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I’m planning a road trip for next month and a vacation for June and in my notebook I found a list of travel films that I have learned lessons from watching. Queue them all up and you have a good on-the-road film festival and prep session while you look at maps and guides and make reservations.


road oz

The Wizard of Oz – Pick your travel companions with care. Don’t be concerned with food or lodgings. Do be concerned with witches and flying monkeys. No matter how good the trip, it should also be good to be back home again.


National Lampoon’s Vacation – A road trip with family, as child or parent, will present many lessons. As with life and school, you will fail at some.


Before Sunrise – You should take a serendipitous journey alone. You should meet a beautiful/handsome person along the way. If you go back there at sunset or midnight, don’t expect things to be as good as they were before.



Up – Take that trip you and your spouse have been talking about for years now before it’s too late.


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Take a trip with your Dad. Or son, depending on your age and point of view. (What film could be the Mom or daughter version?)



Broken Flowers – Go on one cross-country search for old girl/boyfriends in search of answers. (Not connected to any 12-step program)



The Darjeeling Limited – Go to an exotic place filled with things that you have never seen and smells that tell you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.



Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Be nice to fellow travelers. You never know.
The Lord of the Rings – Undertake an adventure trip full of possible peril. Once. After that, there is no need for you to do it again. You have nothing to prove. Your home is quite comfortable and there are so many books unread and films unseen.



Lost In Translation – Be prepared to be a stranger in a strange land. Try to have Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson around just in case.


I’m sure you have other films to add to the festival list. How about if you make a comment and give us a film and a short reason for its inclusion.


The crocuses bloomed three weeks earlier this year in Paradelle.

Things are blooming in Paradelle, so I have started recording them in my garden notebook. Have you noticed any changes in when things sprout or bloom in your neighborhood? Maybe flowers tend to bloom a little earlier in the year or birds that used to migrate are hanging around your yard through the winter?

In some ways my garden notebook is a nature notebook as I find myself also recording first and last frosts, snow storms, the appearances of birds, insects and wildlife. Some of those things I report here, both seriously and also as a kind of weather lore. My posts about predicting the weather based on signs in nature seem to get a lot of hits, so I am not alone in my interest, scientific or not.

Most people have never heard of phenology. but if you have ever paid attention to the timing of natural events, like blooming flowers and migrating animals, you have been practicing this -ology. Phenology is the study of the timing of recurring plant and animal life cycle events.

If you want to make those observation to be more “official,” you can become a citizen scientist by connecting with groups like Nature’s Notebook. It  is an online project sponsored by the USA National Phenology Network. Americans can practice phenology in their own habitat and share their observations with other members and have their data shared with scientists who will use the data for research and decision-making.

It saddens me how disconnected people are to the natural world of plants, animals, the earth and sky. s a lifelong teacher, it really saddens me to see how disconnected kids become as they get older. The interest is always there in very young children, so it is something that is lost.

We may not all be as observant as Sara Schaffer of Nature’s Notebook who suggests that we notice the “slightest blush on a maple leaf that foreshadows the coming fall” or the “new, more vibrant feathers warblers put on days before mating.”

robin-pixabayDo you see the appearance of the first robin on your lawn as a sign that spring has arrived? I grew up hearing and believing that. But I have observed and recorded robins every winter. Once I saw four of them sitting on my fence in a February snowstorm. Robins as indicators of spring is a good example of weather lore.

Most robins do migrate south, but some are probably still around your neighborhood all winter – no doubt better protected in the woods than on your bare lawn. The robins that do migrate to the South in the fall, return in the spring, so then we see many more of them on that soggy lawn and field in search of food.

Geese flying south in Paradelle is a daily occurrence. They fly from the reservoir south to a pond. They never migrate and leave any more. What does that indicate? Perhaps some of it is climate change, but it is also the prime water and grass we provide them in parks, golf courses, school fields and corporate settings. Why leave?

Though thinking a captive groundhog can predict the end of winter is certainly weather lore, paying attention to events like true bird migrations can help us understand long-term trends and predict future events. That is why many observers may be reporting small changes that can help more accurately predict the long-term impacts of climate change and shorter-term events in the near future.

