Sunday, November 11, 2018

Which Neighborhood Will Burn Next?

California has had terrible firestorm tragedies in the last two days. I mourn the loss of life. It is so very sad and hard to grasp the extent of the disaster. My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

The title of this blog is a difficult question to confront, but we have to face the issue.

I’m writing this from the Bay Area, where I’m exhibiting books at the San Mateo Harvest Festival. The Bay Area is choked in smoke from a fire that yesterday burned the entire town of Paradise, which is near Chico. It makes me ask questions about our response to the situation.
What should we do? One of the most sensible approaches is to reduce fuels in the forest. We’ve had 120 years of active fire suppression (putting out all fires). The result is a massive fuel buildup. Forests naturally burn every decade or so. Some forests burn more often. It has been estimated that Tahoe's forests used to burn every 7 years on average.

Fire is a natural part of the forest. If we could go back to that natural state -regular small fires in most of the forest - we wouldn't have anywhere near the problem we have now.

Putting out all those fires over all those years means we now have ten or fifteen times as much dead branches and trees as normal. Try to walk through a forest like that. You can’t. They are continuous thickets, impenetrable. Any source of flame makes them an explosive.
If there is a high wind and low humidity and no recent winter storms, all it takes is a lightning strike, or a sparking powerline, or a campfire that isn’t dead out, or a sparking trailer safety chain dragging on the highway. The result is a “Blowup,” which is an uncontrolled fire that can’t be stopped by any current measures.
(I’m not an “experts’ expert, but I know something about forest fire, having written a book about it. Tahoe Blowup.)
Anyone who is observant can see that the climate and the forest is not the same as it was even as recently as 20 years ago. The forests are drier, and they are burning up faster and taking with them anything (like houses) in the fire’s way.
I’ve read and heard many unreasonable responses to the fire danger.
Some say we shouldn’t live here. Maybe so. But where would we live? Nebraska? Do you really want most of the residents of the Western States to move to your neighborhoods back east?
Some say we can live in California but we shouldn’t live in the forest. Maybe so. But cities burn, too. It seems to me that more people have died in California’s “city wildfires” like the one in Santa Rosa last year than in “forest wildfires.” This isn’t a new situation, and it isn’t just in California or the other Western States. The Peshtigo fire in Wisconsin in 1871 is estimated to be the deadliest fire in American history, having killed over 1500 people. Possibly the second deadliest wildfire was the 1894 fire in Hinckley, Minnesota when 418 people died. The two worst American fires in history were 2000 miles from California.
Fighting fires takes money. Some people say that we already pay enough taxes, and if we want more money to deal with fire, it should come from other programs. Okay, which programs? And if you say that California has many superfluous programs that could be cut, then what do you say about other lower-tax states that don’t have such programs yet still have fires?
Some people say we shouldn’t do major controlled burns because the smoke they produce is bad, and they destroy wildlife habitat. Some people say that even driving on the forest floor compresses the soil and damages roots and wildlife. No doubt that is all true. But these major fires are uncontrolled and produce vast quantities of smoke, kill vast quantities of wildlife, and they don’t just compress the soil, they annihilate it, turning it into fine silty ash that runs into the rivers and pure lakes like Lake Tahoe, killing fish.

We need a huge plan, a Wildfire "Marshall Plan," to go into forests everywhere and remove a sizable portion of the trees and shrubs. In the 19th century, California’s forests were open enough to gallop a horse through them. They were kept that way by regular, natural fires, mostly caused by lightning. Those fires came in all varieties, but most were low intensity, what are called ground fires, clearing out brush and grass and some trees. Forests evolved with such fires. Most of those fires did not go into the tree canopies, what we now call Crown Fires. Because we now have so many communities near trees, we can’t let wildfires take their course. So we have to shape them by physically taking out the fuel. Some would be cut up for lumber. Some would be chipped for ground cover. And some would be burned in controlled burns.
Yes, we would still have damaging wildfires. But they would be fewer and less intense.
Please spread the word. If we don’t dramatically reduce the fuels in the forests around your house, your house may be the next to burn.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Cal Neva Resort Still Lives... Sort Of

The Cal Neva Resort renovation is still in progress. For those who don't know, the Cal Neva become famous when Frank Sinatra bought it in 1960 and then invited his Rat Pack buddies Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop to hang out there. Many other celebs hung out there as well, including a young actress named Marilyn Monroe.



The Cal Neva sits on the state line at Crystal Bay on the north end of Lake Tahoe

A vintage photo with cars from the early '60s.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the resort stumbled. New owners went through bankruptcy, and the resort has resembled a ruin more than a hotel.

Then, in January of this year, along came Larry Ellison, the big cheese at Oracle Corporation. If you aren't familiar with Mr. Ellison, he's one of the richest of billionaires, and he likes to invest in land. Among other places where he has a large stake is Incline Village, where he has been building what will no doubt be a grand residence. One of his last big deals was buying nearly all of the Hawaiian island of Lanai for a mere $300 million. (The Cal Neva ruins only cost him $36 million.)

