Friday, October 31, 2008

The Tale of the Electric Elk

One of the strangest things that happened during the summer of 1999 was the tale of the electric elk. I was working in Resource Management in Grant Village in Yellowstone National Park. One morning, a visitor reported to law enforcement rangers that someone had stolen his 50 foot extension cord sometime overnight. If I remember correctly, the gentleman worked at the Hamilton Store or one of the other vendors in Grant. Most of the people who worked those jobs were of retirement age and they arrive in the spring in their motor homes or trailers, and they are generally from the southeast. They are looking for a nice, cool, interesting place to spend the summer.

That same morning, someone reported to the Visitor Center that he’d seen an elk with an orange extension cord trailing from it’s antlers. The Visitor Center called my boss and the great electric elk hunt was on. Apparently the elk had wandered through the contractor’s trailer court during the night and had gotten the extension cord tangled up in his antlers. The Hamilton Store worker had run the extension cord from his trailer, through the trees to his campfire spot to power lights or something.

It was determined that the National Park Service could not let an elk wander around Yellowstone with a 50 foot, orange extension cord hanging from its antlers until February or March, when the elk would generally drop their antlers. Resource Management was sent to find the elk. First, we went out to track the visitor who had reported the elk and to find out where to start our hunt. We got a starting point, and it didn’t take long to find the animal. It was a fairly memorable sight and one of a kind. Visitors who saw it were happy to point out which way it had gone. Our boss, Dave, radioed us that he had contacted Park Headquarters and they had made the decision to tranquilize the elk and remove the cord. Kerry Gunther, the head of Bear Management would be heading down to Grant as quickly as possible. Kerry was the only ranger who was trained to use tranquilizer darts on elk. The problem was, he couldn’t be on site for about four hours. We had to maintain visual contact with the elk till Gunther arrived.

There were four of us, myself, ranger Rick Swanker and two Student Conservation Association volunteers. We all had radios. The plan was to follow the elk, wherever it went, until it could be tranquilized. Our plan was to stay on the elk, as far as possible away from it but still keeping it in visual contact. Depending on what kind of vegetation we were in, that distance could be quite comfortable or quite uncomfortable. Bull elk are known to charge when approached too closely, but more worrisome was the thought of losing sight of the critter and having the elk disappear into the backcountry and losing track of him. So we split up with each one of us trying to stay on one of the compass points with the elk in the center.

The big bull wandered slowly north towards West Thumb Geyser Basin. It had Yellowstone Lake to the east and the main park road to the west, Grant Village to the south. As it happened, I was on the south, trailing the elk for the next four hours. Generally three of us could see him, sometimes all of us, sometimes only one of us. So we kept our distance and followed, or kept ahead of him and tried not to effect his travels unless it became necessary. I thought he would lie down for a mid-day rest but it didn’t happen. Park elk are more habituated to humans than other elk due to the almost constant presence of visitors wanting to see them. They will tolerate the presence of humans, (at times you will see a hundred visitors in a big circle around a big antlered bull) where non-park elk would be making tracks over the hill. So we followed him and kept in constant radio contact with each other. We went down into creekbeds, through the creek, over fallen logs, and through the baseball field where he grazed for awhile and we got a rest.

Finally Dave called us on the radio and said that Kerry Gunther had arrived. We reported we were on Big Thumb Creek and told Kerry how to find us. He showed up 15 minutes later with a tranquilizer dart gun, which looks like any old shotgun. The elk was in a good spot. He was standing on high ground, looking down into the deep, grassy ravine where the creek ran. It was a clear shot. Kerry was ready and warned us the elk would begin to move when shot with the dart and to be ready. The big bull wandered into the timber and so we all waited. The entourage moved 50 yards with him and then, finally, he went out into the open again. Kerry took his shot and hit the bull in the neck. It took off down into the creekbed. Kerry warned us it may collapse in the creek and could drown. As luck would have it, the elk moved downstream towards Yellowstone Lake, where there is a large slough. Fortunately, the elk collapsed mostly on dry ground, but unfortunately, with it’s head in the slough.

