Schlepping rocks II


A half century later I’m the one searching
for those piles of rocks along Auburn Folsom Road.
The man who led us there died 15 years ago,
and I begin my quest for river rocks thinking of him.

But as I drive past the spots where we once hefted rocks
into the trunk of my father’s Chevy, the two-lane road
has morphed into a four-lane highway, one side
rimmed with houses, shopping mall, light rail
replacing railroad tracks. No longer a safe place
to pull over and paw through piles overgrown
into hillocks sprouting grasses and trees.
Five decades of rain and dust and debris have turned
the mounds into living organisms—although perhaps
they always were alive, those river rocks keeping
their stories to themselves.

I want these rocks—suddenly attached to memory
like ions clinging to water molecules. I want
them in my life again, in my yard,
far downstream from where I started.

As I drive and search, the prayer arrives:
“Our father, who art in heaven, Roger be thy name,
guide me to a quiet place where I can safely
lift rocks in peace, in the name of all that is holy—
river, rocks, you, the universe, amen.”

And I turn down a road into a space once populated
with grasses and oaks, perhaps a deer trail or two
the only way through, to find myself arrowed
into a small, empty parking lot. I park, head down
a bike trail that I suspect meanders toward Lake Natoma,
dredged more than sixty years ago from American River soil,
those rocks joining the huge field of tailings left
a century earlier in the rush for California gold.

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And around a curve they stand, gleaming as if brand new
under summer sun: naked mounds of river rock.
I climb one pile, feel stones shift as my weight
bears down, chuckle at the top to see a field
of exposed piles undulating northward,
as if deposited just for me.

I grin my thankyouthankyouthankyou to the sky,
set to work hefting, selecting, tossing keepers toward
the bike trail, know that I will come back, come back,
come back to this place outside of time.

Again and again I will load rocks “yay big,” as he
used to say, into a red bucket on a wheeled cart,
tow it up the trail behind me to my own waiting Honda,
transfer each rock into that welcoming space,
head back down the trail for more—
each step a meditation,
each rock a memory,
each breath


Photos by Dick Schmidt

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Schlepping rocks I


How many times did he load us into the car,
my mother, my sister and me, head south
down Auburn Folsom Road by the huge mounds
of tailings left over from gold mining days?
There, we’d pile out, he’d open the trunk,
and tell us to look for rocks “about yay big.”

“Yay big” was a different size every time—
sometimes small enough for a child’s palm,
sometimes ones that took two hands to lug
to the trunk. But my father, young, crewcut’d,
before his belly grew and his enthusiasm shrank
for yard projects, had rock walls to build.
And there they were—all those lovely, roundish
river rocks dredged from the American River,
just sitting there.

The summer men walked on the moon
for the first time, my sister and I imagined
not astronauts on another world retrieving rocks,
but Gold Rush miners lugging them in wooden
wheelbarrows, then later bucket dredges that
assembled great piles like pyramids, a field
of humped stones 10 miles long and 7 miles wide.
I didn’t know then that the river was dredged
to build a second dam downstream from the one
that created the lake we swam in, skied on,
saw as ours—Folsom.


My father was as proud of those dams
as if he’d built them himself, ones that
ended annual flooding of one of the rivers
that circled Sacramento. Years later, when
I migrated to the college hunkered down
next to the American bordered by tall levees,
my father assured me that, no matter
how much it rained, I’d be safe because
of the dams upstream.

I think of that in winter when rain pours
and the river rises fast, once again
channeling the liquid mystery of movement.
“California doesn’t do water well,” my father
would say. “It’s either too little or too much.”

Sometimes during deluges, I head for my alma mater
snuggled next to the levee and climb its manmade
steps to the top. I watch the hefty American
rush its muddy way to become one with
the Sacramento surging down from Mt. Shasta,
and, thus braided, forging on to the sea.
I think of the rocks embedded in its rich soil—
perhaps like those still lodged in moondust—
that will likely never see daylight, others tumbling
in the current that carries the stories of river,
the whoosh of watery highway,
right past us.


