K.I.S.S.

This morning as I was traversing the mental minefield that reading the online newspapers has become, I began to feel a light panic at not being able to remember which was the most important of the 100 ways I had just read about being a better human being (one worth feeding and caring for).

So I slapped myself hard across the figurative face and said to myself – Self! Stop it right now! You are letting other people set your agenda. You will never get anywhere trying to be au courant because you are not in the au courant loop. So gather what wits you have and make your own list.

  • Be kind
  • Be compassionate
  • Listen more

There. Only three things to remember. Much easier and more straightforward. Anyone can remember three things, right?

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Here are some photos of friends being friends on a fine, hot, August day

Mr. Cool

I have not been one of Barack Obama’s biggest fans, more of a medium-strength enthusiast, I’d say. Of course, comparing him to the present occupant of the office of POTUS, he looks like a positive god sent to live among us mortals. But IMHO Mr. Obama liked the trappings of office a little too much to take the risks that might have moved America further along, and that was disappointing.

But he had heart and honesty, with style and charisma enough for two men. If only he had … but those are stories to tell and discussions to have around political campfires late into the night. This week he delivered a eulogy for John Lewis and it was a strong one, delivered in his best Baptist-preacher voice, one that the deceased might well have wished he’d stuck around another day or two just to hear.

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We have guests arriving tonight by airship from Minnesota – daughter Sarah, husband D.J., and granddaughter Cheyenne. We’re putting them up at a local hostelry, and we will spend the days trying to find things to do here in Paradise when the temperature promises nothing less than well above ninety degrees Fahrenheit each day.

But I think we’ll manage nicely, thank you very much, even though entertaining in the Covid era takes a bit more planning than it did in the good old days … way way back there … before February. Most of our time together will be outdoors, and even though the temps are going to be on the high side, our lower humidity makes them more tolerable, and we always have the option of doing some of the sight-seeing up at 10,000 feet, where it’s often a good deal cooler.

It will be so good to see them, making their first trip out to visit us. We have a great resource to use as hosts, in that Colorado is often a visually stunning state, and we live smack-dab in the middle of quite a lot of that.

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From The New Yorker

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Our guests arrived, all three with that odd sort of dull tiredness that one gets from sitting in an airplane. We forced them to stay up and talk to us but had to finally send them off to their motel when their heads started smacking one by one into the iron table on the deck. Fearing brain damage or worse we released them from their social obligations and off they went.

Today we’ll probably visit the Black Canyon, since it’s only 20 minutes from our home, and is always a good way to begin the Colorado conversation. In this state you’re either looking up at something very tall, or looking down into something that is scary deep. A trip to the Canyon affords opportunities for both.

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Now here’s something you don’t read every day. Scientists have found microbes in a deep part of the sea floor that may have lived there dormant for, let’s say, 100 million years! When they fed them a little bit of carbon and talked nicely to them, they woke up and began to reproduce.

This is all pretty fascinating, and we don’t know the end of the story yet, but here’s something to think about.

How many times have you seen a low-budget sci-fi movie where humans disturbed something at the bottom of the sea, and it woke to rampage through New York or Tokyo? Usually it’s a huge reptile or slug or something. But what if it’s really something very tiny, let’s say, like a microbe?

What is it isn’t Godzilla we should have been worrying about all this time? What if it’s really Bactilla that is going to knock down all those buildings and send the inhabitants scurrying in terror? So tomorrow those scientists will open the door to their labs and there will be these empty broken test tubes all over the floor …

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Last night, Robin and I had just settled into bed and begun our night-time reading when suddenly the most powerful aroma of skunk assailed us. So strong it was almost as if the animal were in the house spraying everything in sight. I cautiously went back out and did an interior inspection, then took a flashlight to the back yard and … nothing. Nothing but enough skunk scent to make you wonder where and what.

None of this would probably have bothered someone who hadn’t already briefly entertained one of these creatures in his living room, but there you are.

Once threatened, twice shy.

Redemption

We’ve started the process of talking ourselves into getting a different car. Our Forester has around 90,000 miles and is making some of those noises that indicate things are wearing. Not broken yet, but wearing.

Small clunks and clanks, the kind of noises that disappear when you try to show them to the guy in the service department, but sound like the anvil chorus as soon as you drive away.

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We’ve been mostly Subaru people during our lives together, with brief forays into Honda-land and Volkswagen-ness. And the Forester is still doing everything we want it to do, but there are those noises … .

Robin believes we need to go electric, for the planet’s sake. Or, as a compromise, get a hybrid of some sort. Either way, a car that will damage the environment less than the one we are driving. I want a vehicle that will safely and reliably get me from here to there, especially when road conditions are poor, as in storms or snow. Really, we both want the same things, we’ve just ranked them in different orders.

