Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Photographers at Yosemite Falls
Too often when my companion is driving and I am peacefully looking out the passenger window he will suddenly shout, “Carol! Get a picture of that!” Of what? I look around wildly while searching for the camera or cell phone. By the time I figure out what he is looking at and aim a camera at it, it’s too late for even a grab shot. I’m chagrined, he’s annoyed. Sometimes he simply snatches the camera from me and takes a photo himself, while driving at 55 mph or so. This is not a good solution.

Taking photos on the run just isn’t that important to me. I do enjoy carefully composing a shot occasionally. Most of the time, though, I prefer enjoying the experience, or taking time to sketch a plant or animal.

Last summer we organized much of August around seeing the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21. It was a wonderful experience, and I managed to get a fairly good photo of it. However, just as it reached totality, others around me gasped. At the time I was trying to compose my photo. I suspect that I missed the full “diamond ring” effect, and wish I had simply watched in awe as the eclipse proceeded.

Can my attitude be taken too far? I have a good friend who is a world traveler. She comes back with tales of taking safaris and climbing  mountains, but without any pictures except some scenic post cards. She wants to concentrate on looking and experiencing rather than on taking photos. I wonder if she ever tries to recall some past trip and wishes she had used a camera rather than on relying on her memory. Like most people of our age, she must have memory lapses! Also, I would really like to see some photos she has taken herself rather than purchased.

Most tourists seem to rely heavily on photos. Busloads of camera-toting Asian tourists are a cliché, and every scenic overlook or art museum is clogged with people taking selfies and scarcely seeing anything but themselves.

There must be a happy medium. From now on I will try to make sure a camera is within easy reach, so I can at least make an effort to take quick photos. However, I will also insist on enjoying the views, not waste a lot of time on photographing them.
Copyright 2018 by Carol Leth Stone



Thursday, April 12, 2018


Tourists driving from Sacramento or the San Francisco Bay area toward Lake Tahoe often take Route 50. They pass through Placerville (a.k.a. Old Hangtown), then along an area called Apple Hill, filled with many orchards and vineyards. Apple Hill is extremely popular in the fall, when city folk bring their children to stroll through the orchards, sample a wide variety of apples, and buy pies and donuts. So popular that the highway may be crowded in September or October.

Before getting low on gas or groceries, Tahoe-bound people are apt to stop in Pollock Pines. It has everything they are likely to need before starting the beautiful but long drive to Lake Tahoe.

At the west end of town, they can take Exit 57 from the highway, the exit that leads to Pony Express Trail. Yes, this road actually is part of the historic nineteenth-century trail used to deliver the mail by young riders on horseback. Near Exit 57 is one of the original stations, now enlarged and converted to a restaurant called Sportsman’s Hall. Many other stations between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento survive, but mostly as ruins. Here, you can have a meal while surrounded by photos and artifacts of the trail. (It’s not for foodies, though. The menu is basic meat and potatoes, plus some good pies and pastries.)

Either by going back to U.S. 50 or by staying on the trail and continuing east for a few miles, you can reach the east end of Pollock Pines (Sly Park Rd., Exit 60 from the highway). Along the way on Pony Express Trail are two good motels, a Best Western and the Westhaven Inn. In what passes for a downtown, visitors can shop at a Safeway, a CVS, several small restaurants, beauty shops, auto supply stores, and gas stations. Note: The gas is a bit higher priced here than in Placerville, back 15 miles to the west, but it’s a long drive to the next station! A charming branch of the county library (open Tuesday through Thursday only) and a post office are useful stops for some visitors. Public restrooms are found in the stores and restaurants.

About six miles south of town on Sly Park Rd. is a large reservoir called Jenkinson Lake. Nine campgrounds here have spaces for tents and RVs. Fees for single-vehicle sites range from $32 to $80 a day.  Popular with both tourists and locals, the reservoir offers boating, kayaking, and hiking. You can look at the lake and check the weather on a webcam [http://www.slyparkweathercam.com/] hosted by local realtors.

