Free Reads and Excerpts


Scroll down to find excerpts from The John Muir Trail 1959, Story of an Immigrant,
A Daddy for Luke, and Her Scottish CEO


THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL 1959: one family, one month, 200 miles

by Margaret Olesen with Hank Olesen and Jack Olesen



Keep close to Nature’s heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

- John Muir quoted by Samuel Hall Young in Alaska Days with John Muir (1915)


The start of our big hike.

We crawled out of bed at two o’clock in the morning after just 3-1/2 hours sleep. If anyone in our Los Angeles County neighborhood was up that early they would have seen our 1951 blue Ford sedan pull out of the driveway fully loaded with wilderness supplies.

First stop: breakfast in Mojave. As always, it was a spectacular drive north on Highway 395. At the turn-off in Independence, we headed up into the mountains on winding switchbacks and left our second food cache at a pack station in Onion Valley. We headed back to Hwy 395 and headed north again, this time to the turn-off to Mammoth Lakes. From Mammoth, we drove out Minaret Summit Road to the Lookout, a favorite spot on previous camping trips in Mammoth. It was extra meaningful this time, because we knew we would be hiking those rugged mountains way across the valley in a week or two.

We drove down the Summit Road to Reds Meadow where Hank left our last food drop, the first to be picked up, at the grocery store. Back up to Mammoth Lakes, where we found a perfect campsite at Lake Mamie. What a view! We’ve been here so many summers, it seems like home. I’d be content to just stay here for four weeks.

There is very little snow on the crests this summer and Twin Lakes Falls is down to a trickle, so that may be a good thing, especially when we get into the higher altitudes. Jack fixed Boy Scout steaks on a stick for dinner and we turned in early--EXHAUSTED!


Tuolumne Meadows to Ireland Creek - 5mi.

(It’s Chrissie’s 8th birthday and no way to phone her.)

9:30 A.M.: This is our Big Day, the one we’ve been planning for and looking forward to for months. Hank and Jack seem perfectly calm, but I have butterflies in my stomach and a prayer in my heart. Hank keeps weighing everything and now we’re cutting down even more and leaving stuff in the car. Hank wants me to leave my slippers (I did) and the tiny checker game (I didn’t) both good decisions. Sure hate to leave those sweatshirts, but we may be glad for less weight on our backs and our feet.

10:30 A.M.: Hid the car keys in the dirt under the car and HIT THE TRAIL! (Here goes nothing... or everything!)

3:30 P.M.: We walked five miles along a meadow trail (where horses had trod out several paralleling grooved paths in the soft dirt, making it look like a miniature freeway) until we came to Ireland Creek camp spot. It was a nice level walk all the way—a great break-in for exertion at this elevation (8,700 ft). Our ambitious son got way ahead of us and perched on a big rock up the trail waiting for his ambling parents. Mostly the trail wound along beside the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, coming down from Lyell Glacier which soon came into view. Jack caught a nice brown trout after dinner. We’ll have it for breakfast!


Ireland Creek to Kuma Creek  - 5mi./10mi.

It was so cold last night. It felt like cold water pouring over our heads, until Hank reminded us there were hoods on our sleeping bags! The tee-shirts and socks Hank washed and draped over bushes after supper were frozen stiff in the morning. So Hank decided to walk all the way back to the car (5 miles) and get our sweatshirts... poor guy. He was back by noon. Jack and I played with our peg checkers, sitting on the ground under a huge fragrant pine tree. He tends to win!

After lunch we met up with a group of 52 (!) Boy Scouts going out at Florence Lake (near Shaver Lake) and then another group of 16 Explorer Scouts and three leaders going all the way to Whitney.

This group had big, bright orange parachute tents that could be seen a long way away. We’ve got a very primitive campsite at the base of Lyell Glacier tonight. No wonder it is cold. It’s like sleeping under an air conditioner turned on full blast to the coldest notch. But our sweatshirts helped a lot.


Kuma Creek over Donahue Pass to Rush Creek - 5mi./15mi.

After breakfast (freeze-dried scrambled eggs, Tang—a powdered orange drink, dried prunes, coffee, cocoa with powdered milk) we hit the trail and made the l-o-n-g haul up Donahue Pass, reaching the top by 10:30. We can’t help but have admiration for the men who built these trails out of rocks, switch-backing up the side of mountains and down the other. Jack got to the top first and whistled to let us know we were almost there. After a short rest, we started down into the endless moonscape below. It was a long grind through a wilderness of rocks and boulders to Rush Creek Camp.

