Friday, June 16, 2017

17 Inches


Today when I opened my email, I got a forwarded message from my older brother Mark. He was sending a message to my younger brother Brett, who has a son that really enjoys baseball. When I saw the title-17 Inches, I wasn't sure what the heck to expect. We all share a good sense of  humor and I wasn't certain that he wasn't forwarding some off color joke. As it is though, he sent an article that really hit home with me, and one that I hope will impact you as well, hopefully in a positive way. I don't know the author of the article, I wish I did. He certainly deserves credit for it, and I'm in no way trying to claim it as mine, I just want to pass on something I think it worth reading, so here it is.

Twenty years ago in Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,00 baseball coaches descended upon the Opreyland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA's convention.

While I waited in line with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend.  One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment- "John Scolinos is here? Oh man, worth every penny of my airfare."

Who is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter: I was just happy to be there.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948.  He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung- a full sized, stark white home plate.

Seriously, I wondered, who is this guy?

After speaking for twenty five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he'd gotten on stage.  Then finally...

"You're probably all wondering why I'm wearing home plate around my neck," he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility. "I may be old, but I'm not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I've learned in my life, what I've learned about home plate in my 78 years."
Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room.  "Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?"

After a pause, someone offered,  "Seventeen inches?" more of a question than an answer.

"That's right," he said. "How about in Babe Ruth's day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?" Another long pause.

"Seventeen inches?" a guess from another reluctant coach.

"That's right," said Scolinos.  "Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?" Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear.  "How wide is home plate in high school baseball?"

"Seventeen inches," they said, sounding more confident.

"You're right!" Scolinos barked. "And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?"

"Seventeen inches!" we said in unison.

"Any minor league coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?"........ "Seventeen inches!"

"RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide is home plate in the Major Leagues?"

"Seventeen Inches!"

"SEVENTEEN INCHES! " he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls.  "And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can't throw the ball over seventeen inches?" Pause.  "They send him to Pocatello!" he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. "What they don't do is this: they don't say.'Ah that's ok Jimmy, if you can't hit a seventeen inch target, we'll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches. We'll make it twenty inches so you can have a better chance of hitting it. If you can't hit that let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.'"

Pause. "Coaches... what do we do when your best player shows up late to practice? Or when our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him?

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach's message began to unfold.  He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. "This is the problem in our  homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline.
We don't teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We just widen the plate!"

Pause. Then to the point at the top of the house he added an American flag. "This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?"

Silence. He replaced the flag with a cross. "And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves! And we allow it."

  "And the same is true of our government. Our so called representatives make rules for us that don't apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries. They no longer serve us. And we allow them to widen home plate! We see our country falling into a dark abyss while we just watch."

 I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and  how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right,lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

"If I am lucky." Coach Scolinos concluded, "you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: "If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to those same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet that standard, and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to...

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside,..."We have dark days ahead!"

His message was clear: Coaches, keep your players- no matter how good- your own children, your churches, your government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches."

So there we have it. I know that this post was long, but sometimes that's what it takes to get a message across. It doesn't take a genius to see that for some time now we in this country have been widening the plate. I've mentioned before and I'm sure I'll say again, you reap what you sew. You can't plant potatoes and raise cantaloupes. We can't let our moral standards slip and expect to be a great country. Whether we like it or not, there is an accountability for our actions. Just turn on the news and you'll see that we're reaping what we've sewn, but the good news is that it can change for the better. It starts with being accountable ourselves and then holding others to that same standard. Let's expect the best from ourselves and  all our fellow Americans. God bless you all.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

It's Official- I'm a Senior Citizen (aka Old Fart)




