Quiet Gem of the Sierras – Bear Valley

Bear Valley It is a crisp winter morning in the Sierras, and the sun is beginning to peak through the trees as we wind our way up into the high country along State Highway 4 on our way to Bear Valley. A fresh layer of snow clings to the towering pines, cedars and firs, weighing down their tops, causing them to lean into one another as if whispering the secrets of this place. We are scarcely aware of our elevation gain until we come around a bend and the forest gives way to a breathtaking view across a river canyon, revealing the sparkling white crest of the Sierra Nevada. We are nearly there! In a few short miles we will be greeted by one stunning scene after another, as the highway emerges into a magical valley at 7000 feet, then points us toward the Mokelumne River canyon, second only in depth to King’s Canyon in the southern Sierra. And finally, around our last turn, the treasure we have come for lies before us – Bear Valley Mountain – some of the finest skiing California has to offer. With the drive time clocking in at around three hours from the south Bay, it is definitely our closest ski resort. So why does it feel so remote?

You could be forgiven for thinking this place is isolated and difficult to reach. In winter, it is literally at the end of the road in the middle of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For the outdoor enthusiasts who know and love Bear Valley, this is the essence of why they have been bringing their family and friends here for years. This place is a quiet gem waiting to be discovered. It is not the bustling tourist center of Tahoe, though from Bear Valley’s summit you can easily see the Tahoe area peaks. Just subtract the crowds and the five hour ordeal on the interstate, and instead find yourself here, in the middle of the beautiful Stanislaus National Forest.

Bear ValleyBear ValleyEbbett’s Pass, as this stretch of Highway 4 is known, is a national scenic byway and was named in 2010 as among the top scenic drives in the US. It is a showcase for the best the Sierra has to offer, beginning in the rolling foothills around the 2000 foot level and later topping out at 8500 feet along the crest of the range. Major John Ebbetts, to whom the road owes its name, was a California explorer who first traversed the route in 1851. Later, business interests from the bustling mining town of Murphys turned Ebbetts’ route into a wagon trail, and a toll station in the area then known as Grizzly Bear Valley was established. Luckily, transportation has improved a bit since then, and in a short drive from the Bay, you can be on the snow. The ski resort came into being in 1967, as the sport was gaining in popularity on the west coast. However, with the much larger resort developments in Lake Tahoe gathering notoriety just to the north, Bear Valley instead became a haven for those seeking a quieter, lower key, family-style experience. Those values are still very much a part of life here.

What’s different now, and irresistible, is the buzz swirling around this mountain mecca. Various owners during the resort’s 43-year history have schemed and dreamed of expanding the skiing terrain to its fullest potential and creating year-round amenities that will accommodate both adrenaline junkies and leisure specialists. But the resort and village always remained in separate hands until 2005, when they were combined by a partnership of local landowner Chuck Toeniskoetter, Dundee Real Estate and two Bay Area investors, Radar Partners. Several of the new owners have life-long ties to Bear Valley and it’s their goal to build this place into a vibrant mountain community that retains the slow paced, welcoming charm that drew them here in the first place.

But let’s talk snow. The Sierras received an impressive load of snow throughout the fall, setting Bear Valley up for epic early season powder, and we are headed into the newly opened 400 acre bowl on the mountain’s eastern face. This gorgeous stash of intermediate and advanced terrain has been a popular secret among locals for many years, who use the wide open bowls and tree runs to ski into the village below. It has always been within the resort’s “soft boundary,” (an area open to skiing, though not patrolled or maintained) but this is the first year the area will be officially incorporated into the trail system. And it makes sense, after all, because it is here that a long awaited ski lift bringing guests from the village below will soon be built.

The soft boundary concept is a significant asset for Bear Valley, and one the resort is now trying to promote more widely. Anyone who knows the mountain knows Grizzly Bowl – referred to as “the lower mountain,” for its location underneath and out of sight from the more obvious intermediate slopes above – conceals some of the best black diamond terrain this side of the Rockies. However, for those with a good knowledge of avalanche avoidance and the willingness to do a little work (read: hiking through powder to get back to civilization), the mountain can nearly double in size and offer some spectacular backcountry skiing and riding experiences. Luckily, to make the out-of-bounds experience safer and more accessible, local guide service, Mountain Adventure Seminars, has set up shop inside the main lodge at the resort. With twenty years experience in guided climbing, backcountry travel and avalanche safety instruction, owner Aaron Johnson and his team offer everything from private tours of hidden powder, telemark clinics, as well as single and multiday avalanche training sessions.

