THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

December 11, 2020


Our granddaughters gave us Netflix this past Christmas.  Netflix was their present to us.  Little did we know that a pandemic was coming requiring, to be safe, hours of time left to do whatever.  I was able to work at home for my best customer and that really saved the day.  Also, I painted every inch of molding, baseboard, and door in our house.  Also, trimmed out all of our windows and painted them.  Took several weeks, but time I had.  In the evening hours, after the six thirty news, we watched the “tele”: Netflix: Outlander, Versailles, Schitt’s Creek, Homeland, Ozark, and the latest, The Queen’s Gambit.  This wonderful, seven-episode, one-season production was without a doubt the very best.  The Queen’s Gambit one of many possibilities for a winning game in chess.  Let’s take a look. 

The Queen’s Gambit is the chess opening that starts with the moves: 1. d4 d5. … It is traditionally described as a gambit because White appears to sacrifice the c-pawn; however, this could be considered a misnomer as Black cannot retain the pawn without incurring a disadvantage.

The objective of the queen’s gambit is to temporarily sacrifice a pawn to gain control of the center of the board.  If black accepts the gambit 2…dxc4 white should reply 3. e3 which not only gives the d4 pawn an extra defender but also frees up the bishop to attack and regain the pawn. Black will have a hard time holding onto the pawn after 3…b5 4. a4 c6 5. axb5 cxb5 6. Qf3. In the Queen’s Gambit accepted line, white is able to gain a center presence, good attacking chances and his pawn on d4 threatens to advance. Black will have to concede his pawn on c4 and focus on counter attacking white’s advances. This is why the queen’s gambit is not considered to be a true gambit. There are many different variations for black if they choose to decline the gambit.  This is one of the most popular openings because of its attacking prowess. White will be attacking and it will be up to black to defend correctly. If you enjoy putting constant pressure on your opponent, then the queen’s gambit is a perfect opening for you.

THE SERIES:

From Variety Magazine and from Caroline Framke, we see the following description: In order to be a truly great chess player — not just a good one, but one of the greats — you need to possess a canny combination of concentration, acuity, and nerve. What seems like a simple board of 64 squares quickly becomes a battlefield; the key to winning the ensuing fight is being able to analyze and anticipate an opponent’s moves without your face betraying a single calculation. Chess is such a mentally punishing, esoteric game — which makes it extremely hard to portray onscreen with half the thrill it might have in reality, especially if the viewer doesn’t know all the rules (and chances are, you don’t). But “The Queen’s Gambit” manages to personalize the game and its players thanks to clever storytelling and, in Anya Taylor-Joy, a lead actor so magnetic that when she stares down the camera lens, her flinty glare threatens to cut right through it. Most crucially, the series uses chess as its engine for a more complicated narrative about female genius, the allure of addiction and the gift of autonomy. 

I cannot agree more—Anya Taylor-Joy was a real joy to watch in the portrayal of Elizabeth Harmon. (Pardon the pun.)  The story begins when Beth, a nine (9) year old little girl loses here mother in a tragic automobile accident.  Her mother is a very troubled PhD, a brilliant mathematician but a very unstable genius.  Beth is forced to go live in an orphanage.  Her biological father left the family because he could not live with Beth’s mother. He moved on. 

The story actually begins in Lexington, Kentucky in the mid-fifties after Beth is taken to the orphanage.  She is disciplined by one of the teachers and is required to take erasers from the chalkboard downstairs and clean them.  She discovers the custodian, Mr. Shaibel, is sitting at a table with a chessboard and all the pieces playing both sides of the board.  Beth has never heard of chess much less played the game.  Her interest was immediately piqued.   Mr. Shaibel, after some harassing by Beth, agrees to teach her the game.  He eventually discovered that she was an absolute prodigy and discovered a genius that was very difficult to dismiss.   There was one problem,   as was common during the 1950s, the orphanage dispenses daily tranquilizer pills to the children which turned into an addiction for Beth. She quickly becomes a strong chess player due to her visualization skills, which are enhanced by the tranquilizers. A few years later, Beth is adopted by Alma Wheatley and her husband from Lexington. As she adjusts to her new home, Beth enters a chess tournament and wins despite having no prior experience in competitive chess. She develops friendships with several people, including former Kentucky state champion Harry Beltik; a very gifted but arrogant chess prodigy Benny Watts and journalist, photographer and fellow player D.L. Townes. As Beth continues to win games and reaps the financial benefits of her success, she becomes more dependent on alcohol and other drugs.  The story takes us around the United States, Western Europe and finally, Russia for the world’s most prestigious chess tournament where she must play several grand masters. 