 Well, I've made it to that magical age of 65. I wasn't sure it would ever happen. When I was younger I would pray that the good Lord would allow me to live long enough to get my youngest children through high school. I figured after that point they would be able to get along well enough to start getting established in life. Now they're in the their thirties, so my prayers were answered. When I was a young man, sixty five seemed far away, now it seems that seventy is rushing up to meet me. I've often heard it said, and I've said myself on more than one occasion, that getting old isn't for wimps. No truer words were ever spoken. It's hard work. All the things you used to take for granted when you were young stay behind as you age. I went into the bathroom today to take a shower and was a little taken aback by the old man that was looking back at me in the mirror. My gut is out of proportion to the rest of my body and I've got boobs.  I look like a Picasso drawing  of a person with a bowling ball stomach supported by two toothpicks for legs. Judas Priest! I was wondering if they make training bras in size 44 A. I feel like I could be a candidate for a "Manzierre" or a  "Bro" as was discussed on one episode of Seinfeld when George's father took off his shirt in front of Cramer.  My son's think dealing with the weight is a simple matter of exercising. If only I could. They can't begin to understand that when arthritis sets in to the knee joints and back, just getting out of the easy chair almost takes an act of congress. Of course I could stop eating so much, or at least eat more practically, but at some point you start to realize that there isn't a whole lot else that you can do in life that can bring as much pleasure so you indulge yourself. Then there is the hair thing. To the best of my knowledge baldness has never run in my family, however, I've noticed a distinct thinning of my hair. Every day when I finish my shower I notice a little wad of hair congregating in the bathtub drain. When I run the brush through my hair it's like wind through a fence row. If only the hair on my head would grow like that which sprouts from my ears and eyebrows. If I could grow cauliflower like ear hair I'd be the vegetable king of Hoonah. I had often heard that some folks had problems sleeping as they age. I can certainly attest to that. Part of it is no doubt because of the excess weight I'm packing around, part is the pain in my back and legs and part is having to get up several times a night to pee. As the saying goes, there is no rest for the wicked. For the past six months leading up to my sixty fifth birthday, I've been inundated with all manner of literature speaking of the need for me to get ready for Medicare and all that that entails. I'd love to have the money that AARP has spent on literature informing us old folks about health care. I could retire in comfort and afford the same health care that congress gives themselves. You would think that after living sixty five years you'd be given a little break, but noooooo... the government has other plans. They give you  a few months to apply for medicare in all of it's many forms, and depending on who you listen to you also need to have supplemental insurance and insurance for long term health care and God knows what else. I find it all very confusing. You'd think you'd be allowed to grow old in peace, but it's not to be. One of the boys called to wish me a happy birthday  and mentioned that sixty five isn't that old. Perhaps not compared to  Methuselah, but I've  noticed that only two groups of people think sixty five isn't old. Those who have yet to experience it, and those to whom sixty five is a distant memory. In any event, I've made it to this milestone, hallelujah!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

