Archive for November, 2007

Leaving the U.S.A.

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Well, it’s been 15 days since I last posted and half a world away. I’ve been here for a week settling in and, frankly, procrastinating about posting. So much stuff has happened, it’s seemed daunting to wade into it all.

For those of you with short attention spans, the executive summary is that everything’s OK – you can go now 🙂 .

So, I left the Seattle area on November 6th and flew down to LAX and then got a rental car and drove down to Aliso Viejo in Orange County where my son, Dan, and his family live. I spent three days at their place and this is all written up here in “At Dan’s Place“.

After three days at Dan’s place, I spent a fourth evening at our friend Lare-Dog’s place out at Silverado Canyon where he lives in an RV. On the last day at Dan’s, he, Lare-dog and myself spent the day riding around Southern Orange County in Lare-dog’s restored 1951 Chevy. What a great trip down memory lane that was. It made me remember growing up in Southen California and being a beach bum when I was younger. It made me remember going to the beach, summer days, cruising around, drive-in theaters, drive-in hamburger stands and the 60’s. In those days, the sun was a friend.

At some point, we stopped at a great Mexican restaurant along the coast called Olamendis. As we walked in and looked around, I remembered the many long and wistful on-line conversations among American expatriots now living in New Zealand about missing Mexican restaurants and Mexican food. So I shot a lot of fun photos of Olimendis for them.

The big ride-around and our visit to Olimendis along with all the photos are written up here in “A ’51 Chevy and Olamendis“.

When I left Lear-dog’s place the next morning, I headed back into the heart of Orange County and caught the 405 freeway and headed up towards Los Angeles. That route takes you through Long Beach where I grew up and lived until we moved down to Orange County in 1980. Curious, I jumped off on 7th Street and pulled into my Alma Mater, California State University at Long Beach.

I’ve done this before – like every few years when I’m down. And it is always a trip down memory lane for me and a feeling of wonder both. I remember all the places that amazing things happened to me on Campus and I also see all the buildings and development that weren’t there when I attended from ’72 to ’76.

From there, I drove further into Long Beach on city streets and passed several of the places I lived in the 70’s. It is amazing how memory fades. I’m losing how to get from place to place there now. Those maps we all build in our minds of places that we so take for granted have started to seriously fade. I had to wander to look to recognize things so I’d know where to go next.

And, then when I found the place I was looking for, it was so small. The streets seemed smaller and dingier. Across from where we lived when Dan was in 3rd grade, there’s an elementary school. I remember so clearly going over and meeting his third grade class and his teacher and we took pictures which I think we still have somewhere. When you sat on our front porch, the entire school yard was just across the street and on the far side, a long ways away, there were the permanent school buildings.

Now, there are temporary school trailers (the kind that inevitably become permanent, if a neighborhood is struggling) right up against the school fence all along our side of the street and everything looks crowded and small.

I remember how happy we all were when I graduated college in 1976 and my first wife, Rose, her sister Ernie and myself all sat smiling and all dressed up on the front steps there. And the neighborhood was full of light and it was a good place to live and to be.

Now the people seem furtive and the neighborhood is a lot more run-down. The light I remember seems to have fled the place.

From there, I drove over to Long Beach Blvd, a major north-south artery connecting downtown Long Beach with North Long Beach, or Northtown as we called it then. I decided to drive up the boulevard all the way to the areas I lived in before I joined the service in 1966. All my time from fourth grade until I went off in the Military was spent there. I knew from previous trips what I would find. The town I grew up in, which was blue-collar white, is gone. All the faces now are brown and black and it looks like a war zone to my eyes. Ten foot fences with barbed wire surround the schools I attended. And if you drive by one of your old houses, you’d better not linger too long looking at it least a gang-banger comes out and asks you, “What for“.

But, I didn’t make it that far. Even half way up to Northtown, it got too desperate and too raw and I decided I just wanted to go and not destroy any more memories. So I jumped back onto the 405 and headed towards Los Angeles again and lunch with my long time friend and college buddy Freddie.

