A California sojourn; in which, among other entertainments, a horse tries to eat my finger and and my sister-in-law takes me to prison for my birthday

May 25, 2015 at 2:13 am (California, Family)

Middle of May, 2015.

Ah, Northern California, land of plenty:

Brains, talent, ambition, money, mountains, beaches, majestic trees, spacious vistas, a turbulent and fascinating history.

Yes- a surfeit of everything. Except

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Upon arrival, one expects to be gazing upon an utterly parched landscape. This was not the case, as the view from the kitchen window of my brother and sister-in-law’s house attests:

 

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It is along the verges of the roads that one sees the tell tale signs. Oh – and we are enjoined to use the term “golden” to describe the color – not “brown.”

Dead almond trees in a field of gold. Firebaugh, California. Photo credit: Randi Lynn Beach

Dead almond trees in a field of gold. Firebaugh, California. Photo credit: Randi Lynn Beach

It was surprisingly cold in California this time: temps in the fifties and very windy. But for the most part, the sun shone down on us. After the relentless drear of the East Coast, it was a welcome change.

Donna, my sister-in-law, loves to walk, as do I. Her neighborhood is ideal for this purpose, especially as there is a delightful destination within easy walking distance: the Westwind Community Barn.

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As Donna and I share a love of horses, we entered the gated pasture by a side entrance in order to feed to the animals grazing there some cut up veggies. Donna, the soul of gentleness and kindness,  was delighted that they seemed to like the celery she’d brought. As for me, I was feeding one of them a carrot when he decided that my finger would also make a delightful snack as well. Fortunately, this misapprehension by my new equine acquaintance resulted in a lightly bruised digit and nothing more.

To show there was no hard feeling, I stroked his glossy neck and leaned my head against his warm body.

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The sightseeing highlight was our trip to Alcatraz, aka “The Rock.” (It’s reached via ferry from the Embarcadero in San Francisco.) This fabled island prison once housed the likes of Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, James “Whitey” Bulger, the famous Bird Man of Alcatraz, Robert Stroud, and many others of lesser fame but equal infamy.

Alcatrazinmates

It would have been a horribly grim place to be incarcerated, with the glittering lights of San Francisco always in view –  a mere one and a half miles distant, but utterly unreachable due to the icy cold waters of the Bay. Accommodations in the prison itself were exceedingly basic. Privacy was almost nonexistent. Surroundings were profoundly ugly. Secure incarceration, not rehabilitation, was the mission of the institution. Even the most basic privileges had to be earned.

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Dining area and kitchen. All knives had to be accounted for, for obvious reasons.

Dining area and kitchen. All knives had to be accounted for, for obvious reasons.


We obtained the Cellhouse Audio Tour, which was terrific – very evocative and beautifully done. Portions were narrated by former guards at the facility:

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We heard the stories of various escape attempts. The most famous involved two brothers, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin, and a third man, Frank Lee Morris. Their meticulous advanced planning included dummy  heads fabricated from soap, concrete powder and hair, materials obtained from the prison barber  shop. jbmjcfbx2vvesyy4ynyb  Positioned strategically in the prisoners’ respective  beds, these constructions gave guards the impression that the inmates were sleeping peacefully, whereas in reality they were in the process of effecting their escape. frank morris cell

When the prisoners could not be awakened, a guard tapped one of the heads, which promptly rolled onto  the floor. (Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at that moment!) By the time the entire force on the island was mobilized for the search, the Anglin brothers and Morris were off the island. But what then became of them? That question remains unanswered. There are several theories, some of which posit their survival. But all we know for certain at this time is that they were never seen or heard from again.

Escape from Alcatraz DVD R1  The Film Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood is based on this incident. (I’ve not yet seen the movie.)

An oddly beautifu; view from "the Rock." It almost looks a bit like Italy.

An oddly Italianate view from Alcatraz Island across the Bay

Before we left “the Rock,” we visited the gift shop. Museum shops are among my favorite places to browse, and this one was particular well set up for that purpose. First, I bought a tee shirt to wear to exercise class. A-TAZTIME-2

Then I noticed that in another part of the store, a book signing was taking place. The book was Murders on Alcatraz, and the author was George DeVincenzi, pictured above as one of the narrators of the audio tour. I purchased the book and had an enjoyable chat with Mr. DeVincenzi. As I was walking away with my newly signed volume, he called after me: “I was involved in the first two murders!” Alcatrazm

When I had returned home, I googled  Mr. DeVincenzi. I was especially curious as to how old he was. By my calculation, he is now 87 or 88! All I can say is, you’d never know it.

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Back home all was quiet and peaceful. Time spent with Donna and Richard is always an enriching experience.

One of the many pleasures of being in this beautiful home was provided by the dainty visitors to the hummingbird feeder affixed to the kitchen window:

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Thursday May 14 was my birthday. On that day, nature staged a rare display.

First, the clouds gathered:

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Then the sky turned an ominous and uniform dark gray:

 

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And then, with the maximum amount of drama, the heavens opened up:

When had they last experiences a downpour like that? Richard and Donna agreed that it was probably back in February.

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Ron, myself, and Donna at Alcatraz

Ron, myself, and Donna at Alcatraz

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Nancy Woodruff said,

    Happy Birthday dear friend, Robin, even though it’s a little late. I always love what you write and this post was as good as ever.

    Much love, Nance

  2. kdwisni said,

    About the “golden” grass: that is, in fact, why California is The Golden State. It’s not because of the Gold Rush but because of the wild grasses, turned to golden brown, that cover the hill of Northern California. I think it’s beautiful!

  3. eldavis31 said,

    Great recap! Sounds like it was a wonderful trip!!

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