The Last Load

For weeks now I have been digging. Pickaxe, shovel, wheelbarrow, hard manual labor, and it just gets harder.

One last load of dirt and rock to remove from the work zone.

I am digging away at the slope behind the garage, solving longstanding drainage issues, creating a nice level walkway, building a small retaining wall.

The first stage was digging out all along my garage, reworking the slope, pulling the soil away from the foundation, giving the water somewhere to go other than right along the wall. This involved a couple dozen wheelbarrow loads of soil and rock removed and about thirty feet of two foot retaining wall… Done!

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Steve Coe 1949-2018

Today I learned of the passing of Steven Coe, an amateur observer well known and admired in the Arizona community and elsewhere. He had been having health issues on and off for the past few years, but would usually bounce right back and you could again find him out in the dark with a telescope somewhere.

Steven Coe
Steven Coe set up at the 2004 All Arizona Star Party
I spent many nights observing with Steve and the rest of the usual gang at star parties in Southern Arizona. Nights at Sentinel or Farnsworth Ranch, he was nearly always there, one of the most dedicated visual observers in the community.

Go to the new moon events in southern AZ, wherever they were that month, and you would find Steve, AJ Crayon, Tom Polakis, and the rest. If everyone was there, it was going to be a good night. They were very memorable nights indeed.

If you saw Steve setting up at a star party you always wanted to setup nearby, you would learn so much just listening through the night. You were always welcome at his eyepiece, and what I saw there was so often something I had never seen before. A distant quasar, or some obscure gem of a nebula not found in the usual guides. Steve knew so much about the sky, and would cheerfully share that knowledge.

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Mowing the Lawn

Two days in Bellingham, not the original travel plan, but that is what happened. Not that Bellingham is a bad place to be stuck, quite the opposite. This is all the better as I have relatives in Bellingham. Thus I am spending a couple nights at my uncle’s place, actually pretty nice.

My uncle's magnificent back yard and garden...  aka the lawnmower obstacle course.
My uncle’s magnificent back yard and garden… aka the lawnmower obstacle course.
What to do for the day? Several possibilities were considered, but practical matters needed to be the priority. My uncle has a beautiful backyard, a yard and garden of stone terraces, raised vegetable beds, a stream running through the middle. It had been neglected a bit while he journeyed with us along the Inside Passage.

Thus I agree to help deal with that situation. What needs to be done?

Mow the lawns? I can do that.

It is then I make a realization… I have not mown a lawn for a dozen years. Not since we sold the house in Tucson. When moving I had given away the lawnmower. Our Hawaiian hale has no sod, the yard is gravel, shrubs and fruit trees. If I find a blade of grass I pull it up by the roots, it is a weed.

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At Anchor

We are done voyaging for the day. The anchor lies deep below the boat, a heavy chain descends from the bow into the dark depths. Switched off, the steady thrumming of the engine is silenced after a long day.

The Nordic Quest Under Aurora at Helm Bay
The Nordic Quest Under Aurora at Helm Bay
The boat floats upon dark still water, the deep green of the spruce forest surrounds the little cove we selected for this night’s anchorage. Otters play in the bight across the cove, the call of a loon echoes over the water.

Cheery lights spill from the salon, inside dinner is eaten, the dishes are done. It is just a bit to early to retire to the bunks below. Instead cards are scattered about a cribbage board, the game too close to call.

A radio recites a weather forecast, charts are consulted, a plan a sketched out for the next day. Down this channel, across that passage, a stop the hot springs, and a couple possibilities for the next anchorage are plotted.

Tomorrow will bring another day of voyaging, there are hundreds of miles to go before Bellingham, a journey along the Inside Passage is not yet done. We have plotted the next day’s course. After we pull the crab pots we again turn south, tomorrow…

Stray

Arriving back to the house late I realize something is under the lanai. A loud rustling of leaves and a jingle betrays something bigger than one of the neighborhood stray cats.

