Sunday, January 16, 2022

Bald Eagles Soar (And Indicate Environmental Health)

 Back when the Bald Eagle was chosen as our national symbol (Ben Franklin wanted it to be the wild turkey), they were nearly everywhere in the country. 

Bald Eagles always stood out as huge, majestic, gorgeous birds, (up to 14 pounds and an 8-foot wingspan) who patrolled our waterways looking for fish to eat. (Never mind for the moment that one of the eagle's main approaches to obtaining food was to steal it from Ospreys after they'd done the hard work of catching the fish!)

When DDT was first invented in the late 19th century, it became a popular insecticide. As is typical, no one paid much attention at first to potential side effects. Unfortunately, DDT was responsible for decimating bird populations. Bald Eagles were among many species that nearly went extinct. (Not to mention that mosquitos had developed significant resistance to the poison!)

After much argument and hostility toward environmentalists, DDT was eventually banned in 1972. (Why is it always so hard to protect the environment?)

By the time DDT was banned, Bald Eagles had been killed in such great numbers, their survival was touch-and-go.

The first time anyone paid attention to Bald Eagles in the Tahoe Basin, there were only a couple of them.

Fast forward several decades and their numbers began climbing. In 2017, the Tahoe raptor count showed 27 Bald Eagles. In 2021, 42 Bald Eagles! 

Our beautfiful national bird is back. Everyone who spends much time hiking in Tahoe has seen them. 

Hurrah for the eagles!

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Russ, the Pit Bull, An Incredible Dog Story

Paula Peterson, writing for South Tahoe Now dot com, reported the story of Russ, a black, three-year-old Pit Bull from Riverside County. His owner was on a short-term job in South Lake Tahoe back in August. Russ got lost two days before the Caldor Fire forced the town to evacuate.

Russ's owner filed a lost-dog report but then had to leave town without him. Talk about heart-wrenching.

Four months later, we had the huge storms. A snowboarder and skier saw Russ in a tree well on the side of Twin Peaks, the small mountains just across Highway 50 from the airport. Russ was trapped, unable to move. They contacted Tahoe PAWS, a group that searches for lost pets. Multiple people were involved in the dramatic rescue with dog and humans being taken down the mountain on a sled.

Russ survived and was reunited with his owner.

How Russ survived on his own for many months is a mystery. He must be incredibly tough to have found food and shelter. When the snow got too deep, he was lucky that some back-country skiers found him.

Here's the link to the story:

Sunday, January 2, 2022

The Next Big Space Telescope Meets Tahoe Mysteries... Sort Of

 In Tahoe Payback, there is a discussion of the Italian mathematician Giuseppe Lagrange a man who - in the 1700s, 200 years before the first satellite was launched into orbit - figured out a solution to the "three-body problem" for how the sun, Earth, and the moon relate in their orbits. Lagrange did this with nothing but mathematics. No fancy telescopes, no computers, just him and his chalkboard. Amazing what mathematicians can figure out!

One result of his work was the realization that with any two big objects in space - Earth and the sun - there will be five points in space where the gravity of the different bodies and the centrifugal force from hurtling around the sun, cancel each other out. Lagrange realized that these five points - now called Lagrangian points - are like gravity wells. Objects like asteroids that wander by may fall into these "wells" and be trapped. Another perspective suggests that we could purposely put spacecraft into those points, and the spacecraft would tend to stay in place without much encouragement.

On Christmas day, we launched the James Webb telescope. The James Webb telescope will be much more powerful than the Hubble telescope. 

The mirror of the James Webb telescope is made up of gold-plated hexagonal sections. Once the rocket lifted the telescope into space, the mirrored sections were automatically assembled. Together the combined pieces are 21 feet across. That mirror is many times bigger than the 7-foot mirror of the Hubble telescope. It will allow astronomers to see stuff they've only dreamed of.

When they looked for a good place to put it in orbit, they chose the L-2  Lagrange point, about a million miles out from our planet. In the illustration below, Earth is the blue dot, the Sun is the yellow dot, and the Lagrange points are numbered.

What does this have to do with my Tahoe mysteries?

Not much other than Tahoe Payback has a character who is into Lagrangian points. While not hugely critical to the mystery, the concept of places in space where you can "park" a spacecraft is something I find very cool. (Incidentally, the Lagrangian points at the planet Jupiter are so big and their gravity so powerful, that they hold a million asteroids and other space detritus.)

