Friday, June 21, 2019

A Trail of Trespassing...

A few days ago, I began walking the United Kingdom’s 103 mile Cotswold Way. It didn’t take long for me to realize this hike was different than the ones I’ve experienced in the US. 

First off, there’s lots of ambling through paddocks. When you enter a paddock, a gate must be unlocked and then relocked. Between the paddocks, there’s woodlots enclosed in fences with more gates too negotiate. Grazing sheep, horses and chewing-the-cud cows abound. The farm animals live there full time I suppose.

Then the light came on. I’m mostly walking through private property. I’m trespassing and no one is threatening me or brandishing a weapon in my face. In fact, an owner of an estate (there’s lots of estates in the U.K.), gave me directions when he discovered me walking down his private driveway. He went on to say, “It’s a shame you don’t have a compass. You could walk through my land and be there sooner.” Simply amazing. He was encouraging me to trespass! 

I started thinking about this. (This is what happens when your accommodations aren’t near pubs and you have too much time to ponder.) So...I went to the source of all knowledge. I Googled stuff. 

The U.K. has 67 million people who speak a version of English. The U.K is a wee dram smaller than the state of Michigan. So here’s some comparison shopping. In the U.K. 8.5%  of the land is publicly owned. In fact, one percent of the population owns 50% of the cloudy and rainy land mass. On the other side of the Atlantic, Michigan has 10 million residents and 28% of the land is open to all.

Apparently, private land owners in the U.K. are willing to share their space with the masses. There’s even a name for this, (dare I say it?) socialistic idea. The trails are called “permissive pathways.” Definition from my AZ Adventure Cotswold Way map: “Footpaths which landowners have permitted public use but which are not right of ways. The agreement may be withdrawn.” In other words, if the walker, mountain bikers and equestrians play nice, they are allowed continued access through the private land. So far, I’d say the public is doing a fine job of stewardship. I’ve seen plenty of mud and sheep poop, but no litter. 

Somehow this cooperative notion got scuttled when those Europeans migrated to the New World. To sum it up, I’d be likelier to order a Bud Light in a brewpub than knowingly trespass in the US. Trust me, I’m not doing either. 

US laws heavily favor the sanctity of house and home and property. IE Fifth Amendment and the  “Stand-Your-Ground” law. A perceived threat (like trespassing) might be a fast way to end a pleasant hike. (I have a great aversion to suddenly contracting lead poisoning.) Hell! There’s White Males openly carrying sidearms in the Larimer County Parks of Colorado. (That’s a No-No BTW. The Dudes were intimidating without the weapons, I wasn’t going to chastise them.) If these sorts are armed on Public Land, they must wield a bazooka while at home. I’m guessing there are more “No Trespassing” and “This property protected by Smith and Wesson” signs than  Stop” signs in the US. 

And THAT’S why we need to save every acre of Public Lands in the US. People who wander (like me) would end up on the wrong side of a gun way too often. 

We need Public Lands for the simple reason, that Americans don’t play as nice as British Citizens. 

Think about it.

For further reading: 

Cheers from Kings Stanley, UK 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Lessons my Dad taught me...

A month ago I blogged about the lessons my Mom taught me. 

This month the lectures are Sid based. 

Mom and Dad’s lessons had some overlap: Be polite, value education, always offer food/drink to family, friends and strangers. And lastly, hugs are an acceptable form of telling others you think they are swell. 

Whereas Mom’s lessons were more visual, Sid’s classroom time always began with “Jeffy!” 

Sid didn’t teach touchy-feely. His opinions on how things are and how they should be were pragmatic in nature. Sid Sambur’s views were in Black or White hues. There was no Gray. If something or someone was great, you knew it. When something or someone sucked, well we heard about that too. Sid was painfully honest.

Some examples:

“Jeffy, don’t be a shnoorer.” Translation from Yiddish. A taker, someone who would dine and dash on you when the check arrives.

“Jeffy, words matter. If you say you are going to do something, do it.” Another way of saying actions speak louder than words. 

“Jeffy, No! I’m not buying that for you.”  I heard the word “NO!” often. That’s a good thing. It taught me their are differences between real needs and mere desires. 

“Jeffy, save your money. Don’t waste it on silly things. One day you might need that money.” I’ve rarely been in debt. 

“Jeffy! Do the right thing. Be honest. Be nice to people. Be generous when you are able.” 

Many of Dad’s lessons came from witnessing humankind at its worst. The Holocaust. 

