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Autumn Nevada Style

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A “guest” blog today is a reprint of a column my dad wrote some years ago for the Reno Gazette Journal

Autumn

The lovely Truckee River on a silky autumn day

Another gorgeous and unforgettable Nevada summer is being bumped aside, to be misplaced forever on your personal Island of Vagrant Memory. The gaggle of tanned human hides has at last reluctantly shifted off the cooling beaches of Lahontan and Pyramid and Tahoe and you can see the sand again for the absence of barely covered skin. Debris left by untidy visitors is carted from view. Swimsuits are stashed for another season, lost beach towels are only briefly lamented and the hoisted boats are having their bottoms cleansed. Those who are timid of either the big crowds or the hottest months, or both, now venture forth to uncongested lakeshores, thankful that at last the visiting hordes have sought happiness elsewhere. The dream that this would be an unending summer is put into dry dock.

Now, those who treasure our territory because it yields four distinct seasons can bask in anticipation. We are awash in the signals that Nevada’s autumn cannot be too distant. No sooner are the depleted vats of Sea & Ski lotion locked away than the final crop of alfalfa is flogged and baled. Soon the tired machines will be wheeled in for a long winter’s nap. The haying crews’ appetites will  diminish, but only a little. Hearts of Gold Cantaloupes will grow sweeter in Fallon, or so the legend goes, and that’s close to the truth. The doves are in the air now as they sense the hunters can be injurious to their health.

Summer is almost deader than next season’s unlucky duck and goose. The sun is losing its daytime vigor and isn’t showing itself to us until past 6:30 a.m. The World Series can’t be far away.

Summer had its fling. Labor Day was invented years ago as a legal reason to avoid a day’s work and that holiday has come and gone, followed by the surest autumn sign, the start of school, that lengthy response  to a tired mother’s prayer. Now the tiredness is passed back to teacher for fall, winter and spring. Wary new school bus drivers learn fast that they need more skills than steering. We begin again to abide by school zone limits. Can anything be tastier than the school lunch menu?

Autumn in Nevada’s air: the blitz of wedding stories now beyond the peak and dwindling; the fresh proliferation of flashing motel vacancy signs, still beckoning long after dark; the “Marryin’ Sam,” now pacing more anxiously in their plastic chapels; the small-casino operators tightening the economic screws and the big profit barons doing likewise.

Autumn. Is it my imagination, or is the traffic volume down and aren’t the drivers sweating less and swearing less? Soon the Truckee won’t be a river , and hardly and trickle and, altogether now, let the Indians successfully dance for a rain and snow prayers. Autumn just around the bend. A new nip in the early morning air and the sharper temperature decline after sundown.

Breezes remain gentle, but there is enough zest to tug leaves away from their moorings. Flowers are rearing their beautiful heads a bit more slowly these September mornings.

There it is that early hint of fall color that soon is to go into oranges, yellow , red, violets golds and dabs of purple here and there.

Nature is about to change to a new uniform. The red, red robin, such a regular visitor since May, has been pulling a disappearing act lately. The animals — our feathered friends, grown chubby during summer — are now in shape to survive the lean times. Get ready for the sweet honk of the honkers departing this scene.

Autumn reaffirms that everything changes except discos. Autumn is old experiences come back  to us, fresh again. Down with total water consumption and out with the rakes; the hills all around retreating to brown; the Idlewild and Virginia Lake crowds shifting down to a tolerable few; the desert, ageless, begins resting up for spring. Soon the aspen on the Sierra will glow again; the rattlesnakes will retreat from their rocks; we will cut the lawn less and then, happily, not at all.

As the Holy Author poises to give us again one of His autumn magic shows, the flies and mosquitoes are vanquished by the hints of the new season; we turn the heat up more frequently and lament the cost of fuel with newfound fervor.

The voice of Howard Cosell, part announcer, part huckster, all showman, slugs our ears. Once in a while Frank Gifford inserts a word in edgewise. Autumn and football, inseparable autumn companions, arrive concurrently.

In these parts announcers chant the language of fall above Mackey Stadium; there comes a new season of colliding young men, mauling each other over 100 yards of turf. Hail To Our Sturdy Men, Loyal and True, March, March on Down the Field Oh Silver and Blue.

