Sunday, March 27, 2016

Mountain Mania

If finding my Gramma’s family near Genoa compares to locating the Titanic, or discovering the remains of George Mallory on Mt. Everest -- all improbable and time-consuming, yet eventually doable, endeavors -- then finding my grandfather’s family in the Italian Alps would be like tracking Amelia Earhart, or perhaps even the Holy Grail.

In other words, my multi-year effort in locating the descendants of my great-grandfather, the Brichettos, in Liguria -- those who remained in Italy -- was a piece of cake compared to tracking down the Cargni side of the family in the Piedmont region. In the case of the former, at least we had clues and a general idea of location.

But looking for the roots of my grandfather, Carl Cargni, would be akin to tracking the Ark of the Covenant.

Carlo had two sisters but was the last male member of his family. What we know is that he hailed from an Alpine village near the Italian-French border. 

Always up for a challenge, daughter Gina and I have booked passage to Torino for an excursion into the Piedmont and Valle D’Aosta regions of the Italian Alps. With no expectations whatsoever of finding living family members in the little town of Chialamberto, we hope to at least find a Cargni tombstone in the local cemetery.

It’s mostly about experiencing this mountain valley near the Gran Paradiso National Park where my grandfather grew up, and witnessing the majesty of the Italian Alps, including Mt. Rosa, Mt. Blanc and the Matterhorn (below). Ever since I first rode the Matterhorn at Disneyland, I have wanted to see the real thing.

But first it's a week in Genoa and the Italian Riviera, with perhaps a boat excursion to Portofino, along with a visit with our newfound cousins in Isolona in the foothills of Liguria. Next up: a train ride through the wine country to Torino for a week of exploration, both of the Italian Alps and our Cargni heritage.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

McMillin & Me

Graduating from the University of Oregon School of Journalism in the mid-70s, I was hired as a reporter at a small weekly newspaper in Brookings, Oregon. Though it was a great experience, both professionally and otherwise, it was clear that my meager salary would not allow me to repay my student loans in a timely fashion.

Pondering a return to the Forest Service, where I had worked seasonally, the salary would be twice what I earned at the newspaper. So I embarked on a road trip to Lake Wenatchee to inquire about positions for the upcoming season. That is when I first met Denny McMillin (above, front row, second from left, and below).

Having previously worked for a couple of seasons on trail crew on the Lake Wenatchee Ranger District, I inquired about wilderness ranger positions.

“Yes,” he said, “we could use you. I need someone to draft a comprehensive wilderness management plan for the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Your knowledge of the wilderness and your experience as a writer will help greatly. When can you begin?”
“Right away,” came my reply. Submitting my two-week notice at the newspaper, I emigrated to Washington for a position as a wilderness ranger. Denny, a key advisor to the district ranger as resource assistant, would become my supervisor for the next five years and a friend for life. He passed away last month at 76.

We had a common background, he and I. We both hailed from adjacent neighborhoods in Portland, Oregon and attended Catholic schools. Later, Denny moved to Fort Collins to pursue a degree in forest management at Colorado State University. After a stint in the military, he joined the Forest Service as a career employee.

A  renaissance man, Denny was equally as adept at electronics as he was crafting “basement beaujolais” in his wine cellar. Very social and engaging, Denny was bold enough to host parties for all his seasonal employees, even the likes of us, and festivities usually featured singing and musical accompaniment led by Char Townley.

In his youth, Denny was an avid outdoor enthusiast and enjoyed rock climbing, hiking and backpacking in the wilds of the Northwest. He worked on the Mt. Hood, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie and Wenatchee national forests and retired from the USFS as resource assistant on the Wenatchee River Ranger District based in Leavenworth.

In retirement, Denny portrayed, in character, A.H. “Hal” Sylvester, Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor from 1908-31, in a program on Forest Service history in the Wenatchee Valley and environs. He was also an avid golfer. Denny (below, left) will always be an important person in my life, and we will toast his memory.