We hustled through the slough, wet up to our thighs, and Rick got to the elk in time to prevent it from drowning. We took turns holding up its massive head and antlers until enough people arrived that we could pull on his front legs and get his head out of the water. It was easy enough to remove the extension cord. While the animal was drugged, Kerry took some measurements, tissue samples, hair samples, blood samples and attached a tag to it’s ear. The tags said to not eat the meat, in the event that later the elk wandered out of the park and was shot by a hunter. The drug used to tranquilize the elk could contaminate the meat for a period of time. We all wondered, would bears, wolves, coyotes, ravens and magpies read this tag? And what would happen should a bear eat this meat? Would we have a tranquillized bear, or a hopped up bear?

I can’t remember whether Kerry administered an antidote, or the drug just wore off on its own. But we sat beside the elk until he began to move, which took an hour or two. We kept a wet towel over his eyes (they were wide open) so they wouldn’t be damaged by the sun, and to keep ravens and magpies from picking at them. As the elk began to move, we moved further away. Eventually, the elk stood up, shook off the towel and walked into the trees.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Participants and Spectators at the Pumpkin Chuckin' Festival

Enlarge to truly appreciate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Give You the Moab Pumpkin Chuckin' Festival

Once again, Halloween rolls around and that means it's time for the Moab Pumpkin Chuckin' Festival. A local youth organization, the Youth Garden Project, sponsors it and this is the third year. It's the first year Nancy and I were able to get there because we've had to work on Saturdays for the past several years.
What a spectacle it is. It's held at the old airport on a crumbling patch of asphalt south of town. There are food vendors, folks selling crafts and informational booths. We were astounded at the number of cars that were lined up on the tarmac for the event. And unlike other Moab events, it seems to be mostly locals.
I took several pictures (that's pitchers here in Utah) of the contraptions that are designed to hurl pumpkins out into the desert. We watched the trial run. One of the monstrosities was constructed on a flatbed truck, others were built on trailers and others were sitting on the ground. Some of the contraptions were based on the old design of a trebouchet. Trebouchets, as you no doubt know, were originally designed to hurl rocks at castles during a siege. They predate the knowledge of gunpowder and then later, the inability to manufacture a cannon that wouldn't explode and kill the cannoneers. They depend on a fulcrum, leverage and gravity and a great weight suspended and dropped. Some of the contraptions were based on the model of a really large slingshot, depending on some form of elasticity, rather than the trebouchet, which depends on force and motion magnified by the length of the arm. (Think of the biblical David and his non-elastic sling.) The most successful pumpkin chucker, as far as distance was concerned, was the one pictured in a few of the last pictures. It was welded from what looks like 2 inch black pipe. It had weights of old gears attached to the frame to hold it down and the falling weight was scrap iron and concrete. It was a trebouchet, and being constructed out of welded steel, was more stable and transferred all of the force into slinging the pumpkin. No force was lost or absorbed by poor wood to wood connections and the natural ability of wood to flex.
The second picture shows a trebouchet in action, actually swinging a pumpkin into the air, although not very far. Click on it to enlarge. The crowds were kept at a distance behind a rope in case of a catastrophe. I can easily imagine some parts flying off one of these things and doing great harm.

Friday, October 24, 2008

More News From the Gray Gazette

Dear Doug and Nancy

You have been all over our corner of France and I'm sure that you went to Collioure and Port Vendres, close to the Spanish border. We had a few days there with our son Thomas, staying in an EXTREMELY small apartment overlooking the harbour at Port Vendres.

As you know the most important thing to do while you are in that part of France is to eat fish, fish and fish, so fresh that it almost hops out of the pan when you cook it. The next bit is the culture - the art gallery at Ceret a few miles inland (Picasso and many of his contemporaries lived and/or worked there and bequeathed wonderful collections of their pictures, ceramics and drawings to the museum), and the incredible Dali Museum just across the border at Figueres in Spain, including the bit we never knew - Dali designed the most amazing exotic jewellery. And the third is the opportunity to walk along the coastal path. Some of it is in raw scrub above the cliffs and the sea, other parts have been overtaken by housing developments and you find yourself looking into people's pools and backyards, where the residents compete with the seagulls for space by the water.

