I accidentally shrank the pictures. Oops. I’m going to run with is for a moment. Yesterday Burt and I popped down to Butte to play Bridge with our home club. It was our first time playing in Butte. When we joined the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) we were in Virginia. Our friend Kevin O’Brien recommended we join. In Virginia membership gave us discounted and even free games because we were beginners. They know how to groom new Bridge addicts in some areas. So we signed up under Kevin’s club but we weren’t under his unit. The ACBL uses our Clancy, MT address and it would be normal to assign Clancy residents to Helena but somehow we got Butte. So Butte became our club of record. I never paid it any mind.
Burt and I have gone on our merry way playing Bridge hither and yon for almost two years since Kevin signed us up. Most games we play are in Mexico but for new players we have a lot of mileage. So far we’ve in addition to our Todos Santos unit we’ve hit California, Oregon, Washington, South Carolina, Arizona, Montana, and Virginia. We tried to find games in Spain and Italy but language barriers made the internet sites indecipherable. Then came the phone call. Last year I received a call from a person asking me why I was signed up as a member of the Butte 406 Unit. I said (this is true) I had no idea I was a member of the Butte unit. This person was peeved. How could I not know? I told her the ACBL must have put us in Butte because our address is in Clancy. She asked me to consider switching to Helena’s club. I told her we never played in Helena either and so it wasn’t worth the effort. I explained we traveled full time and it wasn’t worth picking a different club. Click. I was stunned by the short, terse conversation. What was the big deal? Butte gets a portion of our dues. I figured they’d be happy to have money from absentee players.
Now I know why this was so touchy. I was winning the local points race for my skill level and nobody knew who I was. I’d edged out the locals in a masterpoints race. The Mini-McKenney is an intra-club stratified competition. They who earn the most points for their strata in a year win. The local Mini-McKenney prize was going to a mystery lady that had never played a hand in their club. I wouldn’t like that much myself. In my defense, I had no idea I was in some race for points. I found this out when I met a Butte player in the local regional tournament here in Helena a few weeks ago. This woman was very happy to make our acquaintance when I said, “Hey, we’re members of your club.” She lit up and said, “I know who you are!” Bev took out her phone and called up the ACBL web site and showed me I was the winner of a points race in Butte for beginner players. She thought they gave the prize to someone else. I said, “That seems fair.”
Yesterday was the once a month Sunday game in Butte. After Bev’s warm welcome and a follow-up email with an invitation to come play, Burt and I decided it was time to meet our people. We took the hour drive to Butte and arrived just in time to sit down. We tried to get there earlier but road construction slowed the trip. I wasn’t in my chair two minutes when I was awarded the medal for the 0 to 5 points Mini-Mckenney. No ceremony, no words, just the draping of the medal around my neck while I sat at the table. Butte saved the prize for me. What a shock. Thank you, Butte. Thank you, Burt. And thank you Todos Santos Bridge Beauties for all the excellent games this winter. With all of your support I’m in the lead to win the 6 to 20 medal this year. I better knuckle down and stay focused.
Yesterday’s game was a nice round for us. We came in second in our flight and fifth overall. We both know what went wrong and were pleased to not embarrass ourselves our first trip home.
I am a civil engineer. You all know this. I fell into civil engineering because I wasn’t smart enough to fly rocket ships. Moving stuff was too hard for me to calculate. Civil engineering keeps things stationary. I could get my head around those equations. Once in CE I realized I really liked learning about how things were built, where water ran, and how CEs did a lot of public works from roads and drinking water, to stadiums and landfills. It’s a wide ranging field of study. I worked my way through college on construction sites but I chose to spend my career in environmental remediation and enforcement. I wanted to clean up the world and it was heartfelt work but my love of building never went away. I even won the balsa wood bridge contest in my senior structures class. I had a partner but I made the design. A structural engineering friend said two things to help me: keep it simple and remember the moment of inertia. A light bulb went off and I realized a triangle with a skin (sort of like a covered bridge) was the way to go. Balsa wood bridge fail at their glued joints. We eliminated all but three joints. The bridge came in at less than 100 grams and it held an astonishing weight. The most in our entire class by at least 2. I can’t quite remember the details. None of the elaborately constructed truss bridges my classmate produced came close.
