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December 15, 2008

December Ramblings

Actually, these aren’t so much ramblings as they are follow-up notes from previous posts – but for some reason, “December Follow-ups” didn’t have as catchy a ring to it. So to stay true to the rambling spirit, I’ll throw in a new item at the end of this post.

OK then. On with the updates …

* Last week, during a water break on our weekly bike ride, my son and I got to see a coyote. It spotted us from about 50 yards away, but didn’t show any apprehension about our proximity – in fact, he stared at us for a minute, and came as close as about 25 yards before he disappeared into the brush.

Here’s the take-home lesson I learned that day: if you ever want to get a 10-year-old boy excited about mountain biking, you should arrange to have a coyote walk up to you during a water break someday. My son was already scheduling our next ride before we even reached the car.

And before you ask … no, I didn’t get a picture of the coyote – but here’s a shot of the area we ride in, with my son doing his best Lance Armstrong at Leadville impersonation:

Not a bad place to spend a weekday evening, huh?

* Remember how I set a goal to swim 25 yards of underwater dolphin kick after watching Michael Phelps do it against Anderson Cooper? Well, last week I got 'er done. On a degree of difficulty scale, I’d say the challenge ranks higher than the “25 underwater - single breath - 25 freestyle breath holder”, but not as tough as a straight underwater 50.

Actually, I was kind of disappointed that the feat wasn’t a bit more difficult to accomplish. Instead of feeling proud of myself, I couldn’t help but wonder: if I could do 25 yards after practicing for just a couple of weeks, how far do you think a guy like Phelps could go? 50 yards seems like a slam dunk. How about 75? 90? I wouldn’t even think that 100 yards is out of the question for him. It’s simply mind-boggling how much talent that guy has, and how hard he works to optimize it.

* The article about running on the Pebble Beach golf course was something of a tempest in a teapot around the Monterey Peninsula. I was still receiving e-mail about it several days afterwards – far past the usual 24-hour shelf life my column enjoys before becoming a bird cage liner somewhere. It was the top-viewed story on the newspaper website for more than 48 hours (ahead of things like gang shootings and public layoff notices), and was also picked up by a couple of golfing websites. Sometimes it stuns me how much publicity you can get by stirring up a little controversy.

Sure, the attention was nice for a while – but after it was all said and done, you know what I felt best about? Getting to know Mark, the Executive VP at the Pebble Beach Company. He turned out to be a completely stand-up guy, and I really enjoyed talking and exchanging e-mails with him. In fact, we've kept in touch since the article came out, and realized that we share several mutual acquaintances, and our kids will attend the same school next year. Since our paths will inevitably cross one day, I’m especially glad I decided not to do a hatchet job on him in the paper.

* In regards to the Steinbeck items, and the possibility of a series of blog posts about him: that might not happen for a while. I meant what I said about feeling woefully inadequate to do the whole story justice; it’s something that I would want to devote some time and research to, and I’ve just got too much on my plate to attempt that right now. However, the Salinas Valley – in particular, one novel mentioned below - has been at the forefront of my thoughts lately, so it’s probably inevitable that I’ll try to illustrate it in small doses on this site after the first of the year.

Salinas Valley sunrise, last week

In the meantime, my recommendation for anyone who has a thirst for Steinbeck and Salinas is to do what I did this fall: read his epic novel East of Eden. It’s a complete tour de force, as significant a monument to the author’s collective work as any statue or library can ever symbolize. In fact, Steinbeck himself once said of the book, "I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this."

And if for some reason you thought I was exaggerating the conflicted emotions between city and author, consider the following two historical footnotes to East of Eden:

1) Its working title was The Salinas Valley, and Steinbeck often referred to it as his “love letter” to the region he called home, but …

2) When he first imagined writing the “novel of Salinas” in 1930, he said “It should be left for a few years yet, because I hate too many people there.” It took him 21 more years to make his peace with the community and begin writing the masterpiece. Lucky for us that he finally did.

