Welcome! Thank you for visiting dave the writer as the blog is re-launched. Here, you’ll see news, excerpts and intriguing stuff about the people, places and events in my new novel. Please come back soon to check it all out!!

Phase Boundaries

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Remember High School Physics? Solids, liquids and gasses? That sort of thing? zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Big blobs of stuff can be boring.

For me, not boring mostly comes at the contact points, in the places where they touch each other. Lots of not boring has also happened when I leave one for another. Dive off a rocky black ledge and fly through some thick, balmy air. Then, land in a tossing, turquoise sea and tell me if you agree.

This notion of excitement at the boundaries hadn’t really come together in words for me until recently. My bride and I were once again out on the ever-fascinating Oregon Coast. To us, the land around there is pretty much a non-descript temperate jungle. In the other direction, the North Pacific isn’t really much more than a huge, monotonous backdrop for The Deadliest Catch.

It’s where land, sea and sky meet that grabs us, making us pay attention. We go from bored to exhilarated just rounding that last turn before the beach, especially if it’s stormy or even just a bit breezy. At least, I and my bride do.

And that started me reflecting on my newly articulated phase boundary principle. I looked back on the most exciting moments of my life in the natural world and dozens of personal examples jumped out at me. Here are a few:

  • Standing in the deck-edge catwalk to see maybe a hundred flying fish leap out of the water near our bow, fins glinting in a glorious South China Sea sunset.
  • Balancing at the top of a sharp, craggy ridge on a golden day to see the same river sweep by on both sides far below.
  • Feeling ice-cold sheets of water pour down my neck in the pitch black a thousand feet underground while surveying an abandoned gold mine High Cascades.
  • Silently observing a Water Moccasin glide across my rifle barrel, disappearing into the foliage and roots while I was almost submerged in swamp, waiting to ambush ‘the enemy’ during training.
  • Watching from the Bridge as a twenty-foot wall of green water swept down the length of a thousand-foot flight deck time and again during a typhoon.
  • Body-surfing the perfect wave too long, getting pounded into grainy, green sand by the shore break, then sucked out again to pop up ecstatically and swim further out for another ride.
  • Hearing a gifted boatman sing O Sole Mio in the magical light of Capri’s Blue Grotto.

All these vivid memories and many more tell me something. Nature calls the loudest and experiences are the most alive when I’m near the phase boundaries.

Ancient Tyndaris

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Dave the WriterHere, Greeks fought the armies of Carthage before the Romans even cared. Those Greeks, after being driven out of the western Peloponnese in 396 BC, founded the city of Tyndaris on a high, craggy bluff that looms steeply over a lovely, sandy lagoon.

Surrounded by fertile land, the town, now called Tindari, is almost 40 miles west of Messina at the northeastern tip of Sicily. Back in the day, it was closer to the Carthaginians who ruled western Sicily than any other colony built by the Greeks. Long runs of the city’s original walls, made with massive marble stones still stand, attesting to constant ownership disagreements.

By 269 BC, the Romans had advanced and the town sought protection from Carthage. Then, the Greeks thought better of that choice, but Carthage held them fast. By 254, the Tyndarians managed to break away and become part of Roman Sicily.     

Later, when the famous orator, Cicero, governed the island, Tyndaris was one of its most prosperous and loyal cities. But, horribly corrupt Roman governors and civil war changed that, and the city declined fast. Think Detroit in the last 50 years.

This painting is of the largest Roman ruin still standing at Tyndaris.

This photo looks down at the lagoon, now filled with sand after 2,400 years.

After the Roman Republic fell, a great earthquake dropped half the town and part of the bluff into the sea more than 500 feet below. Then came the fall of Rome in the West and 1,000 years of Muslim pirates and other bad stuff. By the 19th century only a church and ancient ruins remained on the bluff.

Today, a few shops and homes accommodate visitors. A large, modern church, built in the 1950’s, is richly decorated as the Sanctuary of the Black Madona of Tindari, a beautiful ancient statue recovered from the ruins.

King Tarquin’s Town

January 13, 2012 4 comments

Dave the Writeror How a Day-Trip Paid for a Year of Italian Classes!

