Sid, our cat, is 21 years old and that translates to 100 in human years.

Last week, I got a call from a wonderful friend who has been cat sitting for me as I’ve been bouncing around in and out of town trying to line up my next gig.

It was clear that Sid was coming to the end of his days. He was all fur and bones and walked gingerly, stooped over.   He was moaning a lot and peeing and pooping everywhere BUT the litter box.

I started to do my homework and found out that it was a very simple procedure to put the poor guy out of his misery and that I could hold him in my lap while the fatal shot was being administered.

Most people I consulted with said that Sid had lived an amazingly long life and it would be humane to put him out of his misery.

When I went to discuss it with my veterinarian, I started to cry. In her waiting room. It was obvious that Sid might have been ready to move on, but I hadn’t achieved the moral certainty that was required for me to follow through with this.

Later that day, my youngest son arrived for a visit and argued forcibly for a stay of execution. He pointed out that Sid could still jump up on the sofa or the coffee table and still liked being held and stroked.

And he still loved to eat. And drink water. Constantly.

Charley, my son, offered to take Sid with him on the flight back to Los Angeles where he could stay with my wife and we could re-assess his future.

Because Susan still teaches, we worked out a routine that she would put Sid on the balcony of our LA condo with food and kitty litter while she was at school.

She would hang out with him after school and enclose him in the kitchen at night, again with food and a litter box. Any accidents would be contained to linoleum and not carpet!

I’m in LA now and happy to report that Sid is adjusting well and seems to have a new lease on life. Twice, he escaped through an open door, walked down a long flight of stairs, and was cruising the neighborhood.

The first time was the night before Halloween and I’m sure some of the early revelers were surprised and hopefully delighted to see an old black cat cross their path.

As I write this, he is chilling out on the balcony, and thanks to fact that he is deaf, he isn’t at all bothered by the whoosh of a steady stream of cars passing by and helicopters passing overhead.

So, yes, rumors of Sid’s demise were premature and this new centurion will be carrying on, all fur and bones, with hopefully some sweet moments still to come.


We’re launching the Where’s Mel? app this weekend.

Some of you are aware of this incredible phenomenon: wherever I go, people follow. I can walk into Starbucks and there’s nobody there and before you can say Grande Coffee Frappaccino with 6 pumps of Frapp Roast there’s a big line-up behind me.

This can take place at any venue of any size. It happens at the Haggens Market right near my house at Barkley Village. I’ve learned to shop really fast so at least I get to the check out counter before the line is too long.

In fact, Haggens would have been wise to have sent me to Southern California when they launched all of those new stores. No Mel, and so most of those stores opened and closed in a few months.

Up until now, this has been a paranormal phenomenon, and I’ve stumped even some of the greatest minds I know—mostly college drop outs or English majors—and nobody has an inkling how this happens. I will often stop and look behind me when I’m walking from the parking lot to Starbucks for instance and I don’t notice any crowd building up.

If you don’t believe me, you can consult with my friend Jane McDougall, a columnist with the National Post in Canada. Jane can attest to this happening to me on several occasions as I can attest to the fact that street lamps go on just as she passes them. Weird stuff but we’re journalists so you have to believe it’s really happening.

The new Where’s Mel? app will take the mystery out of this and for a lousy $1.99 you will have a GPS on your smart phone that will let you know where I am at all times. I won’t make that much money at two bucks a pop but I’m thinking the likes of Starbucks and Haggens will at least offer me some discounts for drawing huge crowds to their establishments.

Many of you have subscribed to the Short Mel app already so you know how this is done. For those of you who missed out on that amazing opportunity, Short Mel shows every stock transaction and investment I make.

By doing exactly the opposite, people have made millions in the last few years. Only last month, when I made a big play on the Chinese Yuan and Alberta Tar Sands, some of my followers reported their best earnings ever.

If you’re reading this in the LaConner Weekly News and not on my internationally syndicated blog, you are invited to the launch party this Saturday night at the home of Bill and Sandy Stokes. It’s pot luck so bring a dish.





I’ve got a new best friend. He’s a Catholic priest. And he’s 96 years old.

I was invited to merge Cascadia Film Workshop with a music camp that takes place on a beautiful 200-acre retreat in Mt. Vernon. Looking around, I said, “What is this place!” I was told it was called the Treacy-Levine Center, TLC, and it was started by a priest and a rabbi almost 50 years ago.

Although Rabbi Levine passed away 30 years ago in a tragic car accident, Father William Treacy is still very present. He’s a charmer and he’s clicking on all cylinders and he immediately inspired me. My wife is Catholic, I’m Jewish. Three of our kids were baptized and two had Bar Mitzvahs so we have our own in house inter-faith council. I love the mission of TLC to encourage understanding between people from different backgrounds and religions. So I volunteered to be on the board.