That’s all for the updates. And now for something completely different …


It seems somehow curious that a band made up entirely of blind men would invest time in making a music video. On the other hand, the Blind Boys of Alabama have been defying conventional standards for nearly seventy years.

Among their landmark albums is 2003’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, a Grammy-winning collection of holiday songs in their typical soulful, majestic style. The album is equal parts classics that you know and love, and renditions that are like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

In that latter group is a song called “Last Month of the Year,” which kicks off the holiday album. It’s become our kids’ favorite holiday song, and it’s always the first song that pops out from the CD player once the boxes of Christmas decorations are brought down from the attic.

As you can imagine, I was pleasantly stunned to learn that a video for the song exists; it’s embedded below for you to enjoy. You have to wait about 45 seconds (and through a 30-second ad - sorry) to get to the good stuff – but trust me, it’s worth the wait.

Blind Boys of Alabama – “Last Month of the Year” (click to play):


Curly Su 12/16/08, 6:25 AM  

East of Eden is my favorite book. I read it about once a year and I love it more every time. The last word? Perfect. So many books don't know how to end, but this one is just amazing. And, I have to say that the movie isn't bad either - it doesn't attempt to 'be the book' - and James Dean makes me smile every time.

On the bike trip this summer, I found a first edition of EOE at a used book store in Santa Fe - I proceeded to drag that book with me across the rest of the country. It was a pain, but definitely worth it.

Oh, and if you haven't already - read Travels with Charlie. It's Steinbeck's attempt to reconnect with his country (since he was, afterall, an 'American writer') - He custom builds a truck to drive across the country - Charlie is his standard poodle, and the book really gives you a feel for the country at the time. And, it somehow makes you feel like Steinbeck really knows you, and is even your best friend.

But all that is a moot point if you've already read it.

Anyway - I kind of feel like Steinbeck is my soulmate, and I really wish he were still alive so I could tell him...

One more thing - there is a book called 'The East of Eden Letters', or something like that. Basically, Steinbeck started writing everyday with a letter to his friend/editor to 'loosen up' before the day of writing. The book has all the letters, along with the portion of EOE that he wrote that day. It's really interesting to see the book develop and read what he was thinking as he wrote... I've only seen it at a couple of book stores, but if you can get your hands on it, definitely check it out...

Dave 12/16/08, 1:29 PM  

two things: First, you can take 4 maybe 5 different topics and eloquently cover all of them and segue elegantly into each of them.
Second, you are scaring the hell out of me. Were we seperated at birth. I have enjoyed the Blind Boys from Alabama for a few years back. First,U2, then Metallica and now the Blind Boys...sorry I was rambling....

21stCenturyMom 12/16/08, 4:11 PM  

Excellent choice of Holiday Opener Music - loved it!

I went on a Steinbeck binge in high school and read pretty much everything he wrote. East of Eden is definitely the favorite of all.

In the summer of 1876 I lived just up the hill from Cannery Row in a little stucco house. It's still there at 304 Drake Ave. Monterey. I'm pretty sure that neighborhood was a model for Cannery Row and Tortilla Flats.

Anne 12/17/08, 1:18 AM  

Congratulations on the underwater swim victory. And on making a new friend. Not surprised your article had legs.

Backofpack 12/17/08, 7:15 AM  

Once again, I've never heard of Blind Boys of Alabama, but I really loved that song! Now I'm going to have to go looking for them. I haven't read EOE since high school. Maybe I'll have to read it again, since you know, high school was 32 years ago...

Juls 12/18/08, 9:41 AM  

Oh Donald, as usual there are so many items to comment on but I'll just pick one. Steinbeck: I love him. Love East of Eden. Love your picture.
Happy Holidays!

Darrell 12/20/08, 9:56 AM  

The Blind Boys are just too cool. And so are your kids for liking them.

Merry Christmas.

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