First, though…

Quick! Who was the 5th king of ancient Rome? You remember, back in 616 BC, before the Republic or the Empire. Any guesses?

That’s right, old Lucius Priscus Tarquinius. He was an Etruscan who’d moved to Rome seeking his fortune. Then, he’d made himself useful, becoming right-hand man to the old king.

Given Rome’s eventual conquest of Greece almost four hundred years later, it’s interesting that Tarquinius’ father was from Corinth. He’d left that city to make his own fortune at a time when it was perhaps the most prosperous in the Greek World, plunking down colonies left and right.

But, this post isn’t about the Corinthian or his son, the King. It’s about Tarquinius’ home town and how my bride and I got the chance to explore it.

Working out the plan for a long trip is fun. But this one, many years ago, had a glitch. My bride and I had agreed that a day in Tarquinia was a must. Since our stint among the downtrodden ranks of graduate student slave labor up around Siena, we’d become Etruscan Groupies. So, Tarquinia, it’s museum and it’s tomb-filled archaeological park was centered in the crosshairs of our Slavering Groupie travel sights.

Here was our problem: given the rest of our travels on that trip, the closest we’d get to Tarquinia was Rome’s port of Civitavecchia (literally Old Town, though it’s much newer than ancient Rome’s original port of Ostia).

The planning glitch was cost and time. Isn’t it always? Except for Vasari’s Corridor, but that’s another story.

I didn’t want to hassle with renting a car. Unlike most Americans, I enjoy driving in Italy; it’s the parking that makes me crazy. And, my map showed that parking near Tarquinia’s old town center would be more sanity-stressing than most places in Italy. So, driving was out. But, the other touristy alternative, a taxi, would be €450! Grrrr.

It was time to pull out the new weapon in our arsenal. We had to jump into Italian travel with both linguistic feet, taking the train and then Tarquinia’s town bus. We could do this!

The past year, we’d taken all three 100-level Italian courses at our local community college. It was just too lame going back as often as we did but still speaking only English or our meager and awful mash-up of Pidgin Italian. Now was the time and Tarquinia was the place to use what we’d learned —Verbs on the Ground, so to speak.

So, I jumped online to find schedules and prices. Back then, Trenitalia didn’t have an ‘English’ option on its website. So, I got my real Final Exam right away. I knew the cost would be pretty reasonable, but I was shocked. The price for a roundtrip for two was €9.60. Even adding in our tuition costs for a year of Italian, the total would be far less than a tourist taxi would have been!

I’ll have more to say in other posts about the Etruscans. Here, I want to attest to Tarquinia’s delightful Medieval-with-a-dash-of-Renaissance look and feel. We spent happy hours wandering around the oldest part of town, with its tall, square towers (think Montagues and Capulets) and old stonework. Beyond that, the town’s excellent Etruscan museum is in an old palace that’s almost as fascinating as its ancient contents.

Take a day, treat yourself to a place most visitors never see. Visit King Tarquin’s Town when you get the chance. It’s only sixty miles from Rome (or Civitavecchia).


January 10, 2012 2 comments

My first memory of fishing is waking up a little before dawn in the bow of an open aluminum boat. We were shrouded in thick, pea soup fog out on the Puget Sound, somewhere off Mukilteo. A buoy bell called to us through the muffled dark. We could even hear the small splashes as it bobbed slowly on its chain not far away. I was five.

Our little vessel rocked gently, drifting with its motor off at zero-dark-thirty on a late autumn morning. A dispersed flock of deep-voiced fog horns sounded at different intervals in the invisible distance. Thankfully, there was no wind or rain, though the cold air cloaked us in Seattle’s heat-sucking damp. Dad, Uncle Bill and Uncle Tom had their lines in the water, talked quietly, sipped coffee from their thermos mugs and shivered.

I didn’t recall how I’d gotten where I was. I must have fallen asleep in the car and they must have carried me to the rented boat. They shivered because I was bundled in in their coats and covered with their rain slickers.