So finally, the Cal Neva has a deep-pockets owner.

Local word is that Ellison's "team" presented renovation plans to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. That alone is a significant step forward and gives locals hope that the Cal Neva site is on track to once again become a glorious hotel.

I'll try to update as appropriate.

P.S. The Cal Neva and Sinatra and Monroe all figure in my novel Tahoe Blue Fire, one of the favorites of my books. It has 505 reviews at an average of 4.6 stars. You can check it out for only $3.99 on Kindle. Here's the link: Tahoe Blue Fire

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Climate Refugees

I've often noticed that many Tahoe residents are climate refugees. Like us, they came for the skiing and stayed for the year-round sunny weather. Although we're now used to California weather, I was reminded of it when we came down to exhibit my books and Kit's paintings at the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival (October 26, 27, 28). While much of the country is getting a taste of cold, wet winter weather, and Tahoe's daily highs are all the way down into the 60s, Sacramento is in the high 70s and low 80s, and the sun is brilliant.

So I Googled "Sunniest American cities" and here is what I found. Sacramento and Los Angeles are number 3 and 4.


Here's the link:
https://www.currentresults.com/Weather-Extremes/US/sunniest-cities.php

It's a fun website. You can search for lots of variables like cloudy days and average temperature. You can also search by state and by city.

Enjoy!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Painters Paint, Writers Write

The pesky part of being a writer is you have to write the books. You can't just think about it or talk about it. Same for painters.

Having said that, I admit that my wife and I have it pretty good, living where we do and both having creative occupations.

This past week, enabled by perfect weather, not too hot, not too cold, was an example. We went out to Hope Valley, just south of Tahoe. I brought a chair and my laptop, Kit brought her plein air easel, and we focused on that pesky work. Nice gig...

The view of Kit's work space as seen from my "desk." This is the Carson River, still flowing after all these sunny months. The little bump in the far background is Round Top, 10,400 feet.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Kids And Horses

One of the cool things about being an author is participating in charity-name auctions to raise funds for a worthy charity.

I've done this a few times. The way it works is an author agrees to allow a charity to auction off the right to have one's name used for a character in the author's upcoming book. The winning bidder gets the fun of having their name applied to a fictional character, whether it be a wonderful heroic character, an evil bad guy, or somewhere in between.

My most recent title, Tahoe Skydrop, had two characters named for auction winners. One provided funds for the Women and Children's Center in Reno. Another provided funds for the Carson City Friends of the Library.

Last summer, I was approached by the organizers of a fundraiser for the Kids & Horses charity in Minden, Nevada. They provide therapy for kids that revolves around getting those kids into contact with horses. It turns out that many kids with problems strongly connect to horses, whether riding them or simply being around them.



The fundraiser auction was held in Incline Village a few weeks ago. They auctioned off two names for me to use in my next book.

How much did those two character names raise? $5,000!

Wow, I guess I better do a good job with those characters!

Here's the link to Kids & Horses


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Jackie, The Very Nice Ski Instructor

Last weekend, I exhibited my books at the Candy Dance Festival in Genoa, Nevada. It was, as usual, a mob scene.

One fun experience was when a charming woman with her two sons in tow came to my tent. She introduced herself as Jackie, and she explained that 28 years ago, she'd been a ski instructor at Heavenly.

The view from Heavenly

That was the year my wife and I moved to Tahoe. We wanted to take a break from the real world, so we decided to try the "ski bum" life for a season and got jobs at Heavenly. I worked as a "liftee" helping skiers as they rode the lifts. I asked the supervisor if I could be assigned to the "Mighty Might," a type of rope tow on the beginner hill where skiers grab onto "paddles" attached to the tow.

To give you some perspective, the total vertical drop at Heavenly is 3,600 feet. The total vertical drop of the Mighty Might hill was 10 feet. But you'd be amazed at the trouble (and fun!) beginning skiers can get into with just 10 feet of rise and drop.

The Mighty Might assignment was considered the lamest, most uncool job in the lift department. But I saw an opportunity to make it my own. I put up a blackboard and wrote down the names of countries that the beginning skiers came from. Dozens of countries every day, from all over the world! I put up fun quotes. And when I wasn't busy, I sat in the sun (or in the storms!) and wrote.

When ski instructor Jackie introduced herself in Genoa, she said how she still remembered me on the Mighty Might hill, writing every day on my yellow pad of paper. She was so glad to see that my writing had turned into something.

Then I suddenly remembered her from 28 years ago. And I recalled that my singular impression of Jackie was that she was the nicest, smiling-est instructor at Heavenly. And like me, she didn't consider working the Mighty Might as lame at all. She saw it as an opportunity to help brand new skiers get a great introduction to a fantastic sport in one of the world's most beautiful areas.

As my memory of her came back, I told her two sons about how nice and kind and generous Jackie was with her ski students.

