JFK Assination — My Memories of those awful Days

5th Grade ClassI was in the fifth grade at Neil Cummins School in Corte Madera, California. It was the mid-morning recess, and my friend Marty and I hadn’t gone outside like we were supposed to. Marty was combing his hair in the picture-tube reflection of a boxy Black &White TV on a cart, which happened to be in our classroom that day.

Just then our teacher Mrs. McKinney , a grey-haired lady with normally charming southern manners poise, charged into the classroom in a lather. She collared Marty, through him to the floor, and switched on the TV. The TV took several minutes to warm-up. In the meantime, we protested Marty’s treatment. We thought our teacher was over reacting to our minor transgression. Mrs. McKinney turned and said, “Shut up, you two!” I’d seen our teacher’s wrath before, but I had never seen her loose emotional control like that. Then the TV came on and we learned the awful news. The President had been shot. We were dumbstruck.

All the fourth, fifth and sixth grader were told to go the Lunch Yard. It was about 10:30 A.M. Pacific Standard Time. We sat there quietly without supervision, while the principal and teachers decided what to do. I remember a chubby redheaded kid named Peter had thought to grab his lunchbox on his way out to the picnic tables. As time went on, we were all getting hungry. Peter tried to sneak a bite of his sandwich, and I remember some of the girls exclaiming, “Peter, how can you eat at time like this?”

The teachers and principal learned that JFK had died in the hospital about 11 A.M. our time. The doctors could not save him. We were not told. It was decided to send us home. I walked home by the sloughs and up Palm Hill to 17 Blue Rock Court. At home I learned from my distressed mother that the President was dead.

Our little portable TV was on almost all the time that weekend. That was unusual in our household. Mom had a one hour a day TV policy. The TV was turned off when we went to church on Sunday.

There was a big turnout that Sunday. The ushers asked me to help them, a big deal for this 11, not quite 12, year old kid. The Pastor came into the back of the church and was telling the adult ushers something. I overheard. When I was escorting two grey-haired little old ladies, in hats, gloves and their Sunday best, to their seats, they whispered to me, “What was the Pastor telling those men?” I told them the news that the man they thought killed the President Kennedy had been shot. I was surprised to see the look of anguish on their faces. But they knew what I was not yet old enough to understand.

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Two sons of San Francisco, from very different neighborhoods, thrown together by World War II, warmed to each other and melted a little of the racial prejudice and segregation that was then so rampant. As young men, they both attended San Francisco City College and both ended up in the 285th Combat Engineers, though they did not know each other.

During their training in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, the 285th Combat Engineers were being moved from one location to another overnight by Pullman Sleeper train. There weren’t enough berths, so the order was given — one soldier to an upper bunk and two soldiers to a lower bunk. My dad, Art Brandow, being a big guy (6’2”), tried to grab an upper bunk for himself without success. All were taken. Then he tried to find the smallest guy in the unit to share a lower bunk with. That guy was Bill Lee.

After discovering that they were both from San Francisco, they became friends. They each got leave to visit home before shipping out to Europe, but not during the same week. Together they arranged for Bill to have dinner with Art’s family in Westwood Park near City College and for Art to have dinner with Bill’s family in Chinatown.

Even though Bill’s father was a cook for a wealthy white family who lived on Nob Hill, Bill had never been invited to a Caucasian family’s home for dinner. Likewise, Art had never been invited to a Chinese family’s home for dinner. It was the summer of 1944. It was a simple act of kindness between two army buddies and their families, prior to these two sons of San Francisco facing the hazards of war. But it was a very meaningful expression of unity, considering the segregation that existed at that time.

I got to meet Bill and see him and my dad reminisce about these days, during their 285th Combat Engineers Reunion in Nashville, TN in 2004. The 285th was thrown into the breach at the Battle Bulge (Hitler’s last great counter-offensive) two-days before Christmas 1944 and then fought with General George S. Patton’s Third Army into and across Germany. Art’s job was to demolish bridges the enemy might use, and to build new or to reinforce existing bridges for Patton’s advancing troops and tanks. Bill’s job was transporting and potentially deploying chemical weapons. Unlike World War I, both sides decided not to use these horrific weapons in combat, but they did have them at the ready.

Bill Lee published a book in 2010 called San Francisco Son about some of his life experiences. Bill was born in 1923 in Chinatown, San Francisco, CA. Much of his book is short pieces about growing up in Chinatown in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Bill writes in his book about his journey back to California from Germany and his discharge from the Army at Camp Beale (now Beale AFB) near Marysville, CA. in February 1946, and then immediately resuming his classes at UC Berkeley for a B.S. in Chemistry. Art must have been on the same transport, because he quickly ended up as a transfer student at UC Berkeley in Civil Engineering the same month.

