True Grit

Our trip this past weekend to Great Sand Dunes National Park did not get off to a great start. Somewhere between Gunnison and Poncha Springs the back “door” of our camping trailer opened up and allowed two boxes of gear to fall out and be lost forever. We are still not sure exactly what was lost in those big boxes, but for certain our stove, tent heater, knives, kitchen implements, and several pots and pans were in them.

This necessitated a quick trip to Wal-Mart to replace a few of the lost items, like the stove and heater, which were most obvious and most needed. Over time we will replace the rest, as we notice their absence. If we can ignore that initial mini-disaster, the rest of the trip went swimmingly.

Our weather was exactly as promised. Daytime temps in the 50s, and at night it got down into the 20s. The brand new tent heater performed flawlessly, and the new Coleman stove … what can I say … it is clean, which is almost never true of an old stove.

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From The New Yorker

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The dunes were sandy. The campsite was sandy. The hiking trails were sandy. Several times a day one had to take off one’s shoes and dump the sand out, to make room for acquiring more sand. And yes, there was the occasional grain or two in your food. But what a remarkable place! Even though the season was early, the campground was full, and the parking lots were full as well. Once you hit the dunes themselves, however, there was no crowding. The hikers spread out across the face of these sand mountains, and had no problem avoiding one another. Walking up steepish hills in sand is not for the faint of fitness, and not well-suited to compromised knees, so Robin and I went about 1/3 of the way up to the crest before turning back, while the Hurley family went all the way.

There is a creek that starts in the mountains and trickles across the floor of the park, eventually simply stopping. It doesn’t go underground or anything like that, it simply runs out of the will to continue as it reaches a point where the soaking in and the evaporation are equal to the amount of water reaching that point and the creek ceases to exist.

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From The New Yorker

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There was a small campground drama that ended well, at least for us. Friday night the campsite across the road from us, which was occupied by a large gaggle of twenty-somethings, was an intensely irritating hubbub of too-loud talking, too-colorful language, and general pain-in-the-butt behavior which went on to at least three in the morning. Perhaps we should have confronted them but I have made it a habit never to have an argument with large groups of stoned or intoxicated strangers at night when I’m far away from being able to make a 911 call.

So Saturday we looked up the camp host to tattle on the miscreants, and the host promised that if there were a repeat performance that we should come knock on the door of her trailer, and she would notify park authorities. What we really wanted, of course, was for park authorities to round up the offenders, tar and feather them and ship them home, but we settled for her plan. We never had to knock on that door.

At around ten PM a park police cruiser visited the offending campsite and reminded that group that it was now quiet hours. They were given the option of behaving themselves and being better neighbors, or the park police would escort them to the border of the park and wave au revoir to them as they sought other places to stay. They were quiet as mice the rest of the night. Quieter, actually.

So a pre-emptive strike worked out quite well, and next day when park police stopped by to ask us if things had gone okay the rest of the night we said “Yes” and thanked them profusely. We would have hugged and kissed the officers, but of course this is still Covid-19 season so we demurred.

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All in all it was a grand trip, with just enough small hardships (lost items, nearly constant wind, coldish nights) to make it possible to endlessly bore our listeners for weeks, perhaps months, to come. There are times, of course, when those listeners might start to head for the doors, but it is then when the true raconteur stands with his back firmly against those doors to prevent them from leaving, and drones on. It’s what we do.

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Say What? … She What? … But I Just Talked To Her …

On Monday a friend of Robin’s, a lady of 87 years, was perky and going through her regular routines and looking forward to Zoom Bible Study on Tuesday, but that evening she passed away. Quietly, no fuss, no drawn-out or painful rite of passage. Two eyes closed in the evening and the last chapter in her personal story on Earth was written.

As always the finality of death was shocking, even when it comes to someone at that stage of her life. You can’t shuffle off this mortal coil at 87 without disturbing everybody you know, not even then. Her friends weren’t yet ready to say goodbye. For me it has always been that irreversibility, that complete resistance to petitioning, that refusal to listen to reason that has sometimes greatly pissed me off about death. The absolute lack of recourse.

Along came this piece by Margaret Renkl in Wednesday’s NYTimes, describing the role of poetry in helping people deal with hard places in life. This help comes at those times when we have run out of words to describe what is happening to us or how we feel. It comes when our own store of language fails us. Knowing that the poet could not have written what they did if they hadn’t seen what we are seeing. And if they survived, why, so might we.

I recall as a very young child overhearing my parents having a serious disagreement. Voices were raised and harsh words were exchanged. There were two things that were my takeaway that night. One was the terminally scary thought that mom and dad might separate and then where would I be? The other was that even while I was feeling so small and terrified, the people I could see through my window out there on the street were going about their own busy-ness, without a care for my troubles. How unfeeling they were! How unfair it all was.

If I’d had someone else’s words to lean on, I might not have felt so alone and powerless on that turbulent night. But hey, I was just a kid. Who writes tragic or even thoughtful poetry for six year-olds? Here is the huge advantage in being an adult. There are places to which we can turn for support, if we will. Poetry is one of those.

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From The New Yorker

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The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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Musée des Beaux Arts

by W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.


In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

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Icarus

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We are off later this morning for a four-hour drive to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Camping there with the Hurley family. I’ve dusted off the camper, put the proper amount of air in its tires, and checked the supply boxes. The daytime weather is predicted to be good, but the nights are all scheduled to be below freezing so we’ll be wearing our socks to bed and bringing out Mr. Heater for those nights. I look forward to rolling up like a hedgehog in the bottom of my sleeping bag and wearing all of the clothes I brought. It’s one of those recurring situations in life that go like this –

“Why do you keep hitting yourself?”

“Because it feels so good when I stop.”

We’ve been to this park a couple of times, and if you’ve never been, it is pretty amazing. You drive along the highway and it is nothing but mountains and the lovely San Luis Valley and then all of a sudden – what the hey? – gigantic sand dunes, hundreds of feet high, piled up against those Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Be prepared … we may take photos.

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The Year Of Ernest Hemingway

Last night Robin and I began the three-part Ken Burns series on PBS about Ernest Hemingway. As we watched the first nearly two-hour segment, it triggered an avalanche of memories involving those books and stories.

The year that I turned nine was the year that my parents bought an encyclopedia. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I suspect that a traveling salesman came to the house and caught them at a weak moment. That was a periodic occurrence in our household, where vacuum cleaners, Watkins products, and other ingredients of life were brought to their doorstep by men with good smiles and better sales pitches.

At any rate, one day boxes and boxes of books showed up at La Casa Flom, and it was like Christmas. We gathered round as a family and first unloaded the National Encyclopedia, which I’m pretty sure you never heard of. It was a less expensive alternative to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and published by Colliers. Next to be unpacked was the Book of Knowledge, a series of books much like the “National,” but printed on better paper, and organized to be more interesting to younger readers.

As an inducement to buy these two excellent collections, my parents also received a ten volume set of novels by an author named Kathleen ?????? (can’t recall her last name), a large set of westerns by Zane Grey, and a similar extensive collection of the writings of Ernest Hemingway. It was a literary bonanza, and since I was at an age where I devoured anything in print that I could get my hands on, I started in that very evening.

I quickly tired of Kathleen ??????, and never finished the first novel, which seemed to me to have been written for girls. At nine I was a horrible sexist, and so I set these aside. But Zane Grey was amazing. The characters were brave men and women, the settings all in the Wild West, and the tales involved things like wagon trains, indomitable settlers, and landscapes described in ways to make a boy want to go there immediately – to walk those canyons, climb those mountains, and yes, take the land from those who were already there.

So not only was I a sexist at nine years old, but I had no problems with the Europeans invading and settling lands belonging to the Native Americans. That made me a racist colonialist as well. Quite the little beast, I was.

But it was when I reached the Hemingway books that I became a man. As reader, that is. Now I was in a literary world containing some of the most adult themes I had ever been exposed to, and I swallowed those books entire. Of course I didn’t really understand everything I read, but there was still a story in each that could hold my interest. The real kicker was the short stories, though.

There was a guy named Nick Adams, who lived in a country up north where there was nothing but forests and lakes. Where doctors paddled across lakes to attend deliveries of babies and where trout fishing could begin to heal a lad with PTSD. And there was one story called Up In Michigan. A story which I later learned that no less a personage than Gertrude Stein had pronounced unpublishable.

I read it one day, and at first I didn’t get it, but I knew that there was something about it that was illicit and therefore awfully attractive there. Then I read it again, and this time I got it. It was about s.e.x. What we would today call date-rape, actually. I remember being chilled and frightened by what I had learned about human beings through reading that story. Of course I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, especially my parents. They would have been appalled at where my reading had taken me. My peer group had little interest in discussing Hemingway, so I could expect no help there, either.

No, it was my first exposure to knowledge that I wasn’t ready to process, and had stumbled upon way too soon. The only thing that I could see to do was to get older, and that was what I did.

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From The New Yorker

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This is something called a radio-photograph, and is of a black hole which is out there 55 million light years away. I was interested in black holes until one day when I was listening to PBS that I learned some facts which turned me off completely.

It was when I became aware that if I were ever to approach one of these things, that my body would begin to accelerate to enormous speeds. The problem was that the acceleration would be uneven.

For example, if I were entering the black hole feet first, at some point my feet would be going so much faster than my head that my molecules would come totally apart.

The astronomer who was discussing these awful things right there in broad daylight said not to worry, our vaporization would all be over so quickly we wouldn’t even feel what was going on. I didn’t buy it. I’m pretty sure that if my feet started going faster than the rest of me that I’d notice. And I’d be extremely unhappy about the whole process, to boot.

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Something of Value

In 1955 I was sixteen and OMG was I impressionable. There were many things that made dents in my psyche that year, dents which still show if the light is right and if I turn my head just so … . One of them was the book Something of Value, by Robert Ruark.

It was a novel about the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, which was very much in the headlines in the middle 50s. Lots of killing. More atrocities than you could shake a lion’s tail at. Colonials versus natives and all that. A very juicy set of horrors better viewed safely from several thousand miles away, which is exactly where I was.

Mr. Ruark was a White Hunter. Which means he was a member of a highly privileged group who traveled regularly to Africa to kill large animals for the fun of it. They would then take the heads, bring them back to the U.S. and build rooms in their homes to display them in, as evidence of their prowess. Ruark would write about his exploits, and publish these stories in magazines like Sports Afield and such. He was quite a good writer, actually.

When he decided to write about the Mau Mau, his informants were most often white people like himself. In spite of this handicap, he wrote a compelling novel that was very popular and which was my first little peek into the joys of colonialism. I learned that those brave and stiff upper-lipped British settlers could be quite awful at times in the way they treated indigenous populations. I learned that cruelty begets more cruelty, and that there seems to be no end to the creativity that can be brought to beat when doing harm to others.

It was a grim book, but had to be so if it were to accurately report the time and the events. The title comes from an African proverb which translates into something like: When we take away from a man his traditional way of life, his customs, his religion, we had better make certain to replace it with
something of value
.”

It was that thought that stuck with me from then on. I remembered it when I began to be more aware, as a young man, of the true history in my own country of European settlers and Native Americans. (I say true as opposed to the heavily laundered version found in movies, which were my first source of information on the subject.) More cruelty, more horrors, more taking away without replacing.

They made a so-so movie out of the book which starred Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier as the friends turned antagonists. If you think it might be hard to imagine the dignified and righteous Poitier doing very bad things, you are right. It was.

