Thursday, October 31, 2013


In honor of Halloween, this post finishes the month with an un-rhyme:
A Halloween story in free verse for those who dare to read on.

"Don't Touch That Dial--It's Halloween!"
By Bill Kirk

'Tis a dark and stormy night.
The moon is shrouded by low-hanging clouds,
Pushed along by a howling wind.
Branches dance erratically, all but disconnected
From massive, creaking trunks. Snap! Something breaks.

Momentary flashes of moon and stars
Yield brief hints of what awaits those
Who choose to travel on such a turbulent night.
Will we make it to our destination?
Or only wish we had?

This is not a night for the engine to fail.
Is that why we stopped?
A lone car approaches in the distance.
In a flash, virtually on top of us,
High beams shock shut our wide-open eyes.

Then nothing as tail lights disappear in the distance.
The first drops of an impending storm
Dot the dusty windshield
Leaving spider-like reflections
Of the dimming interior lights. Keep the engine running.

How long will the battery last anyway?
Without it, the night is impenetrable.
Yet squandering it by leaving the lights on
Gives the visual advantage to those outside looking in.
Sure they can see us-each one of us.

Turn it off then. But can we at least listen to the radio?
Anything for a little distraction-even for a few minutes.
Hey, does anyone have a cell phone? No matter.
No reception. Better save their batteries, too. Wait.
Go back to that last radio station. What did that guy just say?

"Mass escape from Ravenscroft…. Two guards killed…
Throats slit; hoisted feet first on the flagpole.
Three others left surgically blind, deaf or dumb.
No sign of where the monsters went
And no way to track them.

"To all who hear this broadcast, stay inside your homes
And let no one in, not even if you think you know their voice.
If you are out, keeping driving, as far and as fast as you can.
And hope you can find shelter quickly in the company
Of those you can trust for help and safekeeping.

"For there is evil prowling the night,
Looking for a hiding place away from the storm,
No matter what they must do to find it.
And just for entertainment, they will spare no suffering.
Relishing the screams and pleadings of their victims.

"If you are in your car, do not get out. Lock every door.
Turn out every light. Stay out of sight.
If you hear any scratching on your car, stay quiet and do not move.
Dial 911 if you can and give your location to the authorities.
Only turn the radio on for hourly updates from this station."




Monday, September 9, 2013

"Fire Restrictions Are There For A Reason"

At the risk of suggesting a topical shift from writing to backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, my first entry for quite a while is a reflection on fire in the wilderness. But first a photo from a short backpacking trip in the Sierra in July of this year:

To snap the pic required a five-mile hike in to Showers Lake (photo) from near Woods Lake along highway 89, plus a brief wait after eating dinner in camp for the sunset. Needless to say, an i-Phone photo, although pretty spectacular, doesn't come close to a first-hand look. In a totally different context, Eric Sevaried once wrote of the northern Canadian wilderness in his book Canoeing With The Cree, "Such sights as this are reserved for those who will suffer to behold them."

Here's another shot looking easterly toward Lake Tahoe from a rock perch at the edge of the camping area. Arriving early enough in the day, a camper might be lucky to snag this campsite and awake to see the birth of the dawn over Lake Tahoe.

So, why these photos now? And what is the connection to the topic of fire in the wilderness? Anyone in central, eastern and northern California and parts of Nevada have been witness to the effects of the Rim Fire burning near and in Yosemite National Park in recent weeks. The fire was reportedly started by someone who disregarded fire restrictions which were (and still are) in place to reduce the possibility of just such an event. As a result, 400 square miles of wilderness area have been scorched, including several homes in the path. The livelihoods of thousands of people in the surrounding communities and towns have also been jeopardized by the drop in the number of visitors and the trade they bring.

Clearly, natural causes could have started the Rim Fire just as easily. Lightning strikes have destroyed thousands of square miles of wilderness over the years and will continue to do so. Yet, the obvious lesson is nature needs no help from people when it comes to starting fires.

Little can be done to recoup the losses of those affected by any wilderness fire. Nor can we soothe their disappointment about the carelessness of those who would disregard prudent restrictions on the many in favor of the momentary enjoyment by the few. Masking her frustration last week, one nearby resident affected by the fire summed up the feelings of many when she simply said, "Fire restrictions are there for a reason." The message doesn't get much clearer than that.

On a another trip to Lake Tahoe last weekend, I was part of the support group for the Emigrant Trails Bike Trek (no, I wasn't among the riders). Approaching Lake Tahoe on Highway 50, I was looking forward to the panoramic view of the deep blue lake nestled among the surrounding peaks. However, as I rounded the last of the tight curves which open up to the spectacular lake views, the lake was totally masked by the thick haze of drifting smoke from the Rim Fire.

Personally, I like a good campfire as much as the next person. And I can vouch for the same sentiment among the Boy Scouts in our Scout Troop and other Troops who frequently camp in California's wilderness areas. After all, campfires are an expected part of the camping experience. Yet when conditions warn against fire, there is no debate. Like the lady said, those fire restrictions are there for a reason.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dad, Can I Help?

