Temporal Canyon . . . and the Last Hike

 

The Santa Rita Mountains
The Santa Rita Mountains

 

In distance, Madera Canyon Recreation Area is a mere forty-five miles from Tucson, Arizona. Measured as a state-of-mind however, it’s on another planet. In the hour or so drive from the bustling city, stresses and cares seem to fade away, as the lovely blue Santa Rita mountains on the horizon come slowly and more sharply into view.

 

Mount Wrightson on the left, Mount Hopkins on the right, and Josephine Saddle stretched out between.
Mount Wrightson on the left, Mount Hopkins on the right, and Josephine Saddle stretched out between.

 

The Old Baldy Trail goes over the ridge just to the left of small hill on the left.
The Old Baldy Trail goes over the ridge just to the left of small hill on the left.

 

Once parked in the lot, and started up the Old Baldy Trail, it’s pretty hard to think about much except the rugged trail ahead, and the spectacular views all around.

Cares are left behind–and life is renewed.

It’s hard to think about death in these lovely surroundings–but the fact of the matter is . . . it’s never far away. We are all, only a heartbeat or a breath away from eternity.

In the midst of life–we are all just knocking on Heaven’s door.

This last Sunday, February 22nd, at seven 0’Clock in the morning, I made my last hike to Josephine Saddle, in Madera Canyon.

I didn’t walk alone. Death was with me–in my backpack–in the form of the cremated remains of my beloved brother Dale Edward Caplin, gone from this life on Valentine’s Day–February 14, 2015.

It was an appropriate day. Dale took a good sized piece of my heart when he left.

And it was the day the music stopped.

 

Dale is on the lower left.
Dale is on the lower left.

 

A few years later
A few years later.

 

Dale at his beloved keyboards
Dale at his beloved keyboards

 

Dale - Video

 

Dale was born in 1943, and lived to just a little short of 72 years old. Between those two dates are usually a dash. At least that’s the way it appears on the cemetery headstones. The little dash doesn’t look like much, but it represents the totality of a person’s life.

Dale crammed quite a bit into his dash.

His big thing was music. And he was great at it. An extremely accomplished organist and pianist, it was, simply–his life’s passion. He began playing when he was just a very small child. Mom and Dad bought him a tiny electric organ when he was around five or six years old. The kind that fits on a child’s lap. Most kids would destroy such an instrument in pretty short order.

Not Dale. He took it seriously.

He taught himself to play–and never had a single lesson in his life.

He could read music easily by the time he was ready for long-pants, and was one of the few Church organists that I ever knew of that could actually use the pedals the way they were intended.

Those who did it wrong were one of his major pet-peeves.

He loved all musical instruments, but cherished the big pipe organs–and was involved with the Arizona Society of Theater Organs for many years.

Dale played the Organ for years at the local Lutheran Church for extra cash. When the Church membership dropped and they couldn’t afford to pay him anymore, he just kept playing–for free.

One of his happiest memories, was of his opportunity to play the monster pipe organ at The Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

Very few receive that honor.

I like to think of him today–a part of the heavenly choir–playing the organ of course . . . and teaching the backup organists the proper way to use the pedals.

After the family moved to Arizona back in 1985, Dale and I became something of “outdoorsmen.” We loved to get out of the house for a good old-fashioned hike in the desert or mountains.

 

Mount Wrightson from Josephine Saddle.
Mount Wrightson from Josephine Saddle.

 

The scattering location.
The scattering location.

 

One of our favorite places was Madera Canyon Recreation Area, just to the southeast of Green Valley. We made the hike up Old Baldy Trail many times, and often continued on up to the top of Mt. Wrightson.

It was a grueling hike, but a breath-taking view–high enough to be able to look down on The Mount Hopkins Observatory, located one mountain over. But we were young then, and took it in stride–pun intended, by the way.

Often we would pass by the marker left by The Boy Scouts of America, in honor of the three young men that perished in a freak snowstorm in November of 1958. One cannot stand above their death-site and be unaware of the fragility of life.

Dale and I would talk of death–usually in a joking manner–and he often told me that those mountains were the place that he wanted his cremated remains to be scattered. He also specified the very top of the mountain–where, he said–he would get the better view. I assured him that if I were to live longer than him, I would make it so.