Autumn. Let’s hear it for the Huskies and the Miners, the Tigers, the Colts, Senators, the Railroaders.

Let’s hear it for the falling leaves, long sleeves and football tailgate party-goers who not only made it home safely, but cheered the winning teams; here’s to the referees, may they call them all correctly this autumn; here’s to the trees getting ready for their late-year nudity act. Here’s to the forthcoming frost on the pumpkin; and to the hot-buttered rums just weeks away; here’s to the summer gamblers who lost and helped keep us green, and here’s to the return scent of autumn in Nevada. Fireplaces kindled anew, fluttering leaves flying amok, families back together after the summer separation.

Here’s to another autumn in Nevada. Maybe the nicest time of the year. And always unforgettable.

 

Written by Rollan Melton. First published in the Reno Gazette-Journal in 1978

 

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Mom’s (still) Blazing, Burning Trails

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She’s always been her very own self.

That’s one of the best things about my mom.

Centered. Wise. Curious. Determined. Funny. Caring. CREATIVE. Fun. These are all the other adjectives that I use to describe her. But to start, she knows who she is, period. I certainly don’t know if she could be as kind and plain wonderful if she weren’t so self-assured.

Born about the time of Gloria Steinem, mom was ironing shirts and making her own patterns for clothes in our dining room when women were becoming part of the civil rights movement, and she did her part right here in our state to enable the passage of the ERA to assure equal pay for equal work in our nation.

The amendment never passed, but not because she sat around hoping someone else would jump up and do something.

She came out against nuclear waste dumping in the state of Nevada long before it was chic and had a slogan. She just couldn’t bear the thought of toxic waste traveling through the state and then being entombed here for all time to infiltrate the atmosphere. In essence, her stance was an environmental one.

Part I and II illustrated by Mom

A fourth-generation Nevadan, she knows the people and landscape of our state so well that she jumped at the chance to illustrate “You Know You’re A Nevadan if….” Some years back.

Though she was baptized a Republican, she finally embraced the way she was voting all along and registered Democrat at the age of 69. Since she always voted for what she believed, she just made it official.

She was married to Dad for 48.9 years before he passed away and has had her super boyfriend for nine years. However, neither one of these guys has been able to corral her. She’s traveled the world – Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia.

Just recently mom said to me, “You live and you live until you die.”

So when she asked the four of us “kids” a few weeks ago, “Guess where I’m going?” We had a variety of answers – Egypt and Hawaii being the top hunches — we didn’t come close. The answer my friends: Burning Man.

Of all things, mom went with the local Rotary group comprised of ladies and gentlemen. Just a day trip – probably the perfect way to see the counter-cultural festival whose principles include radical inclusion, gifting, de-commodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy all set on the Black Rock Desert in Nevada northeast of Reno.

The Man burns Saturday night of the fest.

A few of her friends tried to wave her off going – “You don’t want to go out there, it’s just a bunch of damn hippies.” I don’t know for sure, but I think she just wanted to see what it’s all about, being an artist and all, she’d seen some pictures and read some stories about the folks who work all year to create some really spectacular art. And then in some cases, burn it.

Being a virgin burner, she didn’t take a bike out there, to travel around to many of the art installations. That’s too bad; maybe she would have seen more. But she did ride on a couple art cars to get around and she took a walker. Yes, a walker. Her boyfriend needs one to get around, so she thought it would be good to have one if she got tired. And she did. Listen, Black Rock City is 60,000+ people and is perhaps 36 square miles in area. With her walker, for that alone, she attracted attention – burners would stop their bikes and ask to take her picture and told her she was the oldest person they had seen out there (gee thanks! They’ll see someday, she’s still a 20-year-old on the inside. Send a picture to us when you get your first wrinkle, buddy!) But having her picture taken was a fun way to meet people and find out about them.

Yes, she saw some naked people. Mostly attractive young-ish topless women and as for guys, the only naked ones were all about 55 years old and above, she thought, “Hmmm. I guess there trying to show they still “have” it.

All that nakey stuff was just a sideline though, compared to the giant art installations slashing out from the flat, black desert floor. Gigantor objects such as Wall Street, a sinking ship, Char Wash, front porch and the EGO Project in addition to The Man, which gets burned Saturday night changed the landscape temporarily.