Last we heard, the James Webb telescope has assembled its mirror pieces, unfurled its solar panels, and its huge sunshade. It is now cruising out to its million-mile distance. It will take a few weeks to get there, then it will begin to go to work.

As with the Hubble telescope, we will hopefully be hearing about "James Webb telescope" discoveries for years to come.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Up To TWELVE Feet Of Snow... !!!

I'm writing this on Christmas Eve.

The weather forecast shows storm after storm, lined up out in the Pacific, waiting to get into California like the backlog of cargo ships waiting to get into Long Beach. 

The storms will push across the coast and the Central Valley and then climb up the West Slope of the Sierra. Most scenarios show 5 or 6 feet coming to Tahoe by this coming Tuesday. And they added this killer line from the National Weather Service: 

"Travel will be difficult to impossible this weekend with snow levels lowering into the foothils Sunday morning. Tree branches could fall as well. Additional snow accumulations of 3 to 6 feet, with localized amounts of up to 12 feet."

Either way, the result will be a substantial addition to our snowpack, another dent in the drought, and multiple feet of water added to Lake Tahoe and Northern California reservoirs. 

In 2017 (was that the correct year?), they said the drought that year would take years of above-average precipitation to recover from. But after a series of major storms. we bounced back to normal in just one season.

This year they've been saying the same thing. Will these storms do the same thing and refill the lake? Check back in April.

P.S. A reminder that TAHOE JADE will be free on Kindle through December 29th. Here's the link:

Check it out, and tell your friends. I think you'll like it.


Sunday, December 19, 2021

Tahoe Jade Free On Kindle

Next Saturday is Christmas.

In celebration, Tahoe Jade will be free to download from December 25th through December 29th. If it's not in your Kindle, you can add it for free. Feel free to pass this on to your friends as well.


Sunday, December 12, 2021

If You're Tired Enough, You Can Snooze Anywhere

 Big snow coming, so I stopped at the station to get gas for the snowblower. I was distracted by a sleeping dog. 

There was a pickup with the passenger window open. A dog was draped over the window sill the way a cat drapes herself along the back of a couch. When I walked over a little closer to take a picture, the dog opened its eyes. But it still didn't lift its head up off the sideview mirror. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Humans And The Big Primates... We Are So Similar


With the holidays approaching and people getting together, it is time to reflect on what it means to have companionship. There are some animals that are solitary, like some of the big cats. But they seem to be rare. Many animals crave companionship with each other. 

If we look at our closest animal relatives, bonabos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas, it's almost like watching humans. They share meals, they hug, they bring gifts, they have many complex social rituals.

Scott Simon at NPR did a story on animals hugging. It's worth a read or a listen. Here's the link:

Scott Simon

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Writers That Writers Admire


When I was young, I spent many years writing songs. The attraction of a story that's set to music, starts with a hook, gets complicated, rises to a climax, then wraps up with some kind of resolution, and does it all in two or three minutes was very compelling. The songwriting masters (all the names you know) were my inspiration. I was a typical young, rock 'n roller wannabe. I loved the medium of songs.

I spent some time playing with other musicians. We made recordings. We even went into a recording studio and made a record (this was the days of vinyl).

After a trip to Hollywood, where I played my material for music publishers, I realized I didn't have what it takes. Writing is a kind of art where the difficulty gets greater as the form gets shorter. Crafting a 2 minute 30 second song that works and that people might like to listen to over and over is, simply, the hardest writing there is.

So I quit and decided to try my hand at novel writing, another kind of writing that I'd always been in love with, one, which, at 350 pages, gives you a bit more room to ramble.

Despite my switch to novel writing, I've remained aware of songwriting. And the masters of songwriting are the among the tallest mountains in my creative mental landscape. When Stephen Sondheim died a couple of days ago, it was a time to reflect on the power of a song.

Many of us have seen the Sondheim musicals that transformed Broadway. From West Side Story to Company, to Into The Woods, to A Little Night Music, to Sunday In The Park With George.

Most of us - maybe all of us - have some Sondheim songs stuck in our heads. Send In The Clowns, Being Alive, Move On, Jet. Even if we don't think of ourselves as knowing Sondheim lyrics, many of us can sing them:

Isn't it rich?