My ranking method is better, of course, since it’s mine. I would like, if possible, to spend the rest of my life without ever again having to walk to the nearest farmhouse to call for help when my car has broken down or is stuck in snow or mud. And Colorado has plenty of both mud and snow to offer. My tolerance for unscheduled trudging across frozen wastelands has diminished over time to … well … nothing at all.

All-electric still seems awkward to me. The cars themselves are generally more costly, and manufacturers get excited when they can brag about a 300 mile range before the lights go out. That means that visiting family members 900 miles away will take at least three charges. Unless you can find fast-charging stations at exactly those intervals, it probably means more stops than three, and perhaps a couple of overnights plugged into a 220 line somewhere in Nebraska.

(Of course, a person could fly when traveling such distances, if there are flights available. And if you don’t mind being ignored, insulted, patronized, strip-searched, and then crammed into the sort of space which requires exchanging microflora with everyone in your row.)

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From The New Yorker

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(John Lewis wrote the following essay, entitled Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation, shortly before he died. It was published today in the Times of New York. Lewis was a giant among ordinary men, when you measure them by integrity and strength of purpose.)

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Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

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Old and New

Okay, you know that I am fond of cartoons. At least the stranger ones. It’s why I had scanned and dropped into this blog some of the old work of Dick Guindon over the last several months. And why I went looking for more oddness in the archives of The New Yorker when it was still a simple thing to do and they hadn’t yet discovered how to foil the outright theft of their property by miscreants like myself.

So it was with joy this morning that I discovered that one of my old faves is back from retirement. Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side cartoons, has recently established a website where one can get their fix of old strangeness and some new stuff as well. It’s his first new work since 1995, and he doesn’t appear to have lost his edge. The website is called, oddly enough, The Far Side. I’ve decided not to steal his stuff … for now … and let you explore to your hearts’ content on your own.

Oh, heck, just two … first, an old one:

And now, a new one:

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What in the world is wrong with me? Both Taylor Swift and Kanye West dropped new albums upon the world this past week, and I care not one whit. Must be my age … my outdated musical tastes … my subconscious racism (wait … no … that’s not it … what could be whiter than Taylor Swift?).

For whatever reason, the musical output of these two performers is as exciting to me as a freshly opened can of okra. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Just in case you need an example of my bona fides as a musical critic, here is one of my all-time favorites from the archives, for you to savor and enjoy. It’s Mule Skinner Blues, by The Fendermen. Ahhhhh, they don’t write them like this any more.

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Friend Caroline clued me in on a video I’d missed, and one that is worth seeing. You and I may have become numb to the dismal statistics and the almost unbelievable incompetence of the Cluck administration. But as you watch these young people from around the world being told the US story and they hear the numbers that Americans are living (and dying) with, the disbelief on their faces tells volumes.

Mass graves in the United States? Would you ever have thought that possible? Our national four-year flirtation with fascism has led to one abysmal failure after another. Failure in every aspect of our nation’s life. It turns out that populism has not improved over the generations. It still eventually comes down to government by thugs.

There have been many moments in the past when the arrogance and smugness of liberals like myself has annoyed the hell out of me. But I now look back at those times as the good old days.

This November, let’s work our butts off and bring back smug.

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Monumental

The Colorado National Monument is a piece of work. You get to it by leaving Grand Junction CO and skipping down the road to Fruita CO, then turning left. A few miles further on and you begin to climb on the switchback-y road for a gain in altitude of a couple of thousand feet and you are there. And where is “there?”

Well, here.

If the pix make it look slightly spectacular, that’s because it is. Even the driving on the single road through the park is awesome for me, in this meaning of the word: fear-inspiring. You all know that I have acrophobia, and that I deplore the Colorado habit of creating two-lane roads with a mountain on one side and a terrible cliff on the other … and then providing nothing like a guard rail or anything to keep you from driving off the skinny road into eternity should your hand slip just a bit on the steering wheel, or your foot twitch on the accelerator pedal. And this road through the monument is full of those opportunities for fright for those who share my affliction.

The trouble is, in Colorado such places are two things at once: unavoidable and scenically amazing. As they are here at the CNM. So I gather what shreds of courage that I still possess and turn the driving over to Robin while I sweatily grip the handles on the car door and think of the tens of thousands of people who must have made this same journey without any plummeting involved at all.

At any rate, Saturday we rendezvoused with the Hurley family at the Monument, where they were camping for a couple of nights. We broke bread with them, hiked a couple of short hikes with them, and jabbered together about everything and nothing in particular, the way friends do.

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For me, Dr. Fauci is still someone to look to for honest and valid advice in this time of rampant obfuscation. Why do I say “still?” Well, here he is throwing out the first ball of the major league baseball season.

Just goes to show that there are few of us who are good at everything. By all reports he is planning to keep his day job.

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Ahhhhhhh, Juicy Fruit!

