Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hang On, St. Christopher

I was not raised Catholic. But my grandmother—my mother’s mother—converted to Catholicism in college, along with her sister.

Grandmother and her sister were raised in Laramie, Wyoming, a town with an Episcopal cathedral, but they were sent off to college at an all-girls school, St. Mary’s in Indiana. The story goes that they were so impressed by the beauty of the church and its ceremonies that they converted.

Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus was canonized right around the time Grandmother was at St. Mary’s. These medals are a set that belonged to Grandmother; Mom brought them home after Grandmother died. My sister has them now, along with a rosary that was Grandmother’s.

Mom jotted a note that she kept with these medals, referring to Grandmother’s “blue medal,” noting that Grandmother had mentioned it in a diary. Mom’s note mentions seeing her cousin’s similar “blue medal” once, which her cousin had inherited from Mom’s aunt: Grandmother’s sister.

As near as I can tell—and I’m no Catholic, so don’t count on me to get it right—the “blue medal” is the St. Christopher’s medal pictured above. I do not know why St. Christopher’s medals are so often colored blue, but they seem to be.

From her note, I think Mom understood the “blue medal” to be the whole set, or maybe the cloth badge. Mom may have understood it more clearly than I.

St. Catherine LabourĂ© was canonized in 1947. I don’t know anything about Grandmother’s faith or how she came to have these particular icons.

I believe the small blue medallion next to St. Catherine’s medal is tied into Catherine’s story. I will let you go look up the longer version of what it all means.

I am pleased to see the automobile on the back of one of Grandmother’s St. Christopher’s medals, since it had something to do with why Grandmother and her sister ended up at St. Mary’s instead of at the University of Wyoming.

Mom always said the two young girls were sent to St. Mary’s because just then all the young soldiers from World War I were coming home, and Grandmother’s parents didn’t want the girls exposed to the Spanish flu.

True, the Spanish flu epidemic was a real concern, and it ended up taking more lives worldwide than all the warcraft of World War I had.

But Mom’s cousin told a different story. The story she had heard from her mother—Mom’s aunt—also involved two young girls, and a lot of soldiers returning home, and an automobile. And yes, the soldiers were all being housed at the University of Wyoming. But in Mom’s cousin’s story, the event that got the girls sent to St. Mary’s didn’t involve the flu.

Grandmother’s father was the first Ford dealer in the state of Wyoming, so his daughters had access to cars. I have heard other stories of their adventures on the road. The stories sound as if the two sisters knew how to have a pretty good time.

Often decisions are made for more than one reason.

One way or another, Grandmother ended up at St. Mary’s, and if she hadn’t, she probably wouldn’t have owned the St. Christopher’s medals.

On the medals, St. Christopher is usually depicted carrying a child across a river on his back. (Everyone knows “christopher” means “Christ-bearer,” right?) I guess the reason he’s the patron saint of travelers is that he got Christ there safely.

He is also the patron saint of surfers.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In Miniature

Going through Mom’s house, most of the time when we open a drawer or a box or a closet, it’s stuffed with the ordinary accumulation of a life: towels, bank statements, maps, socks.

Every now and then, we get to crack the lid on a more exotic collection that leaves us feeling like Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon on the steps leading down to Tut’s tomb, or like the smallholder and his gardening assistants when they found the first line of rivets in the sand as they were excavating Sutton Hoo.

In this exquisitely carved camphor chest (from China), we found mostly air. But in the bottom was a scattering of serving pieces that probably came from the travels of my father’s mother.

Above is a bowl that could have held sugar cubes, or olives.

Here are the delicately wrought claws of the tongs in the bowl, which you could use to pick up whatever was inside it.

Here is a tiny serving spoon.

And with it is a tiny Viking ship to hold whatever you’re serving: a spice, maybe, or a strong sauce like horseradish or chutney.

This horn looks like a salt shaker, or maybe it was made to hold shots of aqvavit.