They looked a bit doubtful.

Jackie said, "See boys? I CAN be nice. I HAVE been nice.

What fun!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Great Danes At Book Signings

This weekend, I'm exhibiting at the Candy Dance Festival in Genoa, Nevada's oldest town. Yesterday, people brought four Great Danes. One couple had two, a Brindle and a Fawn. One man had a Black. Another had a Merle. All quite large. All very calm and well-behaved.

Black

Brindle

Fawn

Merle


Of course, the dogs were mobbed by the crowds, getting hugs, pictures, pets. Very fun.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Oh, Yeah, Time To Revisit...

There are many places in Tahoe worth revisiting again. And again. This is one of them.


The Rubicon Trail is accessed from D.L. Bliss State Park on the West Shore, just north of Emerald Bay. Because Rubicon Point is the tallest underwater cliff in the lake - 1000 vertical-foot-wall dropping under water - the depth gives the water an amazing color.



Note the two stand-up paddle boarders off the rocky point.


Much of the hike is substantially above the water, so you have many opportunities to look straight down into that amazing blue.

If you want more details, here's a link to a post I wrote four years ago:
http://toddborg.blogspot.com/2014/10/best-hikes-in-tahoe-rubicon-trail.html

Enjoy!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Why You Should Come To Tahoe In September

It doesn't get better than this. High temp of 73, high 74, high 70...


And the forecast is calling for more of the same for the rest of the week. Add to that the fact that the tourists have largely left. Yesterday, we walked out to Pope Beach. It was deserted. The water was an amazing transition of intense blues. The beach sand was hot. And no one was there.

Time to come up the mountain and enjoy it!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

What Your Dog Can Do That Chimps Cannot

Chimps, Bonobos, and the other great apes are our closest relatives. They are highly intelligent and have complex societies that are surprisingly like ours. Yet there is something that your dog gets that they don't.

Pointing.



With very little training, your dog knows what you mean when you point at something. It will look where you're pointing because it knows that you want it to. Maybe it's which cup to knock over to find a treat. Or maybe it's a bird off in the next field.

But despite lots of effort, researchers can't seem to get our primate cousins to understand this basic skill.

Sure, there are no doubt lots of perfectly good reasons why chimps and bonobos don't understand pointing. Or maybe they do understand it, but don't care. (Cats, anyone?)

Two of our Great Danes got excited when we pointed. It didn't matter if it was a squirrel in a tree or a plane in the sky or a tennis ball in the grass or a treat we'd hidden. When we'd point, they would immediately turn and stare, frowning, focusing, looking for whatever it was that we were trying to indicate.

Smart animals, those dogs we all love.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Doggles!

We were hiking in the woods the other day and came upon a couple with two German Shepherds. The dogs wore goggles.



While we watched, one of the couple held the dogs while the other person hiked far into the woods and hid a blue "bone." When that person rejoined the spouse and dogs, they waited a bit, then gave the command "FIND."

The dogs raced off into the forest. A short time later, the dogs ran back. One of them had the blue bone in its mouth. A great game of course. The first time we'd seen it with dogs wearing goggles.

If your dog has a head injury you don't want it to scratch, you put a big cone collar on it. The dog will of course try to get that cone off.  I would have thought that once out of the observation of humans, the dogs would shake and paw-off those pesky dog goggles as well. Shows what I know.

The people explained that the dogs like the goggles because, as with people running through trees and brush, the dogs don't have the stress of branches poking at their eyes.

Wow, and I thought the dogs I've seen wearing sunglasses just did it to please their owners.

Another example of dog smarts.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cool Tahoe Hiking Website


Local writer/artist/photographer Jared Manninen has a newish (at least to me) website about trails in the Tahoe area. It is called Tahoe Trail Guide dot com. Whether you're a hiker or skier or snowshoer or backpacker, or you just want to look at the gorgeous pictures, you will enjoy this site. Here's the link:

https://tahoetrailguide.com/

If you want to learn about its creator... Another link:

https://jaredmanninen.com/

Enjoy!

P.S. I've met Jared. In addition to his generosity - obvious from the effort he's put into making all of this info available to the world for nothing - I can also attest that he is a Nice Guy.

P.P.S The pic above is a Pixabay image, as I did not feel I should grab one of Jared's off his website. Better to go to the website and see Tahoe the way Jared presents it.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Single Most Important Tip About Tahoe

Go early.

For driving, parking, hiking, boating, biking, eating.

In the first seven days of my new book launch, I've been around the lake twice. And I've seen what most locals avoid. Which is tourists trying to get someplace - anyplace - find parking, beach spots, hiking trails, dinner reservations etc. Many are frustrated and get turned away by the various gate-keepers.


But even at the busiest times of the year, Tahoe can be a great experience if you simply go early. For hiking, try to be at the trail head by 7 a.m. For the beaches and parks, show up at the entrance gate 15 or 20 minutes before they open. (Google your destination to see what the hours are.) For a deli sandwich or other groceries and picnic supplies, get to the supermarket by 8 a.m., or much earlier if possible. Again, look up the hours online. 