At some point, I passed a sign that said I was now in Los Angeles proper, population 3.7 million or so. And Los Angeles is just a small piece of all of it. From the home of the Valley Girls in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles to the beginning of the Camp Pendelton Marine Base south of Nixon’s Western Whitehouse town of San Clemente, it is solid unrelenting people and concrete. And every year, it gets more and more densely entwined and relentlessly expands into every empty lot and every unclaimed hillside. The smart and affluent ones move upscale to the newer areas and the less affluent and the less intelligent stay behind and city spreads and leaves a slow decades long type of living gangrene behind. It changes so slowly that the people who live there can hardly see it. But, when you’ve been away, it breaks your heart.

In southern Orange County, some of the hills are still not developed or they are being retained as wildlife corredors. Dan and I took his son, Cody, on walks in some of these areas. I pointed out to Dan, that beneath all the glitter of the California lifestyle, the freeways, the shopping centers and the endless distractions, it’s just a coastal scrub desert. If it were not for the huge amounts of water being brought in and the trucks and trains running food and supplies in night and day, the number of people who could actually make a living off this land would be small, indeed. I told him it all hangs by a thread and that he should pay attention to how vulnerable he and those he loves are if the systems that are Los Angeles and Southern California ever begin to shut down. Mad Max won’t begin to describe it.

Having said all of that, we’re having a beautiful California-like evening here in Christchurch tonight. It was a hot afternoon and I went down and practiced tennis and then swam in the lap-pool. Now, I’ve opened the west facing curtains since the suns gone down and I’m sitting here shirtless typing. The sky is a dusky yellow fading up into the lightest of blues over the Southern Alps in the far distance. Around me is the South Island; half the size of Colorado and with only a million souls, total. Indeed, I’m in the center of the island’s largest city with 340,000 folks. It is paradise in the deep South Pacific. I’m am very blessed to be here.

But, I digress. So I continued up and met Freddie and we had a great lunch and drank endless cups of coffee and talked about all the stuff that we always seem to talk about – politics, religion, meaning and purpose. He’s a brilliant man and I am proud to call him my friend.

Then to LAX, turn in the car, check my checked luggage, call my sweetie-pie wife and wait to fly off to the other side of the world.

Next: “New Zealand Arrival“.

At Dan’s Place

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Lat year, when I stopped at my son Dan’s place on my way down to New Zealand, his daughter, Eden was sick so I didn’t get to interact with her a lot.   This year, she was well and another year older and what a beautiful little girl she is.

My Cutie-Pie Grand Daughter, Eden

We had a lot of fun together.  I like staying at Dan and his wife, Ann’s, place.   They alway include me in on all the daily stuff they are doing and make me feel like a part of their lives even though we don’t see each but about once a year.  Cody remembered me really well from last year and called me “Grand-Pa Dennis”.   Eden, who is just learning how to talk, offered up several great renditions of her own of “Gwam-pa” with a big smile. 

On one of our errands, Dan dropped Cody off at his pre-school where he goes several days a week.

Cody goes to school

Dan’s been making his living this last year doing upscale handyman work.  He’s gotten quite expert at many facets of fine carpentry, stone work and a number of other skills.   He’s a real natural at it and does quality work and most of his jobs immediately lead to new referrals.  He’s gutted and rebuilt kitchens, redone decks, worked with motar and brick.   Here he’s putting the final paint on a custom garden gate he’s built for a client

Dan at work

During the days I was at Dan’s, we took a couple of good walks out with Cody.    Dan and Ann live in Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California.   Aliso Viejo is only about eight years old and is one of the beautiful and meticulously planned communities built by the Irvine Company.  Houses, roads and shopping centers alternate with swathes of land left in its natural state.

Dan’s neighborhood sits on a hillside above a valley and the valley below has been left as it was.   There are walking trails, small creeks, old stables and even a few caves with interesting local history.   One day, we set out to explore and find the ‘Dripping Cave’ and the ‘Robber’s Cave’.

Here, Dan, Cody and myself are off on an adventure.

