Life in the Death Star

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Dear Mom,

I’ve been deployed to the Death Star and will serve out my tour of duty here. Of course, our location is always top secret, so I couldn’t tell you where I am even if I knew.

Life here is pretty good. One doesn’t really appreciate the fact that the Death Star, really more of a Death Moon in size, is one of the largest cruise ships ever created. It’s so big, it creates its own gravity. At about the size of the Earth’s moon, it has a land surface about as big as all of Asia. It has five billion cubic miles of interior. To give perspective on this, imagine people inhabited the entire surface of the Earth to about seven miles deep. That’s a big cruise ship.

Only the first couple of levels at the surface of the ship are dedicated to Defense, uniforms mandatory. Sure, the stormtroopers get all the glamour pinging about with their laser blasters and zooming about in their TIE fighters, but they have to suffer the rigors of a hierarchical command structure and some of those leaders aren’t so pleasant. It mostly looks boring, marching around all the time on the deck and patrolling the hallways. Like, who is going to attack a Death Moon?

The interior is much different. Behind every trooper is ten more support people. The logistics of feeding, housing, caring, and entertaining for a cruise ship of ten billion people staggers the imagination. Of course, a lot of that space is dedicated to infrastructure and most of the processes are automated, but there is plenty of work to do for both man and machine. I am very busy and down here, I don’t have to worry about anyone shooting at me.

The Death Moon as habitat is amazing. It is one of the largest closed systems ever created. Nothing goes to waste. Not one drop of water, not one plop of waste, not one piece of material, not one molecule of air. A lot of terratrashed planets could learn a lesson, the Earth included.

And it’s not all business. You can’t move about intergalactic space, even at hyper velocities, in a day. It takes months to move from one location to another. In the meantime, you have to live. One of the most fun things we do is tube jumping in those huge hollow tubes that go from one side of the moon to the other. The gravity is only about a tenth of that of the Earth’s and the acceleration is about a tenth as fast. The atmosphere gets thick pretty fast so it’s more like swimming through soup than skydiving. Because the air pressure is so intense toward the center, you can’t leap much more than a couple of miles from the surface, even with a suit, before the heat will boil your blood or the air pressure will miniaturize you to the size of a marble. More than a few macho corpses that tried to test their limits are floating down at the center of the moon.

Well anyway, we’re off on another mission ensuring peace through force. Rebel scum can’t be allowed to terrorize the galaxy, can they? I suppose it’s not always a pleasant business but it’s a decent life. What could go wrong?

I hope this letter finds you well.

May the Peace of Force be with you, Your Son

Queen Tide

Reading Time: 3 minutes

With every King Tide comes its opposite, an extremely low tide. Is it a pauper tide? An anti-king tide? Why does more water get to be king and not more beach? Because it throws a temper tantrum of wanton power on rocks protecting the road and boardwalk?

The extremely low tide is royalty, too. So, I hereby declare the extreme low tide as the Queen tide, an opposite of sorts in the ways that are of importance for my purposes. I hope to show her moods and airs and beauty worthy of a queen.

The format for this display is “a sort of American haiku.” (Jose gets credit for the appellation.) I take it to mean to put a little unstructured poetry to a picture, to see it as something more than what is in its bare, wooden frame. That is the theory anyway. Here is the practice.

A willet standing on the safety of an island rock surrounded by the mirage of a submerged cliff dropping to the sky:

The surf backing off from the resting reef rocks:

Plovers pulling out the wrinkles of the unkempt sheet of the sea:

Plover snipping at its mirrored self:

Flock disbanding after patiently watching the end of the day:

Cliffs painted on the ephemeral canvas of a silky shore:

The gaudy rouge of an ancient queen tide:

Pocked chocolate stairway to Olympus of the tides:

Well, that is it. What, you want an encore? Ok, one more just for you. King and queen both, the monarchy of the tides:

North Shore Hodges

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Dying to get out, so to speak, as so many of us are ready to do after six weeks of hunkering, and on a warm, cloudless, contrail-less, blue sky day, I decided to hike the North Shore Trail of Lake Hodges. This is a little piece of trail I missed or wasn’t open yet, back in the days when I hiked the Coast to Crest trail from Del Mar to Julian. The parking lots are still closed due to COVID but there are plenty of access points along the trail just North of the Hideaway on Lake Drive.