Although I’m uncomfortable with religious dogma—the kind that says that everything in the bible happened literally and my God is the only God—I still believe in the power of prayer. Recently, a Russian immigrant billionaire, named Milner, gave 100 million dollars to Cal Berkeley to find signs of life in our cosmos. No easy task, because it was recently discovered that most of those stars we see twinkling in the ski at night are like our own Sun, and therefore they are each surrounded by orbiting planets.

So there are vast numbers of places that we can look for signs of life throughout our galaxy and galaxies beyond our galaxy. We may not encounter a Martian or Plutonian with three eyes and one pogo stick leg—it might be as simple as an electronic signal transmitted from light years away that helps scientists pinpoint their search. One scientist was quoted as saying that he believed in Milner’s mission because otherwise you would have to come up with the non-scientific conclusion that we are here on Earth discussing this because of a miracle.

Or a million little miracles.

I can understand why a person of science thinks that all things can be explained by science. That kind of thinking led to an explanation for gravity and a cure for polio. But I DO believe we are here because of millions of miracles and coincidences and that’s one of the reasons I believe in God. I pray for positive outcomes and I pray to the forces in the Universe that can’t be explained by science.

Even Einstein believed in God and felt that there had to be a reason all of these things happened the way they did. And even Einstein could not explain the concept of infinity to me in a way my human brain could understand it. Where did time begin? Where does Space end? If it ends somewhere, what’s beyond that? I can’t get my head around it, and because not all things can be explained by science, I’m going to continue thanking God for my existence. Einstein famously said “…science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind. They are interdependent and have a common goal—the search for truth.”

The concept of a deity has been very much on my mind recently, since my Rabbi Josh Samuels said in his Rosh Hashana sermon one year ago that you did not have to believe in God to be Jewish. He said that questioning the existence of God is very much a part of our culture and heritage. I introduced Rabbi Josh to Father Bill recently and they found that they had a great deal in common despite the fact that Father is twice his age and went through very different training.

Father Treacy recently shared with me a paper he wrote about the contentious relationships between Christians and Jews through the centuries. He wrote, “Looking back over 71 years as a priest I recently came to the conclusion that I was called primarily within priesthood to work for healing relations between Jews and Christians.” He made a copy for me and scribbled a note in the margins: “Mel: I feel God sent you to help me in a very needed ministry.”

I agree. And the healing can start right here in our own communities and congregations.


Common Ground

A priest and a rabbi walked onto a dairy farm…

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it is actually the genesis of an amazing journey that continues on almost 50 years later.

Father William Treacy and Rabbi Raphael Levine bought the 200-acre dairy farm with contributions and founded Camp Brotherhood at Lake McMurray near Conway. Their mission was to promote understanding and common ground between different religions and cultures.

Rabbi Levine, born in Lithuania, and Father Treacy, born in Ireland, co-hosted a television series on KOMO-TV in Seattle for years entitled Challenge where they discussed both the differences and similarities of their faiths, never proselytizing.

Tragically, Rabbi Levine died from injuries sustained in a car accident in 1985. Father Treacy sat at his deathbed and vowed that he would keep the flame burning.

On Sunday, a memorial garden was dedicated at what is now called The Treacy Levine Center. Father Treacy, alert and articulate at age 96, hosted the event which was witnessed by, among others, 28 teenagers from Palestine and Israel and the United States as part of a Kids4Peace event that takes place on the site every summer.

Father Treacy shared the podium with the great niece of Rabbi Levine, Rabbi Daria Jacobs-Velde, who led a rousing song version of Hallelujah, which is a word in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Rabbi Jacobs-Velde’s husband is also a Rabbi and they have a congregation in Sebastopol, California.

In a more somber moment, Father Treacy told the story of a delegation from Pakistan that came to the site in June of 2009. On his return to Pakistan, one of the delegates was killed, allegedly by the Taliban. His name was Khial Akbar Afredi and a plaque in his name was unveiled on Sunday as part of the Memorial Garden.

The TLC has been successful in reaching out to Muslim leaders lately and Father Treacy stood in front of a Christian bible, a Jewish bible and a copy of the Koran.

The TLC hosts camps throughout the year celebrating mind, body and spirit. There are music and art camps, karate and soccer camps, a quilting symposium, a sound healing event and Reiki programs to name a few.

Next August, the TLC will host a four-day event, the 1World Music Festival, with performers from around the world joining local musicians to celebrate peace and understanding through their universal language. Tickets will start selling in the spring and out-of-towners will be able to stay on the premises. The TLC has beautiful hotel rooms and cabins and an excellent cafeteria as well as campsites.