Summer afternoon, the music of a slack-key guitarist named Ledward Ka’apana coming from the red box under the umbrella that protects me from those rays I ignored for most of my life. There are a few yellowjackets buzzing about, but even they seem as driftless as I am, not even bothering to try to fake me out with any of their diving feints. A small breeze barely moves the leaves of the ash trees, and the woody scent from the warming deck boards rises all around us.

Ay ay ay, hell yesterday, heaven today.

The tomatoes are over there against the board fence, gathering their forces. There are only four plants, but hundreds and hundreds of green and reddening fruits. Enough to choke our kitchen when their ripening outpaces our ability to eat them, as it surely will. Today we had a caprese salad, tonight it’s BLTs, tomorrow something Indian out of the instant pot and starring, guess what?

Of course we will share them with others, whether they like tomatoes or not. We may even perform the classic maneuver of bringing basketfuls to their doorsteps under cover of night and leaving them there. It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

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Fighting the Good Fight Department
The Future of Nonconformity by David Brooks. Mr. Brooks thinks being exposed to different opinions makes Jack less of a dull boy and more of a thoughtful citizen to boot. He also thinks that right now that isn’t happening nearly as often as it should.

Along the way, Brooks mentions a platform called Substack, which was new to me. A place of commerce where writers can go to publish their thoughts and be as independent as they want to be. They make their appeal for the funds they need to feed and clothe themselves directly to their readers. No intermediaries involved.

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Today’s title is drawn from one of the more memorable scenes in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But then, you knew that, didn’t you?

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I found myself laughing silently at myself this morning as I cooked up a bunch of scrambled eggs. This recipe called for a handful of onions, tomatoes, and some feta cheese and as I watched it all come together in the pan I thought: “What this needs is a pinch of cumin and a pinch of chili pepper.”

That’s where the chuckling came in. Because I have those same thoughts repeatedly. As a result, much of my cooking tends toward sameness. No matter what it started out to be, it ends up tasting of cumin and chilis. This approach works pretty well with Mexican foods, but not so well with, let’s say, lutefisk.

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Saturday morning after a light rain, for which we are grateful. Even though we wish for something heavy in that department we thank the pluvial powers-that-be for our few drops.

At present Robin and I are injury-free. There have been small mishaps this summer that produced minor injuries that have healed. BTW, a minor injury is defined as something excruciatingly painful that happens to someone else, and from which they will eventually recover completely. (If it happens to you, of course, it is a major injury.)

Both of us have fallen from our bikes, twisted joints, bumped heads, bruised feet. The list goes on. I’ve heard the illnesses encountered by first-rank athletes as a result of their rigorous training described as “diseases of excellence.” In other words, things that happen to gifted people because they are working toward very high goals.

Maybe our efforts don’t quite reach that level, but they were caused by the same thing. The wish to do more than a proper sedentary life would afford. We count ourselves fortunate to be able to be active in some of these things, but in so doing, we sustain these occasional injuries. It’s a package deal, n’est-ce pas?

However, we’ve had to include Band-Aids as a category of its own in the household budget.

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Counting Down

I’ve started a mental countdown to election day 2020, which is November 3. We’re hearing from the chattering classes that no matter what happens on that date, the Cluckmeister and his minions will claim fraud, and may not leave the building on the appointed date so that it can be fumigated properly in preparation for the next occupants.

Who knows? Maybe in those contentious days ahead there will emerge a brand new political class of creatures, let’s call them Republicans with Consciences, and that the transition period will go more smoothly than some predictions would have it.

Maybe.

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On our return trip from Denver, we stopped in a remnant of a town called Bailey, at what might best be called The Deliverance Cafe. The cafe itself was unpretentious and homey in a slapdash way, the proprietor couldn’t have been more cheerful, and the waitress was a credit to her corps.

But the other patrons were like citizens from the famous movie about four men taking a canoe down the Cahulawassee River, and the interesting people they met along the way. Our fellow diners would have been among those interesting people.

For instance, the table just behind Robin and I contained two older couples who spent the entire time discussing how many squirrels they had in their yards this year and what was the best way to prepare them as entrees. At one point the taller of the two women, apropos of nothing that was being said, blinked her eyes and burst out with “I don’t trust that Dr. Fauci one little bit,” before she lapsed back into silence and continued toying with her napkin.

Her escort was wearing a brand new cap, exactly as in the photo at right. I wasn’t sure whether the motto was an aspirational one for him personally, in that a shithole was something to be hoped for as an improvement in his life situation, or whether it was an anti-Democrat slogan.

Could have gone either way.

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Let’s see, where would this item fit? Perhaps best in the Nothing Succeeds Like Excess Department.

And yes, I do know better than to idolize power for power’s sake alone, I really do. But this critter is a whole ‘nother thing. It has 1,230 more horsepower than my Subaru Forester, which as everybody knows, is greased lightning. If I’d had this Mustang Mach-E 1400 in 1956, I would have owned the town of West St. Paul, consigned my high school classmates to eating my Mach-E-dust, and been deemed worthy of taking Sondra S. (possessor of 1000 sweaters) to the Prom.

