Having a whale of a weekend
May 28, 2007
If it is true that Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, then we are unofficially having a splendid holiday doing pretty much nothing. That, however, makes a for a pretty dull newsletter, so we'll try to elaborate a bit on the month that has been May.
Our neck of the woods has been in the national news just about nonstop for the past couple of weeks, thanks to a pair of unlikely visitors. Sometime around Mother's Day weekend, a mother humpback whale and her calf swam into San Francisco Bay and made their way into the fresh waters of the Sacramento River, where they have been swimming around in circles near Rio Vista and confounding marine biologists who are trying a variety of tricks to save their lives. The whales nicknamed Delta and Dawn in some well-intentioned effort to be punny have been subjected to just about every thinkable harassment and a few unthinkable ones.
When the whales wound up in the Port of Sacramento and refused to turn tail and swim back the 90 miles from whence they'd come, their would-be saviors piped in underwater whale sounds. Then they tried playing the sounds of killer whales, the humbacks' natural predators, in hopes that would scare Delta and Dawn back to sea. Next it was banging pipes together. Then last Friday it was a fire boat spraying powerful jets of water to discourage the whales from heading north. The best these efforts have done is to get the whales south from Sacramento to Rio Vista, where they have remained for more than a week.
Hundreds of people have gone to see the whales. After all, it's cheaper by far (and warmer) than popping for the price of a Mendocino whale watching tour in January. We have not, although Roni was intrigued that they are so close to us. Perhaps if they ever make it back down to Antioch we'll peek out there and see what we can see. The problem is that the whales are in poor health, and efforts to save them have been suspended through the end of Memorial Day weekend. Apparently it was decided the whales needed a break from all the harassment techniques so that they don't become too stressed. But they'll have to leave soon if there is any hope they'll survive, because there are no krill in the Delta. Without their staple diet, the whales will eventually succumb.
If your only exposure to the Delta region has been through tracking the whales then you are missing out on a lot of cool stuff this area has to offer. There's nothing quite like being along the Delta during the summer months, and if you are a regular reader of this newsletter then you have undoubtedly seen our photos and read some of the tales we've told about the fun things there are to do around here this time of the year.
Until recently, Oakley had limited access to the Delta except through its couple of private marinas. That changed May 19 with the preview opening of the new Big Break Regional Shoreline. The shoreline is part of the East Bay Regional Park District and has been under development for some years. It is less than a mile from our home, but until the opening we hadn't been there to check the progress. We were pleased with what we saw, as were most of the couple hundred people who attended the opening day festivities.
The shoreline park is more than 1,500 acres of wetlands and a pier upon which anglers will be able to fish and nature lovers like us will get to walk out for a spectacular view of the San Joaquin River. There is also new paved trail that eventually will connect with the existing Big Break Trail a mile to the east, giving us some new places to explore behind our subdivision. The opening event included speeches by all the expected politicians, a tent with exhibits provided by the park district, and a guided walk on the trail that Glenn and Ben took with Glenn's brother Sean, who was visiting for the day.
We are eager to go back for a hike before mid-July, when the park will close for several more months while construction work continues. Hence the reason this month's "sneak peek" event.
Aside from that one little excursion, our travels have been few, other than to doctor appointments, work and the grocery store. In some ways that suits us just fine. Weekends have really turned into down-time for our whole family as we unwind from weekdays spent going to doctor appointments, work and grocery shopping... and school. Ben definitely is eager for the onset of summer vacation next month when he'll get time away from the rigors of STAR testing and his daily interactions with teachers and peers.
Ben reached an important milestone May 2 when he celebrated his 13th birthday. Officially that makes him a teenager. It also makes us the parents of a teenager, with all the requisite challenges that come with the title. We've survived the first three-and-a-half weeks without too much ado. For his birthday, Ben received the two presents he most wanted: The Poké mon Pearl videogame and a new Nintendo DS Lite to play it on. His old DS met with an untimely demise when the case cracked when it dropped one day. The machine died a slow death over several days, and Ben was climbing the walls without it for nearly two months. Making the loss more difficult was that his friends at school got the new Poké mon game more than a week before Ben's birthday. He spent nearly 10 days lobbying for the game before he actually received it. He's in Poké mon heaven now, currently trying to figure out how to use his game's wi-fi capabilities to connect to the Internet. He is disappointed that the Nintendo DS doesn't have software that is compatible with the Macintosh. That might mean we'll have to buy a Windows-compatible computer soon his solution, not ours.
Because Ben's birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, he didn't have the party he wanted the day of. In April he attended the birthday party of one of his school friends, John, who invited over a half dozen kids and had lots of cake and candy and Chinese food for dinner. Ben liked that and wanted to do the same. We set up a party for May 12, but in the end only his friend John was able to make it. It didn't seem to spoil the fun much, as the two boys spent the afternoon discussing the finer points of computers, video games and anime. Ben got to have his cake and ate it too, along with several slices of the pizzas we ordered for the four of us.
Since getting our plasma TV in January we have gotten into the habit of watching movies on Saturday nights. Roni frequently will pick up a DVD of a recent release at the local video store, Glenn will pop up a batch of popcorn, and we'll curl up on the sofa for a couple of hours of home theater entertainment. One of the first things we did when setting up the TV was to purchase a surge protector. We had heard from a lot of folks that it was the very minimum thing you should do to protect your investment, and it seemed like good advice. On the night of May 14, heeding that advice paid dividends.
About a quarter past midnight the power on our block shuddered and went out, then a second later it hiccuped back on with equipment destroying force. There was a loud pop in our living room and then nothing for about two hours while we waited in darkness for PG&E to restore the transformer that had failed. That was a nerve-wracking two hours during which we feared the TV had suffered a fatal blow. But fortunately the surge protector had done its job. Although it was no longer functional, it had saved all the A/V equipment attached to it. We weren't as lucky with Roni's fax machine, which had been plugged into a regular outlet and bit the dust. So we're out the cost of a surge protector and fax machine, both of which we are filing claims on through PG&E. But that is a far lesser hassle than what could have happened. Let this be a case study in the virtues of surge protection if you are on the fence about whether it's really necessary to buy a hundred-buck power strip.
So all of this brings us back to Memorial Day weekend, which has been blissfully uneventful. We've done the oligatory watching of NASCAR and Indy 500 races, checked out a DVD of Denzel Washington's movie "Deja Vu" (which we both recommend), barbecued some hamburgers that were consumed with corn on the cob and potato salad, done some minor gardening and home improvement projects, read some books, surfed the Web, enjoyed some music... and most important, wrote this newsletter. Which is now at an end.
Lest we forget the real reason for Memorial Day, a special thanks to the fallen members of our military who gave their lives so that folks like us can have the freedom to enjoy a three-day weekend of trivial pursuits such as those we've just shared with you.