My Camp Cady Wildlife Area Article Will Be Out Soon

My Camp Cady Wildlife article for Outdoor California (external link) will be out soon. Here’s a sidebar they didn’t use and photographs that weren’t selected. The Camp Cady Wildlife Area, operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, is about twenty-five road miles from Barstow in the Mojave Desert of California.

This is Hunter Thompson territory, when he wrote that classic introduction to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”

You Can’t Get There From Here

This road should go through. That’s what I thought, after a treacherous length of sand almost swallowed my truck. The map I diligently printed out before my trip showed the Mojave Trail Road as the main road to Camp Cady. Problem was, the map didn’t correspond to the ground I was looking at. Almost stuck a minute before, I reversed directions once I needed four-wheel drive.

Having retreated to firm ground besides a weathered collection of mailboxes, I looked over the territory. Where was the headquarters building? A Fish and Wildlife boundary sign on an old barbed wire fence told me that I was in the neighborhood. But 1,800 acres is a big area and I couldn’t see anything resembling the 1920’s ranch compound I read about.

I warily eyed the road. Beyond the mailboxes the floor of the road collapsed into a billowy white sand. Perhaps that was sjust a rough patch? What if I tried again, this time keeping up my speed and momentum? A distant house had its driveway marked with a no trespassing sign. You don’t walk past those in the desert. I was on my own for directions. Keeping my truck in four-wheel drive I headed once more down the road.

With my wheels churning up sand like a giant egg beater, I was making good progress for a few hundred yards until the post. The large, solidly planted steel post in the center of the road. I cut my speed as there was absolutely no way around it. It was clearly put there to keep anyone from proceeding further. With no turnaround area at all, I once again threw the truck into reverse and sped out as fast as I could to the safety of the mailboxes. I made it. I later accessed Camp Cady by way of Palma Vista and Fort Cady Roads, the only recommended route.

Lessons learned. Don’t go beyond the ability of your vehicle, even if you have four-wheel drive. Call ahead to any desert destination to confirm your route and the road. Additionally, be prepared for problems. I carry a shovel, a tow rope, recovery boards, and a sturdy air compressor. Deflating your tires lets you gain more adhesion on sand. But you’ll need to air up once back on firm ground.

Again, the way to Camp Cady is accessed by way of Palma Vista Road and then Fort Cady Road. (See the map.) It can be managed by most vehicles, especially SUVs and all-wheel drive vehicles. Make sure of your directions. Follow GPS waypoints if you will, but realize that you must take the right roads in connecting those GPS dots. Stop before proceeding blindly and call the headquarters if you can’t figure how to get there. The caretaker may be out on the property, so be prepared to wait to be talked in.

Signs leading to the bad road.

The real road to the Camp Cady WA. You have to negotiate unmarked intersections. And, yes, there are streets with no names.

Arrested development in the desert. Barn from the 1920s, now a subject for architecture students.

Lovely, eh? A shot from my drone. The WA is actually a very important desert riparian habitat. You just can’t see it close up in this photo.

Okay, this photo was used in the article. But I had previously used it at this site (internal link), long before I knew they would select it. This is the Mojave Trail road, by the way, the one you do NOT want to take.

A preliminary map. Never finished. Distances are in miles between diamonds. Barstow is about twenty miles down I-15, to the West.

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Is Writer’s Block Limited to Fiction? And What Can be Done About it?

“Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.”

Is writer’s block solely limited to fiction? As a non-fiction writer I’ve never had the problem. With non-fiction there is always material to research. If you are writing about Beowulf, for example, there is always something to look up, no matter how scanty. If you don’t feel like writing you can read for a while.

With fiction, however, you are developing characters and situations from scratch, from whole cloth. I can understand why that would bog somebody down, and it is perhaps the reason I am not drawn to fiction. I’ve done a few short poems and that’s been it. I cannot imagine the effort needed to bring forth an army of people and problems to populate a work. Perhaps that’s the real reason for writer’s block: writing from scratch is hard.

Another condition I read about is an inability or lack of desire to write. This I truly do not understand. You should want to write as much as a bird wants to sing, you should effortlessly fall down into a thousand subjects, as eager to compose as any piano player wants to get to the keyboard. Or, is that desire only after years of practice? I understand not rushing to play at the beginning, after trying to learn the violin for a time. Perhaps, just perhaps, if I got past practice lessons and toward mastery, I would have felt different. I haven’t mastered writing, but the boring lessons are over.