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Which brings me to Easter Sunday. I can almost hear you saying “Huh? What fool sort of segue was that?”

My personal spiritual journeys have taken me on a zig-zag sort of route, and some of those directions have disappointed people I loved. So far I have caromed from Lutheran to Catholic to Lutheran to agnostic to Lutheran to Buddhist. If I live long enough, I might add yet another category to the list. Two things stand out for me. One is that you never know where your studies and thinking might be going until you find yourself there, and then what do you do?

The second is that I have never felt so rock-steady at any of these stages that I was tempted to proselytize. When I would leave one tradition behind for another, I have always been cognizant of the fact that … well … I could be wrong. That what I was leaving behind could be closer to the truth than where I was going. To debate with friends about religions has been something that I have avoided for these reasons. And to a large degree, it went back to that phrase from the book long ago:

When we take away from a man his traditional way of life, his customs, his religion, we had better make certain to replace it with something of value.

Something of Value, by Robert Ruark

So … if I were to argue religion with another person, and if I were successful in converting that person to my belief system, and if it turned out that my beliefs were wrong, what would that make me? What sort of friend would I have been?

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From The New Yorker

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All of the predictions are in place, the stars are aligned, and this Easter Sunday promises to be one of purely gorgeous Spring weather. It will be in the 70s here in Paradise, and there will be sunshine all over the place. Nor any drop of rain to fall. What will we do with this fine day?

We will have friends for brunch later this morning, for one thing. It will be our first indoor socializing since the onset of The Plague. Hopefully this is a true turning point in this disease’s dreary history, and a good first step back toward whatever normalcy will be.

I see myself lying back in the grass by a riverbank somewhere later on today, listening to the water and letting the unquiet air pass me by as I do the water in the river. I can almost feel the warmth of the sun on the aching places that I seem to have accumulated over time. And all of this in the company of my good and tolerant friend, Robin.

What a lucky man am I.

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Autotomy Is Where It’s At

Okay, I have become pretty accustomed to being amazed by the things found in the natural world, but this one is in a class of its own. There is a sea slug that takes its own head off, leaving its old body behind, and then regenerates a completely new one. The article showed up in the NYTimes Science section Tuesday.

The idea of being able to leave your physical problems behind you and start anew is certainly an attractive one. Speaking only for myself, if humans were capable of autotomy I would do what I could to grow a taller body the next time. I might even go for a six-pack while I was at it.

The problem that I see is that this new buff corpus would still have my old face on it.

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Montrose County is presently at blue as far as Covid 19 cases are concerned, and is on the brink of going green. I would say more, but I’m not sure what this means to any of us as far as what behaviors we can safely change. There have been a few bad blips along the way during this past year, so perhaps this is just a good blip, one to be looked at and enjoyed while it’s here, but from the safety of being behind our masks and in our fortress houses.

For our part, we are having friends over for brunch on Easter Sunday. Friends in our age group who are vaccinated, that is. And unless the day is absolutely gloriously warm, we will be eating our meal indoors, rather than shivering on the deck while bravely smiling as we chew our rapidly cooling food. It will seem strange participating in this simple form of social engagement, just sharing a meal with others in one’s own home.

Perhaps to ease the transition we should all bring our computers to the table where we could Zoom-conference with each other during the meal instead of being fully en face.

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From The New Yorker

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Frankenmuth MI is apparently a nice place to live, and offers the visitor lots of Bavarian-style architecture, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, and a tiny possibility of bumping into members of the hometown band Greta Van Fleet.

Bronner’s looks like the sort of place that would send me screaming into the forest within minutes. I am a fan of Christmas, but the idea of extending its commercialization into a 365 day operation seems … well … more than the world really needs.

But Greta Van Fleet? I would skip the perma-Santa and walk across the street to hear these guys. They are three brothers and a buddy. The band doesn’t play quietly, but they do play well. Talented, theatric, flamboyant … who was it said rock was dead? These boys didn’t get the message. Here they are, playing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater, one of Colorado’s premier venues and an amazing place to listen to music.

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Really glad to see the country’s infrastructure finally on a front burner. As an example, the most recent estimate of bridges I was able to find that need work or replacement was 231,000, spread all across the U.S. It was already 13 years ago that a chunk of Interstate 35W fell on Minneapolis, taking quite a few citizens with it. Speaking personally, I would really hate to be on one of those bridges that are failing at the moment when it decides to give up the ghost altogether. The only thing worse, to a claustrophobic like myself, would be the collapse of a tunnel with me inside.

So this will be a jobs program like none other in recent memory. And Amazon (along with other large corporations and one-percenters) is going to pay for it. I watch for my Prime membership cost to climb significantly, since I suspect Mr. Bezos would rather bill that bridge repair to me than cut back on household expenses. And there is that divorce settlement of his, in which he pays each month to his ex-wife an amount equal to the entire budget of the state of Rhode Island.

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Things That Are Better Now

I have a tendency, as curmudgeons often do, to complain about aspects of modern life, comparing them to life in the golden years of the past (which I’ve often polished up a bit in my mind). So I thought I’d try to balance things out by listing a few things that are definitely better than in the “good old days.” A change of pace, if you will, and then I can get back to complaining, which is a much more natural posture for me.

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Milk. Milk is better. I don’t know exactly when homogenization of milk became the everyday reality that it is now, but it hadn’t hit my family of origin until I was of middle-school age. Before that, milk was not one thing, but two. Each bottle had a two-inch layer of cream on top that had separated from the skim milk below. You would shake the bottle to try to mix them together, which was more or less an effort that was doomed to failure, because they never really combined completely. (Like oil and water) In addition, the cream layer was a little gloppy, and those lumps of glop were now distributed throughout the milk after shaking. I hated those glops with a passion. Still do.

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Refrigeration. When I was a very small child, the cold food preservation system in our house was fairly primitive. It was called an icebox. Think of it as a picnic cooler that was too big to lug around. In one area you would put a large chunk of ice, and food was stacked in the other part.

Just like in a picnic cooler, there were colder and warmer areas of the box, you had to buy more ice almost on a daily basis in summer, and what happens when the ice melts? That water had to be hauled away.

ANY modern refrigerator is better than that.

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Car Tires. The modern automobile tire is a marvel. Its durability and reliability are in a completely different league when compared to those I had on my first car, which was a 1950 Ford two-door coupe. I recall shopping for Allstate Tires in Sears catalog and finding that I had three choices, and the best available was guaranteed for 15,ooo miles. My Subaru’s tires now routinely get 65,000 miles or more.

And in those 15,000 miles you could expect to have a flat at anytime. Because the weak link was the tube inside. Punctures, slow leaks, fast leaks, blowouts – all were part of a driver’s experience, as was having a patching kit along to fix a flat on the highway. If you ask me today where my car’s jack is, I couldn’t exactly tell you, but I would point vaguely toward the back of the car. In 1956 you knew exactly where that jack was, because you used it just last week.

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From The New Yorker

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Cars. While we’re on the subject of cars, their overall reliability today is wayyy superior to what I experienced with that revered 1950 Ford. In that era, if anyone claimed that their automobile had crossed the hallowed 100,000 mile mileage mark, we would all gather round the speaker worshipfully, to hear what pearls of wisdom he had to share. How often did he change the oil, what kind of oil, what kind of gas, was the car mostly driven in town or mostly on the highway, and what were his traveling speeds, etc. That kind of mileage was the Holy Grail at one time, now it’s barely worth a sniff.

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Socks. Socks used to get holes in them. Your choices then were to have them darned (sew the hole closed) or throw them away. That never happens today. What does occur is that all of the soft stuff that is in a sock wears off the bottom, leaving a nylon grid behind that is uncomfortable and eventually blister-producing. So it’s sort of a wash, I guess. The real improvement comes in the elastic material that holds a sock up. They used to fall down after a few washings, as the elastic material rapidly deteriorated. This meant that you would be tugging at them all day long to keep up appearances. Today they never, ever fall, but they cost fifty times as much as they did.

Worth every penny.

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Shoes. In families of modest means, or sub-modest means like the one I grew up in, buying a pair of shoes was just the first step in that shoe’s life. When the sole or heel wore down, your father would take them to the basement and do a repair. There were tools available with which to do this. Hammers and nails and cast-iron forms.

Because an ordinary family would never own a sewing machine capable of stitching that new leather sole onto the shoe, my dad would use a bunch of small nails to fasten it. At first these nails would not touch your foot, but as the new sole wore down the nails did not wear correspondingly, and eventually flesh and iron met in painful and bloody congress. But not to worry, you gave the shoes to your dad and he’d start the whole process over once again. You tossed out a pair of shoes only when your feet had grown to the point where they couldn’t be shoved into them any longer, or when the leather of the upper itself became too thin to hold things together.

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Hot sauces. In my family of origin, there was nothing hotter imaginable than Tabasco sauce. Not that anyone in my family actually owned a bottle, but they would sit around the table after supper and talk about people who they had heard about, people who had ingested the stuff and what horrible things had happened to them as a result … a stomach that never worked well again, bowels that became completely unreliable, et al.

Imagine my surprise when I started buying my own groceries and I first tried Tabasco sauce. It was certainly flavorful, but hot … what a disappointment. The era of jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, ghost peppers, etc. was still ahead for me. Also, for the longest time there was little availability of the interesting traditional pepper sauces from other countries around the world. Today I think you would never have to buy the same condiment twice if you didn’t want to, there are that many to choose from. And those international specimens have flavors that can be simultaneously flame-throwing and exotic.

(Keep in mind that this is being written by a Norwegian-American, which is a race born without the ability to metabolize or appreciate pepper in any of its many forms. I am obviously a hybrid of some sort, perhaps as a result of hanky-panky on the boat coming over to America, or to some serious “bundling” on a frosty January night back in the mid- 1800s in one of those lonely pioneer cabins).

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Indoor Plumbing. My family of origin never actually lived in a house without it, but as a child one of my favorite places on the planet was my grandfather’s farm, which had neither electricity nor bathrooms on the inside until I was about eight or nine years old. Now an outhouse is tolerable in good weather, but in the dead of winter … my, oh my … you gave a lot of thought to the phrase – is this trip really necessary?

The water in Grandpa Jacobson’s house was accessed with a small hand pump at the sink in the kitchen. That was it. If you wanted to take that Saturday night bath, you pumped as much water as you needed and warmed it on the wood stove. You then climbed into the big circular galvanized tub brought out for that purpose and you scrubbed away. It was pretty much Little House on the Prairie kind of stuff.

I am not nostalgic for those baths or those trips to the privy. Means to an end, my friends, means to an end.

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With the trial of the officer involved in the killing of George Floyd now underway, articles are appearing everywhere on what the scene of the crime looks like today. It has become a sacred space on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue … that intersection where I used to walk by on my way to Saturday morning movie matinees.

I moved away from that city in 1969, when the Air Force decided that my assistance was urgently required in Omaha NE if our country was to survive, and I never went back after that but for brief visits. One by one my personal ties to the town have gone away, but I still can be moved by its stories, even dreadful stories such as this one. After all, it was home for thirty years.

Robin and I are both wondering what the officer’s lawyers can possibly come up with as his defense. When you are photographed kneeling on the neck of a man for nine minutes … I’m sure that they will be as creative and imaginative as possible. When the evidence is so clearly damning, heavy legal smoke is definitely called for.