We met the Boy Scouts again, strung out for a quarter of a mile. It was very entertaining to watch them trying to get their balky mules across the creek. At one point, the load slipped from a mule’s back to around under its belly and the mule decided to lie down in the cool stream. It took six husky guys to wrestle that animal back onto the trail and get his soaking wet pack straightened. We were glad to be traveling light.


Rush Creek to Shadow Lake - 5mi./20mi.

We left camp at 8:30 this morning, hiked past Rush Creek, then up Island Pass (10,221ft) where we could look across lesser peaks and see Banner and Ritter rising in the distance. We’ll be hiking there in a few days. It was like seeing a couple of old friends as they gradually came into view on the far horizon.

From Island Pass it was a steep switchback descent to Thousand Island Lake--rugged country. What are we doing here? Then up a graded switchback, looking across to Banner and Ritter at each bend in the trail. Such a magnificent, glorious sight! You’d never guess this was all here when you look at the Sierra from Highway 395! Of course, I am taking pictures! It’s just hard to know how many to take, since I have limited film and have no idea what sights we will see coming up.

Jack caught two nice trout, cleaned and cooked them himself, and then accidentally tipped the pan and the fish went sliding off into the dirt. I could have cried for him, but he was a good sport. Hank and I both have altitude headaches tonight.




Story of an Immigrant: a Russian boy born in China prospers in Canada

by Alec Spiridonoff Noble


Father arrived in Harbin sometime in 1901-1902. At the same time a Nicholas Nikludoff came on the scene as another railway employee. Whether he had a wife at the time or not I cannot verify. She could have passed away before his leaving Saratov or she may have expired shortly after this arrival due to plagues that were rampant in the primitive conditions. All that is known is that Nicholas was in China with two daughters, Zina and Valentina. Firstly, Zina married another railway worker with the surname of Sergoonin. Valentina shortl y thereafter married my father Vasili Platonovich Spiridonoff.

The first child in my immediate family was a daughter born 22 of December 1908, followed by my somewhat belated arrival on 21 September 1919.

We lived in a railway provided house, and across from us was the Sergoonin family. They had a spacious screened front porch and in the heat of the summer it was often used as a bedroom for the daughters Tanya, Raisa, and Sonja. Since they used to have the habit of sleeping late on the weekends when there was no school, it was my favorite prank in the early hours to go over there and, standing in the doorway, shout, “Sleepy heads, sleepy heads!” This would, of course, get them both agitated and aroused upon which I made a hasty retreat. While I was too young to attend a school, my sister and the other children of railway employees of school age were enrolled in institutions and were extended the opportunity for advanced education of university caliber all provided by the railway.

Winters were severe with a heavy snow and cold that provided outdoor skating with the ritual of hot roasted chestnuts for refreshment. One event that stands out in my memory is attending the funeral at a neighbor’s house where their daughter was lying in a coffin in the living room having passed away as a result of a fall at the open air skating rink.

It was shortly afterwards that we moved to a newer home that provided, aside from our family quarters, room for native servants. The full detail of rooms and the layout I don’t recall but I do remember that father always had a hand gun on the dresser in the bedroom. There was a small kitchen with another auxiliary one in the courtyard at the rear which was specifically for summer use. In the same walled-in yard there was a pit with a small wooden structure on the top fitted with a trap door into which we dumped all the waste and sewage from the house.

There was a rough dirt road in front of the house and an open field with a few scattered trees which my friends and I used to climb in the spring to feast on dried and very tasty petals following the spring bloom. Walks took us up over a small hill to the banks of the Sungari River where we used to sit and watch trains going over what seemed like a very long bridge.

In my estimation, life must have been very comfortable, as Sunday church was always followed by an elaborate luncheon with an evening of socializing and card games. It was much later that I learned what I was in fact seeing was a degree of stability achieved only after years of hardship and turmoil before my arrival on the scene. Shortly after my parents’ arrival in China they evidently fortunately survived a cholera epidemic during which my father was seriously afflicted as a result of having partaken of some contaminated water. Limited available water led to dehydration and in the final analysis his survival is accredited to the fact that his intake of fluid was the consuming of brine from a barrel of dill pickles.

Following this cholera epidemic there was the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 when the Russian population was exposed to virtual annihilation and would have been had the conflict not been resolved by the Treaty of Portsmouth signed on August 29, 1905.

Summer was very hot and humid and we often spent free or vacation time out of the city on the other side of the Sungari River at an area of beautiful sand beaches surrounded by vacation cottages.