A month later, in September, 2016, the TLC will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of a spiritual journey that is the enduring legacy of two very remarkable men.

Thomas Howell is the executive director of the TLC and can be reached at 360 445-5061 for any groups wanting to hold an event in this idyllic setting.

TLC event

concept of water conservation in America

Perhaps you read my last column in which I mentioned what to so many is an unmentionable: we are in the middle of a serious drought and we are going to have to make adjustments in the way we go about our daily lives.

Now, we can all continue to stick our collective head in the sand, and Lord knows, there’s more and more sand around us every day, OR we can start to take a few easy steps down the great road of reason.

There are those of you who believe this is just the normal ebb and flow of a pattern that has included Ice Ages and Dust Bowls, but almost 100 percent of scientist think that mankind is exacerbating this problem and I’m thinking, maybe we should err on the side of caution and do what we can to slow the devastating destruction of our environment.

Here’s some simple steps to get started:


That’s right, get rid of your lawn. Whether the world we live in was Created by God or is the result of millions of tiny little miracles happening in just the right sequence, much of the American Southwest was evolved, or designed, to have very little of the color green. California had those wonderful Oak Trees but almost everything thing else that was green and grew in the ground was trucked in from somewhere else.  Palm Trees for sure, but even the giant Eucalyptus trees were brought in from far away climes.

This of course includes your front yard. I go crazy when I see a bunch of built in sprinklers pop up out of the ground to water a tiny little patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Look around and you might notice that some of your neighbors are doing the right thing and ripping out the sod and replacing it with beautiful desert landscapes of clay and native plants.

I played golf recently at Wilshire Country Club, and the people who maintain this historic course have replanted the fairways and greens with highly durable grasses and all of the areas surrounding and outlining the fairways are brown and dry and it looks pretty cool. There is some understandable snickering out there—can we really even afford to maintain so many golf courses and that very well could be an issue in the years to come but at least the golf industry is awakening to the fact that something’s gotta give.


That’s right, we use up a tremendous amount of water flushing our toilets. Many of you have already installed low flow toilets and that definitely helps, but we are still flushing way too much away. I love to pee outside, I feel a oneness with nature, and that’s easy for me to say because my primary residence is a house in the woods in Northwestern Washington State.

We probably don’t want to drive down Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California and see lots of people standing behind the hedges shaking it out and zipping it up while the smokers stand by and chortle. And that would be even tougher, although not impossible, for women to pull off, both anatomically and culturally. Still, give it your best shot. It’s actually fun to surreptitiously case the immediate environment and sneak a pee!


So the next best thing is to consolidate when you are forced to use a toilet. If you’re just making a number one, don’t flush the toilet every time you use it. I’ll leave the math to you, and I know the sensibilities will differ from fraternity houses to private homes, but just be aware that we can definitely improve on our performance.


Of course, if you’re dropping a deuce, doing a number two, going potty, pooping, or whatever delicate terminology you want to use for doing something that all mammals must do, then flush away and peace be with you.


This is a fun one, or can be. Maybe it will even freshen up a stale relationship. Whether you’re going solo or not, keep it short: no more singing arias while the water is running.


Recently, I was in Cambria, California, where they have been issuing a waiting list for building permits depending on the availability of water. Cambria also was one of the small communities that had the foresight to develop its own system to re-use waste water and the new system is getting high marks and making an immediate difference so that new building permits can be issued, although slowly and carefully.

If you are reading this column in Washington State and you are surrounded by lots of green, don’t get to smug. Our governor Jay Inslee has declared a drought here and implemented emergency measures because last winter’s snow pack was minuscule and the rivers are at all time lows and the farmers are having a tough time providing enough water for their crops. So this is not just a California issue or a Washington issue, it’s a global issue and we are all going to have to make adjustments in the way we consume.

We are expecting an El Niño winter and we might get hit with a lot of rainfall on the West Coast, but it won’t be enough to make up for four years of drought. Rainfall itself doesn’t do much good because we aren’t set up to collect and re-use it. Most of it runs through drains out to sea. A lot of snow in the mountains would help enormously because the snow melts slowly, filling our rivers, lakes and aquifers throughout the dryer seasons.

We know for sure that we can’t just leave this up to Mother Nature. There are lots of little things we can do to try to protect the land we are passing on to our children and grandchildren. Whether it’s the way we use water, how well we recycle, how much gasoline we use, how we implement reforestation and sustainable agriculture, we need to do whatever we can to be good soldiers of our Earth.

Waste not, want not, and remember every little bit helps.




When are we going to learn that bigger ain’t always better? And oftentimes, less is more!

Unfortunately, I’ve had a front row seat from which I could view the decline of two of the great cities in the world.