Once past town, and fortified with gas and food, you can begin the magnificent drive uphill to Lake Tahoe along the American River. Or, you may decide not to leave but to buy a home and settle down, as I did several years ago. Like me, many elderly people choose to retire here among the huge pine trees.

Copyright  © 2018 by Carol Leth Stone


Friday, March 16, 2018


Nearly a year ago I began having pain and weakness in my left arm. As I have advanced osteoarthritis, some pain is never surprising, but this worsened. A doctor prescribed a low dose of Norco that relieved the pain for a while. Then it returned. In the hope of strengthening my arm muscles I spent a month in physical therapy, but the pain continued. I continued taking Norco, then switched to Percocet, a stronger painkiller. Eventually an MRI showed a completely torn rotator cuff tendon and damage to the underlying bones that would require a shoulder replacement. Getting in appointment with a surgeon, scheduling the surgery, and getting clearances for surgery from various doctors took months; during that time I continued taking Percocet for the increasing pain.
Both Norco and Percocet contain opiates, synthetic derivatives of the opium found naturally in opium poppies. (The similar term opioid refers to both the natural and synthetic drugs.) Norco and Percocet also contain acetaminophen, the nonaddictive drug sold as Tylenol. The opiate in Norco is oxycodone, that in Percocet is hydrocodone. Both are prescribed routinely for pain following athletic injuries and surgeries.
As everyone knows now, the United States has an opiate epidemic. People who begin taking the drugs for pain can develop a tolerance for them, craving higher doses to be effective. They become addicted, taking the drugs not just to control pain, but also for insomnia or for generally feeling euphoric. Opiates are widely available and surprisingly inexpensive. (Having Medicare Part D, I have never paid more than a few dollars for a large supply.) Teens who want a high from drugs may simply raid Granny’s medicine cabinet to get a supply.
Short-term effects of opiates include sleepiness, pain relief, and euphoria. These result from the release of large amounts of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that links brain cells chemically and is responsible for desire and general feelings of happiness. Though those effects can be positive, dopamine can also lead to unpleasant side effects such as nausea, paranoia, and extreme drowsiness. Like alcohol, opiates can interfere with the ability to drive. When I was taking Percocet, I felt rather sleepy and stupid much of the time. Simple arithmetic and memory tasks were hard for me.
Long-term effects of opiates comprise constipation, abdominal bloating, vomiting, and damage to the brain and liver, as well as dependence (inability to feel well without the drug). Dependence can continue to addiction and to further increase in need for opiates.
Even addiction to Norco or Percocet can be serious, but if a person goes on to use the most potent opiate drugs such as heroin, the results can be catastrophic, even fatal. Norco and Percocet are swallowed as tablets, but heroin is injected into veins.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[i], in 2016, more than 64,000 deaths were related to overdoses of opiates and related drugs (mainly Fentanyl).
After my shoulder surgery I received another vial of Percocet for the pain that followed. Not wanting to become an opiate addict, I cut back to the milder Norco after a couple of weeks. Now, five weeks post-op, I take only one Norco tablet a day, and am gradually cutting back even more. I often treat pain with ice packs, Tylenol, or a small glass of wine. As the healing proceeds I will soon be taking no opiates at all.
Though the outcome has been good in my case, I think it could have been better. Mild painkillers like acetaminophen or aspirin can control mild pain. (Large amounts of acetaminophen can cause liver damage, however.) Some people can benefit from cannabis or acupuncture. Ice packs or meditation are even better. If the opiates had been expensive, I would have been less likely to use them often. (I also have to take a very expensive drug for a pancreatic disorder, and am careful to buy only the minimum amount needed!) Medical providers and the DEA could benefit patients and have an effect on the opiate epidemic by heeding these suggestions.

