Road & Reading Update

1. At 6:00 A.M. in February, Houston is merely warm and insanely humid.

2. Houston is home to the beautiful Annunciation Parish, a mere 10 minute muggy walk from the hotel:

Three interesting things:

  • Most of the people there were a) men and b) younger than me. Some were obviously people with jobs downtown catching Mass before work – something a lot of people used to do, but now few parishes in my experience offer Mass early enough for that to work.
  • They used the altar rail – kneeling for communion under both species.
  • Second sighting of the Ignatius Pew Missal in the wild (after Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara)

My Southern California heart was deeply offended:



3. Travel means:

  • Sitting on a plane
  • Time stuck in hotel room.

Which means: Reading! A few pages from the end of Captive Dreams by Mike Flynn, which deserves praise and a thoughtful review, which, given there’s nothing on the schedule for this afternoon (but you know how that goes) I might get to sooner rather than later. And a read! Get your copy now, and wallow in philosophy, math, and genetics while you enjoy excellent ScFi.

4. Now, two slots east of my native time zone – I need coffee!!

Weekend Update: Milestones, Tahoe, Woodworking Abomination, etc.

1. So: sometime today, given normal traffic, this blog will get its 100,000th view. About 35,000 visitors. Don’t know what makes up views and visitors, except there are enough caveats, provisos, quid pro quos to make the common sense understanding (whatever that might be) unlikely to align with these numbers. Whatever. W00, and, I might add, Hoo.

“There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos. Rule number one: I can’t kill anybody. Bleurk! So don’t ask. Rule number two: I can’t make anybody fall in love with anybody else. You little punim there! Rule number three: I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture, I DON’T LIKE DOING IT! Other than that, you got it.”

2. Up in Tahoe for the long weekend, with a couple of families from school – one mom very graciously gets her sister to rent us a cabin (in the Tahoe sense of a two-story building on snow-plowed roads that sleeps 16 or so in suburban comfort) so that the cost is very low per person. Unlike previous years, we gocher snow Right Here:

View from the kitchen table. More snow on the way through Tuesday. Lots more snow as you head further up the mountains. 

Over the Echo Summit (7,382′), snow was piled a dozen or more feet high on either side of the road. Right after the summit, the road bears left and descend along a cliff over the course of a couple miles to about lake level (6,225′). Usually, this section is a bit bracing, what with very scenic and life-threatening drops a suddenly flimsy-looking guardrail away. This time, there was a view-obstructing yet somehow comforting pile of cleared snow along most of the route. Good thing, too, since there was a light snow that was *just* starting to stick.

I lived in New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque) long enough to learn that snow sucks. Those people with their ice fishing and tobogganing and what not are in denial. Go ahead and kid yourselves however you need to to survive until spring, where you’ll have a couple weeks of nice weather before it turns hot, nasty and mosquito-infested. No, snow is not fun, at least, past the age of 12 and after about 5 minutes. It’s just cold, wet and occasionally dangerous.

3. The truly dedicated and obsessive reader might recall that, last year, when we also went to Tahoe, we attended Mass with very nice people in a lovely (after the manner of its kind) church that had certain carpentry features that triggered my OCD I found really distracting.

We attended yet another lovely Mass with the kind people of South Lake Tahoe today. We sat in another section, so I got a different view of what Frankenstein’s Monster would have looked like if Dr. Frankenstein had been a church carpenter:

Ah! My Eyes!

4. Lots of drafts.  A couple of which might even be interesting, that I hope to get out while I should be out playing in the snow. Right.

Then longe folk to go on pilgrimages

This past Saturday I found myself, at the end of an industry conference, in Bloomington, Minnesota. Since this was about as close to La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe located there as I thought myself ever likely to be, I rented a car and drove the two and a half hours on down through the lovely fall countryside of those two states.

Very glad I did. It was a profound spiritual experience. First, some pictures and descriptions.

Image result for guadalupe shrine la crosse wi
From the website of Duncan Stroik, the architect. Go there for more excellent pictures. 


The church is located on a hillside overlooking a forested valley with farms on the flats. The picture above is about what it looked like the day I arrived – fall has begun to color the trees.

It’s a 15 minute walk from the parking lot up the hill to the church, through the visitor center. Here are some pictures of what that looks like:

At the top of the path:

The walk was very peaceful and settling and beautiful. When I went inside, Adoration was being held, and a Franciscan priest was leading a rosary while another heard confessions.

I was not comfortable taking pictures under those circumstances, as you can well imagine. (Generally don’t like taking pictures in churches unless I can do it very unobtrusively, which means an empty or near empty building). ¬†It seems the shrine must guard their pictures well, as searching the web turns up no decent pictures of the art on the side altars. Several of the paintings brought me to tears. Here is a description from their website, although the reproductions are tiny and one cannot enlarge them.