And observing when the smell of smoke from fireplaces changes to the smell of barbecue smoke is a definite indicator of suburban seasonal change!

The idea of a working phone booth on a dirt road in the middle of the Mojave desert, over a dozen miles from the nearest pavement, is intriguing to me.

It caught the interest of the wonderful radio/podcast (I don’t really make a distinction any more) called 99% Invisible. The program is about “all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world. You probably never heard of it because somehow podcasts are still kind of a fringe thing, but with 80 million downloads, 99% Invisible is one of the most popular podcasts on iTunes.

Last week I listened to their show about that phone booth.  They track one person, Godfrey (“Doc”) Daniels, obsession with it. He read about it in a zine called Wig Out! letter to the editor back in 1997.

Dear Wig Out!,
Recently, I spotted a small dot with the word “telephone” beside it on a map of the Mojave desert, 15 miles from the main interstate in the middle of nowhere.

Intrigued, I donned a cheap, brown serape and a pair of wing-tips and headed out to find it in my old jeep. After many hours I do find it (the glass is shot out and the phone book is missing) but it works! Apparently, this booth was put in after WWII for the use of a nearby mine which ceased operations in the 60s; why the local phone company keeps it operational is anybody’s guess.

A nearby rancher told me that in the 70s they replaced the old rotary style phone with push buttons because the sheep were having trouble dialing…

Doc didn’t know where it was or if it really existed. But the letter had a phone number for it and he called. It rang, but no one answered. He continued to call and even got others to call.

After a month of tries, he got a busy signal. Someone was there. He kept calling repeatedly and finally he caught the person who was using the phone and she picked up. I’ll leave the details for you to discover when you listen to the program, but I’ll say that the phone was used by some people who had no phone of their own. This was 1997 in that distant century before cell phones. He talked to her for a bit. He was so excited that he forgot to ask about the exact location of the phone booth.

Doc eventually track down the location and went for a visit.

It was 1997 and the Internet was new for most of us, but Doc created a webpage and it went as viral as a page might go back in 1997.

People contacted him, sent him news clippings from all over the world about this off, cultish desert phone booth.

The Mojave Phone Booth started getting a lot more calls. People made pilgrimages to the site.

It became very popular. Too popular. The phone booth was located on a nature preserve and the National Park Service was not happy about all the visitors, traffic and the ringing phone. The booth was removed in 2000.

busPeople continued to visit the place where the booth had been.

It reminds me of the story of Chris McCandless who went to Alaska, somewhat ill-prepared but full of the Romance of adventure. He starved to death there.

But people continue to visit, pilgrim-like, the abandoned bus that Chris lived in. What are they hoping to find there?

A trip the Mojave location after 2000 would have found you staring at the concrete slab where the booth once sat. But even the slab was removed. Some people tried to mark it with a plaque.

The number that Doc was calling is still around, if you want to give it a try.  760-733-9969 is not the Mojave Phone Booth, but perhaps its ghost will answer. It is like making a call out to the universe.

If you’re out in the deserts of the American Southwest, you might want to combine your trip with a journey following the large concrete arrows (seventy feet in length) that are there. They may have a logical origin, but I’d like to believe that they might be landing beacons for UFOs.

dolphin56I really like these odd little items that catch people’s attention.

I’m a follower of Dolphin 56. Back in 1979, he was captured along with five other dolphins in Florida. They were assigned the numbers 55, 56, 57, 58 and 59.  Dolphin 56 was estimated to be about 12 years old. He was weighed and measured and branded with the number “56”.

He was spotted over the years from Florida to New Jersey. He was very comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with people. He became the most comprehensively tracked dolphins on the East Coast. A Facebook page was set up in 2009 to track his movement. People posted photos and video of their sightings.

Dolphin Dolphin 56 went missing around 2012, but people continue to look for him, just like people go to Alaska and to the the place where the phone once sat. The last reported sighting I found reported was that in July 2011 the dolphin was photographed off the coast of Wales – which I find incredible, and not very believable. I prefer to think he is headed back to Jersey waters now as the ocean warms up.

Mojave Phone Booth website

There is even a film that was made about it.  I “rented” it on Vimeo for $5.

Doc did a Kickstarter to get some bucks to write a book about his phone booth adventure.