I left New York City in the early 70’s at a time of despair, when crime and drugs and poverty were taking a tremendous toll. It was at a low point in that incredible city’s amazing history.

Then came two great years in Colorado where I discovered mountains and elbow room and clean air but my ambition to become a filmmaker led me to Los Angeles.

LA to me is a prime example of a failing city but because I’ve been fortunate to have a 40 year career—and counting—as a director, I’ve always had to have a foothold there. Now that foothold has become a toehold and I’ve discovered the wonders of the Pacific Northwest.

Why the rap on LA? Because for some reason the city fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters seem to think it’s essential that an already overcrowded, choking city needs to continue to grow.

Recently I listened in astonishment as Larry Mantle, one of my favorite NPR hosts, discuss with his guests why Santa Monica needed to grow. The guests went on and on about how it was essential that the children and grandchildren of the families in that seaside city needed new affordable housing.

Some callers mentioned that there was already terrible traffic into, out of and around Santa Monica but not one person mentioned one other tiny little factoid: THERE IS NO WATER!

Yes, there is the Pacific Ocean, which is sight for sore eyes, but its water is not potable or drinkable, at least not without a tremendous investment in desalinization or sewage treatment.

The same is true of the whole Los Angeles Basin, and as you move inland from Santa Monica, there is another huge problem: even worse traffic and terrible air quality.

Yet, growth continues willy-nilly, building permits are easily obtained, and more and more people are paying higher and higher prices to squeeze into this basin.

And did I forget to mention: THERE IS NO WATER! Estimates are that there is a year’s supply of agua in the city’s aquifers and then everyone is doing a collective rain dance and hoping for an El Nino this winter that will magically undo a 5-year-drought.

This pattern is happening throughout California, which had it’s largest population gain in twelve years and now claims 38 million residents, far more than all of vast Canada.

Leading the way is the tech sector, which has made San Francisco the most expensive city in America and Santa Monica pretty pricey as well.

It puzzles me that these tech wizards don’t see what I see coming: the bursting of the California real estate bubble. Maybe those smarty pants are working on a Rainfall App!

Right now, you can buy the same house in awesome Portland, Oregon for about one-quarter the price of a similar house in LA. No kidding.

One of my sons is moving there along with several of his boyhood friends. They’ve been priced out of LA and they see Portland as having a lot of the excitement and “chill” factor of LA without the smog and traffic.

Of course, they’ve been warned about the wet and gloomy winters of the Pacific Northwest, especially for people who grew up in California sunshine.

But they are also betting that abundant water will be a plus and not a minus in the years to come. And they won’t be slaves to their mortgages and they can even afford to get out of Dodge occasionally to find some sunshine someplace.

Recently I drove from my home in Bellingham, Washington, near the Canadian border, through Central Washington, to Portland, San Francisco, and on to Los Angeles.

What I saw in Washington and Oregon were bounteous rivers and streams. As soon as I crossed into California, I was struck by how little water there was in the Mt. Shasta Basin and how truly brown and parched everything was compared to the Evergreen Northwest.

In California’s parched Central Valley, which is sometimes called America’s Salad Bowl, there are signs everywhere supporting the right of farmer’s to continue to use most of the State’s dwindling water supplies with the threat that food prices will rise dramatically.

When I learned that it takes one gallon of water to produce one edible almond, I realized that we are going to have to change the way we eat because the cities aren’t going to let the farmers keep hoarding the water.

There are lessons to be learned here, but I doubt that will happen. This week an official in my hometown decried the fact that Bellingham wasn’t growing fast enough.

His point was that there wasn’t any room for new housing in Bellingham, and the new generation of homeowners wouldn’t be able to live within the city limits.

So what! They can live in the county outside city limits or in nearby Ferndale and Lynden and drive fifteen minutes to visit Mom and Pop.

Or Mom and Pop can downsize and move into exurbia and create more housing for the next generation to raise their kids and send them to Bellingham’s wonderful high schools.

What Bellingham doesn’t need is more infill and more traffic, and if they don’t believe me, they need to take a road trip down the coast like the one I just took.

As for those of you still living in the Golden (read BROWN) State, my advice is sell your house now, at the top of the market, and buy two houses to replace it, one in the Pacific Northwest and one wherever you want to getaway occasionally in the winter.

And you’ll still have money left over. It’s a smart move and you should bet the ranch on it!


Rachel styling at 94

My mother Rachel Damski passed away with family at her bedside Friday, May 15, and it was the perfect ending to an amazing journey.

At 94 years old, with failing health and increased confusion, Rachel decided it was time to go and checked out to reunite with my father and older brother. The official cause of death was “enough already.”

Rachel’s remarkable journey began in Berlin, Germany. Her heroics in getting her parents and younger brother Harry Rosenfeld out of Berlin are documented in Harry’s book, From Kristallnacht to Watergate.