This week Burt and I built our first actual, rather than metaphysical, bridge. It’s lightweight, and ready to breakaway in a flood. It’s also darn scary. Our client is thrilled. She wanted it up above the flash floods that roar in from the fire damaged land above. Climate change has made the creek more prone to catastrophic flooding. Heavier rains and less vegetation to slow the runoff makes for higher peaks of flood waters in Cave Creek Canyon. I spent a lot of time researching the hows and materials for this and then I consulted with Burt. I couldn’t quite figure out how to attach the bridge to the trees n either side of the creek. Burt solved this critical problem. We wrapped the trees in a big circle of cable and tightened it up. I found away to attach the cinch without girdling the trees and it all came out great. See pictures. If you ever want to build a cable bridge check out YouTube. Lots of ideas there. I melded together a bunch of things to make something inexpensive and strong. The client bought the cable and the hardware. The wood was found onsite. Our labor was in trade for her providing accommodations to our staff during Portal Irish Music Week.
This journaling thing is a lot of work. Today we are supposed to consider and observe our inner critic. Give it a name if we like. I first learned about the inner critic at a full force self defense work shop called Worth Defending twenty years ago. What a nasty so and so she can be. Keeping us quiet when we can and should speak up. Sucking the joy our of life. I have no name for mine but I hear her all the time. She’s been giving me shit since yesterday for cussing on the tennis court. Thank goodness Pat, Burt and others have reassured me it’s good to lose your temper occasionally otherwise she might have caused more agony.
Today I practiced fiddle and she (I guess it’s a she) was nowhere to be seen or heard. I had fun. The critic can be useful to get me off my butt and practicing but once I’m at work she must be quiet. Then I went to Bridge. Ahhhh, the agony of Bridge. We took first last week. This week we had a rough go of it. Oh the voice in my head at every hand undermining my thought process. What to bid, what to play. OMG. Shut up already. It was rough but also fun. They say it’s good to get outside your comfort zone and do things that are very hard mentally and physically. Bridge is hard and there’s always an audience. The inner critic and ego must move aside so you can learn and enjoy yourself. I have more to learn.
Tomorrow is day 1 of our new efforts working with the local kids and music. Stay tuned.
Bridge was like stepping into a Truman Capote novel. Yesterday evening we arrived 45 minutes early to a small church nearby for a 6:30 Bridge game. Traffic was going the other way and our joint promptness led us to leave way too early. On the upside there was a cheap Chinese joint across the street and I made Burt get us some egg rolls. I was killing two birds with one stone. We passed the time and we could get a superficial idea of how good the Chinese food was. The egg rolls were hot. Hot like McDonalds genital burning coffee. When they reached a temperature that would trigger endorphin release but not peel the skin off the roof of our mouths (passing more time) we ate them up. I did not find anything but cabbage in mine but the oil was fresh and the wrapper was fried to perfection.
At 6:15 we headed to the game. Everyone was locked out. The Bridge director was caught in traffic. I guess he was traveling in the opposite direction as us. Finding yourself stuck outside a church waiting to play a game is a great social activity. We met the characters that inhabit this small club. There are some hot shot players and rank beginners. We also picked up the names of a window contractor and a transmission specialist. And people were very charismatic or memorably dramatic. As the newbies we were under quite a bit of scrutiny and direct questioning. Bridge, like music, gives a person instant credibility with their cohort. Sort of like playing Dungeons and Dragons when you were a kid, people are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and make you feel welcome. After all, two new players like us only improve their chances of doing well and gaining master points. As an example of some of the oddness see the impromptu puppet show given between rounds of play.
Unsurprisingly the game went very late. Then we got lost driving home. Then we finished a terrible movie (Chappie. Do not watch it). After all this I spent another sleepless night. I dozed off around 4 AM. The day was spent chasing windows all the way to Manassas. Manassas is only 30 miles away but an hour of driving. Burt wanted to go there because the National Battlefield Site of Manassas (or Bull Run) is there. He took two guided tours while I captured naps in the truck. I was too tired to even stroll the grounds. So here I am on night, what…7 or 8? without more than 4 hours of sleep. I’m hoping for a reprieve tonight. I can’t expect to remain lucid much longer.