Locals have to get their daily supplies, too. But we know that during summer one should be done with all errands and be off the road by 9 a.m.

If you get to your destination early, you'll be much happier.

Tahoe Beach before the crowds arrive.
Enjoy Tahoe!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Red Flag Warning!

The last two days, Cal Fire and the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for extreme fire danger. Not just Tahoe, but most of Northern California and Northern Nevada.

The warning comes when humidity levels are very low and wind predictions are very high. Even the tiniest spark can start a fire that grows explosively into a blowup. (Oh yeah, I wrote a book about that.)

So no yard work (a shovel hitting a rock can cause a spark), no campfires or barbecues (a hot ash can drift into vegetation), no parking off paved roads (a vehicle's exhaust and catalytic converter can ignite vegetation) and no cigarettes smoked outdoors.

Please stay safe.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Best Place In A Heat Wave?

Tahoe.

While the rest of the West and Southwest bakes in monster heat (Sacramento, CA 105 degrees, Redding, CA 112 degrees, and Palm Springs, CA 117 degrees!), Tahoe hit 90. We think that's a major heat wave.

But here's a Tahoe secret. Even when it gets to 90, at night it drops down to the lower 40s.

We open all our windows at night. By morning it's 59 degrees indoors, and we wear sweatshirts with the hoods up and drink hot coffee to stay warm.

Add to that an occasional afternoon thunderstorm that produces cold downdrafts and hail (A few days ago, we were at Camp Rich on the South Shore and we got an inch of hail while we shivered under an overhang at Valhalla estate. It looked like winter on the lawn.

So come on up the mountain and cool down!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Writers, Beware How You Spend Your Time And Money

Writers are eager - sometimes even desperate - to find help with all aspects of writing and publishing. As a result, we often sign on for, and even purchase, "Questionable Help" that is usually presented in attractive packaging but in fact offers little reliable guidance.

Here are some "attractive" concepts that often require needless time and expenditure. They are enormously popular. They are also often overrated, sometimes seriously so.

Where appropriate, I make suggestions for alternatives.

Questionable Help: #1: Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.) is increasingly assumed to be necessary to find readers and sell books. Yes, an active social media presence probably helps. But studies show it is an enormous time-suck. If you like social media, do it for the joy it gives. (It does bring you joy, right?) But you probably shouldn't do it because you think it will make your writing career. Full disclosure: I don't do social media. You may think that proves that I don't have a clue about its effectiveness. Can't argue with you there. But I've built a career without it. And I've met numerous authors who say that while social media does a great job of connecting them to readers they already have, it doesn't seem to be so successful finding new readers.

     Suggested Alternative: Take some, or all, of your social media time and energy and use most of it to write more good books and the rest of it to go out and give talks at libraries, service clubs, book clubs, and any other event where you actually meet readers face-to-face. My experience suggests that meeting readers in person is by far the most effective way to get them to try your books. The quality of the book they try determines if they read your other books.

Questionable Help: #2: Purchasing a publication package from an internet publisher. These people are in the business of taking money from writers with stars in their eyes. They are not in the business of selling books. You can check this by looking up their authors on Amazon and seeing their usually-dismal sales ranking.

     Suggested Alternative: Find an agent who will find a real publisher who pays you an advance instead of taking your money. Or publish your book with real self-publishing. According to several sources, 25% of all Amazon bestsellers are now self-published. I don't believe any of them were published by one of the internet publishing companies. According to some of those sources, over half of all authors making $100,000 per year are now self-published (using real self-publishing). (How is it that the self-published 25% of bestselling authors can comprise half of $100,000-plus earners? Because self-published authors keep far more of the sales income. Thus a smaller number of self-published authors end up making more than a larger number of New York-published authors.)

The following three posts give some explanation about self-publishing.

http://toddborg.blogspot.com/2017/02/self-publishing-what-not-to-do.html

http://toddborg.blogspot.com/2017/02/self-publishing-what-not-to-do-part-2.html

http://toddborg.blogspot.com/2017/02/self-publishing-what-not-to-do-part-3.html

Questionable Help: #3: Purchasing books and/or consultations by so-called experts who describe themselves as book doctors or book coaches or "how to write" experts. How-to books and consultations have the potential to be helpful, but notice one very important thing. Many of these "experts" have little actual experience. Look to see if the author of the "how to write" book has had any significant success writing. Same for the authors of "how to get published" books, or "how to sell" books. I've seen books about writing mystery novels written by authors who appear to have written very few mystery novels. By their lack of sales, it appears they thought it might just be easier to write and sell "how-to" books. Yes, I know that some good coaches exist in arenas where they've had little experience. But in the absence of that experience, you should look for testimonials about their expertise, testimonials from best-selling authors.