“Jeffy! don’t be a follower. Think for yourself. Just because everyone is doing something doesn’t mean it’s right.” I’m sure this came from Sid’s observation of the Mob Mentality of the Third Reich. 

“Jeffy! There are times you’ll have to stand up for what you know is right.”

“Jeffy! I don’t want you to join the Boy Scouts. Any organization that requires a uniform is something to avoid.” Dad was probably thinking about the Nazi Brownshirts when he told me this. 

“Jeffy! There are Goyim (non-Jews) who will hate you just because you are Jewish. Be aware of this.” A hard lesson of Anti-Semitism. 

A lot of what my Dad taught was common sense, Golden Rule stuff. The rest was Alerts and   Warnings pertaining to the potential Evil which is lurking in the World. 

In essence, I believe Sid wanted me to be a mensch, but also to watch out for the other guy. 

From The Joys of Yiddish, a "mensch" is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.” 

Well Dad, I  try to be a mensch, I try.

Thanks for all the lessons.

Happy Father’s Day to our manly mentors. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Parting is nothing but...


Recently I attended a memorial for Joe Scanlan. A buddy I’ve known for thirty years. It was three decades of great times and guffaws. In early May, our friendship was suddenly terminated by freakin’ cancer.

You may recall I once wrote a blog about Joe and his brother Pat. (AKA Team Trauma). 

The memorial was at Denver’s Washington Park Boathouse. After checking into a nearby hotel, I ambled to the park knowing I was a mental mess over Joe’s passing. Upon arrival, I exchanged a little awkward small talk and sad sighs with brother Pat. He took me over to a table which held old photos, ticket stubs and a framed article I wrote about the Dynamic Duo for the Denver Post. 

Pat handed me a dozen photos, “Here! These are from our Team Bar2Bar days on Ride the Rockies. You are in a few.” 

Sure enough, the photos held memories,  “Oh! I remember THAT crazy day!” I started to smile despite not feeling very happy. I then spoke to a scattering of Scanlans whom I’ve met through the years. (There’s a lot of Irish Catholic Scanlans!) Our conversations were brief as if we were all thinking the same thing. “What is there to say? This sucks!”

 As the crowd grew, I retreated to my position of comfort. I went and stood in a quiet corner of the Boathouse. 

While nursing an IPA. I looked out upon the reflections on the lake while noticing squadrons of barn swallows flittering nearby. I thought about Joe and the finality of never being able to share a joke, a Rockies game or to click pint glasses with him at a Happy Hour. I sighed a lot. 

Every now and then, I glanced at the gathering of Joe’s greatest fans. Many were regaling those around them with comical antidotes of episodes with Joe. Of course, they were complete with imitations of his raspy voice and emphatic hand gestures. Everyone had a story to tell and memories to share. “Oo! There was that time when Joe and I...” 

Then again, I saw some gushing of tears too. 

As the keg of beer began to drain, a few strangers approached me. “Weren’t you the guy who wrote that article about Joe? He spoke about you often. I had to come by and meet you.” 
With an introduction like that, I went into my greatest hits with Joe stories. They laughed and nodded as they envisioned the hilarious yet believable scenes. 

As Joe’s celebration of life was coming to a close, Rosie (a mutual friend and honorary Scanlan) came by for a teary hug. When we regained our composures, she pointed out the urn which contained Joe’s remains. Rosie looked at me and said, “Joe loved you!” 

I know. The feeling was mutual. This was a hard loss. I’m sure going to miss him. 

On an upbeat note: Don’t be surprised when there’s an announcement for the “Joe Scanlan Cancer Sucks Memorial” tentatively set for June, 2020. Yes, it’ll more than likely be held at a Rockies game at Coor’s Field. Somehow we will spin a fund raiser for a cancer charity chosen by the Scanlan family. I’ll buy a ticket for Joe and place a can of Coors on the empty seat. He’ll be there in spirit. Plan on attending. Joe wouldn’t want you to miss this one. 

Cheers to Joe.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A belated Arbor Day...

Post and an early Father’s Day one. 

Here’s an Oldie but Goodie on this sunless, cool Sunday morning in Colorado. (Great day to plant a tree!)

 Planting a Tree...

My father, a survivor of Hitler’s insane concept of human genetics, planted a tree at our house in the Bronx. The sapling was a two-foot white pine that my father appropriated from the Catskill Mountains, AKA in the “Big Apple” as the Jewish Alps. “Jeffy, watch! This tree will one day be taller than our house,” he proclaimed. Like a faithful son, I believed him.