I also wonder is what is ahead for my old hometown, when the trial is over. No matter what the verdict turns out to be, it will create waves that wash through the entire country. Minneapolis has unfortunately become almost a metaphor for urban police violence.

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Driver’s Ed

Larry McMurtry died this past week. Even if the only thing he had written was Lonesome Dove, he would be in my personal pantheon of authors who hit it just right. You know how it is … there are books that when you finish them, you have the sense of that’s how it was, that you have learned something true about a time or a way of life? Of course you can’t know if that is so, but it feels that way. That’s how I felt when I had finished Lonesome Dove. And again when I watched that remarkable mini-series based on the book, on television.

The characters were as real to me as if they’d been staying overnight in the spare bedroom, and we’d be sharing coffee and trading insults in the morning. This was also true of the people in Last Picture Show, Leaving Cheyenne, The Desert Rose, Moving On, Texasville, Terms of Endearment … the list of excellent books he’s written does go on and on.

I will give you only one quotation from Lonesome Dove here today. There is a long, long list of toothsome sayings from the book on Goodreads if you’re interested.Anyway, here’s the one that won out this morning:

“I figured out something, Lorie,” he said. “I figured out why you and me get along so well. You know more than you say and I say more than I know. That means we’re a perfect match, as long as we don’t hang around one another more than an hour at a stretch.” 

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

I have read a lot of McMurtry’s stuff, and there is still a lot of it for me to cover in the years to come. His writing never disappoints. So thanks, Mr. M, for giving me folks like Augustus McRae to turn to for counsel whenever I need them. That’s something, it really is.

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One day last week the programming robots at YouTube served this tasty bit up to me. I don’t ordinarily fill spaces in the blog with pirated Tubery, but when I found myself still chuckling at it several days later, and when last night I couldn’t resist forcing Robin to watch it again with me, I decided to bring it to your attention.

I just found this to be so funny. Conan O’Brien’s assistant is allegedly getting advice from a trio on her driving, and her responses are … well … supercute. Be warned of the presence of some off-color language. But the in-the-car banter is great.

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Robin and I were picking something up in the bathroom fixtures department at Home Depot when I spied this sign on a displayed toilet. I couldn’t believe it at first, and then began to truly appreciate what this small decal provided. It was a gift, pure and simple. Let’s take it one line at a time.

First … what exactly is “stealth technology” when it comes to water-closets? Have we reached some sort of nirvana where our visits to the bathroom can at long last be completely silent? Where no one on the other side of the door can hear what is happening, even though everyone of those people knows exactly what is happening?

I’m not dealing with that “extra large trapway to prevent clogs” at all. There’s just some imagery that I’m not willing to entertain. But I guess if the gastrointestinal fates dealt a person a really awkward blow they might be glad for that supranormal capacity.

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And now the piéce de resistance. “Flushes 7 billiard balls in a single flush.” The mind boggles. What possible relevance could this ever have to any human activity? (If you do know of one, please keep it to yourself.) Why are there only six balls in the photograph, instead of seven? And I simply don’t believe that you could make 7 balls disappear stealthily, so there goes claim #1 right down the drain. And how does one finish a game of billiards now that seven of the balls are on their merry way to wherever stuff goes when you turn the handle on the WC?

But with the stealthiness, the dreadful trapway, the billiard balls, and that sinister-sounding vacuum assist … I’m not sure I would have the courage to ever sit down on the device. And I would make absolutely certain that I was well away from the bowl when I turned that handle.

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The Old Testament

My son had returned home from college for a few days, and on the second morning of his too-brief stay he came up from his basement bedroom and declared: “And to think that this was a home where rock and roll was once played.”

I blinked like a deer in the headlights, because I had no response. He was right. In my as yet unfamiliar-to-me life as a divorcée, I had drifted waaaay too far from the real stuff, and into New Age music. Without thinking, really, over a period of several months I had effectively replaced Led Zeppelin and Neil Young with the tunes from folks like David Arkenstone and Enya, and that’s what I had playing in the background since the young man’s arrival. Oh, the shame of it all!

No Mas! I cried, as I flew to the turntable with an album by the J.Geils Band in my hand, and tossed whatever dreck was already on there over the loft railing. As the opening notes of “Hard Drivin’ Man” began to fill the room, I felt renewed, cleansed, and oh-so-repentant. I thanked Jonnie for reminding me of who I was and pledged right then and there to never again fall away from the true faith.

He looked over at me and said something like “Rise, father … go and sin no more.” (I think he borrowed that line from somewhere, for it sounded very familiar but it was highly righteous and very much to the point on that special day.)

I have been the truest of disciples since then. I carry a large staff with me everywhere I go and whenever I find a New Age adherent I ply that stick about their head and shoulders until they see the light. It’s a thankless job … but someone’s got to do it. We’re saving souls here!

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I have had so many very wise and urgent things to say recently that I have sorely neglected what it probably the best part of this blog, and that is when I don’t write anything at all but only share a few cartoons from the New Yorker magazine. I do this whenever my personal thoughts are an undecipherable clutter. Today I am going to pass along a murder of cartoons. It’s a lot like a murder of crows, but more fun.

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As I read the headlines for the past two months, and think about the office of POTUS, I wonder all over again – who in hell would want the job? President Cluck left things in an unusually messy state, to be sure, but even if he hadn’t totally mucked things up the world is a certified perpetual bucket o’disorder.

Let’s see … take a sample of the problems that the U.S. faces domestically, for instance. What shall we choose … how about racism, income inequality, gun violence, immigration, and the large number of special interest groups, which at last count was equal to the population? And to accomplish anything in any of these areas POTUS must do something that is much harder than herding cats, he must herd politicians. At least with cats you can fairly easily understand their motives and behavior. They like to be fed, they don’t like to get wet, and they sleep most of the day.

Unfortunately, politicians don’t sleep nearly enough, so that when we go to bed there is always the chance that they will do something so bad during the night that it takes us years to get over it. I refer you to the quotation by Gideon J. Tucker: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Who wants that job? Not a normal person.

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Heresies

Maureen Dowd kind of nails it for me in her recent editorial about the contrast between Joe Biden and Barack Obama. I will confess that I never joined the Obama Fan Club, although there were a couple of months after he was first elected that I did start to fill out the forms for membership. This makes me a heretic, I know.

But I just couldn’t shake the growing feeling back then that he liked the perks of the office more than getting the job of America done. There are lots of photos showing him doing cool things – attending White House concerts, making excellent speeches, shooting baskets with celebrities. But there are few photos of him getting his hands dirty. He went full speed ahead to solidify his status as Mister I-don’t-sweat-it and in that he certainly succeeded. The rest of us … looking back, we didn’t do quite as well during those eight years as we hoped we would.

We can blame his political opposition all we want for the roadblocks that they threw up, but when you think back on Barack’s time in office, do you have a picture in your mind of a man who gave the job 100%? Who went to the mat for his vision of America? Who was willing to risk being soundly beaten in the service of doing the right thing?

Dowd brings out something else that I missed along the way, and that is the patronizing disdain that Obama and the crowd around him felt for his Vice President, and how they showed it. This sentence from her piece says quite a bit, I think:

In eight years, Biden said in a recent reveal that stunned Anderson Cooper – and left Washington gasping – he and Jill were never invited by the Obamas to their private digs in the White House.

Maureen Dowd, NYTimes, March 2021

So he was a better President than his predecessor, and infinitely better than his successor. But a great one? I think he didn’t want it bad enough to do the work.

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They raised the rate of water flow in the Uncompahgre River this week. This flow is controlled by the Ridgway Dam that is located 25 miles south of us, and this recent increase has totally changed the character of the fishing in the river. Seven days ago a fisherman could put his waders on and pretty much walk for miles up or downstream without much difficulty at all. Now … you will have to choose more carefully where wading is safe or even possible.

For a gentleman like myself, who just hates the idea of floating downstream wearing a pair of waterproof pants that have suddenly become a big jugful of cold river, it means more fishing from the shore in more limited areas. It’s still a beautiful stream, just not as welcoming to those who might be balance-challenged.

Things will stay this way until Fall, when the water levels are cut back once again. I can live with that.

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From The New Yorker

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Paradise is still stuck in the in-between weather stage. No longer winter but not quite Spring. No danger of frostbite but no daffodils, either. I look at the five-day weather forecast and there is no day when the high will rise above 50. I know, I know, you counsel me to have patience. Everything in its own time and at its own pace. Good advice and I don’t dispute it.

But if there is anything that marks this time of the year for me it is restlessness. The yearning to get out there. To cruise the riverbanks with a book of verses underneath the bough, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread—and thou beside me singing in the wilderness. ( I stole that last bit, and the jug of wine has become spring water to avoid my falling in the river and thus becoming flotsam).

Of course Spring is much more than budding trees and romantic notions, it is also ticks and mosquitoes and black flies. It is mud. It is goosebumps because you didn’t use the sense that God gave you when you left the house and didn’t bring warm enough clothing, having been seduced by the warmth of the sun. And now a cloud drifts across it and your teeth are chattering and your lips are turning blue.

But what a great stew it all is! Let me at it!

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The Hero

Like Sam Elliot? Who doesn’t? Last night Robin and I stumbled across a little movie in which he stars, rather than supports. Title: The Hero. It’s got what you might call a short dramatic arc, but it crams a lot into that space. Fatherhood, aging, death, poetry, the often baffling elements of love. It may not be a great date movie, nor it is aimed at the adolescent mind (whatever that bewildering thing was … sheesh), but if you want a quiet and lovely film with Sam in it, and a fine performance by a lady named Laura Prepon, it’s on Hulu right this minute.

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Did somebody say poetry? Two of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems are featured in the movie. The first one I knew, the second one, I didn’t. Why didn’t I know the second? And why do I know almost nothing about Edna St. Vincent Millay? There’s no excuse, it is because I’m a philistine, and there you have it.

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First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

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Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

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But not everything in the world is so solemn. Some of it is beautifully silly, like this moment on the Conan show. Where a perfect man with turkey legs can wish things were different.

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A member of my family who has been hospitalized for two months returned to her apartment in Lima, Peru this week. She still requires help in many things, but the direction is clearly toward getting better. Those of us who have watched and waited at a distance are very grateful for the recovery she has made, and look forward to seeing her in person later this year.

There have been many times in this life of mine that I have been forcefully reminded of just how fragile a “normal” existence really is. And what a mistake it is to take any day for granted, when all it takes is a phone call to turn a sunny day into a tragic drama in which we are the players.

Sometimes the metaphor that occurs to me is the proverbial thin ice. Sometimes it is that of a marionette and all those strings it takes to keep matters going well. Drop even a single string and it’s a brand new day.

One that you didn’t see coming at all.

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Report From The Front Lines 2

There are many differences between the adults and young of most species, including humans. Some of those differences allow archeologists to dig up a bone or two and tell us that it was that of the forearm of a twelve year-old girl who was helping make succotash when she temporarily lost her focus and became dinner for a passing predator. However, even if you are not an archeologist, or a scientist of any kind, when you have living examples of both groups in front of you, it is much easier.

For instance, children are often found at the top of things, where they dance and play and take great delight in the simple pleasures of climbing up there.

Adults, on the other hand, are often found at the bottom of things, looking up at those same children. They are quite content with having a more restricted view of the world as the tradeoff for not needing to gasp for breath, nurse a twisted ankle, or otherwise discommode themselves.

