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“Finding David Douglas” film now on YouTube

I’m happy to share a link to “Finding David Douglas,” now on YouTube. I wrote the script for this documentary film, which was initially released in 2012.

David Douglas

David Douglas

My friend from childhood (we met at Girl Scout camp and then were high school classmates), Lois Leonard, invited me to be the writer for her film. She said she always liked my writing and that we shared so many interests, including history, the outdoors and all things Hawaiian.

Lois Leonard (facing camera) and film crew

The last part of the 55-minute film takes place in the Hawaiian Islands, on the islands of ‘Oahu and Hawai’i. David Douglas, a 19th-century botanist-explorer from Scotland, spent time on both islands before his untimely death on Mauna Kea on July 12, 1834. He was just 35.

Douglas was, in fact, the first non-native to climb both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the snow-capped volcanoes on Hawai’i Island. He did so for the purpose of collecting native plants, most of which were then unknown to European naturalists.

As he was walking across the lower elevations of Mauna Kea on his way to the town of Hilo, he had a fateful encounter with a wild cattle trapper named Ned Gurney. Many accounts blame Douglas’s death on one of Gurney’s trapped bulls; most of our film crew came to believe that Douglas was murdered by Gurney and his body thrown into the trap, already occupied by an innocent bull.

Bronze plaque from 1934 memorial

Some beautiful scenes were filmed in a grove of Douglas fir trees (imported from the Pacific Northwest) that were planted next to the pyramid-shaped stone memorial that marks the site of Douglas’s death. David Douglas is buried at the Kawaiaha’o Church Cemetery in Honolulu.

Douglas firs and koa trees

I hope you’ll take the time to view the “Finding David Douglas” video so you can appreciate Douglas’s accomplishments as a plant collector. For one thing, the seeds from Douglas fir and spruce trees that he sent home to London resulted in the re-growth of depleted forests in the UK and Europe.

My advice for anyone who wishes to visit the David Douglas Memorial on Mauna Kea: Make the trip in a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The road is pretty rough. Keep in mind that the hardy Douglas was making the entire trek on foot.

On Assignment: Disneyland!

I’ve been writing for Alaska Beyond, the inflight magazine of Alaska Airlines, for many years. But unlike some airline magazines, Alaska Beyond, which is published by a company that is separate from the airline, rarely sends writers anywhere. I never got sent on an out-of-town assignment.

Breakfast at Disneyland

Until last week.

I couldn’t believe it when the magazine asked me if I would like to go to Disneyland. What a question. Of course! I love Disneyland!

It was fun writing to friends to report, “I’m in Disneyland. Working.”

In fact, I worked so hard during my three days in Disneyland that I gained five pounds. (I dropped them as soon as I returned to my own Spartan lifestyle, that is, no more appetizers before practically every meal, no more desserts after practically every meal, and no more appetizers between every meal.) Very nice people from Disney’s public relations department took me and a small group of journalists through Disneyland and its sister park, Disney California Adventure, as well as the Downtown Disney restaurant and

Millennium Falcon, Docked

shopping district, to check out all that was new or fairly new.


The last time I visited Disneyland was in 2015, and in just four years there have been a lot of changes and additions. The one addition generating the most buzz is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which opened May 31. I was perhaps the wrong person to report on this new Disneyland attraction; I’m not really up to date on Star Wars movies, books or video games. Some of the character and place names on the Planet Batuu were lost on me.

Still, I could appreciate the effort put into conceiving and then making this desert-like area inhabited by alien creatures of all sorts. Even the creation of the marketplace required that designers do hands-on research in the ancient souks of Marrakesh, Morocco. They managed to capture the exotic feel of centuries-old shopping bazaars I have visited in Turkey and Iran.

The Marketplace

The various droids–some round, some angular–looked and sounded familiar to me. I even got to make my own pint-sized droid and take it home with me after a visit to the Droid Depot. Another workshop allows visitors to make their own lightsabers.

I got another dose of Star Wars when I tried out The VOID, a new addition to Downtown Disney that offers virtual reality encounters with Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers. With


an oculus rift headset in place, and a blaster in hand, I surely did the rebel forces proud. Afterwards, one of my teammates said, “You were so brave!” What can I say? The Force was with me.

A new restaurant that looked very familiar to me was Portland’s own Salt & Straw, which has spread its fantastic gourmet ice cream beyond Oregon’s borders. There was also a fun restaurant called Splitsville that has 20 bowling lanes. I bought an irresistible Mickey/Minnie purse at the World of Disney

Me (on left) with Disney PR peeps

and got inspired to dust off my sewing machine after browsing at the cute Disney Dress Shop.

The Disney Dress Shop

One evening, when our group watched the World of Color— the light, sound and water show next to Pixar Pier in California Adventure–I confess to feeling a bit emotional. Flashed before us, amid the 1200 gushing fountains and the swirling colors, were scenes from the long history of Disney films, accompanied by music from some of my favorites.

It occurred to me that every American alive today, except for those who have lived as hermits, is fondly familiar with much of that music and many of the movie scenes. We all have that in common. It’s like the soundtrack of our nation. On that night, sitting under a full moon and watching the show illuminate the faces of all the viewers, I felt a real bond with Disney lovers from coast to coast.

I doff my hat (Minnie Mouse ears hat, to be exact) to Alaska Beyond for giving me the opportunity to not only enjoy a wonderful experience, but to write about it. Look for my article in the October 2019 issue.

R.I.P. Packy

Packy as newborn

Packy as newborn

Sad news from the Oregon Zoo. Packy, Portland’s star pachyderm, was euthanized today after all efforts to relieve him of the effects of a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis failed. He was 54.

His birth on April 14,1962 made international news because he was the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years. The fuzzy little fellow (a mere 150 pounds at birth) became every Portland child’s favorite animal and from 1963 on, his birthday party at the zoo was well attended, sometimes by thousands of kids and adults.

Everyone wore elephant ears, including the elephant, and everyone got cake, including the elephant. In fact, Packy’s annual birthday cake was a major production. With carrots instead of candles and made with elephant-healthy ingredients (e.g., peanut butter instead of frosting), the culinary creation was placed in the elephants’ outdoor area by someone who then had to run for his life before the seven-ton bull elephant was released.

As Packy’s trunk made the first swipe across the surface of the cake, a live band would begin to play “Happy Birthday” and all the zoo visitors sang the song.

Packy at 52

Packy at 52

In 1995 I wrote about Packy’s 33rd birthday for the Leisure & Arts Page of The Wall Street Journal. I had proposed the article several weeks before the birthday event, but my beloved editor, Ray Sokolov, didn’t see the humor in an elephant birthday party and he turned me down. What I resorted to was something I had learned as a child: if one parent turns you down, ask the other.

Ray had to go out of town and he turned over the editing of the page to a deputy. I pitched the same story to him and he told me to go for it. By the time Ray returned to the office, my article, “Seven Tons of Birthday Fun,” had already been assigned, written and published.

Fortunately, Ray was pleased that I’d gone around him in order to write the story, which he had really enjoyed. He ended up complimenting me on my trunk, er, nose for news.

(With thanks for the photos and condolences to the staff of the Oregon Zoo.)