Uncle Ralph Got His Wings

The End of an Era


From left: Rose Miriam, Blaine, Ralph Sr., Ralph Jr., Jean (my mother)

Ralph 1921-2016, Jean 1919-2006, Blaine 1922-2013

Ralph 1921-2016, Jean 1919-2006, Blaine 1922-2013

Ralph, Blaine, Jean

Ralph Sturtevant, Feb 7,1921 – July 12, 2016

The last of my mother’s siblings, my uncle Ralph, has moved on from this world.

During the 1960s, I spent most of my summers with my grandfather, Ralph Sr., on his ranch in California’s Sierra foothills. Any trip to “The Ranch” included a stopover at my uncle Ralph and aunt Bev’s place in Modesto. Uncle Ralph always picked me up at the bus station—even the one time he didn’t know I was coming. Surprise! My mom had told my grandfather, but that is as far as the word got.

Ralph and Bev were always very supportive of my creative endeavors. They were big fans of the bands I was in, Woodputty and Cobblestone. They kept me abreast of local media coverage concerning any subject I was interested in at the time.  I’m pretty sure Ralph was the best customer at my Zazzle.com photo site.

Since Bev passed in 2014, Ralph has been living with his daughter Jan in Santa Cruz. Just over a month ago, we learned from Jan that Ralph had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Exactly a month ago he was told he had 3 to 5 days left—his liver was failing fast.

I drove down hoping I wouldn’t be too late. Happily, I wasn’t. There was Ralph out feeding the chickens, and, except for the color of his skin, you wouldn’t know he wasn’t an exceptionally healthy 95 year old—a little tired, but who isn’t? It was a bit surreal holding what amounted to a week long wake for someone who seemed pretty OK. He would be out every morning and afternoon taking care of the chickens and yard, as well as providing us with spot-on analysis of the evening news.

Meanwhile, we ( sisters, cousins, extended family) played music, told stories, watched baseball, assembled puzzles, and visited. Ralph’s grandson, Noah—the chef—came in from Hawaii to ply us with gourmet meals. After five days, I reluctantly headed for home, leaving Ralph in the ever-present and loving care of his son, Jon, daughter, Jan, the grandchildren and others.

My uncle Ralph was a gentle man and the consummate gentleman. I think he would have thought it just too rude for him to leave without allowing for his loved ones to come to terms with the idea.

Uncle Ralph got his Wings

In my uncle’s final hours, as he soundly slept

After we altogether and individually had laughed and wept

A Scrub Jay stole into his room with no one else about

It began knocking on the mirror when it was time to go out

It perched on the bed rail for one final goodbye

Then cousin Jan showed it the door and it took to the sky

Hmm, why a Scrub Jay, I thought, why not a hummingbird or a dove?

Why not a bird that more people think highly of?

“Judge not lest ye be judged” I heard myself say

Then it made perfect sense that Ralph would want it that way

Without a script, Ralph lived the Golden Rule simply because it makes sense

Would that we all could be so wise from this moment hence

I suppose Scrub Jays can bring to mind any number of things

But I’m going to remember when my uncle Ralph got his wings

Rezone Update

As expected, the City Council blew off the Planning Commission’s recommendation and voted 4-3 to approve the rezoning of the 43 acre wetlands/slough/farmland below me from Limited Open Space to General Commercial—for a third time in as many years. The City submitted its “Statement of Compliance” to the Growth Management Board on the 1st of December and we had until January 4th to respond. I pulled an all-nighter (minus a couple of hours sleeping in my chair), and sent mine off a half hour before the 5pm deadline. I had spent the last three months researching the obfuscation in the new 248 page “Supplemental” Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), but I didn’t allow myself enough time to get everything I wanted into a coherent presentation. It was 30 pages, but it could have easily been 60.

This 2015 SEIS is supposed to remedy the environmental issues in the 348 page 2013 EIS that precipitated the Board’s invalidation of the rezone in 2014. In that 2013 EIS, the engineering firm that created it insisted that the blackberry bushes—eight feet high and hundreds of feet long—were solid ground according to their infallible LIDAR maps. If excavated, these “mounds” would provide all the compensatory flood storage they needed to raise their 11 acre building site a foot above floodplain. The Board felt they hadn’t adequately considered how grading the property down to the edge of the slough would affect currents during a flood and how that might erode the base of the steep slope at the top of which my forty neighbors and I reside.

East Monroe During Nov 18, 2015 flood

East Monroe During Nov 18, 2015 flood

With the blackberry bush ruse now untenable and clearly too little compensatory flood storage available to allow for raising the building site a foot above floodplain, the only option was to lower the floodplain. So, the engineering firm brings in an additional unimpeachable expert to impeach their own unimpeachable conclusions in the 2013 EIS. Miraculously, and to everyone’s astonishment, they “discover”—actually, they decide from a cursory investigation—that there is no culvert beneath the railroad tracks at the entrance end of the slough, so all the water in the slough is coming from ditches along the highway. Now, you might think that would be easy to disprove because every aerial photo shows the slough approaching the tracks from the south and continuing on to the north toward the East Monroe property, but the culvert is deeply submerged and in a difficult place to access. The railroad, BNSF will not confirm or deny there is a culvert there. A local farmer did investigate with an 8′ rod and found what he figured was likely the culvert. But, they’ve got the “expert” who authored the FEMA studies of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers responding, “Frankly, if there is a culvert there, and it is buried, it is performing the same function as no culvert at all.”

This finding is incredibly convenient. It allows them—using the Army Corp of Engineers’ river analysis software—to model the slough as a very small tributary instead of a side channel of the river. It means flood water can only back onto the property from the west end. This in turn means, at the peak of a flood, the water in the slough is at a complete standstill. And, according to the expert, it means the base flood elevation can be lowered from 67ft to 65.35 ft. And, it means these are now the “existing condition” by which all other impacts are measured.

Well, of course, this is all BS, but it took downloading that software and its 800 page manual, and months of research to undermine the credibility of this expert with his own earlier pronouncements and studies—as well as those of many other experts in the field. Then, the day after the City adopted the new rezone ordinances, we had a flood. The water flowed in from the east end and continued down hill as it always does.

East Monroe flood 0225-

It is in the hands of the Board, now. The City has 10 days to respond to our objections.

Fortunately for the cause, another neighbor has a much better grasp of the legal inadequacies of this rezone attempt, and she submitted her own 30 pages on the subject. They have a lot to weasel their way out of. I’m pretty confident they will not succeed.


This is #10 and the last of the images I submitted to the 2015 Audubon Photo Contest. I think this one is my favorite because it contains five elements that float my boat: the desert, rocks, ancient history, birds, and a sense of spirituality. Floating one’s boat in the desert is always surprisingly satisfying.Hieroglyphic blog-

Knights Ferry, California


This gallery contains 12 photos.

Here are more photos I captured at Knights Ferry. The decaying structures of the old flour mill make great subjects, and I lucked out with the cotton ball sky that day. The steel door is from the jail house in … Continue reading