The Storyteller: Ancient voices

The Storyteller: Ancient voices

That night I lay still and held my breath, trying to hear them. When I finally surrendered to the need for air, the echo of my loud exhale and gasping inhale reverberated off my darkened bedroom walls. Earlier that day, while I was walking down the sidewalk with my mom, a woman with cracked lips and hot, putrid breath had clamped onto my shoulder with bony-cold fingers.

The Storyteller: The Gift

The Storyteller: The Gift

Earlier that week I’d found my father’s stash of “gentlemen’s” magazines. I was fascinated by the images and even more by the mail-order ads scattered throughout. What was this world where plastic, rubber and metal could be transformed into such works of functional art, I wondered.

The Storyteller: Light as a feather

The Storyteller: Light as a feather

Inside, a single faded light bulb dimly lit the otherwise dark space. The odor of mothballs and mold greeted me as I cracked open the ancient wooden chest. Within, filling half the chest were stacks of black felt-covered photo albums, each one full of brittle and faded pictures of people I had never known.

The Storyteller: Slipping under

The Storyteller: Slipping under

The water pulled at my body, dragging me under, the sandy shore giving way to emptiness below. I’d tied myself to my friend with a rope — I was the better swimmer — but now I couldn’t see him in the churning water where his saucer-plate eyes had disappeared. Struggling against the current, I frantically kicked my legs and clawed with my arms. As I flailed, the rope pulsated and pulled me downward. I thought, “This is how it happens — this is how I die.”

Exit interview: Chef Ryder Zetts is off to Nashville

Exit interview: Chef Ryder Zetts is off to Nashville

Ryder Zetts has been cooking in the Napa Valley for the last dozen years. His most recent tenure was becoming a partner at Cook and Cook Tavern in St. Helena. Now he and his family are moving to Nashville, where he’s been hired as the executive chef for three new restaurants owned by Atlanta’s prolific restaurateur, Ford Fry.

The Storyteller: A Case For Banned Fireworks

The Storyteller: A Case For Banned Fireworks

Although often threatened, restriction was a rarely used punishment in my home. Years later I’d learn why: A sentence of confinement is often as much a punishment for the parents as for the offender because they needed to police the captive or risk further unwanted infractions. In this special case, however, my parents had made an exception — Earlier that week I had started a fire in our backyard.

Travel Journal #15: Desert Dust

Travel Journal #15: Desert Dust

Seconds pass slowly in the dark. Nearby sounds are amplified. A rustle in the bushes at my feet brings with it a primal fear — is that a snake? Coyote? Worse? After taking a few deep breaths I turn my attention to the aromas around me — the musty smells of the earth, perhaps the subtle perfume of a night-blooming flower or pungent smoke from someone’s campfire. By then, my heart rate has slowed and any fear from the sound has subsided.

Travel Journal No. 14: Lava Beds National Monument

Travel Journal No. 14: Lava Beds National Monument

I crouched on the metal stairs. A few feet ahead lay a line of darkness where the fading evening sunlight from above abruptly ended as if a curtain had been pulled across the path. I strained to hear something familiar. And that’s when I heard it. Soft at first, growing louder as I listened. The sound was like that of lightly crumpled paper with a few clicks and high squeaks. At first I thought it might be coming from somewhere above, but as the noise grew closer it also grew in intensity. “Bats,” I thought and flicked on my headlamp before starting down the stairs into darkness. 

Travel Journal No. 12: The Wine Country Fires of 2017

Travel Journal No. 12: The Wine Country Fires of 2017

When I opened the front door a wave of wind and smoke rushed toward me. The orange-yellow glow had grown and was pulsing against the dark sky like a misplaced sunrise. I jumped into my truck and headed north from Calistoga along Highway 128 toward Tubbs Lane. As I approached the fire I slowed. The flames and smoke leapt hundreds of feet into the air from the nearby hillside and moved with such ferocity and speed that I pulled over and started making phone calls to my friends in the immediate area.

Travel Journal No. 11: Swimming with sharks

Travel Journal No. 11: Swimming with sharks

I peered up through 90 feet of crystalline water. The gleaming white underbellies of more than a dozen sharks lay in our path. There was no choice. I nodded and thrust my fist out, giving him the thumbs-up signal, which in scuba sign language means head for the surface.

The Storyteller: Only a quarter

The Storyteller: Only a quarter

Unencumbered by a seatbelt, I twisted around and peered out the broad back window. I had no idea why we’d stopped in the middle of the road after passing through the Carquinez Bridge tollbooth, but I was sure he was about to give whoever was honking behind us a piece of his mind, or maybe even worse.

Travel Journal No. 9: The solar eclipse of 2017

Travel Journal No. 9: The solar eclipse of 2017

The entire group hushed as we each gazed up through tinted glasses that made us look like spectators at some 1950s 3-D movie. But we were not looking at a special effect from a science fiction film. Instead we stood in wonder of a natural phenomenon as the sky darkened toward totality.

Travel Journal No. 8: Conviction

Travel Journal No. 8: Conviction

“I don’t give a damn what you speak,” Bob interrupted. “In this town we only speak English. And we also don’t allow those burkas, so that’ll need to go, too.”

“It’s not a burka, you moron,” Mohamed said. “It’s a—”

“Who’s the moron?” Bob said as he pulled his shirt up to reveal an 8-inch knife strapped to his belt.

Travel Journal No. 7: Washington D.C. — A Strange Wilderness

Travel Journal No. 7: Washington D.C. — A Strange Wilderness

According to these sources, no matter what side you are on, the changes that are being proposed will have long-term impacts on the size of government, the health of our people and the environment, and the status of the United States as a world power.

Black Widow

Black Widow

My brother’s voice echoed in my head: “Black widow spiders are venomous with fangs so big and sharp that they can pierce even the thickest clothing,” he’d often warned me, mostly before I headed into some dark, foreboding space. And once I had entered, he might call in added details: “Their poison will liquefy you from the inside so it can suck up your fluids.”

Travel Journal No. 6: Bowling Ball Beach

Travel Journal No. 6: Bowling Ball Beach

The washed-out trail to the site was precarious but not bad enough for me to use ropes down the cliff. Nevertheless, with my heavy gear and the darkness it was slow going, and I paused often to gaze into the night, the beam of my headlight creating milky stabs of brightness that faded into the distance.