Little did I think, back in those sweet and sunny summer afternoons of our youth, that the day would come when I would actually be called upon to keep my promise–or, that I would be too old and fat to entirely keep it, either.

I’m going on sixty-six years myself now, and realized that I no longer had the capability, whatsoever, in any way, shape or form–to make the long and arduous hike all the way to the top. The last time I made it, I recalled–was on the day I turned forty. I remember taking a long look around before I headed back down–saying to myself, that I needed to keep the images in my mind forever–because I sure as heck wasn’t ever going to see the top of that mountain again–unless of course they built a road up to it.

Well, they still haven’t built a road–so Dale kind of had to settle for a final resting place a little closer to sea-level.

It’s a two and a half mile hike from the parking lot to the top of Josephine Saddle, the connecting ridge between Mt. Wrightson and Mt. Hopkins. On the north side of the Saddle is Madera Canyon, and on the south side, looking toward Nogales and Mexico, is Josephine Canyon and Temporal (meaning time) Canyon.

That’s where I put him.

Exactly 9:20 in the morning–Sunday the 22nd. Up on the saddle, just over the top, on the Temporal Canyon side. His remains will work their way down the canyon, courtesy of the wind and rain, for centuries to come.

It was an appropriate location for a man a little obsessed with time. He had more than a dozen clocks in his small apartment–along with photos of each and every one of his family members–all long passed on from this world.

He died in his office chair–the result of a massive heart attack–facing those photos on the wall. I like to think that those sweet faces were the last thing he saw in this life–and the first he saw in the next.

He and I always joked about who would take the long trail first, and cross the great divide. Turned out to be him.

I guess he just got tired first.

I’m pretty sure it was illegal to scatter his remains there–but that’s okay too. Dale, much like myself, was always a little something of a scofflaw. Doesn’t matter now of course. All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men, couldn’t ever put Dale inside a container again.

He’s free.

Dale didn’t want a service–but he got one anyway. Just him and me, on a windswept ridge–up on God’s mountain.

I prayed over him, gave him a farewell blessing, sang (in a very broken voice) “God be with you ’til we meet again”–and recited–in it’s entirety, one of Dale’s favorite poems . . . “Abou Ben Adhem,” by Leigh Hunt.

It goes like this:

Abou Ben Adhem, may his tribe increase, awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,

And saw, within the moonlight of his room, making it rich, and like a lily in bloom, an angel writing in a book of gold.

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, and to the presence in the room he said: “What writest thou?” The vision raised his it’s head, and with a look made of all sweet accord, answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou.

“Nay, not so,” replied the angel.

Abou spoke more low, but cheerily still, and said, “I pray thee, then, write me as one who loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished.

The next night it came again, with a great awakening light, and showed the names whom love of God had blest,

And lo, Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

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Dale Edward Caplin, May 3, 1943 – Febuary 14, 2015.

He loved his fellow men–and he loved the Lord.

And he had one hell of a “dash.”

We love you–and we’ll remember you.

Farewell, and God-speed.

Second star to the right brother–and straight on to morning.

 .  .  . and, may God be with you ’til we meet again.

 

Temporal Canyon.
Temporal Canyon.

 

 

 

 

Death Come a Knockin’ at the Door

Heaven's door

 

Death came knocking at the door this week.

He took my brother away.

And it’s really put me on the floor.

I’m having a hard time getting myself picked up off that floor.

Death looked, sounded . . . and most especially felt–a lot like this old spiritual.

Here it is, all six verses–words and music–in it’s entirety.

 

 

You know that death came a knockin’ on the mama’s door
Singin’ come on mama, ain’t you ready to go
And my mama stooped down, buckled up her shoes
And she moved on down by the Jordan stream
And then she shout “Hallelujah, done, done my duty, got on my travelin’ shoes”

You know that death came a knockin’ on the sister’s door
Singin’ come on sister, ain’t you ready to go
And my sister stooped down, buckled up her shoes
And she moved on down by the Jordan stream
And then she shout “Hallelujah, done, done my duty, got on my travelin’ shoes”

You know that death came a knockin’ on the brother’s door
Singin’ come on brother, ain’t you ready to go
And my brother stooped down, buckled up his shoes
And he moved on down by the Jordan stream
And then he shout “Hallelujah, done, done my duty, got on my travelin’ shoes”