Bear ValleyWhen the snow melts and summer arrives, Bear Valley serves as an access point to camping, fishing, biking, hiking and mountaineering in the Stanislaus National Forest or for travel into two of California’s spectacular wilderness areas; the Mokelumne to the north, and Carson-Iceberg to the south. July brings the world famous Death Ride nearby, a 100 mile cycle race through five different passes. Or, if you are looking for something more cultural, come in August for the Bear Valley Music Festival, a two-week show of orchestras, soloists and legendary entertainers. Throughout the season, the BVSafe summer camp program offers an array of outdoor youth sports instruction, from soccer and tennis to archery and mountain biking. Athletes of all disciplines have discovered that when the August temperatures soar into triple digits in the valley and foothills below, the weather here at 7000 feet is ideal for long days training in the alpine sun.

A short drive back down the road from Bear Valley, the alpine landscape opens onto the rolling hills of Calaveras County wine country, fast becoming a renowned destination for top quality boutique wines. The county is bordered on the north and south by world class whitewater in the Mokelumne and Stanislaus rivers, and tucked away in the hills between, a year round hot spot for biking, climbing, caving and horseback riding. On the cultural side, you’ll find a patchwork of farms, state parks and small towns where you can browse antiques or contemporary art while sipping your locally roasted espresso. Agriculture has played a big role in the culture and economy of this region, and this year it will be a feature on the menu at Bear Valley as well. In a unique partnership with local food producers, the resort will be offering locally grown products whenever possible and turning its commitment to healthy foods up a notch with fresh vegetarian fare.

While these communities of the Ebbett’s Pass corridor have had their share of economic challenges over the years, they now find themselves in a unique position to offer many of us exactly the kind of experience we are looking for. The blend of year round healthy outdoor lifestyle, food and wine, and vibrant communities have created a new challenge – finding a way to stay longer.

Finding the Meaning of Life in the New Year

Finding the Meaning of lifeSince the beginning of time, people have prophesized about the meaning of life. What is the point of our existence? How does one find purpose? Is inner peace obtainable? Why didn’t I invent Facebook? The question is as simple as it is complex. Ultimately, it would seem logical that we all desire a certain amount of joy and happiness in our lives. Whether your spiritual inspiration is Freud, Nietzsche, Mandino, Budda, Yoda or Zuckerberg, our search can be a lifelong journey or enlightenment can be just a paragraph away. Who knew I was so deep, right?

During my pursuit of enlightenment, both spiritual and intellectual, I have recently unlocked the meaning of life. How? Where? When, you might ask? Let’s just say I attend the church of common sense on a regular basis and this epiphany came to me several weeks ago. Not being one to selfishly hoard a hidden treasure such as this, my New Year’s gift to all of my readers (both of you) is sharing this profound, yet oddly uncomplicated, secret. Ready? Are you sitting down? Life is about the pursuit of happiness and happiness can be found by appreciating simple pleasures. Simple pleasures can be found each and every day in every aspect of our lives if we just take the time to acknowledge them when they occur.

No one person lives life attending a non stop party filled with attention, adulation and admiration, but we all have simple pleasures that fill our heart and recharge our emotional battery. No amount of money, fame, career success, recognition, good health, sports accomplishments, religious purity or sexual conquests can sustain a person for a prolonged period of time. However, if one embraces the simple pleasures in their day to day routines, these flashes of joy and contentment add up to a lifetime of happiness.

Relationships: No relationship is perfect and every relationship has its challenges. Regardless how your relationship is defined; friendship, dating, betrothed, civil union, partners, a married couple, roommates, co-parents or estranged exes, the key is to appreciate the simple pleasures. Too often, young couples expect the honeymoon to never end and are disappointed or disillusions if there are days, weeks or months of strife. A more rewarding approach may be to focus on the simple pleasures that bring you moments of joy. My wife appreciates when I unload the dishwasher or do the grocery shopping. I, on the other hand, enjoy when we read the Sunday paper on the back patio or when I find my favorite new songs uploaded on my ipod. My worst day at the office can be erased if she greets me with a supportive hug when I arrive home. Our simple pleasures include walking the dogs, going to the movies or enjoying a nice bottle of wine. Neither of us it perfect and at times we seem disconnected, but we do our best not to take each other for granted as that’s a simple pleasure in and of its own.