     Suggested Alternative: Join writers groups and critique groups. Go to their meetings. Get to know other writers. Go to writers' conferences, especially the ones that offer critique.

Questionable Help: #4: Many authors write a book or two and then try to chase down marketing gurus and publicists to help them turn their book into a bestseller. This is putting the cart before the horse. (Remember, writers should never use cliches!) The most important component of building a writing career is more good books. After you have a bunch entrees on your menu - I mean, a bunch of books out - then is the time to start big-time publicizing of your restaurant.

     Suggested Alternative: See my two posts on finding Success at Writing.

http://toddborg.blogspot.com/2018/02/success-at-writing-you-gotta-go-all-in.html

http://toddborg.blogspot.com/2018/02/success-at-writing-part-two.html

As one of those posts explains, do like Hugh Howey and write ten or twenty books before you get all focused on marketing. If you wait, you will become a much better writer and have a much better likelihood of success.






Sunday, July 15, 2018

Tahoe Skydrop Signing Schedule

Hi Everybody! My schedule for my new book release is now (mostly) set.


I've organized my appearances by area. So you can scan down to your area and see when and where I'll be waiting for you!

South Lake Tahoe, CA


August 3, 2018, 4:30 - 7 p.m. Signing for TAHOE SKYDROP, Artifacts 4000 Lake Tahoe Blvd (in the Raleys Village Center just southwest of Heavenly Village) (530) 543-0728
August 12, 2018, 8:30 a.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOE SKYDROP at The Red Hut Cafe @ Ski Run Blvd and Lake Tahoe Blvd in South Lake Tahoe.
August 15, 2018, 6:30 p.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOE SKYDROP and giving a talk at the South Lake Tahoe Library



Reno, NV

August 4, 2018, 11 a.m., My first Talk and Signing for TAHOE SKYDROP at Sundance Bookstore at 121 California Avenue, Reno, NV (775) 786-1188

Tahoe City, CA

August 4, 2018 3 p.m. Signing TAHOE SKYDROP at Geared for Games, Boatworks Mall, Tahoe City, CA

Truckee, CA

August 9, 2018 5 - 7 p.m. Signing TAHOE SKYDROP at Truckee Thursday street fair, at the Word After Word tent in Truckee, CA

Carson City, Minden, and Genoa, NV

August 10, 2018, 6:00 p.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOESKYDROP and giving a talk at Shelby's Bookshoppe, 1663 Lucerne St. in Minden Village, Minden, NV 775-782-5484.
August 11, 2018, 8:30 a.m. I'll be signing my new book TAHOE SKYDROP at The Red Hut Cafe 4385 S. Carson, Carson City, NV
September 29, 30, 2018 I'm exhibiting books at the Candy Dance Festival in Genoa, NV.
October 2, 2018, 4 - 6 p.m. I'm signing my new book (and the others) at the Minden Library's Author Day, Minden, NV
October 3, 2018, 11:30 a.m. I'm giving a talk at Nevada Talking Books, Carson City, NV
October 22, 2018, 5:30 p.m. talk and signing at Browser's Books, 711 E Washington St, Carson City, NV (Across from the Carson City Library)

Sacramento, CA

October 26, 27, 28, 2018 Exhibit and sign books at the Sacramento Fine Arts Show,  Sacramento Convention Center, Sacramento, CA
November 16, 17, 18, 2018 Exhibit and sign books at the Sacramento Harvest Festival at Cal Expo Fairgrounds

The Bay Area, CA

September 8, 9, 2018, I'm exhibiting and signing  books at the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival, Mountain View, CA
November 9, 10, 11, 2018 Exhibit and sign books at the San Mateo Harvest Festival at the San Mateo Event Center.
November 23, 24, 25, 2018 Exhibit and sign books at the San Jose Harvest Festival, at the San Jose Convention Center.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Astonishing Animal Intelligence

A new study by some scientists at the universities of Cambridge and Auckland shows that crows can figure out problems better than nearly any other animals.


The scientists created a type of food vending machine that dispensed treats when a paper token was inserted. Then they gave crows torn pieces of paper in a range of sizes. Only pieces of a certain size would make the machine work.

The crows experimented with the different pieces of paper until they figured out which sizes produced the treat. They quickly got good at picking up the correct-size pieces to use to get food from the machine.

Then the researchers removed all the pieces of torn paper.

After a period of time, the scientists gave the crows some large sheets of paper.

Working only from memory, the crows used their beaks and feet to tear the paper into smaller pieces. If their torn paper pieces were too small or too large, the vending machine wouldn't work.

The result? Crows remembered the task and the required size of the "food token" necessary, and they got treats from the vending machine.

This ability is something almost no animals can do.

So the next time you gaze up at a crow, it's fun to remember their amazing smarts.



P.S. The article is as "dry" as you might expect in a scientific journal, but here it is for the curious:
Nature Scientific Reports

Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Bomb-Sniffing Dog At Work

We humans have a small-but-regular assorment of bad individuals among us. We've developed a lot of techniques to identify the bad eggs. Our techniques are useful in varying degrees. But one of the best ways to save us from ourselves is to bring in a dog.