The cast of characters is as follows:

  • Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, an orphan who matures into a competitive young adult fueled by a desire to become the greatest chess player in the world while masking a growing addiction to the drugs and alcohol that allow her to function.
    • Isla Johnston as young Beth
    • Annabeth Kelly as five-year-old Beth
  • Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel, the custodian at the Methuen Home for Girls and an experienced chess player who teaches Beth how to play the game.
  • Moses Ingram as Jolene, a rebellious teenage girl at the Methuen Home who becomes Beth’s closest childhood friend.
  • Christiane Seidel as Helen Deardorff, director of Methuen Home for Girls.
  • Rebecca Root as Miss Lonsdale, the chaplain and choir director at Methuen.
  • Chloe Pirrie as Alice Harmon, Beth’s deceased mother who earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at Cornell University before experiencing a downward spiral in her mental health.
  • Akemnji Ndifornyen as Mr. Fergusson, the orderly at Methuen, who among other roles administers state-mandated pills to the girls.
  • Marielle Heller as Alma Wheatley, who with her husband Allston adopts Beth as a young teenager and later acts as a manager for Beth’s chess career. Alma’s biological child died sometime before Beth’s adoption, and she develops a worsening alcoholism that begins to influence Beth.
  • Harry Melling as Harry Beltik, a state champion player Beth defeats in her first tournament and later befriends.
  • Patrick Kennedy as Allston Wheatley, Alma’s husband and Beth’s estranged adoptive father.
  • Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Townes, a fellow chess player for whom Beth develops an unrequited love.
  • Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts, a brash young man who is the reigning United States chess champion and one of Beth’s most challenging competitors, later a mentor and friend.
  • Marcin Dorociński as Vasily Borgov, the current Soviet-Russian world champion chess player and Beth’s strongest competitor.

The cast is absolutely superlative.  They work extremely well together to portray a young lady with definite emotional problems, exacerbated by tranquilizers and booze, but who becomes a grand master herself.  At the age of twenty (20), she defeats Vasily Borgov to become the world’s greatest chess master.  YOU MUST WATCH THIS SHORT SERIES.  It is uplifting with a fascinating plot. 

OUTLANDER

July 22, 2020


The book “Outlander” is the first in an eight-book series written by Ms. Diana Gabaldon.  My wife and I luckily stumbled upon the NETFLIX series some time ago, trying desperately to keep occupied during the COVID-19 “lockdown”.  We also grew extremely weary with horrible news on just about every aspect of modern-day life in America including the pandemic.  We were hoping NETFLIX might provide some form of relief, if not comic relief.  We were not disappointed in the least.

My grandfather always told me to put my money on the jockey and not the race horse.  With this being the case, let’s look at the author of Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon.

DIANA GABALDON:

She was born on January 11 in 1952 in Arizona, where she grew up with her sister and parents.

She was the founding editor of Science Software Quarterly in 1984 while employed at the Center for Environmental Studies at Arizona State University. During her time there, Diana wrote a number of software reviews and technical articles as well as popular-science articles and comic books for Walt Disney. Diana was also a professor with an expertise in scientific compilation at the same university for over a decade – a job she later left to write full-time.

Mrs. Gabaldon is married with three children, one being a son who is also a fantasy writer and is well known for writing Aeons’ Gate series.  The apple does not fall far from the tree.

She began writing Outlander in 1988 – without telling her husband – after seeing a rerun episode of Doctor Who which was titled The War Games.

One of the Doctor’s companions, a Scot from 1745, provided the initial inspiration for her main male character James Fraser and for the novel’s mid-18trh century Scotland setting.

But Diana Gabaldon has also revealed that her husband also served for inspiration for her leading man Jamie.

The author was introduced to literary agent Perry Knowlton after she posted an excerpt from the unfinished Outlander online. From there she went on to sign a deal for a trilogy – later to become a nine book long series.

The first book was published in 1991, and went on to sell more than twenty-eight (28) million copies and has been translated into thirty-nine (39) languages.

But did you know that the book was published under the name Cross Stitch in the UK? American publishers changed the name to Outlander in the US to make the novel sound more exciting.

When her second novel was finished, Diana Gabaldon quit her job at Arizona State University to become a full-time writer.  With the success she has had, who would blame her?

THE BOOK:

The heroine of the book is Mrs. Claire Randall and throughout the book she is forced to lead a double life.  She has a husband in one century and a husband living two hundred (200) years in the past.  The book is classified as science fiction for this reason.  There are other books written about time travel but this one, in my opinion, is one of the very best because the history of Scotland during that time period, the location of certain structures, the Highland landscape, certain kings and rulers, and the medical profession are very real and accurately portrayed.  I would frequently go online to look up events and places named in the book to see if they were fact or fiction. There was an ample sprinkling of both which made the book even more enjoyable.

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband for a second honeymoon.  Claire and Frank Randall were married only two (2) years before the outbreak of WWII.  Frank was an intelligence officer for England during the war and Claire was a nurse primarily stationed in what we would call a MASH unit in France.  After the war, they decided to take a second honeymoon.  While visiting the Scottish Highlands, she innocently touches a boulder in one ancient stone circle that populate the British Isles.  Suddenly, she is a Sassenach-an “outlander”- in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans.  This occurs in 1743.   She is hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand at all.  Her destiny is soon inextricably intertwined with the Clan MacKenzie.  The clan is located at Castle Leoch.  She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life.  This is where she meets James or Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior.  That’s about all it takes for the passion of their relationship to tear her between the fidelity of her husband in the 19th century and the dashing warrior living in 1743. Frank Randall is a college professor and Jamie Fraser is a warrior. Two very differing personality types. Frank is reserved and greatly conservative and Jamie is “damn the torpedoes-full steam ahead”.

