Saturday, October 9, 2021

A Second Chance at Fame: October 9, 2021

Another of my photos was selected for On a road trip through the Pamirs, I took this photo in August 2011 in the town of Alichur, Tajikistan, on the road from Khorog to Murghab. The name of the town may mean Ali's Curse. The town (elevation 2987m/9800ft) is mostly populated by persons of Kyrgyz descent. The scenery was a starkly beautiful high desert landscape. We did not stay at the Marco Polo Home Stay, however. We did stay in Murghab (elevation 3650m/11975ft), the highest town in Tajikistan. We were supposed to stay 2-3 nights, but the elevation got to me and after one entire night suffering a painful headache, we left for a lower elevation.

My photo can be viewed at

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Hunkering Down at Home: September 2021

Back at home after our four days of taking refuge in Sacramento, much of September still had really bad air. We applied additional weather stripping to areas that were allowing smoke to enter our house. Houses are not hermetically sealed (and that would be dangerous) and smoke is insidiously ephemeral and almost impossible to keep out. Our efforts paid off and the outside air quality improved. If the air was really bad outside, much to the annoyance of Syd and Pandora, we all stayed inside. 

September brought three separate rains for a total of .45 inches (yes, three rain storms and less than a 1/2 inch total). Each rain cleaned the air and washed ash off of our plants. September 30 brought the end of the rain year and in this second year of drought most areas reported only about 45% of normal rainfall. 


The heat and smoke-filled skies mostly put an end to our garden. We pulled up the tomato plants and kept our one pepper plant that still has sweet peppers on it. In the Spring our little pomegranate tree was covered with red blossoms, but only managed to produce five fruits. 

As the Caldor Fire moved east and less and less was burning, our air did improve for at least part of the day. At the end of September it is about 90% contained and most of the evacuation orders/warnings lifted. All the firefighters did and are doing an heroic job and the government doesn't pay the Forest Service firefighters enough. One of the occupations for the Caldor Fire was heli-rappellers. Heli-rappeller firefighters are lowered from helicopters into areas far from roads. In this case, they were in Desolation Wilderness east of Wrights Lake in the Sierra Nevada north of US Highway 50 to establish a fire perimeter, build firebreaks, and extinguish fire. They bring everything they'll need for a 2-week period of time. Super scooper planes gathered 1600 gallons of water in each scoop from Lake Tahoe that was then dropped on flames to slow forward progress.

Last week we had a brief episode of fire panic. We were getting ready for bed when multiple fire/emergency vehicles raced down our street with full lights and sirens. Around the same time we began getting calls and texts. Dan is part of the Diamond Springs Fire Safe Council and each member texted. One said something about the fire scanner and a structure fire on Canyon Valley. A neighbor at the beginning of Canyon Valley Rd who is about one mile from us alerted us to the fire vehicles as they entered our street. We looked toward the destination of the emergency vehicles and didn't see a glow from fire. We drove to the location just as most of the fire vehicles were departing. What remained was the paramedics for a possible medical emergency. We're all a little jumpy when it comes to possible fire.

Fires, smoke, and the never-ending pandemic all merging in September justified staying inside. El Dorado County had an additional 1,349 positive Covid cases and 16 deaths in September bringing the cumulative numbers to 14,939 and 138, respectively. It should be noted that six of the 138 deaths were people fully vaccinated. Eight-five percent of the 138 deaths were people in the 65+ category. Hospitalizations and ICU occupancy were very high most of the first half of the month. The percentage of people fully vaccinated hasn't improved very much. The end of September it stood at 53.2%. 


Pandora the Explorer climbing the oldest Oak Tree in our forest

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

One minute of Fame: September 5, 2021

About three weeks ago I was invited to submit three photographs to This is an online gallery backed by Duncan Miller Gallery in Los Angeles. I submitted three but soon became distracted by our proximity to the Caldor Fire and the smoke that was filling our house every early morning. Anyway, I’m proud to announce one of my photographs was accepted by and it was for sale via email on September 5, 2021. The email and photo can be viewed hereThe title is Night Birds and it is a photo I took when we lived in Skopje, Macedonia. It has always been a favorite of mine. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Smoke--Can't Escape it: August 2021

View from our driveway as we left our house on 8/27/2021
Power on demand, clean water, and clean air are three things that allow life to be more pleasant. I've lived in less developed countries where the infrastructure doesn't adequately support those three conveniences that at home I took for granted. Living in California these are things that I have taken as a given until recently. Now, power during "Fire Season" is not something that we can always depend upon. We don't have a generator for those times when our electricity supplier, Pacific Gas and Electric, cuts power during high wind or high fire danger periods. Our refrigerator's freezer is crammed full of frozen containers so that when power is cut, the refrigerator can be an ice chest in order to preserve what little food we keep in there. We have flashlights and LED lanterns. Our stove and hot water run on propane. We can make due without electricity for a few days.