I recall on many occasions going shopping either just around the corner for small paper-wrapped sweets or with my parents to some of the major stores which were all operated by Russians. The only things we bought from the natives were fresh fruit and vegetables. These local merchants usually did their business from small sidewalk stands and the little sweet cantaloupe were the most tasty that I have ever eaten and will never forget. At these native markets it was very common to see women with their bound feet and most males with pigtails.

Russian domination of Manchuria was virtually in total. They brought in all the staff and established all the required services for the railway employees. The goods for the retail market were brought in from Russia, along with staff right down to the drivers to operate the horse drawn carriages for public transport. The Chinese were frozen out from every angle and benefited only by the placement of a few household servants or the sale of some fresh produce from the agricultural lands along the railway.

By the time Russia had gone through the revolution of 1917 and had come under Communist control with its socialism, the Manchuria community members were divided on the basis of their political leanings. Since many were under the 25-year contract, they were confronted with major decisions at the end of their employment. Those who approved of the changes pulled up stakes and returned to the place of their origin. Others opposed to Communism had grave misgivings about a regime which had assassinated the Tzar and were left at wits end. Should they stay in China and seek a method of survival or look for sanctuary somewhere else?

My father, not one who would subscribe to socialism or the Communist doctrine, elected to seek refuge in Canada. Fortunately at the time of the decision, the Canadian Pacific Railway was conducting a world-wide recruiting program in its endeavor to attract settlers for the Canadian prairie lands. Having completed the trans-continental railway they were extending cut-rate transportation as an incentive to prospective immigrants. Father was not alone in the choosing of Canada and many of his co-workers made the same decision. Others chose Brazil, Argentina, Australia or a host of other countries which took their fancy and offered a sanctuary. Considering what I now know, it is evident the choice was made only after deep thought and analysis; one that the family has been thankful for ever since. Applications were duly filed for the immigration and on their approval in late 1924 preparations were immediately commenced.

Father enrolled in a driving school that had a Model T Ford automobile, on some assumption that this would be a necessity in Canada. Mother went to a cooking school conducted by a very highly qualified and renowned French Chef, learning, of all things, the secrets of making many of the French pastries and candy. The effort on her part was a major success and the delicacies she produced in subsequent years will never grace a table again. Every ingredient had to be pure and meet a superior standard. Father’s efforts at manipulating a motor vehicle were not quite as successful. He borrowed the driving school vehicle on graduation to take me on a demonstration drive only to manage an unscheduled stop with the trunk of a tree firmly implanted in the radiator. I do not recall seeing another automobile on the streets of Harbin in those days.

Departure day arrived with May 1925 and proved to be quite an event. Bags and trunks were assembled and what an array of goods we had. There were the prized possessions and clothing which was understandable, but some of the other goods belong in “Believe it or not.” For example, there was a cast iron Hibachi, hammers, saws, folding cots, pots and pans, all on good advice and recommendations received from the migration promoters who were obviously very ignorant of circumstances at the intended destination.

We joined a group of some 25 families for our departure and boarded the railway south for Dairen as the first stage of our journey to the promised land. The entire Russian population must have gathered at the station to bid farewell.

My mind is a complete blank and I do not recall any of the events of the railway journey, the boarding of a ship or the sailing of the Yellow Sea to the Japanese port of Kobe, as I was not yet five years old. We stayed in Kobe for a week or ten days and I recall going to some very elaborate Japanese parks and gardens, as well as walking along streets looking at collapsed buildings and mountains of rubble that were the remains and evidence of the devastation of the earthquake of 1923. We were subsequently moved to Yokohama to board the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Asia for our journey across the Pacific.

On the ship the entire immigrant group was housed in steerage and while meals were prepared by the vessel crew there was no dining room and members of our party were on a daily basis assigned chores such as the bringing of the prepared food to our quarters for consumption. One of the engine room crew evidently took a liking to me and I was fortunate in having him as an escort to all areas of the vessel, including the spending of many hours with him in the engine room. Again, I can’t say how many days we were enroute and only the arrival at Vancouver on 25 June 1925 is lodged in my memory. On landing we were held in the immigration shed for processing down on the waterfront just west of the foot of present day Burrard Street.




by Christy Olesen


David Winston stood on the corner of Main Street waiting for the signal to cross. He shrugged the tension from his shoulders and glanced furtively at the others also waiting. He hoped no one in Center City would recognize him, particularly those residents who had been responsible for his abrupt exile eight years ago. When his reason for being in Center City was over, he’d leave Nevada for good.

