Flag man of the mountains

Flag Man on North MountainI had just settled in on a flat rock atop North Mountain and bitten in to a turkey sandwich when a man marched up from the steep National Trail hoisting an American flag. It was a strange sight to see, even in this urban wilderness of Phoenix.

He said his name was Larry, and described himself as the Flag Man. He was tanned and trim. Even in what appeared to be his 50s, he looked in excellent shape and boasted of running a recent marathon.

Larry said he and a friend tended to three planted American flags on peaks in Glendale’s Thunderbird Park a dozen miles miles or so to the northwest.  That was news to me. The last time I hiked in Thunderbird there were only two flags.  So the virus of “patriotism” is apparently metastasizing.

I did not tell the Flag Man of the Mountains that I disliked his idea of being a patriot, that I thought it actually unAmerican to put up unauthroized flags atop public parks. And I also think it a desecration of Nature.  Soon Larry and his flag were off but not gone. I later saw him several times clambering the summit trail along with his flag.

Flat Man at WorkIt should be noted that, in my experience, North Mountain is hiked predominantly by Hispanics, the dark-skinned race so despised by right-wing white people who fear “the others” are taking over their country,

I had asked Larry why he paraded the flag on such neutral territory as a public park.

“God and country,” he said. “For everybody.”

Not quite everybody.





The 5 deadliest roads and me

A thank-you goes out to the travel god who protected me while  driving on five of the deadliest highways in the U.S. I realized my good forutne only recently by coming across an article in the local newspaper.

Those killer roads, in order of their deadliness:

1) Interstate 4 (Tampa to Daytona Beach). I was covering the United States Football League championship game in Tampa when one night I just started driving east, hoping to reach Cape Canaveral, This was in July 1984.

2) Interstate 25 (Dallas to Galveston) In 1973, I was working for a newspaper in Temple, Texas, and took off with the family one afternoon on a travel adventure to Houston.

3) U.S. 192 (central Florida to Cocoa on the Atlantic shoreline.  Same trip as #1.

4) Interstate 17 (Phoenix to Flagstaff). I have driven this route many, many times. The last trip on Thanksgiving Day, we lost 25 minutes due to accident just north of Anthem.  Looked bad. Drivers side crushed.

5) Interstate 95 (Maine to Florida):  The major highway along the East Coast.  We were vacationing in New England and the Maritimes, in Canada, and drove back to Boston  and survived. Circa 2010.


The only thing to believe in

In the Netflix series “Ozark” the male lead, Marty Byrde, is asked, “What do you believe in?” Marty, a well-intentioned money launderer for a drug cartel, replies, “I believe in numbers.”

I’ve often used numbers but never thought seriously about them. I was good in math up until high school when I made a choice between athletics and trig. But it seems true. Numbers make our world go round, make sense out of chaos. Sports, astronomy, politics, healthcare, travel, business, investing, you name it. Maybe even religion. On the 7th day God rested.

The problem with numbers, though, is this.  Are they the right numbers? If you take a fake news figure that 80% of Americans support Donald Trump when the truth is 30%, then you are out on the wrong side of a limb with a saw.

But, since I’m headed for a significant birthday next year, I am going to make a resolution. I’m going to try to emulate Marty Byrde.  Numbers are the only things to believe in.


“Brodie Mansion”

The boyhood home of A. O. Brodie, aka the Brodie Mansion.

I had hoped to eventually get back to Edwards, NY, and find the “Brodie Mansion” that eluded me four years ago. The opportunity arose earlier this month during our second visit to Lake Placid and Adirondacks Park, upstate New York.

The boyhood home of Alexander Oswald Brodie was important but not key to my research on the Walnut Grove Dam Disaster of 1890 in Arizona Territory.  Brodie, a West Pointer and a former Army officer who fought the Apaches, was chief engineer at the dam the night it broke and sent a flood of water downstream to kill dozens of workers in a camp along the Hassayampa River. He did not design the dam or build it and was never held responsible for its failure.  Not that it was essential to my story but Brodie had later served as territorial governor of Arizona, 1902-1905.

We were in the Adirondacks primarily to hike.  But when Sunday, September 3, turned rainy, we decided to travel the 87 miles W to tiny Edwards, population 1,156, just outside the Park.

I had a better idea this time where the home was located.  Thomas Freeman of Edwards had sent me a note describing it and where I would find it.  He should know. His family had owned the “mansion” since the 1880s, he said.

A first stab at a house up Talcville Road seemed a fit, but the owner said it was not the place I was looking for.  But he knew exactly where the “Brodie Mansion” rested.  With his information, we steered north on Gouverneur Road driving toward town,  At one point I looked west and there it was, about 150 yards off the road.  Painted white, four-pillars.  Had to be.