: Being a parent is hard and I don’t recall getting an instruction manual when we left the hospital’s maternity ward. Babies cry too much, toddlers toddle too busy, tweens whine too much and teenagers are too moody, rebellious and prone to making bad decisions. However, parenting can also be the greatest job in the world if you take time to appreciate the simple pleasures. Contrary to popular belief, in affluent communities the latest, greatest or most expensive next big thing isn’t what makes a child happiest. A child will likely respond most favorable when a parent is involved, engaged and invested. Holding hands with my daughters is still precious. Hearing usually combative sisters laugh and giggle warms my heart. I love when they’re beaming with pride as the result of bringing home a good grade or accomplishing some athletic feat. I especially like our conversations right before bed time. If I died tomorrow, my heart would be filled with the memories of the simple pleasures we’ve shared together.

Some of my fondest memories I have as a child are of simple pleasures spent with my parents. I remember wrestling with my father in our back yard; seeing my mom’s smile whenever I donned my Cub Scout uniform and the comforting reassuring hugs they both dolled out whenever I was sad or down.

Career: In a perfect world, we would all win the lottery and either not have to work or be allowed the privilege of pursuing the career we choose, not the one we’ve fallen into. What’s the old saying? Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Sadly, most of us do what we do because it’s either too late to change careers or the career we want wouldn’t pay the bills. So what choice do we have except to find that simple pleasure in our Monday through Friday, nine to five routine? If you’re the boss (owner, manager, supervisor or chief) isn’t it rewarding when an underling accomplishes a task or completes a project to your satisfaction? It’s especially rewarding if you’ve trained this energetic, enthusiastic, eager-to-please employee to succeed? At the same time, if you’re a workerbee, you’ll undoubtedly agree how nice it is to get praise or recognition from your superior. Closing a sale, providing great customer service, addressing a company need, concern or problem can be incredibly rewarding if you recognize your own contribution as a productive member of the team. When you apply yourself and do your best, you’ll be surprised how fulfilling work can be thanks to recognizing the simple pleasures your role plays within the organization.

The end of the year is a chance to reevaluate where we are and where we ant to be over the next twelve months. The New Year brings everyone a new beginning, a chance to reinvent ourselves. This year, my lone resolution will be to truly appreciate life’s simple pleasures. If we learn to appreciate the simple pleasures in life, we can assuredly enhance our level of happiness as we endure our suburban existence. I may not have invented Facebook, but I may just post this life altering mantra for all my friends to read.

“Lighten Up” & Move Forward—Mind, Body, Spirit

As an artist and a creative Clinical Hypnotherapist, I’m a fan of the philosophy that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” For this reason, various visuals (2 and 3 dimensional) are some of my favorite teaching tools. For example, when working with clients who are seeking stress management help, I offer an illustrative symbol for stress that sits on a table next to my chair. The symbol is a small figurine that I repeatedly reach for while talking with clients. The figurine is of a man carrying a large sack of coal on his back. The man is bent over beneath the weight of the coal-filled sack.

This is a good analogy for the stress management work that I do with clients year round. For example, I ask clients, “What are you carrying on your back that feels like a burden?” Then, our work often consists of hoisting the sack off the client’s back, and onto the floor between us. We “metaphorically” let the sack’s contents gently spill onto the floor allowing the coal pieces to receive some light. From this higher perspective…we let the exploration begin.

The client and I sit patiently together, identifying, sorting, and clarifying what each piece of coal (or burden) represents. The process often uncovers guilt, shame, and regret. I also find that many clients are carrying burdens for other people—burdens over which they have no power to change. If they determine they are carrying a burden that is truly someone else’s responsibility, then they can consider “energetically” (sometimes during hypnotherapy) giving the piece of coal back to its rightful owner. This personal inventory process offers my clients an opportunity to strengthen their boundaries and choose to address burdens that are appropriately within their realms of control.

One of my clients, Celeste, carried the burden of continually worrying about her older brother. She expended lots of energy trying to help—as well as trying to “fix” his problems. She researched and offered professional resources galore. Unfortunately, there was no appreciation or follow-up on the resources by her brother (as he continued self-destructive behaviors). Several times, Celeste organized an intervention with a skilled therapist, other family members, and several of her brother’s friends (who were in recovery already). Unfortunately, her brother was unwilling to receive any treatment.