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As we began one of our hikes in Goblin Valley , someone mentioned rattlesnakes and I told them not to worry as long as they had me with them on the walk. I had never ever seen a rattlesnake in the wild, I told them, so they could relax because the odds against such an encounter on our present hike were astronomical.

Until Tuesday, that is.

Right in the middle of the path where I positively could not miss it was a small rattlesnake, estimated to be around 15 inches in length, and on a sunny 50 degree day. Why it was not still in its burrow sleeping like a sensible snake should be at this time of year I don’t know, but there it was, shaking its few rattles and looking as menacing as anything can look when it is only a little over a foot long.

I am indebted to Neil Hurley for this photograph of the snake. I took one myself, but since mine was snapped only after I stopped running and was more than 200 yards away, there was some unfortunate loss of detail .

So I was very grateful that Neil kindly allowed me to use his pic here on the blog.

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We treated the creature with the respect that it deserved, warned a group of Asian tourists behind us not to step on it, and went on our way. I can no longer say “never” when it comes to rattlesnakes in the wild. I am not a Crotalovirginal hiker any more.

(Addendum: we identified this as a Hopi Rattlesnake. Are we correct?)

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From The New Yorker

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Rep. Lauren Boebert came to town and addressed a group at a local bar. Apparently when your supporters invite you to come talk to them it pretty much goes well, so the evening was a modest success. Of course she was packing a firearm, that is her raison d’être. If it were not for the imaginary issue of people trying to take all guns away from ordinary citizens she would still be slathering mayonnaise onto BLT sandwiches in her Rifle CO restaurant. (Which to my mind is a perfectly honorable job. I love BLTs.)

Rep. Boebert is an excellent example of why it was wrong to give women the vote and allow them to run for public office. She is a boob, and I am being generous here. I apologize to boobs in general if they feel slighted by my adding her name to their ranks. But, really, she is one of you.

Before anyone gets all fired up and writes me a letter or starts warming up a cauldron of tar, I believe that it was wrong to give men the vote as well. Everything has pretty much gone downhill since the Magna Carta, in my opinion. Back in the day a country might very well find itself with a stupid king, but everybody knew that and kept their counsel (and their heads) by being quiet about it and waiting for the next king down the line for things to get better. Sometimes it might take more than one change of sovereigns for improvement to come about, but being a serf was such a time-consuming and back-breaking sort of life that one barely noticed.

However, embarrassing as Boebert is, we are stuck with her at least until the 2022 elections, and perhaps beyond. After all, we are living in the same part of the world that went for Cluck 2:1 in the last election. And such a sad number, my friends, requires that a gigantic amount of poor judgment be present in a population.

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Finally, a few more photos of people playing in a red desert. It is a spectacular place. It is a wilderness composed entirely of non-fluffy. There is an abundant shortage of soft places. There are few stumps of trees to sit on, but mostly rock to cradle one’s posterior. To a person like myself who grew up in Minnesota, a water-rich and green state if there ever was one, this is another planet. This is Mars. As Peter O’Toole’s character said in Lawrence of Arabia when asked what he liked about the desert: “It’s clean.”

The author Terry Tempest Williams has written beautifully about the Utah desert. She lives a couple of stone’s throws away from where we were.

In 1995, when the United States Congress was debating issues related to the Utah wilderness, Williams and writer Stephen Trimble edited the collection, Testimony: Writers Speak On Behalf of Utah Wilderness, an effort by twenty American writers to sway public policy. A copy of the book was given to every member of Congress. On 18 September 1996, President Bill Clinton at the dedication of the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, held up this book and said, “This made a difference.

Wikipedia: Terry Tempest Williams

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Report From The Front Lines

We’re on our first official “outing” of the year, spending a couple of days with Amy, Neil and family in southeastern Utah. Believe me when I tell you that there is ample room for humans to social distance in this part of the world. When we arrived on Sunday afternoon our families rendezvoused in Goblin Valley State Park, a surreal landscape if there ever was one. A world of red sandstone carved into fantastic shapes by wind and time. By the end of the day our (Robin’s and mine) feet were sore, our arms and legs were sore, our knees were well-scraped, and our hands and fingers were tired from grasping at the abrasive rock.

But our spirits were in good shape, so there was definitely that.

On Monday we took on exploring two of the many famous slot canyons of the San Rafael Swell nearby. These are new experiences for me, best described as a claustrophobic’s idea of a bassackwards way of spending a vacation. You walk into a maze where the visibility is mostly up and the walls keep crowding in on you until in places you can barely pass through. More red sandstone, more (very) close encounters with the earth. By the end of the day our (Robin’s and mine) feet were sore, our arms and legs were sore, our knees were well-scraped, and our hands and fingers were tired from grasping at the abrasive rock.

Wait … did I just repeat myself?

When we finally exited this bit of amazingness we had been scraping and clambering and trudging over some of the planet’s more interesting and bizarre landscape for about 9 miles. Every movement in any direction was now uncomfortable. Getting into the car required planning. Sitting in one position for more than 5 minutes produced a body that could not be restarted without earnest prodding. But those spirits … somehow, they never flagged.

Our basecamp for these modest expeditions was the hamlet of Hanksville, Utah. Population 219, elevation 4295 feet. It was a half hour’s drive south from Goblin Valley and the other activities described above. If you continued on in a southerly direction further down Highway 24 you would end up in less than an hour in the Lake Powell recreation area.

Hanksville has a couple of places to stay, including our residence which was named the Whispering Sands Motel. It is a basic sort of place, short on frills, definitely not an all-inclusive resort. But the rooms are clean, the beds were comfortable, everything that we needed worked, and the managers were the kind of people you are glad are in charge of your lodging. That is, there are strict and enforced rules about how a guest should behave. For instance, quiet hours start at 9:30, and if you make a nuisance of yourself you will be asked to leave and you will not get your money back, says the little sign on the door. Since Robin and I have mutually agreed to leave behind our days of trashing hotel rooms, we appreciated this concern for our present-day welfare.

The Whispering Sands

Down the road from the Whispering Sands is Duke’s Slickrock Grill, which has some decent food to offer. The cafe is also a shrine to the actor John Wayne, with nearly everything on the menu either carrying the title of one of his movies, or something related. There are a few books for sale in the lobby, all related to Mr. Wayne as well.

A life-sized cutout of the man stands behind the bar.

It was the sort of place where you didn’t feel like mentioning that in general the official ‘Trinity’ was not Father, the “Duke,” and Holy Ghost.

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Here are a handful of representative photos of the footsore survivors. There are many more of these pictures, and I feel that I must warn you that even the slightest evidence on your part of any interest in them may bring on the dreaded: “Here is every single picture that I took on my vacation, including double exposures, out-of-focus pics, stunningly boring repeats of the same scene with only the slightest of differences, et al.”

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Quo Vadis, Automobile?

Canoo Pickup Truck

I don’t put a lot of car stuff on the blog, although I still have an academic interest in that world. A long time ago, I used to consider the outside appearance of my car as a direct extension of my persona, while the character of the exhaust note and the loud screeching sound that the tires made on a hot July afternoon when I hit the gas hard from a standing start were an important part of the music of life. Now, I look at a vehicle and I think: “How likely is it that this car will get me from Point A to Point B in one piece and without unnecessary delay?

A totally utilitarian rather than a romantic viewpoint.

And that’s exactly where this Canoo pickup hits me. It’s not your usual macho machine found in that genre, with big engine, big bed, big tires, and a name like Raptor. It is instead a carpenter’s/plumber’s/architects/construction worker’s/rancher’s office on wheels. It’s a workspace that you can drive to the site. Or it’s a vehicle for an ordinary guy who likes to get outside and do his or her own thing.

It’s beautiful in concept. It is also bit bug-like in appearance, though, which won’t appeal to everyone. I don’t see the Confederate flag-flying crowd lining up to buy one, for instance. It will not rip up a peaceful Saturday night into proper cacophonic shreds. But I love what its designers have done, and it all makes me wish, just a little, that I needed this car.

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Wheels

I pity the populace of Paradise. Spring is starting to peep out, the air is becoming warmer, and the days noticeably longer and brighter. Vaccinations for Covid have proceeded at a very good and non-scandalous clip here in Colorado, making the streets not only sunnier and more attractive, but safer than they have been during the entire past year.

But now comes this bad news for these hopeful souls emerging blinking from their caves – Robin and I are now electrified. Tuesday we picked up our electric bicycles in Grand Junction, and we are about to hit the streets mounted as never before. Rest assured that as long as everyone on the sidewalks and pathways is prepared to leap out of our way and into the shrubbery at the sound of the warning bells mounted on our handlebars that they are safe, as we will not go out of our way to hit them.

The question becomes … why did we take this particular plunge? The answers can be found midway between our hips and feet. The knees are slowly going the ways that knees can go with time. Aches and pains and catchings and lockings and all of these many knee-type delights are becoming part of everyday life. So what is someone who loves bicycling to do but add an electric motor to assist in pedaling? It seems a logical response to Mother Nature’s plans, which are obviously meant to make life more difficult.

These vehicles are not like motor scooters, nor are they mopeds. The power kicks in only when you pedal, providing five different levels of boost, from just a tish to wow. With a modest effort on our part, that small engine can take us right up to twenty miles an hour and give us an assist for up to forty miles before the battery needs recharging.

I’ve also bought a new helmet to go with the new ride. I dunno, the vibe seems about right to me. This may be the time for some tats as well. What would you think of “Born To Be Wild” spread across my back?

(Naw, I didn’t think so either. It’s been done to death, and I doubt anyone would find me believable while I’m wearing my octogenarian disguise.)

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When you go to YouTube these days you find a viewing salad that the site has thrown together for you based on what you’ve looked at in the past. Often these suggested videos are of the WTF variety. But recently they started sending me a series called “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” The first one starred this guy, Lou Charloff. Loved it.

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The past couple of days we’ve had some serious winds here in the valley. On Tuesday night what sounded like a car hitting our house woke me, but it was just a blast of wind heralding a weather front moving in. But what a sound it had made.

Now I am not usually wakened by the weather outside our home. Often at breakfast Robin will ask “Dear, did you hear that tornado go through the back yard last night?” and my answer is always the same – “Tornado?” followed by “I didn’t hear a thing.” So this last episode was a role reversal of major proportions, where I woke and Robin didn’t. And not only did it rouse me from a sound sleep, but I found myself so completely awake that I had to get up and read for a while to quiet my mind.

The gale continued for an hour or so before it settled down to a milder whooshing. Poco was out there in the kitchen with me, because he doesn’t like weather dramas at all. His least favorite kind of day is a windy one. Snow, cold, light rains, blistering sun, he tolerates all of these. But let the breezes get above 20 mph and he stays indoors.

Maybe it has something with having one’s face only three inches from the ground that turns him into such a homebody, I don’t know. Cats are puzzles.

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A small glitch occurred in our bathroom remodel. The contractor called out to me yesterday when he found himself in the middle of a dilemma. Here is the story.

I believed that I had purchased a new toilet with what is called a round bowl, as opposed to the other choice, which was an elongated bowl. The exterior of the box clearly stated “round.” But what came out of that box and that the honorable workman had just installed and seated was just as clearly “elongated.” The plastic seat itself was resolutely round, however, so we had a mismatch that a very small person could fall through.

Now these devices when still boxed weigh 100 pounds, and the idea of ripping out what had been done, trucking it back to the Home Depot, and then bringing home another god-awfully heavy box had little appeal for me. Also, I had no emotional investment in roundness vs. elongation. So I told Robin that longer was much better for the older male, and she went along with my admittedly weak story, although the look on her face was one of I know what you’re doing and not of happy acceptance.