Photos by Dick Schmidt

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Gettin’ the band back together

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The great birthday 2012 birthday surprise: Cora Johnson (left) pops into the Alabama Hills.

Some years ago Dick pulled off a nifty surprise for my birthday. In July 2012 we took a driving trip down Highway 395, along the back side of the Sierra Nevada range, overnighting in Lone Pine, which is the perfect kickoff spot for, among other things, the Alabama Hills. Beginning in the silent movie era, Hollywood folks migrated north to film movies in the Alabama Hills, gentle contours of rock set against the rugged peaks of the Sierra.

The morning of my birthday we were in our hotel room in Lone Pine when we heard a knock at the door. I opened it to see our dear friend Cora Johnson, who had driven up from her home in Southern California just for the day to surprise me. That’s the kind of friend she is.

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Cora surprises Jan on her birthday, 2012


The set for “Gunga Din” in the Alabama Hills, 1938, standing in for the hill country of India

We spent that lovely July 30 driving around the Alabama Hills, looking at spots where old movies were filmed, including “Gunga Din” and Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy cowboy film, and later “The Lone Ranger” and “Bonanza.” We also toured Manzanar, the former World War II relocation camp, where some 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated. Then Cora aimed her car south and drove home to Cerritos.

Cora, of course, and her BFF from college, Connie Raub (both of whom have known and loved Dick for more than a half century), were the two angels who literally flew to his side in January. They mother hen’d Dick for two weeks on Oahu after his surgery to help him regain strength and confidence before flying home with him to Sacramento. In mid-February. Since they both live in snowy places (Cora now lives in Minden, Nevada, and Connie many years ago moved to Colorado Springs), getting home from Sacramento proved to be tricky. Cora ended up spending some extra time in Sacramento at the home of Dick’s sister and brother-in-law Marge and John Thompson. Then the Thompsons drove Cora halfway up the mountain where they met one of Cora’s Minden friends who delivered Cora home at last.

I often remind people who think that Cora and Connie had a lovely two-week vacation on Oahu of these two things: (a) They were taking care of a man recovering from heart surgery, monitoring his medications, blood pressure, exercise and food intake, and (b) They all froze in the little rental house Pearl City, Oahu, in the clouds (no heat in those houses), far from the ocean. In other words, it was not easy duty, but they were a superb example of longtime friends and the things you do for love.

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Cora boulders in the Alabama Hills, July 30, 2012  (Photo by Dick Schmidt)

I say all this to explain that Dick and I have been trying for years to figure out a way to surprise Cora. This year we had even more reason to do so. We finally managed it a few days before Cora’s birthday by arranging a dinner at the Chart House overlooking Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side. What Cora didn’t know was that Connie was coming to Sacramento to see relatives a couple of days before our scheduled dinner, so we sneaked in a Special Guest Artist just for the occasion.

And it worked wonderfully. We drove into the Chart House parking lot to see Cora waiting for us. Dick and I got out of the car first to greet Cora as Connie hunkered down in the back seat. “I need to get something out of the car,” Dick said, and he opened the back door with Cora standing by, and Connie popped out, stunning her former roomie.

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The big reveal for Cora’s birthday 2019

Much laughter, many hugs. We had gotten the band back together for the first time since mid-February. We had a lovely dinner—peach-bourbon glazed scallops and shrimp for Dick and Cora, summer vegetables and shrimp for Connie, and macadamia nut-encrusted wahoo for me. And for all of us for dessert two plates of the Chart House’s famous hot lava cake (ooooo! not on anyone’s heart-healthy diet).

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And a lovely bottle of Reata chardonnay, 2016, from the Sonoma Coast (photo by Dick Schmidt)

We have so much to celebrate this year—not just our three summer birthdays (Connie’s in June, mine in July, Cora’s in August) but more than a half century of friendship between Cora, Connie and Dick. And though I am newer to their group, they have made me part of their tribe, as we consider each other family, or, as they say in Hawaii, ohana.

Once again we are grateful for our ohana… these two here and all of you out there who have been cheering Dick on since January. Mahalo nui loa to you all!

(And haouli la hanau… happy birthday, dear Cora!)