Here are a few pictures including some of the war-time work by the Germans who occupied this part of France during WWII. We found the remains of their reinforced concrete gun emplacements and other coastal defences. They were constructed to harass the Americans and Brits if they dared to invade this part of Germany's newly annexed territory from across the Mediterranean in north Africa, where Reichsmarshal Rommel was eventually defeated. My father, Major Peter Gray (!), was involved in the north Africa campaign with Montgomery's Eighth Army, and then all the way up Italy in 1944/5. His civil engineering 'Company' rebuilt landing strips, roads and bridges destroyed by the retreating Germans so that the allied troops could get through en masse.

Also here is an image of France that Léran does not offer - we haven't got a 'boules' pitch in the village. In Port Vendres we found lots of retired gentlemen playing boules (or 'pétanque' by its other name) and we happened to see a concluding moment where the umpire had to use his measuring tape to decide the outcome of a tense contest.

We're off to the UK for a few days.

Love to Fergus.

Julian and Gwenda

We wandered into Colliure and Port Vendres on our exploratory trip around France trying to decide where we might want to buy a house. The wind was howling along the coast, and although it was beautiful, we couldn't find anywhere to stay. So we headed inland. We did indeed get to Ceret and stayed there for one night before we somehow wandered into Chalabre, Mirepoix and then Leran the next night.
I am reminded that Julian and I spent one evening at one of the Marche Nocturne Leran trading stories that we remembered about our respective fathers' WWII exploits.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fete des Pommes in Mirepoix

Julian Gray sends more words and pictures from the old country. This time its the Apple Fest in Mirepoix. I can't think where all the apples are grown except to say that there are many orchards on the road between Chalabre and la Bastide-de-Bousignac. He's sent another report about a trip to the Mediterranean coast which I'll post in a day or two. Thanks again, Julian.

Dear Doug and Nancy

A few weeks ago Lavelanet went crazy for Hazelnuts, the 'Fete de la Noisette'. This weekend it's the turn of Mirepoix to go nuts about apples, the 'Fete des Pommes'.

Apples present more opportunities than nuts to decorate the town. For this, apparently the tenth Fete des Pommes, the local fruit producers and their many helpers have tried extra hard. Every street around the town centre is playing its part with numerous small displays involving 'pommes' hanging off the old timber-framed buildings and perched on top of the many permanent bollards that protect pedestrians from passing traffic. Most of the little shops have apples in their displays. The butcher had a neat 'tenth birthday cake' in his window (photo).

As you would expect the famous medieval Market Square is the focus of creativity. Large scale sculptures, made by attaching apples to chicken-wire frames with rubber bands, are arranged along the central piece of garden. And the market hall has a magnificent archway celebrating ten years. There is no special significance in a windmill or a biplane or racing car or a Viking ship - probably just the result of a committee deciding what sort of sculptures would be fun to make.

All this provides a foreground for another weekend of open-air music, dancing and feasting, the way the French, with their well-trained combination of appetite and stamina, prefer to do it, enhancing community spirit and forcing the world's economic woes well into the background.

Sorry no pictures of the action - we went on set-up day but had the benefit of being able to see everything.

We are enjoying Doug's reminiscences of 60 eventful years - is there a book in there bursting to get out?

Julian and Gwenda

Book bursting to get out? No. I just hope you enjoy reading it.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Getting Drunk the Park Service Way

I’m in a reflective mood these days. Here are some more reflections and memories of my National Park Service years. The other day while I was driving over to Grand Junction, there was a accident in the opposite lane of Interstate 70 near Thompson Springs. On scene were an ambulance, a highway patrolman and a life flight helicopter was just leaving with someone who must have been in pretty bad shape. It brought back memories. Those of us who worked as rangers in Resource Management were often called on to back up the Law Enforcement rangers in some fashion that didn't put us in harm's way. At various times responding to automobile accidents and other incidents, I did some things that I’d never done before and haven’t done since. Numerous times I directed traffic on a road that was strewn with wreckage and suddenly down to one lane. I drove the ambulance, lights flashing and siren blaring, away from an accident site with a heart attack victim on board. I was directed to drive as fast as I possibly could without being unsafe. I drove the fire truck to accident sites numerous times because it had all of the victim extraction equipment on board. I stopped traffic and secured the road so that a life flight helicopter could land and load and take off. Several times I saw horribly mangled victims, some dead, some alive.