I picked up the trail just North of the Hernandez Hideaway, which looked like it was re-opened for business, with people being served at an outdoor table. I followed the trail south to the Lake Hodges dam paralleling the shoreline on one side and the Del Dios highway on the other. The car traffic of the Del Dios Highway is seldom out of earshot but also not visible either, always at a higher altitude than the trail. The foot traffic was light from the Hideaway to the point where the trail joined the gravel road and then non-existent from that point to the dam.

The trail cuts through chaparral, still blooming with carpets and clusters of black mustard, black sage, monkeyflowers, garland daisies, chamise, ceanothus, lemonade berry and at least a dozen other species. The trail skirts around the Olivenhain Pipeline pump house, a water authority project that connects Lake Hodges to the Olivenhain Reservoir. The trail joins with the gravel version of Lake Dr skirting by another facility before turning back into a single track trail in the Del Dios Gorge which funnels into the Lake Hodges Dam.

I saw plenty of birds along the way including a roadrunner, dozens of California quail darting into bushes, hawks, egrets, herons, grebes, hummingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and a bluebird. The trail stays fairly distant from the shore, so close viewing of the aquatic birds is a challenge, although there are a few access points to the shore. I did come across a cooperative duck or goose with little fear of people that posed for several closeups. I have not yet been able to identify its species.

I thought the sign said three miles from the trailhead to the dam, but I think it was at best four miles round trip. I did it in two hours, stopping to take many pictures along the way. Hope you enjoy.

Refuge at the Salton Sea

Reading Time: 3 minutes

On a perfect day in April, I rode out to the Salton Sea to escape the coronavirus for an afternoon with Chris, on my GS1200, the bike I was supposed to use on our ride to Prudhoe Bay. The motorcycle is the perfect vehicle for travel in these days of CV. Nothing is shared between you and other riders other than the experience, and maybe not even that, riding in our little shells of helmets and gear.

For a destination, or more accurately a turnaround point, I chose the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge on the southwest corner of the Salton Sea. I had to look up the reason Sonny Bono would get a refuge named after him: he did a lot of work trying to save the Salton Sea in his stint as a congressman before he had his unfortunate encounter with a tree while skiing. The refuge is the perfect distance for a ride, about one tank of gas in either direction. A refuge seems like an appropriate place to go to hide from the onslaught of the pandemic, perhaps the way the birds feel all the time. I selected this particular refuge because it is part of the pacific flyway used by migratory birds in the spring and fall. I wanted to score some pics and be part of the great migration.

At the refuge itself, my Salton Sea experience is consistent with all my other visits: it stinks of decaying fish. The trail is a squared-off dirt and gravel road leading to the uncreatively named Rock Hill. Little spurs off the trail road are marked “Birds only beyond this point.” The path is lined with the yellow blossoms of Palo Verde and the whitish catkins of the Mesquite tree, which is really more of a large bush. Desert quail cackle in the underbrush and desert rabbits crisscross the trail in the distance. A flock of white pelicans takes off overhead in a lopsided V-pattern. Ducks and other water birds hang out in the distance on an island in the middle of the large rectangular pond.

Grampa, showing us the way.

The view from the top of Rock Hill to the northwest features a flattened sea in the foreground, browned-out mountains of the desert in the midground, and the still snow-covered mountains around Palm Springs in the background. To the southeast, the backdrop to the refuge is steam-venting smokestacks, fields of agriculture, and the Glamis dunes in the distance. According to Chris and confirmed by Wikipedia, the plants are part of the Salton Sea Geothermal Field. I counted nine, but Wikipedia claims eleven. The fields are green and the stacks of bailed alfalfa are high. Nine miles south of the refuge is Westmorland, a town of about twenty-five hundred people, living at almost 200 feet below sea level. The Salton Sea is an interesting mix of industry, agriculture, and nature.