Friday, January 19, 2018


I’m tired of hearing accusations by the elderly and by Millenials that the other group is hogging all the resources. My group (I am 80) is the frequent target of attacks on “entitlements.” Having paid for Social Security and Medicare for all my working years, I do feel entitled to use them now that I need them. They are not welfare! I’m also concerned about medical insurance in general. When I was young, healthy, and childless, I paid premiums that benefited the elderly, the sick, and families. How dare younger people object to helping me now?

Millenials have their own financial problems, of course. Tuition, even at state universities, is beyond the reach of many families now. (My family was extremely poor, but they managed somehow to put me through an excellent private college back in the fifties.) Competition is fierce for jobs that enable even well-educated young people to earn enough to buy homes and start families. For those with little formal education, life can be very hard.

It may seem at first that the divisions between the elderly and the young are simply a result of a shortage of resources.  Not everyone can have a bigger “piece of the pie.” However, the United States seems to have enough money to cut income taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations, to spend billions of dollars on military adventures, even to build an enormous wall between our country and Mexico.

How has the split between the “haves” and “have-nots” grown so wide? When I was a child, there certainly were wealthy and poor people, but there was an enormous middle class that had comfortable but unostentatious homes, enough food, and access to good educations. Today, in driving our RV around the country, I've seen huge areas where people are living in shacks or in tents under bridges, and other areas (often surrounded by high walls with locked gates) where elaborate homes are crowded together. What I think of as a middle-class home is quite rare.

In the years after World War II, many affordable suburban communities appeared, allowing returning G.I.’s to achieve what was then considered the American Dream—a house with two or three bedrooms, one or two bathrooms, and a small yard. (I have lived in both Park Forest and Daly City; those communities are still very livable today.)
Today, developers instead construct gated communities of very expensive homes that have few of the parks and other assets families need. They remind me of medieval fortresses.

On the other hand, our growing homeless population (including some of the Millenials and some of the elderly) cannot find decent places to live. People who have graduated from college and just entered the work force may be crammed into apartments or houses with many others; old people may end up in substandard nursing homes.

A country that can spend billions of dollars on a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants could invest much more on simple affordable housing, tuition grants, retirement communities, lower cost medical care, and other things that would benefit all age groups. The growing resentment between the elderly and the young is unnecessary, and we need to work together instead. We must resist our common enemy.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


We moved forward only a few inches--just far enough to get off the leveling blocks! But that was enough. There was a sickening crunch as the opened compartment door hit a post. The repairs cost thousands of dollars.

We are experienced RVers, and there is no excuse for making a mistake like that one. We began kicking ourselves for not adhering to our checklist, which of course includes making sure that all the outside doors are closed before even turning on the ignition.

The NPR program The Hidden Brain gave a great example of failing to use every item on a checklist: in 1935 a Boeing plane nicknamed the “flying fortress” crashed and burned, killing two pilots, because the crew had neglected to check every item on their checklist.[i] Incredibly, the control lock had been left in place.

True, checklists can be boring. In my years of editorial work, I got very tired of making a huge chart for each project and listing all the trivial steps that had to be followed between a manuscript and a book, but those charts saved me from making many mistakes, and I should have remembered their value.

Strangely, the things people forget are obvious steps. In proofreading books, I never overlooked a misspelling or misuse of an unusual word, but several times I failed to notice some problem with a simple word. Our brains tend to see what we expect to see.

One item people often forget to check is the TV antenna. Many times a tidied-up RV will pull out of a campground with the antenna extended. We try to chase the driver down but are not always successful. The results are probably not pretty.

Many RV websites contain valuable checklists. Every owner needs to choose the relevant items from those lists to create a computerized document that can be easily revised as needed.

Most important, the checklist must be printed and followed just before each trip (or before moving off the leveling blocks, as we discovered). No checklist is useful if it is sitting on a computer.




