Thursday, April 30, 2015

Time for Dragons

Blog # 21

Time for Dragons

If you are in Krakow, Poland on June 7, 2015 you may join a hundred thousand or so Poles and their visitors in an enormous town square for the annual dragon bash. There is a rock concert, a "Lindy Hop" competition, - man these Poles have fun!- and the dragon festival. Dozens of dragons produced by children and their parents from all over Poland come for the parade. There are marching bands and all kinds of entertainment. Here's the background story:

It seems that long ago there was a nasty dragon denned up next to the Vistula River. He would come out in the daytime and forage through the countryside eating sheep and cows and  making a general nuisance of himself, People left the area and the king tried to get rid of the dragon by offering his daughter's hand, and I suppose the rest of her body, to anyone who could kill the dragon. Many knights perished in the effort.

Along came a young shoemaker who told the king he could get rid of the dragon. The shoemaker bought a sheep from a farmer, some mustard seeds, and a bucket of sulfur from a miner. He skinned the sheep, mixed the seeds, sulfur and some pitch inside the sheep's skin, and carefully sewed it closed. He placed the sheep bomb in the entrance to the dragon's den and hid behind a rock to watch. 

When the dragon came out he saw the sheep and gobbled it up. In a short time he got a huge belly ache and started belching enormous amounts of fire. The dragon jumped into the river, swallowed all the river's water and exploded. 

The shoemaker, who was named Krak, got the daughter, became King Krak and built the Wawel Castle on the hill above the dragon's den.

At the end of the dragon festival daytime events you can sit on the hill next to the castle and watch huge inflated dragons travel down the river in a lighted parade. They blow a dragon up, shoot off fireworks, and just have one heck of a good time. Oh, by the way, there are cake shops in the town square where you can replace the calories you spent walking all over the festival and Polish beer is fantastic for replacing your electrolytes.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Empty Chair

Blog # 20

The Empty Chair

My blogging slowed this week because my book came back from the editor with enough critical marks that I spent a lot of time correcting my terrible English and punctuation. Want to experience humility? Write a book and get a good editor. Here's my latest post.

In 1942, John Tanaka was the Valedictorian of his class at the Juneau-Douglas High School in Alaska. He was spirited away by his own government to spend a couple of the most hopeful years of his young life in an American concentration camp. You may not like the term I just used. In polite circles they were called "relocation camps." That sounds like some real estate picnic. But when asked, my former secretary Jane Matsuoka who spent her post high school years at the camp at Tule Lake said, "It was a concentration camp."

At the age of two, the husband of one of my sisters was sent with his family to a camp in the middle of an Indian reservation in Arizona; sort of a concentration camp inside of a concentration camp.

But back to the empty chair. When the graduation ceremony took place at J.D.H.S. in 1942 John Tanaka's friends decided a statement had to be made about fairness. They placed an empty chair on the auditorium stage for their missing Valedictorian. If you visit Juneau today, you may visit a bronze replica of that chair. On the bronze boards are engraved the names of those who were "relocated" from the region. The memorial is a short walk uphill from the cruise ship landing. Don't miss it and its implied message; Don't violate the constitutional rights of your citizens because of their race.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blog # 19 Boxtops

Blog # 19


Image from

Before everything came coated in sugar and corn syrup there were boring breakfast foods. No one talked about the need for fiber in the diet except our constipated elders. Along with thousands of other kids I was suckered into saving the box tops from the cereal I had badgered my mother to buy. Shredded Ralston, Cheerios, and whatever else the Lone Ranger and Tonto advertised showed up on our table and I think my mother, a paragon of parental wisdom, wouldn’t let me cut off the box tops until the cereal was eaten. Early incentives.

Then the day came when I had collected enough box tops and sent them in to General Mills, Kelloggs or Purina and the 30 or 60 days had passed and here in the mail was my decoder ring or the signal ring with the siren you could blow through to summon help when surrounded by natives. “Hey! Aren’t we natives?” It turned out my sisters were the only natives surrounding me while they tried to stop me from blowing the damned siren ring.

The decoder ring did not lead me to a cryptography career. And neither the Lone Ranger nor Tonto came when I blew on the siren. Either Sky King or Tom Mix, (these things get confusing after a while.) sent a balsa wood glider that was the tiniest thing I ever saw and the slightest wind would blow it three blocks into someone’s yard with me chasing it and learning lessons in futility.

I suppose the great value of ordering all that trashy box top stuff was the lesson that one should not believe everything one hears from people selling stuff. The descendants of those advertising geniuses are now selling us expensive phones that take pictures, connect us with thousands of other people’s boring pictures and can actually video a murder as it happens. There are pluses as well as minuses for the phones but you know, if you were one who sent in the box tops, that six months down the road your zphone#3h will be replaced by a zphone#3i and that those in their teens and twenties will know you are a geezer if you don’t buy the new one.