When The Herring Arrive, Everyone Fishes

Humpback whale and seagulls waiting for the herring
Whales on the prowl

Seagulls taking a break

Lining up at the airplane float 
Herring spawn discoloring the water
Halibut bait
jigging for herring at the harbor
 All winter long there have been four or five whales hanging out in front of town. Usually they go elsewhere for the winter, but I think that this winter, there was enough feed to keep them here. I 'm not certain what they were eating  but I suspect it was small herring. A few weeks ago, much larger herring started showing up at the small boat harbor. As is the custom here, people started bringing out their gill nets and stringing them across the empty boat stalls, and herring jigs started flying off the shelves at Tideland Tackle. Herring jigs typically have six or eight tiny hooks with beads or bits of plastic which resemble plankton.They are jigged up and down and catching multiple herring at once is quite common. It's a quick way to fill up your bait bucket or catch your dinner. When the herring start showing up in numbers, and especially the large spawners, it creates quite the stir amongst men and animals alike. It's been a number of years since I've seen the herring spawn in the harbor, at least in the numbers that are showing up now. I really kind of wish they would go elsewhere- away from the creosote pilings. I was down at the docks the other day and noticed the spawn all over the pilings. It's really a shame. The tide goes out and the eggs above the low water tide line are left exposed. One fellow told me that they can live for up to six hours out of the water, the amount of time it would take for the tide to turn and cover them again. However, I believe the creosote kills the live eggs. It baffles me that they don't have a natural instinct to stay away from such dangerous situations, but apparently God didn't give them a great deal of sense.  I sometimes wonder how they have managed to survive for so long. They are an important part of the food chain. Humpback whales, sealions, salmon, trout, otters, seagulls, eagles, and man all eat them. In one picture above you can see that the water has taken on a greenish cast. The herring were spawing right along the beach, under the windows of the Office Bar. The females deposit their eggs and the males fertilize them afterwards, causing the water to turn milky in color. When the tide goes out and exposes the eggs on the beach the crows and ravens have their turn at them. Apparently even the bears enjoy roaming the beaches at low tide and having a healthy snack. In Sitka the herring show up in huge numbers every spring, along with the whales and sealions that are naturally drawn to them There is a market in Japan for herring eggs, so a number of seine boats show up to take advantage of the hours long openings. The Tlingit Indians have traditionally eaten both the fish and their eggs for as long as anyone can remember. They put Hemlock branches in select places where the herring spawn, and retrieve them a few days later, laden with eggs. My neighbor up the street takes his boat down, the Shirley N to Sitka to harvest the eggs every year. When he returns, most of the town shows up at the city float with buckets and garbage bags and plastic totes to share in the bounty which he so generously provides. When I was interviewing some of the old timers who've lived here all their lives, they shared with me how the bay here used to fill with herring and with the King salmon who fed on them. Some years back, in the fifties or early sixties, sardine fishermen came up from California and started harvesting the herring for the oil, sending the fish down to reduction plants. Afterwards, the herring became more scarce, along with the numbers of Kings. Much like the buffalo the herring have been slow to rebound. It's nice to see that there are still some around, even if they aren't in the incredible numbers of years ago. Frankly, with everything out to eat them, I'm surprised that there are any at all. I can only hope that they continue to thrive and that somehow, against all odds, they might one day return in the numbers that they were enjoyed so many years ago.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Going... Going... Gone!!!









  I thought I would do a follow up on my last blog post. I came home  a few days ago to see that there was a dump truck load of gravel in my neighbor's driveway and a huge orange excavator next door. I also saw that someone had taken some of the windows out of the downstairs. I was glad to see that there was something being salvaged. The next morning a truck pulled up and a fellow I knew went inside and took out the kitchen sink and some interior doors. It wasn't long afterward that  Grant Coutlee and his crew drove up in a couple dump trucks and started in with the demolition. There was some concern on the part of Grant because of an active power line that feeds my house hanging right overhead, but he got positioned so that with some maneuvering skills he was able to keep from snagging it and getting electrocuted. The house came down surprisingly fast- I'd say in about an hour it was all on the ground. When I mentioned it to Grant he was lamenting the fact that it took so long. The power lines created quite the challenge. By the end of the day the house was down, the debris was hauled away and all that was left was a bunch of dirt and rocks. Already the lot is being eyed as a storage place for my neighbor, and a garden was mentioned as well. I have to admit, I've got my own plans for the place, even though I've yet to speak to the rightful owners. I'd like to go in and level out the ground, maybe get a load or two of dirt and plant grass. I'm afraid otherwise it will turn into a bog. I'm entertaining the idea of buying the lot. I don't really want to, but I'm afraid that other wise it will become like the wild west where everyone just uses it for whatever purpose they desire, which I'm quite certain will conflict with my desires. We'll see. Meanwhile, the demolition derby continues. Yesterday a house on the main street was destroyed. The person who lived there was is presently in jail for the murder of two Hoonah cops a few years ago and it's been abandoned ever since. While it was coming down, most of the police force was observing it's destruction. I'm sure it was a pretty bittersweet moment. Hopefully good things will come from the taking down of these derelict homes. Only time will tell.