We escaped LA with a heat wave on our heels. While we were stranded and the menfolk strenuously worked all day it was only in the 70s. It is currently over 100 in the LA basin. Lucky for us we are now in the still refreshing Bay Area. I am very grateful we avoided that nonsense. Sadly we cannot run fast enough far enough. The heat wave is predicted to catch us at Burt’s dad’s house Wednesday. Plans to cross the great basin in Nevada later this week may have to be reconsidered or at least include overnight stops with electricity so we can run AC.
Our hosts, Marla and Bruce, have taken great care of us. They even provided the first music party of the season. Lots of music friends came by and a free form jam was had. When not working out the kinks in our fingers we’ve found time to play bridge and tennis. This bridge things is turning into a boon of good friends and contacts. We love our musician friends but most of them are in our economic bracket. Bridge now, that’s a whole ‘nother story. This week I found us a game that inadvertently turned out to be in the richest town in Marin County. Marin County is the richest county in California. Burt and I have had a running joke about hanging up our tool belts and becoming grifters. Bridge just might be the gateway. Superficially people seemed just like us. There were ten tables in the game. People were dressed casually and there was no obvious signs of wealth beyond the fact that people could spend hours playing a game. We comported ourselves well and we came in second to last. I was nervous going in but the sameness of the game quickly erased my fears of the unknown. Our Todos Santos teacher (Norm) and club friends had trained us well. There’s very little chit chat in Bridge. Four people sit at a table and play cards. In this game half the time people didn’t even introduce themselves. Other people were friendly but brisk. I think there were places in the 70s like this for sex.
After the game we mingled a bit and the woman that we contacted to ask if we could sit in inquired about our life of travels. Peggy is her name. She was very welcoming. When she learned we were builders she asked if we had time to look at her house. She had some ideas she was considering and she wanted to know what we thought. No surprise here, we made time to look at her job. It was carpentry therapists to the rescue. She didn’t really need anything done but she wanted to talk about her ideas. Burt and I gave her our opinions: Save your money and go to Europe. Since we aren’t working this season and she was just browsing it was a lovely social visit and we have a new friend. Meanwhile we now also have a new potential client (she’ll probably forgo Europe and remodel eventually) with a fenced yard and a flat parking spot that lives across the street from open space. We promised we’d tell her if we came to town next year to work.
A couple of days ago we played some Bridge with Norm and Howard. Norm is the guy that started us playing. We’re grateful to him for taking us on as a project. To thank him for his help Burt made dinner. Norm’s a bachelor this month. His wife is visiting her 93 year old mother in Sweden. Roxanne does most of the cooking. Norm says she left him a bunch of pre-made meals but he can’t find them. Talk about helpless. After a few hours of cards Burt whipped out some fish Vera Cruz. The cards were okay but dinner was very good. A fresh fish in tomato and orange and olive sauce over brown rice. Beet salad was on the side. Immediately after eating Howard, Burt, and I bade Norm good night. It had been a long day. Half way down the driveway we heard Norm yelling. “Wait, wait…I forgot I have dessert! I have a danish, and a half a donut, and a piece of cake with three bites out of it.” Unable to resist such a tempting offer the three of us turned around to see. How could we resist such salesmanship? Much to our surprise Norm had accurately described his dessert offering. There it was. A half a donut. A danish. And a piece of cake with three bites previously removed. The fork marks were still visible.
Burt is off to San Juanico today. While he and the family and a few others try to catch some waves I am here holding down the goat pen. San Juanico is about 5 hours north of here. It’s a small, dusty town known for horrendous winds and long, long waves. If the waves hold and the wind isn’t too bad I’ll drive up on my own Wednesday to meet them. Meanwhile I am responsible for feeding the dogs and Mimi and myself. Tonight a wrangled a dinner invitation from April (she’s gotten over being falsely accused of dogknapping). Today flew by in a miasma of bridge. Every hand seemed disastrous but in the end Roxy and I tied for second place out of 6 teams. Roxy pretty much carried us and I pretty much didn’t make epic mistakes. In 25 hands we only landed at the bottom 4 times. I’m not sure how. Of course this is only adding to the pressure to keep playing. I was feeling ambivalent about the game after a last place finish Saturday and then this happened. Time to eat. Ciao.