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Cora, Dick and Connie, Aug. 7, 2019

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Six months out

RDS six months out

This guy is #1!

Six months ago today he had a triple bypass, resulting in a refurbished, snappy heart 💜.

Nine days before that, he was felled by a cardiac arrest in the Honolulu airport and was revived—after excellent CPR and assistance by two bystanding angels—with the use of an AED, an automated external defibrillator.

Today he’s wearing his AED Institute shirt with gratitude to that organization for placing AEDs in airports all over Hawaii. He literally would not be here without that foresight. A big mahalo to all who saved and supported Dick Schmidt from his first moments to today… and me, too!

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Gracias, Dr. Favaloro


We were pleased to see a Google doodle tribute today to Dr. René Favaloro, highly regarded for his pioneering work on coronary artery bypass surgery using the great saphenous vein… one of the large veins in the leg. He was born this day in 1923 in Argentina.

The technique he developed is what Dick had done in January in Honolulu by Dr. John Y. Lee at Kaiser Moanalua hospital. Working in Northern California as a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Lee become a pioneer in endoscopic vein harvesting, which involves removing the leg vein through a tiny one-inch incision for bypass surgery. He extracted Dick’s great saphenous vein that was used to create three bypasses around blocked arteries. 

Five months later, as we vacation on Vancouver Island (a very different island than Oahu), we honor the late Dr. Favaloro. We’re also thinking today of the cardiac team at Kaiser Moanalua, including surgeon Dr. Nicholas Dang and the cardiac P.A.s Whitney Regan and Tim Berkeley. We think of Dr. Diana Kim and nurses Jaime and Erin and Donovan and Sally and so many others who literally nursed Dick back to good health.

He’s better than he has been in years, this fella, and we continue to be aware of our great good fortune, wishing we could pass it on to others we know who are struggling, health-wise, right now. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, too.

Gracias to Dr. Favaloro. Mahalo to our ohana in Hawaii.

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Free & clear


Us at Sea-Tac, en route to Victoria, B.C.

This time I go first,
hand my boarding pass
to the young man at the gate,
who scans it—beep!—
& says, “Have a good flight.”

I turn to watch you—
in photo vest identical
to the one cut off you
nearly five months ago
when you collapsed
at another airport gate.
You step forward,
extend your arm,
pass in hand.

You stand tall, do not pitch forward
like a domino as you did then,
do not make an early departure.

“Have a nice flight,”
you hear the young man say.

“Thank you,”
you are able to say.

And I feel my heart literally skip
a beat—this time with relief—
as, free & clear, we make
our way down the jetway,
as we have dozens of times

our hearts leaping in the most
blessedly ordinary manner,
aware again of grace bestowed,
as something essential
envelops us—something
that feels acutely
like joy.

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Happy Annie-versary 3!

Annie meets Nikki

June 20, 2016: Mama and daughter become a family.

Three years ago my friend Nikki Cardoza adopted her daughter Annie in Changsha, China. I got to be a part of that once-in-a-lifetime experience to travel with Nikki and help bring Annie home.

It was a tremendous journey of love that took Nikki back to the country where she’d volunteered for years at orphanages and where she met Annie as a tiny baby at Butterfly Children’s Hospices. The marvelous staff there helped save Annie, and on that trip to China I got to visit Butterfly House and the other orphanage where Annie was cared for.

Now I look at this series of blog posts and photos from that trip, moved by Nikki’s determination and Annie’s strength that allowed her to survive her early years, which has moved them through the challenges and joys of the past three years as mother and daughter.

And I look at the photo of Annie in November 2018, hardly believing that this is the same child who met her mama on a hot summer day in a city far, far away, who bravely made the journey to her new forever home in a place called California.

I am ever richer for that experience and for their friendship and love.

Annie Nov. 2018

Annie, November 2018

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Departures and arrivals

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I am pleased to say that a story I wrote about Dick’s heart adventure has been published in the June issue of Sacramento Magazine. You can read “Departures and Arrivals” here.