Eventually, through her own personal growth work, Celeste learned that she didn’t need to continually carry another adult’s burdens or suffering. Realizing this was a pivotal moment in her life. It was a moment when she came home to herself. She made her own health, well-being, and personal growth major priorities in her life. And, she finally brought the focus back to issues within herself that were in need of emotional healing. Celeste focused on areas of her life where she did have power and could create healthy change…and cultivate personal fulfillment.

I often see a recurring gift that clients receive after they’ve gone through this process of sorting through their “coal sacks” with me. Once a layer of the emotional exploration is complete and they have clarified and compassionately released burdens that are not appropriately theirs to bear—a clearing appears. After they’ve created some space and added breathing room, they then have an opportunity to invite in what they need in their lives today.

This process of lightening up and moving forward can be a great way for each of us to update our internal landscapes and continually clear out heavy burdens we have no control over. We lose emotional weight, which then often inspires losing physical weight (an added benefit). As a result, we no longer need to “feed” the sack of stress-full burdens!

And, while I’m on the topic of lightening up, if emotional eating is a challenge and a habit in your life—then join me January 11th in Walnut Creek for a workshop (details below). It’s the first workshop on this topic where we are inviting men to attend at the Women’s Health Center. Due to many requests by men to attend, I am delighted to include both men and women. I hope to see many of you ALIVE readers at this event!

Finally, when we dive in and embrace, renew, or release, both physically and emotionally, we are honoring who we are in this precious moment—mind, body, and spirit. And, from this recharged, lighter place we can declare that we are ready to move forward…and wholeheartedly savor this New Year!

Trina’s Inspiring Workshop: Managing Emotional and Compulsive Eating—for Women & Men—John Muir Women’s Health Center: Tuesday, Jan 11, 6:30-8:30 pm. 1656 N. California Blvd., Suite 100, Walnut Creek. Seats are limited—register today: (925) 941-7900 option 3. For more info, go to www.TrinaSwerdlow.com & click on “Private Sessions & Workshops”

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author of the 2-CD Set, Weight Loss: Powerful & Easy-to-Use Tools for Releasing Excess Weight. Her artwork and personal profile are included in Outstanding American Illustrators Today 2. She is the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. She soulfully shares her creative approach to personal growth and passionately supports her clients in reaching their goals. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or info@TrinaSwerdlow.com.

Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.

Listen and Reacquaint Your Passion

From the Publisher

With each New Year comes renewed hope for the future. Rife with excitement and expectation, we rejoice in blessings past and the opportunities ahead. What better time to consider some half-forgotten
interest or passion set aside? Last year I did just that. I reacquainted myself with a sport I was once passionate about—skiing.

I first learned to ski as high school junior, in 1973. I loved the sport so much that three years later, in 1976, I started a ski tour company. Through that enterprise I was afforded the opportunity to ski just about every week for the next fifteen years. Then, in 1990, as sometimes happens, life had other plans for me. Conditions changed to where I had to leave my passion for skiing behind.

Since that time, on occasion, I thought about getting back on the slopes. But that voice inside was always silenced by another one— the one reminding me of all of the reasons to put thoughts of skiing
back into the “memories” file. I no longer owned ski equipment or clothing, and, for that matter, I wasn’t twenty-two anymore, either!

But I suppose what defines something as one’s passion is the fact that it never leaves you alone. It persists in vying for your attention.

In my case, I was reminded every year, prompted by my good friend and ski partner from those early years, Del, saying, “We’ve got to go skiing this year!” Then there was the heartfelt desire to have my son
experience the same joy I had felt so many years ago; the wonderful sound of fresh-packed snow crunching under your skis and that feeling of flying. I really had no other choice but to try skiing again.

After a twenty year hiatus, last April, I went skiing again. And what a feeling it was! Even though I will admit I was a bit winded earlier in the day than I would likely have been twenty years ago, it really felt as if I had been skiing all along. My passion was re-kindled, only it was better because now I could share it with my son.

As this New Year unfolds, I implore you to identify some interest—some passion that you have, for whatever reason, pushed aside. Is it the piano? Is it a language; reading; writing; painting; or going back to earn your degree? Or maybe, it’s skiing.

Whatever voice inside calls, my wish for the New Year is that you hear it and be reacquainted with your passion.

