Bicycle rider in Morro Bay

March 15, 2014


Morro Rock at the Embarkadero

Morro Rock at the Embarkadero

For several weeks I had projected a 300-mile bike tour along California’s Central Coast, from Morro Bay south to San Clemente. The opportunity had arisen because we were hoping to connect family visits in Morro Bay and San Clemente.

Because of scheduling problems, the San Clemente part of the trip and the bike ride were scrubbed, and it’s a good thing! I would have been riding down the coast during several days of heavy rains that interrupted the worst drought that California has endured since the early 1860s. Since I didn’t didn’t bring my bike to Morro Bay, I used some of my time reading and thinking about climate on California’s Central Coast.

Cyclonic wind shear: A column in The San Luis Obispo Tribune explains the meteorological event that would have caused me such distress if I had been cycling the previous week: the intense rainstorm that had hit the region on February 28 and March 1. John Lindsey reported in his  column Weather Watch that it was “one of the most powerful Pacific storms that I’ve seen off the San Luis Obispo County coastline in my meteorological career.” The southern branch of the polar jet stream brought upper-level winds of 150 knots from the western Pacific. At the same time, “relatively warm air at the Earth’s surface from the south moved north, producing a cyclonic wind shear.”

These intersecting air masses “liberated great amounts of latent heat as water vapor condensed into clouds and precipitation.” It also caused rapid and sharp drop in air pressure and “near hurricane force winds.” The ocean’s surface was dramatically affected: 40-foot seas, longer-period swells, and damaging westerly swells that hit piers ordinarily protected from El Niño-driven storms (“Big waves not swell for piers,” The Tribune, San Luis Obispo, March 2, 2014).

The West Without Water

The West Without Water

Drought-flood-fire: During my time in Morro Bay, Cal Poly historian Dan Krieger described one of the region’s historic and devastating droughts in his column in the San Luis Obispo Tribune (which he has written since 1984). He helps me understand the distinctive import of the climatological history of the Southwest that is described in more technical language in a book I reviewed a short time ago:  The West Without Water. Its authors describe a meteorological pattern in which long periods of dry weather and drought are followed by episodes of wetter climate, often with such heavy precipitation that wide-spread flooding occurs. Hardly does the water subside, however, when everything dries out and intense wild fires break out. (See my review.)

During two rainless years, beginning in 1862, Krieger writes, “virtually all of the herds of mission-bred cattle and sheep were destroyed”—as many as 300,000 head of cattle and 100,000 sheep died. “The late afternoon sun created an almost blinding effect, as its light was reflected from the chalk-white carcasses in El Potero de San Luis Obispo, the old mission pasture, now the Cal Poly campus just north of town.” The drought marked the “real end of rancho days along the Central Coast.”

As soon as the drought was over (around 1865), new investors began buying vast tracts of land. Edgar Willis Steele and his brothers, for example, bought 45,000 acres for $1.10 an acre. The rains had returned and the tall, green grass justified their descriptive title for their purchase: “cow heaven.” (The Tribune, March 9, 2014). Although some of the people who made these massive purchases fell onto hard times, California has enjoyed a relatively moist climatic period since that time.

Since then, there have been more dry periods, but less severe than the one in 1862, followed by short periods of heavy rain and frequent wild fires. Because this sequence is thought to be the normal rhythm of life in this part of the world, Californians continue their regular activities confident that the reservoirs and irrigation systems will get them through droughts so that they can maintain normal life despite the alternation of wet and dry periods.

I wa unnerved, however,  by the report on a local news channel during our short time in Morro Bay that wild fires are likely to break out within the next couple of weeks despite nearly five inches of rain since early February.

Krieger starts his column with a reference to The Land of Little Rain by Mary Hunter Austin, published in 1903. Fortunately, this series of essays about Death Valley has been reissued in later editions and three used copies are available at Powells.

Morro Bay Power Plant

Morro Bay Power Plant

Wave energy power supply: Since the 1950s, one of Morro Bay’s landmarks has been the natural gas-fired electrical generating plant located on the shoreline facing the community’s most important identifying mark, the Morro Rock. A short time ago, this power plant was closed.

One reason was that new state and federal regulations would require upgrading so that the plant would use less sea water in its processes; the owners considered that the costs would be too high. A second reason may be that the size of this plant is so small that it no longer is a necessary part of the power grid for California. A third reason is that the plant’s current owners are increasingly interested in renewable energy, and this plant’s location opens the possibility of engaging in the new wave energy process for generating electricity.

