His wife's sister-in-law Kate was at the wheel as we plowed sand, skimmed through standing water and dodged other off-road vehicles of all makes and models. For a finale, Kate debated whether to climb "test hill", a very large dune that provides a definite challenge for the driver. Go for it, we said.

First attempt ended well short of the summit and we backed down. Try again, Kate wondered? Randy said sure. This time we made it almost to the peak, to the sand ridge that ran along the top of the dune. That's as far as we got. And with our front wheels hanging a few inches in the air on one side of the peak, with the back wheels buried in sand, that's as far as we were going. Stuck!

So we were a spectacle for other drivers (see pictures) until rescued by a nearby Jeep. They attached a strap to our back-end and pulled us backwards to where we were drivable again. No more attempts on the summit today.

Remember the Rat Patrol, the old TV show in which soldiers raced around the desert in jeeps and stuff? Kinda felt like that until test hill. After that, I felt like the "drat patrol."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adventures In Blogging

Our annual camping adventure to Silver Lake on the west side of the state begins tomorrow so I have to make this quick. Then I’ll be out of cyber-touch for a few days.

Speaking of adventures, I’ve been lurking lately at a blog produced by and on behalf of Abby Sunderland, the 16-year-old California teen who was sailing solo around the world until rough weather in the Indian Ocean de-masted her vessel and left her adrift. Her distress signal was relayed to an Australian search and rescue team and she later was picked up by a French fishing vessel.

Ordinarily, I avoid celebrity blogs but this one piqued my interest. A drama on the high seas, the daily struggle just to keep high tech and low tech gear functioning properly, a teenaged girls’ unique viewpoint of life and death challenges she faced just staying afloat . . . and a regular blog with pictures even! What more could you ask for?

That was unfortunately over once the real drama commenced. After her boat Wild Eyes got slammed and broken by wind and waves, her resulting high profile rescue, and a media controversy over whether Abby was too young to even attempt such a feat—the blog was pretty much discontinued. Bummer. And just as it was getting good.

I don’t have a strong opinion either way on whether she was an exploited teen put in harm’s way for the sake of publicity or whether she was an exceptionally capable, strong-willed girl who was never in any real danger.

She did have a team of experienced professionals, weathermen and the like, watching over her every move. She had the sailboat equivalent of On-Star, state of the art navigation equipment, even two auto-pilots. She was more closely supervised in the middle of the ocean than if she’d been at a slumber party.

The parents did get a lesson in dealing with the pack mentality of the media. The criticism and controversy forced them to hire a publicity agent to buffer their privacy from the journalistic hordes. The family apparently even had to edit one of their blogs in response to the glare of publicity. Travesty!

Abby’s blog response to critics originally contained part of a letter from Search and Rescue Volunteer Perth which said, “Bottom line is, don’t get sucked in by the media. I would like a clarification on your blog just letting your readers know that the Australian Government has not requested payment nor would they. Let’s not let the media portray the many groups that were involved in Abby’s rescue as a bunch of people motivated and driven by money. This is not the case. “

The blog was later changed, omitting the letter and the reference to Search and Rescue Volunteer Perth, instead simply paraphrasing what they said in somewhat kinder and gentler terms. (I hear that many Aussies were not happy that taxpayer funds were used in the rescue).

In response to critics who said Abby was sailing through the Indian Ocean at a dangerous time, Abby’s blog responded with a statement from a member of her team of meteorologists that “have been routing sailboats around the world for 30 years.” According to meteorologist Ken Campbell, “We were late crossing the Indian Ocean, but I felt Abby was fully capable. Very few people have ever forecast weather there (the southern Indian Ocean), let alone route sailboats. This storm was not unusual for that location, for that time of year and the strategy was the best there could be for that situation.”

A couple days later, all the meteorologists’ comments were deleted from the blog. Hmmmmmm. Wonder why.

Hea, though I’m by no means a celebrity, I’ve taken flak for things I’ve put up on my blog. Even this past week! I hear somebody claimed something I wrote in my last blog was “total bull.” To them I give my standard response, “That’s how I recall it.”

Sometimes it seems that the life’s adventures are not as risky as blogging about them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Re-Runs

Well, not really. But since I don't have a hot topic to blog about this week, I thought I would cull the annals of our family life, courtesy of my quintennial journal--a diary I keep for one year at five-year intervals. My wife Wendy and I have been remarking about how quickly time seems to pass now. Reading these makes it even more evident:

JULY 31, 1988--Did something today I don't remember doing for a while. With Greg in tow (my six-year-old eldest son), I slid in the back door of St. Francis Catholic Church, took a seat in the enclosed family area reserved for those with rambunctious young ones and partook in Sunday services.

Bringing the whole family to church would not qualify as quality time since Greg and younger son Scott, 3, would prove so distracting that NOBODY would get any inspirational message from the service. Greg is old enough to sit still for the hour now. But after he saw all the toddlers hollering, pounding on the walls, and running here and there, he turned to me and commented, "Dad, Scott can come. All these other kids are here."

JUNE 15, 1993--Just got back from a reasonably relaxed weekend up north. But I forgot to bring home Scott's rock he picked out for me at the lake. Following in his grandfather's footsteps (grandpa being a rock collector), eight-year-old Scott occasionally collects rocks himself, and this time passed them out to family and friends. I got to pick the last one left, but Scott tried to make me feel better when he said he didn't know why nobody picked it before. "I thought that was a good one."