We were quite the shallow bunch in 1956.

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Pancakes and Pandemics

The Times of New York has been running a series for a while now of obituaries of forgotten people, long since dead. The latest for some reason was particularly affecting, or interesting, or something, for me. It was of Nancy Green, who passed away in 1923 from injuries she received when a car ran into her as she stood on a Chicago sidewalk.

Ms. Green was the original spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix, a brand that Quaker Oats recently retired because of its racial symbolism. (A confession: when the company announced that they were doing this, I opened my cupboard door and there was Aunt Jemima’s benignly smiling face staring back at me. )

Robin and I retired our personal box of the pancake mix . It’s Krusteaz or Kodiak all the way from now on.

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Robin and I are in Denver visiting the Johnson family, doing the best we know how to see members of our family without passing along the plague to them and at the same time they are doing the same for us, since few people know if they have it or not. We’re staying at a motel nearby instead of at their home, following the same guidelines.

There’s little use testing ourselves, really, if we have no symptoms, because last week’s negative test can be rendered immediately moot by yesterday’s accidental and unintended contact. A few viral particles wafted my way by the flutter of a butterfly’s wing and I could be converted instanter into a modern version of Typhoid Mary.

So we all assume the dual roles of possible perpetrators and potential victims whenever we are in the same space, whether outdoor or indoor. It’s all so odd, yet becoming so familiar. I wonder, is there any possibility that I will ever look back on these days as anything but a prolonged bad dream?

Sunday afternoon, when we were all out in the back yard, chattering about nothing in particular, the two young children were sitting on the steps to the house, with their usual sparkling and engaging personalities inhibited by their masks (or perhaps by ours). They rarely spoke, and the look in their eyes was similar to that thousand-yard stare you read about on the faces of soldiers in wartime. For me personally, this ongoing pestilential interval is highly inconvenient and slightly threatening. But what is all this, for them? What learning opportunities are they missing that they might not get back? What joys?

Wait … I hear footsteps … where’s that damned mask … have I washed my hands … will the interloper respect my new six-foot personal space? So many questions.

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At one time in this ongoing process of aging, changes came at me one at a time. I look back at those days fondly. Today they come in mass charges, with trumpets blaring and wild-eyed slavering horses at the fore. It is impossible to catalog them once and for all because even the changes themselves are not static.

All I can say is that if one can step back and take a dispassionate look at what is going on, it’s a biologic maelstrom. Let’s see, Jon, let’s take the hair from your head and have it explode from your ear canals. And long after that smooth skin of youth has disappeared, let’s put a single monster zit in the center of a conglomeration of wrinkles and dewlaps. And oh yes, let’s have all of your endocrine systems fade and flare on alternate Tuesdays, providing endlessly amusing variations of bowel habits and temperature tolerances.

And so it goes. At such times it is crucial to keep in mind that the most important of the senses is not sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell.

It is humor.

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Who Was That Masked Man?

Governmentally-mandated masking is our reality now here in Colorado, as of a couple of days ago. Depending on the kindness of strangers sounded good, but there were still too many softbrains out there who thought wearing a mask was a Democratic plot to make their faces itch and in so doing drive them mad to the point that they drive their vehicles into the sides of mountains.

So now the proprietor of each business is a sort of hall monitor. If someone refuses to mask up, they are to deny them entry into their place of business. If the miscreant is already in the door and refuses to leave, trespass laws can be invoked and the gendarmerie can be summoned.

Clumsy? Clunky? Absolutely, but then what part of this whole pandemic thing is not?

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Do you know what these few cherry tomatoes that I picked Saturday represent?

VICTORY!

(Cue the music, Maestro – let’s have Happy Days Are Here Again, if you please!)

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As you know, I do not pad this blog with recipes very often, knowing full well that any of you who are doing the cooking already have a recipe library of your very own, and don’t require help from me, thank you very much!

But once in a great while I can’t help myself. The other evening I decided to try making mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. So I checked out a new recipe and dang it if they weren’t delicious. You can get the recipe here by searching through the excess verbiage that’s so much a part of recipe websites these days but it’s worth it, especially if you are thinking about low carb or paleo/keto eating.

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From The New Yorker

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We’re heading for Denver on Sunday morning, to practice a little social distancing with Justin and Jenny. Lots of outdoor stuff, staying in motels instead of their home, driving in separate cars, that sort of thing. I was thinking about the odds of survival for older senior citizens should they contract the virus. They are very similar to those encountered when playing Russian roulette. Which is another game, along with golf, that I long ago decided never to play.

There’s no real reason to panic, it would seem. Wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid crowds (especially indoors, where a crowd for me these days is a good deal less than ten), keep your distance, enjoy outdoor activities, etc. Since persons of Norwegian ancestry do not have much of a reputation as huggers, the social distancing thing has come fairly easily.