Home Depot, however, was glad to provide gratis a new plastic seat that fit so much better, and now it’s on to better things. I doubt that when you come for a visit you will be much troubled by this new accommodation. But if you are, I apologize in advance.

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Spring Beginning To Spring

Holy Cow, Batman, it was 65 degrees outside on Sunday. Robin and I went down to the river for our walk and there were people all over the place, acting as if they had as much right to be there as we did. Two small girls whizzed past us on electrified Razor scooters. These were not silent devices, sounding much as a hiveful of metal bees would buzzing inside a tin pail, which was a good thing since the girls’ control of the scooters was marginal and the noise at least gave one a chance to get out of the way.

Right in the middle of the park, surrounded by hundreds of unquiet folk, was a lone fly fisherman. He looked very serious about the whole thing, even though with all the clamor and movement above the water there was only a nano-chance that any trout would bother his fly at all. Any fish with half a brain would be hiding behind rocks and in watery crevices until we all left the area.

There was a small group of women on the softball diamond just tossing the ball around and hitting fungoes. They left and were immediately replaced by a dozen children going slightly nuts with all that room to maneuver in. There is something about an empty first base line that inspires people of all ages to run amok.

We found that over the winter a chunk of our hiking path along the riverside bluff had simply fallen away. Perhaps fifteen feet of the path along the edge of the cliff no longer existed. Had we been walking on it when it fell off, we would likely not have perished, but would have come to a stop a hundred feet down with more scratches and bruises than a person could ever want. The good news is that we were nowhere near the place when it happened.

Remember this aphorism, even if it doesn’t apply to you today: When you are a senior citizen you bruise faster and heal slower. Keeping this in mind will prevent scores of grunts and moans in the future.

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An article in The New Yorker caught my eye this morning. It was discussing the possibility of a Civilian Climate Corps, modeled after the CCC of the Great Depression era. I think it sounds like a great idea, and this time it would not be just for men, but for women as well.

The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior, according to a paragraph buried in Joe Biden’s long executive order on climate change, had been directed to make plans for a Civilian Climate Corps, modelled on the Civilian Conservation Corps—the C.C.C.—of the nineteen-thirties. It would put underemployed Americans to work on projects intended “to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.”

The New Yorker, March 2021.

One of the reasons that the Republicans of another time hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal so much is that it was an example of big government that worked, and there were several great ideas that came out of this administration. One of them was the CCC.

The C.C.C. left a legacy of trees, trails, shelters, footbridges, picnic areas, and campgrounds in local, state, and national parks across the country. It had equally notable effects on the health and outlook of the men who served. Most were undernourished as well as unemployed when they signed up. They came home with muscles, tans, and, according to a letter sent to corps headquarters, in Washington, by a resident of Romeo, Colorado, an “erect carriage” that made them easy to pick out from the rest of the young male population.

The New Yorker, March 2021.

So when it comes time to sign up, I plan on being at the head of the line. That is, unless there is some sort of age-ist agenda in the proposals. While it is true that I can no longer shovel with the speed of a twenty year-old, once I have scooped up my ten pounds of dirt I am much smarter about where to put it. (An untested hypothesis, I admit)

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From The New Yorker

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I don’t know exactly when I began to harbor racist thoughts, but it was some time after I was nine years old. Because recently I was reminiscing about my ninth summer, when I would try to emulate my baseball heroes, and three of those heroes were Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, and Don Newcombe. I even had comic books starring those guys.

FILE – In this Aug. 2, 1942, file photo, Kansas City Monarchs pitcher Leroy Satchel Paige warms up at New York’s Yankee Stadium before a Negro League game between the Monarchs and the New York Cuban Stars. Major League Baseball has reclassified the Negro Leagues as a major league and will count the statistics and records of its 3,400 players as part of its history. The league said Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, it was “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history” by elevating the Negro Leagues on the centennial of its founding. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman, File)

Of course I knew that they were black men, since I was not blind, but I didn’t care. The only important thing was that they played baseball and they were pros. Nothing else mattered. The racist societal poisons hadn’t filtered down to me as yet, to interfere with my dream of being able to grow up to pitch like Satchel Paige.

[BTW, I never did get that far. It turned out that I had an arm like a rubber noodle, my time running to first base was several seconds longer than it needed to be, and my best hits were generally foul balls. I also stayed resolutely white. One more set of dreams dashed … sighhhhhh.]

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Sunday Morning

I know that it’s Sunday morning and you have a God-given right to be left alone … but here I am anyway. Let’s face it, you clicked on something to get here, so face up to your part in all this. Ever hear of folie a deux?

Folie a deux (‘madness for two’), also known as shared psychosis or shared delusional disorder, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief, and sometimes hallucinations, are transmitted from one individual to another.

Wikipedia

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First of all, here’s more on Dr. Seuss and taking books away, by Ross Douthat, a generally morose but occasionally thoughtful columnist. He thinks that liberals should care more about what is going on.

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Another page in the movement toward alternate foods made of stuff we didn’t even know existed. For instance, do you know about the supremely hardy extreme fungus from Yellowstone National Park that is taking off right now? You don’t? Your ignorance could stop right this minute, should you so choose. Up to you. But know this – there might be, right this minute, a fungus burger out there with your name on it.

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From The New Yorker

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One of Billie Holiday’s signature songs was Strange Fruit. Biography has a short piece about the song and how singing it probably shortened Holiday’s life, while it certainly impacted her career. A sad story of the bad things that bad men in government can do and of the power of music to frighten them.

If you’re up for it, here is the song, sung by Ms Holiday herself.

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At The Store

Yesterday Robin and I went out for lunch. Together. To a local BBQ joint. Both of us ordered a hamburger. It was delicious. But it had been … I don’t know … more than a year since we had done that? Without even trying, our consumption of red meat has fallen so far off that we are no longer even counted by the Beef Producers of America as existing humans. Purged from the rolls we have been.

Cutting down on ingestion of this product line has been made easier by the fact that this genre of foodstuffs is in the most expensive section of the grocery store. Our local City Market has two uniformed officers stationed at the “Beef” section, wearing full riot gear, intimidating dark glasses, and carrying AR-15s with the safety off. They have been trained not to answer questions from customers, much like the guards at Buckingham Palace. One of our pair of guards was recently indicted by the FBI for having played a role in the insurrection in Washington DC on January 6 of this year. He was seen clearly on video to be selling street tacos on the steps of the US Capitol. Apparently he has been charged with nourishing rioters who were engaged in the performance of a felony. It’s a test case and he is being represented by the ACLU on first amendment grounds.

Because we are just down the highway from the ski town of Telluride, our food markets get a lot of trade from that economically advantaged population. Ergo, we actually have a small Wagyu beef section in our local store. Thus, although we live in the middle of ranch country we must import a proportion of our beef from Japan to feed those Tellurideans, whose palates are so refined that they cannot handle the Angus beef that is served to the hoi polloi here in Paradise. And who can blame them, really? Living among the ordinary folk is already quite a burden.

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From The New Yorker

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The entire national Republican Party has been rounded up this week and shipped off to a reeducation camp for group instruction and psychotherapy. In its present form the party has been declared a national menace by the Surgeon General, Dr. Windsock Carapace. Their symptoms include extreme moral turpitude, stage 4 mendacity, complete susceptibility to any and all conspiracy theories, and just plain being dumb as a load of fenceposts.

Dr. Carapace admits that this is a drastic measure: “But it was either that or have them put down. The nation can’t function with so many incompetents in the mix. Generally speaking, Congress will still work as long as the completely useless category does not get too high, but within the present-day Republican party we are at 96% and that is an unacceptable level.”

The nation’s chief doctor then added that once they have been rehabilitated, they will be neutered before being released. “Can’t be too careful where the national interest is concerned, we don’t want to be right back here in another generation,” said the esteemed physician.

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Have I mentioned that we are in the throes of a small home remodeling? The bathroom off the master bedroom just wasn’t making us happy anymore, so we called upon our neighbor Ed to come to our rescue. Ed is a contractor who does this sort of thing, and is an interesting mix of characteristics that is rarely found in modern humans. He is reliable, honest, and highly skilled. Almost takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

It took a while to get the project started, but once Ed showed up it was get out of my way and let me work. We should be able to use the room in another four or five days, and until then Robin and I are sharing the small bathroom on the other side of the house that I normally employ. This is quite a small space, not the palatial one that Robin is accustomed to, being about the size of the typical phone booth (you remember those, n’est-ce pas?). It is so small that I cannot have a full bar of soap in the shower, but must cut them in half.

But Robin is nothing if not a game gal, and the only complaint that I have heard from her in this whole affair was one day earlier this week when a plaintive cry of “Why me, Lord?” could be heard through the bathroom door. I wasn’t quite sure which of many possible calamities she was bemoaning, and did not have the courage to ask.

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Wanderers

It’s not all that often that I watch a movie that makes me feel that I am a better person for having viewed it. Of course, that isn’t really true, I am pretty much the same schlemiel today that I was before Robin and I streamed “Nomadland” Tuesday night, but my view of the world is just that much wider, more inclusive … maybe that is some small progress.

It’s a beautiful movie, starring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, and an interesting bunch of normal people (non-professional actors, that is). McDormand is soooo good, as always. It’s a small thing, but if there were an Olympic event called “smiling,” I believe that she would take home the gold every year.

The film is available on Hulu.

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There is presently a small dustup in the world, one that can’t really compete with the big ones that rage all around us 24/7, but it’s interesting. A half-dozen of Dr. Seuss’ books are being quietly un-promoted, because they contain images that could, without too much imagination being required, be interpreted as racist.

There seems little doubt that Theodor Geisel (Seuss’ real name) harbored racist thoughts back in the early 1940s, and there is also quite a bit of evidence that he rejected those thoughts and writings later in life. This almost surgical excision of a part of his catalogue seems to recognize that even flawed people can produce worthwhile things, and throwing away everything that he’d written for those old errors would be a loss to us all. It also gives one hope that the belief in the possibility of redemption hasn’t gone away altogether.

We’re living in a time when figurative dunk tanks, burnings, and witch-hunts on social media are all over the place. Make a mistake sometime twenty years ago … fageddaboudit, you’re toast. This is not o.k. When there is only a single space between effusive acceptance and outraged rejection it is a hazardous time for those in the spotlights of the world.

It makes me so very glad that I am unimportant. No one is going through those old steamer trunks where my life’s words and actions are stored, looking for something to be furious about.

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Writing the above reminded me of a scene from a movie that I saw as a child, when my grandfather Nels took me to the Time Theater in Kenyon, MN.

The film was Stars In My Crown. The main character was a small town minister in the Old West, whose congregation included the owner of a saloon. When one of his congregation’s elite confronted the preacher about accepting contributions from the saloonkeeper … it was the Devil’s money, said the concerned member.

“Yes, it is,” admitted the minister, “but just think of all God’s work that I am going to do with it.”

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One of the most reliable signs of Spring has always been the aroma of tens of thousands of pieces of dog poop that have been deposited around the town during the previous winter, thawing all at once. It’s unmistakable, the day when that happens. No matter how blue the sky or how warm the gentle breeze might be, the cloud of scent can be overwhelming, often driving one back indoors.

