Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Last Letter

As educators J along with L get many pieces of paper to 'look over,' peruse, and to edit from our students and most of the time it strictly deals with the mechanics of writing. A task most school-aged children, especially middle school, have not yet mastered. Being a creative writing teacher, J usually has his hands full with short stories, articles, or poems which need a lot of attention from youngsters who believe the term 'edit' is a disgusting four letter word. But once in awhile a piece comes along that needs nothing but to be read. This is a poem received just this Friday from a young boy (who's name has been withheld out of respect for the family).  It is typed exactly as it was handed in. It was not a class assignment, but an act of love.

My Last Letter

It feels like my world is standing still,
I keep telling myself it can't be real,
I finally reached my biggest fear, to awake one
day and your not there. Even though all the pain,
and struggle, your still my dad and I will always
love you. The time ahead is going to be hard,
most wounds will but also most leave a scar,
I always talk to you but now you can't respond
But I know you're here and still got my back,
to my family we need to try and find, a way to
band together because time is blind, you used
to smile from cheek to cheek, And now your gone
it broke me down piece by piece, But I have to
smile because your not weak, And I'm happy
now knowing your at peace, it has to get worst
before it gets better, But I had to write you
Just one last letter.

This poem was written by a thirteen year old boy who lost his father to cancer in October of 2013. When J heard the news he took the boy aside and told him if he ever wanted to discuss the matter privately anytime would be fine. November 22nd turned out to be that day when he handed me the poem.

Through this act of love and pain, a young man brings out the meaning of the upcoming Thanksgiving. Give thanks to those we love and never let a moment slip by because those moments are not guaranteed in the future.

The father in the poem must have been one good guy since he had a hell of a great son.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Conspiracy Theory

It seems the month of November, especially this year, is the time of conspiracy reminders. With the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address (not to mention all the rumors surrounding President Lincoln's assassination), and the recent film regarding the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and the 'stonewalling' surrounding the investigation into the cause of the accident, J and L decided to add to the phenomena of conspiracy theories. Not that we have anything even close to these monumental mysteries, but what the heck, these are the things which make America such a great, and interesting country.

During the course of research for an upcoming novel, Operation Scorpion, J decided to take a drive out to the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Depository. You know, the one located in southern Nevada which has supposedly had over ten billion American tax dollars spent constructing the facility, only to have it defunded and 'abandoned' in 2010.The remote location in the Amargosa Desert is home to the Nellis Air Force Range, and, coincidentally, also the location of the ever-fascinating Area 51. Yes, the same Area 51 around which stories swirl regarding little green men being dissected after crash-landing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.

Can it get any better than this?

J had written to the Nuclear Waste Department in Eureka County, Nevada, requesting a tour of the facility which had been under planning and construction for decades. It is a fascinating engineering project, designed to provide a space for the safe disposal of all nuclear wastes produced in the United States for thousands of years (please refer to the sites listed at the end of this blog for confirmation and further detail).

Our traveling companion during this adventure was the frequent fellow-explorer, Paul Bakas, good friend and photographer.

There had been no response from the Waste Department, so the adventure was afoot as we try to find our own way in, as did some of the characters in Operation Scorpion (due for release in 2015).

A quick three and a half hour drive north to Baker, then northwest to the town of Amargosa Valley at the junction of Highways 373 and 95, and we thought we'd be near the entrance, if not the footprint of the nuclear site.

We were wrong.

We stopped and asked for directions at three different establishments, including the Chamber of Commerce, but no one could give us directions to the facility. Rather strange, we thought, considering the scope of such a repository for nuclear waste, including a purported five mile long tunnel built into the Yucca Mountains before being defunded.

Hard to hide such a thing. Or was it?

Off to the hinterlands, four-wheeling in the trusty Toyota FJ for hours upon hours of searching, but to no avail.There were plenty of hard-packed dirt roads, large enough for construction vehicles, and a few signs for YMP (Yucca Mountain Project) personnel, but no discernible entrance to the increasingly mysterious facility.

Dusk was smothering the mountains as we decided to call it a day. We were dirty, tired, frustrated, and hungry. So we drove back to Beatty where we had decided to set up camp for the evening.

This is when it really got strange.

Sitting down to a nice dinner at the Sourdough Saloon with a cold beer, J's cell phone pinged and up popped an email from the Nuclear Waste Advisor (who shall remain anonymous) stating that there were no tours of the area because the program was shut down. The site had not been licensed to receive nuclear waste and all there was to see was an exploratory tunnel, but nowhere to store material.


I shared the email with my fellow explorer, Paul, and his eyebrows curled a bit upwards. "Rather odd to receive such an email right after we spent the entire day driving around the back end of the thing, wouldn't you say? Almost as though someone knew we had been there snooping around."