CONCLUSION:

This is a fascinating book BUT, it’s a long read. Six hundred and twenty-seven (627) pages, because of the detail Mrs. Gabaldon puts into each chapter and paragraph.  She uses details like Leonardo described and sketched the human body.  Very precise.  She takes her time.  I can certainly recommend “Outlander” and I can promise I will read all books in the series, if nothing else, to see how closely they compare with the NETFLIX presentation.  GREAT READ.

WORDS MATTER

June 1, 2020


We all know that words matter.  What we say and what we think really do effect people in a multitude of ways.  Washington Irving said, “ A tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use.”  Robert M. Helsel said,” He who dares to speak with a razor sharp tongue, shall in end, bare the final scar.”  Well, I think we can all agree that being overly critical and unkind can produce real issues between the speaker and the recipient. 

If that is the case, how about those times when we just do not get the message correct.  We know what we mean but it just does not come out as intended.  We all do it at times. 

I have examples below showing the brighter side of providing a “mixed-message”.  These are actual statements written to deliver information and content.  Church Bloopers, if you will.  Let’s take a look.

  • Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled.  Proceeds will be used  to cripple children.
  • The outreach committee has enlisted twenty-five visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
  • The Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10:00. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B.S. is done.
  • Low self-esteem support group will meet Thursday at 7:00 to 8:00 P.M. Please use the back door.
  • For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
  • The pastor will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing, “Break Forth into Joy”.
  • Miss Carlene Mason sang, “I will not pass this way again, giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
  • Ladies don’t forget the rummage sale. It is a good chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house.  Bring your husbands.
  • The sermon this morning: Jesus Walks on Water.  The sermon tonight: Searching for Jesus.
  • Next Thursday, there will be tryouts for the choir.  They need all the help they can get.
  • Barbara C. remains in the hospital and needs blood donors for more transfusions.  She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Jack’s sermons.
  • The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind and they may be seen in the church basement Friday.
  • This afternoon there will be a meeting in the north and south ends of the church.  Children will be baptized at both ends.
  • Weight Watchers will meet at 7:00 P.M. Please use the large double door at the side entrance.

Care must always be taken to say what we mean and mean what we say in a fashion that is straight forward, concise, and meaningful.  “I’m saying the obvious”.

JASON MATTHEWS

January 26, 2020


If you have read any of my posts you know I believe that every writer MUST be a voracious reader.  I truly believe that.  Becoming an effective writer, and I’m admittedly far from that rarified position, necessitates one becoming obsessed with examining the work of proficient writers.  I believe it’s a must.  With that in mind, I have found an incredible “wordsmith” in Jason Matthews.  I have read all three of his books: “Red Sparrow”, “Palace of Treason” and “The Kremlin’s Candidate”.  All three marvelous reads.

Jason Matthews is a retired spy but doesn’t look like one. He more nearly resembles a high school principal: calm, patient, a little bland. The only clues to his former occupation — thirty-three (33) years with the C.I.A. — are his uncanny peripheral vision and his occasional use of terms like “ops” and “intel.”

Mr. Matthews, who is sixty-three (63) years old, is also a novelist, one in a long line of real-life spies who have written spy thrillers. The tradition goes back at least to Erskine Childers, the Irish nationalist and gun smuggler who wrote the 1903 thriller “The Riddle of the Sands,” and includes Ian Fleming, John le Carré, Stella Rimington, Charles McCarry and even E. Howard Hunt, more famous for Watergate, who all reaped great fictional dividends from the Cold War.

Mr. Matthews said he got into novel writing as “therapy.” “Being in the Agency is a very experiential career, like being a policeman or a fireman or a jet pilot, and when it stops, it really stops,” he said. “There are retiree groups that get together, mostly in Washington, and sit around and swap war stories, but I was living in California, and it was either write something or go fishing.”

He was not a trained writer, he said, but he went to journalism school before being hired by the C.I.A., and a great deal of his work there consisted of writing cables and reports. He added: “A lot of new thrillers are written by people who have not lived the life, and a lot of them seem to be about a bipolar Agency guy, helped by his bipolar girlfriend, trying to chase a bipolar terrorist who has a briefcase nuke, and there’s twelve (12) hours left to go. My book is all fiction, but it’s an amalgam of people I’ve known, of things I’ve done, of stuff I’ve lived.”

Talking about the old-fashioned kind of tradecraft in “Palace of Treason,” he said, “I guess it’s a reflection of my age and my generation in the Agency, and a reaffirmation that in spite of all the gadgets, it’s still about two people. It’s called humint for a reason — it’s human intelligence — and the only thing that can do humint is humans.”

