Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Great Day on the High Desert

What a great day it was on the high desert. It was an almost cloudless sky and the temps rose to the low 90s. My kind of weather. 8v)

I decided I would hop on the old bicycle and head out to some of my favorite shooting spots and see what was there to shoot. I went to an area of Fireman's Pond which I call Dragonfly Corner and wasn't disappointed with my decision.

I obtained images of a male and female bluet doin-et. 8v) At one point, the female can be seen depositing eggs. I tried to get a shot of the special moment, but not sure I did. There was a lot of wind making keeping focus difficult. But I also came across what I thought was a female Blue-eyed Darner also laying eggs. I did get some good shots of that. There were also some other decent bugs in the area.

One of them -- actually two of them -- were what I am thinking now might be Blue Dashers, gave me a few good views which were good enough to knock off a few images. I originally thought the bugs were Western Pondhawks. After transferring the images to my computer and giving them a quick look-see, I'm not sure of the identification and figure it could be a Blue Dasher. And that in and of itself is interesting.

It's interesting because earlier today I was discussing the Blue Dasher with someone in, I believe, Florida. I had not seen one before today, and really didn't know they were in this area. However, the picture doesn't lie and if it is what I think it is, it is something new for me.

All that leads me to one conclusion...the right place at the right time. I never would have gotten the images of the bluets doing their thing if I had gone earlier, or decided to walk to the pond instead of riding the bicycle. Nor would I have gotten the possible darner female laying eggs. I might have gotten the dasher, or whatever it is. But then, I might not have.

Life is filled with moments which come once in a lifetime. I know mine is. I'll never circumnavigate the North Pole with RAF College at Cromwell, like I did in 1982. I'll never search for a lost person in an Arctic blizzard like I did 1983. I'll probably never experience another volcanic eruption like I did in 1980 and 1991, even though I live in an area where I am surrounded by volcanoes.

Although 99.9999 percent of the people would think my life is the most boring P.O.S. life any active person could have, I don't care. Sure, my computer knows me better than anyone else does, but I get occasional calls from family, and even a few calls from friends, but I don't care. And yes, my life would be a lot better if there was a good woman keeping me on my toes (interested Jessica?), but I don't care.

After all, it's my life and love it...especially when a great day like today comes along.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Not Cheesy Hollywood, But Real Life Disasters

I just finished watching one of those cheesy Hollywood disaster flicks. This one was Atomic Twister. It was an interesting twist on a tried and true disaster...the tornado.

The plot was a tornado hitting a nuclear power station, not once, but twice, causing a condition which could lead to a meltdown. Of course there were subplots all over the place and everything came out on the good side at the end. Sharon Lawrence was about the only redeeming grace in the flick. She's still a hottie.

I always watch these types of movie with a bit of humor mixed with a bit of reality. You see, I went through my own Hollywood-style disaster, but it wasn't a movie.

If all you ever do is read my blog entries, you've learned a lot about the reality of my life. Sixteen years ago, I was closing out my military career, preparing to retire. I was working at what was considered one of the best assignments in the Air Force, Clark AB, The Philippines. Not long after I arrived there, the paradise it was died and a number of ugly monsters took over.

First, there was the assassination of two airmen just outside of the base by a group of lawless thugs who called themselves the NPA (New People's Army). After that happened, travel restrictions were put in place which made exploring the P.I. next to impossible. A couple of months after the shootings, a 7.8 earthquake rumbled through the area, killing quite a few, while destroying more buildings north of us than in our area. It also scared a lot of people on the base.

It hit somewhere around 4:30 pm in mid July, 1990. I had worked some overtime in the office and had gone out to the bus stop to wait for the shuttle bus to my barracks. I was talking to two Filipina women when I felt the primary wave of the quake and before I could say "Earthquake," everything was rocking and rolling. It was strong enough to knock me on my ass. I sat there on the pavement, bouncing up and down and watched pressure waves move through the building across the street. It was a cinder block building and I could actually see the waves moving the blocks up and down as the wave passed by.

I remembered seeing that same thing happen in Italy. I hadn't been at Aviano AB in the northeastern Italy more than a month or two, when an earthquake hit. It rumbled in at about 6.0 on the Richter Scale just as I was reaching for my cup of coffee. Several months earlier, the area was rocked with a series of much stronger quakes which destroyed many buildings in the area. People were a little gun shy by the time I got there.

When this quake hit, I watched my coffee cup dance across the desktop and when it clicked what was happening, I stood up. Right in front of me, about 10 feet away was a cinder block wall, part of the overall cinder block construction of the building I worked in which held my office. I was amazed then to see the cinder blocks actually bending with the seismic waves as they moved through the building. I stood there enthralled with what I was seeing until it ended, then casuallyv walked out of the building...the last person to leave it.