She arrived in New York City in 1939, never seeing herself as a victim and never looked back. She met my father Leo in 1941 and they did their best to re-populate the Jewish race, having four children when the norm at the time was 2.1. That has increased geometrically and Rachel leaves behind a very large extended family.

Rachel was an incredible patriot. She never let her children forget how America was her savior and she was a USO volunteer until her 92nd year.


She became an artist in her late 80’s and recently sold a painting at an art show in La Conner, WA. Trever McGhee, gallery owner, said “Rachel was an awesome living example of how it’s never too late to follow your dreams”.


Rachel donated the money from the sale of her painting to the Palm Springs USO, which had chosen her to put a stitch in the 9/11 flag that toured the country.

FullSizeRender (2)

She was the first feminist that I ever laid eyes on and worked her entire life, starting as a teenager in her parents’ fur shop. She worked with Leo in their jewelry shop and was an award winning salesperson at the Jordan Marsh department store.

As if that was enough for a wife and mother of four, she dabbled in real estate and made hats in our small basement, which she sold to some of the more fashionable ladies in Roslyn, Long Island, where we grew up.

Like her second son, me, she sometimes was impatient with people who didn’t do business the way she thought it should be done and she declared herself “a woman of the world”. In fact, she and Leo were truly world travelers and spent almost as much time on the Great Wall of China as Chairman Mao.

Against all odds, she bounced back from enormous challenges and she managed to have a long and productive life.

Rachel will be laid to rest at the New Montefiore cemetery in Farmingdale, Long Island alongside Leo and his parents Paul and Sonia Damski and her parents, Solomon and Esther Rosenfeld.

Sadly, she was pre-deceased by her first son Fred, but she leaves behind three children, Janice Kaminsky, Mel and Peter Damski, 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, all of whom adored their GG!

A memorial service will be held in Palm Springs on Sunday, June 14th. Donations in her memory should be made to the Palm Springs USO.




Took Mom out for lunch the other day. With my sister.

If you have an elderly parent or grandparent, you know what a mixed blessing this is. Any time spent with Rachel, who just celebrated her 94th birthday, is borrowed time.

It’s amazing to have her around and somewhat ambulatory. I say somewhat because she is too vain to use her walker and that means at every step there is the danger she will fall.

Usually she’s waiting downstairs in front of her Assisted Living facility, which concerns me, so I hurry upstairs and knock on the door and she says “come in”. The door is locked and I can hear her shuffling my way to open the door.

This woman is still beautiful and still concerned about how she looks when we go out, so she apologizes for only having on lipstick and no mascara.

And she’s hooked up to her oxygen tank, which makes me happy because it’s a necessity that she sometimes rebels against but it’s also a stark reminder of her declining health.

Rachel gingerly walks towards my car, and she approaches the curb as if it is a mountain. With her arm on my arm, she looks down with failing eyesight and steps ever so carefully down the four inches to street level.

She only manages to get halfway onto the passenger seat and I boost her over the rest of the way and say “Whoopsie Daisy” just as she always said to us when we were kids and the roles were reversed. I help her onto the seat safely and I reach across her lap to fasten her seat belt.

Janice, my amazing sister—she lives near Rachel and sees her almost every day–is waiting in front of the deli with a huge smile on her face because there is a parking spot right in front of a place that is always crowded.

Mom doesn’t eat much and doesn’t say much. The truth is she can’t hear very well, especially in a crowded restaurant, and she won’t invest in a really good hearing aid because she doesn’t think she’ll live long enough to amortize the extra expense.

I had a secret pact with the audiologist to quote Rachel half of the full price and when I asked if he thought that was weird, he said it happens all the time with family members of elderly patients.

Even at half price, she wouldn’t go for it, and so we are reduced to shouting. In the car she asked me why I was mad at her the day before when I called her to tell her what time I was picking her up.

I explained that I wasn’t mad, it just sounded that way because she can’t hear me and I had to keep repeating the pick-up time, each time raising my voice until she acknowledged that she heard me.

Truth is, I WAS a little ticked off and she probably heard some of that along with frustration.

Janice and I didn’t want to shout in a restaurant so we talked in normal voices and Rachel checked out, her mind going to who knows where.

After lunch, she asked if I would take her to the Dollar Tree. Absolutely, I said, knowing that this is her happy place and I myself cannot get over what you can buy for a dollar these days.

Whoopsie Daisy, she is in the car, a short drive, Whoopsie Daisy we are out of the car and Rachel almost flies up onto the curb, just a mole hill now, excited at the prospects. She grabs a cart and uses it as a de facto walker and she is a woman on a mission.