No, with nonfiction I’ve always had something to write about, the world presents itself as a giant tableau of possibilities. Traffic signals, the way cork is harvested for bulletin boards, the design of a backpack, all of life is something to write about. It’s just finding someone to pay you for your interest that is the difficulty. Unless, of course, you are writing for yourself in which case you are truly free. (Along with your poverty.)

With a really large subject I have been stymied. The whole of a giant project is enough to be overwhelming, if something is so complex that it becomes overbearing. A project too large or overarching. Fifty thousand words on World War II. For that, I would recommend outlining, an odious chore that indeed works, breaking down the large into the small. Once completed, your outline provides a step-by-step approach to your subject, allowing you to take gentle walks toward discovery, instead of an uphill thousand mile march.

What then, should be done about writer’s block in fiction? Is it possible to do period research or something similar to at least start writing? If your writing is placed in a specific city, can you do fact-finding about that town? Can you investigate characters similar to the ones you are working on? I don’t know. But if you have battled writer’s block, I’d love to hear about your experience with it.

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I Got A Rock

My course materials came today. I’m taking an online class offered by BYU. That’s Brigham Young University for those of you outside the States. It’s Geology 101 and it is being conducted by a well thought of professor. 25 lessons in all at a university level. I’m warned the class is rigorous but I have a year to complete it. It should advance my knowledge of all things rocky and help in the writing of my new book.

Pictured below is the $160 textbook (!) and a bag of rocks and minerals with only numbers on them. No master list. I assume at some point their identities will be revealed. Or, more likely, I will have to figure them out myself.

Getting this rock and mineral collection reminded me of the classic Peanuts television movie, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” All he got was a rock.

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Book Contract Signed — Now, to The Writing

I’ve just signed a contract with Adventure Publications (external link). They’re the leading guidebook publisher in the United States. The working title is “A Beginner’s Guide to Rockhounding and Prospecting in the Southwest.”

Just what makes up the  Southwestern United States is difficult to say. There are no agreed boundaries for the region. For my book, the Southwestern United States comprises southern Utah, Southern Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, the Mojave Desert in Nevada, and the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in California. If one wants a larger area, the greater Southwest may extend to all of Nevada and Utah, this collective often known as The Desert States.

This contract came about after submitting two proposals. The first proposal contained a sample chapter written in an essay style. The working title was “Stories Behind The Stones,” a look at the people of the rock, gem, and mineral trade in the American West. My editor at Adventure liked my writing but told me immediately that their marketing people wouldn’t be able to sell it. There wouldn’t be any reason to bring it to Adventure’s acquisition committee.

The editor and I then talked about what might sell. After many e-mails, we hit on the idea of a beginner’s guide to rockhounding in the Southwest. I then wrote an entirely new proposal. My new sample chapter was written in guidebook style, a complete departure from the essay style I had used before. No more “I’s”, “You’s” or “We’s”. No personal story telling. A rather detached way of writing. Instead of writing, “You should remember this,” guidebook style might read, “The prospector should remember this.” Or simply, “Remember this.”

I also developed a very long table of contents, almost an outline. This was excellent practice for me as it crystallized my thoughts about the book; it gave all my floating ideas a place to land on paper. It now serves as a blueprint for the book.

I’ll write more about my book writing experience as the months go on. My deadline to furnish a complete MS isn’t until mid- 2019 so I should have plenty of time. To further my education, I’ve enrolled in an online geology course offered by BYU. (external link) It’s a university level course spanning 24 lessons. It should advance my understanding and enhance my writing.

More details to follow!

Hacked map from Wikipedia. Book illustrations will be coherent and original.

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Breaking News — I’ve Been Offered a Book Contract!

Details to follow. I am reviewing the contract offered and developing a list of questions. After the royalties are negotiated, I want to ask about working details. How the MS should be formatted, photograph requirements, map and diagram preparation and other errata. More to come. An exciting time!

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Describing The Elephant: Part 4 (Conclusion)

<—— continued from here

I moved back with my parents for a year. My Dad was a doctor and he put me in touch with the best psychologists and psychiatrists. None helped. They thought my experience closely resembled post-traumatic stress disorder. But PTSD usually occurred when a trauma was witnessed first-hand. A second-hand experience, where you simply hear about an event, was considered much rarer. And as far as PTSD induced by the paranormal, I’m sure my doctors never got training for that in med school. I eventually moved out of town, first to Grass Valley, California and then to Isleton, a backwater in the California Delta. No relief. The nightmares weren’t constant, and there were times I could go for days without them, but they always returned.