A gust of March wind carried the sweet fragrance of nearby cherry blossoms, a contrast to the sagebrush that scented the air when he’d arrived in Wheeler Valley late yesterday. Two days into spring and the high desert sun was warm enough to melt patches of snow left from the last storm. The wind sweeping over the Sierra Nevada still carried the chill of winter. He remembered the wind.

Across the street a crowd was already milling about the front door of the bookshop, his destination. Once he got there he’d have to be nice, appreciative and approachable. Not that he couldn’t be. He was nice. He did appreciate his fans. But he dreaded being approached. Someone might bring up his past. That was the chance he was taking.

The signal turned green, beeped three times and the walk sign lit up. David stepped out. He paused when he saw a flash of red to his left. But on his right a girl kept walking. Glancing left again, he saw the red sports car wasn’t slowing. When he realized the girl wasn’t stopping, he lunged for her, grabbed her by the waist and swung her back to his side.

David paid no attention to the screech of tires against asphalt, the exclamations of bystanders and the ear-splitting squeal of brakes. He barely noticed the stench of burning rubber or that the sports car had skidded to a halt halfway into the crosswalk, right where the girl had been walking. All his attention was on the her.

He set her on her feet and felt her stagger. She clutched a plastic grocery bag to her stomach as if it held a precious treasure.

A young man got out of the sports car and rushed toward them. “Are you okay, miss? I didn’t see . . .”

David ignored the driver to help the girl. He steered her to a bus stop bench. “Sit for a minute.” He sat next to her. People gathered, words of admiration for his actions flew among them like leaves on the wind.

“I didn’t . . . see him.” The girl’s voice wobbled, one trembling hand clutched her bag while the other went to her chest. Her breasts rose with each deep breath. He could see now that she wasn’t a girl but a woman possibly only a few years younger than himself.

She looked at him, but not directly. Her large hazel eyes, lushly fringed by dark lashes, were wide with fright. Short black curls, styled by the wind, framed her pale oval face. Diamond studs in her ears caught the sun and winked at him. Her mouth was generous, with a lower lip that dipped unevenly. It intrigued him. She intrigued him. She wasn’t small, but seemed petite, delicate.

“My glasses! I’ve lost my glasses!” Panicked, she started to drop to the sidewalk to search.

“They’re here, on your head.” He spoke gently, calmly, and pulled her back onto the bench. She reached for her glasses and pushed them onto her face with shaking fingers, then looked up at him. The lenses magnified her eyes.

She wore an orange sweater a size or so too big over a yellow T-shirt. The strap of a small purple purse crossed her chest. Her skirt, a slightly clashing green plaid, revealed nice knees and shapely legs, leading his eyes to mud-splattered white tennis shoes set off by bright red socks. Her toes pointed in. He thought she looked absolutely adorable.

He was pretty sure what kind of torture she might have gone through if she had dressed like this in school. Unexpected tenderness touched a deep, dark, unused part of his heart. “Are you ready to move on now?” His hand, gently resting on her shoulder, felt her tremble. He rubbed his hand over her back until he felt her breathing ease, her trembling settle.

“Yes. Thanks for pulling me out of the way.”

She stood and he saw she was steady on her feet. Even so, he walked with her to the curb. He wanted to put his hand on the small of her back, wanted to protect her.

The signal changed, beeped and the walk sign flashed. She leaned out to look around him. He kept pace with her, watched the traffic, then looked at his watch. Damn. He was late.

On the other side she turned left and he right, to the bookshop. Someone recognized him and a group surrounded him, swallowed him. He wished they would spit him right back on to the street.

Instead, he grinned, greeted, and shook hands.



Her Scottish CEO

by Christy Olesen


Och, lass, watch yerself!” The Scot’s accent rang in Marcie Winter’s ear, two big hands clamped on her shoulders as momentum carried them both full circle. Her shoulder bag was knocked to the ground before the man disappeared into the morning crowd. At least he hadn’t snatched it.

“Oh, my paintings!” Horrified, Marcie dropped to her knees to retrieve her bag and its contents. Small watercolor paintings, pencils, brushes, lipgloss, postcards and keys littered the sidewalk around her. She could see her hard work about to be trampled by tourists’ feet, and scrambled to retrieve her illustrations before they were damaged.

A man crouched beside her and grabbed the ones beyond her reach. He wore a fine charcoal business jacket paired with a blue and green kilt. Marcie had seen several men in kilts in the week she’d been in the Highlands, but never for the office. He was quite striking and made her wish she’d worn her sundress instead of jeans.