News reports that I read while visiting the Central Coast towns indicate that environmentalists are happy that the plant has closed. Although the city of Morro Bay had been receiving $750,000 a year in fees and taxes, these funds were no longer being used for the city’s operational budget but instead were being deposited in a reserve fund. Some people in the community see the plant’s closing as one more example of the pressure by environmentalists to force economically unfeasible changes upon businesses that are OK the way they are.

For reports on the closing of the plant, see articles published on November 8, 2013, and February 5, 2014.

Green again in California

March 10, 2014
California After Rain

California After Rain

 California’s worst drought in a century has eased a little with two rainstorms as February has morphed into March. A trip through the state on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight is giving me the chance to see how the “green and golden” state is looking now that a little water has come down.

After watching the sun rise during the station stop in Sacramento, I stared with unbelieving eyes as the train continued through Davis, the Delta, along the Straits into the East Bay Area, and from San Jose to our destination in San Luis Obispo. Much of what I saw was green.

Well-tended lawns and golf courses, of course. Even during a drought, some patches of green receive the moisture they need. What surprised me were the scruffy patches of grass along the tracks and in untended vacant lots. Green! Puddles and ponds all around. Farmland was intensely green, and marshy land was well supplied with wild water foul. Just like Oregon’s Willamette Valley that we had seen the previous afternoon.

Cattle on a California Hillside

Cattle on a California Hillside

The California hill country, which ordinarily is green from mid winter until May when it turns “golden,” was green. When the tracks ran close to the slopes, I could see that the stands of grass were sparse, but the color was true. In a few more days, I concluded, it will get longer and thicker.

What surprised me most, however, was the truck farming land around Salinas. Even though I had read that Central Valley farmers were probably not going to get irrigation water from the reservoirs, signs of active irrigation were evident in Steinbeck country. For the moment, at least, life in California continues as though it will continue the same as always.

Sprinklers at Work

My recent readings on the long-term climatic patterns in the southwest, however, have made it clear that this is not likely to be the case. In fact, the combination of drought-floods-fire that California has endured in recent months replicates a pattern that has been in place for eons in America’s desert southwest.

Most indications are that we are moving into one of the long, dry periods. Although dams and irrigation systems have protected us from the extremes for a century, it is increasingly unlikely that these engineering measures will be sufficient for the period that seems to be coming.

Shared BordersThe book that I brought to read on the train—Shared Borders, Shared Waters—is a collection of essays by scholars and water scientists from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Mexico, and the United States. They were prepared for a conference in 2009 at the University of Arizona in which the participants focused attention upon policies and practices concerning the use of water resources in two of the most arid populated places on earth. My interest in the book was initiated when one of the editors asked permission to use one of my photos as part of the cover art.

The essays discuss the way that two arid regions—the Jordan River Valley and the Colorado River Basin—are shaped by the scarcity of water. The authors discuss the history and water policy and practice in the several nations the coexist in the two regions that the book considers.

I am especially interested in the deeper political and ethical issues that arise water as supplies diminish and the engineering responses become ever more complex. These aspects of the mounting crisis are frequently discussed through many of the essays in this rather technical book.

In a few days, as I do this year’s week of PAC Tour’s Winter Training Camp for serious cyclists, I will again be surrounded by the reality of an expanding population in a land of little water. As time and energy permit, I will continue reading the essays in Shared Borders, Shared Waters. In this way, mind and body will be mutually engaged in experiencing what may be the most serious issue facing the human community in our time.

Because my interest in the issues related to water continues to grow, I may open a new “page” in my blog. Currently there are three: American Religion, Cycling, and Opinion. The fourth would be entitled “Water” or something like that. As the photo of the Columbia River Gorge on my masthead indicates, water has been in the blog’s background all of the time. It will likely become a more prominent feature as we move into spring when well-watered land produces the food on which we all depend.

Salinas Valley

Salinas Valley

A lover’s quarrel with his church

March 8, 2014

A Lover’s Quarrel: A Theologian and His Beloved Church, by Joe R. Jones. Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014).

JonesThe lover in the book title is Joe R. Jones, retired theologian, professor, and academic administrator. The beloved church is the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in which Jones was reared, educated, ordained, and employed through much of his career. The quarrel is the author’s contention that his church needs theological renewal at its deepest level in order to continue as a faithful and effective witness of the Christian gospel in the world today.

