Some Numbers

I left my home in Coos Bay, Oregon early afternoon on June 14, 2019 and returned there late afternoon on July 2.

Miles driven: 6,960.

States touched: 20. Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Colorado (Julesberg juke), and Utah.

Provinces: 2. Ontario and Quebec.

Places rowed: 3. McCall, Idaho. Milton, Vermont. Laporte, Indiana.

Inquiries, “What are those things on your trailer? 20+.

Number of friendly people encountered: many.

Number of jerks encountered: zero.

Burlington, Vermont

I spent a Saturday afternoon in Burlington with my hosts, the Breilands. It was a glorious, sunny day in the high 70’s.

We eased through the Church Street Marketplace that runs uphill, bounded on the north by Pearl Street and by Main Street on the south.

All sorts of fun is to be had at the Marketplace: music, diverse food offerings, good shops, saying hello to one’s acquaintances in a small college town. So many cities have tried and struggled with, or failed in, the downtown pedestrian mall concept. The city planners in Eugene, Oregon might want to come study this place.

We parked just around the corner on Main, in front of Nectar’s, the reliable old club where the band Phish got its start. Main Street runs steadily downhill from the highway, through the picturesque campus of University of Vermont, to the waterfront of Lake Champlain.

This summer day saw dozens of sailors and power boaters enjoying the perfect weather and water. A winter day might see skaters heading west across the lake toward the Adirondack Mountains off to the New York side.

I’ll remember the foot of Main Street as the place where I had my first cree-mee (sometimes, creemee). Out west we call this a frostee, frosty, or soft-serve. But the cree-mee is qualitatively different in that (a) it seems, at least to me, to be less sugary (which I like), (b) it is equally craved by young and old, and (c) in Vermont at least, one of the flavor options is maple.

Missing Karen, I ordered the maple, her favorite sweet. Dang, it was good! I should have had the large or at least the medium. And I should have figured a way to bring some home for her.

(Next day, at another location and having come to my senses, I did order a medium maple cree-mee. Breilands surprised me by having maple sprinkles added on. Thanks!)

At the foot of Main Street was an excursion train. North of it along the waterfront were a festival venue, a paved bike path and a yacht club. Naturally, Erik and Meredith have been invited to meetings to consider the possibly addition of coastal rowing to this facility. What a perfect venue for it.

Also along the waterfront is a facility that to me represents how unique and humane this city is.

Taking up about a half acre of prime waterfront real estate is a skate park. On this day several dozens males and females from tykes on up were swooping, jumping, turning and gliding above ground that many cities would have seen fit to divert for condos or trendy restaurants, or the like.

Burlington is definitely on my list of cities to visit again – next time with Karen. It reminded me of a miniature Portland, Oregon, with a similar casual, easy-to-meet atmosphere created by good-natured, bright, purposeful people. The people in Burlington, though, seemed less self-conscious than Portlanders. I like that.

Driving in Quebec

I was concerned because the highway signs are in French only and the only French words I know are toast, fries, poodle and Vichy.

Driving through Ontario, however, I gained a small measure of confidence by reading the bilingual English / French signs thoughtfully provided.

So, for example, I figured out that 15 km meant 15 kilometers / 15 kilometres.

I carried that knowledge across the provincial border into Quebec, thereby allowing me to read 15 km as 15 kilometres.

Oui! (5 words, then).

I did fine, I think, although I did see more of Quebec than the map seemed to indicate.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

In his first inaugural address, given on March 4, 1861, the day he was was first sworn into office as President of the United States, President Abraham Lincoln appealed to the secessionists to hold the nation together. He used the word “Union” twenty times, and sent a clear message that he would not allow the Union to be peaceably dissolved. “We cannot separate.”

I was raised by parents who revered Abraham Lincoln. We talked of him often and in the third grade I began to read stories about him, and things he had written and said. It was if he were a living mentor and guide.

I memorized the first inaugural address in the fifth grade. Most of it has been lost to my memory, so I go back frequently to read it. The passage that helps to keep me at my usual upbeat best is its conclusion:

I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Lincoln’s speech did not stave off war. But the wisdom in its giving is that, come what may, the language of optimism – that together we will rise to our best – is far better that that of pessimism. This attitude guides me in my personal and professional endeavours and is, I hope, how I will be remembered. It is how I remember my parents.

Early on June 30 I was driving from Cheyenne, Wyoming toward Laramie. I pulled off at a rest area situated some 8600 feet in elevation – the highest point on Interstate 80. There stands a monument some 30 feet high consisting of a chiselled stone column topped by an enormous bust of President Lincoln.

I stood next to my hero for long minutes and breathed the warming morning air. These were moments of wonderful serenity and gratitude, similar to how I feel pulling into the dock after a good morning row, or when I my good family and friends are around me, or when I reflect on the good fortune in my life.

I thought, sure, there are bad things in life, but, see: the magnificence!

Ron and Judy

Monday, June 24, 2019

I had my morning tour of Concept2, which Meredith Breiland arranged (details to come), then drove an hour east and just north of St. Johnsbury, VT, to Lyndonville.

Three miles out of town runs a year-round brook that skirts the edge of the farm of Ron and Judy Groskopf. Judy was raised in St. Johnsbury. Like me, Ron was raised in Sonoma, CA. He is a third generation Sonoman through his paternal grandfather and fourth generation Sonoman on his paternal grandmother’s side.

Ron is three years older than I and, since we were young, one of the older guys who was always good to me. My father was Ron’s and my math teacher and coach at Sonoma Valley High School. Not only that, Ron is the older brother of Charlene – my former wife and the mother of our son Ian and daughter Eryn. Ergo, he and Judy are my kids’ maternal uncle and aunt. Family.

Ron Groskopf therefore looms large for me, and has, for almost sixty years. Although his sister and I went our separate ways long ago, Ron and I never did get divorce. But to my discredit I never did resolve things with him. I left matters dangling.

Ron graduated from University of Nevada-Reno the year I started at Cal. He had been in ROTC, so, soon after graduation, off he went to Vietnam, as a second lieutenant, US Army, 101st Airborne.

So wrapped up was I in living the college life, rowing crew, keeping my grades up, courting his sister Charlene, and shooting my mouth off about what a lousy war we were in, that not once did I ever give proper consideration to Ron’s sense of duty or the danger he faced every day.*

Nonetheless, the two of us always got along well over the years afterward – how generous of him! And always he, and after he married, Judy as well, were good to my children. And still I did not keep up with him.

Visiting them on their farm would have made the trip from Oregon worthwhile, even had nothing else good come of it. Ron and Judy Groskopf are the same people they were last time I saw them 30+ years ago. They are full of good cheer and love for Ian and Eryn and me; sad to hear my father had died and eager to share stories about him; positive about family news; grateful I came to see them.

And Ron, a third-generation trucker (my son is fourth-), loved Alan’s boat trailer; and as a guy whose family kept a classic Chris Craft at Lake Tahoe when he was a kid, he was enthralled with BETTER ANGEL.

The visit truly was short and sweet.

Milling around outside as I was leaving, I said to Ron, “You were an older kid I looked up to. Still do.” We gave each other a back-cracking hug, shook hands and said good-bye.

It’s that simple.

* Read Karl Marlantes’s marvelous book Matterhorn. You’ll learn something about the combat life of 2nd lieutenants in Vietnam. Their life expectancy was not long.