Well, I was watching the same thing in the Philippines and it still amazed me how it could happen and the blocks not crumble to dust. The shaking of the quake in the P.I. lasted a good minute or so. When it was finished, I stood up, dusted myself off, excused myself from the frightened women I had been talking to, and hurried back to my office. I knew I would be needed and I was. I didn't get home that night until around 3 am and was assigned as command post night shift coordinator for my office.

Things regarding the earthquake calmed down about two weeks later, and life in the P.I. appeared like it would soon get back to normal. However, because of a continuing threat from the thugs, the area of Angeles City Americans were allowed to visit was drastically reduced. Not much was available outside of strip bars and honky-tonks of various repute. But then, several months after the quakes, that area was again placed on the restricted list, as a strike by the local national employees at Clark, locked down the base. We weren't allowed off-base unless we lived off-base and no local national was allowed on base. This lasted a week or so before it was settle and things got back to a strange normal.

Christmas and the new year arrived with a bit of relaxation in restrictions most people assigned to Clark had been living with for six months. It was a welcome change. There was an incident regarding me and several "thugs," which I will most likely relate some other time, but otherwise, the holidays were quiet.

Then on April 2, 1991 (April Fools Day still for the U.S.), I walked outside the barracks to get on my bicycle and go to work. As I unlocked my bike from the rack, I looked up and towards the mountains west of the base. We were several weeks into the dry season at the time and I was curious about a plume of pure white smoke rising from near the peak of one of the mountains. I pulled out my camera and took several photos, got on my bike and went to work.

The next day, word came down that the smoke I saw the day before wasn't smoke at all, but steam. It came from a volcano, which for whatever reason, decided to activate. This volcano was between five and ten miles from the base, depending on where you were on base. But hearing that didn't surprise me, nor another office worker.

Several months after the earthquake, I began feeling some strange vibrations. These vibrations were coming from right underneath my feet and they were definitely confusing me. I would feel them for hours straight, then they would stop for a while, and again continue. One afternoon, we were in a staff meeting when the vibrations began again. I backed away from the table and looked down at the floor, then around the room and finally at the rest of the people in the room. No one seemed to be feeling what I was feeling, but there was one person who was looking at me curiously.

After the meeting that person came over to me and asked me if I felt anything. I told her and she said she has been feeling the same thing. We both knew what it was magma moving below us. The two of us were sensitive enough to feel the slight vibrations of the movement. When we mentioned it to others, they thought we were nuts and it was forgotten, but not by the two of us.

The day it was verified that Mt. Pinatubo was now an active volcano, Marge and I talked. We both thought the most likely candidate for activation would have been Mt. Arayat, an extinct volcano east of the base. But Pinatubo was good also. No one really knew anything about the mountain, so the Philippines Geological Survey folks called the US Geological Survey folks and two organizations set up a headquarters on Clark to watch the mountain.

Flash forward a couple of months to mid June. Clark AB had been evacuated, the mountain had erupted several times, and I was one 1,200 people who stayed behind to protect U.S. property and interests on base. On the day of the first eruption of the mountain, a throat-clearing blow as it was labeled by the volcanologists, a typhoon began that had developed in the Pacific began moving our way. Weather folks on base began keeping an eye on it and it wasn't long before it turned into a super typhoon. It also started making a beeline for the base.

Well, now we had a typhoon to watch, along with the mountain. Forecasts had the typhoon hitting the base mid morning sometime on June 15, 1991. Plans were made for its approach, factoring in the volcano, and in the early morning hours of the predicted date of the typhoon hitting the base, the mountain decided it had had enough waiting time. It blew just as the typhoon hit. Not only was Clark being pummeled by winds from a typhoon and ash from an erupting volcano, but the volcano's eruption was causing an earthquake. It wasn't a powerful quake, but strong enough to be felt on Clark. And it lasted hours.

In the interim, the lucky 1,200 had evacuated to the base of Mt. Arayat to wait out the eruption and the typhoon. While there, quakes constantly rumbled through the area, some strong ones, and one really strong one. Rain was coming down, mixed with volcanic ash, giving the term "raining mud" a whole new meaning. After the typhoon had run its course, and the quakes on Clark had subsided a bit, and the volume of ash being released by the mountain lowered, a new world emerged. A world of gray and of trees stripped of all leaves and a gray sky clouded with suspended volcanic ash. Towards the mountain, a wall of blackness hung and moved northward and eastward covering the closest parts of the base to it, with a wall darkness, dubbed "The Dark Side of the Moon."