I was never able to explain how devastating the nightmares were. Then, in 2003, I came upon a motorcycle accident on Jefferson Boulevard in West Sacramento. I got out of my car and hurried to the downed rider. He was lying in the middle of the street, unresponsive. I took off my shirt to help staunch any blood flow. But he did not have any open wounds, so I wondered what to do. I held his hand. I would want someone to hold my hand, if I were dying. A woman who knew CPR stopped to help. At that point blood began to flow out of the man’s ears. I knew then he was suffering a deep, internal head wound. A traumatic brain injury. As he passed away, a sudden thought occurred to me: this isn’t as bad as my nightmares. And it wasn’t. The nightmares were far more terrifying. Perhaps, real life was easier to handle. When you are awake, you have some understanding and control over the experience. When you are asleep, you are just a victim. Like that man lying on the pavement.

In 2007, I got a new psychiatrist and a new start. He began by re-prescribing all the medicines I had taken since 1990, with the hope they would have better effect, now that I was older. There were also new medicines, ones that had not existed seventeen years before. One was Zyprexa. Within three days, my nightmares stopped. Or at least for long periods of time. I can now go weeks without having a nightmare, and when I do, I never have more than one in one night. Usually prescribed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, Zyprexa is a miracle drug. I continue to take it, and I dare not stop. I am not cured, but somehow Zyprexa chemically masks my terrors. The nightmares are not completely gone; they remain around the edges as if to let me know I’m not completely free. And my sleep in general is still terribly wretched, the worst kind of insomnia. But this kind of freedom is good enough.

They say believing in God means taking a leap of faith. Now I don’t have to leap so far. In 2012, my parents died within two weeks of each other. I did not feel uncertain for them. I don’t believe they, or anyone else, disappears into a black meaningless void. The experience I had proved to me there is something beyond life and, I am sure, beyond death as well. I can’t plot the dimensions or purpose of the supernatural, any more than the blind men could, with their elephant. But something’s there.

I would, however, have preferred ignorance over this costly lesson.

It’s often true that not seeing things can be a blessing. My discovery that something lies beyond was based in my experience of Jim’s death, seventeen years of nightmares, and a broken brain. I learned an enormously important and transcendent truth, but one I couldn’t handle. Perhaps, if the nightmares stay at bay, I will learn to live more easily with this truth. Perhaps one day, I will be shown more of the elephant. With luck, less trauma. I press on.

<—– Beginning of the essay

<——Previous page

Link to the e-version where you can read the entire story. Requires Flash: (external link — enable Flash)

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A Bot’s Answer to Pretentious Artist Statements

The online Oxford Living Dictionaries defines bollocks in this way:

Plural Noun

vulgar slang

1. The testicles.

2. (treated as singular ) Nonsense; rubbish (used to express contempt or disagreement, or as an exclamation of annoyance).

Solidy in keeping with the second use, the Artybollocks generator (external link) provides artist statements as understandable as many written by the artists themselves.

Each click of the button labeled “Generate some bollocks” descends further and further into the nonsense of describing modern art and their creators. Only this time a bot is creating the drivel, and not a real human. The generated content conforms squarely with what George Orwell wrote 72 years ago in Politics and The English Language. (internal link)

“In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.”

Try the generator yourself. The following is the result of three clicks.

Artist Statement (first iteration)

My work explores the relationship between the body and romance tourism. With influences as diverse as Derrida and Joni Mitchell, new insights are manufactured from both traditional and modern meanings.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of relationships. What starts out as vision soon becomes finessed into a dialectic of temptation, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the inevitability of a new reality.

As shifting replicas become distorted through frantic and critical practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the limits of our culture.

Artist Statement (second iteration)

My work explores the relationship between Pre-raphaelite tenets and emotional memories. With influences as diverse as Nietzsche and Frida Kahlo, new tensions are created from both mundane and transcendant meanings.

Ever since I was a pre-adolescent I have been fascinated by the endless oscillation of the moment. What starts out as triumph soon becomes manipulated into a cacophony of greed, leaving only a sense of failing and the dawn of a new beginning.

As intermittent derivatives become distorted through diligent and repetitive practice, the viewer is left with an epitaph for the darkness of our era.

Artist Statement (third iteration)

My work explores the relationship between Bauhausian sensibilities and vegetarian ethics.
With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and Joni Mitchell, new combinations are synthesised from both simple and complex layers.

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of relationships. What starts out as contemplation soon becomes manipulated into a hegemony of futility, leaving only a sense of chaos and the possibility of a new synthesis.

As momentary phenomena become frozen through diligent and repetitive practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the edges of our culture.

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