Despite amazing machines we've developed that can sniff the air for any indications of chemicals that are associated with bad intentions, none is yet as good as a dog's nose.

A few days ago, we were coming back from Italy and caught the new JetBlue non-stop from JFK to Reno. The airport was a mob scene, with thousands of summer travelers lining up to go through airport security. The TSA was doing their best to cope. (I wouldn't have that job for anything.)

As the line grew, they suddenly interrupted the routine and stopped all the inspections. The crowds piled up. We couldn't tell why they would suspend the searches. The Airtrain and cabs and shuttles and Uber drivers kept dropping off travelers, and they flowed into the JetBlue terminal with no place to go except to get in the line, which went back and forth through the maze they'd set up to organize a huge crowd.

After 30 minutes of no activity, we finally got a hint of why they'd stopped the inspections. A Department of Homeland Security officer appeared with a German Shorthair Pointer, one of the preferred breeds (along with Belgian Malinois and Labs) that they train to sniff out explosives.


The dog had a DHS vest on. The handler took her around the edges of the maze that contained the crowd, letting the dog get familiar with the ambient scents of the airport. Then the handler brought the dog to a place adjacent to where the people in line would pass through once they started moving.

Other officers shouted out instructions to the crowd.

"Do not pet the dog. Do not reach out to the dog. Walk through the line. Keep moving."

They opened the end gate of the maze and let the people start to pass.

The dog stood, head down as if sniffing near the floor. The crowds moved past. The dog never looked up. Her job was just to sniff the air. If she smelled any of the scents she was trained to notice, she'd sit down next to her handler.

The huge crowd all walked past the dog, single file. The dog stared at the floor, her nostrils flexing. Her focus was intense. She radiated intelligence.

It was an impressive scene. Hundreds of travelers and an entire airport terminal were shut down. Whether or not the system would restart was dependent on the response of a single dog.

We eventually got past the dog's inspection. The flights eventually continued.

The travelers were of course worried. Having a DHS dog brought in to assess a crowd suggested that the TSA/DHS had acquired some disturbing information. On the other hand, when the DHS dog didn't "alert," it made us all feel much safer.

We can know that there are armed Federal Air Marshals incognito on the planes. But that does us no good if there is something really bad on the plane. So, in the end, the giant operation that is an airport comes down to a single dog, focused, well-trained. An animal with the concentration, and smarts, and a nose so powerful that it can detect the equavalent of a half teaspoon of sugar (or whatever else) in an Olympic swimming pool of water.

Let's all give thanks to dogs.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tahoe Wildlife - We Have A Very Prickly Neighbor

We've seen porcupines in Tahoe, but those sightings are rare. Yet on a recent hike, we encountered the biggest porcupine we've ever seen.

photo from pixabay.com
When that tough guy sensed our presence, he (she?) turned away from us and fluffed up its quills until it was a ball of spikes.  Yikes.

All we could think of was what it must be like for a coyote or bobcat or dog to come upon this creature and swat at it with a paw or start sniffing too close.

There is a rude joke that skunks and porcupines only have one natural predator - the automobile. Sad, but probably true.

So we waited, and our prickly neighbor eventually wandered into the brush, safer from any and all threats than rattlesnakes. Not even those master predators from the sky - the raptors - have much chance at taking a porcupine. Porcupines are a marvelous example of how evolution can conjure up impenetrable defenses.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Tahoe Wildlife - Coyote!

Last summer, my wife and I saw a coyote pup wandering past our house, below our deck. It was small enough that we worried it didn't have a parent teaching it to hunt. Yet over the course of the summer months, it would reappear in the evening, on the prowl, while we were barbecuing dinner.

photo from pixabay.com


Gradually, it grew. It seemed robust and radiated health.

Then came winter and we didn't see it anymore. Or, more accurately, we didn't see any single coyotes on the prowl through our yard. Occasionally, as we always do, there would come groups of coyotes through the forest, carrying on their social-hunting routine. And we would awaken in the night to their loud, yipping, almost-screaming conversations.

photo from pixabay.com


This spring, our single coyote reappeared in our yard. We think it's the same coyote. Mostly full grown, quite large now and beautiful. Very robust. One can't help but admire the coyote, so smart, so adaptable, so able to do well even in areas where people have taken over.

They also keep down the populations of many creatures that would take over our yards and invade our houses.

Yes, they sometimes eat our pets. And that is a very sad day for everyone involved. But the coyotes were here first. So it's incumbent on us to keep our pets close so we can admire these amazing carnivores that thrive with no help from us and in spite of efforts from many people to exterminate them.

We feel lucky to see coyotes in Tahoe on a weekly - and sometimes daily - basis.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tahoe Wildlife - Bobcat!

Last winter, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a really large cat walking through the snow. After a moment, I thought it was too large to be a house cat.