 Text copyright 2017 by Carol Leth Stone.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


For many of us, the RV life is a series of pleasure trips. We travel for a few weeks or months, economizing as much as we need to, then go back home for a while. We catch up on paying bills, doing laundry, returning library books, and other tasks. We upload photos of our travels onto Facebook, and print them for albums. My partner and I include the details of our travels in a possibly annoying annual holiday letter, also. It’s all a rather enviable life.

One subset of Rvers, full-timers, stay on the road nearly continually. Those I’ve met have fairly large rigs that make traveling easier. They may be equipped with washers and dryers, elaborate equipment for barbecuing, and other comforts. Full-timers usually establish an address in states such as Texas and Florida, where taxes are low. Their mail is delivered to those addresses and forwarded on to wherever the full-timers are staying for a few days. When questioned closely, they usually admit that they have some furniture and other possissions stored at a relative’s home or in a self-storage unit. In some sense, they have roots.

For some others, though, life on the road is not a choice. For a variety of reasons, they have no permanent homes. They live like nomads, following the sun or opportunities for work. Jessica Bruder has chronicled their lives in Nomadland, a rather frightening description of what it’s like to be “houseless,” if not actually homeless. Most of this group live in vans rather than real RVs, which means they have no bathrooms or real kitchens. They are on the move continually, as they are not allowed to overstay limits in campgrounds (when they are even lucky enough to be in a campground rather than in a Wal-Mart parking lot or other temporary spot). Bruder prepared for her book by living as a nomad herself for a time, befriending many of the loosely knit community.

Though the nomadic life has a certain romantic appeal, especially to the young and to environmentalists, Bruder demonstrates how difficult it is. These are not retirees who don’t need to work, and employers take advantage of them. They may take temporary jobs as “workampers” at RV resorts or in warehouses. The jobs are physically demanding and pay little; they also tend to disappear at an employer’s convenience.

Those of us who have a more comfortable RV life may find ourselves looking down at those living in worse circumstances, but it is all too easy for someone in the middle class to slip down the ladder. A few years ago, a study showed that more than 40 per cent of Americans would find it impossible to come up with $400 in an emergency. They live paycheck to paycheck, and have no savings to draw on. I have personally experienced the effects of catastrophic medical costs on those who thought they had done everything right. As Bruder shows, Nomadland may be the geography of the twenty-first century for many.

Text copyright © 2017 by Carol Stone

Monday, October 23, 2017


It’s so easy at home—every two weeks, at an ungodly hour on Thursday morning, an El Dorado Disposal truck picks up my yellow-lidded recycling can. The fee seems high for my single household, but I am allowed to recycle glass, plastic, newspaper, magazines, junk mail, and aluminum. On alternate weeks, I can put out a yard-waste can filled with grass clippings, small branches, and other yard waste. The only real trash goes into a nearly empty small cart for weekly pickup.

On the road, it’s a different story. We do keep a shopping bag in the shower for aluminum cans, but there isn’t space for plastic and glass, to say nothing of newspaper. (I do try to read newspapers at libraries or online when possible.) Sadly, I must throw away (but there really is no “away”) far too many items that might be recycled.

The NPS does have containers for recyclables in their campgrounds, and kudos to them. Occasional state or county parks provide for recycling, also. Private campgrounds, though, usually do not. Far too many bottles, cans, and other containers end up in landfills.

Availability is only part of the problem. I’ve seen bins clearly labeled as “bottles and cans” used for garbage. Why do people do this? Are they hostile to anything hinting at environmentalism? I don’t think they are illiterate, as simple pictures are on most containers.

Perhaps those of us who care about the environment should complain more. If KOA and other offending campgrounds realized that they are losing some campers by polluting the environment, it might have an effect.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


There seem to be as many ways of directing an RV to turn or to back up as there are drivers. We observed two women spotters recently who demonstrated the extremes. One, a dignified European, held her arms rigidly, almost like a toy soldier.

The other, an American, danced gaily from side to side.  Both techniques were entertaining, and effective with those drivers, but I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if spotter A had tried to direct driver B, or vice versa. Would driver A have gone over a cliff? Would driver B have screeched to a stop unnecessarily?