You know that death came a knockin’ on the neighbor’s door
Singin’ come on neighbor, ain’t you ready to go
And my neighbor stooped down, buckled up his shoes
And he moved on down by the Jordan stream
And then she shout “Hallelujah, done, done my duty, got on my travelin’ shoes”

You know that death came a knockin’ on the preacher’s door
Singin’ come on preacher, ain’t you ready to go
And my preacher stooped down, buckled up her shoes
And she moved on down by the Jordan stream
And then she shout “Hallelujah, done, done my duty, got on my travelin’ shoes”

You know that death came a knockin’ on my front door
Singin’ come on sister, ain’t you ready to go
So I stooped down, buckled my shoes
And I move on down by the Jordan stream
And then I shout “Hallelujah, done, done my duty, got on my travelin’ shoes”

Death came a knockin’ at my brother’s door this week–just as he has knocked at so many others in my past. I’ve lost count over the last sixty-five years.

I can’t remember how old I was when I attended my first funeral.

It sure wouldn’t be the last.

Death ate them all–one by one–like an evil, twisted, and demented child plowing through a bag of goldfish snack crackers.

First beloved grandparents, great-aunts and uncles. Then parents, friends, neighbors, preachers . . . and sisters and brothers.

Somehow I managed to survive each grief. There was always one ahead of me in line.

There was plenty of time.

Grandfather was first in line. Death knocked on his door in 1969. I was nineteen years old. My dad was ahead of me, and then death knocked at his door–in 1990. I was forty. My older brother was ahead of me, but death knocked at Dale’s door this week–and all of a sudden, at nearly age 66, I’m at the head of the line.

I’m the last one left.

And there’s no more time.

Time is an illusion.

And you know what I hate the most? Not dying–but continuing to live–all alone. Missing each and every one of those wonderful folks gone before, all of them becoming ever more, just thin and misty memories.

Each increasingly fading–as they move further away–down that “Jordan Stream.”

And knowing . . . in my heart of hearts, that death isn’t going to come knocking at my door anytime soon.

It’s not death at my door, or the reaper’s blade that I fear.

What I fear the most is that he’s not going to come anywhere near my door for a long, long time.

And I’m not very sure I can handle that.

Death is easy.

It’s living that’s hard–with precious and loving memories–that eventually bring more pain than joy.

Sorry for the downer blog. I promise I’ll be better next time.

Goodnight everyone.

Hug the ones you love . . . Hug them good and tight.

. . . and don’t answer the door.

 

David and Goliath . . . a rant.

David and Goliath, or– Cats and Mice and things . . . a rant.

I understand that a lot of young inner-city “gansta” wanna-bes are playing “the knock-out game” these days. They walk down the street looking for an unsuspecting victim, and then knock them out for no apparent reason. Usually it’s an old person–sometimes in a walker (these “ganstas” are really brave don’t you know). One or two have fought back. Sometimes with fatal results–for the “gansta.”

There-in lies a story.

Someone recently posted a really cute seven-second video on Facebook. A rat (most likely a pet one) sneaks up on the family housecat and jumps on the cat’s tail. The cat, scared out of it’s wits, runs off. End of video. I guess it is a seven-second cautionary tale about how some things just don’t turn out the way you expect them to.

I saw another this morning. In this video, a cotton-tail rabbit chases away and eventually trees a rattlesnake. Again, most likely the rabbit (probably a momma) had little ones in the area. Or maybe not. It may only prove that some little critters you just don’t mess around with. The same, I guess, is probably true for people. Some of the smaller ones I have known have been the most dangerous. And some were pretty old. Been around a while.

And not used to taking a lot of crap.

Anyway, it brought to mind a story that old Willis Netz used to tell. Willis was a transplanted South Dakota farmer. He came to Spokane, Washington to live nearer his children in his old age. He has since passed on. I met him there, many years ago. A very nice man. But he was full of stories, among other things, and some of them were really funny.

And some could even be repeated in mixed company.

One he told about a neighbor farmer, from back in the days when Willis was young. An old German guy, according to Willis. And as mean as a snake. The old farmer resented (among other things) the fat, and mostly useless housecat that belonged to his wife. He complained that all the darned thing did was sleep on the sofa, except to get off every once in a while to eat or use the box.