Verona, New Jersey. Sewing the edge of an American flag at the Annin Flag Company. Photographer: Marjory Collins, 1943

Photogrammar is a web-based platform (via Yale University) for organizing, searching, and visualizing 170,000 photographs from 1935 to 1945 created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. Today housed at the Library of Congress, the archive primarily depicts life in America during the Great Depression and World War II.

An interactive map puts about 90,000 of those photographs that have geographical information online for you to find. You can search photographer or date, but I imagine most of us will search by location.

I started by looking at Essex County in New Jersey where I grew up.


Americans of various racial groups contribute to the war effort. One worker adjusts the blade in a vise while another reads the angle in a large Eastern plant producing propellers for military aircraft. Curtiss-Wright Propeller Division. Caldwell, New Jersey. Photographer: Howard Liberman, May 1942

I did a search for “Union Station,” that grand train station in Washington, DC, and it came up with 60 photos.

The Roosevelt administration wanted to build support for programs like the New Deal, so they sent photographers all over the United States to document the state of the country.

It is another way to view history.


Washstand, Hale County, Alabama. Photographer: Walker Evans, 1935.

I was listening to an episode of the Unretirement podcast that was on creativity which featured Richard Leider who has written a number of self-help books, including several about finding purpose in your life.

Richard Leider gave this formula:  G+P+V=P   Gifts + Passion + Values = Purpose

Gifts are those talents we have that we really care about. They are not just “what you’re good at” but also what you love to do. That leads right into the passion you feel for things or even a deep curiosity you have about something. Values have meaning besides the things you value and the values that guide your actions. It includes the environment where you live and work – a healthy environment, not just a physically healthy environment, but also an environment (such as in your home or workplace) where relationships are healthy.

Your purpose then becomes the reason for getting up in the morning.

Having written books with titles like The Power of Purpose and Life Reimagined, you might guess that in his talk on that particular podcast the topic might have focused on people who are at a point in their life where they’re asking, “What’s next?”

Chris Farrell’s podcast on “unretirement” comes from his own book on the topic, Unretirement. In it he describes the old idea of retirement as meaning withdrawal. He see that definition of stopping productive employment and minimizing their activities as a “short-lived historical anomaly” whose time has ended.

Farrell sees the boomer generation, poised to live longer in better health than any before, as the generation to go into unretirement―extending their working lives, often with new careers, entrepreneurial ventures, and volunteer service.

I am one of those people who is asking myself “What’s next?” but Chris Farrell’s past life reporting on personal finance and economics drives a lot of his unretirement ideas.

His book’s subtitle – How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life, and the podcast dwell too much for me with the financial impact of working longer.

He believes (and he’s not alone) that if you can work well into your 60s, even earning just a part-time income through a bridge job or contract work, you’ll make so much more in the course of a year than you could from saving. This is a financial picture of not having to tap your retirement nest egg during those years, maybe even adding to it, and waiting to claim Social Security until age 66 or 70.

Money and “work” in any traditional sense is not the purpose I see driving me for the remainder of my life.

For me, Richard Leider’s ideas of a life reimagined is concerned with a new phase of life that is not focused on money.

In one of his blog posts he talks about giving a friend the book A Year to Live by Stephen Levine. He wanted to encourage his friend to adopt a new outlook for his life. He wanted him to shift to “living with purpose” rather than “having a purpose.”  Stephen Levine‘s book also has a subtitle (as it seems all non-fiction books must these days): How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last.

Thankfully, I don’t only have a year to live as far as I know, but it is not too soon to be thinking about being better about fully living now before the end comes. In other words, live as if you had only one year left. Leider believes that the experience of living this way for just one day can inform and impact your own sense of purpose because living with purpose means choosing how we spend our time, choosing how we will use our most enjoyed “gifts” in order to create more joy and meaning for ourselves and others.

A formula like Gifts + Passion + Values = Purpose is a nice shorthand for a complicated sets of ideas and a big change in lifestyle. But there is no simple formula that works for everyone. It is simplified even more in a scene from City Slickers. (A comedy that I saw 24 years ago that has a few serious scenes that have stuck with me.) It’s all about finding that “one thing.” And that one thing is not something anyone else can tell you. You have to find it.

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