Art went on to a successful career as a civil engineer with the City & County of San Francisco and as a city manager for the Town of Corte Madera and the City of Belmont. In 1964 he came out strongly in favor of the Rumford Fair Housing Act (banning housing discrimination in California) and against its repeal by ballot proposition. That was an unpopular position for a small town city manager to take, but it was the right thing to do. Art retired in 1985, moved to Davis a few years later and died in 2006.

Bill went on to get a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Minnesota. Then after his first job in Dayton, Ohio, he returned to California and worked a full career at SRI (Stanford Research Institute). He now lives near one of his three sons in Sunnyvale, CA.

Bill is an interesting and humble guy. When I started drawing cartoons for the Cal Aggie college newspaper years ago, every time dad saw one of my cartoons he would say, “You know I have a friend named Bill Lee who drew cartoons in the army and in college.” So it was fun to meet Bill in 2004, and it was fun for me to read his book San Francisco Son.

I hope Bill Lee writes another book and includes a story about the two sons of San Francisco who visited each other’s homes just across town, but worlds apart in 1944.

2004 Reunion of the 285th Combat Enigineers. Nashville, TN.

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Burney Falls

Burney Falls

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has an opening for a hydrologist just starting out. The job is in Portland, OR. The job probably involves water quality, flows, and fish, as well as power production. It’s a GS-7/11 ($41k to $93K) with promotion potential to a GS-12. Job opening closes June 12, 2013. So hurry. A link to the job announcement on the Avue website is listed at the end of this post.

These kinds of government jobs are often “wired,” meaning that there is a candidate with an inside shot at it. Sometimes you can make a few phone calls and get a feeling for that. Often they won’t tell you or they lie and tell you that the job is not “wired.” Unfortunately that is just part of the game in applying for federal jobs. This can be frustrating. I know. I’ve been there. How do get the insider information you need, not waste time on extreme long-shot federal applications, become the “wired-one” and get federal the job? My advice to young hydrologists and young hydros tech is network, network, network!!! If you don’t know how, ask me. I’ll help you.


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It’s not about the Domes

40-year Reunion of the Dome Pioneers of Baggins End on the UC Davis campus. August 2012.

Note: This was originally written for Bob Dunning’s 2012 contest: “Replace the above pictured columnist (aka Bob Dunning of The Davis Enterprise).”

Twenty-one years ago I wrote in this space about organizing a twenty year reunion of the folks who built the domes at Baggins End on what was then a remote, treeless corner of the UC Davis campus. I posed the ponderous question, how do you organize a reunion of anarchists? This column lead to an all expense paid, sit down, candlelight supper at McDonald’s at which my wife, Brooke, innocently asked to see menu. The McDonald’s menu was shorter back then, and most people like Bob Dunning carried it around in their heads. But I’m not going to write about the domes this time.

Five years ago, I did write in this space about the 30-year reunion of the dome builders. We always get a good turn-out despite the fact that the group of 40 or so is made up primarily of anarchists, iconoclasts, and other free-spirits, who think sign-up lists are for other people deemed less enlightened. After 35 years I was able to write about the experience of building the domes well enough that a version of my of my “Replace the above Pictured Columnist” piece was published in UC Davis Magazine, and the UC Regents sent me a check for $100.00. That’s right, the first money I ever got for a writing a column was in the low five–figures, with a floating decimal point.

But I told myself I’m not going to write about the domes this time, even though this year the domes are now 40-years old and the community of folks who live there now did a remarkable job in 2011-12 of saving the domes from the wrecking ball. The students of Baggins End, kindred alumni and supporters accomplished this the same year as the infamous, but unrelated, student paper spray incident took place – a year when relations between students and the administration were strained to say the least.

My work with the current and former residents of Baggins End over the last couple of years in this Herculean effort, waged on all fronts, to try and save this little counter-culture community in the midst of all the conformity that surrounds it, made me realize what a wealth of political, organizational, building and general can-do talent lives there now and has lived there in the recent past. In this respect the current student residents are much like the folks who built the domes – a group with diverse nascent talents willing to learn quickly and to pull together for a moment in time for a common cause.

At the 40-year dome pioneers re-union this August, it was amazing to see so many old-friends now nearing the end of their work-a-day careers and learn where they have been and what they have done in their lives as artists, engineers, doctors, and the like. Many are parents and grandparents. The mixing of the generations on a Saturday evening among the domes with some of the current student-residents for a midsummer potluck was magical.

Life is best lived in a community of interconnected communities. Catch the contagion of community life and you will never want to go back to your old life in a neighborhood of strangers, no matter where you live. It’s not about the domes.

BIO: Clay Brandow is a hydrologist with water on his mind most of the time, but at 60 is seeking other diversions, including writing, Rotary and grandparenthood with his lovely wife with a watery name, Brooke.

