Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hiking in El Corte De Madera Creek Open Space Preserve, California

We visited one of the oldest residents in the San Francisco area--the Methusela Tree. It's a redwood tree up in the El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. After the 1848 Gold Rush, San Francisco was a boom town. Locals needed lumber and started several mills to harvest the local redwoods. This particular area has steep hills, so they didn't get to logging around here until the 1860s. By 1900, logging was no longer a viable industry and faded away. The tree known as Methusela was never taken down due to the knobbly, knotty nature of the trunk. It is thought to be over 1000 years old and was 225 feet tall. It was struck by lightening in 1954, causing some fire damage and some shortening. Now it is 137 feet tall with a 14 foot diameter at the base.

Methusela Tree

Sign by the tree

Daughter by the tree

Children dwarfed by the tree

Some of the fire damage

Knot good enough for logging

Hiding inside the tree

A nearby stump provided some entertaining climbing for our kids.

Also a formerly big tree

Don't jump!

Everyone gets in on the action

Grandparents and grandchildren

The tree was especially easy to get to since it is a short walk from an unpaved parking area on Skyline Boulevard. We drove down the road a bit, hoping to hike out to the Tafoni Sandstone Formation. This other parking lot was paved but the hike was about a mile into the forest. Across from the parking lot was a nearly fallen down tree and some maps to get us going.

Tree growing out of mudslide?

Getting maps and walking sticks

Make that 1.3 miles!

We were warned about various dangers. Rattlesnakes are native to the area but aren't usually out in the colder weather (this was late December). Mountain lions are also native and also less likely to show themselves. Poison Oak is a perennial threat. Banana slugs are often found on the trail in moist spots. Can you guess which of these hazards we discovered on the trail?

Walking danger!

Banana slug

Another slug!

Happily, banana slugs are only gross, not aggressive. We continued undaunted, though several of our members were getting tired.

Running to catch up

Cool trees

We found a burnt-out stump that made a good photo op.

How big is that stump?

Pretty big

Four cousins could fit inside

The trail had lot of beautiful things to see.

Another stump

A flat piece of trail

Trees growing out of the slope

Somewhere between half and three-quarters of a mile most everyone had run out of energy. We decided to save the sandstone formation for another day and headed back to the car. The forest is a beautiful place to visit and we'd love to go back.

Hiking back out

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 28 by R. Kirkman et al.

The Walking Dead Volume 28: A Certain Doom written by Robert Kirkman, penciled by Charlie Adlard, inked by Stefano Gaudiano, and gray tones by Cliff Rathburn

Last issue left a veritable ocean of zombies heading for Rick's stronghold. That seems like it would be the "certain doom" of this issue's title. Rick's people have worked out a system for driving away small herds of zombies and they put the plan into action for the hundreds of thousands of zombies heading their way. Mounted on horses, Andrea, Michonne, Eugene, and others lead the zombies off a cliff into the ocean. The process takes a while and they can only take a few hundred at a time, so the massive horde will hit their walls. Can the walls survive? Will the people inside be ready? And what about the leftovers from the Saviors (Negan's old gang) who seem to be rooting for the zombies, not for Rick's people?

The drama is less soap operatic than in previous volumes, though the long and drawn out death of a major character at the end of this issue is fairly melodramatic. I found some of the "deep" conversations sparked by the character's death rather shallow and unconvincing and contradictory, so it wasn't as satisfying. The art seems to have gone up a notch in quality and supports the storytelling better, which I liked.

Recommended for fans of the comic series who have been a bit disillusioned with the past few issues (i.e. me).

Monday, January 29, 2018

Saint Gregory Church, San Mateo, CA

Saint Gregory Church in San Mateo was our choice for Sunday Mass while in California. The church was built in the 1950s but clearly they had reverence for the mission style so prominent in California.

Saint Gregory Church, San Mateo, California

The nave is warm and inviting. The Christmas decorations fostered a homelike feel.


Main altar with Christmas decor

The side altars to the right and left of the main altar are dedicated to Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the right aisle is a side altar dedicated to the Holy Family, which I found delightful.

Saint Joseph altar

Mary altar

Holy Family altar, with Mary fixing Jesus's hair!

The other sacred decorations are also delightful.

Third station of the Cross

Rose window at the back of the church (or over the front door as in the top picture)

Feed My Sheep window, by the main altar

Entry into the Promised Land

We went to Saint Gregory's for the Sunday between Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (January 1). Their Nativity scene is lovely and was popular with our kids.