And the worst thing about all this, the very worst thing of all, is that the box top guys are now trying to sell us a new president. Believing these initial messages from either party, or their fabulously rich friends is the equivalent of blowing on the siren ring and hoping the Lone Ranger and Tonto will save you from the next international crisis, raise the minimum wage, and take off the onerous regulations keeping one from becoming the next Bill Gates.

HIYO Silver and Gittum up Scout!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Blog # 18

The Shrine

What's the story behind this? A couple of months ago my sister Robin and I were spending a weekend tromping around in the desert at Anza Borrego State Park. Robin is an Archaeologist for California State Parks. We found this little cave in some Badlands between Salton Sea and Borrego Springs. In it was a display of worn out size 13 men's shoes, a little orange piece of luggage, empty soda pop cans and a few votive candles which had been burned in decorated glass holders. 

All of the candle holders were those carrying the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There were also Starbucks cups and many personal items. A newspaper type publication offering items for sale by owner and garage sale notices was folded in to the back of a box and gave an indication that the little shrine had been in use for three or four years. The pop cans had various shades of fading from the sun and were probably brought on visits over a few years.

The site is forty hot and dry miles north of the Mexican border. Did some immigrant on foot make it to the road nearby? Were they sustained in the blistering heat by cans of pop? And perhaps they return each year to light candles and give thanks to the Virgin for helping them make it through the traps we have erected to keep them out.

Or, is this the shrine to pay homage to a man with size 13 feet who didn't make it and perished on the way to his promised land?  Do his family and friends come here each year and climb down this gully to pay homage to the man and his dream? My hope is for the former scenario. 

"Tear down this wall Mr. Gorbachev." - Ronald Reagan

"Tear Down this wall Mr. Obama." - Russ Cahill

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Blog # 17

Matthew’s Killer Chickens

In 1971 a wild chicken showed up in our yard on the slopes of Maui. It would search for insects and seeds each day and return to the woods behind our place to roost each night. The hen looked exactly like the pictures I had seen of Red Jungle Fowl, the chickens brought to Hawaii with the first settlers. All domestic breeds of chickens are descended from these and the Grey Jungle Fowl found in the forests of Asia.

I obtained a rooster from the stocks at the Honolulu Zoo where Jack Throp had bred them and used the chickens on the grounds where they were not only interesting to zoo visitors, but ate all the dropped food left by visitors. A sort of Gallinacious serendipity.

That’s how “Super Moa” ended up on Maui. The hen was known to my kids as “Henny Penny” and she took to the rooster in a hurry and began laying eggs. My older two, Tim and Joan, were raising 4H beef steers but Matt was too small at age 8 to handle a steer, so he took over the jungle fowl. We ate some of the eggs, but the hen was pretty good at hiding them and soon there were little yellow chicks peeping away in the yard.

I discovered how tough these birds were when a mongoose showed up one day. The rooster was elsewhere, but the hen made some kind of noise and the chicks scattered into long grass and stayed perfectly still while the hen pulled her wings back behind her, squatted as low as she could and charged the mongoose. For those of you not familiar with the mongoose it’s like a big weasel. It’s the Rikki Tikki Tavi of Kipling’s Jungle Book; the one who fights the cobra. The chicken looked like a big feathered arrow as it screeched and charged. The mongoose took one look and high-tailed it. Literally.
The roosters were also aggressive. A stray dog was eying the chickens one day, and the rooster came from behind the house scooted silently up behind the dog and then screamed his battle cry as he erected all those green, gold and red-brown feathers and flew onto the back of the dog’s neck and went after its eyes. The dog escaped by running off a 10 foot steep embankment and tumbling to the road below where he ran off. There was a lot of strutting to follow, kind of like an NFL touchdown dance but a lot more colorful.

Matt separated the cockerels from the hens and raised them in a covered pen. He planned on fattening them up and selling them as fryers. But one morning we found the pen looking like a slaughter house. Seven of the nine or ten week old cockerels were dead and the last two exhausted looking birds, covered in blood, were facing each other to see who would be champion. We separated them and cleaned them up. Word got around the neighborhood, and there was a lot of interest among Haka Moa practitioners. Cock fighting was popular among ancient Hawaiians and the practice was still common on Maui and Molokai in 1971. Matt sold the remaining birds and didn’t ask where they were bound.

Thanks for reading my blog. There is a recent New York Times article about these birds at

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Post # 16

The Polynesian Voyaging Canoe
Polynesian Voyaging Society Photo

It's been forty years since the Hokulea came into being. Hawaiians wanted to understand just how their ancestors made such a fantastic voyage from the Marquesas to Hawaii without charts,compass or sextant. A society was formed and a large canoe constructed. Modern materials were used because the trees traditionally used to construct the large double hulled canoes were long gone from Island forests. Hokulea was a bold experiment but it was not to succeed without sacrifice. 