On a nature walk

Cody’s busy looking for Mother nature.

Cody looks for Mother Nature

Down in the valley, an old stable used to hold stock and on the ridge above, the neighborhood where Dan lives.

The old and the new together

We saw the Dripping Cave and then headed off to the Robber’s Cave.   I decided it was to steep for me and waited for Dan and Cody to check it out.   Here, they are heading up-slope on their adventure.

Dan and Cody are off to see the Robber’s Cave

On the last day I was at Dan’s, Lare-dog came over with his beautifully restored 1951 Chevrolet Deluxe and we went riding.    But that’s another story and you can read about it here in “A ’51 Chevy and Olamendis“.

And, finally, Cody gave me a present which I carried to New Zealand and which now hangs proudly in our apartment.   Here’s a picture of your present, Cody:

Cody’s most excellent present to Grand Pa Dennis

Thanks, Dan & Ann & Cody & Eden & Lare-dog for a great visit!

A ’51 Chevy and Olamendis

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

My son, Dan, myself and Lare-dog, a good friend of our family, all went for a ride around southern Orange County, California, on November 10th in Lare-dog’s beautifully restored 1951 Chevrolet Deluxe.

On the ride, we stopped to eat at Olamendi’s Mexican Restaurant in Capistrano Beach.

I shot a lot of pictures there (mostly for those American expatriots, in New Zealand, who are missing Mexican food and Mexican restaurants).


Lare-dog’s 1951 Chevrolet Deluxe

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Olamendi’s Mexican Restaurant

This is the place! Los Tres Muchachos Our table

Local color More local color The bar

Your selection, Senor? We don’ need no stinking badges! Amazing table tops

Jesus Another Jesus Only the best people eat here

Dan-gerous The Lare-dog of legend Three well fed Muchachos

New Zealand Arrival

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

The Flight from LAx to Auckland was about as I remembered it. I drank so much coffee talking with Freddie in Los Angeles that I think it prevented me from sleeping as well as I have on earlier trips – but it wasn’t too bad.

My view for 12 hours

The cabin lights came on after a long and semi-restless night and breakfast was served and the sun began to light the sky on the window on my side of the place as we began our decent into Auckland after crossing the entire Pacific Ocean. A distance I remember it took me over two weeks to cross on the ship, the Direct Tui, when I came here on her in 2003.

First view of New Zealand Welcome to Auckland, New Zealand

It was my third time to do it but there’s still something purely magical to me to step into the line for citizens and residents of New Zealand rather than into the lines for everyone else. It is always the first caress I get that tells me that this place is now mine. The usual questions from the NZ customs agent and then off to collect my luggage and answer more questions.

Oh, you work on a nursery, eh? Well, take your bags to line C and follow the directions there.” Line C took me to some nice folks who took all of my luggage apart again. It had all been gone through thoroughly in Los Angeles as they looked for bombs or whatever. Now their interest was Bio-Security. To make sure I wasn’t bringing in dirt caught in the treads of my shoes or food items that were not canned or sealed. I didn’t see the search in L.A. but I got to watch this one and they we nice folks. We talked and joked about things and, before long, everything was sort-of stuffed back into my luggage and I was free to check it in again. Remember, I was only in Auckland at this point. I still had another 2 hour flight down to Christchurch on the south Island before I was done traveling so I had to check it in for the Auckland to Christchurch flight.

Luckily, I was able to check my bags for the Christchurch flight at the International Terminal where I’d come in so that I didn’t have to schlep them over to the Domestic Terminal as we sometimes have to do.

So, free of my big luggage and with just my small hand-carry, I followed the blue line from the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal and enjoyed my first morning back in New Zealand.

The first half of the flight to Christchurch is always boring as you are over the sea but then, later, you begin to pass down the length of a least part of the South Island. Mountains give way to hills and hills to plains and all the while you are remembering maps and trying to place yourself based on what you see.

I have a special mission this trip and that is to begin to zero in on areas not too far from Christchurch were we can find heavily forested land out in the countryside not more than two hours drive from the city.