After it wandered away, I got out my "animal tracks" book, went outside and looked at its prints.

Bobcat.

After the snow melted, my wife and I were hiking in the woods near our house when we saw the movement of a good-sized animal as it ducked under a fallen tree. We stopped and waited. The animal turned around and came out. A gorgeous bobcat. It sat down and faced us from 40 feet away, curious, watching, wondering what the humans were doing.

After five minutes of all parties remaining motionless, it turned and disappeared among the manzanita bushes.

It was a beautiful animal.

photo from pixabay.com


For those who are curious, the telltale characteristics are a cat that is roughly twice the size of a house cat or a little less, black tufts at the tip of its ears, and a short "bobbed" tail.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

New Trail Up Angora Ridge

I've written before about Angora Ridge Road here. It leads up to the old Angora Fire Lookout and some of the world's best views looking down at Fallen Leaf Lake and across at the peaks of the Crystal Range.
The hike gives you views of Mt. Tallac, all the way up.
The hike always used to be along the Forest Service Road that climbs up to Angora Lakes Resort. It's a wonderful hike and great for chatting with your companions. However, when the Forest Service opens the gate in the summer, there can be many cars crawling up the incline.

However, now there is an alternative, a single track hike that leads to the same lookout but does it along the west edge of the ridge. This means that instead of being in the small valley that shelters much of the road, you are on a ridge with views all the way up. The improvement in view goes from spectacular to REALLY spectacular.

The water in the foreground is Fallen Leaf Lake.
The distant water is the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.
To get to the hike, follow the directions in my earlier post (link in the first line above). When you are standing at the entrance to Angora Ridge Road and facing the gate, don't walk toward the gate. Instead, walk the main road (Tahoe Mountain Road) downhill 20 yards to your right (toward the west). Then look to your left. You will find a trail head (unmarked as of this writing). The trail immediately goes up in gentle switchbacks. Almost immediately you start to get great views, which grow in grandeur and stay with you all the way up.

You will be looking across Fallen Leaf Lake toward Mt. Tallac and north up the West Shore of Tahoe in the distance. Bring your "Wow" meter, because views don't get better than this.

This was our view from our lunch spot up next to the fire lookout building.
Looking down at Fallen Leaf Lake is like looking down at a Norwegian Fjord. Gorgeous.

The trail eventually puts you back on the road. Be sure to continue up to the old fire lookout buildings and walk up to them so you can look out across at the Crystal Range, the highest West Shore mountains in Tahoe. In the distance above you, you'll see an almost year-round snowfield, where lies Lake Aloha. For those of you who drive Highway 50 home, you can't miss Horseshoe Falls as you come around the big curves from below Echo Summit toward Twin Bridges. That spectacular falls is the water that flows out of Lake Aloha.

Enjoy!

P.S. I learned about this new trail last fall on our daily Tahoe news source: https://www.laketahoenews.net/

Check it out. Even locals like me continually learn new stuff about Tahoe!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sailing Under Snowy Mountains

As the snows retreat up the mountain, the sailboats come out.


There aren't many places in the world where you can sail a big body of water and have a snow-covered mountain backdrop. Gorgeous.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Paper Version Of Tahoe Skydrop Now Available For Preorder

Wow, I've told almost no one about my new book, Tahoe Skydrop, but it is getting attention, thanks to all of you blog readers. Thanks so much!

Last week, the Kindle version of my new book became available for preorder.
This week, the paper version is available as well. Here is the link: Tahoe Skydrop


Enjoy!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Tahoe Skydrop Is Available For Pre-Order On Kindle

I always try to do something different in each book. Usually, that means tackling a new, intriguing subject. I'm excited about Tahoe Skydrop for that reason. I'm also excited because this book has some interesting character interaction and action sequences unlike anything I've ever written. If you've enjoyed the previous novels, I'm quite sure you will like this one. And if you've never read any of my books, this is a good one to start with!


The book comes out in August. If you read on a Kindle, you can preorder it by clicking here.

Thanks for your interest and support!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sweet Spring Water

Spring in Tahoe means water flowing everywhere.

Apologies to those of you who live on the flatlands. But this little water fall - just a short walk from our front door -  would be given State Park status in many states. But in Tahoe? Well, it's just another bit of paradise.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Maltese Falcon

We were recently in The City (San Francisco), walking along Post Street just west of Union Square. At the corner of Post and Hyde is an unassuming apartment building that no one would ever think was significant. Yet the corner apartment on the top floor is where Dashiell Hammett lived in 1929. While there, he wrote The Maltese Falcon.

The upper corner apartment was Dashiell Hammett's during the late 1920s.
There is a plaque on the building commemorating his time living there.
Does a person's home matter in the creation of a classic novel? Certainly the location must have been useful to Hammett in writing a story set in San Francisco. But were there other aspects of the apartment that helped? I'm guessing it's likely that the look and smell and feel of the apartment all informed aspects of the novel.