Eric Johnson

Cloudy with a Chance of Kale

Market Fresh
The holiday decorations are put away (well, at least most of ‘em) and the house is looking rather Spartan. No more parties. No more cookies for breakfast. No more cocktails-every-single-night-of-the-week. Even our beloved farmers’ market is pared down to the basics now. It’s January, and the weather is often as gray as our moods.

Few things warm the spirit like a pot of soup bubbling away on top of the stove. Instant aromatherapy. And when it’s homemade and healthy, all the better. This month has me dreaming of kale, a hearty green that is also an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, to ward off winter colds. It also happens to be delicious.

No doubt you’ve seen big bunches of ruffly-leafed common green kale year ‘round at the market; and it is a perfectly respectable vegetable for soups, stews, or for braising all by its lonesome. Come fall and winter, however, check out some of the less common varieties like the dark green, crinkly-leafed Tuscan kale–also known as dinosaur kale, lacinato kale, or cavolo nero (black kale).

Serve this comforting soup with crusty artisan bread from the farmers’ market. And maybe a glass of wine, as an homage to holidays past.

Stirring the Pot

–The following recipe comes together quickly for a weeknight dinner; but like any soup, it actually tastes better when reheated…so proceed accordingly.
–I’ve used canned cannellini beans for convenience here; but when you have freshly cooked beans of any variety on hand, by all means use them. And if beans are not on the menu, add some diced red- or white-skinned potatoes instead, and just cook them in the soup until tender.
–Kale stems are often discarded in recipes; but since they are edible (and simply require longer cooking than the leaves) I chop them finely and add them to the soup early on.
–Confirmed carnivores may want to stir in some cooked and crumbled Italian sausage. Soups are very forgiving, so add or delete ingredients, as you like. In fact, it’s probably a good day to multi-task by cleaning out your refrigerator!
— This recipe includes the rind from a chunk of Parmesan cheese as an optional ingredient. Whenever you buy a chunk of Parmesan, get in the habit of saving the hard rind; just store them in the freezer until needed. When you making soups, stews, or sauces—especially ones with an Italian bent—toss the rind (still frozen is okay) into the pot for added flavor.

Market Fresh

Tuscan Kale Soup with Cannellini Beans

  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini (white kidney) beans
  • 1 bunch farm-fresh kale (any variety), tough ends trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons California extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup water (or additional stock)
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary or other herb of choice
  • The rind from a small chunk of Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
  1. Empty the beans into a colander, and rinse well with cold water. Let drain.
  2. Remove the center ribs from the kale. Coarsely chop the leaves and set aside. Finely chop the ribs.
  3. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the finely chopped kale ribs, the onion, carrot, celery, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the drained beans, the chopped kale leaves, the stock, water, rosemary sprig, and the cheese rind, if using. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove and discard the rosemary sprig (it’s okay if most of the leaves have fallen off) and the Parmesan cheese rind. Ladle the soup into warm bowls. For added flourish, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top of each. Pass freshly grated Parmesan at the table. Serves 4.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com.

Skin Care Straight Talk

TWO WEEKS and NOTICE….Radiant, smooth, and blemish-free skin: New face creams are claiming big improvements in just 14 days. But do they really deliver? Miracle-of-the-month creams are nothing new, but real results in less than two weeks? I don’t think so. That’s what the latest skincare products are claiming but many advanced scientific skin researchers are skeptical. “Cell turnover takes 28 to 38 days, so it typically takes one month before you see real results and your skin starts looking better. To separate the hype from the real deal, I am going to give you some straight talk in skin care, where to buy and who to believe.

Aroma Therapy Products

While they smell good, feel great and have natural oils they will not stop the aging process. They are not strong enough and they just cannot deliver the nutrients or the scientific clinical treatments that improve skin texture.

Multi Level Marketing Companies Skin Care/Info Commercial Skin Care
There is a lot of confusion purchasing skin care products from multi level and mass marketing info commercials. The products are not what you think. These companies mass market to the public and therefore they can’t possibly create an effective product that will make a difference to the skin. While their products are nice, their product has to work for everyone; the product has to be gentle enough for every skin type no matter what age. It’s a One Size Fits All Skin Care. So that means no side effects no high potency anti-oxidants and no large doses of scientific advanced technologies = no benefits. They claim they have the same strong ingredients as professional brands from licensed skin care professionals or Dermatologists, but truly they can’t because to sell any advanced scientific products you need to be licensed with the state and/ or with a degree.