So, I was gawking out the windows and shooting pictures of likely looking places and thinking that later I could use Google Earth to match of the patterns of brown and green in my images so I could reconstruct where exactly I was when I shot the photos.

A likely area, perhaps

20 photos later (I’ll spare you the other 19), we were on the ground and my friends, Tobi and Alex were there just as they had promised to pick me up (oh, beautiful people!).

Good friends at the end of a long trip

We dropped my luggage off at the apartment and went off to The Lotus Heart restaurant on Colombo and ate lunch and talked and caught up on things. What a lovely ‘welcome back’. Then, they had errands and they brought me back to my place and came up for a few minutes and we all looked around and then they took off.

Looking around – that was nice. My beloved was here for a month back in August and did some interior decorating so there was lots to see. New thangkas on the walls, some new furniture, everything newly painted – it was beautiful.

And how different it all was from when I arrived last year and had to find temporary accomodations while I waited for the renters in our apartment to move out so I could take possession. Everything was in a turmoil and temporary and I didn’t get into the apartment until December 22nd after having arrived around November 10th.

This year, it couldn’t have been any more different. A beautiful apartment was waiting; warm, decorated, inviting and ours. It was a big pleasure to just look around and contemplate the next three months.

The runaway train is China

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

I’ve been here in New Zealand for just over a week now and I’ve been writing several blog entries in parallel to discuss all the things that have happened since I left Seattle back on the 6th of November.   But, they’re not ready yet and there’s something else that I just felt I had to get posted.

My friend, MD, sent me a link to this story days ago and ever since I read it, it’s been on my mind.

Some months ago, I wrote a piece called “The Train Ride to Hell“.  After reading this story, I think China may be driving the train.

Elizabeth Economy, the author, pulls a tremendous number of facts about China together so we can see bigger patterns than we normally could from just following the news articles from and about China.  After reading this, it seems clear to me that China (and therefore, the rest of us) is caught in a no-win situation. 

If they revise how things work in China and stall their economic growth in favor of their ecology and global weather, chaos will result similar to what happens when a corporation is experiencing red-hot growth and can’t keep its cash-flow balanced correctly.

On the other hand, if they do not slow the economic train, China will become unlivable.   Their water, their food and their air, both in terms of availbility, usability and quality, will simply fail to meet minimum requirements for the overall system to continue it’s run-away growth – and the first result will obtain.

If there’s a particular insight that I wish Ms. Economy would have brought out in her article, it’s the one that Thomas Friedman made in the NY Times back on April 7th, 2007, when he wrote about the “The China Price” in his piece entitled, “The Power of Green“. 

Here’s Elizabeth Economy’s article entitled, “The Great Leap Backward?” from Foreign Affairs magazine as published by The Council of Foreign Relations.   I strongly encourage you to read it in it’s entirety.


The Great Leap Backward?

Elizabeth C. Economy
From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007

Summary:  China’s environmental woes are mounting, and the country is fast becoming one of the leading polluters in the world. The situation continues to deteriorate because even when Beijing sets ambitious targets to protect the environment, local officials generally ignore them, preferring to concentrate on further advancing economic growth. Really improving the environment in China will require revolutionary bottom-up political and economic reforms.

  Elizabeth C. Economy is C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenges to China’s Future.

China’s environmental problems are mounting. Water pollution and water scarcity are burdening the economy, rising levels of air pollution are endangering the health of millions of Chinese, and much of the country’s land is rapidly turning into desert. China has become a world leader in air and water pollution and land degradation and a top contributor to some of the world’s most vexing global environmental problems, such as the illegal timber trade, marine pollution, and climate change. As China’s pollution woes increase, so, too, do the risks to its economy, public health, social stability, and international reputation. As Pan Yue, a vice minister of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), warned in 2005, “The [economic] miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace.”With the 2008 Olympics around the corner, China’s leaders have ratcheted up their rhetoric, setting ambitious environmental targets, announcing greater levels of environmental investment, and exhorting business leaders and local officials to clean up their backyards. The rest of the world seems to accept that Beijing has charted a new course: as China declares itself open for environmentally friendly business, officials in the United States, the European Union, and Japan are asking not whether to invest but how much.