While he studied her artwork, she studied him. Even folded up, she could tell he was tall. His wavy, burnt-ochre hair reminded her of Joel. She wondered if he had dreamy, chocolate-brown eyes like Joel’s. Homesickness and a stab of anger caught her unaware. She must have sighed because the man looked up, concerned.

No, he didn’t resemble Joel. His eyes were as green as the verdurous hills around Fort William. Bright, intelligent, curious. An unsettling connection startled her as his eyes trapped hers. He looked at her as though he knew her. Then a sad, desolate emotion changed his expression from that of a kind stranger to one of an anguished soul. It passed in a heartbeat and he looked away, back to her artwork in his hands. But she’d seen it, and she knew he hadn’t wanted her to see it. And she wondered why. Why had he looked at her as if he’d known her? Then as if he’d lost her?

She continued to observe him as he looked at her artwork. He had a straight nose and an average mouth, which, with his green eyes, came together to make him the most handsome man she’d ever seen.

Up close and personal-wise.

Concentrate, breathe. Don’t look stunned.

She reached to gather her pencils and brushes, and composure.

“Oban, nicely done.” He handed her the painting of the coastal town. “No damage.” Then he smiled. The smile was just a little tug at the corners of his mouth as though he were unaccustomed to smiling or unwilling or just didn’t have the heart. Bittersweet, it made her want to know what was holding his full smile in check. Even so, the smile made her heart skip, her pulse accelerate.

She took the watercolors and smiled back with no reserve. “Thanks for your help.”

He stood but didn’t leave.

With the watercolors safe in her bag, she picked up her lip gloss, sunglasses and bug spray, then examined her camera. Satisfied it was undamaged, she closed her bag and began to rise.

“Are you a’right, lassie?” He took her arm to assist her, his touch firm, gentle and… impersonal.

At five-foot-seven, Marcie’s eyes were even with the knot in his beautiful blue and green tartan tie, a perfect match to his kilt. She looked up. “Yes, I’m fine. I guess I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.”

“Have you drawn anything here in Fort William?”

“Just some vignettes. I only arrived last evening.” She held out the watercolors she’d done that morning in the neighborhood of her bed and breakfast, illustrations of quaint cottages with tile roofs, climbing roses and lace curtains. He took them carefully, obviously appreciating their value to her.

“I know this neighborhood.” He shuffled through the vignettes, then stopped to examine one. “My good friends recently purchased this house. Is this one for sale? It would make a brilliant housewarming gift.” He looked at her expectantly.

Should she sell it? It was part of the collection she was under contract to produce. Her contract was for sixty full illustrations of Scotland’s Great Glen, from Oban to Inverness, and as many small vignettes as she wanted to add. However, as long as she handed in sixty watercolor illustrations at the end of her six weeks in Scotland, she would have fulfilled her contract.

It would be wonderful to know the owners of the house would hang her work on their wall. “I adore that cottage. It’s just a few houses from the bed and breakfast where I’m staying.”

The man looked at his watch, then said something under his breath that sounded Gaelic. Then, “Sorry, I’m late.” He handed her the vignettes. Had she lost the sale that quickly? She could use the extra cash, maybe even buy a new cell phone. “Can I have your number?” he continued. “We’ll arrange to meet and I can purchase it then.”

Marcie searched her bag for one of the cards she’d picked up in the lobby of the bed and breakfast, but everything was jumbled.

The most handsome man she’d ever met—up close and personal-wise—handed her a card and said words that made her wonder if she was dreaming. “Call me. After one o’clock. Right now, I have an appointment to keep.” He held out his hand. “Name’s Greg.”

“Marcie.” She took his hand. It enveloped hers in a warm, strong grip, and she felt that sensation of connection again. She hadn’t imagined it. Neither of them let go for several seconds, and even as he backed away, his fingers lingered, their fingertips touching for a moment longer.

Then he smiled. Full force. Just the way she’d hoped he could. Add the sparkle in his eyes and she was a goner.

He turned and walked up High Street. A limp made her wonder if her heavy camera had landed on his foot. He must have been right behind the man who had bumped into her, close enough to have been hit by the fallout.

Her artist’s eye appreciated his broad shoulders and long legs, and she thought he might be more comfortable in outdoor gear than the clothing he wore. Chewing her thumbnail, she watched as he stopped before a building across the street from where she’d parked her rental car. He turned, lifted his hand, then disappeared into the doorway.

Her heart still pounding, she sighed, turned and continued on her way. He could make her forget Joel.

Joel who?