"Since I sent the first email weeks ago asking for a tour and explaining my reasons. Yes, I would agree with you."

Paul nodded. Not really much of one to dwell on conspiracies, his reply was to change the subject.  "And I agree this food is tasty and the beer cold."

Couldn't argue with that logic, but there was certainly a growing sense of confusion and yes, perhaps a little paranoia floating around in my cranium.

That confusion turned to something more quizzical as we left Beatty the following morning and headed into the very small town of Death Valley Junction for breakfast. We discussed our empty-handed mission of the previous day with a friendly waitress, who shall also remain nameless -- the reader will understand why. I mentioned our search and the contents of the email I received from the waste department.

"That's funny," the waitress observed. "My husband worked there and we have drivers coming through who say they already are delivering low level radioactive material out there. They have armed guards surrounding the entry gates to Mercury. Strange message to write saying it's not open when we all know it is."

And this is how governmental conspiracies begin!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Things that go bump for the Holidays

A pleasant surprise for the upcoming holidays is that J of J and L has had a fictional short story accepted and will be published in an anthology along with other very talented writers to be released on December 14, 2013. The book will be available at Black Opal Books and many other online bookstores. It is a collection of 'spooky' and 'mind numbing fear' written by some of the best up coming authors in the near future. Watch for their names on the novels and stories they create. Please take a moment and visit their web sites and see what they have to offer.

"To read is not an exercise for strict entertainment but one of necessity for a strong and independent individual." John R. Beyer

We at J and L would never lead our fellow adventurers down a wrong path.

Dr. J feels quite humbled to be published with these very accomplished writers, but likes the company.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor's Center - Update

Not long ago J and L decided to revisit the newly rebuilt visitor's center (the previous center had been burned down by an arsonist) at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest located in the White Mountains. The year before the only structure to greet us had been a small and narrow temporary mobile office which had to be utilized until the new center had been constructed and reopened.

White Mountain Visitor Center
The late afternoon was brisk, very brisk with a north wind blowing down the Owens Valley bringing the temperature down into the thirties when J and L walked into the beautifully stunning visitor center to be greeted by two very friendly and knowledgeable rangers. Dave Hardin and Philly Brooks who manned the long desk full of tourist information concerning the Ancient Bristlecones and the surrounding mountain areas. The interior of the center consisted of a rather large visitor's area including a large rock fireplace (not burning unfortunately) with comfortable looking overstuffed chairs surrounding a coffee table. Book and 'touristy' sort of purchasable items hung on various metal racks and wood bookshelves.
The writer at work
We had made it just a few minutes before the center was to close for the day but both rangers were rather kind to forget the clock and devote a few minutes to a pair of inquisitive explorers. Questions were asked and answers received.

We learned the center was open when the roads cleared of snow, usually around the middle of May or beginning of June (depending on the amount of precipitation received in the White Mountains) and closed around the beginning of November. There was only one road up and down off the mountain and at nearly 11,000 feet above sea level can make the drive treacherous depending on weather conditions.

One interesting fact we learned was there were very few insect issues and no bear problems, unlike across Owens Valley in the Sierras due to so little rain. Made camping under the stars much more enjoyable than slapping at flying thingies all evening or waiting to be eaten by Smokey.
Sierra Nevada Mountains
Philly Brooks was asked why she loved her job so much as she obviously did to this observer and her reply was simple and almost poetic. "What I love about the Bristlecone Pines is that it is different than anything else out there. It's so quiet, no noise except the wind through the branches, no bugs annoying a hiker and miles of trails to wander and simply enjoy life."

Dave Hardin was asked a similar question. "I like the White Mountains because it's like a marriage when one understands they have to accept the whole picture and not just an isolated portion of that person they are marrying. Makes for a healthier relationship and that goes for nature also."

Philly and Dave
Both of their answers must have some validity especially since over 30,000 visitors per year from around the United States and the world visit this very spot where some of the oldest trees on earth reside.

Asked what happens when the weather suddenly changes from sunny to cloudy threatening snow in late spring or early fall Philly simply smiled and said: "We get the hell off the mountain and lock the road barriers behind us."

Heeding Advice
With no cell service, no internet and steep terrain we would have to agree with the ranger.

Seasonal Information:

The Visitor Center is open mid-May until sometime in November depending on weather and snow/road conditions. Call the White Mountain District Office for exact opening and closing dates: 760-873-2500.


An easy drive along Highway 395, either north or south, at the town of Big Pine travel east on Highway 168 for 13 miles. Then turn left at the signed junction for White Mountain Road to the Bristlecone Pine Forest and continue 10 miles until the end of the paved road at Schulman Grove. Turn right into the visitor center parking lot. Do be careful since the road is narrow in spots but well-maintained.  Also watch for sudden shifts in the weather when the roadway may become icy or snow covered.