Chris points out something my camera can’t capture, pristine blue skies from horizon to horizon without so much as a single contrail to split the sky or single-plane engine to break the silence. Ironically, I’ve had plenty of silence at home over the last couple of weeks and use the opportunity to unload all my insightful observations and takeaways during this rare direct human contact. I also find out that Chris is about to become a grandfather twice over. Of course, I give him a hard time about suddenly becoming older than myself instead of congratulating him, but isn’t that what friends are for?

After the hike, it’s back into the motorcycle capsule to smash a few bugs with my faceplate and ride through the chill of the mountains. The ride out to the desert ends with a return to my house capsule to ride out the rest of nature’s storm.

A Parable of the Starfish Moment

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Kimmy, a young Filipino woman with a 6-year old daughter, lives at the poverty level by any definition someone living in the U.S. could think of, living off of an income of less than 5K a year. Her dad makes a living with a trike as a taxi driver of sorts, optimistically making no more than a thousand pesos a day. With the coronavirus, he has been out of work for a month living on the goodwill of his daughters.

On Easter, her own needs for groceries satisfied, Kimmy’s wish is to help the poor people in the barangay she lives in, on the island of Cebu, near the town of Bogo. She wants to do something. Something for her neighbor, who needs a loan to buy basic supplies. Something for out-of-work locals, who can’t work because of the coronavirus quarantine. Something for babies, who don’t have access to a fresh supply of milk.

With a little outside support, chump change as one called it, she wraps up fifty care packages of rice portions, bread, pancit, and canned goods in pink bubblegum-colored plastic bags. Each care package contains enough food to last a person for one to two weeks. For babies, she buys powdered milk and disposable diapers. She hires a trike driver, loads up all her packages, and distributes them to those in need, the people squatting in barong barong housing, makeshift-dwellings with plywood sides, corrugated rusted roofs, extension cord electricity, and bottled or communal well water.

For her out-of-work dad, Kimmy provides him with something more substantial: a 25kg bag of rice, canned goods, a generous supply of protein in the form of various cuts of meat, and fresh eggs. For herself, she has the happiness of making a difference.

Feeding all the needy people in a time of crisis is a parable of the starfish moment. But the middle of a crisis isn’t the time to start asking for root causes and ferreting out systemic deficiencies. It’s the time for those who are fortunate enough and are able, to put a starfish back in the sea.

North Clevenger Trail

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A solo hike in the outback seems like a good way to socially distance myself especially if distance is a key element in the formula. I wanted to get a hike in before they post a National Guardsman at my door to seal me in until the pandemic passes. It’s spring and it’s green and in San Diego County, the best time to get out for a hike. I settled on Clevenger Trail North, part of the Palms to Pines trail, about ten miles from my house. Mountains in the distance still have some snowpack on them. It’s a cool day under decent cloud cover, a good time to hike up the side of a mountain before it gets too hot and dry.

At the trailhead was a sign to be cautious of aggressive bees. The trail dipped down to the San Dieguito River. The crossing is a bit tricky, there is no bridge. You either wade or you rock hop across some slippery granite rocks. I chose to rock hop. I rousted a few frogs in the process, but they gratefully posed for the camera once they realized I wasn’t going to inadvertently crush them.

The rest of the hike was a two and a half-mile 1400 foot ascent rising up over highway 78 featuring views of San Pasqual Valley to the west and Cuyamaca and Julian in the distance to the east. With a dry February and a wet March, the mountains have greened and the flowers have started their bloom. The smell of spring is in the air. I passed a handful of people over the course of the 5 mile out and back hike. They all gave me a wide berth on the trail, I’m sure for fear of the virus.

Not too far into the ascent, I came around a corner in the trail where I saw bees busily buzzing about a hole in the rock about waist high on the left side, leaning into the hill into what is obviously their hive. On the right side of the trail directly opposite the hive entrance is an overgrown sumac bush which didn’t give much room to pass and bees were active on the flowers of the bush. I tried to daintily squeeze by both without disturbing any of the creatures. My strategy didn’t work. I felt and heard them swarming about my head and it sounded angry. One of the f**kers stung me. I ran my ass off swatting at the bees as they followed me down the trail. There was only a handful of them by my estimation. They followed me quite a distance, maybe a tenth of a mile, before I had either killed them, they stung me, or they got bored of chasing me. I pulled out a couple of painful little stingers. Can you imagine with all the shit going on today that I got got by killer bees? Killer f**kin’ bees. Killer bees aren’t even in the back pages of the newspaper anymore. They are so ten years ago. Haven’t they heard?