There are 6 side altars, 5 with recent saints  РSts. Faustina, Maria Goretti, Gianna Molla, Miguel Pro, Therese of Lisieux and Theophane Venard (a vietnamese martyr) Рand one dedicated to St. Peregrine Laziosi, a patron of those suffering from cancer.

On Saturday, I had maybe an hour and a half before closing, and half of that was taken with a visit to the gift shop and the walk up the hill. I knew that on Sunday, I’d need to leave promptly after the 9:30 EF Mass to catch my plane home, so I spent my time Saturday looking around. That’s when I looked at the paintings and broke down.

This is the ultimate ‘you had to be there’ moment, as I can’t even show you good pictures, but here goes: when we have gone down to Mexico to build houses for the families in La Marita, we have mass in a chapel dedicated to Bl. Miguel Pro. He was martyred by the Mexican government 1927 for being a priest (they’d trumped up other charges that nobody took seriously) only 2 years after being ordained. When they lead him before the firing squad, he threw out his arms and declared ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’ – long live Christ the King! – and they shot him.

The painting shows him the moment before being shot, with two Mexican children at his side, dressed in white with red sashes around their waists, a boy holding a red martyr’s crown of thorns and a girl with a laurel wreath of victory. Above, he is seen from behind saying Mass in heaven, at the point of the Elevation,wearing a vestment with the Guadalupana on the back, as Mary looks down from above.

That just got me – a handsome young man, knowing he’d likely end up dead, saying Mass in Mexico under the evil government (which still runs the place, BTW) that had strung up, shot or otherwise disposed of many other priests and the faithful who tried to protect them. All within living memory!

The St. Gianna Molla painting was also moving. She stands in a lab coat (she was a pediatrician) surrounded by children and holding a baby. She chose her own death so that her child could live.

After those two paintings, I had to pause to get something out of my eyes for several minutes.

St. Maria Goretti was portrayed in the vision of the man who killed her, handing him 14 white lilies, one each for each time he stabbed her. He is shown chained at the ankles in a circle of light, while Maria is at Our Lady’s side above. Side note: it seems people don’t get that Maria died trying to prevent her murderer from sinning – preserving her own virginity was not what she was saying when he killed her. She did not want him to sin – “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” – she died trying to save his soul. Then she saved it anyway through his vision.

On Sunday, managed to go to Confession, receive Communion and exit through the Mercy Doors. Yea, plenary indulgences. Also got to light a candle at the altar of St. Peregrine for my sister Catherine, who is battling cancer now. Please say a prayer for her and her family, that they all be comforted and healed in mind, body and soul.

Had to leave after Communion – hated to, I always stay through the end of Mass, but had a plane to catch and 2 1/2 hours to drive to get to it.

The Shrine is highly reccommended. Very beautiful and moving. I hardly got to see the stuff outside – there’s a Rosary walk and (I think) a way of the Cross, but I didn’t get to see them.

I would love to go back. Don’t have any customers or relatives out that away, so I made need to make a special trip again – I longe to go on pilgrimages.

A Diversion Through Muir Wood

On the Beaten Path 2
On a path on a hillside in Muir Woods. Moss and ferns add much to the beauty of a redwood forest. 

The news just isn’t very happy today. Our long, slow descent into chaos and barbarity shows no signs of slowing, but rather seems to be speeding up, egged on by eager partisans who think they are finally living out their long-cultivated adolescent revenge fantasies. They are unable or unwilling to imagine the part where the Committee of Public Safety guillotines their own (starting with those most purely and fanatically devoted to the Cause), where a Ukrainian farmer with some chickens, a cow and 2 acres of beets is declared, along with 20 million of his neighbors, to be the evil enemy of the state whose heads (and whose wives’ and children’s heads) History demands, or the Cambodian who must die for the crime of having learned to read.

Those most smugly pleased with the way things are going cannot imagine that they, themselves, will eventually cease to be useful. They believe they ARE the Cause! It is strictly unimaginable to them that they are being used, and being valued solely by their usefulness. History is a buzz-kill easily ignored.

Our President gets his picture taken in front of a 5-story high image of Che, unable to appreciate how that might look to the¬†thousands who still live who lost mother and father, sister and brother, to Che’s homicidal psychopathology. But, damn, doesn’t hs make for a good t-shirt, with those craggy good looks and that 1,000 mile stare?

We headed out, in the rain, to visit Muir Woods. Seemed like the sane thing to do at the time. It’s only an hour’s drive away.

We’d never been to the woods in the rain – native Californian training is that, in the remote event that it rains, do something indoors. Like, for example, watching it rain. We have a guest from Germany with us, and such delicateness struck him as – odd.