 All of his novels are set in contemporary Russia, where a pajama-clad Vladimir Putin even turns up in a character’s bedroom, but like the earlier novel, it’s old school. While there are a couple of James Bondian touches, like a pistol that looks like a tube of lipstick, the main characters — Dominika Egorova, a Russian agent secretly working for the United States, and Nate Nash, her C.I.A. lover and handler — depend mostly on traditional tradecraft. They spend a lot of time walking around and trying to avoid being followed. 

I found all three books to be extremely engaging.  Matthews is apparently at home in Paris, Rome, Moscow, Helsinki, Istanbul, London, Rio, Khartoum, and other cities an ex-spy might frequent or serve in.  He seems to have great knowledge of weapons and weapon systems used by the CIA and the “spooks” in the Russia. 

One thing that became apparent very quickly—Russia is not our friend and has never been considered by the CIA to have been our friend.  President Putin is portrayed as being a cold-blooded cutthroat out to enrich himself and above all, protect mother Russia.   I have a feeling this is an accurate assessment of Putin.

I can strongly recommend you take look at Mr. Matthew’s books starting with “Red Sparrow”.  That’s the firs in the trilogy and the one you need to set the pace for number two and number 3.

RED SPARROW

January 5, 2020


If you LOVE spy vs spy, you will absolutely love Red Sparrow.  A book written by Jason Matthews.  Jason Matthews is a retired officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in a clandestine collection of national security intelli­gence, specializing in denied-area operations. Matthews conducted recruitment operations against Soviet–East European, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean targets. As Chief in various CIA Stations, he collaborated with foreign partners in counterproliferation and counterterrorism operations. He is the author of Red SparrowPalace of Treason, and The Kremlin’s Candidate. He lives in Southern California. In other words, Mr. Matthews know whereof he speaks. 

The heroin of the book is a Russian young lady named Dominika Egorova.  Ms. Egorova is driven by her anger at the unjustness of the Russian system to become a double agent working for the CIA.  She yearned to be seen as an intelligent person with capabilities beyond her beauty and physical attractiveness. Dominika believed the Americans saw her worth and would treat her fairly where the Russians had not. Feeling used as a pawn by the Americans in a plan to replace a long-time double agent and rejected by her handler and lover Nathaniel “Nate” Nash, Dominika considered leaving her life as a spy. A violent twist at the end of the novel demonstrated the Russians’ lack of loyalty and trustworthiness and leaves the reader wondering if Dominika will reconsider her claim that she will cut ties with the Americans.

One very interesting fact—Ms. Egorova was diagnosed with synesthesia, a condition in which she could see music, words and even people’s emotions and intentions as colors. Dominika had a promising career in ballet. Her condition allowed her to follow the colors produced by the music as she danced. Shortly before an audition for the Bolshoi troupe, a jealous classmate arranged for Dominika to be injured in an accident. Dominika’s foot was broken and her career as a dancer ended. Shortly afterward, Dominika’s father died from a stroke. It was at her father’s funeral that her uncle, Vanya Egorova, proposed that she do a job for him for Russia’s secret service. He promised to take care of her mother if she cooperated.  Her mother was living in housing providing by the Russian government.  Dominika had no choice but to comply with her uncle’s wishes if she wanted to keep her widowed mother in government housing.  This leverage was used throughout the book. 

When Dominika suggested that she be sent to the SVR academy, it was deemed the perfect solution. Dominika finished her courses at the top of her class and was looking forward to a distinguished career as an officer, but her uncle instead informed her she would be going to Sparrow School. The school taught women how to seduce men in order to arrest them or elicit information from them. From that point forward, Dominika was seen by the men in the department only as a tool that could be used to seduce and draw in the men they hoped to recruit. One team leader even ruined a recruitment on which Dominika was working because she insisted she could recruit the man without the use of sex.

I absolutely loved the book.  It’s fast-moving with twists and turns that a non-CIA guy like myself certainly appreciate.  I do NOT feel it is predictable in the least although there were points in the book that were somewhat slower than others.  There are no car chases, plane crashes, mass murders, etc.  I would have liked more descriptive information relative to the incarceration Dominika experienced while in the hands of her Russian captors, the people sworn to protect her.  The Russian “spooks” really come off as terrible people interested only in advancing their own careers and providing information relative to CIA activities.   Dominika is frequently torn between hatred of the system and contributing to “mother Russia”.  

You are going to love this book, which is the first in the trilogy.  Red Sparrow, Place of Treason, and The Kremlin’s Candidate are the books in the series.  Great read. 

HEAD OF THE HOOCH

November 2, 2019


If you have read any of my posts you know I feel that every city should and must provide exciting activities for its citizens.  Give them something to do. Give them a reason to come downtown. Provide entertainment where there was previously none.  Chattanooga, Tennessee is remarkable in doing just that. 