We spend a lot of time in the candy section. She emphasizes that the candy is for guests only and the truth is that this woman has a lot of callers, from sons and daughter to grandchildren and great grandchildren and just people who find her life story fascinating and her point of view refreshing.

She admires some glassware, marveling at the value of an elegant wine glass for a buck, but acknowledging that she doesn’t need any more.

I overrule her on a colorful candy tray, knowing full well that there isn’t one vacant inch of counter space in her small room.

She insists that I buy something and I need some hangers and who can turn down six for a dollar!

She buys two colorful small rubber balls for her great granddaughters.

We check out and a cartful comes to just under $20. Rachel beams at me, like she just pulled off a jewel heist. I don’t dare tell her about the 99-cent store or we’ll be driving across down to save even more money on our purchases!

She has a little catnap during the ten-minute ride back to her place, exhausted but happy about the outing. When we get to her room, we unload the bagful and I help her move things around because all of the precious possessions of a lifetime have been reduced to whatever can fit into 250 square feet.

A huge hug, because I’m heading to New York for a gig and I won’t see her again for a month.

Or ever.

And that is what makes each of these little outings so so precious and these partings such sweet sorrow for me!

I slide into the driver’s seat and I’m a bit wobbly as the enormity of all of this washes over me.

Whoopsie Daisy! I steady myself and off I go.



Even though I always looked like my father, comparisons usually ended there.

We had very little in common. He was a scholar with no interest in sports. I was a jock who really struggled with my studies.

He was patient and sedentary, an avid reader and crossword specialist. I can’t sit still, I’m impatient and I can only read newspapers, magazines or listen to books on tape when I’m on a long road trip,

Leo is very much on my mind this week because it’s my father’s Yahrzeit, the Jewish anniversary of his passing. He died 18 years ago, at the age of 79.

His father, Paul Damski, was a famous boxing promoter in Berlin and the sporting DNA obviously skipped a generation. Leo never once came to one of my games, from Little League to high school football, wrestling and baseball. Paul would drive 20 miles from Manhattan to watch me wrestle on Long Island and then go out and play golf the next morning.

Despite economic challenges, Leo was a shirt-off-his-back, pick-up-the check kind of guy, qualities that he inherited from his more successful, more expansive father.

My father was happy sitting in his jewelry store all day, schmoozing with customers and reading Michener novels and doing the crossword puzzle when nobody was around. His world revolved around my mother Rachel, and he had very few friends or interests that didn’t include my Mom.

He was easy going and had a very bearable lightness of being. Even now, my Mom, almost 94, is understandably suspicious and untrusting—after all, she lived through the the depression and the holocaust and Kristallnacht before escaping in 1938.

Dad left Germany three years earlier, before things got really ugly, and if anything, he was trusting to a fault. He loved the creative side and social aspects of owning a small town jewelry store, but the business challenges eluded him.

He was a great listener and happy to schmooze or offer a fair price to a customer, but my mother had to often step in to look after the bottom line.

His favorite hobby was collecting coins and stamps. During my sophomore year of college, I wrote a short story entitled The Stamp Collector. It was about a man who escaped from real world problems by subverting himself in his stamp collection.

My professor liked the story but unfortunately my father came upon some files in one of my drawers and read the story. I’m sure he was very hurt, but he couldn’t really bring himself to discuss it with me but he told my mother and she told me.

Before there was Google, there was Leo. You could ask him anything about World History and he would have a ready answer. He had gotten a solid enough education in German Gymnasium—their high school—and he continued to self-educate himself. After he arrived in New York, he had to work to help support his parents and younger brother and wasn’t able to apply to college.

After working as a traveling salesman, Leo ended up working in a airplane parts factory as part of the war effort—although he was now an American citizen, he had a punctured ear drum and wasn’t able to serve so this was his way of contributing to the country that saved his immediate family from extinction.

His father Paul got out of the boxing business—he said it was mob controlled and didn’t want any part of that— so he opened a jewelry business in midtown Manhattan. He invited Leo downtown one day, saying he had a surprise for him. There on the front window of the 47th Street Jewelry exchange was the sign “Paul Damski and Son”.

Leo was no match for his charming and powerful father so, despite my mother’s warnings, he joined Paul in the jewelry business. Eventually my mother convinced him that he needed to breakaway and together my parents opened a store in Long Island, where they had moved so that we kids could grow up with some trees around us.

He settled into what must have seemed like an idyllic life, especially knowing how tragically early life ended for his whole extended family in Europe.

He was proud of his kids, but left us to navigate on our own. My mother was his world, and his only escape was the fellowship of his Masonic Lodge. Otherwise, it was all about life’s simple pleasures.

He would do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, and he would fill it out as if it was a form, from top-left to bottom right, almost never having to jump ahead to look for an easy one further down on the puzzle.