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Dome Summer of 1972

Dome of Summer 1972 Here is a little slide show on our dome building summer of 1972 at what became the Baggins End Community on a little corner of the UC Davis campus. I used this PowerPoint when talking to local Rotary Clubs about this one of a kind project. Remember these slides are from the summer of 1972, forty years ago. We all look very young, indeed.

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Clay vs. Clayton

My given name is Clay, not Clayton, not Claiborne, nor any of number longer, more formal variants.

When I was in Kindergarten and learning to write my name, my teacher, Miss Manina, insisted my name was Clayton and that my insisting on just writing “CLAY” in my labored, 5-year old, block letters just demonstrated a tendency towards laziness.

“Clayton, you must write your full name. Stop being lazy,” Miss Manina admonished while hovering over me, much too close for comfort and much to my embarrassment.

“My name is Clay and I’m not lazy!” I tearfully protested.

Things quickly spun out of control between me and Miss Manina. Finally, my mom had to come down to the school with my birth certificate to satisfy my teacher that her assumption that my name was Clayton was wrong and that my given name was Clay. Miss Manina was not happy, but she relented.

Mom never disputed the teacher’s second assumption about me, which has proved to be largely correct over the last five and half decades. Miss Manina had me pegged, and mom was not about to contradict her on the laziness issue.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. Hope things are fine in Heaven.
Your grateful son,

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Déjà vu Shed: Ten Watershed Management Lessons Learned

Clay Brandow (aka ColorfulClay)

Burney Falls

“We don’t make many mistakes; we just make the same ones over and over again.” noted hydrologist Dave Rosgen is fond of saying. I couldn’t agree more. Ever get a sinking feeling that working in watershed management, in the immortal words of baseball great Yogi Berra, “is like déjà vu all over again?” Here is a lighthearted look at the top ten situations that give me that sinking feeling. My gift to you, the hydrologist or the curious reader, based on my thirty years experience.

In my early days as a forest hydrologist I suffered lots of doubt, including self-doubt. Doubt is a good thing in science. It leads to questioning assumptions. Self-doubt, on the other hand, can lead to be being pushed around by self-assured managers who want you to design, rationalize or otherwise go along with projects and programs that violate first principles. Projects and programs that violate first principles almost inevitably lead to failures. Failures that become more and more familiar with each experience, until persistent feelings of “I’ve been in this situation before and the outcome wasn’t good,” start to ware you down.

Fortunately, I had a mentor, one of the grand daddies of practical forest hydrology, Earl Ruby. He taught me about first principles and how the practicing watershed scientist can use first principles to avoid getting talked into going along something stupid when he or she gets that feeling of déjà vu, just before heading down the wrong path.

Here are my top ten watershed déjà vu situations, each captured in a short quote, followed by a short explanation of what they mean and some advice on how to handle them based on first principles. When in your practice of forest hydrology you hear any one of these phrases, run, don’t walk, to nearest applicable first principles.

1.) “We want you to come up with a creative solution.”

MEANING: Don’t be bound by common sense or your knowledge past failures, as long as your solution is photogenic and lasts long enough for the publicity photo with the requisite number dignitaries.

ADVICE: Don’t worry about the photo op. Go with solutions that are as self-sustaining as possible and will continue to improve the situation over time with a minimum of maintenance. If your solution: a) addresses the problem, b) is self-sustaining, and c) blends into the landscape so well that you can’t take a good picture, then you have implemented the perfect solution.

2.) “We must have bare mineral soil and lots of it to grow trees.”

MEANING: Young trees in plantations can’t compete with other vegetation. Don’t worry about the erosion-causing consequences of removing all the groundcover.

ADVICE: Save as much soil protecting groundcover as possible. Bare soils in large blocks on forest slopes tend to erode, reducing soil fertility on the slopes where you are trying to grow trees and water quality in nearby streams where fish are trying to breathe, breed and feed. Little trees just need little opportunity spots. They’ll thrive and the covered soil will stay put to support them as they grow into giants.

3.) “Relax, someday we’ll have enough money to properly repair and maintain the existing forest road system.”

MEANING: We can keep all the forest roads we have now and perhaps build more, despite the fact we don’t have the budget to maintain those roads we have to prevent water quality problems. (Note: The USDA Forest Service has an astounding 300,000 miles of existing roads on National Forest Lands – enough mileage to go around the world 12 times at the equator.)

ADVICE: Don’t be swayed. Be firm. Roads need maintenance to prevent water quality problems. Road systems should be sized to the maintenance dollars that are available now and not is some imaginary halcyon future. Insist on down-sizing the road system until it fits the available road maintenance budget.

4.) “We must act fast to remove log-jam barriers to salmon and steelhead migration.”

