Today I had an ugly experience at the library. Someone had parked his car on the only entrance where I can ride my bike into the bike area, and it’s the only entrance for wheelchairs.  So I got out a sheet of paper from my notebook and  began to write a note to the driver.  Suddenly there was a man, asking what I was doing.

“I’m writing a note to the driver of this car.”

`            “That’s me,” he said

“You are parked, blocking the only access to the library for a wheelchair,” I said.

`I’m handicapped,” he said,  “Look at my license plate.”  He didn’t look handicapped.  He was in his sixties, agile, and I said, “That doesn’t give you the right to block out other handicapped people.”

“It’s none of your fucking business,’” he said, climbing into his new BMW.

“You’re an ugly man,” I said.

‘Fuck you!’ he shouted, starting his car. Then he called out, “Look out that you don’t get injured,” turning his steering wheel so that his front tire narrowly missed my foot.

“You’re an ugly man,” I said again. Not bad for a spur of the moment comment, but he is symptomatic of the world we live in, rich assholes who think that they can tread on the rights of others simply because they can afford to.  He gave me the finger.

I must watch myself in case he spots me on my bicycle.

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NOR-315720 - © - Mikael Andersson

I am reading a Swedish crime novel. Like the other Nordic crime novels it have read, it goes smoothly, the characters well defined, the setting in Sweden  carefully detailed.

It’s translated into English, of course, but there are things that remain in Swedish:  names like David Clofwenhielm,  Ernstsson, Svenska Dagbladet, Viggo Norlander. Streets: Tegelangvagen, Havrevagen, Polhensgaten, an apple tree, Astrakhaus, and a social club, the Order of Skidbladnir.  Sometimes I try to pronounce them, but mostly I ignore them, and if a street becomes important and I vaguely recognize the spelling, I go back and look at it again.

How to pronoune Clofwenhielm?  Perhaps it is kloff-wen-hile-em. Maybe.

The protagonist is named Paul Hjelm.  Paul is easy.  It’s my brother’s name.  Is the J in the last name silent?  Or is the H silent? Or perhaps there’s a glottal stop that shows us the J is there but not primary.  I am calling him Helm.

I learned that IKEA comes from the first two letters of the founder’s name, followed by the first letter of the farm he grew up on, and then the first letter of the name of the town. Ingvar Komprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd.

            I lived, as a boy, with my great aunt and uncle. His name was Howard Wyberg, and his parents were Swedish immigrants who came to the Midwest.  In Sweden the name would have been Viborg.

            The novel is a police procedural with the officers going about the daily grind of questioning, unearthing facts, interspersed by scenes where a killer executes rich businessmen in their homes. How to find this professional killer is the task of the police. The writer takes us step-by step, meetings at police headquarters, reports by officers, interviews with witnesses, speculation on the part of the investigators.  Sometimes I find myself skimming, pushing ahead, and I realize that it is my tendency to hurry the plot along, get to the action, leave that character’s reuminations about sex behind. Not necessary, I think, and I can skip to the next page and still keep the line of action complete.

And that’s why my novels are 190 pages and not 490 pages. Once, my daughter Laurel said about one of my books, “You could read this on the flight to Chicago,”  These Nordic novels would take the flight from LAX to Lima, Peru, a flight that I will take in June.  Almost eight hours.  At least that long for a fast reader like me. So when I wake at four in the morning and can’t get back to sleep, I put on my reading glasses, prop my head up with the pillow and open the book. I gloss over the Swedish names.

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snowy-finlandthe sea on a Danish winter midday

I am reading a Jussi Adler-Olsen novel. It is 484 pages, set in Denmark.  He tells several stories, weaving them together. It’s something I cannot seem to do. I can write one story at a time and as a result my books are less than half of Adler-Olsen’s novels.  His Danes speak Swedish, English, and one of them speaks French, another is from the Middle East and speaks an unidentified language, plus fractured Danish.  My characters speak only English, as most Americans do.