This Saturday and event called “Head of the Hooch” was held at Ross’s Landing.  Let’s take a look.

Ross’s Landing was named after Chief John Ross.  John Ross was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian and settled on the banks of the Tennessee River.  His settlement was first called Ross’s Landing and later renamed Chattanooga.  If you look closely, you can see the name written in the Cherokee language.

HEAD OF THE HOOCH:

The Head of the Chattahoochee is a wonderful rowing regatta held in Chattanooga, TN every year on the first Saturday and Sunday of November.

It is one of the world’s largest rowing regattas, with two thousand (2,000+) boats racing over two days.  More than nine thousand (9,000) seats are rowed. Twelve hundred (1,200) boats compete on Saturday alone, more in one day than any other regatta. Participants come from over two hundred (200) different organizations and in 2012 the regatta welcomed crews from twenty-seven (27) different states. The Head of the Hooch has seen a growth in entries from other countries.  The regatta has hosted teams from Canada, Germany, Sweden and Australia.

The Head of the Hooch has been recognized by national magazines as the regatta to attend: the weather is generally wonderful this time of year, the city is great and the racing has the largest number of entries per event of any major regatta. The regatta is organized and hosted by the Atlanta Rowing Club, Roswell, GA and Lookout Rowing Club, Chattanooga, TN.

RACE DETAILS:

The regatta is a head race – competitors row a five thousand (5,000)-meter (3.1 mile) course on the Tennessee River ending at the landing.   In this form of racing all boats start sequentially by event and race against the clock.

The Head of the Hooch encourages all participating organizations/schools/clubs to be members of the US Rowing Association.  One of our grandsons is a rower for his school.  He is a member of an eight-man team.

HISTORY:

The Head of the Hooch, also known as the Head of the Chattahoochee and ‘The Last of the Great Fall Regattas’, was run for the first time in 1982 by the Atlanta Rowing Club.  The first year there were two hundred and twenty-five 225 rowers filling one hundred and five (105) boats.  For sixteen (16) years the regatta has taken place on the Chattahoochee River in the Roswell River Park located in Roswell GA. In 1997 the regatta had outgrown the park.  From 1997-2004 the regatta has been held at the 1996 Olympic rowing venue in Gainesville GA.  The course there was located on the upper part of the Chattahoochee River.

THE NUMBERS:

In 2005, due to the large increases in entries each year, the regatta moved to the Chattanooga Ross’s Landing Riverfront venue. The venue and city have the capability to accommodate the continuous increase in rowers and spectators each year. Each year since 2005 The Hooch and the City of Chattanooga have welcomed over six thousand (6000) rowers and more than fifteen thousand (15,000) spectators.  Of course, you must have hotel and restaurant accommodations to host fifteen thousand spectator and team participants.  That is one reason the event managers moved to Chattanooga.

The Hooch is a unique event.  It attracts athletes, family, alumni, local residents and those who travel to attend. It combines a rowing regatta, arts market and the close proximity of the Tennessee Aquarium, the Discovery Museum and Hunter Art Museum all within walking distance of the venue.  Many hotels and restaurants are right in the downtown close to the venue.  In all, a perfect match.

As the Hooch moves through its third decade, its director and committee members continue to improve, grow and enhance the regatta that started as a small event on a Saturday many years ago.

In 2015, the Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee estimated the economic impact of the Hooch over 5 million dollars. That year the Head of the Hooch raced 1256 boats (37 events) on Saturday and 862 boats (43 events) on Sunday. Almost 80% of the competitors are High School/College crews.

LET’S TAKE A LOOK:

OK, with that said, let’s take a look at Saturday’s event.

You can get some idea as to the arrangement from the JPEG above.  This picture was taken from the Walnut Street Bridge.  This bridge is a walking bridge” allowing runners and walker access to the North Shore of the City.  You can see one of the boats in the Tennessee River.

The Hunter Museum of Art is very prominent as seen from the Walnut Street Bridge and served as one parking lot for the visitors to the event.

You can get some idea as to the number of visitors from the following picture taken on the Walnut Street Bridge.

The fifteen thousand spectators came to see their favorite teams participate so the men and women in the event had to have stations from which to start. You can see how these were positioned along the landing

This digital is taken from the stands at Ross’s Landing looking north towards Coolidge Park and the North Shore area.

As mentioned, the crowds were tremendous for the event.  One reason—remarkable weather. The seating was marvelous and plentiful.

I certainly hope you can visit Chattanooga to take in this event.  You will not regret the visit.

OREGON COASTLINE

October 19, 2019


The Oregon Coast Trail winds through smooth sandy shore, seaside cliffs, and Sitka spruce forests for almost four hundred (400) miles. From the mouth of the Columbia River to the California state line, this work in progress samples state parks, national forests, public beaches, and small coastal towns. Half the time there’s no trail at all, as the route traverses open sand shoreline. Get to know the lay of the land and the ways of the locals on this unconventional Oregon trek. 