Nativity scene

We liked the parish a lot and will probably go again next time we visit our California relatives.

A last shot of the exterior

Friday, January 26, 2018

Movie Review: Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo (1958) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

San Francisco detective John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) is forced to retire when his fear of heights leads to the death of a fellow officer during a rooftop chase. Scottie has a comfortable retirement that doesn't last--an old college friend named Gavin Elster gets in touch and asks for help. Gavin is a wealthy shipbuilder who married into the business. Now his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) is acting strangely and he is concerned enough to get someone to follow her, hoping to get enough information to guide his choice for medical or psychiatric care. His big problem is that he thinks his wife is under the influence of an ancestor, Carlotta Valdez, who committed suicide in the mid-1800s. Scottie reluctantly agrees to follow her after he sees how beautiful she is (she is a classic Hitchcock blonde). His voyeuristic snooping lends credence to the ancestral influence. Scottie becomes too close after he saves Madeleine after she jumps into San Francisco Bay. His obsession and her madness build to a horrible twist that's only the mid-point of the film.

Hitchcock had a penchant for using landmarks and famous sites in his movie, sometimes shoehorning them in (e.g. the Mount Rushmore sequence in North by Northwest is great but really the bad guys could have gone just about anywhere). In Vertigo, he uses famous San Francisco places naturally and effectively. In a creepy scene, Madeleine and Scotty visit a redwood forest. One tree has fallen over and has some labels showing how old the tree is--American Independence at this ring, Magna Carta at that ring. Madeleine points to two spots (presumably in the 1800s) and says in her dreamy, possessed-by-Carlotta way, "Here I was born, here I died." Carlotta is buried at Mission Dolores so Madeleine visits the grave. Plenty of other landmarks show up. The "visual tourism" is well-blended into the story.

This film is rightly considered Hitchcock's most artistic film. Madeleine wears grey and black outfits, hinting at the darkness inside her. Scottie's obsession is paralleled in other characters in subtle and varied ways. The score by Bernard Herrmann is lyrical and haunting, enhancing the romantic and hypnotic mood of the film. A nightmare sequence underlines the destructive nature of obsession. The performances by Stewart and especially Novak perfectly embody their characters, often showing their inner feelings through scenes without any dialogue. The storytelling is visual and deep.

Vertigo is well worth watching and does reward rewatching (knowing the plot twists ahead makes the story, the performances, and the details even better). Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

TV Review: The Power of the Daleks (1966)

The Power of the Daleks (1966) written by David Whitaker, directed by Christopher Barry

The first full story with the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) has been lost for nearly fifty years. The BBC tapes were wiped and foreign prints were destroyed. Audio versions of the episodes (six in all) exist, as do production photos. The story has been recreated as an animated version on this DVD release.

The new Doctor lands on the planet Vulcan (no relation to the Star Trek planet), which is colonized by humans. The colony has a few problems. Some rebels are stirring up trouble. A scientist has opened up a spacecraft that had crash landed a hundred years ago. Inside are defunct Daleks. The Doctor tries to warn him and others of the danger, but the revived Daleks (because that was bound to happen) play themselves as servants to the humans. At least until they are powerful enough to strike (because that was bound to happen).

The plot moves slowly but steadily and satisfyingly. Seeing the Daleks as sly and deceptive is an interesting twist for characters who are usually shouty and bloodthirsty. The Doctor's companions, Polly and Ben, have the challenge of dealing with a new Doctor whose personality has changed along with his face. This Doctor is not quite sure of himself at first, but he is also sly and deceptive. Troughton has a nice playfulness about him, even at the beginning of his run as the Doctor.

The restoration's quality is weak. The animation is very crude, almost like they had paper cut outs they moved around on the screen. The actors' performances are reduced to their vocal performances. No one moves smoothly or convincingly, making it hard to immerse oneself in the story. Worse, a lot of the sound effects (like feet moving, switches flipping, and background noises) don't match up with the visuals, making the restoration look cheap and sloppy. With how successful Doctor Who has been in the past decade, one would think they could put more money and effort into this restoration. It's okay for a filler episode here and there but for a whole series of episodes, it looks really bad.

Only recommended for Doctor Who completists. The story is a good one. Since I already love Troughton's Doctor and the Daleks, I was able to put up with the poor production values.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review: Asterix and the Golden Sickle by R. Goscinny et al.