I remember a book that I read 60 years ago, Ring Around the Moon.  It took place in a Nordic country almost in the arctic circle.  It chronicled the isolation of the long dark winters where the sun rarely shined. It was a book much like the Nordic writers I read today, lots of alcohol, depression and tangled lives, and a landscape that was often obscured by cold rain or snow. This morning I read in Adler-Olsen’s story from 1:30 to 4:00, finding the conclusion of five stories: the recovery of Assad, Carl Moerck’s immigrant assistant from a concussion, the plight of Marco, an immigrant boy fleeing from killers, the tangled financial fraud of Danish investors in Africa, and the plight of Moerck’s paralyzed friend, Hardy, whose paralysis came as a result of a botched police investigation that Moerck was involved with.  And finally, Moerck’s own complicated  relationship with women.

Adler-Olsen details the weather and the landscape, two elements that become characters in his stories. My newest book, Ghost Trout,a non-fiction effort, uses those two elements throughout. In an earlier Book, Tom Hall,I did much as Adler-Olson does, carefully shaping the story around the weather and the landscape in the Arizona mountains and later in Southern California.

We are products of the places where we live, and those places shape us as individuals.  Even though I left Illinois at the age of ten, I still feel the pull of the Midwest, the endless corn fields, the snow in winter, the oppressive heat and humidity in the summer. The sound of cicadas all night long still resounds in my memory. It has been almost seventy-five years since I heard that all-night chorus, but it is still fresh in my head.

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Mt. Tomba


I have  a new book, Ghost Trout, that details in parts, the search for a rare trout . It is a trout that lives in the high desert of Nevada, a fish that should not have adapted to the searing temperatures of the summer heat. I have been searching for it for several years.

I fished the Middle Fork of the Feather River for trout that were not so rare. And then we climbed out of the canyon and my younger brother and  I went to the bar at Mt Tomba. It  ran the length of the room, and at the end there was a door that led to the john, a room scabbed onto the west end of the building.  Behind the bar were photographs and pictures of John Wayne.  It was a shrine to Wayne, who had never been there.  Sometimes there was a full house of golfers from nearby  Graeagle. The menu offered a chicken fried steak, deep fried chicken or a huge hamburger patty that lapped over the plate called a “hamburger steak.” That was the dinner that Graham ordered.  A bowl of minestrone soup, the hamburger and mashed potatoes, some sort of boiled vegetable and a sundae, a scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and a maraschino cherry perched on top. Graham managed to eat all of it. I always ordered the chicken. Art had the chicken fried steak.

It was an interesting dining room, often containing a drunk who had almost fallen into his dinner. One night Ethan Newby and Graham flicked peas at a drunk who was startled each time one hit him.

Paul and I came into the bar and it was empty and the bartender, at that time the original owner, asked, what kind of a day did you guys have?

A good one I said.  The leaves are turning and the creek is low and I caught several trout and here I am having an evening scotch. Can I buy you a drink to celebrate?

He poured us a drink and one for himself

Can’t get any better than that, he said. He was right.

Th Humboldt trout was harder to catch. We found it in the Nevada High Desert in a tiny creek overgrown with dense willows and thorny brush. We did not climb out of a canyon and find a comfortable roadhouse where we could buy the bartender a drink. The landscape was desolate and there were miles of emptiness between the trout and civilization  But we had a scotch  beside that creek, celebrating the fact that we had touched the ghost trout.

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cross country

I became the cross-country coach at San Rafael High School when Fred retired.  He was a small , compact man who ran long distances. I had never run a long distance, but I had  been a North Coast champion in the hurdles in High School and was on the University of California track team for two years.  There I am in the San Rafael High yearbook with a stopwatch hanging around my neck, looking very much like the coach.