All is well when the driver and spotter are in sync. It’s a pleasure to watch couples who work together with carefully preplanned gestures. When the spotter points to the left and holds their hands six inches apart, the driver moves the rig six inches to the left. When the spotter holds their hands up, palms forward, the driver immediately stops. And so on. The rig is moved or parked quickly and efficiently, with no shouting or swearing.


 For some reason, we find that harmony difficult. When spotting,  if I am behind the rig and point to my left, my driver is likely to yell, “Do you mean the driver’s side??” (Well, of course I do! ) When I hold my hands up to tell him to stop, he may decide I mean something else, and blithely continue moving. Then there are the times he insists he can back up perfectly well without my getting out of the rig. Those are the times that it turns out there is a rock behind the tail pipe, or there is some other unforeseen problem. (Why are men so stubborn about this issue? Women may be irritated by getting too much direction, but we don’t usually ignore it.)


It’s even worse when I drive and he directs me. When he runs a finger across his throat, what on earth does he mean? Stop? Reverse? Give up? When he points to the left, am I supposed to turn the steering wheel to the right, or steer the rig toward the left? Too often, no matter who is driving, we end up screaming at each other rather than parking intelligently.


Fortunately, we usually cooperate in other ways. Though the galley can get crowded, we have gradually learned to slide past each other or take turns with the space. Before starting out he checks the exterior while I do the interior checking. He does the tasks that are physically too demanding for me, and I work at the computer that baffles him. Perhaps in a few more years we will even learn to spot in accord, too.

Text copyright © 2017 by Carol Stone

Photos copyright © 2017 by Thane Puissegur


Sunday, September 3, 2017


Smoky sunlight filtering through redwoods

Driving through the Avenue of the Giants along the northern California coast is an awe-inspiring experience. Ancient coast redwoods reach hundreds of feet into the sky. Even today, when the  temperature has reached 100 degrees and the air is filled with smoke from nearby wildfires, this place seems like a cool, quiet cathedral.

We stop at a grove to enjoy the view and walk, and I notice a young man wiping out a saucepan and tossing the contents onto the ground. Was that a paper towel? Disgusted, I tell him to look for a trash container. He comes up and waves a package of baby wipes in front of my face, saying, “Look at the label! Biodegradable! Don’t be so judgmental!” I am too astounded to answer. Does he think “biodegradable means “vanishes instantly”?

We drive on until we see a sign advertising a drive-through redwood. I’ve seen only photos of those mutilated giants, and am curious enough to stop and see the real thing. It’s interesting in a horrible way. How could anyone ever have destroyed a magnificent redwood so that cars could drive through it? We go on.

Later, we chat with a grandfatherly man who recently took a whale-watching tour out of Baja, and proudly shows us his video of people petting whales that had come up to the boat. I ask hesitantly if touching the whales and allowing them to approach the boats is allowed. He chuckles at my naiveté and replies, “Oh, those Mexicans don’t care!”

Well, I care. I’m tired of people who have no respect for the plants and animals that share our planet, who think their litter is OK if it takes a relatively short time to degrade, who endanger the earth their grandchildren will have to live in. Yes, I’ve become an old grouch, and I’m proud to be one.

Text copyright © 2017 by Carol Stone

Photos copyright © 2017 by Thane Puissegur

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Thane's photo of the corona

August 17: So, here we are at the Grant Co. fairgrounds in John Day, Oregon. Months ago, we reserved a camp site here so that we could be near some excellent viewing areas for the total solar eclipse of August 21, which also happens to be my partner’s birthday. There have been predictions of a million people coming to Oregon for this event, but so far things are fairly quiet.  Our rig is nearly alone, in a large grassy space under a tree.

We need to find a good eclipse-viewing site now—something with an unobstructed view of the entire sky, so that we can see not only the eclipsed sun, but also the shadow racing across from west to east. Many locals are trying to strike it rich by charging hundreds of dollars a night for staying in a driveway or tiny space in a field. We have to find something affordable.