It’s an odd enough sensation to be sitting in a hospital in Honolulu, watching your beloved sleep most of the time following the cardiac arrest that felled him and his literal jolt back to life. It gets a bit more odd when, after posting about said event on social media, you get an email from a longtime friend/magazine editrix. “Can you write a version of this story for me?” asked Krista Minard. Some people might be annoyed by such a request at a time like that. But give me a good writing assignment, one with a powerful narrative and interesting details (which this one certainly was), and I’m on it.

Not only did working on the bare bones of what became “Departures and Arrivals” occupy me in the freezing hospital as we waited to learn about further tests and eventual surgery for Dick, it also reminded me (former journalist that I am) that there’s nothing as good as taking notes as things happen… as opposed to trying to remember details later. So, with Dick’s permission to tell the story as it unfolded, I did.

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The illustration for the story by artist Lars Leetaru is impressively close to the actual scene.

I don’t know if Krista knew how much she was saving me at the time, giving me something else to occupy my mind, but that assignment focused me and produced posts for this website (click on “Dick’s Great Heart Adventure” on the home page, if you haven’t read those posts and would like to). It was a win-win for us both.

I love to tell the story about how I was the editor of Sacramento Magazine in the early 1990s (the last century!) when Krista Hendricks, as she was then, was hired as our receptionist—a job she didn’t particularly want and, she’ll tell you, she wasn’t particularly good at. She wanted to be a writer for the magazine, but we weren’t hiring writers and she was, frankly, at that point not ready for such a job. But she let me know she wanted to write, and offered to type up copy for me (in those days we took stories written on paper and typed them into our little Macintosh computers). On her own time she also typed  transcripts of interviews I did with journalists for my master’s thesis. And she proved to be a fine feature writer. I gave her as many assignments as she wanted, and Krista became a huge asset to Sac Mag, as we call it.

She left us to work for the Neighbors section of The Sacramento Bee for a time, but came back to do freelance writing for us at the magazine, and eventually she was hired as a writer/editor. And after I left the magazine—and another editor was named and she left the magazine—they wisely made Krista the editor, a job she’s held for more than 25 years.

Every now and then she asks me to write something for her, or I volunteer an essay, which has been a lovely thing for us and the magazine, too. The travel pieces I’ve done about Hawaii have included Dick’s photos, too. Krista’s a terrific copy editor, and I rely on her to edit some of my longer projects, including all three books published by River Rock Books, the tiny press I run with my good friend and colleague Katie McCleary. In fact, here’s Krista and her daughter Anna at our most recent River Rock Books debut of Ed Cole’s novel, “The Love Story of Pinky Wollerman.” (You can get an electronic version of the book here. There should be printed copies available soon on Amazon, too.)

Thanks, Krista, for once again putting Dick and me in print… and online!

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(from left) Anna and Krista Minard


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Stopped II

RDS LifeIsGood shirt from SueBear

Dick in one of the lovely Life Is Good shirts sent by our friend Sue-bear Butler.

I’m pleased that this poem I wrote about Dick has found a home in an online literary journal I’ve long admired—but you have to be 60 or older to submit. I am, and I did. And they accepted it!

Click here and scroll down to see my piece “Stopped” in the special “Life-Changing Moments” section of Persimmon Tree.


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Hello, Faddah

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Roger and Darlene Haag with daughters (from left) Donna and Janis, Orange, California, circa 1965 (photo by Grandpa James Keeley)

Dear Dad,
our father, Roger, who art in heaven:

The little girls in this photo couldn’t understand
why you moved them far from a town called Orange
to a lake called Folsom, pulling them away from

sidewalks begging for roller skates and bikes,
away from Disneyland, to a rural life of poison oak
and no sidewalks and taking the bus to school

and summer heat the likes of which we’d never felt.
But you and Mom taught us to waterski on that lake,
and we learned to avoid the poison oak, spending

hours walking in the state park across the road,
plopped on our bellies in spring grass, surrounded
by wildflowers—blue dicks, shooting stars and lofty

lupine, the artistic Indian paintbrush, and oh,
the poppies that bobbed their happy heads at us,
a different kind of orange, welcoming us home.

Thank you and love,

Jan and Donna
Father’s Day 2019

In memory of Roger E. Haag


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