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Demolition Derby








     I suppose every city has it's share of urban blight.Places like Detroit come to mind. Hoonah isn't exactly a metropolis. We only have about 850 residents who call it home year round, although with the coming of the tourist season there is an influx of tourist related business owners who are flocking to town. Some of them live on their boats which they use to charter out for whale watching or fishing. Some live in campers or travel trailers which they take with them when they go, and still others manage somehow to find a place to rent. There seems to be a surprising number of rentals in town, although none of them are cheap, regardless of the state of the rental. It runs in my mind that $1000.00 a month is the average, although I could be wrong. In any event, if the houses shown above had been maintained down through the years there would have at least been the option of providing the owners with a little rental income. As it is, they have all been condemned and are slated to be torn down. Frankly, I say it's about time. What seems to be the pattern here is that the owner will pass away, leaving the family with the property. Families being what they are, they can't agree on what to do with it; sell it, move into it or hang on to it for sentimental reasons.  In many cases the family doesn't live in town, so there isn't anyone to check on the house and it goes into a state of disrepair. All of the houses shown here have been vacant for years. In the case of the green one at the top, which happens to be next door to me, there hasn't been anyone in it for about ten years. The owner always rented it to school employees. One of my favorite neighbors was a teacher named Joe Digrande. He was a basketball coach as well as the school counselor. I loved his name and asked his permission to name a produce market after him, if I ever owned one. Digrande's. It's a place I'd sure want to shop. Anyway, the owners  never put any money back into the house and eventually there came a time when there was no heater inside and the school stopped renting it and it sat vacant. As you can see the roof is blowing off and the chimney is crumbling. The back porch is sagging and the water line froze some years back saturating the bathroom floor. It's been unlivable for quite awhile and has been slated for demolition. While it will be nice not to see it, I'm a little afraid that the empty lot will be an invitation for the neighbors to expand their collection of junk into the space. If I could afford to, I'd buy the lot and put up a fence to prevent that very thing from happening. Probably not in the cards though. Several of the older houses shown were clan houses. I can't pretend to know all that entails. Within the Tlingit culture there were two primary moieties -the Ravens and Eagles. Then there were a number of sub clans- wolf, shark, snail, frog and others. I'm not certain, but I assume each sub clan had their own meeting houses. To the best of my knowledge, neither of the two clan houses that are on the chopping block have been used for more than thirty years, and yet once word got out that they were going to be demolished, there was an outcry from certain citizens. Human nature I guess. It seems that Hoonah is struggling to balance the modern desire for tourism with the laid back ways of frontier Alaska. While I'll be glad to see the end of some of the houses that are no longer livable, I hate to see the changes come just for the sake of tourism. I really don't think that these changes would be happening otherwise, so it's kind of bittersweet. Anyway, time marches on and change happens -good, bad or otherwise. We'll just have to roll with the punches and hope that we're happy with the end result.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sequim