Most days we spent minding our own business. Resource Managment rangers managed the bear and other animal populations, killed weeds, and dealt with over-enthusiastic visitors doing various brainless activities threatening to the resource or their lives. But when a call came on the radio reporting an accident, a search, or an emergency of some kind, we would drop what we were doing race and off to be of assistance to the over-stretched rangers. It seems when the shit hits the fan, there is no substitute for a few extra people in uniform with a badge and a radio.

RM rangers do unusual things. We trapped varmints from buildings, rescued owls hit by cars, removed bats from residences, looked for eagle chicks that fell from the nest, hauled dead deer, elk and bison from the road, hauled dead bison out of the Yellowstone River, cut trees that had fallen across the road, manned roadblocks because of fire or snow, and tried to keep the visitors from feeding the bears. We released ravens and magpies caught in fishing line, cleared trails in the backcountry, set bear hair snares for DNA studies, and patrolled the geyser basins. I once cleaned up the mess in a thermal hot pool because an elk calf had fallen into it. I had the misfortune of finding a cow moose beside the road, hit by a car, with a broken foreleg. She had tried to run but could not get up on her remaining legs. She looked at me with those big brown eyes while I shot her in the head.

But nothing was stranger and more bizarre than helping to train the new seasonal rangers. Each year there would be two or three new rangers who had never before served in law enforcement in any capacity. They were fresh from one of the NPS academies and had never done an actual traffic stop. Our part in the training process was not informative or instructional in any way. Other, more professional rangers did that. Our involvement as Resource Management rangers was to get drunk. Yep. Bill and I got drunk for the Park Service. Here’s how it happened.

We were given about thirty US government dollars to go and get ourselves some beer, wine or liquor of our choice at the Hamilton store. Bill, my partner, who looks like Steve Martin and is almost as funny, got a few six packs of Corona and a fifth of bourbon. Another RM guy was with us, but he was our guardian and so he stayed sober. We retired to Bill’s residence and proceeded to drink un-responsibly.

After an hour or so of drinking, they took us over to the maintenance yard inside the locked gates. They set us in the driver’s seat of a car (without the keys). We were supposed to be drunk drivers and the Sub-District Ranger asked us to be somewhat co-operative as the new rangers acted out a traffic stop. We answered questions, blew into the Breathalyzer, walked the straight line, pointed to our nose with our eyes closed, and counted backwards. All went well and if we were real drunk drivers we would have been arrested and booked. Bill and I were having an absolutely wonderful time. I can’t remember if anyone else was quite so enthused. But we drank another beer and they asked us to do it again. We traded rangers and Tara, the Sub-District Ranger asked us to be un-cooperative drunks this time. That was a little harder. I am normally law-abiding, friendly and cooperative with law enforcement when I have been stopped because I think it only makes sense. There is no percentage in pissing off the gendarmes. But I tried my best to cooperate by being un-cooperative. It was fun to be a bad boy with parental blessing. I tied screwing around but the ranger was pretty cool and I was put in my place.

But Bill was spectacular. He’s a very funny guy, always upbeat and ready with a snide comment or a joke. He’s smart and witty. He teaches high school back in Maryland and has probably taken more shit from teenagers than anyone I know. I think he remembered every piece of shit flung at him over all those years. He was like sassy drunk lawyer who had a legal argument to deny every request. Bill couldn’t walk the imaginary line because he couldn’t find it and went looking for it. He blew in the wrong end of the breathalyzer. He counted in prime numbers instead of backwards. I think at one time he was doing knock-knock jokes. He had a smart-ass answer for every question and then a smart-ass question followed that. You know the old trick where you point at someone’s tie and then when they look down you tweak their nose. I think Bill did that. He had me feeling sorry for the new ranger. If there hadn’t been an audience standing by, that guy might have shot Bill on the spot. It was funny and pathetic. But it was good training for those new rangers and I imagine every traffic stop after that was much easier. And we were glad to help.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Thanks to Ian and Jo

