Last in a series – letters home from Nicaragua

Nicolás and I sizing up a Pochote log for our next cut. We used Pochote for framing. It is incredibly hard and we had to use it wet or it bent our nails. It secretes a watery red sap and my shoulders were stained from carrying the freshly-cut lumber. (This must be an early photo, as I don’t see the red stains on my shirt.) If you didn’t keep your head slightly to the side when pounding a nail, you could get squirted in the eye.
Brent and I making a 4″ slice with an Alaska mill to make the next batch of 4x4s. The mill is a chainsaw with depth guide. For large logs, we had a mill with motors on both ends.

Links to prior posts: Mole Poblano, for the tale of the trip with Ken noted above. Tribute, for a recent post about Ken. Equinox includes a tribute to Keith Greeninger, a singer-songwriter from Santa Cruz with whom I worked in 1987, with one of the songs he wrote during our time there. What to Read While You Recuperate includes a brief review of a book by Jane McAlevey, with whom I also worked in Nicaragua, as well as another photo of the work in progress.

P.S. After staying with Rob for the summer (and helping remodel his bathroom), I found a job as a plumber in San Francisco and quickly moved there, since I was 50 miles away at the time, and my job was starting in a few days. I was soon to discover the joys of commuting by bike in San Francisco, in a neighborhood with 20% grades.

After two history courses that were mostly within my lifetime (Black Music and American Cultural History, and History of the Cold War – which included this period in Nicaragua), and sorting through a box of papers last weekend, I realized I wanted to be sure these letters were preserved. As I continue digging, you may see more.

I just came across a cassette of Keith’s demo tape of songs he wrote in Nicaragua. Some were subsequently recorded and released by City Folk. Some were never released. I also just learned that my local library has an Archiving Lab, where one can digitize audio cassettes and VHS tapes. I’ll go in for training next week and I hope to digitize Keith’s demo and post the song I have mentioned more than once in these posts.

If I only had a brain

I spent a good chunk of the day in a PET scanner. They were looking for markers of Alzheimer’s Disease. When it was over, they assured me they saw no brain. On the other hand, I’ll glow in the dark for a few hours from the radioactive tracers they injected in a vein. Since it’s a sunny day, no one will notice.

I just received a certificate (Suitable for Framing) thanking me for 20 years of participation in a longitudinal study of the children of people with Alzheimer’s Disease. That means there is money to study this. In high school I was in a longitudinal study that was to follow us every five years for the rest of our lives. The funding ran out before the first follow-up. I only learned that when I happened to take a course with one of the principal investigators 25 years later.

The Alzheimer’s study started with a series of cognitive tests repeated every few years to see if they could detect changes sooner if they were looking for them (and looking for more subtle changes than one might see in daily life), and to see if the children of folks with SDAT (Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer’s Type) deteriorate faster than the general population. (In other words, if my dad had SDAT, am I more likely to get it than you, if neither of your parents had it?) Over the years they have added studies. I’m in another to see if there is a correlation between aerobic fitness and cognitive function. The one I took part in today is to see if they can see changes in the brain before they see changes in performance.

While we don’t know how to prevent, cure, nor treat this disease, these studies may help down the road. If we develop means to prevent, cure, or treat the disease, knowing who is at the greatest risk of developing it, and recognizing it in the early stages, will guide those treatments.

They fed me lunch since I was there much of the day and one of the tracers needed an hour to worm its way into my brain (and it arrived shielded in a cool tungsten cylinder inside of a special box). The good news is this study was the day before I started serious dietary restrictions for a screening colonoscopy. (Totally unrelated, just one of those things you get to do once per decade after you turn 50.) For three days I can’t eat anything good for me. (No whole grains, beans, seeds, raw vegetables, fruits with skins or seeds.) Then comes the fun part – a clear liquid diet for a day (the liquids can’t be red or purple, so I guess Scotch and tequila are okay), GoLytely for two hours (followed by diarrhea for the next several hours), then more GoLytely from 1-2 AM and nothing else after that. At 6 AM, a 7 mile bike ride to the Digestive Health Center for the study. (The second dose of GoLytely starts 6 hours before the procedure.) Someone else has to drive me home, but that someone isn’t up at 6 AM. They’ll pick me and the bike up and take us home to sleep.