She and friends stayed for the burn, wondered why you might go to all that effort to build something only to burn it up, and then struck out for home.

Perhaps the burners who go need to get out there to rediscover who they are or find out for the first time. But not mom; she doesn’t need outside affirmation. She’s glad she went. She loved the experience and I know that mom knows that she is who she is, who she is. I love her.

Hunger is Not a Game

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Connecting the dots.

Drawing the lines between what I read, what I believe, what I’ve learned and what I do. That’s been part of the fun and challenge of my reading goal for this year.

What I do is work for a food bank. I believe that no person should go hungry. I’ve learned that hunger is in unexpected places.

  • 1 in 4 children in Nevada do not know where their next meal is coming from
  • The Food Bank helps more than 97,000 people per month
  • The Food  Bank serves the hungry through 130+ partner agencies
  • The Food Bank and partners offer free meals to 28 sites in Washoe County during summer
  • The Food Bank of Northern Nevada distributed 10.5 million pounds of food last year.

But SOMETIMES statistics can’t tell the whole story of hunger.

Children care about hunger issues

A recent invitation to stage a food drive at a Sparks, NV elementary school during a special spring event revealed so much more.

This school is “over” standards that would make children eligible for government programs to address hunger and yet, and yet…as the young students and families brought contributions to the food drive, stories emerged.

“I was wondering about the food bank truck I see at Sparks Christian Fellowship,” asked a dad who had just donated a large bag of food to the barrel.

“Oh, it’s a pantry site and they sure could use some volunteers,” replied the Food Bank employee on site. But that’s wasn’t his question. He went on to explain that he and his family belong to a group of seasonally employed — those in the construction trades who don’t always have work in the winter months and need help with food. Because of the food drive, he now has some additional information on how to access food when his family needs it.

A sweet, blonde second-grade boy cruised by a couple times with his book bag slung over his shoulder, blue eyes seeking out a friend or two.

Later, a middle-aged woman with two children at the school donated another large bag of food and our employee thanks her for her donation, “You are welcome, she said, “I always give when I see a barrel. You see, I’ve stood in line for food from you. I know what it feels like and I want to give back. I’m all right now.”

This was turning into a very surprising food drive.

The night was pleasant as children dashed back and forth to classrooms playing games and earning raffle tickets for good reading habits. Among them was the second-grade boy, who shied away from the wave from our employee.

Whereupon a mother passed and commented, Food Bank, ahhh, I’ve always wondered — how can I volunteer?”

“How nice!” our Food Bank representative said, noting that she spoke with a Spanish accent. “We can certainly use bilingual help, if that would fit with you. We can use help with our Mobile Pantry program.” The outgoing mom took with her information on places she can help out with her skills.

Gosh, who knew that we would be collecting more than food? Always great to garner a volunteer.

Soon the children gathered in the multipurpose room for lemonade and books and a chance at the raffle, but our employee stayed outside with the food barrel, just in case.

The nicely dressed blonde boy — sporting a yellow lei that the school provided for the tropical theme — overcame his shyness momentarily and asked, “How much does this food cost?”

“Oh, sweetie, I”m not selling it. I’m collecting food.”

“But how much does it cost?” he persisted.

“If you don’t have any food to give tonight, that’s OK. There’ll be other times — other food drives,” our employee explained.

“But,” he said, gesturing to a pocket.

“No, no. I’m not selling the food. We give it away to people who are hungry.”

One look from him revealed the truth.

“Are you hungry right now buddy?”

“Yes.”

“No food at home?”

No.”

“Well, let’s get you some food right now,” she said in a quiet voice.” “I see you’ve got a bag with you now, can we slip some in there?”

Blondie’s head bobbed up and down, a smile creeping to his lips. “But I got a baby sister, and a mom…”

“Well, let’s pick out some food for them too — want to?”

Increased nodding of head. He stood on tip-toe looking into the Food Bank barrel. He picked out some turkey chili beans for himself, some soup for his mom. “But my sister, she’s just 18-months old. She can’t eat just anything,” came his words, almost in panic.

“OK, you and I are going to dig in here until we find something.”