Officially, the Oregon Coast Trail is three hundred and eighty-two (382) miles long, but the actual distance varies depending on how you choose to hike it. If you ferry across major bays and rivers, you can shave off about fifty (50) miles, mostly along road shoulders.

Several very interesting facts about the coast are as follows:

• Oregon offers shoppers the benefit of NO SALES TAX

 • Seventy-nine (79) State Parks – Ranging in size from large parks with camping, hiking trails, and beaches to small waysides with picnic tables and great views

 • Eleven (11) Lighthouses – Nine (9) are Historic Lighthouses, seven (7) of which are open to the public. The two (2) remaining lighthouses are private aids to navigation

• Eleven (11) Conde B. McCullough-designed Bridges – recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places

 • Cranberries – a major agricultural crop in the Bandon and Port Orford areas.  (Thought this was fascinating.)

OK, let’s now take the very brief pictorial trip my wife and I took several days ago.

You will get an idea as to the very rugged coast line from the picture below.  Steep cliffs, rugged shore line and driftwood-laden beaches.

In some areas along the coast the beaches are very wide and welcoming.  This is ideal for surfers and the occasional swimmer.

The hills to the east of the beaches are rarely higher than one thousand (1000) feet but due to the cliffs along the beach they appear to be much higher.

Notice the trees and foliage growing from the edge of the sandy beach to the top of the hills.  The trees are for the most part spruce or fir trees.

The digital below is taken from one of the seventy-nine (79) state parks along the way from north to south.  We are early risers so we got to the part about 0830 in the morning just as the fog was beginning to dissipate.

As mentioned earlier, there are eleven (11) lighthouses along the coast line.  Most are not operational but their beauty is obvious, especially against an October sky.

Do you like fish—really fresh caught this morning fish?  The coast of Oregon is the place to visit.  There are many, many boat docks along the coast.  We arrived at the dock shown below approximately noon one day to discover they had been to sea early in the morning, returned, disposed of their catch and were done for the day.  We also discovered the fish we were eating at lunch had been caught that very same morning. 

If you are looking for a place to visit with your family, I can definitely recommend the coast of Oregon.  Marvelous trip.  Think about it.

WINE

July 18, 2019


Okay, when you think of wine, I mean the good stuff, what country or countries do you automatically think of?  Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Argentina.  In looking at available data, we may see the following pie chart indicating the top ten (10) wine-growing countries in the world.

I do not think there are any real surprises here.

The chart below will help quantify amounts.  (NOTE: 1 Hectare is equivalent to 2.47105 acres.)  I was surprised that the United States constitutes a large wine-growing country and is fourth on the list.

For the past week and one-half my wife and I visited our family in Austin and Dallas.  Our son and daughter-in-law purchased property in the Johnson City area, and we were there for a brief visit.  During that visit, we scheduled two wine-tasting events during the first afternoon.  I was very much surprised at the quality of the wine and certainly did not know that much about grape growing and wine production in the hill country of Texas.  Let’s take a look.

TEXAS HILL COUNTRY WINERIES:

Texas Hill Country Wineries is a non-profit trade association, established in 1999 by a group of eight (8) wineries to promote their tasting rooms and wine production. Over the years the group of eight (8) grew to sixteen (16), twenty-four (24), thirty-two (32), forty-two (42) and now over fifty (50). The purpose of the association is to promote the development of member wineries by promoting Hill Country produced wines thereby; increasing the number of visitors and overall awareness of the industry. There is a diversity of passion in the personalities of the many member wineries, cultivating a spectacular experience for the adventurous visitors and wine lovers to share unparalleled hospitality. The community of Texas Hill Country Wineries presents the independent origins of the craft while promoting the winery membership.

To increase traffic to the tasting rooms, the membership created five (5) unique wine trails throughout the year. To this day THCW still hosts four (4) of those original events, including Wine Lovers Celebration, Wine & Wildflower Journey, Texas Wine Month Passport and the Christmas Wine Affair. These events are self-guided driving tours, with wineries offering tastings and discounts. Along the way, you might meet winemakers and owners, hearing first-hand their enthusiasm for what they do. The events are also a chance to enjoy legendary Hill Country musicians, artists, chefs and entertainers of all kinds.

THCW has grown with more than just winery members and trail events. Industry education events focused on growing grapes in Texas, winemaking, marketing and overall business are hosted throughout the year to support Texas wineries across the state. In 2015, a scholarship fund was created with a portion of event ticket sales and profits to award Texas students working towards a degree supporting the wine industry. Over the past few years, approximately $27,000 has been awarded and the program is thriving. A Board of seven (7) THCW members, with the support of the Grower, Winemaker, Marketing, Events, Legislative and Community Outreach Committees, oversee all planning and operations for the association, making all of the events, scholarships and more possible for members.

We now are going to take a tour of the two wineries we visited during that day.