Unfortunately, much of this enthusiasm stems from the widespread but misguided belief that what Beijing says goes. The central government sets the country’s agenda, but it does not control all aspects of its implementation. In fact, local officials rarely heed Beijing’s environmental mandates, preferring to concentrate their energies and resources on further advancing economic growth. The truth is that turning the environmental situation in China around will require something far more difficult than setting targets and spending money; it will require revolutionary bottom-up political and economic reforms.


071106 – Tuesday – Departure Eve

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Well, this will be my last post until I’m in New Zealand in a week. It’s been an intense few days with packing and preparations. But, so far as I know, everything’s done and everything’s ready.

As always, I realize now, on the brink of departure, how much I’ll miss my wife and my best friend in this life, Sharon. She is truly a partner to build a life with.

We walked down to Paradise today – a place in the back of our property where no one ever goes but us. A tall quiet bank under some big cedar trees overlooking the place where a small creek that runs through our place flows into Woods Creek that demarcates the back or southern end of our land.

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I realized then that someday we’ll sell this land and in spite of all the work it’s been to own and operate the nursery business here, I will deeply miss this land I’ve become attached to.

This is the first time that I’ve owned land outright without a bank involved. I can truly reach down and pick up a hand full of soil here on 19 of our acres and look at it and say, “This is mine.” – as much as anything is really ours in this transient existence.

Change is the one constant. An oft repeated idea- but true none-the-less. Age, movements, history, and fortune. They sweep us along and we keep trying to remember who we are and why we think we are here as we struggle to adapt to what life brings us.

I will not fear to love because I may loose what I love. I can’t think why I came here if it wasn’t to live and love and feel.

Just a rock

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

There, where the Cascade Mountains of Western Washington State in the U.S. have been ripped and torn by glaciers again and again for many million years worth of ice-ages, there shows now the land beneath – clear of the ice sheets and covered by coniferous temperate rain forests.

Pacific Northwest Rain Forest

Eons ago, a glacier tore some ancient rock from one of the rising Cascades and transported it down in its icy slow-motion torrent, grinding and pushing it and deposited it near here when the ice receded. Then, later, the rock found itself in the course of a small river that we today call Woods Creek. Over endless years, it was buried, resurfaced, broken, tumbled on the river’s bottom and buried again. And all the while, the ice ages came and went again and again with their mile thick ice standing and grinding over this land. And the river, sinuous, turned and twisted and changed the valley and it found and reburied the rock many times. A summer of two of sparkling light through the moving river’s water and then tens of thousands of years more of darkness buried in the silt and sand while the glaciers came and went.


Today, I went down to where the small creek that runs through our property meets Woods Creek. It’s a place we call ‘Paradise’ because of its privacy and beauty. And I climbed down the bank there and looked where the stones were eroding now from a bank of clay that was probably laid down before Christ was born or the Sumerians first scribbled cuneiforms on their clay tablets. And there was a rock that has been waiting all these endless years to be found. A rock that no one has ever gazed on before. A rock that has seen summers and winters come and go before the memories of man began to pool.

Paradise from up on the bank

Small and rounded by adventures we can never know in detail. Fresh from its most recent burial from how many millennia, we can only guess – it lay in the sunlight before me and said, “Take me. Let me be special among all the rocks of the Earth in this moment. You, soft life, who come and go like the shafts of sunlight that spill through the trees, reach down now and pick me up and treasure me for a few moments in your ever so brief existence. I will be here long long after you and your civilization have gone but pick me up now and bring me into the warmth of higher consciousness and give me an identity through your regard.

Paradise from below where our rock lived

And I said, “Yes. I will take you from this place and treasure you. And I will take you to the other side of the Earth to a place called Aotearoa and give you to my friends there as a piece of this land so far away. And you will be a small story of permanence amid impermanence for them and each time they look at you and think of your long and strange journey, they will remember how small and transient we all are and they will see the ice coming and going and feel the eons when you lay first buried and then revealed and then buried again.