It’s all a great pain in the butt, and I will be the first in line for a vaccination when one finally arrives. And after I’ve had my shot, I will go right back to doing what I’m doing now until I see how things shake out. In general, rushing vaccine development has in the past not been considered the best way to carry out an immunization program. But these are not ordinary days, are they?

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Eternally Speaking …

For the longest time I have wakened with a sense of puzzlement and unreality each morning. As is my wont I have been trying to mentally construct a coherent whole of my world and life, but without success. I am without a gestalt.

The world I live in is in disarray, plagues lap at my door, gangs of idiots roam the streets in Confederate flag-festooned pickup trucks, the media shouts unbelievable things at me from first light to dusk, the days are so hot I cringe indoors lest I stroke out or mummify myself, my tomatoes are being deformed even as they ripen, and my image in the mirror is daily stranger and stranger to me.

But today I finally figured it out.

I am in Hell.

Apparently I popped off on the night of November 8,2016, although I have no recollection of how it might have happened. Presumably my body could not physiologically handle the horror of the election results. Then later when all my sins and peccadilloes were totted up, the celestial triage team bundled me up and sent me down the bizarre pathway I am presently on.

As you can imagine, for a baby-Buddhist like myself to find that I’m in Perdition is quite a surprise, since I don’t believe in it. But this morning there seems to be no other way of making sense of the last several years. So I will swallow my wounded pride at my error and make the best of things. If this is Hell, I think I had better keep my expectations low, don’t you?

But hey, hmmm, you guys are here, too. So what did you do to deserve your punishment? Of course, I could be hallucinating and simply going nuts, crackers, barmy, bonkers. More than a little likelihood of that.

It’s a lot to digest, and perhaps I should be taking smaller bites, shallower breaths. Yes, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll go to the grocery store and take my mind off what I’ve learned for a short while. Let’s see, where did I put my mask … but do I really need to wear one … if I am deceased and all?

What to do. What to do.

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From The New Yorker

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Perhaps I would not have moved all the way to western Colorado just to listen to station KVNF, but now that I’m here … what a treasure it is! Much of it is musical programming, of the kind that was last available more than 50 years ago. Where each DJ made up their own playlist, following their own hearts and minds and musical tastes.

So we have programs like Free Range Radio, Undercurrents, Saturday Night Soundtrack, et al. There is jazz, blues, classical, big band – each program put together by a volunteer DJ who plays what they love, without corporate interference.

In the spaces between the tunes, it is an NPR station. Gotta love it.

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I finally finished the Studs Lonigan trilogy, and oh my, what a depressing third volume that was. Only bad things happened to the “hero” and each of them was long presaged before it actually arrived. It is that close to being a perfect “downer.” I had to ask myself why it moved me so when I was a twenty-something? I must have been more of a depressive than I remember. Sheesh.

I gotta do somethin’ to get that big blob of literary hopelessness out of my head, but what … let’s try this. It’s always worked before.

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It’s August – Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Just finished re-reading (for the fifth time?) Canoeing With the Cree, a classic of wilderness canoe travel. It’s a very popular book in stores in Ely MN, a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This, even though the route described by the book passes nowhere near the “BW,” but quite a bit west of there.

No matter, it’s a great story, first published in 1935. Young Eric Sevareid and his friend Walter Port wanted an adventure in the summer following high school graduation. In spite of their youth and inexperience, they persuaded their parents to let them paddle a canoe from Minneapolis to Hudson’s Bay, a journey of 2250 miles, at least 500 miles of it poorly mapped.

That’s the craziest part of all. I ask you, readers … would you let one of your kids do this? On their own in the wilderness for four months, barely enough time to finish the trip before winter would set in, which would probably have been fatal?

Honestly, if any of my own children had threatened to do this I would have locked them in a tower cell and worn the key around my neck, hoping that a few months of solitude would clear their mind.

(This strategy would probably have been moot, because if anyone tried to do this today, I think Child Protective Services would take the children away before they ever pushed off from that first landing.)

They did make it, of course, and Eric wrote the book. Both men went on to long lives. Eric became a journalist and a famous television news commentator of the fifties and sixties. But it is the story of these two eighteen year old kids that is still amazing, 90 years on. It’s a quick read, see if your library has it.

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I was alerted to this video by friend Caroline, and I am indebted to her. It provides some much needed humor, of the gallows variety.

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Yesterday Poco did several remarkable things, for which I have no reasonable explanation. In one corner of the back yard, our other cat, Willow, had caught a mouse. Poco did what he often does, out of curiosity. He padded over to watch the drama.

Suddenly the mouse made a run for freedom under the wooden fence. In an instant Willow was up and over the 5-foot fence and down the other side. Right behind her went Poco, our 14 year-old arthritic friend – up and over. Two minutes later both cats paraded back into the yard, but this time the mouse belonged to … Poco, who proceeded to devour it. Even though he has very few teeth left.