I haven’t been able to find out who named GoLytely, but I admire them. It is a multi-level joke. You don’t go lightly at all. It completely evacuates your bowel so your colon is clean enough to eat out of. (Don’t try that at home.) It also contains electrolytes so as not to dehydrate you or mess with your cardiac rhythm when you poop out all of the electrolytes you had in you when you started. Everyone complains about the taste but, really, it’s no worse than Gatorade. It’s sweet and salty. Of course, I have said more than once in these pages that Gatorade is best suited to pouring over a winning football coach’s head, so take that with a grain of salt; or a gallon of GoLytely, which is how much you have to drink – 3 quarts over a 2 hour period, drain that over the next few hours, then another quart 7 hours after finishing the first 3. That, of course, means a night without sleep, since between finishing the first 3 quarts at 6 PM and starting the last quart at 1 AM, you’re busy with the first three quarts running through you and taking with it anything in the way. I recommend scheduling your colonoscopy in the afternoon.

GoLytely is polyethylene glycol, NOT to be confused with ethylene glycol, which is antifreeze. One will make you poop for hours. The other will kill you.


We all grow up with expectations. My parents made it clear that I was to go to Harvard or Yale on a full scholarship, as they had no money to give me and, even if they had it, they wouldn’t give it to me, as I was on my own once I turned 18.

I took that literally and moved out during my senior year of high school. I still had no plan other than to go to college, but I wasn’t going to be the doctor they wanted me to be, and I wasn’t going to Harvard or Yale. I applied to exactly one school. I got accepted and the plan was set in motion.

Over that summer I discovered a whole world that I hadn’t known existed. Suddenly I had a life; a life I didn’t want to leave behind. My car was in no shape to drive 2000 miles to school, so I pulled the engine and replaced the clutch so it could make the trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that until it was too late to drive out there before school started.

I booked a flight to LA, arriving without some of the bare necessities like sheets and blankets. I stole an airline pillow (back in the day when airlines provided pillows) and used towels for sheets until I could go shopping.

While I wasn’t stupid, being a student had not been my favorite pastime. It didn’t take long to realize that paying large sums of money to do something I didn’t enjoy was not a viable life plan.

It rained in late October. I went up to the roof of my building and looked out at the ocean. Two things struck me: 1) I could see the ocean, which I hadn’t seen from there for the previous two months, and 2) my eyes didn’t burn. I hadn’t realized my eyes had been burning for two months until they weren’t. That was the day I knew I was leaving Los Angeles as soon as the semester ended. The semester wasn’t a total loss – I gained two lifelong friends and knew what I wanted to do with the next part of my life.

I arrived back here and went back to work at the organization I left behind. I became Executive Director and stayed in that position until I shut down the organization and moved on. I started another organization with other folks and stayed there for the next ten years. It’s still alive and well nearly 40 years after I left it. My parents wondered when I would do it “for real”, which to them meant I had to be the sole proprietor of a business if I wasn’t going to be a college graduate and a doctor. Another ten years went by and I went to college when I finally had a reason to be there – a reason that was not “because you’re supposed to” or “because your parents want you to”. Did a college degree suddenly make me smart at 45? Nope. College is not for everyone and it is not the arbiter of intelligence. But you knew that, right?

In case you hadn’t noticed, his “deep thinking” is wrong, but he says it quickly and convincingly, which is usually good enough “back where I come from”.

Talking people down from bad trips was not something you learn in college classes (though I note that you can now get a professional certificate for guided psychedelic therapy for research – and soon to be therapeutic – purposes). Running a co-operative business required communication skills that were beyond what was needed in most schooling (and would an MBA have helped?). Being a plumber required a sort of three dimensional thinking that was different than that needed in school (and is taught via apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training). Working in the developing world required solving problems with the tools you had, not always the tools you wanted. Working in health care (okay, that was after college) required knowing how to use big words but also to know what those words meant so you could use small words when they were more appropriate (which is most of the time). Common sense and critical thinking are the major life skills needed in most endeavors. Are those taught, or learned? And what’s the difference? Discuss among yourselves.