One day, the old farmer is out in the barn getting some firewood out of the wood-box. When he pulls the last piece of wood out, he discovers a tiny mouse in the bottom of the box. It has no way to get out. So, the old farmer gets an idea, since his wife is not home at the moment. She had gone to town to do some shopping.

He goes in the house, collects the fat old housecat from off the sofa, and carries it out to the barn. There, he unceremoniously dumped the cat in the wood-box with the mouse–slams the lid shut, and sits down on the box to await what happens next.

According to the old farmer, all hell breaks loose. For the space of a couple of minutes, the contents of the box erupts into the full-blown fury of a life and death struggle. Squeaks from the mouse, hisses from the cat.  Round and round the two beasts go. Finally it’s over. Total silence. Not a peep from the box. Figuring the cat is now probably enjoying lunch, the farmer opens the box.

To make a long story short–the mouse is still sitting there. Unharmed. The cat however, is dead. The victim of an apparent heart-attack.

What’s the old farmer to do?

I asked the same question of Willis.

“What do you think he did?” Willis said. “The wife was probably the only thing on Earth that the old farmer was really afraid of. So, first he lets the mouse go–probably figuring he earned his freedom, having neatly vanquished a foe many times his own size. Then he collects the dead cat, smooths down it’s rumpled hair, carries it back to the house, and puts it back on the sofa where he got it from–hoping the wife will believe the cat died of natural causes.”

“Did it work?” I asked, with bated breath.

“Must have,” Willis replied. “The old farmer lived to die of natural causes himself.”

Moral of the story? . . . Either, don’t mess with your wife’s housecat–or, You just never know how a story is going to end. And, oh yeah, never underestimate the little guy (or gal) . . .they might just put you in the ground.

I recommend this story as required reading for any hoodlum out there considering playing “the knock-out game.”

 

Have a nice day everyone!

 

 Cat & mouse

 

Dumb joke of the day: Conjunctivitis.com: Now that’s a site for sore eyes!

A Real Nice Clambake . . . Carousel

 

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There are gifts. There are great gifts. And then there are really outstanding gifts.

Tickets to the theater are in the last category.  Our beautiful daughter Lara (an attorney) and her husband Andrea ( a software designer and engineer) know how to give good gifts. They have done it over and over for the past several years.

Thanks to them, we have been able to see White Christmas, A Christmas Story, Oklahoma, and An Evening With Lily Tomlin, to name a few.

We love them dearly for these annual expressions of their love and esteem for us. They are both quality and wonderful people of the highest order.

This last Christmas, my wife Nadene and I received the really outstanding gift of tickets to The 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. It was opening night, and even though it was a Thursday, the theater was packed. Of course, that’s the very best way to enjoy a production on stage, and especially a musical.

There’s nothing quite like a couple of thousand applauding patrons to assess the effectiveness of the production.

If Thursday night’s final standing ovation was any indication–the local players and performers did very well indeed.

It was–to use a phrase from Rogers and Hammerstein–a real nice clambake . . . and we had a real fine time.

For those readers who may not have been to the 5th, I quote a paragraph from Encore, the theater program.

OUR HISTORIC THEATRE

“A beautiful Seattle landmark, The 5th Avenue Theatre’s breathtaking design was inspired by ancient Imperial China’s most stunning architectural achievements, including the magnificent Forbidden City. Built in 1926 for vaudeville and silent pictures, The 5th Avenue Theatre reigned for decades as Seattle’s favorite movie palace. In 1979, 43 companies and community leaders formed the non-profit 5th Avenue Theatre Association. Their goal was to restore the theater to its original splendor. The 5th Avenue re-opened in 1980 as Seattle’s premier home for musical theater.”

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Carousel was the second musical from the team of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. The 1945 work was adapted from the 1909 Lillom, an Hungarian play. It was re-set on the Maine coastline and revolves around the ill-fated romance between carousel barker Billy Bigelow, and millworker Julie Jordan. Their romance comes at the cost of both of their jobs, and the impending birth of their first child causes Billy (an abusive roughneck) to attempt an armed robbery to monetarily provide for his wife and daughter.

Killed in the attempt, Billy goes to a sort of purgatory, or heavenly half-way house, to wait fifteen years for a one-day return to earth to try to undo the harm he has done to his family and gain permanent entrance to the “pearly-gates.” The unfolding of this storyline becomes the basis for the second half of the musical.