In March of 1978 the vessel capsized in a storm off the Island of Lanai. The crew clung to the bottom of the hull without their emergency beacon. Eddie Aikau, an experienced surfer and lifeguard launched his board and paddled into the storm to try to bring help from Lanai. He was never seen again. A Hawaiian Airlines plane spotted an emergency flare from the canoe and all of the crew except Eddie was rescued.

Future voyages would include many more safety precautions, but the purpose remained the same. Prove that such voyages were possible. The Hokulea made successful voyages to Tahiti and other places. Micronesian and other Pacific Island navigators taught the Hawaiians ancient navigation techniques and today there are canoes travelling throughout the oceans.

A second Hawaiian canoe, the Hawaii Loa was constructed from large old-growth logs donated to the Polynesian Voyaging Society by Native Alaskans. That vessel is more traditional in construction and has traveled in Alaskan Waters. 

In my novel Kolea, you will be able to read about the construction of such a canoe. For lots of good pictures and descriptions of the existing canoes go to the Polynesian Voyaging Society web site at  Thanks for reading my blog.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Blog #15

Anza-Borrego State Park

In late March of  2015 I drove the 1250 miles south to Anza-Borrego. Along the way my daughter Joan joined me at the Oakland airport and we drove across the bay and picked up grand daughter Melanie at Stanford where she was on spring break.
Russ and Melanie with Ranger

Inspecting a Mammoth Skull

Melanie is a geology student and the trip was designed to introduce her to one of America's great treasures. Joan loves poking about in rocks and the paleontology interested her as well. The park is two hours drive from San Diego and a short distance north of the Mexican Border. It spans more than six hundred thousand acres of the Southern California desert and, after Adirondak Park in New York, is the largest state park in the coterminous 48 states. My youngest sister Robin Connors is the archaeologist in the park and she organized tours of the archaeology and paleontology labs for us. 

Headquarters is in Borrego Springs which is largely below sea-level and the park goes from minus 200 to 6,000 feet in elevation. The park has the most continuous fossil evidence of the past seven million years found anywhere in North America. Walrus, dolphin, elephant, camel, horse, mammoth, saber-toothed cats, hyenas; you name it and its probably found there. If and when the sea rises, it will become inundated again along with the Salton Sea and Death Valley.

We caught the tail-end of the wild flower bloom and got to hike in some remarkable places. A dozen rare desert big-horned sheep wandered by us while we were hiking and we saw lots of birds and reptiles (no rattlers) along the way. It got up to a hundred degrees F and we north-westerners were feeling it. Along the way we camped at Allensworth and Morro Bay State Parks as well as Joshua Tree National Park. The trip home took us up the coast where we saw hundreds of Elephant Seals hauled out on a beach at San Simeon and cooled down in the Redwoods of Northern California.

When I think of the continual erosion of funding for state parks in our state I can't help wondering where our priorities as a people who love our country have gone. I'm certain I was passing Californians going in the opposite direction to get away from the drought and heat and to bask in our cool climate while I got a bit browner in theirs.  "... for purple mountain's majesty..."  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Eddie Le Baron

Blog # 14
Eddie Le Baron 1930 - 2015

One of my heroes just died. If you think Russell Wilson is too short for professional football, you don’t know about Eddie. At 5’ 7” and 175 pounds Eddie Le Baron led College of Pacific to an undefeated season in 1949. In his senior year Eddie passed for twelve touchdowns, punted for a forty yard average and intercepted nine passes from his defensive backfield position. He also averaged four yards per carry rushing. Eddie was named to three All American teams and was drafted in the tenth round by the (okay, I’ll say it for historical purposes) Washington Redskins. I saw Eddie play on two occasions when I was an aspiring football fanatic and never saw a more deceptive ball handler.

Before he could play pro ball Eddie went to Korea in 1950 as a U.S. Marine lieutenant. He was wounded twice and awarded a bronze star for bravery under fire and a purple heart.

Eddie played for the Redskins and Calgary Stampeders, and started at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys during their first three seasons. He rushed for the first touchdown ever scored by the Cowboys. Eddie retired after eleven years as a pro quarterback. He was all-pro in four of those years.
During his off-seasons Eddie studied Law and practiced law after retiring from football. He became an NFL general manager and led the Atlanta Falcons for several years. When I saw the obituary I remembered that at one time professional athletes routinely served during wars and conflicts. Ted Williams, Moe Berg and Eddie come to mind. The sharing of the pain of military service by a cross section of our population is extremely rare today.

Goodbye Eddie. Thanks for everything.