So we went. It was beautiful. On the Beaten Path


Death Valley: the Day & the Drive

As mentioned in the last post, my wife, youngest son and I drove down to Death Valley to check out the super bloom in progress. On the way back, we took CA 178 through the southern tip of the Sierra past Lake Isabella and down the Kern River canyon into Bakersfield.

It was cool.

First, the super bloom. Old timers say this year’s is not as good as the super blooms of ’05 and ’98 – whatever. Millions of wildflowers from dozens species covered many square miles of desert. The only real issues from the casual viewer’s perspective: since the bloom starts in the south and at lower elevations and moves north and higher over time, to get the full experience one would have to spend a week or two in the valley. Also, unless you’ve seen the moonscape that much of the valley is the rest of the time, you might not be too impressed by a bunch of flowers rather more thinly distributed than what one might see in spring in a typical temperate mountain meadow.

cars & flowers 081
This shows the moonscape – you see that one scrub bush center left, but otherwise, for miles, no plants besides these waist-high daisy-ish Desert Sunflowers. But, as you’ll see, down on the ground are vast numbers of tiny flowers.

Up close (click to enlarge):

In another place: Here are pictures from a field of mostly sweet-smelling purple flowers that might be Purplestem Phacelia?

But since we’d been to the valley less than 2 years ago in August, when the temperatures top 120 F and the only plants to be seen in the bulk of the landscape are rather desperate, dingy and widely-spaces desert scrub, seeing those flowers was appropriately striking. As you can see in some of the picture¬†above, a lot of the landscape is bare rock and gravel and looks not too different than the pictures sent back by the Mars rovers.

Once we got out of the car and looked down:

(Amateur hour at the botanist’s: Clockwise from the top, I think that’s a Notch-leaf Phacelia crenulata yet to bloom; the next 3 (with the penny) I have no idea, except that’s a tiny cactus to the left in the middle one; the only one I’m pretty sure of is the¬†Desert fivespot¬†in the lower right corner; the last grey-green thing with the yellow flower no idea.)

The bloom takes place in stages, with different flowers blooming at different times in different places. Some of those tiny plants will get big and bloom, conditions permitting. Some looked so perfect and complete even though tiny that I don’t know – maybe that’s a big as they get. You’d need to stay for a week or two to find out first hand.

cars & flowers 084
Think this is a Desert Chicory


The trip back along CA 178 was surprisingly spectacular. The first half climbs into the mountains through Joshua Tree and pine forests – usually one or the other, they don’t mingle much. Lake Isabella is about half way. The reservoir was very low after 4 years of low rainfall.

All that was pretty, but the windy mountain road following the Kern River into Bakersfield was amazing. This being the Sierra, the mountains on either side are granite, with the steep canyon slopes consisting of huge exposed rock interspersed with patches of grass, brush and occasional trees. The rains had turned the mountainsides brilliantly green. It looked for all the world like the Scottish highlands, only the mountains here top 5,000 feet or more, which I think is much higher than those in Scotland. You half expected Hobbits and Dwarves to trundle by on some high hidden trail.

Barring more rain, in a few weeks those canyon sides will return to brown. Like the super bloom, part of its glory is its quick passing.

An Interlude: Oaks

In the incessant education/culture/philosophy stream that goes on around here: some pretty plant pictures:

Oak 3
A local Valley Oak, looking up
Oak 1
Oak 2
Not a great photo, but here’s one that is probably a couple hundred years old. They can live up to 600 years or more, and get much larger than this. Characteristically, Valley Oaks¬†are much wider than they are tall – a single large specimen can shade a good quarter acre or more.
Oak 5
Update: on my walk, saw a nice huge one alone in a field.

Valley Oaks are the largest variety(1) of oaks native to California. They grow mostly in the flatter, better watered areas, while a number of different varieties of smaller scrub oaks grow on the hillsides. Plus, people have introduced different non-native species – cork oaks grow well here, and you’ll see live oaks as well. Oaks are the characteristic trees for much of Northern California.

I find them beautiful all year long. In winter, their gnarled branches and the strength readily evident in their naked branches and trunk are nearly as lovely as the remarkable canopy they put on in summer.

I took these pictures maybe a week ago. Just yesterday, noticed the first green buds on a few oaks – spring has sprung. After a good six weeks of on and off rain, we’ve had a couple of sunny ¬†weeks with temps in the 70s, so things have started to move. Especially for the non-native cherry trees:

Cherry 1

This is just an ornamental. Problem is, there are tons of commercial fruit trees around here, which have also most likely bloomed. It’s typical to get a few freezing nights well up into April. Hope our peaches, apricots, etc. make it through!

One last plant-related thing: spent a couple hours walking around the Ruth Bancroft Garden yesterday. Cthulhu put in an appearance:

Cthuhlu Plant
Or maybe it’s just Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean?
  1. Seems, genetically, there are several varieties of native oaks around here that cross rather easily – hard to say where to draw the species/variety lines.