I had believed him physically incapable of all of these behaviors because of his age and infirmities. (Poco and I are about the same age, according to the data I have available.)

That dratted cat is making me look bad, and I deeply resent it.

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From The New Yorker

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Holes In One’s Personal Ozone

I was making conversation with a gentleman the other day whose opinions on many subjects I have found puzzling. For an “educated man,” that is. The first time that I met him his question to me was “So do you think this global warming thing is real?” When I had picked my jaw up from the floor and reassembled my face I answered that climate change was a fact, and only the portion of that change attributable to human activity was up for scientific debate. He mumbled something and then went to the bathroom.

The latest exchange between this man and myself was on whether Joe Biden was a good candidate or not. I asked whether he was seriously thinking about casting his vote for Attila the Grabber, and he responded “No, no, of course not, but I wonder about this Biden guy.”

I don’t know if what I said next was helpful or not, but I told him that even if Biden had just been convicted of embezzlement, had horrible personal hygiene, and was being investigated as a suspect in the pushing of his own grandmother off a subway platform I would still vote for him. Twice, if I had to. Such is the low regard that I have for his opponent.

He mumbled something and then went to the bathroom.

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A story from the Times of New York about a white bear grabbed my attention. It’s not a polar bear, and it’s not an albino variant. It is a beautiful animal who is teaching humans important things about genetic diversity and the habitat needs of some of the other creatures that share this limited space called Earth with us.

Title of the piece: Genetic Maps Find Risks to Spirit Bears’ Habitat.

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My friends. It’s true that I live in Paradise, but I will admit that when I say this I refer to the topography and the climate, rather than the human population. When it comes to our local aggregation of homo erectus, we are just as ridiculous, marvelous, and bats**t crazy as anywhere I’ve lived.

For instance, here is an unretouched photograph of the Republican candidate for U.S. representative for the 3rd congressional district. Her name is Lauren Boebert and her qualification for office is that she runs a restaurant in Rifle CO where the wait-staff are encouraged to wear guns. Just because they can.

Here she is shown speaking at an event, wearing a fetching firearm tied low on the leg in the fast-draw position. As if she were in a 1956 western TV series.

It’s called wearing a gun for show.

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In the recent primary election, 2/3 of Republican voters in our county chose her over the incumbent, a rather boring man with gunless thighs and unripped jeans. Her Democratic opponent in November is a highly capable, experienced, thoughtful, and qualified woman with sound ideas for governance.

But if any of you are thinking of betting on the election, I would put my money on the woman in the photograph. This is a Republican county and that particular party is very fond of running cartoon characters for office, as we have all learned to our detriment.

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Sunday Morning

On some Sunday mornings I become wistful, always a dangerous thing for a senior citizen because it can be the gateway drug leading to maudlin sentimentality. I will admit that when I want to, I can out-maudlin anyone in the room, but that’s not where I’m going this particular morning.

The following are all weekend songs. If you lean back with your coffee and let yourself go for a moment, maybe they’ll remind you of a time when you were starved for experience, and wanted more from a Saturday and a Sunday than any two days could provide. Way before you learned how to be sensible and the boundary between love and lust was still a bit fuzzy. When any evening was filled with possibilities you couldn’t even describe because you didn’t have the vocabulary yet.

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Tom Waits is so good at this. You’ve got a girl, you’ve got a car, and the road is open to somewhere you can’t quite imagine … a great something may be waiting for you out there tonight.

Well you gassed her up, behind the wheel, with your arm around your sweet one in your Oldsmobile. Barrelin’ down the boulevard you’re looking for the heart of Saturday night

Tom Waits: Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night

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Back in the day when I was a working-class kid, and known to tip a bottle or two or three on a Saturday night, Fats Domino could have been singing about any one of my work-weeks.

Sunday mornin’ my head is bad, but it’s worth it for the fun that I’ve had, but I’ve got to get my rest, ’cause Monday is a mess

Fats Domino: Blue Monday

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Etta James … so great. Here’s a wistful lament for you. Looking past the shininess of all the Saturday nights at something more …

I want a Sunday kind of love, a love to last past Saturday night …

Etta James: A Sunday Kind of Love

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I am the worst kind of fan for a certain kind of musician to have, I think. I want their blood, every time. I want to be stirred. A new singer or group emerges and their music is filled with a passion that you can believe in. Then they become successful and the passion is gradually replaced by professionalism. They still make listenable sound, but the hunger is gone and you can hear where it used to be. I stopped being interested in U2 after their remarkable album The Joshua Tree. But before that they were beautiful banner-carriers and up there on the barricades every time.