At last they found some apple sauce, and he slipped this last can into his bag. “Oh, my mom is going to be SO happy!” he said.

The tears that had been gathering in my eyes began to leak out; I didn’t want him to see.

“You are a good boy,” I said. “And a good big brother.”

Off he scampered, eager to walk home and share this food.

He is the one in four who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from — but he’s plainly not a statistic. He’s a little boy. A neighbor. A student. A friend. A Nevadan. A person.

This school now has information on our summer food program where children aged 1 to 18 can access food in area parks. It is a middle class school, but you see, pockets of hunger are everywhere, and the faces of hunger can surprise and enlighten. Even us.

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This, ladies and gentlemen, was a heart-wrenching experience for me. I carry that little boy with me every day to the food bank and from the food bank.  He reminds me that I can make a difference and that I am making a difference.

Chances are, wherever you live, there is a Food Bank. If you can, volunteer, or give a can of food to help.

As for reading, I do recommend “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” by Ehrenreich, Barbara.

Fifty is Nifty in My Book (list)

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I’ve just rounded on the big 5-0. Sure feels good!

No, I’m not celebrating my  age – that’s a few years off – it’s my goal of reading 75 books in one year. In seven full months I’ve read 50 books and if all goes well I should clear my New Year’s goal and perhaps then some.

In looking at the list of books that I’ve thus far got under my belt – or at least filtered into my brain – it’s quite an eclectic list. But then it would be, considering that I was challenging myself to read the many books that I’ve got in bookcases around the house that I’ve been meaning to read. Along the way, though, I picked up a couple from the used bookstore, from the new books store, through my audio book collection and from friends who have kindly given me some of their favorites.

Here how the books stack up thus far:

30 fiction

20 non-fiction

Nine of the books deal with Nevada and the West because I am admittedly a genealogy nut and several of the books on hand are those that have been given to me or purchased by me to learn more about the land my two sets of great-great grandparents emigrated to in the 1860s. Those titles include:

Comstock Women: The Making of a Mining Community Edited by Ron James and Liz Raymond; Saucer Eyes by Eulah Croson Lauckes; The Deep Blue Memory by Monique Urza (Laxalt); The Money & the Power by Sally Denton & Roger Morris; The Mountains of California by John Muir; Where Are All the Magpies? By Patty A. Melton; William Morris Stewart (various authors- Nevada Historical Society); The Ox Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark; Sun Mountain by Richard S. Wheeler.

Thirteen of the 50 I consider literary classics. Though an English major many moons ago in college, the emphasis was on writing, not literature, so these remained unread until this reading binge came on. In alpha order they are:

Candide (Voltaire)

Emma (Jane Austen)

Fairy Tales (Hans Christian Andersen)

O! Pioneers (Willa Cather)

One of Ours (Willa Cather)

Roughing It (Mark Twain)

Short Stories (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (unk)

The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton)

The Legend of Sleepy Hallow (Washington Irving)

The Odyssey (Homer)

The Red Badge of Courage (Stephen Crane)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriett Beacher Stowe)

OK, I admit, I did read the Odyssey back in the day, but it is very much worth the re-read.

A few spiritual ones – or at least books that explore other religions — sped on my reading bender: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, and Postville by Stephen Bloom. Bloom’s book is not actually spiritual, or religious, but is a study in Orthodox Jewish-Midwest Iowa relations. Still, educational in terms of orthodox beliefs. One other self-help book to add to the melting pot was The Majesty of Calmness by William George Jordan.

Biographies. Oh, I’ve read a few. Eight people who probably seldom if ever met – Steve Jobs (by Walter Issacson); Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (Irene Gut); Then Again (by Diane Keaton); Chronicles I (by Bob Dylan); Killing Bono: I was Bonno’s Doppelgänger (Neil McCormick) and the three bios from my Nevada list. Now, tell me, should I have Walden by Henry David Thoreau in with biographies or under classics? Maybe that one can be termed classically autobiographical. But by that standard, so then would be Roughing It, by Mark Twain.

Along the way, I read a few “juvenile” books that our daughters have wanted me to check out. The Indian in the Cupboard (by Lynne Reid Banks), The Book Thief (by Marcus Zusek) and the Secret Dragon Society (by Adeline Yeri Mah).