Our water is good but we're in a drought. The drought has increased the fire danger everywhere in the West, but most especially in California. El Dorado County's water system is distributed from the upper elevations by some newer concrete flumes and some older wooden flumes. The Caldor fire damaged sections of wooden flumes 4, 5 and 6 located 22 miles east of Placerville. The water company has asked customers to reduce water use by 15% from the prior year. Reservoir water is being used to fight the Caldor Fire. 

And, then there is the issue of clean air. We've been trying almost since the Caldor Fire began (8/14/21 at 7:00pm) to install equipment to scrub/clean our interior air to a tolerable level. Nothing, so far, has worked. The air quality in our house became so dangerous that we fled. 

On August 19, our HVAC company installed a Halo-LED apparatus inside our cooling/heating ducts. I had it installed because I was told that the maker's research showed that it reduced smoke odors by 70% and caused the particulates to clump together so they would be stopped by our return air filters. The next day I could tell that the Halo-LED wasn't doing the job. Unfortunately, I didn't have a baseline air quality number prior to the installation. I did subsequently buy an AQ monitor which showed me that the interior air quality was about 50% of the outside AQ readings.

Multiple calls to the HVAC company yielded nothing. Sometimes the phone wasn't answered and if it was, messages weren't returned.

We covered the louvers of our whole-house fan with plastic and taped up all the edges just in case that was a point of entry for bad air. We found another area outside and covered it with plastic and duct tape. We bought a MERV 13 filter to catch fine particulates in our HVAC's return air.

I bought a super-duper Air Purification Filter highly rated by Consumer Reports specifically for handling wildfire smoke and particulates. It arrived on 8/25 and might be helping the interior air quality, but not enough. 

Interior AQ 220 6:09 am
Exterior AQ 500 (maximum for monitor) 6:09 am
Interior AQ 40 2:46 pm
Exterior AQ 74 2:49 pm

Exterior AQ 440 6:22 am
Interior AQ 207 6:28 am

We live 12 miles west of the edge of the Caldor Fire. In the morning around 11:00 am, winds from the west blow the smoke from the Caldor Fire east and bring our outside air quality down as the hours pass. By the time we're ready for bed, the outside and inside air quality are very decent. Inside, the reading is in the 20-50 AQI range. Outside it is double that. At this point, we move the portable air purifier, rated to clean 1300 sq feet in a half hour, up to our bedroom.

Around 8:00 pm the wind begins to change so it is blowing from the east to the west and at the same time, it pushes the smoke from the fire toward us and anyone living west of the fire. Around 3:00 am the air quality in our bedroom heads toward really bad. By the time we wake, the air quality is rated very unhealthy.

AQI Basics for Ozone and Particle Pollution
Daily AQI ColorLevels of ConcernValues of IndexDescription of Air Quality
GreenGood0 to 50Air quality is satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
YellowModerate51 to 100Air quality is acceptable. However, there may be a risk for some people, particularly those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
OrangeUnhealthy for Sensitive Groups101 to 150Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is less likely to be affected.
RedUnhealthy151 to 200Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
PurpleVery Unhealthy201 to 300Health alert: The risk of health effects is increased for everyone.
MaroonHazardous301 and higherHealth warning of emergency conditions: everyone is more likely to be affected.

On Friday, August 27, when I woke the air quality in our bedroom was 272 even with the Halo-LED contraption installed in our cooling/heating ducts and the air purifier blowing right next to our bed and the monitor.

6:22 am 8/27/21

7:22 am 8/27/21

The Koki Lane AQI monitor is the one that shows up closest to our house. We compare it to the monitor readings for Placerville and for Diamond Springs.

7:28 am 8/27/21

The air purifier was schlepped downstairs to the dining room. The air quality monitor showed our downstairs air was "hazardous" at 359. The outside AQI for Koki Lane was 842, Placerville 686, Diamond Springs 819. As the wind continued to push smoke toward us, the monitor inside eventually got to its maximum reading of 500. 

When the interior air is bad, we've been wearing N95 masks to limit our exposure to the particulates. This morning, I realized that our cats were not acting like themselves. Both were curled up and lethargic. We found a hotel in Sacramento that would take pets and we abandoned our home for at least five nights. 

10:43 am 8/27/21

Looking down the street as we left
Syd and Pandora were pretty good in their carriers for several miles and then the chorus of meows began. Dan freed them from their carriers. Syd climbed on top of his so he could observe his surroundings. Pandora kept looking for a place to hide. 

Once we were all in our room at the Residence Inn, it was the same. Syd explored and Pandora hid. Pandora will come out for food that I then have to serve her under the bed. 