A Lover’s Quarrel follows two other books that Jones has published since his retirement in 2000. A Grammar of Christian Faith: Systematic Explorations in Christian Life and Doctrine (published in 2002) is a two-volume exposition of Christian theology based on many years of graduate level teaching in three seminaries. Jones frequently references this book in his later publications.

On Being the Church of Jesus Christ in Tumultuous Times (published in 2005) contains lectures, papers, sermons, prayers, and other documents (some previously published) that represent the wider range of Jones’ theological and cultural work. As the title indicates, Jones understands himself to be a theologian in the church and for the church rather than a scholar who understands theology primarily as an academic discipline.

Jones’ latest book continues the pattern of the previous volume in that it is a collection of documents of varied character, all but two of them written since 2005. These recent documents, he writes, “are consistent with the overall perspective conveyed in the Grammar volumes” although they “were occasioned by time-specific personal and public events, politics, and church life” (viii).

Jones divides the book into four parts that indicate the range of his interests: (1) Ecumenical Theologizing with Ecclesial Friends; (2) On Being Mugged by Politics but Lifted by Gospel Hope; (3) Fragments from Times Past and Emerging Hopes; (4) Sermons Ventured on Behalf of the Witness of the Beloved Church. The chapters vary in length from two-page blogs to substantive papers, notably: “Salvation: Mapping the Salvific Themes of Christian Faith,” and “Yoder and Stone-Campbellites: Sorting the Grammar of Radical Orthodoxy and Radical Discipleship.” Read more. . . A Lover’s Quarrel

Cycling in my niche of the world

March 5, 2014
Multnomah Village Looking East

Multnomah Village Looking East

A few paragraphs by David James Duncan explain why I enjoy bicycling in the southwestern section of Portland, Oregon, the area anchored by a place called Multnomah Village.

In an essay entitled “The Non Sense of Place,” Duncan tells his readers that after living the first four decades of his life in Oregon, witnessing “the ruin of so many beloved native places,” he tried in 1993 to “move from the Oregon of the nineties back to the Oregon of the sixties—by moving from Multnomah County, Oregon, to Missoula County, Montana.”

DuncanHe acknowledges, however, that he will never know his niche in Montana as fully as his children may come to know it, because “as a child you eat, drink, and breathe a place in so deeply it becomes part of you for life. This is precisely what excludes me: as a child I ate, drank, breathed, and became part of someplace else” (50).

My earliest years were spent in the Palouse country of southeastern Washington, but when I was in the second grade we moved into the rainy, rural world west of the Cascades. After two false starts, we landed in a transitional zone on the other side of the west hills from downtown Portland.

I was just getting started in the fifth grade.

Alpenrose Dairy pastured cows, raised hay, milked and bottled across the road, and other small farms around us also produced milk that they sold to Alpenrose or to its competitors, Silverhill and Fulton Park Dairies.

While we lived in the country, the city was close by, and Multnomah, established as a station stop for the defunct Oregon Electric Railroad, was its outpost. Part of the Portland system, Multnomah Grade School was dramatically different from the one-room school I had attended down in the Willamette Valley. From there, I went to Lincoln High which provided a liberal arts education far superior to the one I later received in college.

Because our family didn’t own an automobile, we walked places: a mile up Vermont Street to catch the city bus to downtown Portland, a mile and a half to Multnomah to buy groceries and drug store items, attend church, and patronize a branch of the city’s library system. By the time we were eleven or twelve, my brother and I had bikes—my freedom machine is the way my brother describes his—and the larger world was ours.

I moved away from that world when I was eighteen—to college in Eugene, Oregon, seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana, five years in northern California, and thirty-three years back in Indianapolis.

“True home places,” Duncan writes, “are like true loves. I imagine a lucky individual could experience thee or four such places. But the usual karmic dose, per lifetime, seems to be one, maybe two.”

In the two generations of time since I moved away, the urban outpost I knew has gentrified a little, hence the adding of “Village” to its name. The feed and grain store became a lawn and garden tractor store and now is the Starbucks where my brothers and I meet for coffee once in a while.  Multnomah School across Capitol Highway is now a community center. The old storefronts have been updated with new businesses.  The library’s gone, but Annie Bloom’s Books is a splendid replacement.