LEWIS WINERY:

Lewis Wines is located in Johnson City and is owned by Doug Lewis and Duncan McNabb. Both Doug and Duncan handle all the winemaking, sales, etc. The winery opened February 2013. Doug and Duncan were roommates in college and have been friends since. Doug worked at Pedernales Cellars helping winemaking, harvesting, and anything else which needed doing. Duncan would also help out too. They started making a few barrels of wine at Pedernales to learn the craft of winemaking, and in 2011 they started thinking about making commercial wine. Thus, the hatching of the idea of Lewis Wines began.

The digital below shows the entrance to the Lewis Winery.

The pavilion where the tasting occurred is given below.  As you can see, plenty of space with a covered pavilion.  You can see some of the acreage in the background.

The wine is served up from the “tasting bar” inside the facility and as you can see, it is well-equipped

We were served four (4) wines from the menu given below.  Also, there were meat, fruit, jellies and cheese trays ordered to accompany the wines.

WILLIAM CHRIS WINERY:

The William Chris Winery was approximately eight (8) miles from the Lewis Winery.  The tasting here was all outside but under a covered area as you will see from the pictures below.  The entrance to the facility is shown in the first digital.

When you go around the corner you see the path to the actual tasting area.

You can get some idea as to the size of the vineyard from the area below.  This area is used for a great many events such as weddings, graduation ceremonies, birthday parties, corporate events, etc.

Owners and winemakers, Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett, sat down together at a Hill Country bar one night and discovered they shared a similar philosophy for winemaking. They believe that the way to put Texas on the map as a respected wine region is to promote wines made exclusively from Texas grown fruit.

WILLIAM ‘BILL’ BLACKMON

Bill Blackmon holds 30 years of winegrowing experience in Texas, having planted and managed several of the state’s earliest and finest vineyards in both the High Plains and the Hill Country. Beginning in the late 1970s, after graduating from Texas Tech with a degree in agriculture and economics, Bill worked with some of the early wineries in the Lubbock area. In the following decade, he planted and managed vineyards in the High Plains, including the Hunter Family Vineyard. In the 1990’s he moved to Fredericksburg to plant some of the first vineyards in the Hill Country, including the estate vineyard Willow City, Granite Hill Vineyards.

 CHRIS BRUNDRETT

Chris Brundrett has established a career in the Hill Country as one of the state’s fastest rising young winegrowers. While earning a horticulture degree from Texas A&M, Chris spent time in the Hill Country, acquiring experience in the winery and the vineyard. He then quickly proceeded to take on head winemaking responsibilities for several wine labels, managing vineyard properties in both the Hill Country and the High Plains. In 2017, Chris was honored with the Outstanding Alumni Award from Texas A&M University. The following year, Wine Enthusiast Magazine tapped him as a winemaker that is changing the face of American wine.

What began as an acquaintance as winemakers in the Hill Country became a collaboration between Bill and Chris, focusing on a shared winemaking philosophy. As the word ‘winegrowers’ implies, Bill and Chris agree that great wines are not made but grown. They also believe that wine should be inspired by the pleasure that is shared with an extended community of friends and family. The creation of each new vintage depends greatly upon these two priorities.

The next two digital pictures show just some of the vines now growing on their property.  Our server indicated that harvest is just around the corner.

I was certainly surprised as to the quality of the wine and the wide variety available.  Naturally, we came home with several bottles.  Hope you can make the visit someday.

HEAD OF THE HOOCH

November 5, 2017


It’s a wonderful thing when your city offers entertainment and events for citizens and visitors.  Chattanooga, Tennessee is famous for doing just that—things to get people downtown to enjoy all that’s available within a very short walking distance.  One such event is “Head of the Hooch”.  This two-day race is occurring right now, with Sunday being the final day of the race.

HISTORY:

The Head of the Chattahoochee is a rowing regatta held in Chattanooga, TN every year on the first Saturday and Sunday of November.

It is definitely one of the world’s largest rowing regattas, with two thousand (2,000+) boats racing over a two-day period.  More than nine thousand (9,000) seats are rowed.  Twelve hundred (1,200) boats compete on Saturday alone, more in one day than any other regatta. Participants come from over two hundred (200) different organizations. In 2012 alone, the regatta welcomed crews from twenty-seven (27) different states. The Head of the Hooch has seen a growth in entries from other countries also with teams from Canada, Germany, Sweden and Australia.

The Head of the Hooch event has been recognized by national magazines as the regatta to attend: the weather is nice; the city is great and the racing has the largest number of entries per event of any major regatta. The regatta is organized and hosted by the Atlanta Rowing Club, Roswell, GA and Lookout Rowing Club, Chattanooga, TN.

The regatta is a head race – competitors row a five thousand (5,000)-meter (3.1 mile) course on the Tennessee River ending at Ross’s Landing Park in Chattanooga. As mentioned earlier, races are typically held the first week in November.    In this form of racing all boats start sequentially by event and race against the clock.  The race course map is given as follows:

The Head of the Hooch, also known as the Head of the Chattahoochee and ‘The Last of the Great Fall Regattas’, was run for the first time in 1982 by the Atlanta Rowing Club.  The first year there were two hundred twenty-five (225) rowers filling one hundred and five (105) boats.  For sixteen (16) years the regatta took place on the Chattahoochee River in the Roswell River Park located in Roswell GA. In 1997 the regatta had outgrown the park.  From 1997-2004 the regatta was held at the 1996 Olympic rowing venue in Gainesville GA.  The course there was located on the upper part of the Chattahoochee River.