I was a bit traumatized thinking about all the shit that seems to be out to get us these days but I managed to put it behind me both literally and metaphorically. I made it to a viewpoint at the top snapping pics of the springtime show along the way. Picks of the hike are here.

I wasn’t excited about having to go past the beehive again on the way down. I asked another solo hiker, from a socially safe distance of course, if he had any problems with the bees. He said he hadn’t noticed the hive but he mentioned that some girl said she was stung a couple of times too. I wondered why they didn’t like me. I noticed the guy was khaki’d out in all white and grey. Maybe the killers don’t like blue. I had on a blue t-shirt and blue jeans. Maybe they hate blue flowers and I look like a much-hated giant blue flower.

By the time I neared the hive, I had a plan. I had an airline blanket in my backpack that I use to protect my camera. I didn’t take any pictures of the hive so I didn’t think they were mad at the camera and wouldn’t try to sting it. I put the blanket under my cap, sheik style, I wrapped myself in the blanket to protect my exposed parts, and put on my dark sunglasses, trying to do an imitation of the invisible man, when he wants to be visible, which of course is what I didn’t want to be. The downside of my plan was that the blanket is solid blue. So now I looked like an even bigger bluer flower.

When I got to the hive, I chose not to be dainty. I hurried past the opening without arousing any interest that I could detect. So the killer bees didn’t kill me and neither did the hike, though my body issued a few protests. And now I’m back into hiding from all the other things trying to kill us.

Images of Boracay

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A Hidden Compound. It was really an eye-opener to walk back into the USA, the name Ruel gives to his hidden neighborhood behind the storefronts serving tourists in the Intramural. (He calls his trike a Lamborghini. Its all patter for us tourists). I had to duck under pipes and supports cutting across the head-high unlit passageway, past women squatting over tubs doing laundry, a woman squatting in the tub washing her twat, and a mother breastfeeding her child with her teat fully exposed. The tunnel opened up into a courtyard of drying laundry, women playing games or otherwise occupied, a sari-sari store, crumbling cement walls, under a canopy of tangled electrical wires. Down another tunnel, deep enough that I started worrying that I might be getting “rolled” until we stopped at grandma’s “house”, a cubby hole with a counter for a storefront, and a bedsheet door covering the closet-sized bedroom in the back. Grandma was on the corner hanging out in her folding chair selling her home-made food.

Native housing. A shanty with a rusted corrugated steel roof, supported by repurposed blue-painted long poles from long boats with a thatched roof patio for selling ice cream bars out of cooler to passer-byers. A prostrate dog laid out on a cement doorstep with the news flashing on a big screen TV in the background.

A coral flower bush. A coral bush of flowers with white and pink striped petals that grasp like hands at passing by detritus that floats on the current.

Dance Off. In the rough waters, a wave splashed onto the boat soaking the back of one of a full-red lipped, white collared shirt-wearing boy who jumped out onto aisle in a twitchy unintentional dance. The spasm was answered by the lumpy girl-boy at the front. A dance-off broke out egged on by a cheering crowd. I’ve never been on a boat where a dance-off broke out between two gender-challenged utes, with swaying hips, weak-wristed waving, and hip thrusts. I answered the soaking in a more traditional fashion with a WTF under my breath.

Bad entertainment. A group of four boys aged 7 to 17 dressed in dresses, diving from boat to boat, doing stripper moves and coordinated dance steps on the sides of longboats for tips.

Disassociation. A young lady working the entrance of a store staring to the side looking out into the nothingness.

Wreckage. A wreck dive at 30 meters, my first. The side of the ship looks like a lichen-ridden rock with splotches of pastel colors covering its rusted out surface. Fish hanging off the sides and the tower. A giant angelfish a couple of feet from fin tip to fin tip, like swimming inside an aquarium. A ship’s complement of hundreds of fish working the passageways.