Multnomah SignOn Friday morning (February 28), after breakfast on S E Broadway with the old guys from my church, I renewed my heart while adding some hard conditioning miles on my Waterford winter bike. Across the Willamette on the Broadway Bridge, a stop at Powell’s Books, and then I headed south: the gentle hills of Terwilliger Boulevard, up Slaven Road and Capitol Highway through Hillsdale to the Cider Mill, and then west on Vermont Street.

A long coast past some farmland turned into a park brought me within a city block of the spot where my childhood home once stood, and then I continued on to Oleson Road. In Garden Home, I spotted the old school turned community center where my mother taught third grade for a generation, and then worked hard cycling up the grades on Garden Home Road until I reached the viaduct that goes into the old main street of Multnomah.

My lunch was a bowl of turkey chili at Grand Central Bakery. Although this little place on Multnomah Boulevard (which once was the Electric Railroad right of way) is part of the village’s more recent life, it suits me exactly.

As I write this, I realize that I feel much the same about the Illinois Street Emporium, a short walk from my long-time home in Indianapolis. Maybe I do have two “karmic doses.” But for now, my bicycle takes me over my “niche” in the world, and my heart sings.

Institutional change in an ecumenical protestant seminary

February 24, 2014

Institutional Change in Theological Education: A History of Brite Divinity School. Mark G. Toulouse, et. al. (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2011).

BriteBrite Divinity School is a graduate level theological seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, historically related to Texas Christian University and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The permutations of this triangulated relationship form the major plot line of Institutional Change in Theological Education: A History of Brite Divinity School.

A second set of relationships also runs through this narrative: cultural changes in American life, especially in Texas, and the evolving consensus of the theological academy (including the professoriate and accrediting agencies).

The university started first. It was founded as Add-Ran College in 1873 by a small group of people who were committed to the religious movement associated with Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone.  In 1902, this little school became Texas Christian University.

From the university’s beginning, the education of ministers for its sponsoring church was a leading purpose. This interest led the university to establish a college of the Bible, which in 1914 was incorporated as a separate institution closely related to the University with the name Brite College of the Bible. In 1963 that name was changed to Brite Divinity School.

One of the notable aspects of the TCU-Brite history is the prominence in each generation of small cadres of leaders whose personal visions for university, seminary, and church were played out in the internal politics of these two institutions. In the early years of the twentieth century, Frederick D. Kershner and L. C. Brite were the central figures.

As university president and a leading Disciples theologian with conservative leanings, Kershner wanted to develop the seminary and protect it from undue influence by the university. He found an ally in Brite, a west Texas cattleman who had been converted at a cowboy camp meeting conducted under the leadership of a preacher sympathetic to the religious movement that supported the university. In addition to making generous financial contributions, Brite participated for many years as a theologically and institutionally conservative trustee and advisor.

Kershner’s later history is an interesting counterpart to the TCU-Brite story. A few years after leaving the Texas schools, Kershner became allied with William G. Irwin, an Indiana industrialist whose family had long supported Disciples-related church and educational enterprises. Together, Kershner and Irwin established an inter-connected university-college of religion system at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Benefiting from his Texas experience, Kershner counseled Irwin to develop the relationship so that the College of Religion would have full control over faculty, curriculum, admissions policies, and financial resources. The Indianapolis seminary, which in 1958 was reincorporated as Christian Theological Seminary, avoided many of the struggles over university-seminary control and freedom that continued to complicate the Brite-TCU partnership until recent times.

While Brite’s institutional history and struggle to attain independence is important to people connected with TCU and Brite, many of the readers of this history will be drawn to other elements of the story. Three are important to note. Read more. . .Brite Divinity School


Wet and not exactly warm: a report on riding in the rain wearing wool

February 19, 2014

By the time I had finished my recent blog on how to dress while riding in the rain, the sun had come out. My brave talk about riding without protective gear when the water’s coming down was for naught.

A week later, the weather man promised me a day when I could find out what happens when a cyclist wears lots of wool, leaving the rain gear behind.

Since the storm with 40-mile wind gusts and heavy rain was forecast to start soon after 10:00 am, I started out at 8:30: light rain and sloppy roads, lots of spray from passing trucks, enough wind to wish that you could have it at your back both ways, which of course did not happen, 47 degrees.

I dressed with four layers of wool on top, wool knickers and over the calf socks below, and feet protected with booties that keep wind out but let the water in. My wool gloves are not waterproof, and I wore a rain cover on my helmet.