And here’s the smallest pitcher in the world. For scale, compare it to the hinge below.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Works, Doesn’t It?

I guess the moral of the story is that when your company’s name is Glasswerks, you have to be careful how you hang your signs.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

McTeague Hike

Our small family business has been negotiating a long-term deal with another company for about six months. (I’m not allowed to say more about it because of confidentiality clauses.) We had reached a point where we were ready to sign a preliminary term sheet.

We took a walk with their negotiating team today, after meeting them last night for dinner and staying up much too late discussing nuances of the deal without changing (or intending to change) a word of the document.

Our goals were twofold: to cement a bond of understanding and to educate them a little about an area that may have an effect on their end of the deal.

Some say native peoples made these rings of stones thousands of years ago. Others say glaciers left them tens of thousands of years ago as they retreated at the end of the latest ice age. Either way, they’re a fascination and a puzzlement.

We started early at the China Ranch Date Farm, south of Tecopa, California. After a drive through the date farm to inspect the trees, we parked near the store, which was not yet open.

Gambel’s quail was calling out as we arrived, with a distinctive whooping cry. Several were running around on the ground.

As we set off, it was clear where the river was and where the desert began.

Not all the foliage was in bloom, but much was. At several points, we heard the roar of bees swarming out of sight in the underbrush.

At the start of the trail, we were reminded that not everyone makes it to the end of some hikes. Confident in our ability, we left the shovel in the truck.

Here’s a game: It’s called “Can you guess where the spring is?”

The folks who were there the night before had quite a party.

The signs say the ranch was started by a guy from China who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, back around the turn of the last century. We took a look around his house.

Much of our hike followed the grade of the old Tidewater & Tonopah railroad, which went defunct decades ago. It used to carry ore from mines as far north as Goldfield, Nevada, down to Ludlow.

We took a detour up a short tributary to a slot canyon, visible at the end of this wash.

Look closely and you will see fish. The water in this river is intermittent at best. Certain pools, fed by springs, can last year-round, but they may be isolated from each other. As a result, the fish in each pool (and other species) may well be unique to that particular spot on the river. This is a fragile habitat, living on the edge of death by dehydration.

In the desert, a casual glance can leave the impression that spring never touches this place, that it’s dry and dead all year round. A closer look reveals many flowers on all kinds of plants.

This is about as late in the year as we wanted to take this hike. Much later in the season, and the heat would really start beating down. We started around sunup—something like 6:30 a.m.—and finished before noon. Even with that, it was more than warm enough by the time we reached the trail’s end.

Going into the slot.

Two of us scaled this rock and headed toward the light. The rest of us hung around in the shade at the bottom, waiting to help them back down the rock when they returned.

This is the “key” that was removed from the slot canyon, ready to be reinserted if it should be needed.

About 99% of the time, this camera is frustrating, slow, and cranky, refusing to cooperate with me to grab pictures as they flash past. This time, it nailed the shot almost before I was ready. The butterfly is about as big as the nail on your pinky finger.

This little fellow stays busy, scuttling along at a high rate of speed. I couldn’t tell exactly what his business was, but he kept right at it.

An unexplored slot.

Desert trumpet.

Another of these bugs. They seem completely harmless, just busy.

As you can see, this beer is natural. So the can belongs here. (Yes, I retrieved it, along with its mate about a quarter-mile away, plus a can of beans, unopened, that had been sitting there who knows how long. By and large, since this trail gets very little use, we saw almost no litter anywhere, which made me even more happy to cart out the few bits that did disturb the view.)

In shadier nooks down by the water, the foliage got a degree more lush.

At long last, we saw our driver, who had come around to meet us. We were back to civilization, even if it would be hours before we could raise a cell tower to check messages on our phones.

We had a grand old hike, and to celebrate we went up to Shoshone and had us a lunch that could not be beat, then spent the afternoon driving home, restoring vital bodily fluids, electrolytes, phytochemicals, and nacho cheese equilibrium.