When he died, there was his last puzzle, in ink, half-finished, by his bedside. I’ve framed that puzzle and it is one of my most prized possessions.

Now that I’m mellowing out, I’m finding more Leo in me. I definitely inherited his schmoozing gene, and my family always says that I’m a pushover when it comes to any kind of negotiation.

My love of music is definitely from my Dad. We would drive around and listen to WNEW and play a game to identify the singer, whether it was easy, like Sinatra, or challenging, like Dinah Washington.

When Sirius Satellite radio replaced my 40’s on 4 Channel with the Billy Joel Channel, I wanted to burn their house down but luckily some other old coots must have complained and it was Bye Bye Billy Joel and Hello Benny Goodman.

I finally got brave enough to attempt crossword puzzles and on-line Scrabble even though I’m lucky if I can finish the Wednesday NY Times puzzle—in pencil, with a well-used eraser.

The greatest gift my father gave me was his incredible curiosity and fascination with the way the world works. It’s why I’m glued to NPR and BBC, read a lot of newspapers and constantly think how nice it would be to call Leo to discuss how this all came to be.



Climate change is becoming less abstract and more real for me as I am spending a lot of time lately working in California. The Golden State is looking very parched these days and there are great many stories floating around in the media and around the dinner table about just how much this phenomenon will affect our lives and livelihoods.

I don’t spend too much time thinking about whether this is made by mankind or Mother Nature or some inexplicable cosmic force. I figure let’s err on the side of caution and do what we can as humanoids because what else can we do?

I’d rather find out twenty years from now that we didn’t really have to stop pouring aerosol spray into the atmosphere than to find out we should have.

I think a lot about the future because it is my nature to ponder but I also have a more practical stake in these outcomes: five kids and hopefully some grandchildren and I want them to enjoy their lives as much as I am.

Oh, and let’s not forget the rest of the human race, which doesn’t exactly have a perfect track record, but has definitely done some magnificent things.

I’m not above crowing about how smart I think I am for leading a migration to the Great Northwest, where the trees are still green and bountiful. So far only one of my kids has actually followed my lead, so I decided to consult someone who knows a lot more about these things than I do.

His name is John Yearsley and he has a lot of fancy letters after his name, one of which is MIT. That means he’s smart and John’s particular field of expertise is water.

I figure if I’m going to keep telling anyone who will listen that they should take advantage of affordable real estate, excellent public schools and yes, it rains a lot and we are damn proud of the fact that we are surrounded by water, then I better back that up with some science.

So John was nice enough to take some time to answer some questions about our water and our future.

Mel: Do you have any short term concerns about the water supply in Bellingham?

John: Yes and no, of course. The likelihood is low that I or any of my friends or neighbors will not see water coming out of the tap whenever we turn it on in the next five years. Nevertheless, there is uncertainty about the reliability of the two sources for Bellingham water, the Nooksack River and the Lake Whatcom watershed. The Nooksack River has many competing interests for its water including irrigated agriculture, dairy farms, municipal drinking water supply, industrial water supply, in stream flow requirements and tribal rights. Furthermore, extraction of groundwater from permitted wells and exempt wells has an as-yet unknown impact on Nooksack River flows. (Did you know that you can withdraw an unlimited amount of water from a permit exempt well for watering livestock or for watering your lawn?) Lurking in the future of the Nooksack River watershed is the specter of climate change. Climate models for the Cascades predict more precipitation falling as rain in the winter at mid-level elevations (3000-5000 feet), resulting in less runoff from snowmelt in the summer.

The reconveyance of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land to Whatcom County was the one bright spot in the future for Lake Whatcom. Earlier this year, the DNR transferred (reconveyed) 8800 acres of forest lands, much of which includes the Lake Whatcom watershed to Whatcom County parks. It’s been logged, of course, and I believe there are some conditions under which it can still be logged. However, it is a great acquisition and could do much in preventing further development in the watershed. Both Portland (the Battle of Bull Run) and Seattle have interesting histories of logging in their watersheds which could well be resurrected in the event there are proposals to log the Whatcom property. The forest provided funding for the Mount Baker School District when it was under the jurisdiction of the DNR and some out in the county cried “foul”. The county settled with the school district for something under one million dollars, as I recall. There was also a law suit, but good sense prevailed. Ironically enough, it succeeded because it had the support of a previous council member notable for her staunch conservatism.

The rest of the story is not so good. In 1998, the Washington State Department of Ecology listed Lake Whatcom and many of its tributaries as impaired for nutrients and coliform bacteria under the Federal Clean Water Act of 1972. This is supposed to initiate planning and, eventually, implementation of a program that results in improved water quality in the lake. Much studying has ensued, but no action as far as I can tell. Hence, the clogged water intakes in the summer from algae prompting the city to ask for voluntary water conservation.