A few vehicles were parked in the driveway as we approached.  I got out of the car and yelled, “Anybody here?”  A man came to the door.  It appeared he was remodeling a room in the interior.  He said it was OK to shoot some photos of the exterior but we couldn’t come inside.  His name was Fuller, I think.  His mother was a “Freeman,” he said.

The man didn’t seem to know much about Brodie.  He seemed surprised when I told him that “Colonel Brodie” was a friend of Teddy Roosevelt and had fought as a Rough Rider with him in the Spanish American War.

It appeared the Brodie family of the 19th Century had been well off.  It was a beautiful site with the languid Osegatchie River behind it, on its way to the St. Lawrence.

I shot three of four photos and we left,  Satisfied at last.







Glen Campbell in the Old Sod

Nebra waiting on concert time, with me.

Glen Campbell died today, and I was glad to have seen him perform in person one time, in Ireland no less in 2006.

I had bought tickets for Nebra and me for the Midlands Music Festival primarily to let my favorite singer, Van Morrison, mesmerize me again, only this time in his native land.  I didn’t even realize then Campbell was on a card with Don McLean and the headliner, Dwight Yoakam.

We were on our way back toward Dublin from the West Country and had stayed the previous night in a B&B at rainy Mullingar, about 25 miles distant. The rain faded, and the next afternoon we drove up in the rental car to the festival site at Ballinlough Castle as sun broke through clouds.

It was surreally beautiful.

The 17th Century castle stretches out on a rural hilltop overlooking two lakes with the stage on the slope. I recall seeing some colorful clothing hanging out to dry in a castle window as we swilled a few beers (photo) and waited. Only a few thousand hard-core fans showed up defying the prospects of more rain, most laying out like us on blankets spread in the summer grass.

Campbell was not at his best that day. Alzheimer’s had already started its dirty work on his mind. His daughter, Ashley, sang at his side, raising her voice when he stumbled over the words or sang off key. I remember thinking it was an embarrassing performance.

But now 11 years later, I don’t care so much about the quality.

It was a great moment to see Campbell fighting to do what he no doubt loved, and doing it in front of a crowd, even if they were mostly Irish..

Yes, that, and realizing the tragedy that was unfolding.

A mystery solved

In the summer of 2013 on our way to the Adirondacks, we drove east of Canton, NY, to Saranac Lake.  At the small town of Edwards we stopped briefly to search for the childhood home of Alexander Brodie.

I wrote about  it on September 8 of that year, “A village, graves and an old house.”  Brodie was a former army officer, a territorial governor out here in Arizona and rode with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.

I was armed only with a hand-drawn map of where to look.  The map indicated to drive west of Edwards a short distance, past a cellphone tower and the house was there by a pine tree.  I published a photo of the place above a cut-line that read,  “I believe this might be the old Brodie family home.”  It wasn’t.

I received this message today from Thomas Freeman of Edwards:

“Hello there, I wanted to let you know, that my family, The Freeman’s of Edwards have owned the Brodie Mansion since the 1880’s. The house you photographed is unfortunately not the “Brodie Mansion”. You were however close. Had you continued out from town on that same road, past the cell tower on your right at the bottom of the hill, the Brodie Mansion sits far back from the road with a two story pillared porch, it is quite a grand structure. The house is painted white.”

I wrote Mr. Freeman a short reply, thanking him for clearing up the issue.  Mystery solved.  I hope to take another crack at finding the “Brodie Mansion” the next time I’m in the area.


33 hours before Xmas

Our tree, ready for gifts.
Our tree, ready for gifts.

It is now less than two days before Christmas and I have done zero shopping.  I have the time to shop.  Plenty of time.  But I put it off as long as I can.

I’m averse to a lot of things about the season to be jolly. It’s what most people usually say before heading out on a spree. Jammed parking lots, commercialization, rude people scurrying around stores.

But, if I’m honest, the main reason I so hate shopping is that I’m afraid I will disappoint someone.  A gift that does not measure up,  If I see a glimmer of sadness in their eyes, really, how can I live with that?  That’s one thing I’ve learned.  Hand someone a gift and don’t look them in the eyes.

Nebra and I made an agreement this year.  We would cut back severely on gifts.  Possibly not even buying anything.

But how many times have I heard, “Oh, don’t buy me anything this year. I have everything I need.”  Then when you don’t they’re distraught.  “He should have known I didn’t mean it.”  You can see the rage building.  It will come back to haunt you.

Empty stockings, bubbling with expectancy.
Empty stockings, bubbling with expectancy.

We do have a tree.  Already a few gifts lay beneath it but they are from family and friends.

One thing makes me believe Nebra is not with the program. Several days ago she placed two Santa stockings above the fireplace, one for me and one for her.

Those empty stockings, I think, are filled with hope, with expectancy.  Maybe Nebra thinks it will be Santa, and not me, that drops something in there.

For sure I best go out soon to buy something.  Anything at this point will do.  I am not yet desperate.  That would come tomorrow.

If I could blow up Christmas, I would.