JUNE 8, 1998--Wendy informed Scott's drum teacher that next week's lesson will be his last for the summer. We could use the extra $15 we paid for a lesson to replenish the refrigerator instead. Wendy almost had a fit when she found her Diet Pepsi almost gone. Scott was unapologetic. "I didn't see anybody's name on it," he said matter-of-factly. Greg habitually pounds down two cans of pop at a sitting and can easily finish a 12-pack in a week or less. Let's hope for a cool summer.

JUNE 13, 2003--In the middle of the night, the phone rings. I answer it but nobody's there so I hang up. It rings again and an AT&T electronic operator asks if I want to accept a collect call. But the person on the other end doesn't give their name. So I hang up again. Wendy, who is up now too at after 3 a.m., believes the caller is Greg, who was supposed to return from "clubbing" at 2 a.m. He's not yet home. Sure enough, a third call comes through and this time Greg identifies himself as the collect caller. I accept the charges and Greg tells me that his buddy has left him stranded at a Speedway gas station in Ypsilanti. So I have to traipse out into the early morning air to retrieve him.

MAY 27, 2008--Speaking of privacy, Wendy and I are spending our first summer alone together in about a quarter century. Longer, in fact. Scott is spending the summer at an internship in East Lansing. Greg's been moved out for almost three years. We recently cleaned a lot of his old junk out of his room. It's a guest room of sorts now.

It's time to put up my weekly blog. But I'm not feeling too inspired tonight. Maybe at work tomorrow. The muse has been there sometimes at lunch.

TONIGHT--And the blog muse has been absent this week as well. Updates from two years ago . . . Scott is back home for the summer and I turned Greg's old bedroom into a media room of sorts, moving my electric piano in there as well some some books and videos.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Flea Market Fun

Every year about this time I make a pilgrimage to the Midland Antique Show, the largest antique flea market in Michigan. It’s better than a two-hour drive for me but it’s a chance to hang out with my family in the area who also attend. My mother usually packs ground bologna sandwiches for lunch, my absolute favorite sandwich in all the world.

Except nobody in my family joined me this year. They all drove up north to their cottages instead. Oh, well. Lunch was at Mr. Hot Dog this time. I like them too.

At the crowded market, I browsed here, peeked there, checking out coins, cards, cans, comics, cookies (bought an oatmeal raisin), vintage cars, clothes, crafts, crocks, Confederate currency, Coca Cola collectibles and other curiosities. Lots there.

Though ordinarily it’s more fun (and less costly) just to look, I did buy an older saddle basket to put on my Schwinn at home. I even talked the vendor down a few bucks from his price. Most stuff for sale comes with a handwritten price tag, but other antiques are unmarked.

A passerby remarked to his companion, “They say if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.”

“Is it true?” his shopping partner asked.

“I don’t’ know. I’ve never asked.”

I passed by a vendor who had a collection of individual state maps for sale. I took a look at a few older Michigan maps. While I was working for a newspaper up north over 30 years ago, I remember the Michigan Department of Transportation put out a map of Michigan that contained a couple “errors.”

Some University of Michigan fan in the print shop added two small towns. Sharp-eyed map-readers discovered “Goblu” and “Beatosu” in Ohio. I had one of those maps once but lost track of it and have been trying to find another one ever since.

“Do you know anything about Michigan maps?” I asked the vendor lady.
“I know that I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else?” she replied.

Okay, maybe she misunderstood my question. I asked again specifically about the Michigan maps that were published with the aforementioned errors .

She quickly held up four fingers. “Four hundred dollars,” she said excitedly.

Holy cow! I guess that guy was right.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Privacy Please

This blog isn't about my birthday. My birthday was last week, so it's history.

But see the card I got on my birthday? It was the only card I received on my actual birthday. And my mother made a special trip to the post office to make sure the card she sent to me arrived on my special day. It didn't, arriving the next day instead.

When I opened the above card, it said happy birthday with a message that read in part, "In honor of your birthday, you may be eligible to receive two round trip airline tickets to any major international airport anywhere in the continental USA . . . "

So it was a pitch for some travel company. Isn't that a bit unnerving? I mean, their marketing department somehow knew it was my birthday and knew what date to mail the card so it arrived on my birthday.

I go through great lengths to protect my privacy, and ultimately my identity. My Facebook profile has only a modicum of information, not even my hometown. Just to be sure, I Googled my name and Facebook. Some other guy with my same name popped up again and again. Not me. Boo-yeah.

But still I wonder. For example, I recently got an e-mail from a hotel chain asking how I enjoyed my recent stay at a specific hotel in Iowa. I enjoyed my stay there. What I would like to know is how they got my e-mail address since I didn't give it to them.

It seems like every day I read or see in the news how our privacy is becoming compromised by the internet. There is a new site called Spokeo.com where visitors can supposedly acquire a wealth of information on just about anybody.

Hmmmmmm. I went to the site and typed my name in there. They did have my correct address, my correct zodiac sign, and listed my wife and kids' names there correctly as well. But they also had an extra person living in our house, somebody I didn't know. And they listed me as only having a high school education. Wrongo!

For the fun of it, I looked up my brother Gary. That was more interesting. The site did say he was retired, plays sports and is interested in physical fitness. All correct. But it also said he owned cats, enjoys gardening and has a graduate degree. That's all news to me.

I still think I'm pretty good at operating under the internet radar. That's good too because my sitemeter has been tracking an unusual number of hits from the Middle East and Egypt in particular.

These visitors found my blog because of a doctored photo I posted, with some attractive looking women admiring a billboard picture of my mug. I'm hoping these blog lurkers are coming to check out the women in the picture and not yours truly.

You just never know though.