Fred said to me, “My policy is that everyone who signs up gets to run in the races. Everyone.”  I started with five boys, and it mushroomed to sixteen. Some of them were slow, not cut out to run the two mile course, but they kept at it, and I followed Fred’s policy.  All of them were entered in every race. We trained behind Dominican College on the overgrown hillside, running the fire road.  I shouted instructions to them and eventually they all chipped in and ought me a battery-powered bull horn.

At the Stinson  Beach relays, the boys ran laps, a mile down the beach, a mile back.  As the race progressed, the tide began to come in, as I knew it would.  I had checked the tidal flow in the newspaper and knew that by the time the third runner was coming back, the tide would be coming in. I had taken the boys out there to run in ankle deep water and it paid off.  We took second place behind Tamalpais who had a real coach, Kreig Vezie.  Over the course of the season some of those boys who had started as tail of the pack runners had developed into first-rate competitors. I read every article I could find on training, talked to Kreig, and by the time we came to the league finals, we were solidly among the top three teams.

At a pratice meet in St. Helena through the vineyards, my top runner made a wrong turn.  We could see his head and shoulders as he went off on his own. When he realized his mistake, he turned around. The other coach and I watched as he made up the interval, gaining on the pack.

”I believe that kid is going to do it!” the other coach said. He took over first place within a few yards of the finish.

On the way back to San Rafael, he was sprawled across the school bus seat, exhausted.

When I leaned over to congratulate him, he said, “Next fall I’m going to be at Lewis and Clark and I’m going to run for them. You yelled at us all season up behind Dominican. Mostly you yelled, keep going, even if you have to walk.  I could hear your voice among those grape vines.”

I coached cross-country three years, then became the assistant track coach where I could deal with hurdlers and sprinters. I was back in my own element.

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more Amazon


This is the striated heron, a photograph sent to me by Duncan MacSwain who will take me and my grandson Nathaniel to the Amazon River in June. Duncan took this remarkable photograph of this remarkable bird with a long lens. The bird was fishing, captured a small fish, ate it and then perched on a branch long enough for Duncan to catch it.

We will start our adventure in Iquitos, Peru, 2,400 miles from the mouth of the river and then go another four hours by speedboat up river to our destination. Duncan promises interesting creatures: pink-footed tarantulas, dart-throwing frogs, fish eating spiders, a variety of monkeys, caiman and birds as exotic as this heron whose eye is a jewel in the rain forest.


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yellow jackets


Yesterday I climbed the bank along Oak Road with my sawzall in order to trim some dead branches from an oak tree.  What I did not realize was that the power cord dragged across an active yellow jacket nest and suddenly they were onto me!  I scrambled down to the street, ran away, swatting at them as they stung my head and neck.

Eleanor drove me down to the fire department where I pounded on the door. A cop appeared, radioed to the men in the firehouse and two firemen appeared, carrying their medical equipment. While I leaned against our car they measured my oxygen level, my heart rate, attached wires to me and examined me for signs of serious reaction.  Eventually they said I was OK.

Which was not true.  The pain was intense. But I was in no danger, they said. Go home, take some pain medication, some anti-histamine, and eventually I would  be OK.  If I took a turn for the worse, if the reactions they described surfaced, call them and a paramedic team and an ambulance would immediately respond.

It took twenty four hours for the pain to subside.  Eleanor, too, got stung when she tried to retrieve the green can I had positioned near that oak tree.

I called the vector control team at the county offices and Tony showed up, found the nest, and poisoned it.

What was it about the makeup of yellow jackets that caused them to zero in on me?  Was it because I was the only warm blooded thing near their nest? Why the intensity of the attack?  Why did they pursue me up the street? A bit of research told me that yellow jackets vigorously defend their nests, so anything that is nearby when the nest is disturbed becomes fair game. Smashing the insects that stung me released a pherenome that caused other yellow jackets to attack.

When I was a student at Berkeley High School, the school mascot was the yellow jacket.  A couple of times I donned the yellow and black costume and pranced around at rallies. But I didn’t sting anyone. Nor did I pursue anyone.

I had no idea about the intensity of a yellow jacket attack. Now I do.


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