Saturday, June 6, 2015

Pickleball

There is a “new” game sweeping the nation, it is called Pickleball. New is in quotation marks, because Pickleball is not that new. It was invented in the US state of Washington in 1965 and has been gaining followers since then. It is most popular with the older generations, but all ages can play the game, it is even being taught in some high schools.

There are several versions of how the name Pickleball came to be. The one I heard first was that the inventor of the game had a dog named Pickles and named the game after him. Another version has to do with rowboats. In crew rowing, a boat in which the oarsmen are chosen from the leftovers of other boats is called a pickle boat. This is the real version. In fact the dog named Pickles didn't even exist until two years after the invention of the game. However, I like the dog version better. In my mind's eye I can see Pickles chasing after the ball, much to the annoyance of the players.

When I first saw the game played it appeared to me to be like playing table tennis while standing on the table! It is played on a court smaller than a tennis court with a net lower than a tennis net. Wooden paddles similar to the ones used in table tennis and a hollow plastic ball, roughly the size of a tennis ball that has holes in it, commonly called a “wiffle” ball, are used. Two to four people play until one team reaches 11 points with at least a two point lead, as in table tennis. The rest of the rules would take several more pages and are omitted here in deference to the reader's comfort and sanity.

In many areas in the US with a large retired population, such as Florida and Arizona, the game of Pickleball has almost attained cult status. On Cape Cod where I first learned of Pickleball, it is played outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter, by former tennis players (and others) who still have the desire for a spirited game without having to run more than a few steps to return the ball. In fact, I participated in a tournament which a 92 year old former tennis player - he and his partner won.

Beside the beneficial exercise, the game fosters friendships, not only while playing the game, but also during the after-game get-together in one of the local watering holes. I can't wait to get to the Cape to join the “Pickleballers” again!
Cape Cod

When you zoom-in on the northeastern part of the United Sates with Google Earth, you cannot help but notice a landmass protruding eastward into the Atlantic Ocean in the shape of a bent arm. This is Cape Cod, a part of the state of Massachusetts.

Because of the geographic location of the Cape, as it is affectionately called, its early population engaged in seafaring activities. In the last century, however, Cape Cod more and more became a popular place to spend a holiday or an extended vacation, to the point where today the Cape's major industry is tourism. In the summer months the population increases manifold. But not only the so-called summer people have discovered the charms of the Cape, many people, most likely after having spent one or more summer vacations on the Cape, opt to retire there. Once one sees the beaches, smells the salt air and partakes of the many delicacies of the ocean, one is hooked.

The result is that during part of the year the retired population outnumbers the working-age population. For certain, in the summer months the younger generations outnumber the seniors, except that they don't come to work on the Cape, but come to vacation. So there is the dilemma: Everybody (tourists and residents) expect certain amenities such as food in the supermarkets, service in the restaurants and fresh seafood in the fish markets. But there aren't enough working-age people on the Cape to do the work. However, every year when I visit the Cape during the hustle and bustle of the tourist season I am amazed that everything seems to function. For years I wondered where the young people that I saw waiting on tables or working in supermarkets suddenly came from when I didn't see that many during the off-season. Then, one day I noticed that some of the young workers had names that were not common in that area, such as Tamila, Alexey, Svetlana or Tirana. It finally occurred to me that I could ask them where they were from. The answers I got ranged from Ukraine to Romania and parts in between. Asking further, I found out that they were hired through an agency to work in the US for a period of time. Aha, there lies the answer! Good for the residents and visitors to the Cape, but I hope for the sake of the young people form eastern Europe that it is a pleasant experience for them and that they are not being exploited. As far as I can judge, the more-or-less permanent residents, many of them well-to-do retirees, are generous when remunerating someone for their services and also otherwise are friendly people, increasing the likelihood of a pleasant experience for the summer helpers. 
 
Cape Cod has much to offer, be it for older generations as a retirement paradise, for younger generations as a relaxing vacation spot or for seasonal workers to experience a different lifestyle.
The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

We started a recent camping trip through the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Canada. We actually wanted to tour the US-part of the Rockies, but the type of RV we wanted was only available in Canada. Our first stop was only a few hours south of Calgary near the town of Fort Macleod in an RV Park and campground called "Buffalo Plains," a name which seemed appropriate for these wide open spaces at the foothills of the Rockies.

While reading the guidebook to see what attractions awaited us in the area we came across a curious reference to a place called "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump." We first thought of a replica of a Wild West saloon where frequent brawls led to the strange name. When reading further, however, we found out that this place with the strange name had actually been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and is one of the world's oldest, largest, and best preserved buffalo jumps in existence. It had been used continuously by native peoples of the plains for almost 6,000 years.

But what is a "buffalo jump" and where does that curious name "Head-Smashed-In" come from? A buffalo jump is a cliff over which the native inhabitants of the North American plains drove herds of bison by stampeding them and luring them in the direction of the cliff. The stampeding bison fell over the cliff, the first over would be killed outright while the following animals were only injured because they fell on the dead ones below. It was then easy for the natives to kill the injured animals with arrows and lances.

The way the natives got the herd to stampede was to have a young man called a “runner” drape the skin from a buffalo calf over himself as a disguise and ease up to the lead cow. She would then think this was a calf, or even that it was her own calf. Other braves draped wolf skins over themselves and approached the herd as if they were wolves. This caused the herd to squeeze together for protection. The crowding together excited the animals and they started to run. When the buffalo started to run, the brave disguised as a calf started to run toward the cliff and the lead cow would follow, trying to protect what she thought was a calf. This was very dangerous for the runner. A man can run about 15 mph, a buffalo can make 30 mph! The stampeding herd thundered ever closer to the runner. Meanwhile, other braves jumped up from hiding places on both sides of the path to the cliffs, waving and shouting, thus directing the herd toward the cliff. If the runner survived long enough to reach the cliff, he would jump down unto a ledge and let the thundering herd fly to their death over him. To the shortsighted buffalo the edge of the cliff appeared as a dip in the prairie. Even if the buffaloes at the front recognized the danger and stopped, the rest of the frenzied herd would push them to their deaths.

This all sounds cruel, but before guns and horses, this was the most efficient way for the natives to obtain food to feed their tribe and to obtain buffalo hides for their lodges and clothing. If the kill was great enough, they used the extra meat and hides as bartering materials with other tribes and later on with white traders.

As to the name, when one envisions a stampeding herd of bison plunging head-first over a cliff, it isn't hard to imagine where the name "Head-Smashed-In" came from.