New Year Fireworks
Neighborhood fireworks signal the arrival of 2015
I pull the flashlight from my pocket to start looking about when a dog emerges. A very friendly shepherd mix appears in the flashlight beam. Deb reminds me that this is the Fourth of July, and that this dog may be panicked by the fireworks that are still crackling through the neighborhood.

Fortunately this dog has good tags, one tag includes an address just a few blocks away. Deb gets me a leash while I hold the collar, scratch between the ears, and make friends.

A nice evening for a stroll. This stray dog is very well behaved, walking alongside me up the street. A few fireworks are still going off and I worry about the dog bolting again. My guess is that some human accompaniment is all that was needed.

As I arrive in the cul-de-sac indicated on Google maps I see five houses, which one? I did not need to pull out the flashlight to check the addresses, the dog tugs me straight for one particular front door. Sure enough, the same address that is on the tag.

It is the right house?

Yes. I got hugged.

The Perfection of Fish and Chips

While the British may have originated the dish, they did not perfect it.

Ono Fish and Chips
A perfect portion of ono fish and chips at Quinn’s, Kailua-Kona
Before you go and tell me I have never experienced true British fish and chip, realize I lived for three years in England, with fish & chips available everywhere.

I tried little shops in fishing ports and beach-side resort towns, I had fish and chips in pubs and from London street vendors. I went out of my way for the proper dish, one of my favorites since I was very young.

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New Front Bearings for the Ford Explorer

My vehicle comes to a rather abrupt stop, the front brakes lock up while pulling onto Paniolo drive, the main road serving the village. I am stuck across the northbound lanes.

Ford Explorer Front Bearing Repair
The front bearing of the Explorer removed and the mounting cleaned up. Ready for re-installation!
Well? This is awkward.

Shut down, restart, nothing unlocks the brakes. I am still stuck in the middle of the road. Another driver gives me a quizzical look and drives around me.

With no other idea I put the vehicle in 4WD low and drag the locked front tires backwards into the side street where I can safely work on the issue, I left skid marks in the road.

In retrospect the failure was not a complete surprise… I knew the front bearings were going, making noise, but the vehicle was still driveable. Over the last week I had checked on prices and asked about with the guys about borrowed tools to do the job. I was thinking I had a few weeks before the issue was truly an issue.

Nope.

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Crossing the Saddle at Night

Leaving Hilo I turn towards the shortest path home. It is also my favorite path by far. Not for me the twisting turns, small towns, and driving rains of the Hamakua coast road. I turn towards Saddle Road, to the pass between the enormous volcanoes of Hawaii.

Saddle Road
Saddle Road seen as it was in 2007, before rebuilding
The road is smooth and fast now. The Saddle of legend and rental car prohibition is mostly gone, only fragments remain. While you can still drive bits of the old Saddle, they are no longer the main road, bypassed by the new highway.

Even before the road was re-built this was my favorite route to cross the island. The traffic is far heavier now, the new road no longer offers the challenges and dangers of the old road. Drivers no longer deterred by those dangers now use the new road to cross the island rather than driving around the northern belt road.

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A Night in the Meadow

This little meadow is is only a couple acres. Along one side is a spring where crisp water seeps from the ground and marks the beginning of a creek. Along the top the last few hundred feet of the paved road ends at a junction of rougher roads that lead further into the forest.

Grant's Spring Under Stars
The meadow at Grant’s Spring under northern stars
At the very center of the meadow a large snag stands alone, broken off twenty five feet above the ground, a tangle of limbs on all sides. This old snag is a dark sentinel in the night, almost unreal and a bit eerie in the gloom, it seems to move when you are not looking.

The clearing is surrounded by seventy foot high trees. Pine, fir, and larch are all represented in the dense forest that covers much of the ridgeline. This limits the view, blocking objects low on any horizon. The tall trees also provide a stage above which the stars rise and set, sometimes blinking brightly as they pass behind branches.

There are simply no lights, no substantial civilization for fifty miles in any direction. There are no distant domes of light visible on the horizon to remind one of Edison’s terrible invention. There is just the darkness and the stars above.

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