These conditions lasted until the raining season began which brought lahars (flash floods of ash and debri moving down the mountain along the rivers surrounding the base). During one particular nondescript rainfall, I had dropped some people off at the main gate to the base and was heading back to my office, when as I rounded a curve, a wall of water mixed with mud and stones roared across the roadway. It took me by surprise and splashed around enough to kill the engine of the van I was driving. I attempted to restart the engine and failed. Each attempted failed and all the while, the water was pushing the van towards the curve. On the other side of the curve was a large drainage ditch about 12 feet deep. I knew if I didn't get the engine started, the water would sooner or later dump the vehicle over the edge, with me in it.

So I continued trying to start the engine. It finally caught and I continued on my way. Later, I went by the same spot I was almost stranded at and saw that some of the curbing had washed away. Whether it happened while was stuck there or not, I don't know, but it had me wondering.

Living with a volcano next door isn't fun. But it can be exciting. That was about the last strange thing that happened to me personally, but not the last to happen to the base. Lahars and mudflows had knocked down all the bridges surrounding the base, isolating our area by road. The "big water" as the Philippinos called the flows, had also eroded away the banks of the rivers and many houses and buildings, including one hospital, had fallen to the erosion. Most of the erosion was happening on the opposite side of the rivers from the base, but one day that changed.

Word came down that areas under million gallon storage tanks of fuel was causing a concern. It was possible the erosion could undermine the foundation of the tanks and cause them to tumble over, ripping open, adding an even more to the catastrophe. Luck was with us and it didn't happened, at least not while I was there. In the end, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo caused more than just disaster to the P.I. It lowered global temperatures, destroyed crops and lands for years as ash washed down during the rainy season.

But it was a disaster like no other. It turned me into a refugee, something I never thought would happen, and gave a lot of people a new respect for Mother Nature.

I had always had that see, this was my second volcanic disaster. As for Hollywood disaster movies...well, they still bring a smile to my face. Living through a real one only they could dream up, makes life a sweeter.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cowtown Memories

Last night I watched the second part of the premiere of a game show called Don't Forget the Lyrics or something like that. Congrats to the hot gal who won $350,000 by remembering the words to songs I barely remember.

The last song that the gal selected was a Rolling Stones song, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" and it made me flash back a long way.

It was the mid 70's, probably 1975, and I was stationed at Lackland AFB, in San Antonio, Texas. Concert going was a way of life for me and a friend, and when it was announced that the Rolling Stones would appear in concert for the first time in something like 12 years, we secured decent tickets to the event and patiently waited for the day the group rolled in.

As the day of the concert approached, news outlets began talking about their last appearance in town. The Stones had played at, I believe, a fair in San Antonio where they were booed off the stage. Upon leaving town, Mick Jagger declared he and his crew would never play what he called, "Cowtown," ever again. Well, obviously, they had changed their mind. It was a new town, a new era and, well, money is money, no matter what town supplied it, and the Stone accepted a two date engagement in Cowtown.

On the evening of the first concert day, my friend and I arrived at the stadium (I don't remember where the concert was being held) and found our seats. We had selected front row, mezzanine seating, over-looking the stage from a good angle. We enjoyed the warm-up music while the Stones prepared for their portion of the night off-stage, and when the time came for them to play, there was a delay. Again, I don't remember the length of the delay, but it wasn't short, nor was it excessively long.

After a few minutes of stadium shaking calls for the Stones, they appeared on stage and began their show. Of course, one of the songs was "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," the reason for the flashback. But I don't really remember the song...nor do I remember any of the other songs the Rolling Stones sang that first evening, during their first appearance in San Antonio, since they were more or less run out of town on a rail 12 years earlier.

But what I do remember, was what happened midway through the last song of their encore.

As I hung on the railing overlooking the stage about 100 feet or so away, a trap door opened on the left side. Jagger was singing and prancing around the stage as he was, and maybe still, want to do when I noticed the opening. And just as I did, something began to rise from the stage.

It was a huge condom...sort of. It was flesh colored, three and half to four feet in diameter and at least 20 feet high. There was no reservoir at the tip, but there was a nicely form head, giving the inflated object the look of a perfectly formed penis, erect and ready for action. And what action followed!

Jagger then strutted his way over to the erection and as the final song of the evening ended, he straddled the phallic symbols, he began a mock hand-job on it and yelled out, "This is for you, COWTOWN!" He continued his mockery for a few moments, then pranced to center stage just as the song finished, bowed and the lights went out and they were gone.

There was a very brief moment of stunned almost-silence in the stadium while everyone's brain attempted to comprehend what had just happened. I was laughing my ass off, as was my friend. We turned and looked at each other and continued to laugh as the roar for more gained volume and when it was obvious nothing more would happened (the lights in the stadium coming on was a sure-fire sign things were finished), we began filing out.