But we’ve kind of lost it, that day. And the culprit is the people who insist that dog owners carry those little plastic bags with them and pick up every single dropping within seconds of its being dropped. It is estimated that in Colorado, if it were not for people picking up after their beloved canines, the entire state would be covered in pup-doo to a depth of six inches within a single year. Such is the pervasiveness of dog ownership here in Paradise.

So one more piece of my life’s acquired knowledge has become useless to me, and I must consult calendars just like everybody else, to know when Spring has finally arrived. Bah.

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Playing In The Freezer

When Robin and I planned to take a couple of days and go skiing on the Grand Mesa with Ally and Kyle, I did not see that as a challenge to the gods of winter at all. And when I wrote this on a blog post recently, I felt the same way.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with.

Apparently the gods saw things otherwise.

When Ally and Kyle arrived on the Mesa last Friday it was 35 degrees and blue skies, and they had a fine afternoon XC skiing and exploring. Later in the evening they bunked down in the cabin we had rented together at the Grand Mesa Lodge, Cabin #15 to be exact. Then some sort of bottom fell out of the weather during the night, and when Robin and I showed up at the cabin the next morning (Saturday) the temperature was 8 degrees and a bitter wind was blowing in your face no matter which way you turned.

But we were there to have fun, even if it meant the possible loss of body parts to frostbite in the process. Our first stop was at some sled dog races that were being held just a few miles from the lodge. Cold people, cold canines, red cheeks, white noses, and only one trailer selling hot beverages. We spent an hour or two watching the dogs, all the while stamping our feet in a brave but fruitless attempt to restore circulation. From there we moved to the cross-country ski trail area and set off through the woods.

The snow was perfect. Four inches of powder on six feet of base. Originally I had plotted out a four mile loop, but our quartet voted very quickly to cut that distance in half, “then we’ll see if we want to do any more after that.” We didn’t. At that point it was back to the cabin to warm up, sip a little coffee, and look out the window at the abundance of snow that the Mesa had to offer. Later in the afternoon Ally and Kyle headed back to Steamboat Springs, and at suppertime Robin and I went up to the lodge where the menu in the restaurant was basically pizza. It was an excellent home-made pie, however, and we finished it up and then licked the plate afterward.

Not wanting to brave the weather any more that day, we turned in early. When we awoke Sunday morning, the temp was eight degrees below zero. Now I know that some of you in the Midwest have learned to love those sorts of temperatures, but Robin and I were not emotionally prepared for them, nor had I brought along nearly enough warm clothing to go playing in a freezer. So we scratched our original itinerary and returned home a few hours early.

If it hadn’t been so frigid, though, what a landscape was up there to be explored! More beautiful snow than anyone could ever want. Too brilliantly white to look at in the sunlight without eye protection. Aspens, evergreens, iced-over lakes, and a serious shortage of the scars of civilization. It is true that there were areas where snowmobilers were blasting about with their malodorous machines, but it wan’t too hard to get away from their noise. And left to itself, a snowy landscape is one of the quietest there is.

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Cabin # 15 Review

The cabin had originally been built in the late 1890s, but for some reason the original structure was taken down and a “new” one built with the same logs, in 1939. Its outstanding feature in 2021 was its slanting floor. The footing sloped in several directions making walking about the room interesting. On a shelf in the cabin was one of those notebooks where guests are invited to write a few words about their visit. The last entry was just a week before we arrived, where a gentleman offered these words of caution:

You are advised not to drink alcohol during your stay, because it is hard enough to walk here while sober.

Guest Notebook

There was a metal-framed futon in the main room, whose mattress did not do nearly enough to protect one’s posterior from the metal slats of the frame. The sitting surface was only inches from the floor, which meant that each time you were moved to sit down, there was no contact where you expected it to be, and a moment of panic until you finally crashed onto the thinly covered slats.

We found four chairs at the small table in the kitchen area, of the wobbly and untrustworthy plastic variety often found in tall stacks at Home Depot. However, if one moved slowly and didn’t wiggle excessively, the chairs did not collapse.

Kitchen facilities were more than adequate, with a good refrigerator, nice gas stove, and newer countertop and sink. Heat for the building was a large propane space heater on the front wall of the room. With the miserable outdoor temperatures we found ourselves dealing with, that heater never had a moment’s rest.

To get upstairs to the dormitory area, you climbed a very old-fashioned stairway of the kind that was common in Thomas Jefferson’s day. The angle of the staircase was 60 degrees from horizontal, making it more like a ladder, actually. It wasn’t so hard going up, but coming down you needed to pick your way very carefully to avoid the unpleasantness that could come from a too-rapid descent. The wood of those steps had originally been rough-cut lumber, but 81 years of people going up and down had worn them to a shiny and slightly hazardous slipperiness.

The mattresses on the beds were comfortable, but all guests had been told to bring their own sleeping bags. In Covid times, it was felt safer all around to use one’s own bedding materials, apparently, and so we complied.

I liked the place, of course, in its quaint basic-ness. There was not a trace of elegance to be found. The wind found its way in through scores of cracks and gaps, and many of the furnishings were just barely adequate to their tasks. In this it resembled some fly-in fishing camps where I have stayed in the past. But the views out the windows were serene. All in all, I was glad that Cabin #15 was there for our use, even if I had a few quibbles. We were there only for a few hours, but the cabin had been there in one form or another for more than 100 years.

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We took far fewer photos than we would have if it hadn’t been so cold. Here are the few we have.

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Legislation has been introduced to ban the use of Native American mascot-ery in Colorado. If the bill goes through, our local Montrose Indians will have to find a new name for themselves or face stiff fines. It’s way past time for this, nest-ce pas? Way past. What is one to think of the mental processes of our European forefathers, who first did their best to kill off the Natives and their culture, and then later co-opted their images and names as examples of courage and resourcefulness. A truly amazing and cruel affront.

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Television viewing suggestion: The limited series Pretend It’s A City is a hoot. Fran Lebowitz’ brain runs way faster by far than the average human’s does, and she is a superbly sharp-tongued curmudgeon. The lady is aided in this documentary program by her obvious fan and friend, Martin Scorsese. Each segment is less than half an hour, so take a look. It couldn’t hurt.

Here’s a sampling of the kind of stuff you might see if you tuned in.

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Flight of Ideas

We are all chattering like actors in Waiting For Godot here in Paradise. Put any two people within earshot of one another and the conversation turns inexorably to Spring. Is it imminent? How close? If a tree foolishly begins to bud in February (like the big maple across the way) is it a stupid tree? Is it showing off and heading for a fall?

If it weren’t such a serious moment in time, it would be more fun watching and listening to my age-contemporaries try to make sense of the planet’s odd weather and climatic happenings, using their life experiences as a guide. I hear phrases all the time like:

  • Did you ever …?
  • Have you ever … ?
  • This is the first time …
  • I can’t make sense of it …
  • When I was a (girl) boy …
  • WTF?

It turns out that when climate change steps in, much of our personal meteorological lore becomes a lot less valuable. Yardsticks have to be continually reset as one after another of those “hundred year events” roars past us.

What yours truly has noted, without ascribing any meaning at all to the observations, is that I no longer look for the peonies to be in full bloom on Memorial Day. In fact, that notable moment keeps inching each year toward April Fool’s Day. While I admit that it still has a ways to go, the direction is pretty clear.

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Here’s an observation about how serious we are as a species about one of the larger issues of our time. The one-percenters are rushing to showrooms to purchase electric vehicles that bear increasingly bigger price tags. And bigger engines. Electric cars of nearly 2000 horsepower are in production that can go from zero to sixty mph in less than two seconds. The planet’s need for cars like these is so obvious that I even hate to bring it up.

But they are zero emission vehicles, correct? Not totally. Not if you live in a country where fossil fuels are still big players in the production of electricity. There are lots of emissions involved in building those cars and in making the batteries for them, and also in producing what comes out of all those shiny new charging stations.

Lotus Evija

A scenario popped into my mind. A geronto-adolescent daydream. Somehow I acquire a couple of million dollars that I really have no special need for and I take myself down to a Lotus dealer and buy one of their 1973 horsepower Evija cars. I drive the vehicle very carefully to a deserted chunk of highway somewhere in rural America and pause the automobile. I look both ways for other cars and for people of the law enforcement persuasion, tighten my seat belt, and then tromp down fully on the accelerator, propelling myself way past my capabilities as an operator and into the nearest boulder, where I produce a mixed carbon-fiber and hemoglobin smear on the rock to mark my passage into eternity.

If that should ever happen, don’t cry for me, Argentina, I will not deserve it.

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The Thursday morning AA meeting at the Anglican church has become really interesting. Four years ago it was a larger group, with average attendance of perhaps 16-20 members. But in this pandemic year it really shrunk, to only four regular members. Other meetings in town have remained unchanged in number, but many of them are seriously flawed in that they ignore Covid precautions.

On our Thursday mornings one is required to be masked and to keep proper distancing in mind. Only four of the original group accepted these restrictions and continued to attend. Two men, two women, all seniors. None of us new to AA. Each week we dutifully follow the prescriptions and proscriptions as to how an AA meeting is to be conducted. Very gradually we have become more comfortable with one another, and new levels of trust have appeared.

It seems that we have done away with many of our pretenses, our usual shape-shifting, and we take part in a leaner and meaner dialog. Cutting to the chase, so to speak. All of this makes the sessions more valuable, at least they do to me.

And it’s not just learning about the others, but about oneself as well. Have you ever had the experience of telling one of your own stories when suddenly a bulb flashes and you your tale in a completely new and different light? An auto-epiphany, if you will. Fascinating when that happens.

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Robin and I are off later this morning for a day’s XC skiing on the Grand Mesa. The snow is good up there (six feet deep), the sun will be shining, and we are rendezvousing with Allyson and Kyle for some pretty safe and much needed socializing. We’ll stay the night in a cabin and come back on Sunday afternoon.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with. Tie them around your waist? Hang them on bushes and come back for them later? Donate them to passersby? It’s a good problem to have, actually, in a winter activity.

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Sweat Equity

I’ve been holding off writing about one of my present exercise practices. Mostly because I’m not sure that you will find me credible, and I wouldn’t blame you at all. But here goes – three times a week I do something called H.I.I.T. That’s High Intensity Interval Training, for those who aren’t familiar with the shorter spelling. It’s all a part of my quest to find the perfect program that will allow me to maintain my present amazing level of physical fitness while working out for the shortest possible time.

Why, you ask? Why would a person do such a thing to themselves? It all started, like so many things these days, with Covid. Our local Gold’s Gym took an early proactive stance where they posted a firm notice on the door saying that all who entered had to mask. Once inside the door, however, they could care less. Robin and I found that the majority of people working out were either not masked at all, or were wearing it on their chin or backside or some other useless place. So each of three times we walked in we spun about and left the establishment, deeming it an unsafe space to be in.

And then what to do? Sure, I know that you are saying now that we have these awesome bodies and how much you admire our lithe and feline movements, but they weren’t going to stay that way unless we found a substitute for the gym that wasn’t also a deathtrap for seniors. Therefore, we have been walking and walking and walking this winter, and we recently added a Schwinn AirDyne stationary bike to our regimen.

Fortunately for me, research on this subject is all over the place these days. Apparently if one does things correctly, doing HIIT for only a handful of seconds does the trick for improving and maintaining aerobic capacity. I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training (SIT), is a form of interval training, a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods, until too exhausted to continue. Though there is no universal HIIT session duration, these intense workouts typically last under 30 minutes, with times varying based on a participant’s current fitness level. The intensity of HIIT also depends on the duration of the session.