So go to college if you want to and have a reason to. Do something else if it interests you more. Know that whatever you do, the odds of it sustaining you for the rest of your life are slim. Have a fallback position, or know how to think on your feet and change when the time comes.

Some of us are crocus and bloom early but not for long. Some are late bloomers like chrysanthemums. Some bloom repeatedly throughout the season, like some roses and lilies. Maybe your blooms aren’t showy. Like many trees, they come and go and many folks don’t really notice. Or do others just see you as a weed?

Bob Odenkirk (“Saul Goodman”) wrote the character of Matt Foley for Chris Farley while both were at Second City. I’m twice as old as Matt Foley, so I must know twice as much, right?
David Crosby 8/14/41-1/18/23

Home: a love story

One of the half-fast cycling club graduated from UCLA. It was tough getting through college with dyslexia. He told me they gave him a sweatshirt. It looked like this:

Image from Pinterest

That’s not what we came to talk about today. We were riding in the Baraboo Hills and it got me thinking about places. Much of what I know about the place I call home came from the book The Physical Geography of Wisconsin.; and the physical geography of this place is one of the reasons I love to explore it by bike.

A question from a reader led me to realize I live in paradise.

Fifty miles to the west of me is Spring Green, home to Taliesen (the home of Frank Lloyd Wright) and American Players Theatre (one of the great classical theatres in the US – one of the founders was Randall Duk Kim – you may know him as The Keymaker from The Matrix Reloaded. I know him for playing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the titular Titus Andronicus on back-to-back nights).

Spring Green is in the heart of the driftless area. Much of north central North America was covered by glacier in one or more previous ice ages. The driftless area in the southwest corner of Wisconsin was missed by every glacier. It is a land of steep and craggy hills. The eastern edge of the area is rich farmland (hence the town of Black Earth), whereas farther west it is too steep and irregular to support much farming and leans more toward wooded hills and dark valleys. The driftless area is home to the Dells of the Wisconsin River, known to geologists for its rock formations; known to the rest of the world for its waterparks. Much of my time on a bike is is the driftless area.

Stand Rock (WI Dells) image from Science Source. Don’t try this at home.

Fifty miles to the north are the Baraboo bluffs, home to our annual fall ride. This is on the edge of the driftless area and home to Devil’s Lake and the Circus World Museum, as well as Dr Evermor’s Forevertron. Devil’s Lake (roughly translated from Tewakącąk, the Ho-Chunk name, which may be more accurately translated as sacred lake or spirit lake but, due to the racism of European settlers who deemed anything sacred but not christian to be the work of the devil, was translated as “Devil’s Lake”). The lake was formed by a terminal moraine which trapped its outflow. While the bulk of Wisconsin drains to the Mississippi River and then the Gulf of Mexico, this lake drains slowly into the underlying bedrock. A drain was added in 2002 to remove years of accumulated phosphorus from runoff. The hills are Baraboo pink quartzite, and estimated at 1.3 billion years old.

Devils’ Doorway -Devil’s Lake. Image from
Dr Evermor and the Forevertron image from

Fifty miles to the east is the Kettle Moraine State Forest. A “kettle” is a depression left by a melting ice block as the glaciers receded, while a “moraine” is a ridge of rock pushed along by a glacier, then left behind as the glacier receded.

Ride one way and I can see what Wisconsin looked like before the ice age. Ride the other way and I can see how glaciers changed the landscape.

Hiking along a moraine. Image from u/alrobertson on

Fifty miles to the south is New Glarus, home of my favorite of the Wednesday Night Bike Rides. (Actually, this one is closer. Fifty miles gets you past Monroe. New Glarus is only about 25 miles.) New Glarus was settled by Swiss immigrants who found the verdant hills and valleys reminiscent of home. It is one of the few places you can still find dairy cattle that are not Holsteins.

Contour farming near New Glarus. Image from

Smack dab in the middle of all that is Taychopera or DeJope, AKA Madison, WI, AKA home sweet home. I can walk less than a mile to see an effigy mound that reminds me that this was sacred space long before I (or anyone who looks like me) was here.