I can’t believe the news today, oh I can’t close my eyes and make it go away …

U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

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To me, this is perhaps the best Sunday morning song of them all, from a master teller of stories. I can see the guy stepping out the door of his apartment and onto the sidewalk, blinking in the sunlight and looking scruffy as hell. Hey, he looks a bit like yours truly … nah … but for just a moment there …

On the Sunday morning sidewalks, wishin’ Lord that I was stoned, ’cause there’s something in a Sunday, makes a body feel alone

Kris Kristofferson: Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

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Peace, Friend.

Dad(s) Rock

It was not too long ago that I first ran across the term “dad rock,” but I recognized it as the unflattering term it was meant to be immediately.

And resented it deeply (sniff). Because they were talking ’bout me and my confréres in a low and dismissive way.

According to the users of the term, people like myself were locked into the rock music of 20 years ago or more. To make things worse, our dratted tunes keep being played over and over on the radio, in commercials, in movie soundtracks, etc.

Apparently this drives some music critics nuts, so they have retaliated by coming up with the term dad rock. I will admit that there is a trickle of truth in what they are saying. Studies have shown that we bond with the music we played in our adolescence and young adulthood in a way that never occurs again in life. The music we’re talking about today was rock and roll being born, in the most messy and uncontrolled way. Out of that mess came a mountain of forgettable (and forgotten) sound, but also one marvelous and memorable song after another.

So I feel for those men and women who can’t stand dad rock, because they are probably stuck with it as long as our generation still has a pulse.

And as far as most of the music I link to in this blog … well … pretty much unadulterated you know what, I guess. But there are two good things about it for you readers. Firstly, you don’t have to listen because it doesn’t start automatically, requiring action on the reader’s part.

Secondly, it’s free.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

Biden Should Not Debate Trump Unless … by Thomas Friedman

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Dear Ragnar: Ragnar? Ragnar? RAGNAR?

Ragnar: Don’t bother me, boy, can’t you see I’m busy? I have to sign for something here.

Dear Ragnar: What’s in the boxes?

Ragnar: Mead.

Dear Ragnar: Mead?

Ragnar: And do I need it!

Dear Ragnar: Explain.

Ragnar: Why are you here?

Dear Ragnar: To ask you about our politics.

Ragnar: That’s why I have the need for mead.

Dear Ragnar: But you’re a spirit, right? Why should earthly matters trouble you?

Ragnar: Because I keep forgetting that I’m a spirit, so I pick up a newspaper, and by the time I remember I’m already nauseous from what I’ve read.

Dear Ragnar: I think I can relate to that.

Ragnar: You bet! Spirits have feelings, too. We’re only flesh and blood … wait … that’s not right …

Dear Ragnar: So can I ask you something?

Ragnar: Hit it, honey.

Dear Ragnar: If you were a registered voter come November, who would you vote for?

Ragnar: I’d go for Biden, myself.

Dear Ragnar: His age doesn’t put you off?

Ragnar: You’re asking a guy who is 400 years old?

Dear Ragnar: Sorry.

Ragnar: But let’s say age matters. So he’s got to get a younger person to run with him.

Dear Ragnar: Yes?

Ragnar: And he’s already said it will be a shield maiden.

Dear Ragnar: And?

Ragnar: Probably a good thing to have one of color.

Dear Ragnar: Okay, that’s been said

Ragnar: But … do you know any female candidates of color who are also Norsk?

Dear Ragnar: I don’t.

Ragnar: Me neither. Guess we’ll have to skip that category.

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We are back from our sojourn in the Silesca Guard Station, up on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Overall we had a great time, and found that the old cabin was only mildly full of allergens for Robin and I.

There was an oddness when we arrived. A very pleasant lady came out the front door and said that she had made an error, and thought she was also booked in through the night of the 8th of July, the day we arrived. She had just that morning recognized the mistake she’d made, and was in the process of feverishly working with her daughter to pack everything up. There was one slight additional hiccup. Her husband and son had left to go fishing at Ridgway (an hour away) early that morning, before anyone realized the problem, and now there was no way to contact them. This was at 11:00 AM, and we were finally able to take occupancy at 6:00 PM, when the fishermen finally returned.

Lizard track in sand

We didn’t waste all that time, however. During the waiting period, we decided to take a loop hike on something called the Buck Trail. It turned out to be a nine-mile loop, and by the end I was making tracks in the dust much like a lizard’s, feet on the side and tail dragging in the middle. But once the other family cleared out, it was all smooth sailing from then on.

The cabin was rustic, and is on the Register of Historic Places. The beds were comfortable – our sleeping bags atop their clean mattresses. The kitchen was well supplied and all appliances worked. There were two bathrooms, each with its own shower. Bathrooms and kitchen were in the basement, sleeping spaces and living room on the ground level.

Our view out the front windows was 0f a delightful meadow. Each visitor to the Silesca Cabin was expected to do the clean-up after themselves. There would be no one coming out from Montrose to help with that. As a result, it was all reasonably clean, although Robin did notice the need for a deep clean sometime in the near future.