Nature watching. Open-mouthed clams propped up vertically, sensing the presence of my hand, snapping their body mouths shut. Underwater flower closing up and retreating into its hole. The delicate purple outline of an otherwise invisible shrimp. Little sponges, green balls in the shape and size of dismembered eyes. Irridescent blue squiggles on the bodies of long-spined dark brown urchins. A formation of squid, lined-up like one arm of a V of flying geese.

The Four Faces of Boracay

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I had the simple ambition to walk to Bulabog Beach on the other side of the island from White Sand beach by way of D’Mall. Boracay is only about a half-mile wide in the middle. D’Mall is, as its name suggests, a boutique shopping area of souvenir stores, outdoor restaurants, and bars. Simple walks never end up being so simple.

White Sand beach is the tourist side of the island. The beach features beautiful aquamarine water, fine white powder sand, a sand boardwalk lined with outward-facing palm trees on one side and business on the other. News articles suggested that the island only hosted about fifty percent of the normal tourist population due to Covid-19 issues but the boardwalk bustled with more than enough people as far as I was concerned. If I have one complaint about the boardwalk, it is the locals constantly hawking adventure tours, restaurant fare, and massages. Not in your face, but annoying to have to disappoint fifty solicitations over the course of a mile and a half walk.

To get to the other side of the island, I cut over through the D’mall to the one paved road that runs more or less down the length of the dog-biscuit shaped island, the main drag, to use a colloquialism that is even older than myself. The main drag is mostly business but not the kind of businesses with people hawking their wares on the streets, like McDonald’s and Jolibees and banks; trikes moving people; scooters; security guards watching over the entrances to businesses and hotels. I cut across the street at Balabag lake, which is a completely rectangular concrete-enclosed body of water, more like a block-wide swimming pool than a lake. I’m not sure what they are going after. The sign mentioned something about an estuary restoration but I think the reality is underachieving the vision. All I saw was a few dead fish floating on the surface but at least it didn’t smell bad.

At the far end of the lake, a road cuts over to Bulabog beach on the windward side of the island. This beach is entirely dedicated to windsurfing. Dozens of multi-colored kites danced in the sky as surfers raced up and down parallel to the shore. The more skilled have some technique where they can pull up and launch themselves into the air. The surfers race perilously close to one another in opposite directions. There must be some method to the madness but I’m not so sure. One windsurfer missed clipping a young Filipino kid wading in the light surf near the shore by inches. The surfer glared back over his shoulder at the kid for at least a solid minute. I don’t know if it is a windsurf-only beach but I got yelled at as I was taking pictures by a muscular German woman for being on the waterside of a laid-out kite waiting for someone to take it to the water. I never saw a tangle but I did see a few kites crash into the water. It looks like a skill that would take more than an hour or two to master. I’m totally content as a spectator and a photographer. I walk the length of this beach heading back in the south-easterly direction opposite of how I walked up White Sand beach from my hotel to D’mall.

My master plan is to cut back over to the other side of the island and White Sand beach. I find a walkway that cuts through a hotel and a windsurfing store towards a residential area. The ambiance changes quickly as I pass shanty homes of plywood and corrugated metal. An elderly silver-haired lady rests her head on a window sill at bicycle seat height. I know because there is a bicycle laid up against the wall just under the window. A hefty older man on a scooter rides by on the narrow walkway. He stops to offer me a ride and asks me if I know where I am at. I know where I am at. I’m not sure I know how to get where I am going but that is a different question. I can’t imagine getting on the back of a small scooter with the big man. I continue down the walkway until it ends at a dirt road. I quickly discover the flaw in my plan. There is a hill in the way and no path over. I have to walk back up parallel to the beaches on a dirt road opposite the way I just walked. A little kid watches me pass from a second story windowless window of a plywood-fronted home. Skewered chicken and pork sits in the window of a store-front home ready to be sold and eaten. I pass by homes fronted by cheap plastic chairs, broken cement, and other detritus.

I end up walking back to the ersatz estuary before I can cut over and rejoin the tourist population on White Sand Beach. It probably isn’t for me to judge (that is what we do) but I had the thought that paradise might be a nice place to visit, I’m not sure I would want to live there.