Drug Store Anti-aging Creams
Skin Care products that you purchase in a drug store cannot exceed a certain percentage of clinical ingredients. It is against state board regulation and the FDA. Even though products say they have Vitamin C or Glycolic acid, the percentages are so low your skin will never see a difference. It’s like purchasing a Retinol A product over the counter as opposed to a doctors prescription Retin A formula—it’s like night and day! So it is better to spend ten dollars more and purchase creams from your favorite skin professional for maximum results and benefits.

Department Store Creams

Despite what the department stores skin care companies claim they will never be strong or effective like a Scientifically Clinical Advanced Skin Care Product. While there are exceptions, like Dr. Perricone’s skin care, the real problem you face when purchasing in a department store is you always get someone different and has a different opinion about your skin, plus they are not licensed professionals. How do you know what they will tell you is the right skin care product for you? They are not trained and don’t know how to analyze skin conditions to give you what you need.

Stamps In My Passport – St. Maarten

One of the most overused clichés in our modern world is “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than it is to be good.” Regardless of your position on this saying, there is some truth to it. Recently on our trip to St. Maarten in the Netherland Antilles, I enjoyed a wonderful day made even more so by “luck.” It all started with a fairly major screw-up. I thought we had a superb plan, but it quickly turned sour. Let me tell you about it.

We were spending two relaxing weeks in St. Maarten at a charming guest house called “The Horny Toad.” (Please, no comments here.) The island is half Dutch and half French and is the largest of a collection of islands which include such notables as St. Barthelemy, Anguilla, Saba, and others. One of the pleasant diversions is visiting these neighbors by high-speed ferry. Each has its own individual character and charm. My story takes place on the island of Saba – our favorite.

Let me first get the boring details out of the way. While its neighbors are mostly flat with fine sandy beaches, Saba is more vertical than horizontal – rising to a height of almost three thousand feet from an off-shore depth of more than three thousand feet. There are no beaches – only jagged volcanic rocks. The total population is only eighteen hundred people, and making a living here is very difficult.

For those of you who are detail-oriented travel buffs, you may have read the fascinating tale of Saba and its roads. Briefly, before the 1930s it had none – due to the rugged, treacherous terrain. The official wisdom was that it was impossible to build any roads on this little speck of volcanic protuberance. Being frustrated by this thinking, a native of Saba – Josephus Lambert Hassell – took up this challenge. He studied civil engineering by correspondence courses and convinced a crew of locals to start building a road in 1939. By 1958 the entire thoroughfare to the airport had been completed. It is called simply “The Road.” There are two to four hundred foot drop-offs on one side or the other. Driving is not for the faint-of-heart.

Our plan was to hop the early morning ferry, take a cab up to the fairly level section at the top of the road called Windwardside, and slowly make our way down by paths and walkways we assumed would be there.

Now days of the week lose significance while lolling on beaches, and we inadvertently selected a Sunday for our adventure. Bad move. We climbed off our ferry, along with six or eight others, and scrambled up to the narrow flat ground, avoiding the signs which warned “Stay clear, falling rocks.”

Alas, our first major obstacle – no taxis. We stood there, two wayward waifs, wondering what to do next. Now it so happened that a yellow van with School Bus prominently displayed on its side arrived and disgorged about ten kids who were being loaded on to the ferry for a brief holiday on St. Eustatius, another adjacent island.

As the yellow school bus pulled out, the driver, a native of Saba saw us standing there and asked if he could be of any assistance to us. We described our dilemma and his reply was, “Hey, no problem. Get in the bus and I will give you a tour.” How could you refuse such a grand offer?

Our new-found friend’s name was Cyril. He was born in Saba and lived on the island most of his fifty some years. He claimed to know everyone on the island and went on to prove it as he greeted all the walkers and the knots of folks who were standing in shaded areas, enjoying the warm eighty degree weather and the cooling ocean breezes. Every car that passed was hailed with a friendly wave and a short honk of his horn.

He showed us the tiny airfield carved out of rock at water level and proudly told us it is the shortest commercial, sanctioned runway in the world. It certainly was shorter than most modern US aircraft carriers. He took us to the monument which had been erected in honor of the civil engineer who took on the impossible task of building these complex roads. Along the way he showed us pictures of his grandfather who had been working on them.

Best of all we stopped at his house and met his four-month-old dog – that is puppy – who greeted him with unreserved joy. Declining to join us for lunch, he dropped us off at a little restaurant overlooking a steep valley and told them to seat us on the patio. The food was delicious, the view, which fell off over one thousand feet, was breathtaking, and the birds and flowers surrounding our perch were delicate and colorful.