Are we a pair

Me here at last on the ground

You in mid-air

Send in the clowns


When you're a Jet

you're a Jet all the way 

from your first cigarette 

to your last dyin' day

The world is a much richer place for Stephen Sondheim's writing.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Problem With Push-In Doors

Even if people in Tahoe feel no need to lock their doors regarding people, they still need to lock them for bears. Bears are good at working door knobs. If fact, in some places there are building codes that prohibit swing handle doorknobs because they are too easy for bears to open up.

The extreme version of easy doorknobs is the door you just push to open. The 7-Eleven store in Olympic Valley found out the down side of such doors. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Finishing San Mateo Harvest Festival Today, Sacramento Festival Starts Friday

 People seem to love being able to get out and go somewhere.

Here's a possibility. Come to the Harvest Festival. 

I'm exhibiting my books along with hundreds of other artists and craftspeople exhibiting their amazing work. The last day of the San Mateo Harvest Festival is today, Sunday, November 14th. It is held at the San Mateo Event Center on Saratoga.

The Sacramento Harvest Festival begins this coming Friday, November 19th. It will be held at Cal Expo (at the California State Fairgrounds.)

Come on by. You will think it's worth the trip for both the exploration and the unique Christmas gifts that you can't get anywhere else.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Martin Hollay - Still Skiing At 101!

 The Tahoe Tribune did a story on South Tahoe local Martin Hollay who received yet more honors at Palisades Tahoe Resort. See the story at the Tahoe Daily Tribune, link below.

Photo from the Tahoe Tribune

At 101, Martin is still skiing, still smiling, still charming everyone he meets.

My wife and I first met Martin in 1990 at Heavenly Resort. He invited us to spend a day skiing with him. It was a blast. He gave us an "insider's" tour of the mountain, skirting around the boundary fences, heading down wonderful tree skiing where the public is not allowed to go. Several times, ski patrolers saw us. They just waved us through because we were with the #1 VIP on the mountain!

When we stopped for lunch, we met some of his friends from Hungary, where Martin was from. What a charming group! Martin pulled out his metal lunch box that he'd had from the time he was a boy, and he served us Hungarian food, crackers, cheese, sausage, and other treats.

We learned that Martin and his friends had left Hungary around the time of the Soviet invasion in 1956. The Hungarians had begun to resist Soviet rule, and the Soviets wanted to crush the uprising. Martin came to the United States and ended up in Tahoe, where he ran the Heavenly Ski Patrol for 25 years.

Martin also told us stories about competing in the Olympics. He knew everybody significant, including, of course, his younger friend Stein Eriksen.

Not long ago, I had the honor of doing a book signing with Martin at the Lake Tahoe Museum in South Lake Tahoe. I had my most recent book and Martin had his: I Was So Lucky: The Life Of Martin Hollay.

We had a great afternoon together, and he told me amazing stories. One I'll never forget was when I asked him about his current skiing.

He said, "Oh, yes. You know the Top of the Tram at Heavenly and the Roundabout Run that goes down from there?"

"Of course," I said.

"I still ski Roundabout every morning."

"Wow, that's great," I said, impressed that a man in his mid-nineties was still skiing down 1,700 vertical feet every day. I added, "I've always loved the views of the lake as you ski down."

He looked a little taken aback. "Oh, no, I don't ski down. I ski UP. On my cross-country skis. Then I ride the tram down." 

That was a revealing look into Martin's life. And it suggests one of the main reasons he is still so vital at 101 years of age.

My wife and I have done a fair amount of skiing in our lives. And some of that was on our back-country skis, climbing up a good distance and then skiing down. But I don't think we've ever climbed up more than a thousand vertical feet on our skis.

Martin does 1,700 feet every morning.

An amazing man.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Tahoe Ski Resorts Opening!

Palisades (the new name for Squaw Valley) and Boreal are both open as of yesterday!

South of Tahoe, Mammoth is open!

It is rumored that Mt. Rose will open in a week. Heavenly, Northstar and Sugar Bowl will be a couple of weeks after that.

All of the other resorts will likely be soon after, earlier than normal, thanks to the "atmospheric river" a week ago that dumped up to 3 feet on the mountains.

Have fun!