Luckily, we stop at the Chamber of Commerce office and buy a couple of souvenir tee shirts. The lady there is a fountain of information, and gives us a phone number for someone named Jerry, who might have an available place. We call him and make a tentative reservation.

The town of John Day is quaint, and people are friendly. We talk to a local who tells us that they are walking on eggshells about the eclipse. The firefighters and ambulance workers are volunteers, and this is the height of wildfire season. With so many people pouring in, it’s a dangerous situation.

August 18: We leave the fairgrounds and go to Jerry’s house. What luck! Jerry is actually president of the Chamber of Commerce. He owns a ranch that overlooks a valley at the base of Strawberry Mountain, the highest spot in the county . At 9000’, it has a snow patch near the top, even in this very hot August. Jerry’s place will be the best possible place for seeing the eclipse. Not only that, but he is letting us stay here three nights for $150, an unbelievable bargain compared with other sites. Instead of spending today searching for a Forest Service spot, we settle down to enjoy the view, drink Pepsi, and relax for three days.

In the evening, we see smoke in the western sky. Knowing there is a wildfire near the town of Sisters, which has had to be evacuated, we are nervous, Sisters is far to the west.

August 19: During the night, Thane wakes and realizes he left the RV’s sewer hose at the fairgrounds after draining and cleaning it. We call this morning to ask if it has been found, but have  to leave voice mail. As we had some earlier issues with the campground manager, I’m not optimistic about getting the hose back. We won’t need it for quite a while, but will probably have to buy a new one. Another expense for a fairly pricey trip! The eclipse had better be worth it.

While we wait in the hope of a call back, we’re reading, looking at the beautiful view (now smokeless), and getting pictures. Thane is filling the camera with photos, I’m sketching. There are about 200 cattle down in the valley, so I’m trying to sketch them. Who would have thought it would be so hard? Cattle don’t seem to have the nice smooth shapes of reptiles or even birds; they are built like tank cars with legs and snouts. For guidance, I need a book of Gary Larsen cartoons showing cows.

Where is everybody? This wonderful site should be filled, but we are all alone. Knowing that nearby sites are crowded and expensive, we feel as if we have entered a twilight zone. Could it be because the site’s owner misspelled eclipse on his sign?

August 20: The eclipse is tomorrow, but when we get up, we are still alone here. This is downright spooky.

Around noon, another motorhome finally joins us. Things are looking up. I’m spending some time practicing using the camera for a quick shot of the eclipsed sun, but am pessimistic. From everything I’ve read, people become unglued as totality approaches, and I may not be capable of actually taking a photo. It’s worth a try, though.

More arrive by night. A family from Holland, some beefy women from Washington state, others. All are prepared with goggles and cameras.

We bake and decorate a special birthday cake for Thane that looks like an eclipse, complete with a corona of frosting.

August 21: It’s Thane’s birthday. Jerry’s wife Marcia has told others about the birthday, and the Dutch family festoons our awning with a Happy Birthday banner.

At about 9:30 the moon begins to move across the sun, and we put on our special viewing goggles. No other excitement yet.

People coming into the campground are carefully herded by jerry, so they aren't invading our expensive camp site or flying drones into our air space. It’s good to have political connections, even here. It would be complete chaos without his help.

At 10:10, the sky is changing. A dark shadow falls across the clouds, leaving the bright sky beneath them. Shadows on the ground are very crisp, but the air is dusk-like. Looking through our special eclipse goggles, we see the “bite” taken out of the golden sun by the moon, which gradually covers it entirely. When totality is reached we remove the glasses and look directly at the sun with only binoculars over our uncovered eyes. The bright white corona is visible, with a few reddish solar prominences. We have both followed the unfolding event with cameras, and have made some videos and still photos. It has been a highly successful day.

August 22: Unbelievably, we return to the fairgrounds and recover the sewer hose.