Syd, Master of the Universe

Pandora does come out at night when there are less people noises outside. While we're trying to sleep, they are everywhere. I hear them running over the sofa and play fighting on both sides of it. It is away from the wall now because that was the only way we could extricate amorphous little Pandora from the underside of it. Last night, I kept hearing strange noises, but every time I opened my eyes they were both on the bed. This morning, I found the baggie of cat treats ripped open on the floor. I had the cat treats and the tetra packages of Pandora's food on top the refrigerator to keep them safe from cat teeth. Some cat, managed to find the treats last night. Now all is safely stored inside the refrigerator.

On Friday, 8/27/21, afternoon I did email the HVAC company again because no once was answering my calls. I asked to have the Halo-LED contraption removed and asked for my money to be returned. The owner called me. He said he has the same unit in his house and "it kicks butt." He suggested that somewhere in our house the outer air was being pulled into the house; he said he will have someone look at our HVAC system ducts on Monday afternoon. 

Yesterday (Saturday), we left the cats in the hotel room and drove back to Placerville so Dan could get a prescription refill and also stopped in at our house where the interior air was still intolerable. The photo was taken around 3pm and while the image doesn't look too bad, visibility in Placerville was only 4 miles.

The few times we've been out and about in our area, we've seen firefighting vehicles from Redondo Beach, Redwood Coast, Redwood Valley, Hopland, South Coast (Gulala), San Marcos in addition to Forestry, CalFire, and local companies. The number of firefighters has grown to more than 3,300 individuals. I cannot imagine doing their job, ever! Thanks to all of those brave individuals who are trying to keep our county safe. 

August 30, Monday afternoon, we met the HVAC guys at our house. Exterior air was really good because a strong wind (Fire Watch Weather) was pushing the smoke east and feeding the fire's eastern side. Inside, our house smells like someone had a campfire in there. After checking the Halo-LED apparatus, they found that it was working as it should. Our new filters were covered with clumped dust. They sealed an opening in the upstairs return air duct. The finding was that our house is a sieve. All the openings for ceiling light cans, our attic opening, etc all invite the dirty air into our house. They kindly made suggestions about who we could contact to fix the issues in our house. 

Diamond Springs is one of the main areas where early on those evacuated from the fire were placed. Some are in tents and some in RVs. Firefighters wear no protective breathing equipment. Marshall Hospital is overrun with respiratory issues and Covid positive cases. On Sunday, August 29, Barton Hospital in South Lake Tahoe basin was evacuated due to the fire's rapid movement east. On this day another 25,000 acres burned. All or most of South Lake Tahoe is evacuated because the fire as it moves east has now moved over the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Almost 200,000 acres have been burned. Parts of Douglas County (just over the border into Nevada) are now under evacuation orders as well.

I haven't updated the Covid situation for El Dorado County since the end of May when there was a cumulative total of 10295 positive Covid-19 cases and 113 deaths. The last three months have brought the cumulative positive Covid-19 cases to 13590 and 122 deaths. The difference of 3295 positive cases for a 3-month period is a big spike in numbers but masks aren't worn, restaurants are serving indoors, there is no social distancing, and just 50.7% are fully vaccinated. On this last day of August, our local hospital has 27 Covid cases with 10 in the ICU. It is full.

August 2021 has been packed with so many large, tragic events: earthquake in Haiti, the US departure from Afghanistan, the Dixie Fire, the Caldor Fire, east coast and gulf coast floods and hurricanes. Just too many tragedies at once to absorb!

I had hoped to edit my photos and update my travel journal for our June trip to Eastern Washington State, but I haven't been able to focus on that long enough. Dan had his first cataract surgery the first week of August and the 3rd week he had the second eye done. His vision is greatly improved and so far he doesn't need glasses for distance or closeup. 

While it's hard to recall what else was going on in the first 15 days of August, these last 16 days will be forever burned into my memory. As the fire moves east, the air quality at our house has gotten better. We returned home to blue skies the evening of August 31. Crossed fingers that we can tolerate the air tomorrow morning which would be really bad news for those in the Tahoe Basin.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Eastern Zanzibar, Tanzania: July 11 and 12, 2021

The Rock Restaurant

Aboard the minibus we were driven east to the other side of the island for lunch at The Rock. Everything about this restaurant is memorable. It sits in the Indian Ocean off the eastern shore of Zanzibar. If you arrive during low tide, you can walk in. If you arrive during high tide a boat will deliver you to the steps. The food is imaginative and delicious. It is unique!

From The Rock we drove a little south but still on the eastern coast to the village of Paje where our last hotel, Kisiwa on the Beach Resort, would be our home for the last two days. Everything about the hotel was pleasing and beautiful from pervasive fragrance of lemongrass to the floral arrangements to the property itself. The beach sand was so white and fine it was like sifted flour. 

Another beautiful room
Kisiwa's Pool with the Beach beyond
A Maasai Vendor trolling the Beach
Instead of relaxing, Dan and I walked into the village of Paje once on the road and once down the beach. There were lots of places with signs in several languages that were selling stuff. There really wasn't much to see but we enjoyed exploring.