I got this picture in my e-mail basket today from Ian and Jo in Rivel. I just can't believe it. I am so impressed with their creativity. I don't think they knew my birthday in advance, so they must have had to act with incredible speed. After they read the blog and found out it was my birthday, they must have called Paris and arranged for the banner to be made up. My God, it's a big one and it must have cost beaucoup euros. Ian didn't say how he did this so I am making some guesses and presumptions at how they managed to pull this off. They must have driven up to Paris non-stop from Rivel and picked up the banner just before the banner manufacturing shop closed for the night, crammed it into the Volvo and raced over to the enduring symbol of France, l'tour de Eiffel. Then (I'm still making assumptions) Jo must have distracted the gendarmes while Ian somehow got that huge banner into the freight elevator. I'm sure it was nip and tuck getting the banner secured but knowing Ian and Jo they came prepared with winches, cables, ropes, carabiners, connectors and all the paraphernalia they would need to secure that banner to the Eiffel Tower. I suspect this took all night and they probably had to climb down the outer framework, no doubt in black suits or some kind of camouflage, to avoid the security personnel. All this in a stiff wind. Just look at how that big banner is flying in the breeze. That's got to be a thriller climbing around on the Eiffel Tower in a wind like that. I'm sure there were some tense moments when things didn't go exactly as planned. That's when you have to improvise. I can only guess at their fear, because I know Ian can hardly stand to be on a ladder, but they obviously overcame their paralysis. Then they had to get down on the ground, just as dawn was breaking, get in a boat on the Seine (I'm looking at the bridge in the lower left.) and take a picture. All without getting caught. Masterful. Either that or the photo is computer generated. In any case, I appreciate the effort, and yes, I did have a Bon Anniversaire. Thanks Ian and Jo.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Reflections Upon the Beginning of My Sixtieth Year

It’s a paradox, I know, but the days of my youth seems like a long time ago. I can barely remember grade school, junior high and high school. Yet, my college days seem like only yesterday. They say time flies, and it flies faster as you get older. Well, whoever "they" are, they are correct on this one. I remember that my childhood summers lasted an absolute eternity. They didn’t just seem to last forever, they did last forever. You could not imagine in June that September would ever come. Now, a summer is over in three months. Winters, however, do seem to last an eternity. Go figure.

My thoughts are disorganized. I look back on sixty years and I don’t know whether to reflect on the past, my good fortune, the changes in my health, the memories I have, or should I think about the future.

Sixty isn’t so old anymore, people live longer, more productive lives. And they have additional productive years. I’ve heard that in the Middle Ages, a 40 year old man was quite old and his life expectancy was measured in months. Yet, I can’t escape the fact that I’m not quite as agile as I was, my memory and hearing are fading, my balance is diminishing. My right knee is shot and I suppose knee replacement surgery is in the future. I can feel some arthritis in my hands and other damaged joints. I ask myself, what it will be like in ten and twenty years. Well, probably worse not better.

I can reflect on my incredible good fortune. I’m here, and despite the above paragraph, I’m in pretty good health. I had the good fortune to have had childhood asthma and a dislocated shoulder. Why is that good? Because otherwise I would have ended up in Vietnam. There is no guarantee I would have survived that debacle, that strange excuse for foreign policy. I suspect I would have been a poor to mediocre soldier and would have come home with disabilities if I had come home at all. Fortune was not so kind to some of my friends who suffered or died in Vietnam, died drunk on the highway coming home from the bar, or took their own lives.

I had the incredible good fortune to marry Nancy. Somehow I failed to impress, or I managed to escape the clutches of women who came before her. I will not discuss this any more except to say, if not for Nancy, I probably would writing this on skid row somewhere.

Wow. What a ride we’ve had. Had we gotten married at a different time in history we might have fallen into a trap somewhere along the line. We might have had a passel of kids (not that there is anything wrong with that) and found ourselves too tied down to make the changes we made in our lives. Someone said, maybe Samuel Clemens, that the only regrets they had in life were the things they didn’t do. We took that to heart and made changes in our lives. We changed occupations and careers, we changed houses and states, we exchanged a cabin for a house in France. We have lived in some beautiful places: on an island in Puget Sound with a high bank beach overlooking the Olympic Mountains; in a cabin in Montana that we built ourselves overlooking the north end of the Absorkas and the Yellowstone Valley; in various places in Yellowstone National Park where the nights were so dark and quiet we could hear only the wind and wolves and elk; and of course in Leran, a place we couldn’t have imagined just three years ago. That list doesn’t include Boulder, Bozeman, Livingston, Moab and Seattle which are gorgeous places to live.