Wikipedia

Here is a video of a very fit woman doing HIIT using 10 seconds of maximum intensity followed by 10 seconds of relative rest. See her face toward the end of the video? That is my expression at the beginning of each session, and it goes downhill from there, ending up in photos that should not be displayed where sensitive children can see them .

Since there is no agreed-upon set of times, etc. for intervals, I have picked out my own set and will describe them below. Key to understanding the whole process is the phrase in the description above “until too exhausted to continue.” I reach that point in about … five seconds. That is on the first rep. In each succeeding repetition I reach exhaustion in a shorter amount of time until by the sixth such interval I actually hit that pooped-out mark before I start.

Here is how a typical HIIT session goes for me. Each repetition is 10 seconds of maximum effort following by 20 seconds of much less intensity.

  • First rep: I am now out of breath entirely. Are we done yet?
  • Second rep: hey, twenty seconds is not near enough time to recover, I’m gasping here!
  • Third rep: glad I put that waste basket nearby, I going to hurl any minute now
  • Fourth rep: my chest hurts … surely this is the big one? Arrgggghhhh. I’m not ready!
  • Fifth rep: no, no, no, no, no
  • Sixth rep: help me, help me, everything is going blurry … I see a light … at the end of a tunnel … someone in a white robe is beckoning … I’m a-comin’, Lord …

And then I’m done.

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We’ve started a small remodel project here at BaseCamp. The bathroom off the master bedroom needed a refreshment, and yesterday our contractor-neighbor tore it apart. We can only hope that he knows how to put it back together again, and better than it was. But it’s really an exercise in faith, isn’t it?

Robin and I have a lot of histories with remodels, both before we were married and since. The most common theme seems to be that a project is begun and then the workers disappear for the longest period of time, before returning without apology or explanation. During one such episode we had almost given up hope when we found our contractor’s picture on a milk carton on the breakfast table. Have You Seen This Person?, was the legend beneath the photo, and another frustrated customer’s number to call if you had.

But when it is done we will have a walk-in shower instead of the present tub/shower unit. That will make cleaning up so much easier, not having to lift my legs that high and all.

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The subject of electric bikes has come up once again, and this time we might even go through with getting a couple of them. Our knees and other body parts are showing signs of wear, and making bicycling a tish easier would be a welcome change, especially on the uphill stretches. The number of choices now are a little overwhelming, and in some cases, the prices are as well. If you want to spend more than $15,000 on a supremo electric mountain bike, you will have no trouble finding vendors, and will probably have to wait six months for delivery. The demand for them is way up in this Year of the Virus.

We are window-shopping in a completely different price range, and even then have trouble sorting through the scads of options available. Robin and I are pretty much okay with mountain-walking but done with mountain-biking. At least the kind where you are leaping over roots and rocks while going downhill at a blistering rate of speed. Nice tame fire roads or paved bike trails are more our cup of tea. We keep in mind that a basic principle of the senior citizen is that you get hurt quicker and you heal slower. Go ahead, call me a wuss, I can’t hear you.

I SAID: I CAN’T HEAR YOU!

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Discontent

Now is the winter of our discontent.

What? Plagiarism? Moi? Just as I was congratulating myself on appropriating this well-turned phrase and putting it out there as my very own, people began mentioning Mr. Shakespeare and his play Richard III, and so I guess that particular jig is presently up.

But doesn’t it apply well to today’s headlines? Is there anyone reading this, right now, that is content? Take away the pandemic and we still have a historic chill seemingly everywhere at once. Even worse, when you find that your furnace has died and you turn on your electric space heater the darned thing doesn’t work because when you look out your window the wind turbines on your back forty have frozen up. Who knew that could even happen?

And the Whack-A-Mole character of American racism and bigotry has never been more obvious and blatant. Right now it is Asian-Americans who are being singled out (at least in the headlines) for violence perpetrated by drive-by thugs. Which was preceded by last summer’s rash of violence against black Americans, which was preceded by a serious uptick in anti-semitic nastiness. Of course, brutality leveled against these groups never goes away. Not even close.

There are moments when it seems as if the Ten Plagues of Egypt were happening all over again, but simultaneously rather than sequentially.

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Just in case you’ve forgotten what those plagues were, I list them for your enjoyment and edification:

  • Water turns to blood
  • Frogs everywhere
  • Lice or gnats everywhere
  • Wild animals everywhere
  • A pestilence in one’s domestic animals
  • Boils
  • Thunderstorm of hail and fire
  • Locusts
  • Darkness for three days
  • Deaths of the firstborn

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From The New Yorker

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I’ve been a voracious reader since tot-hood. Books, newspapers, Sears catalogs, milk cartons … anything with print on it was fair game. Usually it was a quiet and personal vice, and the grownups pretty much left me alone in my literary wanderings. They had no idea what was streaming through my eyes and into my little brain. Mostly that worked out well … they got to be left alone and I got to read what I wanted.

But occasionally there were brief dustups, like this one.

I was probably about six or seven years old, and it was evening on my grandparents’ farm. Grandma Ida and Aunt Norma were in the kitchen chatting, and I was alone in the living room which was just off the kitchen. We were out of sight of one another. I don’t know what I was reading, but I came across a word that I didn’t recognize. There was no dictionary handy, so I called out to the adults in the next room:

Grandma, what does rape mean?

My question was met with total silence.

Now kids are pretty good at reading adults. And so I knew that this unnatural and pregnant pause meant that I had wandered into a taboo area, and I instantly wished to God that I hadn’t brought it up. Because now the adults had a window into my activities and that was not always a good thing. Better to be ignored and left alone was my motto. I could just have waited until I found that absent dictionary and everything would have been fine. But noooooo, I couldn’t wait, I had to know now.

Finally there was a response and it was Aunt Norma’s voice asking “What are you reading?” OMG, I thought, it’s even worse than I imagined. They have answered my question with a question. What sort of can of worms have I opened? And suddenly there was Norma, standing in front of me, with her hand out. “It means hurting someone,” she said. I dutifully passed whatever the written material was along to her, and she disappeared back into the kitchen with it firmly in hand. No more questions tonight, I thought.

That was it. Days later I got my answer, after I had returned home and through a much safer method of research. I looked it up. Sometimes it was just plain awkward being a curious kid. There were minefields everywhere.

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Deep In The Heart Of Texas

As the latest Texas disaster follows its course, leaving millions of those intrepid folk finding out just how intrepid they are without heat or electricity at a very nasty time weather-wise, I follow the story at a comfortable, warm, and well-lighted distance. In this way I am like Texas senator Ted Cruz, who has been watching his state suffer from the safety of the beaches and hotels of Cancun, where he was vacationing. That is yet another level of comfortable distance from the fray.

And I thought – you know what? Texas needs very badly to bring back Molly Ivins, who was, apparently, the last clear-thinking public figure in that state when she passed away in 2007. It was a serious mistake to let her do so, and I think that Texas ought to see what can be done about resurrecting her.

For those whose memories have even larger black holes in them than mine, Molly was a liberally-inclined columnist from the Lone Star State who found enough targets there for her deadly wit that after a brief flirtation with the New York Times she never felt the need to live anywhere else.

Molly was unusual in many respects. Six feet tall and regularly outrageous in her writing and speeches, she occasionally showed us that beneath a colorful and outsize persona beat a very wise heart. Here is one such moment.

Yep, she is sorely missed in the part of the world that admired her. Which was always way bigger than just Texas.

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My friend Joe spoke an interesting truth yesterday. We hadn’t seen one another much during these pandemic months, and were doing some rapid catching up through an open car window. He had recently gone through some problems with a knee injury, and his observation was that apparently the warranty had expired on some of his body’s parts. We laughed when he said it, and the recollection still brings a smile.

A somewhat rueful smile.

When I was twenty-five I could break a leg, walk home on it, have a serious debate with myself as to whether I should consult a physician about my injury, and no matter what I did within a week the leg would have healed. Such was the wonder of the recuperative powers of a twenty-five year old corpus. But even back then I remember reading (in that era of personal bullet-proofedness) that supposedly most of my body’s parts and systems had peaked, and it was all downhill from that moment on. Of course I scoffed. That is, until the fateful day that I had to admit that my hairline seemed to have receded … so could those prophets of biological doom be right about the rest of the stuff as well?

Turns out they were.

So now I inhabit a body that was never supposed to still be walking around on the planet at this age. Humans evolved at a time when life expectancy was measured as extending to the very day that you forgot how quietly a saber-toothed cat could move as it came up behind you. When being a “senior” probably meant you were twenty-nine years old.

So if there were such a thing as a freshness label on humans, mine would read something like “Best If Used Before 1964.” To put this in perspective, that was the year these four gentlemen landed in New York on their first world tour.

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‘Cross the Border

I’ve heard that Eskimos have fifty words for snow. I’ve also heard that they don’t. Since I have no Eskimo friends to ask about this important point, I will do what I always do and choose the statement that appeals to me the most and wait for clarification of the matter sometime in the future.

What prompted this flight of ideas was watching the frozen moisture that fell from the sky on two successive days this week. First there was Tuesday, which featured those large and very beautiful flakes that one could watch falling in slow motion for hours. A beautiful happening, the meteorological equivalent of lyric poetry. On Wednesday the snow was very small and granular, looking for all the world like someone up there was sifting white flour onto the world.

Now if my vocabulary was richer, perhaps I could have used a single word to describe what was happening each time. After all, life is indeed short, and saving a second or two here and there couldn’t be anything but good for a person, could it? Why, in the area of calisthenic exercising, for instance … five or six seconds are all I need for a typical day’s session.

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From The New Yorker

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While I’m on the subject of words and weather-related items, let me congratulate the man or woman who came up with the phrase polar vortex. It doesn’t of itself really tell you what is happening to you, but it certainly sounds like it is important. It seems to have largely replaced the cold-weather language that was used when I was growing up in the Midwest. All of those phrases back then had the word “Canadian” in them. This was a very useful practice, in that we knew both that we were going to be miserable and exactly who we had to blame for it.

Having repeatedly experienced those highly unpleasant Canadian cold fronts as a Minnesotan was certainly one of my subliminal considerations during the Viet Nam war period, when I was trying to decide whether to stay in the U.S. and be drafted or slip across the border into Canada. Suffice it to say that I ended up wearing an Air Force uniform rather than an Everest-expedition-style down parka.

I have always thought of the situation I’ve just described as Canada’s loss and America’s gain, but I am open to the interpretation that the reverse might have been considered true by the respective governments at the time.

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Hearts In Snow

Valentine’s Day was a memorable one here in Paradise. Around midnight Saturday a very light rain had turned to snow, and by six in the morning on Sunday the pure white stuff was about eight inches deep. Trees and bushes were, how to best say this … festooned. The snowfall itself was a well-mannered one, with big flakes dropping vertically, as is the proper way, I think.

This is unlike what was so often the case when I lived in the Midwest, where the flakes came at you horizontally and with intent to do bodily harm. But eight inches is eight inches, and we couldn’t count on a nice warm day to melt it all away, so out came the shovels. Robin and I cleared the snow from our own walk and driveway fairly handily. But then there was the old gentleman across the street with diabetic neuropathy whose walks I have taken on as a project this year, so I did his.