MEANING: At one time and not too long ago, we thought that salmon couldn’t cope with logs in the stream. So we launched programs to pull them out of the coastal streams. How wrong we were. We acted on a big-scale before we understood unanticipated consequences of our actions on a small-scale. If only we had waited for our knowledge of how aquatic habitat is formed for salmon, to catch up with our zeal to do something good. Large woody debris (LWD), particularly in coastal streams with few boulders, create the turbulence that dig the pools and sorts gravels, creating critical aquatic habitat features for salmon and trout.

ADVICE: If you don’t know what you are doing is beneficial or harmful to aquatic habitat, slowdown and figure it out with a few small scale, practical experiments applicable to your local situation.

5.) “You are wasting resources by putting water back into that creek.”

MEANING: The habitat in that de-watered stream or lake is permanently damaged or destroyed beyond repair. It’s kaput. It’s never coming back. Besides we need all water we’ve diverted historically for power production, irrigation and/or urban use. Any agreement to take some water and leave some water would do significant economic harm and would not restore the damaged or destroyed aquatic habitat.

ADVICE: Sometimes all an ailing creek needs to recover is water in the form of minimum flows and occasional floods that create and maintain habitat. See the essay “Milagro means Miracle, Water means Power” by Clay Brandow and “Snow is Next year’s Trout” by Mary Stuever at http://colorfulclay.worpress.com for a couple of examples. There are many others. Re-introducing water to naturally or artificially desiccated aquatic habitat will bring it back in most cases. I have seen it many times. It is a miracle (aka milagro) to behold

6.) “We don’t need to understand natural processes; we can just engineer a solution.”

MEANING: We can force nature to do what we want in the long-run if our designs are just massive enough.

ADVICE: Engineering solutions that ignore natural processes won’t last when Mother Nature decides it is time to have the last word. In the long run, Mother Nature’s extreme events always trump engineering. The best engineering solution gets a degraded stream from the condition it is now to the condition it was in before it was degraded, despite the fact that all structures built by man eventually fail. Use your understating of natural processes to work structural failure into your long-term stream recovery plan.

7.) “California streams have never been in worse shape than they are today.”

MEANING: California streams were in better shape in the “good old days” than they are today. Generally they are in decline.

ADVICE: Don’t despair, the doom and gloomers are wrong when it comes to the condition of most of California’s streams. Generally, California streams are in recovery from the extreme indignities they suffered a century ago or more ago, during the Gold Rush, the Ag rush, and industrial/urbanization rush, when many of the state’s waterbodies reached their environmental nadir. This is an important point when planning stream restoration projects. You don’t want your restoration to interrupt natural recovery, and you don’t want natural recovery to bury, wash-away or otherwise devour your restoration efforts. Plan accordingly.

8.) “We’re just monitoring. We don’t need a testable hypothesis or even a clear objective.”

MEANING: Don’t waste time thinking about or documenting the purpose of your monitoring, just get out to the field and measure stuff. We’ll figure out the numbers mean later, in the off-season.

ADVICE: If you just collect monitoring data without any idea what you are going to do with it or the question(s) your want to answer, at the end of the day you end up with files full useless data and lists questions that occurred to you later that you can’t answer with the data you collected. Establish the question(s) first, and always be asking yourself “Will the data I’m collecting, allow me to answer the question(s) I’ve asked?”

9.) “Fire is always bad.”

MEANING: We got to put try and put all wildfires out by 10 A.M. the next morning.

ADVICE: Accept that fire is critical to the health of fire adapted systems. Not all fire is bad, some fire is good. Learn to tell the difference and manage for it.

10.) “Fire is always good.”

MEANING: We can’t suppress any fires even when lives and property are at risk.

ADVICE: We can’t escape the fact that by living in the landscape we alter it. Some fires kill and injure people and destroy property. Some are so large and burn so hot, they cook soils and create conditions that produce excessive debris flows and flooding. Where lives and property are at risk, we need to fight fire aggressively but safely, and we need to take advantage of opportunities to reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfire.

11.) “We don’t need to be brief. We’ve got to put everything in this EIS/EIR, Land Management Plan, Watershed Analysis…”

MEANING: (Yes I know, I promised ten situations and this is number eleven of ten. Enjoy the irony.) The point is the more extraneous stuff you put in an environmental document the less likely the most important information in the document will improve outcomes.

ADVICE: Keep environmental documents and management plans short and to the point. Remember the guy operating the yellow metal probably won’t read your document. But if you make sure at least one effective person on-site has a punch list of what needs to be done and hazards that need to be avoided, your project is much more likely to get implemented according to plan.

While it’s true in many cases that “the solution to pollution is dilution.” The dilution of the solution with extraneous stuff, makes implementation of the solution less likely to happen.

So with that I’ll take my own advice and end this guided missive here. Go forth and do good watershed work guided by first principles. Celebrate your successes, and most importantly learn from your mistakes and those who have made mistakes before you.

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