He pulled up just in time to take us down to our ferry to return to St. Maarten. If you ever get down into that area I strongly recommend visiting this little Dutch island, especially if you are a diver. The place is a pleasant oasis, but best of all the people are open, generous, and very, very friendly.

I’m glad we screwed up, chose a Sunday, found no taxis, and made other mistakes. They turned our adventure into one of the luckiest days of our trip. We met a fine citizen of Saba, and maybe best of all it gave me a story to tell.

Harry Hubinger is a retired engineer who operated his own company for twenty years. He first began traveling outside the United States on business, but these visits escalated upon his retirement. He has now traveled to 115 countries and continues to add several new ones each year. In 1998 he began writing his humorous and insightful articles for a supplement to a local newspaper. These stories, based on experiences most travelers could identify with, soon earned him a wide local following. In 2005 he published his first book, Stamps in My Passport—a collection of travel vignettes. Harry has lived in Danville for almost forty years and has volunteered with the Danville Police Department for the past seven. His wife, Barbara, is the detail chronicler of their trips. Her journals provide the background for Harry’s broader view. You can get his book at: www.travelbookspub.com.

Green New Year’s Resolution – You Make a Difference!

Many people in the Bay area thought about the color green prior to the year 2000. Sure green lawns and trees were great, but they didn’t exactly paint the whole picture when it comes to sustainability. Ten years later, thanks to education and growing public awareness, consumers are now purchasing fuel-efficient cars, improving insulation and installing solar renewable energy systems in their homes. Many are also considering draught tolerant landscaping that requires less water and maintenance.

Looking back at how far recycling has evolved; sustainability doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. Homeowners today use curbside containers, which makes recycling painless. Most consumer-level products including TVs, now feature the Energy Star rating. From entertainment, to home improvement, it’s all about saving energy. There are new, greener products and services in every sector of the economy and more coming each week. In the big picture, these are all choices that count.

While we’re on the right track, there’s more to do. In 2006 we surpassed the earth’s ability to process and effectively deal with CO2 emissions by 13%. The earth simply can’t keep up with us. Many Bay area businesses are also making changes to help minimize environmental impact. Operations and purchasing policies are two areas of consideration. Return on investment is something business leaders and most board members always take seriously. For instance, just like consumers, businesses can realize savings and tax credits on renewables such as wind and solar. Installing skylights, newer heating, and cooling systems not only improves creature comforts and moral, but also provides financial incentives for businesses to invest. In addition to improving the bottom line, making these critical business leadership decisions helps to reduce CO2 emissions and lessen environmental impact for all. Businesses and consumers can both help reduce energy consumption while realizing return on investment.

Recycling, reuse of packing and shipping materials is also becoming common for many businesses. Trip planning is easy and helps us improve productivity and efficiency while reducing fuel costs and CO2 emissions. We all know what it’s like to sit in traffic for two hours. Small changes count.

Consumers can now look to retailers and service providers that keep a thoughtful eye toward the environment. By promoting sustainability through improved operations and investment, local area businesses can become green certified at the county level by working with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). To promote green building, starting January 1, California State will have the new CALGreen initiative. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification takes residential and commercial buildings to the next level in design, energy, water and waste conservation, using third party, and value added performance standards.

A Native American tribe the Iroquois upheld what is called the Seventh Generation philosophy. Simply stated, this tribe urges the current generation of humans to live sustainably and work for the benefit of the next seven generations.

As we move into 2011, let’s all look forward to a greener, brighter, prosperous, New Year guided by a philosophy to continue making a difference. The earth will give it back many times over and future generations will thank you.

Dave High is a LEED Accredited Professional with Karbon Consulting located in Pleasant Hill. He can be reached at dave@hellokarbon.com

New Coach a Smart Choice for Golden State Warriors

Golden State Warriors head coach Keith Smart is still probably best known for the shot that won the 1987 NCAA basketball championship for Indiana. Now, though, he is rapidly making a name for himself by leading our local NBA franchise to respectability and perhaps even a Western Conference playoff berth this season.

The Warriors stayed near .500 and trailed only the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific Decision for the first month of the season. The team is on track for its first playoff berth since 2007, and the head coaching change from Don Nelson, 70, to Keith Smart, 46, is the primary difference.