And you, lying there in their hand will honor them and their new property there in the Land of the Long White Cloud. You will be a small emissary from the land they left – to the new land they love. And long long after they and I are gone, you will remain, now swept by the land forming and changing torrents of time and geology in your new home. And, of all of us, only you will see the world as it will exist beyond man.

Rock of Snohomish, Emissary to Aotearoa

To Bruce Scanlon and Kathy Guidi, please accept this small house warming present – come so far and so long to greet your new lives.

Another ramble in the river of news…

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

– I’m on the brink of departing for New Zealand. Most of the packing’s done. Most of the have-to-do chores are completed. Three more days and I fly. First to Southern California to visit my son, Dan, and his family there and then onto New Zealand to arrive on the 13th.

– I’ve got that strange feeling I always get in the days before I take a big trip. Like a freight train’s approaching and I’m going to be swept away into a travel machine and for 24 hours, my life will be ordained. Oh, I want to go, no doubt, but there is something disquieting about putting yourself into the hands of the airlines to get you to the other side of the world. It’s like becoming one can in a vast assembly line of cans – and all the machinery is whirling around you. And then “POP”, out you come on the other end.

– But, now for something completely different and really strange – the news (or at least some bits and pieces of it).


I read the other day about the recent Party Congress meeting in China in which they decide the country’s newest directions and priorities. They’ve unveiled a new determination to redefine the country’s model of economic growth and said that the country needs to “build an ecological civilisation”. It’s an amazingly forward looking thing for the leaders of a major nation like China to declare that they are going to steer their nation into a responsible course ecologically.

But, the bottom line isn’t talking-the-talk, it’s walking-the-walk and that’s probably where these goals will falter. China’s leaders can barely keep the lid on the place now as they try to balance the growth and affluence of the coastal cities against the massive poverty in the hinterlands. And in China today, what the central leaders say in many cases is not nearly as important or significant as what the mid-level local leaders do or don’t do in terms of implementing central government policy. Idealism from on-high sounds good but local greed and immediate gratification is far more persuasive in most cases.

And to see how bad things are in China and just how badly we all need them to reform for all of our sakes, consider these two articles about the immorality of China’s current coal policies: and .

Some time ago I heard about what Thomas Friedman in the The New Times called “The China Price“. I think the concept is as true today as when I first heard it. China’s decisions, short of a major major internal shake-up are and will be driven by profit and advantage. He said:

The China Price is basically what China pays now for coal-fired electricity. China is much too driven by various factors to consider energy sources that would cost them more than the China Price. So, if the world cannot come up with clean energy sources that are cheaper than the China Price, then it is very unlikely China that will use them. And without China onboard the environmental movement, it isn’t likely the world will be able to stem the tide of global change now bearing down on us. So the China Price is a critical piece in the puzzle before us.

So, while we’re all nattering away about recycling, carbon credits and biofuels,China is still charging full-bore into a coal-fired coal-dependent future and she’s big enough that where she goes – we go.

And, for desert, consider this: and .

Off in another direction, Anup Shah, who writes the fine Blog, Global Issues, wrote about Press Freedom. I found it an interesting article as it ranked various nations with regard to the freedom of their press. I like rankings like this. I’ve been partial for sometime to another ranking system which sorts out the countries of the world with regard to corruption. And the, finally, there are sites which provide all sorts of useful graphic representations of of world: and

Here in the US, we are in an interesting position. The federal government under the current administration doesn’t think there is a global environmental crises in-progress so it’s been left to smaller units of American government to try to take up the slack until we have a change of federal administration. Here in the Seattle area, more than 100 US mayors are attending a summit to share and develop policies aimed at tackling climate change. Heartening no doubt and I applaud them – but, I haven’t forgotten “The China Price”.


– Well, that’s the end of this ramble. I still have a lot of loose ends to tie up before I fly.