 

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Carousel followed closely (both stage and film) on the success of Oklahoma–and while it never quite achieved the same success as that first R&H attempt, has become an American classic and favorite ever since, in it’s own right.

In the wonderful 1956 film, Bigelow is played by the incomparable Gordon MacRae, and Julie by the stellar Shirley Jones. Yup, the same two as from Oklahoma, just a year before.

They were a great team–and you don’t mess with perfection.

The music was to die for–and included: The Carousel Waltz, You’re A Queer One, Julie Jordan, When I Marry Mr. Snow, If I Loved You, June Is Bustin’ Out All Over, Blow High, Blow Low (a whalin’ we will go) When The Children Are Asleep, A Real Nice Clambake, Stonecutters Cut It On Stone, What’s The Use Of Wond’rin, and the rousing and enduringYou’ll Never Walk Alone.

For those for whom it is new, a viewing of the classic film is a great place to start. It just doesn’t get much better than watching–and listening to MacRae and Jones do their thing one more time. If it were a first viewing for me, I believe that I would preface it with a look at the equally mesmerizing Oklahoma (1955).

But if you want to see Carousel presented as it was originally meant to be–with live actors, and actual music from a real, live orchestra, then beat a path down to The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.

Better hurry–Carousel will only be in town through the end of February.

You just can’t beat the experience either way. It’s a great movie, a terrific musical stage production, and in the immortal words of Rogers and Hammerstein . . . “a real-nice clambake.”

For easy tickets, please visit the box office at www.5thavenue.org

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Dumb Joke of the Day:  I can’t believe I got fired at the calendar factory. All I did was take a day off.

 

Next up . . . The writing life.

 

 

Superbowls . . . and Life

 

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Well, Superbowl forty-nine is now in the history-books, and while it didn’t turn out exactly as I would have liked, I have to admit that it was perhaps the most exciting Superbowl ever played.

And I’m old enough to have seen most of them, including the first one.

Hard to believe that anything could have topped underdog Joe Namath taking apart the Baltimore Colts back in 1969, but this one did.

Old Broadway Joe talked a lot of trash leading up to that game, but in the end, he pulled it off.

Sometimes a loud-mouth is just as good as his brag.

And sometimes Karma is standing just off the sidelines–right about at the goal-post.

Karma is a funny thing (at least when it happens to someone else) but after the way the Seahawks beat the Packers for the NFC title, you just sort of knew it was going to get them sooner or later.

Later came in the form of the last two minutes of the game and the two yard line–and a play that would have been called gutsy and brillant if it had worked. But since it didn’t, it’s now being labeled just plain dumb.

Maybe one of the dumbest in NFL history.

Karma won in the end–she generally does.

Be that as it may, it sure was a fun game. And congrats are in order for both teams for literally playing their hearts out.

Someone wins–someone loses . . . that’s football. And there’s always next year.

I was privileged to be able to watch the entire game in the company of two people I love–my wife and grandson. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

My wife is not exactly a rabid fan of football, or of sports in general either, but Brandon and I are working on her and are making progress.

There’s an old saying, that “It isn’t whether you win or lose–it’s how you play the game.” Sure, it’s a cliché, but it’s also one that happens to be true. The players showed that on Superbowl Sunday, with two quarterbacks–one young, and one not so much, playing for fame and glory–but more to the point–the right to be called the best at what they do.

There is of course a lesson in life in all of that, and I was happy to have the grandkid by my side to see it.

Class shows. And being a winner–even in a tough loss. Brandon’s played some football himself. He knows.

Two great teams played each other to a standstill–and it was kind of nice for once to see the right side win.

That is . . . the fans, and the game of football itself.

After two tough weeks leading up to the annual spectacle, it was good to see it all sorted out, exactly where it should be– down on the field.

Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, we’ll see you both next year–and I’m guessing–for many more seasons to come.

 

Richard Sherman and Tom Brady make like true Sportsmen.
Richard Sherman and Tom Brady make like true Sportsmen.

 

Dumb joke of the day: How many Seahawks does it take to change a light-bulb?  Answer:  None. They seem to be happy in the Patriots shadow.

Sorry about that Pete.