All of them were combat veterans lucky to have come home alive from Nazi Europe, Tojo’s Pacific and Mao’s attempt to swallow Korea, so there wasn’t a murmur of complaint from any of them. Still, they were glad to get their stuff back now that I was up.


By the time we got home in mid-morning, I knew two things for sure: big fish were really heavy, and my dad and uncles had the patience of Saints with a rambunctious boy full of a zillion questions, ricocheting around, tangling their lines and spilling their coffee. 

Fishin’ all over the Pacific Northwest and working together in the garage were Dad’s and my main ‘guy time’.

I loved it.

A Pisa This a Pisa That

January 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Dave the Writer“A toast,” I said, raising my glass of Chianti toward my bride sitting across the small table at a sidewalk cafe. She raised hers for a satisfying, gentle ‘ting’ and we both took a relaxing, well-earned sip.

We sat in the pleasant late-afternoon sunshine just outside the north entrance to Pisa’s magnificent Campo di Miracoli, site of the famous Leaning Tower, and the lovely Duomo with its beautiful acoustical wonder of a Baptistery. The sun was sending its clear, golden rays low across the Campo, making a show of that marvelous, incomparable Italian light. We could both truly say it had been a fantastic first visit to Pisa.

Tired in the second best possible way, we had just begun to relive our day via relaxed conversation when that Nigerian Prince who’d sent us so many emails a few years before came over to see how we were.

(Click here for a larger image)

He was just as we’d pictured him: tall, slender and handsome with broad shoulders and jet-black skin. But, it seemed that he was still down on his luck. His parka, sweater and jeans looked quite worn, though clean and neatly mended. Before we could react, he began his patter in the best Pisan tradition.

You may know that in the Middle Ages, Pisa gave Venice and Genoa quite a run for their money at creating a trading empire along the coasts of Byzantium and the Muslim east. The relentless, smiling, hard-sell was one of their specialties. So, the young Prince fit right in to a centuries-long pattern of Pisan merchantry.

In similar situations, when my bride and I are focused on our explorations, we most often make a polite wave away, saying, “No, grazie,” to street vendors who put themselves in our path. But, for some reason, we were both intrigued and pleasantly amused. We had nowhere to be for a while, so we let him proceed. I think it was a combination of our happy fatigue after 10 hours on our feet and the unique air of earnest sincerity that seemed to underlie his pitch. Our talk went something like this:

“No, we aren’t interested in a large, carved elephant, but where are you from?

“I don’t think a small wicker shield with a jagged red and yellow painted pattern would really go with our décor, but how long have you been in Italy?

“The little drum is nice, but our grandchildren make their presence known quite well already, thank you. Do you have any family here in Italy?”

And so on. Still giving no buying indication, we asked him to sit with us and have a glass of wine. At that, he looked around a bit nervously—apparently for his ‘supervisor’—and began to gather his wares back into the two large, black plastic sacks that he’d set down at the start of his spiel. His whole demeanor had shifted a bit.

(Click here for a larger image)

Most young guys of his ilk who we’ve met in Europe communicate strong negatives through their body language, regardless of their words or apparent smiles. This guy was different. He’d done his best, and now he might get in trouble for us taking too much of his time. So, as he reached for his re-filled bags, I passed him a folded five euro note in my palm as I took his hand and shook it to say farewell.

His eyes widened in surprise for just a second, and then the smile we’d first seen returned. He nodded and walked off to entreat a Canadian couple (maple leaf ball cap and a hockey t-shirt) with his irresistible offerings.

You will always find something interesting around the Campo when the sun is low in the sky, the wave of visitors begins to head home and the vendors have their last chance to sell a piece of Pisa.

Arrivederci, Prince. May things go well for you.

Rocks and Shoals

January 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Dave the WriterMost ships and crews lost at sea are in sight of land. Or, rather, where land would have been visible in good weather.

To even lubberly souls, the term ‘rocks’ is clear: something much harder than a ship that sticks out of the water or juts up enough to reach the hull. Shoals are a relatively smooth but stony sea bed just under the surface. Tides—especially Pacific tides—compound the challenge for sailors who must navigate near rocks and shoals.