In 2005, due to the large increases in entries each year, the regatta moved to the Chattanooga Ross’s Landing Riverfront venue. The venue and city have the capability to accommodate the continuous increase in rowers and spectators each year. Each year since 2005 The Hooch and the City of Chattanooga have welcomed over six thousand (6,0000) rowers and more than fifteen thousand (15,000) spectators.  I just came from the venue and there are thousands of people on the Veteran’s Bridge, the P. R. Olgiati Bridge and stationed along the Riverfront Parkway.

watching the rowers traverse the course in the Tennessee River.

The Hooch is a unique event.  It attracts athletes, family, alumni, local residents and those who travel to attend. It combines a rowing regatta, arts market and the close proximity of the Tennessee Aquarium, the Discovery Museum and Hunter Art Museum all within walking distance of the venue.  Many hotels and restaurants are right in the downtown close to the venue.  In all, a perfect match.

 

As the Hooch moves through its third decade, its director and committee members continue to improve, grow and enhance the regatta that started as a small event on a Saturday many years ago.

In 2015, the Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee estimated the economic impact of the Hooch over five (5) million dollars. That year the Head of the Hooch raced twelve hundred fifty-six (1256) boats (37 events) on Saturday and eight hundred and sixty-two (862) boats (43 events) on Sunday. Almost eighty percent (80%) of the competitors are High School/College crews.

PROCEDURED FOR THE EVENT:

For any event of this magnitude there must be processes and procedures to maintain some semblance of order.  After all, there are winners and others who place and show.  With a multitude of categories, there must be order.  Here is a list of procedures for the participants.


ROWING TO THE START

  • Assemble your crew at least 30 minutes before your race is called.
  • Place your oars near the launch dock scheduled for your race before your race. Please check the race schedule posted at the regatta site on race day to determine which dock your race will launch from. This is typically only an issue in the mornings when both launch and recovery docks will be used for launching.
  • Pay close attention to Control Commission call to launch. Please launch when your race is called to avoid congestion at the docks.
  • Move quickly onto the dock when Dockmaster gives instructions to do so.
  • Move quickly off the dock and immediately row away from the dock so that the Tennessee River current does not push your crew back onto the dock.
  • Row to the start area with purpose. Do not delay. If prompted by Regatta Officials to move along more quickly, please comply. There is no time to wait for crews that are late to the start.
  • Start Marshals will ask you to stay pointed upstream at various stations near the start. These stations are marked by large rectangular green buoys. They are numbered so that you know which station to row to.
  • Plan to be at Buoy #1 not less than 10 minutes or more than 15 minutes before your scheduled race. Crews that arrive too early and impede (block) other crews may be subject to a penalty.
  • As you approach Buoy #1, sort yourselves out in roughly numerical order by bow number. At Buoy #1, you should be within five bow numbers of the bow numbers around you.
  • The marshal will send you in a group of 10 to the next buoy. Row immediately with all rowers on the paddle when instructed and do not wait for exact bow number order.
  • Before you are asked to bring your crew across the river and row to the start, remove warm-up gear so you are ready to race.

GET READY TO START

  • You will be sent across the river in groups of 3 to 5. Do not wait for exact bow number order; begin to row immediately when instructed.
  • Once you have crossed the river, you will be instructed to row toward the start chute in numerical order. Follow the crew in front of you by about 1 length of open water.
  • A marshal will be located about 200 meters before the start to space the crews by about 15 to 20 seconds. Crews must speed up or slow down as instructed by this Marshal. Novice crews should be particularly aware of this.
  • Crews should build to full pressure and race pace as they approach the start line. Do not catch up with or pass another boat in the chute before the start or you will be subject to a penalty.
  • The start line is set so that the start boat is located right at the red steel channel marker. This allows the start chute to be wider and avoids the possibility of hitting the red channel marker.

From the JPEG above, you can see the venue for the “Hooch”.  You are looking at the Chattanooga Riverfront Parkway with the Tennessee River to the left.  Please notice the boats stationed to the right of the digital picture.  You can see the number is significant.

 

Plenty of room for the crews to position their boats waiting to practice and for their event.

One of the best things about attending this event is ample seating to watch the crews and the race itself.

This photo is from the 2016 event. Again, the first week in November.

Not only is this a team sport, but there are contests for individuals competing against each other or against the clock.

I certainly hope you can “carve out some time” next year to join us for this terrific event.  It’s always the first of November.  (By the way, the temperature in Chattanooga right now is 76 degrees with a relative humidity of twenty percent (20%).  Not bad at all.

 

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