My ride was on Lower River Road on the north bank of the Columbia River. I was out for almost an hour, with a steady wind to my back going out and in my face coming back. It was easy to work up a sweat.

My heavy wool jersey was getting wet when I returned, and the front of my legs had absorbed the rain, but except for my feet I was warm enough. My comfort level would have allowed me to continue on for another hour, or so I presumed at the time.

Back home, I cleaned up my Waterford winter bike and made ready to do the second test. If I were to sit around in a warm room with my wet clothes on, would I soon get toasty warm as some of the experienced riders say will happen? I took off my wet shoes, gloves, and helmet and spent nearly an hour sitting at the dining room table talking by phone to various people dealing with our health coverage.

In itself, that’s enough to keep the warm vibes flowing. As the conversations continued, however, my legs and feet kept getting colder. My upper body was not exactly uncomfortable. If I had gone out for another hour’s ride, I would probably have been OK.

As I changed into regular clothes, I noticed that the back of my outer jersey was dry even though the arms and upper chest were wet. The forearms of my long sleeved base layer and the fronts of my shoulders were wet, but the chest of the three inner layers of wool was dry. The small of my back, where perspiration gathers when I wear a rain shell, was dry.

It’s too early to draw conclusions, and in the Pacific Northwest there will be more rainy days for further tests. Next time, I’ll wear better shoe coverings. As for my upper chest and forearms, I’m not sure what to do.

Any suggestions? 

Bike clothes for winter riding (especially when it rains)

February 12, 2014

Dressed for WinterAt 4:30 this morning the temperature in Portland was 51, a little soft rain was coming down, and the gusty wind that had hit the city during the night was dying down. Best of all, the eight inches of snow, sleet, and ice that had shut things down for four days and kept me off my bike for eight were almost gone.

Clearly, I had to get out, but the challenge of how to dress needed to be resolved.

Knowing that there was no need to be presentable at some meeting made it easier. All that I had to do was wear an outfit that would keep me comfortable for twenty-five miles even it if rained along the way.

During the snowy days I had read Jan Heine’s column on how to dress for rain. As a Seattle-based randonneur cyclist, who rides most of the year in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of roads, his opinion is based on thousands of miles of experience.

His recommendations can be summarized easily.

First, equip your bike with full fenders and mudflaps. This protects you from road spray and the drenching streak of water that unprotected wheels throw up.

Second, wear wool. In chilly, wet weather Jan wears four layers on top and one below the waist. He finds that the heavy outer jersey absorbs wetness but that it doesn’t soak through because perspiration caused by his vigorous cycling is working its way to the surface and thus repels the water coming in. He wears water protective booties over his cycling shoes.

I too have long been a devotee of wool cycling clothes. In addition to the four layers that Jan recommends, I add a wool scarf that adds more protection to shoulders and chest. It can be removed or put on easily. After a hard climb without a scarf, this simply garment can transform the comfort level on a fast down hill.

What about a rain shell and rain pants? Jan doesn’t wear them because, he reports, when cyclists ride hard the sweat builds up inside. Riders are more comfortable, he believes when they wear only wool and allow themselves to get a little wet.

My practice has been to wear a rain shell on top, especially if I’m riding in the dark. If the rain is coming down at a steady rate, I usually put on Rainlegs, water repellant chaps that cover the part of my legs that are most exposed to the rain.

At the end of the ride, both garments are wet inside and out, and my four layers of wool are damp from perspiration. Maybe Jan is right and I should leave the rain gear at home.

For twenty-five years, one of my most versatile garments has been a light weight, long sleeved, vented wind breaker that I wear over however many layers of wool the temperature requires. Perspiration doesn’t build up. It doesn’t keep the rain out. When I get hot, it rolls up and slips into a water bottle cage. I was going to wear it today, but at 54 degrees, the temperature when I got started, four layers of wool was plenty warm.

The point of it all, of course, is not sartorial elegance. Rather, it is maintaining the consistent practice of cycling all of the time, rain or shine, hot or cold, windy or calm. The clothes we wear help us deal with the vagaries of weather, which for someone in the Pacific Northwest means riding in the rain.

So off I went into a surprising winter day. No wind, no snow or ice, no rain, not even a sprinkle. Fleeting glimpses of blue sky lightened my spirits during the ride, and as I crossed the Columbia River on the ancient I-5 bridge near home a bright flash of real sun brightened my way and warmed my shoulders.

That’s a lot better than riding (singing) in the rain.




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