One winter, a Nor’easter blizzard blew down along the eastern seaboard. The heart-attack-heavy snow broke the tiny, white pine in half. My dad, a tailor by profession, but whom Uncle Sam trained to be a medical assistant in WWII, sprang into action. He fashioned a splint made of a few sticks, a side order of rags and a lot of twine. With these meager tools and devices, he made the wounded tree whole again. He reasoned, “It works for people, why not trees?”

In 1978, I escaped the hassle and hustle of the Big Apple and moved out West. Now I, a son of a son of a tailor and graduate from the Syracuse College of Forestry, nurture trees at my home in Fort Collins, Colorado.

I can’t take all the credit; I get a lot of help from Mother Nature. Neighborhood squirrels burrow acorns into the mulch and forget where they placed them. A white-oak sapling will arise a season later. My furry friends do the same with apple cores and cherry and peach pits. I have a virtual fruit stand growing in my yard. We haven’t had much luck with avocado pits yet. When the oaks, peaches, apples, cherries and ashes grow too close together, I’ll go in and do a “thinning operation,” and rearrange some saplings. Once in awhile, I have to place a few up for adoption.

Letting go of my green children is always a difficult process. First I have to find a suitable “parent.” Then the lengthy application process begins. With questions such as, “Are you aware that Colorado is now in a drought?” Then a follow-up query, “Will you be able to provide an adequate supply of water for this young plant?” After that, I quiz the applicant about his or her general knowledge on such diverse topics as soil conditions, fertilizers and peat moss. Only when I am satisfied with their answers will we venture out in the yard with a shovel in tow. As we dig up the adopted seedling, I make sure the new owner understands that I get visitation rights. It’s never easy to let go.

In the fall of 2000, I went back east to visit family and friends. I borrowed a car and drove out to see my childhood home in the Bronx. I was glad that I had faith in my Dad. He was right; that white pine tree is now taller than the house.

Do yourself a favor; plant a tree. It’s good for the soul.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Lessons my Mom taught...


“You can observe a lot by just watching.” 
Yogi Berra

Clara Sambur was called back to Heaven when she was just 52. I was a distraught seventeen year old when she was taken in 1972. I always felt cheated in losing her at such an impressionable age. 

Yet my diminutive Mom made a major impact of me in her subtle understated ways. I learned a lot by watching her. Her classes were mostly visual instead of tutorial. 

Here’s a few examples of Mom’s lessons:

Begin each and every human encounter with a smile. (Unless it’s a totally inappropriate situation. IE. A funeral.) 

Always offer food/drink to anyone who enters or approaches your home (or Van.)

Hugs are an acceptable form of greeting with family and friends.

Public displays of affection are fine too.

Be polite.

Value Education.

Savor silence.

To check a child for fever, tenderly place your cheek against their forehead. 

Read a book in quiet times.

Keep smiling.

Thanks Mom for all that you taught me. I wish the lessons didn’t end when I just a teenager. 

I still miss you.

Last photo: Deep down inside I’m really a Jewish Mother in a short man’s body.

Happy Mom’s Day to all you Motherly Mentors.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Seeking Contentment in the Land of...

Thirst and Desiccation.

I’ve been on a protracted tour of my personal Happy Places. Beginning with Grand Canyon National Park, I took time outs in Zion NP, Kodachrome State Park, Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef NP and Canyonlands NP. My sprint journey finished up in Great Sand Dunes NP. 

I made a five night R&R stop in Durango, Colorado as well. 

For the most part, the weather was mild to marvelous. I slept with Benedict the Van’s windows ajar. All my campsites had enticing views. My neighbors were respectful and quiet. I saw a few new gorgeous places and got reacquainted with Old Buddy hikes too. My Utah contraband stash of IPAs stayed cold. I expelled many sighs of contentment. Once again,  my World was silent and serene. Happy Times.

There’s a commonality to all these sublime low humidity landscapes. They are all a few hours or a day’s drive from Durango, Colorado. Location, location, location. Did I mention the San Juan Mountains (Colorado’s most beguiling Range) are practically straddling Durango’s lap? Armed with a 4x4 pick-up truck with a camper topping it,  a wanderer can explore for ages. There’s heaps to see around here. Most of it is Virgin Territory to me. 