And since my next-door neighbor has been limping terribly for a month or so because of knee injuries, I helped clear the snow from his property as well. Short walk, long driveway.

By that time I had worked up quite a head of steam, and my shovel was now hot to the touch, so I looked around at the remainder of the homes in our cul de sac only to find that they had already been taken care of by their owners. Reluctantly I put away my equipment and went indoors to clean up and get dressed for the rest of the day.

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Ex-president Cluck wasn’t convicted, of course, but who thought that he would be? That would have required that the Senate Republicans were suddenly able to put country above party, and they had learned the difference between sociopathy and sanity. This was always too much to expect of them.

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From The New Yorker

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When the dream of warm Spring days was suddenly snatched from our cats by the Valentine’s Day snowfall, they went immediately into a depressive-cocoon state. Instead of sleeping 79% of the day, they went to 97%. Poco could be found snoozing behind a recliner chair and up against the baseboard heater. Willow chose a southern-facing bedroom, hopped onto the futon in there, and didn’t leave all day.

I admire their ability to simply say the hell with it and go dormant. This is unlike humans who try to pretend that there is a good side to such happenings, and try to find a way to do something on a day that really calls for doing nothing. To make the best of it is not my watchword. Any excuse for total and complete sloth is gratefully accepted.

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V-Day Hath Come ‘Round

A few tunes for anyone who has been, who is, or who will be, in love. You’re welcome.

Songs by Carly Simon, Don Shirley, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita Baker, and Rickie Lee Jones.

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And one romantic poem for fisherpersons …)

The Song of Wandering Aengus

By William Butler Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

News of the World

Twenty-four hours after receiving our second dose of Covid vaccine Wednesday forenoon, we felt normal. Twenty-eight hours after receiving the shot we were achy everywhere. At twenty-nine hours we cancelled supper since neither of us were hungry. By thirty hours we were ibuprofenized and in bed, where Robin had an excellent case of chills going. By forty hours post-injection we felt well once again.

Not a bad trip, all in all. Shows that our bodies knew something had happened and were reacting to it.

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Sweet Jesus, it is presently 37 degrees below zero in Eveleth MN, where daughter Kari and her husband Jon reside! That it not a wind chill number!

Oh, my friends in the Midwest … you who are still dealing with that pesky polar vortex and those sub-zero temperatures, I feel your pain. Well, not really … that’s a bit of an exaggeration … but I do wish you well in the version of the third Ice Age you are experiencing. Not that I would trade places or anything. I kind of prefer the thirty degrees Fahrenheit that is outside my window at present.

If I were in your place, I would purchase a small electric heater, take it home, then drop it into my pajamas and turn it on. I would then climb into bed and not come out until life was once again bearable.

What I would not do, if I were a Minnesotan, is to go and stand on any of the bridges over the Mississippi River. January and February were always the months for jumpers. People who took their troubles with them and looked down into those dark waters. Waters that promised oblivion … at moments when oblivion seemed a good choice for the day. The poet John Berryman did just that, on January 7, 1972. He leapt from the old Washington Avenue Bridge, which no longer exists.

So stay home, turn up the heat, and order pizza delivered. Avoid bridges. And remember … this, too, shall pass.

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Finished the novella “The Body,” by Stephen King. Spoiler alert: the kids find the dead boy, have a conflict with some young sociopaths, and then return home. What? You knew?

It was a good short read, especially since the movie has become such a thing. It did add some material, like what occurs in the boys’ lives when they first return home and in their next couple of decades.

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Friday was a darn dank day, damp and drippy. Robin and I were a disconsolate duo, dreaming of drier, dandier summer days.

So she retired to her woman-cave to practice singing French children’s songs, and I made soup while listening to Mozart. It turned out to be just the right thing to do. Making soup is one of the more creative acts that one can do in a kitchen. At its heart is the need to feed oneself with whatever is at hand, and to make a little bit of food go around. But you don’t have to spend too much time in a recipe book to find that soups can also be very complex and decidedly costly, involving ingredients unavailable on the Western Slope except by mail or special courier.

My chosen soup was one of the endless variations using butternut squash. It allows one to whack away at a large assortment of vegetables, bring out the big ol’ dutch oven/soup kettle, and simmer until the house is full of an aroma that makes you healthier just sniffing it.

So where does Mozart come in? He popped into my head for no apparent reason. Perhaps my brain was doing some early spring cleaning and stirred up an old bit of mental lint. Anyway, I reminded myself of the first album of classical music I ever purchased, and that would have been when I was fifteen. I had decided that I was going to become a cultured individual, and learning about classical music was to be the initial step.

So, I knew something of Mozart, and looking around town in 1955 I found a recording in a local music shop of his horn concertos which were touted as being the best ever. The artist was a man called Dennis Brain, an Englishman.

Among members of my family of origin Englishmen in general were not highly prized. For one thing they all drank tea instead of coffee, which everyone knew was God’s beverage. And they were all so utterly posh and spoke the language so intimidatingly well. But I was on a quest, so I bought the album anyway.

If it meant putting on airs I was perfectly ready to do just that.

‘Twas a very good buy, as it turned out, and good accompaniment Friday for fiddling with a soup kettle on a drizzly winter afternoon, to boot.

[BTW: I never did become that cultured personality that I was aiming for. Rock and roll came through town and off I went to join the circus.]

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Nincompoopery

Robin and I went to the Friendship Hall on Wednesday morning to get our second dose of Covid vaccine. Everybody there was getting their second dose as well, and our age group was well represented. In fact, there was no one there who was not eligible for Social Security, and I suspect there were a few attendees who were actually present when the Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935.

So, this was a seasoned bunch, not generally given to much drama. No one jumped the line, no one indulged in Karen-istic behavior, everyone seemed grateful to be this much closer to being protected against you-know-what. In addition, there was not a single “Owee” uttered all during the time we were in the room. Those of us who were to be of The Greatest Generation tried to behave at least as well as those who were.

I have heard of seniors who have decided not to get the vaccine. To me this is almost unbelievably foolish, but since Covid is no respecter of nincompoopery, it’s all but certain that a year down the road there will be significantly fewer of them around than there are now.

Sadly, since they are well past their breeding years, these turbid-thinking persons will not be eligible for the Darwin Awards.

The Darwin Awards are a tongue-in-cheek honor originating in Usenet newsgroup discussions around 1985. They recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool through dying or becoming sterilized via their own actions.

Wikipedia

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From The New Yorker

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We’ve been lucky here in Colorado to have a sensible man for governor, Jared Polis. From the beginning of the pandemic he has steadfastly followed the advice of knowledgeable people and helped us to avoid stepping in the stream of claptrap issuing from the White House. Each week he is on public radio for an hour bringing residents up to date on Covid and other matters. His style is not showy or self-aggrandizing, but informative.

Of course we have our non-masked brigades here in Paradise just like everywhere else, but we have been presented with rational choices if we cared to make them ours. Like I said, lucky.

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A couple of years ago, I was shopping for a new pair of jeans at Murdoch’s, our local farm and home store, and found myself holding a pair of button-fly Levi’s 501’s. I was replacing them on the rack when I had the thought “Why not buy them? It’ll be fun. A direct line back into Levi’s history before those foppish zippers came along and replaced good, honest buttons.”

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Such was my internal conversation. And that misbegotten idea of getting back to those good ol’ nineteenth century days won out. I am, at heart, a romantic. It does not always work for me.

Ever since then, including yesterday, I have cursed them. It turns out that there was a very good reason that zippers took over way back in the day. They are quick and easy to use. Whenever nature called, it was a case of zip down-zip up and that was that. But with this older-fashioned item of clothing, it was now a matter of button-button-button-button-button down and then button-button-button-button-button up. Every day that I wore them, several minutes of my life flew away from me and were lost forever just unfastening and fastening the things.

So if I feel this way, why haven’t I simply washed them up and donated them to Goodwill or some such agency? This gets us to another of my characteristics. While it is undeniably true that I tend to romanticize things, it is also true that I am almost unbearably cheap. Like the character Joshua Deets in the movie Lonesome Dove, I am “not quick to give up on a garment.”

I do feel a little sorry for the the jeans. They are doomed to be worn by a man who doesn’t appreciate them until they completely fall apart. And I will always begrudge them their existence … they are so sturdy that it is entirely possible that I will be buried in them. Is that irony? I am never sure.

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Peter Piper Picked A Peck … et al

I tried a new recipe this past week for potato soup, and the soup itself was just okay. What was a pleasant surprise was a sub-recipe for making pickled jalapeños, which you then used as a topping when serving the soup. Those jalapeños were v.e.r.y tasty, and could be used on other soups, sandwiches, scrambled eggs, etc. Here’s how you do it:

Thinly slice two jalapeños, discarding the seeds if you like. Put slices in a bowl and squeeze in enough lime juice (2 limes) to cover them. Add a pinch each of salt and sugar. Let sit at room temperature while you make the soup. (The jalapeños can be prepared up to 5 days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator; they get softer and more pickle-y as they sit.)

I mean, you can just sit there and eat the darn things right out of the bowl.

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On Saturday I was talking to my brother Bill on the phone as he described how absolutely miserable he was in the sub-zero wind chills of his day there in Faribault MN. Snow was swirling on the highways, discouraging traveling more than necessary distances. Just before we terminated our conversation, he made the mistake of asking how my weather was at that moment.

I told him it was 48 degrees and blue skies here in Paradise, and the closest we ever get to a polar vortex is reading about it in the papers. I swear you could hear his face fall. I wasn’t going to bring it up, not being a man given to gloating, but … he asked.

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Our second dose of Covid vaccine is coming up on Wednesday. Some of the folks who received their first immunization at the same time that we did a month ago are starting to natter about possible side effects of the “booster shot.” Listening to them, it’s like being back in elementary school, where the rumors of what that “booster shot” was going to do to you were rampant. Up to and including your arm falling right off in the classroom, so that you had to pack it home at the close of the school day.

Just to be on the safe side, I’m going to offer my right arm (I’m left-handed) this time as the injection site, just in case … you know … it falls off.

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Our new Subaru has some technological stuff going on that is amusing. It knows when you are crossing a lane divider and beeps at you unless you have clearly signaled a lane change. It also will not allow you to tailgate, but maintains a safe and predetermined distance between you and the car in front of you.

Now if you put these two together, it means that on the highway you can put the car on cruise control, take your hands off the wheel, and it will drive itself. Now it’s not a “self-driving” car in any real sense. It doesn’t know where you’re going, for instance, and will just keep cruising down that traffic lane forever.

However, when you do take your hands completely off the wheel, the car knows it, and sends you a message to put those damned hands back where they belong. But, like I said, it’s amusing.

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One night a long time ago, during my single period, I was up late watching television when an entertainer came on and stole the show with his performance of I Go To Rio. I hadn’t heard of Peter Allen before that night, and after watching his routine I was a fan. I didn’t know that he was gay at the time, but I do remember thinking that this was a guy who really knew how to wear orange.

Here’s a video of a real showman, from 1978. Died in 1992 of AIDS-related cancer.

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Year of the Zoom

I wasn’t planning on posting today, but when I ran across this Doonesbury strip in our local paper I couldn’t pass it up. It so encapsulates the recurring mini-dramas of our (yours and mine) first Year of the Zoom.

It’s because we are (most of us) amateurs in this new common endeavor, and I find all of the errors both frustrating at the time and endearing in the aggregate.

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Okay, since you asked, one more.

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Lord, what fools these mortals be.

William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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