The next day, the news was ablaze with the story of the "Jagger Jack-off" of the night before. Some thought it was cool, others thought it was going to far. In the end, the Stones were banned from recreating the incident during the second night concert and from what I heard, it didn't happen. What did happen, I don't know, or knew and don't remember. But whatever it was, it could in no way, top what happened that first night.

If that happened in this day and age, it would be the talk of the internet with cell phone videos of it all over YouTube and elsewhere. But it didn't happened happened some 30 odd years ago.

I'm just glad I was there to witness it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

High Desert Heat?

It's been hot in the Pacific Northwest and the High Desert is living up to its name.

I know most of the country has been either hot and wet, or hot and not wet. We have been hot and dry and it will probably stay that way for a while. Beginning Wednesday, there is a prediction of thunderstorms. On the east side of Oregon, that means dry lightning, which means wildfires. There have already been at least two near where I live, a third burning east of me and a bunch even further east.

With the low humidity and high temps, everything is dried out to the point of being a hair's width away from spontaneous combustion. But that is a price people pay for living here. You learn to put up with fires, smoke in the air, fires, high temps and low humidity in the summer, and did I mention fires?

I ain't going to go into a tirade about global warming. But I will say we are in the midst of climate change. I have seen information regarding whether its natural or human caused, but hell, ain't nothing I can do about I might as well enjoy it while I can.

Take today (Tuesday, July 10) for instance. Around 1:30 pm, I packed up the saddlebags on my bicycle, and headed out. It was around 90 or 91 at the time, so I began my trip by heading to Fireman's Pond. It's a favorite place of mine to shoot dragonfly photos, and sometimes birds and damselflies. I spent about 30 minutes standing around Dragonfly Corner (an area of the pond where a lot of Odonata hang out) and only saw Eight-spotted Skimmers. I thought I saw something else, but it was such a quick sighting, I couldn't tell if it was different or not.

Anyway, I decided to head out and went to the airport to check out the action there. At the Forest Service fire center, a fire-bombing Neptune was arriving from somewhere. I watched it taxi in, shut down and while all that was happening, I fired off a few shots. But the action quickly died down and I was off again. I planned to go to the terminal area at Roberts Field, but changed my mind when the only aircraft there worth shooting, taxied out and took off as I was heading over there. I did manage to snap off a few shots of Army Blackhawk helicopters which passed by, but that was about it.

So instead of heading to the terminal, I decided I would check out the airport industrial area. I peddled my fat ass around there for a while seeing what was new and what I already knew and when I got to the end of the area, I stopped at the intersection of the main road and debated with myself as to which direction to travel. One way took me back the direction I came from and the other not the direction I came from.

Being the adventurous, fat-ass I am, I decided to head away from where I came. So I got in the bike lane on Airport Way and headed south. Now remember, it's in the 90s, close to 93 at that time, I'm peddling my bike on the open road under the hot sun and what do I see? A bunch of people driving by in their air-conditioned vehicles...that's what 8v) It doesn't bother me when I see people in their cars all clammed up, staying cool. What does bother me is the looks I get traveling along the road on a day like today. What does it matter to those who see me what I do? I need the exercise and I enjoy the heat.

Well, I continued on my way, and rounded a curve and there in front of me was a nice downgrade, leading of course, to an uphill hump on the other side. One look at me, and folks figure I am just what I look like, an out-of-shape, fat-ass. But I hit that downhill, built up some speed and when I started up the hill on the other side, I got about a quarter of the way up before I lowered my peddling gear. Another quarter of the way, I lowered it again. I went from 8 on the downhill to 3 at the top of the hill on the other side, and never missed a beat.

I went on for a couple of more miles, this time going north, towards home and a nice, comfortable Lazyboy. The only stop I made was at a local department store. There was a shady bench along the side of the building. I stopped and sat there for about five minutes (had to give my buns a bit of a rest from the bicycle seat) and drank some of my ice water -- yes, I had ice water. I keep a frozen bottle of water in my freezer and when I go out on hot days, take it with me. If I am riding the bike, it goes in a box I have lined with insulating material and a cover and that box goes into one of the saddlebags on the bike. The other side saddlebag generally carries my camera.

When I had drank enough water, I walked my bike a ways (didn't want to start cramping up from exercising and then not exercising suddenly), got on it a few minutes later and headed the final mile or so home.

Although I didn't get any really great photos, I did get a lot of exercise. Learned I could do things I thought I couldn't do, and made some people wonder if I am currently suffering from a heart attack. I figure I traveled about 10 miles all total, was out for about two and half hours and am stinging just a little from where my sunscreen was a bit thin.

But I don't was a great day, and there will be more to come...I hope.