It’s for the above reasons and scads of others, I’ve plunked down a deposit on a tri-level townhouse beginning on August 1st. It’s a walking distance to Durango’s restaurants, brewpubs, library, pot dispensaries, movie theaters and grocery stores. The unit has an east facing balcony which will be a perfect fit for a Weber Grill. The place is already furnished in a Macho Southwest motif. ( I reckon, I’ll start wearing a cowboy hat.) There’s two bedrooms and three bathrooms with flush toilets.  There’s hot and cold running water. The kitchen is equipped with more than a Coleman Stove and Cooler. (That’s a good thing) The unit has a washer and dryer. There’s over 100 TV channels to veg out over. It has loads of storage space which I won’t come close to filling. 

I’m still a Minimalist. 

After existing for seven years in the Van’s 66 square feet of living area, the townhouse will feel like the Taj Mahal with electricity. I’m joining the World of Grown Ups. I’ll now be a home owner by choice. No longer will I have to stammer an answer when someone asked me, “Where do you live?” 

This might take some getting used to. 

Wish me luck.


Monday, April 22, 2019

“Jeffy! You have to be your own Doctor”

were the wise words of advice Sid Sambur imparted upon me time and time again. Recently, I  paid attention to what my Dad once said.

If you’ve been following along, one needn’t be a Doctor Joyce Brothers to figure out my mindset has been off. Sure, I get the Blues, the funk and feelings of melancholy. (Doesn’t everybody?) 

Yet, this episode had been different. This duration outperformed the 2010/2011 almost back to back sedans vs. bicyclist accidents which left me hobbled mentally and physically. I stressed if I was ever going to get my active life back. Fortunately it takes more than being smashed by two sedans to really debilitate me!  When I realized I would fully recover, my mood brightened immediately.

On this go around, I left America with a few months of feeling lowdown above the neckline. I went to Australia (a place I always enjoyed in my previous five visits) with hopes of hiking to pretty places and meeting more of those laid back locals. I thought the trip would provide me a needed attitude adjustment. It didn’t happen. I wasn’t getting my minimum daily requirement of exercise or “Oo Ah!” views. I was dropping a lot of coin to lose fitness, gain fatness, and spend inordinate amounts of time alone. After awhile I capitulated to the greasy fish and chips and Aussie IPAs. I set my feel good sights on the Grand Canyon and beyond. 

In the meantime, a few observant friends picked up my vibe. They showed genuine concern and asked me, “How’re you doing?” When I answered “Not so good.” They heaped me with well intentioned advice. IE: Prozac, Valium, Ambien, seeing a therapist and to get a dog. I told all those nice people, “Wait awhile. Wait awhile.I think the Grand Canyon backpack trip with Brad (my Brother from another Mother) will fix me.” 

But first! I had to deal with a still gimpy knee. How would I go up and down dicey trails with a dodgy knee? By modern chemistry, that’s how. God Bless titanium strong anti-inflammatory meds, and shots of fresh squeezed cortisone. At this point, I was more concerned about my mental well being than exasperating a knee injury. 

As Brad and I descended into the “Big Ditch” (into pummeling winds and a short burst of White Death), I felt my angst and worries begin to fall away. On day three, I sat by the Colorado River and watched and listened to it’s soothing sound. By day five, I gazed at the stars and a rising moon. By day six, I suffered up the Tanner trail with a wring-your-shirt-out sweat. 

That was a good thing. 

After parting ways with my mellow non-judgement Bro, I headed to a cheap hotel with a soft bed in Kanab, Utah. There I slept extremely well. When I awoke, I looked at a stranger in the mirror. I was legitimately smiling for the first time in months. I was back! 

Sid was right. You have to be your own Doctor. 

Now the Public Service Announcement part of this blog. 

We now live in harsh times of bluster, bravado and bullying. Basic human traits such as humility, empathy, generosity, honesty, politeness, compassion and civility are almost looked upon as weaknesses. Personally. I think it’s a shame. Maybe everyone is too BUSY to take the time to be more humane and caring. 

I’ll end this with a simple suggestion, and it won’t cost you a thing except a little of your time.

If someone you know seems a bit “off” and wants to talk. (I mean really converse, not text) It’s probably not the time to look up at the sky and say, “Nice day, if it don’t rain!” in a lame attempt to change the subject. Hear them out. Most of the time they aren’t looking for advice or answers. They just need to vent. Remember, one day you might be the one who is “off.”

For those of you who allowed me to recently vent. A sincere Thank You. 

Choose kindness.