Looking out on the Pacific Ocean 
The Dungeness Spit

Low Tide in Port Townsend

:
Ocean view 

The tourists

Port Angeles

My good friends Bob and Gail Pinard

Port Townsend

  Last week Jan and I took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississipp- no just kidding, that's a line from a song from the sixties about the war of 1812 I believe. Anyway, we did take a small trip. However we're back now, so anyone who might have wanted to rob our house while we were gone, too bad, you missed your chance. We went down to check out the lovely town of Sequim Washington, where our long time friends, the Pinards have moved. The trip down was quite the unpleasant experience. We woke up at 3:00 AM to catch the 5:25 flight down to Seattle from Juneau. We boarded just fine, but that was the end of the good experience for the remainder of the day with the airline. We sat on the tarmac for several hours while the mechanics fixed what was described to us as the air conditioning by the pilot. We finally got underway for what was supposed to be a non-stop flight to Seattle, but about 45 minutes into the flight I noticed that we were slowing down and getting lower to the ground. We had an unscheduled stop in Ketchikan and for all I know, that jet is still sitting there on the tarmac. It sure as the world didn't leave while we were there. Meanwhile, our friends were waiting for us at the Sea-tac airport, expecting us to be pulling in at 8:45 in the morning. We finally did arrive some eight hours later. Their patience borders on saint hood. I, on the other hand, was ready to blow a gasket. The good part is, we arrived safe and sound, and unlike several other incidents involving airlines recently, no one was forcibly removed from the plane or hit with their baby stroller by a flight attendant. I would like to mention that I had my arm bumped on a number of occasions by a stewardess with an ample behind, but I can't really blame her. The airlines have put three seats in the place where two used to be, so they had to make concessions somewhere. Once we arrived at Sequim (pronounced Skwim) we had a delightful time. Our friends were the perfect hosts, feeding and housing us in a grand manner, and even directing us to various points of interest from the back of our rental car. Usually I would discourage back seat drivers, but I was so pleased that they agreed to ride along in this instance. I know that driving can be a nuisance to people who live where they have to drive all the time, but for us, it was such a pleasure to be able to hop in a car and travel more than three or four miles of pavement. We went down with the idea that we would look at the area and possibly check out some houses. It was quite a delightful place, with flowers and trees in full bloom. As you can see from the pictures there is access to forests and the sea, both of which I have become quite enamored with in our almost forty one years here. Washington does have a high sales tax, and there is also a property tax, neither of which we have to deal with here in Hoonah. The houses are quite nice for the most part, but I'm afraid they may be a little out of our price range, we'll have to see what our house will appraise at. We went to several delightful restaurants, and went shopping at both Wal-mart and Safeway, where the prices are much more to my liking than the prices here. I'm quite certain that there are plumbers, contractors, furnace repair men and auto mechanics in abundance there. It's not that we don't have any of those tradesmen here, but many of them are also fishermen or working at the cannery or for the city, so they aren't quite as easy to get hold of. In any event, the trip was quite pleasant overall. I don't know what the future holds for us, but I think I could easily find myself in Sequim if the price was right.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Moose Lips



















 Once again my oldest daughter Jen has provided me with material for a blog post. She came by the other night for a visit- or maybe she was eating dinner I can't recall. She didn't borrow anything this time, although she always makes a point of using our bathroom before she goes home. Maybe she's stocking up on toilet paper while she's in there. I should probably check her pockets before she leaves. Anyway, she was sitting on the couch and reached in to her jacket and pulled out what looked like a glue stick and started smearing her lips with it. She was really going at it, like she was in love with the blasted thing. I think she was making out with her lip balm. She must have the driest lips on the planet.Well, not anymore, after she smeared a half a tube of schmutz on her lips. She seldom is without a tube of Chap stick and she uses it liberally. If not that, she's got a can of some kind of  lip goo, with names like Wild Honey Delight or Salmonberry Yum Yum. I think the stuff in the cans could be used to waterproof your boots.There is usually some commentary on whatever flavor she's applying and how wonderful it is. I don't think I've ever heard her say that she didn't care for one. This particular lip balm is called Moose Lips- Alaskan size lip balm. It's so big that you can cover both lips in one swipe; probably half your nose and a third of your chin too. Moose Lips. That's a catchy name. I've never really thought about it, but do moose even have lips? What would they need them for anyway? I guess I should have done some research before I started this blog post. What about cows or bears? I don't think my dog has lips. Now I'm probably going to lose sleep wondering about the anatomy of various species in the animal kingdom. I wonder what materials go into one of those lip balms. When my lips were dry I used to just get a dab of Vaseline jelly and pucker up. That stuff worked so good my lips were still moist the next morning. In the unlikely event that anyone needed a good morning kissing, I'd be ready. My son Brian was visiting and last night when Jen brought out her monster size lip balm we were both under the impression that she had accidentally grabbed the glue stick from the class room and was going to seal her lips shut for the remainder of the night. He commented that it might not be a bad idea if the schools actually had such an item. A combination glue stick/lip balm for kids who are disruptive in class. It might come in handy in other situations as well, like when a beloved family member is visiting and decides to strike up a conversation right when breaking news comes on TV, or you're watching a movie, or you're right on the verge of dropping off into slumber land. I'm sure there are any number of uses for such a versatile item. It would give new meaning to the word lipstick. So there you have it. In the event that you're in a location that doesn't have any moose, perhaps you can find some Turkey Lips balm. If you're a seafood lover, perhaps Carp Lips would be in order. In any event I hope your lips are soft and pliable and ready for any unexpected kisses that may come your way.