I've included this rhyming story before but I can't pass up using again on this day, the first Father's Day without my dad. He passed away in January and all of his family are missing him today. But he wouldn't want us to be droopy-eyed about him missing this day with us. I had him for 65 years and even he would probably say, that's long enough. And then there were three generations: My son, Chris, and his son, Dylan, with me hiking Bodega Head in California last week on June 8.

Cherish the fathers who are still with us, wherever they may be. And hold in your hearts the fathers we can only remember this day. May the Lord bless you and keep you all and may we all be sons with whom our fathers are well pleased.

Dad, Can I Help?
By Bill Kirk

The long weekend beckoned—
I’d written my list.
And I was quite sure
There was nothing I’d missed.

No yard work distractions,
No carpools to do.
The weekend was mine
Until I was through.

I had all my hardware
And lumber galore.
I’d work on the deck;
Replace an old door.

I set up my saw
And tested my drill.
With anticipation
I felt quite a thrill.

“No holding me back,”
I thought, a bit smug.
Then all of a sudden,
I felt a slight tug.

Stopping my work,
I turned with a glance
To see my small son
Grab the leg of my pants.

What could I do?
Did I have any choice,
When my little son asked
In his little boy voice?

“Dad, can I help?
I just need some glue
And maybe a nail,
Some wood and a screw.”

“I’ll be very careful
And do what you say.
I promise, I’ll try
To stay out of your way.”

I felt the deck slipping
Right out of my grasp.
And the door would remain
On its very last gasp.

We built a small boat
With a deck and a sail
Out of two bits of wood,
An old rag and a nail;

Then battled some pirates
And found chests of gold.
With each new adventure
A story was told.

We sawed and we hammered
Until we were done
With all of our work—
Like father, like son.

I never did finish
My list on that day,
Instead I spent time
With my son, just to play.

And those weekend projects?
Sometimes they must wait.
For some life appointments,
A Dad can’t be late.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Two Nights, Two Skunks And The Boldness Of Noah

Have you ever noticed there are literally hundreds of references to water in the Bible: The parting of the Red Sea, turning water to wine, the washing of feet, baptism in the river, Jesus walking on water, the woman at the well—you get the picture. Water seems to be everywhere in the Bible. I suppose it shouldn’t be all that surprising, what with three-quarters of the earth being covered with it. Then there was the Great Flood when all four quarters of the earth were covered. Let’s face it. If we get a bit concerned about reports the earth’s oceans are rising a few inches, think of the headline when water covered Everest over 29,000 feet above sea level! Some things are way beyond imagination. We’re talking epic proportions here!

Which naturally brings me to skunks. Yep. That’s right. Skunks. OK. So, my transitions could use a little work. But think of it. Using what can only be described as his extraordinary negotiating skills, Noah managed to get two skunks onboard the Ark—and keep them INSIDE for over 40 days and 40 nights. And no one in the family was thrown overboard.

But wait! There's more! The 40 days and 40 nights don't begin to tell the story. According to Genesis Chapters 7 and 8, the elapsed time Noah, his family and all the animals were on the Ark was over a year. Is that impressive or what? Covering the earth with water was indeed miraculous. But I can’t help but think hosting two skunks on a boat and living to tell about it was pretty amazing in its own right. As a matter of fact, in some small way I had my own epiphany about such acts of faith just last week….

Years ago, we converted our heating/cooling system to gas, which was supposedly cheaper and more efficient than our electric system. If memory serves, “brilliant” was the humblest of words I could find to describe my stroke of genius at the money we were going to save. In retrospect, there appears to have been one minor shortcut during the installation. But how was I to know there could possibly be a downside to running the gas pipe under the house and out through one of the crawl space vents rather than poking a hole through the stucco? Besides, the wire mesh patch job the installers did seemed secure at the time.

Fast forward to one evening last week, my wife and I were tuned in to “Jeopardy” and “Wheel Of Fortune”—What? You thought we would be watching “Masterpiece Theatre”? Suddenly, we heard a strange bumping and scratching. The location of the sounds was rather non-specific except they seemed to be coming from under the family room. As it turns out, I should have been a bit more diligent about inspecting the aforementioned wire mesh patch which had apparently worked its way loose over the years.

Somehow, an enterprising skunk had found its way under the house below the family room. There was also the slightest hint of something ominous in the air. If you have ever wondered how air tight the ductwork in your house is, wonder no more. It ain’t. And did I mention skunk mating season is in February and March? Fortunately, the gestation period in skunks is 60 days. So, time was on my side.

The next three days and nights were a blur, mostly due to the tears in my eyes. I was Trapper Bill by night and a critter relocation specialist in rubber gloves and a HazMat suit by day. If you are wondering, my wife did mention Animal Control once or twice—OK it was several times. But why would any self-respecting Eagle Scout resort to such tactics. Besides, just think of the money I saved—a Scout is Thrifty and all that. Admittedly, buying febreeze by the gallon isn’t cheap and salvaging my Honda Accord after transporting skunks in my trunk is still a work in progress. But I really feel the skunks and I have cleared the air in our relationship.