Nelson seemed to hang around last year just to set the NBA record for career wins as a head coach. He left the defensive coaching responsibilities to Smart and often seemed disengaged during timeouts and post-game media conferences. Before this season began the Warriors paid off the last year of his contract for $6.5 million and sent him off to his hammock on Maui. Nelson’s last three NBA stops (the Knicks, Dallas, and Golden State) all ended poorly. It is doubtful that he will coach again in the NBA.

Smart, on the other hand, has brought tremendous energy to the Warriors. “Before the season began I approached each player and offered my hand,” he said. “I asked each one if they would let me coach them this season to make them better. I told them it might get rough at times, but I emphasized that it wasn’t personal, it was all basketball. If they didn’t agree, we would have to find another place for them to play. They all agreed in the presence of their peers and so far everyone has lived up to his end of the bargain.”

Smart also seems to realize the importance of treating players like individuals. “Each day before I meet with the team I’ve already gone over the previous night. I’ve already asked myself ‘Who do I have to talk to?’ And I do it,” he told the Mercury News. “I could put it on an assistant, but that’s like telling my wife to tell my 14-year-old son exactly what it is that I want to say.”

Smart, who joined the Warriors prior to the 2003-04 season, has spent the previous seven seasons as an assistant coach with the club. Overall, the Baton Rouge, LA, native has served a total of 11 seasons as an NBA assistant coach and has amassed 21 years of experience in professional basketball as either a player or coach. Prior to joining the Warriors Smart spent three seasons as an assistant in Cleveland, where he concluded his stint as the club’s interim head coach over the final 40 games of the 2002-03 campaign, going 9-31.

The Warriors have a solid lineup featuring guards Monte Ellis and Stephen Curry, power forward David Lee, and center Andris Biedrins. The question for the NBA’s Bay Area entry this season will be depth and how well equipped Keith Smart is to guide a team of professionals through the 82 game grind. An elbow injury to Lee led to a 1-7 stretch in November, and Curry’s sprained ankle preceded a blowout loss to the Lakers. A look at the early returns when everyone is healthy, though, indicates that springtime playoff basketball is a distinct possibility for East Bay pro basketball fans.

Dirt Gardener – Pruning Roses

Q. I’ve heard two theories about pruning roses and of course, they have opposite approaches. One method suggests pruning severely to keep the plants contained and from out growing the area. The other way suggests moderate pruning to encourage root development. My roses are young bushes, less than three years old. Which approach should I use and when is the best time to prune them.

A. Roses establish themselves in the first growing season. In addition, our mild winters, allows the root system to develop and expand during the dormant season unlike other areas where the ground freezes. The roots develop on their own without any additional help. At three years old, your roses are quite mature. Thus, I wouldn’t be concern at all with the moderate pruning approach. Instead, I’d be pruning to contain the bushes to the desired area. This now leads us to the second part of your question, when to prune roses? My answer is year round. The classic definition of pruning is “To cut off or remove dead or living parts or branches of a plant, to improve shape or growth.” Hence, roses are pruned throughout the year not just in the winter months, as the cutting off of the spent flowers is a form of pruning. Roses are vigorous growers. Depending on the type, they can produce four to five feet of new growth annually. The winter pruning reduces this growth along with removing the dead wood and the rubbing and crossing branches. After each flowering period, you should remove more than just the spent flowers. It is at this time, you have the opportunity to reduce the lateral growth and the height, so they don’t merge with its neighbors or block the view of what’s planted behind them. The amount varies depending on how close the bushes are planted next to each other. This is an important point to remember. It prevents you from allowing the bushes to out-grow the desired space as you’re managing the growth throughout the growing season. This is usually over looked or forgotten. There is no exact date when to prune roses. Rather, it’s a period or window of time when the activity occurs. In the Bay Area, the traditional winter pruning season is from mid November through the end of February. The early season pruning is rarely done, as the bushes are still blooming then the holidays takes us away from the garden. By default, January and February has become the primary months to prune. Roses still can be pruned back severely in late March with the new growth emerging. The only drawback is that the first flowering period is delayed.

Some additional thoughts: January and February is an excellent time to transplant roses but I’d prune them back first. You need not delay pruning because the bushes are blooming, just pick the flowers and enjoy them indoors. After pruning, any remaining foliage should be stripped off, clean up all the litter under the plants, and spray them with Lime Sulphur.