Del Mar Triangle

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I hiked the Del Mar triangle starting from Del Mar Heights School, down Crest Canyon Trail to San Dieguito Lagoon following the San Dieguito River to the Pacific Ocean. Once at the beach, I waded bare-foot south to Torrey Pines. I left Torrey Pines proper walking through the Torrey Pines extension back to my car at the Del Mar Heights School. It is one of the most diverse hikes you can do in the area, part coastal chaparral, part estuary, part urban, part public beach and part wild beach.

I have to confess, as I was walking, I realized that summer in San Diego had started without me. I was escorted through Del Mar Fair traffic across Jimmy Durante Boulevard by a traffic cop. People screamed from across the San Dieguito river as the rides bounced them up and down, dropped them, and otherwise propelled them in their harnessed seats about the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Ospreys, martins, snowy egrets, and giant blue herons hunted and crabs scuttled about indifferently in the surging tidal waters.

The beach, from the river mouth south passed Power House to about 15th street, was packed. This might have been the first real beach day of the summer. The throngs of thongs were out in force (yes, I think a collection of thong-clad people must certainly be a throng). Beachwear, for young ladies anyway, continues to shrink. That is an observation and not a complaint.

However clad, beachgoers played traditional games of catch with softballs and footballs and frisbees. Others played some new spike game bouncing a ball into a netted hoop a few inches off the ground. I saw one game of an aerial version of bowling. Sand Castle building seems to have been elevated to an art form. Burying someone in the sand up to their neck in the sand never gets old. I was careful to avoid little kids hurtling sand and sea with their little plastic shovels, I’ve already lost one camera this year.

People walking together took group selfies (an oxymoron?) with their cell phone cameras. People walking alone talked into their cell phones, many with white ear pod ear adornments. Doesn’t anyone just take a walk anymore? I heard lots of foreign accents.  

At high tide, the surfing conditions looked terrible, without a breaker to be had any farther out than about thirty feet from shore. A few paddleboarders and a few swimmers braved the water. I watched one poor kid try to glide along the surface of the water at the shoreline on a thin kite-shaped board. As soon as he jumped on his moving glider, it stopped immediately, propelling him face first into the water and sand at the front of the now stationary board. I’m not an expert, but I don’t think that was a successful run.

The long stretch from Del Mar to Torrey Pines was vacant by comparison except for a few ambitious joggers, the occasional surfer that hikes over the tracks and down the cliff face, and yellow-footed white herons working the surf line fishing for sand crabs. Pelicans dive-bombed for fish in the distance disappearing into the geyser of their splash.

From there, I finished the hike in the chaparral and Torrey Pines and red bluffs of the Torrey Pines Extension following the overgrown Margaret Flemming trail back to the parking lot at the school.


The total distance of the hike is six miles but the end result, I think, was that I finally caught up to summer.

More pics at:

Space Rap – The Song

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Music where there is no sound
The dance of space is all around
Put your ear to the vacuum ground
A wave is something going up and down

Your floating in space
your headset drawn
nothing to listen to
all the stations gone

The earth and moon hear the sound
The earth and moon dance around
Moon face never looking from Earth’s ground
Always falling, never coming down

Your floating in space
your headset drawn
nothing to listen to
all the stations gone

The magnetic sun hears the sound
It sunspots dancing all around
Electric fields to their electric ground
Magnetic lines arcing up then down

Your floating in space
your headset drawn
nothing to listen to
all the stations gone

The Milky Way hears the sound
Dancing with stars all around
Dark matter galactic edges an unseen ground
Stars moving fast when they should slow down

Your floating in space
your headset drawn
nothing to listen to
all the stations gone

Do you hear it yet?
You need more than your ears
math, sensors, and signals
the offbeat sound of spheres

Space itself hears the sound
Dancing to static all around
birth sounds of the universe in the background
even with the universe cooling down

Your floating in space
your headset drawn
nothing to listen to
all the stations gone

A removed excerpt from “Property of Nature” after edits rendered the passage obsolete. Reproduced here with permission from the author (me).