And we’ve accumulated memories. I have worked some amazing jobs (and some dreary ones). I’ve been a sign painter, a graphic designer, a truck driver, a Park Ranger, and a clerk at a hardware store. Some of those jobs I did really well and enthusiastically, and some, well you know how it is. We’ve built a couple of houses from the ground up, remodeled others extensively, some beautifully and some very badly. We took some amazing trips into Paria Canyon, the Grand Canyon, various mountain lakes all over the west. We floated the Colorado, the Green, the Wenatchee, the Yellowstone, the Tongue. We’ve been to damn near every state. I’ve missed only Alaska, Delaware and Rhode Island. We traveled to Italy, France, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Mexico, Cuba, and Canada. We try to figure out how we can trade the house in Moab or Leran so that we can end up in Australia, New Zealand, San Francisco, Paris, London. Time is running out.

The people I’ve known, oh boy, what can I say. There are too many to mention and I’ve forgotten some for sure. Most are still with us but some have passed on. For the most part, its almost impossible for me to talk about those still trudging around on the planet, even though I know I should. My Mom and Dad I still think about very often and I wish that they had lived longer. I was barely an adult when my mother died and I probably had only a handful of adult conversations with her. She was someone who I regret I didn’t appreciate enough when she was around. My father died too early as well but we managed to get to the point of speaking to each other on equal terms instead of indignant father and sulking son. My brother-in-law Darrell also left us too early. He was always an inspiration with his wisdom, good humor, easy laugh and great generosity.

Before this begins to sound like a celebration of my life (maybe it’s too late) I need to examine a particular memory. When I was young we had a cleaning lady who came once a week. Alma Bowling was black and I think from Mississippi, and rode the bus to the stop near our house. She halfway raised my sisters and me. Alma would fix us lunch and she’d sit down and eat with us and we would talk. She scolded us for not putting our dishes in the sink, praised us for schoolwork we brought home, got us heading back to school on time, and wouldn’t let us eat lunch if we didn’t wash our hands. She was probably appalled that we didn’t say grace, but she never said anything to me. Once in a blue moon she would work for Mom at a party, serving and cleaning up, I think more because my mom knew she need the money than my mom needed the help. Every once in a while Alma would miss her bus and Mom would jump in the car and drive her home. We loved her like family and the last time I saw her at my sister Peggy’s wedding, she was a very old woman. A day jumps out in my memory. It must have been Spring Break at college because I was home in Denver. Perhaps it was April 4th or 5th, 1968. Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. Alma was devastated, and I think angry. I was confused. We talked about race relations and Rev. King for awhile and I was very uncomfortable having that conversation, and I don’t think I was ever more conscious of my race in my life. All I could do was shake my head. I remember muttering something like, "Why do they keep killing all the good people?" But we’ve come a long way. When I was quite young I remember my grandmother from Missouri could say out loud, at a reunion, "I got no problem with niggers as long as they stay in their place." We laughed behind her back because even then that was absurd. In a few weeks, I think we are going to elect our first black president. (More accurately, our first mixed race president.) I know my grandmother could not have imagined that. I think Alma could have.

So, Happy Sixtieth Birthday to me. May the world and especially our country continue to change for the better in the next sixty years.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Strange view of France

I was looking on the internet for a map of France and this came up. You may remember the website "Strangemaps" where we found the map of the kissing habits of various French regions. I found it there, and if you are at all interested in maps, you should go to the site.

The painting on a helmet has a nice globe-like quality, however, its not a globe but is instead the map of the Western Front of WWI.

From the commentary on the Strangemaps website: "This helmet is a nice example of trench art, showing a map of the Western Front. The brim of the helmet is marked ‘H.G. Booth, 110th TMB AEF France 1918-’19’. Henry G. Booth was a cook for the 110th Trench Mortar Battery. AEF stands for ‘American Expeditionary Force’.
The helmet map shows
England (with London, Winchester, Dover, Southampton, Hull and Liverpool indicated)
Holland (‘Amstradam’ marked)
Belgium (one city highlighted, name not legible)
Luxemburg (a bit too large)
the Alsace (shown separate from Germany and France; the city of Metz indicated)
the north of France (with Calais, Lille, Le Havre, St Malo, Brest, Paris and three other cities shown) and
part of Germany (Cologne, Coblenz, Mayence – i.e. Mainz).