Mel: What should we be doing about this?

John: No easy answers here for the Nooksack River. The Water Resource Inventory Area No. 1 (WRIA 1) project is working on a detailed implementation plan for managing water in the watersheds included in WRIA 1. Meanwhile, the farmers are forming water districts for projects that would “provide more water for farmers, particularly those whose use exceeds their rights and to pay legal fees” and so on. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen soon. One of the quickest steps in the right direction, however, but also difficult, would be to close the permit exempt loophole.

The same goes for Lake Whatcom. The City of Bellingham’s use of a body of water for water supply that has 6500 homes in the watershed, (many of them on the shoreline with questionable wastewater treatment, motor boating, human and animal swimmers and construction) is probably not unique. I imagine it’s a lot better than Calcutta’s, but water supply sources like Seattle’s or Portland’s are more like what I think of as appropriate.   The reconveyance helps, for sure, but even that was something of a battle. Checking the bottom of boats at Bloedel Donovan isn’t going to solve the water quality problem and it may not even solve the invasive species problem. Something the city and county could do, however, is to buy properties as they come up for sale and tear them down; or at least look at the cost of that compared to other solutions. As is, the lake is getting worse each year according to the Department of Ecology. It will probably continue to do so as population pressures increase.

Mel: I asked you this once before. If I were to suggest a place for my 30-something kids to move to that will still have abundant water in their lifetime (perhaps the next 60 years), and you told me Marblemount. Why Marblemount?

John: Marblemount is, except for City Light’s company town at Newhalem, the last community on the mighty Skagit River. It’s also at the confluence of the Cascade River with the Skagit. Rainfall there is copious and water use by the few who live there is minimal, although there are a few farms that probably irrigate in the summer. It’s basically upstream of all water users in the Skagit, the biggest river in the Puget Sound basin. Plus, it’s only 50 miles from I-5.

Mel: Whether climate change is mostly caused by mankind or not, what can we do, if anything, to stop it?

John: Here’s what I believe (the Nicene Creed for climate scientists): I believe in all the conservation laws (energy, mass, momentum and all the others). I also believe that committed, intelligent scientists use these laws to simulate the effects of mankind on the climate and these simulations, with their associated uncertainty, show that, yes, mankind’s burning of fossil fuels is changing the climate. Furthermore, these results are consistent with observations and analyses of the real world. I would recommend caution in believing this is true simply because 99% of the science says it is. There are examples of cases in which 99% of the scientists said it was this or that, but it turned out to be something different. Think of phlogiston, for example, as a scientific theory explaining combustion. Discovery of the role of oxygen in combustion did in phlogiston. However, as of yet, the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that mankind is altering the climate. Hansen, Sato and Ruedy have a Scientific American-level article, “Perception of Climate Change” that is useful in this regard.

Although it would take a long time (decades) to reverse the effects of fossil fuel consumption on the climate, there are many things that could be done to make this happen. Most all would have benefits other than simply reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The list is long, but comes under the general category of consuming less.

Mel:  Yes, we can definitely do a lot more as consumers to be more responsible stewards of our planet.

I’m wondering if there are specific suggestions you would make or have made to our elected officials in terms of regulatory steps that would really have an impact?


Mel, The problem is systemic and universal.   I don’t believe necessary regulations could be developed, implemented and reinforced.  Regulations are not the answer, is a better way of saying it.  According to a survey by Ipsos MORI, 46% of Americans either don’t know or don’t believe man is changing the climate.  Count several of our prominent legislators in that group.  The rest of us are not behaving any differently than the 46%.  Consider all the people who believe that spending $90,000 for a Tesla electric car is saving the planet.  Ironically, the largest percentage (93%) of people who believe man is changing the climate are Chinese.  The Chinese government would have no problem enacting regulations (and enforcing them).  But they’re not.  Europeans seem to me to be the most aware and willing to address the problem at a personal level.   But it would require more than that and it would have to be on a global scale.

Mel:  Yikes.  Marblemount, here I come!!!

fish out of water



Born in Bismarck, North Dakota. Graduated Mount Vernon High School. Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master Degree in Geology and Geophysics (Oceanography) from MIT. PhD in Water Resources University of Washington.

Environmental Scientist US EPA Region 10 1970-2004

Affiliate Professor University of Washington 2006-Present

Research Interests: Ecosystems Modeling, Impact of Climate Change on Stream Temperature

Interests: Gardening, birding, hiking, biking

Organizations: Nature Conservancy, American Geophysical Union, Whatcom Chorale, Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee

There is a reasonably good photo at my University Web site:


First Run Credit: Bellingham Muse