Either way, it's fun to look up at the apartment and visualize Hammett inside, typing away, pacing, thinking, smoking and drinking (he did lots of the latter two).

Sunday, April 22, 2018

TAHOE SKYDROP Galleys Have Shipped!

Hey, Blog readers. You are the first to see the cover of my new book!

TAHOE SKYDROP is #16 in the Owen McKenna Tahoe Mystery Series.

One of the biggest days in any writer's life is when a new book arrives from the printer. A writer holds it and gazes at it lovingly, admiring the cover. Then, with great trepidation, one flips through it to see if the pages are in the correct order. (Believe me, they sometimes are not!)

Perhaps the penultimate "biggest day" comes a few months before that moment, when a writer gets a galley of the new book.

For those who don't know, a galley is a facsimile of a book. It often, though not always, has a cover that looks very similar to what will be on the finished book, although without the slick coated card stock. A galley has pages that are typeset just like what will be in the finished book. The layout and formatting and number of pages is fixed. The paper will be more like copy paper than what the finished book will have, so the galley may be less bulky and attractive than the finished book. But despite the differences, a galley gives a very good indication of what the finished book will be like.

Why do  publishers create galleys? To send to advance reviewers who work for what are known as prepublication reviews. You've heard the names. Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews are the Big Four.

Want to see the cover of TAHOE SKYDROP? Me, too! So here it is:



Look for TAHOE SKYDROP to be available for pre-order in a few weeks. And it should be ready to ship in the middle of August.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

My Pilot Pen Pal

I have a young pen pal from San Jose named Shelby. She is in the process of earning her pilot's license, learning in a Citabria and, sometimes, in a Cessna.

Shelby first wrote me because she likes my books. Perhaps she got into my books because my protagonist, Detective Owen McKenna, is a pilot. And a couple of my books have scenes with flying.

I told her that I had done some flying (in a Piper Tomahawk) but that I hadn't gotten my pilot's license.

When I asked Shelby to keep me up to date on her pilot training, she started periodically sending me some flying pictures along with comments about her experience. From those comments, I realized that she is especially perceptive about flying and will be a very good pilot.

She wrote things like, "I think the 9091L (a model of Citabria airplane) is easier to handle on the ground, but the 1806G is a bit more firm in the air and listens a little better."

A BIT MORE FIRM IN THE AIR AND LISTENS A LITTLE BETTER...! Obviously, Shelby is a natural writer and has a very good "writer's ear."

Eventually, I met Shelby when she came to the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival last fall, where I was exhibiting my books.

Here's a pic she sent me a few days ago:

This is the view looking northwest out of Shelby's airplane window. She's flying over Mount Hamilton, where the Lick Observatory sits (beneath the plane). San Jose is in the center of the photo, the San Francisco Bay is in the distance to the right. And the ridge line to the left is the Santa Cruz Mountains, stretching up the peninsula toward San Francisco.

Does this look fun, or what?!

When I told Shelby that I was envious of her flying, she joked that maybe she'll take me up for a ride after she gets her license.

I'll be waiting.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Fun With WIlliam Kent Krueger

One of the great joys of the Left Coast Crime convention (which was in Reno in March) is meeting writers whose work you really respect. One of those was William Kent Krueger. He won the LEFTY award for Best Mystery. As toastmaster, I did the "award honors."

I highly recommend such conventions for writers and readers alike.


Here's the link to next year's Left Coast Crime in Vancouver.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Left Coast Crime - The Definition Of A Great Literary Event

Last weekend was the Left Coast Crime 2018 convention, which was held in Reno. I've been to a lot of literary events for both fans and writers. This was at the top of the list for knowledge gained, connections made, future friends met. I highly recommend this event, which moves to a different venue each year, mostly on the West Coast.



As toastmaster, I got an extra charge out of being in the midst of 550 dedicated crime readers and writers.

The photo below shows me introducing one of the organizers to the audience. Was it Lynn Bremer? Lynn was the person who was responsible for drawing the Left Coast Crime organizers to hold the event in the Reno/Sparks area. The convention was held at the Nugget Resort in Sparks.

This was the Awards Banquet Dinner.
That's me, waaaay up there in front introducing Lynn Bremer,
the woman who orchestrated getting Left Coast Crime to come to Reno.
How did the servers manage to serve dinner
and drinks to 550 people?!

Next year, Left Coast Crime will be in Vancouver.
Check it out: LCC 2019

I'd also like to give a shout-out to Sundance Books, the store that handled book sales for many of the authors present. They did a great job.




Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Another Week, Another 4 feet


Here's the view looking out our front door Friday morning, March 16. The snow had drifted 6 feet deep. And the forecast is for up to another foot by Saturday morning. 

Our walkway is under there someplace. No wonder I have tendonitis from shoveling.

The avalanche warning center in Truckee has put out a "High" warning for all Tahoe back country outside of developed ski areas. If we can get unburied and go cross-country skiing, we won't go back near the mountains behind our house!