You can get a slightly better view by clicking on the photo to enlarge.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fifth Leran Walkers Expedition

Julian Gray sends his second report from Leran about the 5th Leran walking expedition. I'm going to take a stab at some of the pictures. I think that's the bridge in St. Columbe and also a view of St. Columbe from above. The photo of the reservoir is Lac Montbel, we are told it's the largest man-made reservoir in Europe (it's minuscule by American standards, and looks tiny from this viewpoint). For those of you who don't know Julian, that's him in the blue shorts with the map case around his neck. Thanks Julian, for the report. Keep em' coming.

Dear Doug and Nancy

Life goes on in Léran. We attach some nice photos of the 5th Léran Walkers expedition on Wednesday 1 October. They were taken by our son Tom who is with us for a couple of weeks.

We started the expedition at the bar Le Rendez-vous - where else? It was supposed to be open at 09.30 especially for us, but Marek forgot to tell the Wednesday crew about our assembly and he had to rush to the rescue at 09.40!. After coffees and pre-ordering of sandwiches for our lunch, no fewer than 21 people (many you know like Chris and David, Alan and Eileen, Norman and Shirley, Nigel and Barbara, Neil and Celia, David and Bea, Bill and Sally and dog Gemma, Henny etc, others were delightful Australian visitors) set off in five cars to Mireval, a tiny village in the hills a few kilometers south-east of Leran. We assembled on a ridge with fantastic views north and south, and set off down a very steep hill to Le Peyrat, where we found a disused railway track to the east that took us to the banks of the river Hers. After 1.5 hours stroll along the river we reached St. Colombe sur l'Hers, where we turned sharp left up a steep hill to regain the high ground overlooking the Lac du Montbel to the north. Our path west took us back, eventually, to Mireval and our cars.

We reached the bar in Léran at almost precisely 13.00 hours and enjoyed our sandwiches, lively conversation and several pichets of vin rouge, vin rosé and vin blanc. During lunch we said a special communal "salut" for absent friends in Moab, including Fergus!

Love from us both,

Gwenda and Julian

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Nutfest in Lavelanet

The other day, Nancy and I received our first dispatch from Leran recording the goings-on back in France. Julian Gray and a group of fun-seekers from Leran went to the Hazelnut Festival in Lavelanet and he sent about 30 pictures. Consequently I had to pick out just a few to reproduce here. Julian, doing his best Edward R. Murrow impersonation, sends the following report on the festivities.

Dear Doug and Nancy,

You have probably already had lots of photos, from those of us left behind in Léran, of the Fete de la Noisette in Lavelanet last Sunday. Twenty-four of us went from Léran in three minibuses and we had a great day.

The photos show departure and arrival, the tall guy is Chandler, from Canada, who was last year's hazelnut-spitting world champion - he lost this year by 1.5 metres - his best was only 6 metres against the new champion with 7.5 (or thereabouts).

Other pics show market stalls selling interesting bread, knives, local cheeses and the biggest biscuit in the area in process of production, an old Renault truck (pre 1914 war), the market hall where the main celebrations were held, various officials in their costumes (the full Noisette hat and cloak is rather smart don't you think), the jazz band, half-eaten food - foie-gras, cassoulet, cheeses - and then the party games with a line of people sitting on the floor passing other people overhead, one at a time, from one end of the room to the other.

We miss you and Fergus. Old Smokey is being pressed into valuable service from time to time, with great care.

Love from everyone and "woof" to Fergus.


Hazelnut-spitting champion? I would never have imagined a hazelnut spitting contest much less a champion.............and from Canada. Oh, mon Dieu. France must be ashamed at this additional blow to her prestige. First, the Tour de France and now the hazelnut spitting competition. Sacre Bleu. Where will it stop? But you don't say where the new champ hails from. Perhaps, he is French, n'est pas? Oh yes, Julian. The Noisette hat and cloak are smart and radiate authority, but you know they don't hold a candle to me in my monk costume. We're sorry we missed it. Maybe next year. May I also point out that yours is the first and only report we've gotten about the Nutfest and we appreciate it. Good photos, old chap. I hope someone will be there for Quiz Night at the Le Rendezvous and report back with words and pictures.