I like my historical novels by the wheelbarrow load. So far, besides those mentioned above,  my list includes Brighton Beach Boys in the Radio Service about World War I, The Dovekeepers set in the first century in Israel, The Other Boleyn Girl occurring in 16th century England, Mary Barton set in 19th century England’s Industrial Age, and I Heard the Owl Call My Name about Canadian Native life. One further book that is actually non-fiction, but reads like a novel because it’s knitted together so well, was Manhunt, about the quest to track down John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

I threw in two Arthur Connan Doyle Sherlock Holmes books: A Study in Scarlett and The Hound of the Baskervilles. And one science fiction – the Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.

Human beings need their comedy – though these are plainly outdated,  I do enjoy PG Wodehouse and therefore read My Man Jeeves and the Adventures of Sally.

Two disappointments (and this is why I avoid a lot of best sellers) were The Mermaid’s Chair by Sue Monk Kidd (so sad, because The Secret Life of Bees was exceptional) and Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Truly insipid.

Rounding the 50 out were two books on economics that I do so highly recommend: Boomerang by Michael Lewis and Nickeled and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Do I have a favorite? I cannot choose from one of my “children,” though a couple will be relegated to the attic and some of the others may get a further review on this blog. So far, it’s been a fun and rewarding book journey. I’m proud of myself for setting this goal for 2012 and honestly looking forward to augmenting this list with oodles of titles in the next five months of the year.

Ode to Used Books

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The great objection to new books is that they prevent our reading old ones.
– Joseph Joubert

So ran my thoughts this week while browsing the aisles at Zephyr Books, a nearby used book store in Reno, Nevada. I have no ax to bear against any new book-seller – be it a large store with the newest best-sellers or a small independent bookstore with its ability to tap into the local readers’ interests. But I am so grateful that this third platform exists – that of the used book merchant whose stock and trade is providing an avenue into vintage books – still good, still reliable, still pertinent – but perhaps the publisher no longer stocks or prints those books or the books don’t enjoy the 2012 critics circle awards or a big push by literary publicists. The Barnes and Nobles of the world have limited space and want to market to the masses – what was hot two years ago, needs to go, go go to make room for the latest celebrity exercise craze or Part #215 of Janet  Evanovich’s Plum series.

In weaving the aisles of Zephyr’s organized shelves I marveled the copious categories of books and felt reassured that these volumes have a loving temporary home organized and upright in rough alpha order rather being put in someone’s shed or being thrown in a landfill. For these authors – every one  of them – still have a story to tell or information to impart beyond the suggested “Buy Before” or presumed “Best-by” date that is arbitrarily assigned by the New-to-You stores.

Not bound to be classics, like Jane Eyre or Catcher in the Rye, the books here are the magnum opus of another order – the literary Rembrandts of the 1990s or the niche books about geography or painting or Chinese politics that just never hit the stock shelves of the Wal-Mart that are well researched, polished and ready for your — and my — bookshelves.

The staff is friendly and willing to chat it up with you and they have a fun coffee bar to boot.

My Saturday sojourn companion was daughter Marjorie – 12 years old and brimming with Book Love/Lust – just like her Mama. Her quest was to gather books for a “new” bookshelf (more on that later) in one of six genres. “I need a book on Russia, Mom, or something from the 1920s” – such is her eclectic quest for knowledge. We walked out with a WWII book, a mystery and a realistic fiction.

But before our spree was over, we spotted three special books nestled in the Nevada section authored by my dad – her granddad. Yes, of course we have them at home, treasured for all time, but to see dad’s tomes displayed knowing that they are waiting for a special owner to purchase them, read and cherish them, did my heart good. A professional journalist, Dad had wonderful stories to share: “Sonny Boy” is an autobiography; “Nevadans” and “101 Nevada Columns” are a “Best Of” selection of his columns from the Reno Gazette-Journal where he (Rollan Melton) wrote from 1984 to 2002. His books never made national headlines or garnered reviews in the Times, but he imparted good news about our neighbors, neighborhoods and our state. Without this used book outlet – this dealer in our yesterday texts —  Rollie’s fundamental stories and talents would be relegated to a pulp mill. With it, readers and writers can find a new friend.