Along the beach people were taking kite foil lessons.

And a small herd of cattle looking for a way home somehow wandered onto the beach and seemed surprised by all the attention.

We did get our Covid-19 results in time, and the tour company made copies for us. At the Zanzibar airport our test results had to be hand stamped by a doctor hanging out in the airport for that purpose. Qatar Airlines looked at the results and handed them back. No other authority anywhere, not even in the USA, asked to see our results. Our fellow travelers who flew through Paris said they had to show their test results three times in the airport before flying their next segment.

All our flights to Tanzania and back home were on time which was quite remarkable given that flights were being canceled everywhere at that time.

It was a remarkable vacation in every way. We are so glad we jumped for the chance to take it. Our entire group was wonderful. Thanks to Ali and Nahid Khataw. Ali was generous with sharing his photographic expertise and Nahid was wonderful to converse with. She made sure everyone was happy and comfortable. Our fellow travelers Ali and Nahid, Farhan and Salva, Omar and Shadia, Dee and Winn, and Sharon and Dayna made traveling with a group easy.

Fair Trade Safaris - A Socially Responsible Luxury Travel Agency

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Zanzibar City, Zanzibar, Tanzania: July 9-10, 2021

Leaving the Serengeti, we flew from Kogatende Airstrip in a small plane to Seronara Airstrip to take an even smaller plane (no toilet and help yourself to a bottle of water) several hours to Zanzibar Island. We did have boxed lunches packed for us by Mara Under Canvas.

In my imaginings Zanzibar is a place of mystic, music, beaches, balmy weather, and a place to savor. I wasn't wrong.

For some context, Zanzibar united with Tanganyika in 1964. The official name of this union is the United Republic of Tanzania. Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania and is sometimes referred to as the African Hong Kong. Hope things work out better for the African Hong Kong than it has for the Chinese Hong Kong.

Zanzibar is 96% Muslim. The current president is Samia Suluhu Hassan, and she is a Zanzibari. Formerly she was the vice president under John Magufuli, aged 61, who died in April 2021. The official cause of death was a heart attack. The BBC reported that Magufuli "scoffed at the global warnings over coronavirus and downplayed its threat, refusing to allow Covid-19 vaccines into the country. At one point he announced that the virus had been defeated by prayer in Tanzania." Magufuli's government stopped reporting Covid statistics in May 2020.

In contrast, President Hassan wears a mask, appointed a committee of experts to advise her on the status of Covid, and has put in place necessary steps to keep people safe. Just this month Tanzania has begun to report Covid statistics to Africa Center for Disease Control. Also, President Hassan was vaccinated with a J&J vaccine this month.

After landing in Zanzibar we boarded a minibus to get to our hotel. Traffic was gridlocked because the president's motorcade was moving which caused everything else to stop. Our local guide suggested that we simply walk through Stone Town (the old part of Zanzibar City) and meet the minibus with our luggage later at our hotel. We grabbed cameras and strolled.

It was late afternoon and we saw several groups of men relaxing with board games. We walked through the fish market, herb markets, bread sellers, and in and out of streets too narrow for cars.

Young Men Playing Bao (the Swahili word for board) in Stone Town Zanzibar
Fish Market

Herbalist Shop
Bread sellers

Narrow streets and clusters of electrical wire hanging overhead

The reason this neighborhood is called Stone Town is because many of the buildings were constructed with coral stone from the coral reef surrounding the island. This is no longer the case, but you can see the evidence everywhere.

The Milkman

Freddie Mercury's House when he lived on Zanzibar
During high tide locals dive/jump from the stone pier. The less experienced divers use one side of the pier, but most of the audience is on the other side. 

We came back later in the evening to watch the better divers jump.

Not everyone who jumped from this side was a better diver. Dee, one of our fellow travelers, and a brave man, made everyone smile, laugh, and applaud with his dive. 

Dee had a hard time climbing up the wall so several of the other divers gave him advice and a hand. The other guys said he was the second white guy to ever make the jump.

As a group, one afternoon we took a sunset cruise on a dhow (a traditional sailing vessel with at least one mast). The trip was accompanied by musicians. 

A Dhow in Silhouette

We rounded out the Stone Town portion of our Zanzibar trip with the night market for street food.

Henna by smart phone flashlight
Cats roam the night market hoping for handouts and cleaning up after messy eaters.

We packed a lot of memories into the two days we had in Zanzibar City, plus we also had to get our Covid-19 tests in compliance with US requirements for our return to the USA. Results were promised to be delivered in 48 hours. Tomorrow we drive to the eastern side of Zanzibar Island for a little more R&R.

Stone Town Doubletree Hotel with its perfect location, comfortable rooms, a fine restaurant with a view, and competent staff.