Asterix and the Golden Sickle written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo

Village druid Getafix has a big problem. He's broken his golden sickle and can't harvest mistletoe for his potions. He's about to go to the annual conference of Gaulish druids. Asterix and his friend Obelix volunteer to make the journey to Lutetia (modern day Paris) to buy a new sickle from famed artisan Metallurgix. The trip is full of perils (wolves, bandits, Romans, bad puns, etc.). The city has even greater perils, as they discover a sickle-trafficking gang has kidnapped Metallurgix. Comedic adventures ensue.

The story is fun and quick, a typical Asterix adventure. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Geocaching in California 2017

On our Christmas trip to California, we went geocaching several times. We've cut back considerably on geocaching since the app requires payment to see any caches harder than a 2.0 ranking, which is pretty low. Geocaching is also tough with a three-year old in tow, so we haven't felt the loss so much. We managed to get a few finds, pushing us closer to the "400 found" mark.

At the Berkeley playground, we fired up the app just to see if anything was nearby. Across the street was a rose garden with the mysteriously named Garden Area Treasure Entity cache. We admired the roses as much as we could for late December in the San Francisco area.

Berkeley Rose Garden, not in full bloom

Another view of the garden

We followed our app-powered GPS to the cache area. The description of the cache fascinated us because the cache owners said they 3D printed the container to fit the hiding spot. After a little searching, the kids asked for the hint. That helped us find the cool container that only had a log book in it. Luckily, I carry a pen with me so we were able to write in the log book.

Cool Custom Container

View from the log area--that entrance to the garden really is secret!

Flush with victory, we checked around the town where we were staying and discovered another cache that was much easier to find--Mickey Mouse's House. Driving by, the location was both obvious and intriguing.

The cache location

Back of the cache location

This cache also had a cool container hidden near the turret. The real question was what is up with a turret in the middle of a San Francisco suburb? A little placard at the foot of the door explained it--"Built in 1924, This French medieval style structure originally served as the sales office for what would become Belmont Country Club Properties, a 1000-acre development that included the adjacent Belle Monti Country Clubhouse with swimming pool, tennis, handball, croquet courts and a golf course." It was hard to imagine a golf course in this hilly neighborhood! The clubhouse is still standing, though it has been turned into a church.

The Church Formerly Known as Belle Monti Clubhouse 

The flowers were nice enough for a picture.

Purple joy

We attempted a multi-cache, which required two mobile devices. Seeing the write-up for a multi-cache requires payment on the app, so we had one person look up the actual geocaching website on their phone's browser, while the other person used their phone as a GPS. The first coordinates led us to a community center not far from Mickey's. The multi-cache is called Art Appreciation and promised to take us to four different displays in the immediate area. The community center has a mural that was fun to look at and provided some digits for the next art installation's coordinates.

Community center mural

Since we had the kids with us, we drove near to the next stage of the cache (walking would have been too long and too dangerous) and found another mural hidden away from the main street.

Approaching the mural

A bit of the mural

This mural provided some more numbers that we had to plug in as coordinates for stage three. We couldn't drive very close but did find a trail head into Waterdog Lake Park, which indeed has Water Dog Lake inside of it, way up the hill. We were a little discouraged by the signs we saw at the entrance.

The trail info wasn't too bad, but across the way was...

....rattlesnakes warning!!!

Hiking up was pleasant but steep, wearing out most of our crew.

View of the hills

View of Water Dog Lake

Those guys fishing in Water Dog Lake were magnet fishing. They cast out a magnet on a line and dragged it back. They said they found some interesting metallic rocks but nothing else. I guess the lake is too far for any careless people to dump tin cans or such.

The coordinates for stage three pointed down a steep slope which none of us wanted to try since it looked like a one-way trip. My brother-in-law said he saw a small trail earlier that he'd like to try. We went back and found a tiny trailhead that led into the ravine below Water Dog Lake. The trial vanished at one point, so I took the kids back to the main trail while he marshaled on.

Barely a bit of a trail

The way back looked encouraging

He eventually found a graffiti-type "art installation" that provided more numbers for the final stage. At that point, the kids were wiped out and asking to go home, so we left it undone. Hopefully my brother-in-law will make the final find. If not, we'll have to take another trip to visit them to finish the cache.