For military sailors, there is also another, legal meaning of ‘rocks and shoals’. And, to some who are excessively rowdy ashore, that definition can be almost as distressing as the physical one. Rocks and Shoals is Navy shorthand for the seventy Articles for the Government of the United States Navy that were published in 1930. They cover everything from personal appearance to cursing to mutiny.

Of course, these rules have since been revised and wildly expanded so as not to make the civilian morons in Washington feel as bad as they should about their own work. But, I find it refreshing now and then to reread some of that straightforward 1930s wording.

Take Article 1 for example. In part, it says,

commanders … are required to show in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination; to be vigilant in inspecting the conduct of all persons who are placed under their command; to guard against and suppress all dissolute and immoral practices; and to correct, according to the laws and regulations of the Navy, all persons who are guilty of them ….”  

Talk about the word-by-word polar opposite of today’s rules for politicians and their slithery henchpeople. Here’s hoping that 2012 brings them all they secretly wish for us. Twice, actually.

The Sunshine Trick

January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Dave the Writeror, ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’.

I love the sun—in moderation. That’s why I live in the High Desert, where it shines three days out of four but is seldom too hot. I also love winter, so I don’t mind the couple feet of dry snow on the roof in February either, so long as the sun is out most days.

Some folks fear the sun. They listen to the professional Chicken Little’s on the 24/7 News Spews and hide indoors or put on ghastly, wide-brimmed hats and slather on chemical sun-block body armor to venture out under the dreadful, deadly rays.

I always find it amusing when those same people drone on in the evenings about ‘natural’ this and ‘organic’ that. I wait for them to take a breath, then chime in cheerfully about the two delightful hours I spent swimming, reading and relaxing in the sun that day. I do it just to watch them recoil in horror at my self-destructive ignorance of things like gravity and Current Media Truth. Simple pleasures.

Another small pleasure is that they’ve gone stone silent on human-caused Global Warming and even on its pathetic rebranding as Climate Change. Now, they actually talk about weather instead! The hoax is so obvious to so many that all save slavering ideologues hold their silence. And that focused silence says so much. Empty graveyards get more words of casual conversation since the fraud’s collapse into a rancid, smoldering heap over the past couple years.

Recently, I took this photo out on the coast. For some reason, that evening, a desire to know more about the sun’s energy output popped into my engineer’s brain. I also wondered what the energy use of all humanity was. And, finally, I wondered how they compared.

After ten minutes on the ‘net, I had all the numbers I needed for a rough calculation. It turns out that at the surface of the earth, the sun delivers an average of at least 25 watts each day for every square foot. And there are lots of square feet.

It also turns out that humans use a bunch of energy, around 15 terrajoules every year. That sure sounds like a Really Big Number, since the ‘terra’ part means 13 zeros after the ‘15’. But, when you compare it on a square foot basis, the fraction of human versus solar energy surprised me.

Did you know that all human endeavors, everywhere on the planet, by more than six billion people use only 1 three-millionth of what the sun delivers? ‘Lost in the noise’ would be a humongous overstatement of the comparison between miniscule Humanity and gargantuan Sol.

I’d never worked out the number before. But, now that I have, it’s not surprising that the climo-hoaxuals never mentioned it. Just like they never mention that Carbon Dioxide is only three one-hundredths of one percent of the atmosphere, while water vapor—by far a stronger greenhouse gas—is at least a hundred times more prevalent (by the way, humans and animals are around 90% water). That kind of deception is a con man’s trick as old as God’s Dog, like palming the pea in a shell game.

So, I ask myself, do I know of any other things that worry me in any way while being such a tiny part of the whole? No.

I don’t worry about anything like that except for a few very deadly poisons and some long-lived radioactive elements. And maybe Ebola. Surely, I never worry about anything as healthy, normal and natural as humans using energy to make better lives or the gas that we exhale and plants breathe.

Go outside. Enjoy some sun. Use some energy to make your life and your family’s lives better. And, for Heaven’s sake, don’t worry about it! However, you can feel free to mock the hucksters so eager to separate you from your hard-earned cash with their tattered flim-flam about the same topics.

As Abe Lincoln wisely observed,

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”    

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