One of the definitions of a cult is: a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing. Another take on cult is: a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
I think Burt and I may have joined a cult. We’re a spending an inordinate amount of time playing Bridge with a bunch of people we didn’t even know six weeks ago. I wake up dreaming about how to bid in Contract Bid. I can’t even discuss the basics of the game when conscious yet I am dreaming about it. I wish I would dream in Spanish or about music but my mind has been completely taken by Bridge. Learning the game wasn’t even my idea. Burt has had it in his mind for a very long time. I happened to read a notice about free Bridge lessons and I mentioned it to him. I could have prevented this. Now I may be more obsessed than him.
Don’t try an intervention yet. There are minuses for sure. Sitting around for hours and hours staring at your hands. Losing contact with former friends and family. Falling behind in musical and Spanish efforts. A doughy middle. On the upside we have only spent 30 pesos and people feed us when we go to their homes to play. Also, most people seem nice enough. And I think Burt and I can get this thing in hand. It seems like we can learn it. Maybe it will take years but we are already having fun. Last week I played my first 16 hands of contract Bridge. My partner (not Burt) and I did not come in last. Everyone, including my partner, told me we would. We came in second to last. So there.
Meanwhile, we are still maintaining a strenuous tennis schedule. Here are some pictures from our non-Bridge playing moments.
Baja is full of endemic plant species. Endemic is when something is not found anywhere else on earth. Baja has a high degree of endemism. It’s because this landmass is like a large island long separated from the mainland. The peninsula is also full of diverse microclimates and has substantial tracts of mountains and deserts that keep populations of plants and animals isolated. As I recently write we have a subspecies of elf owl here. The owl is evolving separately from its mainland brothers and sisters because it cannot fly across the Sea of Cortez nor cross the great mid-penninsula expanse of desert. The midsection of this 1000 mile long spit of land has been known to go 8 years without measurable precipitation. Conditions are too harsh for a few ounces of owl to migrate.
Plant life follows the same rules of evolution as animals but plants are even more restricted in their movements. Pollinators, wind, and animals all play a role in their reproduction and movement. In Baja it is estimated that over 30% of all plats are endemic. It bears repeating: Over 30% of all plants found here are found no where else on earth. Even now more plants are being discovered. The rugged mountain ranges have not given over all their secrets yet. As new plants are discovered there’s a cascade of new information about the ecology of the region. What role do the plants play in the environment? How does it propagate? What pollinates it? What eats it? There have been recent discoveries here of parasitic plants entirely enclosed within the body of another plant. There are cacti with male and/or female flowers. There are cacti with both. There are cacti with neither (this is a trait that eventually is weeded out by evolution).
We learned all this and more at a recent lecture by Dr. John Rebman. He wrote the Baja California Plant Field Guide. Dr. Rebman is an entertaining speaker and really inspired us to learn more about what is happening in our surrounding desert. The photo above is of ants getting nectar for a cholla cactus. They are not dining on flowers but at supplemental nectaries. The supplemental nectaries are tiny orifices that seep nectar. These were only recently discovered. It is not known why the plants give up nutrients this way. Flowers have nectar to attract pollinators. Just giving away free food with no underlying advantage does not make sense. PhD topic, anyone?
Stay tunes as I do further work to learn about more things on this subject.
Meanwhile, check out the bridge accouterments in the photo below. There are a lot of devices to make playing the game more organized and to prevent tipping off while bidding. This set of toys has bidding cards. Partners silently show cards to make bids thereby eliminating verbal cues. The calculator device records the winning bid and calculates scores. Cards are pre-dealt and housed in the yellow devices in the center of the table. In this photo you can see the hand of the woman who won the bid. Her partner (across the table) is laying down the dummy hand. I presume spades are trump. If the organizational devices fail and human nature takes over and there is a dispute there is an official ‘official’ to referee. After the hand is played the cards are returned to their original slots in the same hands. The club rotates through each table and every pair plays every hand. In the end the scores are tallied and you get a good feel for who made the best out of what they were dealt. Burt and I have been studying. Tomorrow is our first hands on lesson. wish us luck.