Overall it was an interesting couple of days, and we developed more of an appreciation for the 2290 square miles of the Uncompahgre Plateau. A huge area for us to explore on future trips. Endless places to practice dispersed camping.

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Some photos from the Uncompahgre Plateau and the cabin.

OK, Boomer!

I am not a “boomer,” so I respectfully suggest that people stop referring to me in that way. I am older than a boomer, actually, because that group didn’t start until WWII was over, and I was born before it all began. I also respectfully ask that people not blame me for that war, it was not my fault. I was a baby and I didn’t know any better.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on with more important things.

If you are streaming the television that you watch, there is an amazing richness of opportunity in places like Netflix (perhaps especially Netflix) to engage with material about and by people of color. Go to the company site and search under “black stories,” or “black lives matter,” and see what a treasury comes up.

Now not all of you may know this, because I am a modest and shy boy of Minnesota origins, but I am a white person. In fact, one day in the past my old friend Rich Kaplan said to me: “Jon, you are the whitest person I know.” Out of not quite knowing what he meant, I never asked Rich to clarify that statement.

At any rate, I have no excuse for there still being a gap between what I should know and what I do know with regard to race, racism, injustice, et al. The information is out there. All I have to do is take a deep breath and dig in. I know two things, that I will be the better for it and that I will find it hard to watch or read.

It’s not that I am completely clueless (although my children might argue with me on that). At age fifteen my cultural education really began with reading “Century of Dishonor,” a book about the horrific treatment of Native Americans by Europeans. In the early seventies I worked at a ghetto clinic in Buffalo NY, where nearly all of my patients were black. In the eighties I worked at a clinic on a Lakota reservation in Nebraska.

But looking back I realize that I didn’t take full advantage of what were wonderful opportunities for learning. My thought processes tended toward the clinical, as if I were an anthropologist and observing on a very superficial level. Instead of taking the clumsy instrument that my mind was and letting it probe deeper into what the experiences and lives of the patients … the people … that I met might be like or what they meant. Or at least trying to do so.

Not only do I not claim to know what it means to be a black person or a Native American or Hispanic or Asian, I even have trouble knowing what it means to be a white guy sometimes. But I can look at a specific situation and ask myself: What if that happened to me? How would I feel?

I strongly suspect that I would be angry … no, furious … all of the time.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil! by Charles Blow

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Monday morning I found myself humming songs from Carole King’s excellent album of 1971, Tapestry. Robin and I talked about how really perfect the group of songs were, and the tune You’ve Got A Friend is the best song about true friendship that I’ve ever heard.

Apparently our opinion is shared by a few other people because it’s one of the largest-selling albums of all time.

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Wednesday through Friday we’re headed for the old Silesca Ranger Station for a getaway. The building dates back to 1937, and was in use by the forest service until 1954 . At any rate, civilians can now rent them and spend time alone in the forests of the Uncompahgre Plateau. We are looking forward to sharing the space with the ghosts of another era.

I will bring back photos of my own, but here’s one of the cabin, taken from the web.

The cabins have a shower, flush toilets, and an electric stove. Really, not “roughing it” at all. During the day we will likely be occasionally annoyed by ATVs buzzing around, but the evenings should be great. It’s fifteen miles from civilization and Covid-free. Nothing to do but read, sit quietly, watch the forest animals parade by, and if one is uncommonly motivated – take a hike.

Ahhhhhh, Wilderness. The word reminds me of a saying by a Native American that I read decades ago, and have long since forgotten the source.

What the white man calls wilderness, we call home.

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Southern Fried

This Sunday July 5 promises to be a warm one, which means it doesn’t stand out much from what we’ve been served for the last month or two. Our Spring was foreshortened with the rapid transition from late Winter to mid-Summer we experienced this year.

Our 4th of July was quiet. There were no fireworks here in Paradise, but for the tame ones in a few backyards. I have to admit that in creating an illegal and unwelcome noise Yankton SD beats Montrose CO all to hell.

Where Robin and I lived in South Dakota was out in the rural and some of our neighbors made such a racket on this holiday that it took a week for our cats to get their frazzled nerves back in order. Fireworks sales in SD were a big deal, and while a man with deep enough pockets couldn’t really rival the municipal displays, he could certainly keep you awake well past your bedtime.

Governor Noem of SD made her own kind of noise when she welcomed P.Cluck and the gang to Mount Rushmore. She lost no time in telling us all in advance that there would be no common sense used at this event at all. No masks required, no spacing done.

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Wonderful. Let us give a shout-out to all the voters who let this happen back in 2016 when they knowingly voted for a tangerine-tinted liar, serial abuser of women, draft-dodger, oath-breaker and all around abominable person. We are all reaping what they sowed.

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Here are three more bands from Dylan’s latest album. Only one to go after these. Saving it for last.

Mother of Muses
Key West
Crossing the Rubicon

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We now have a gazillion green tomatoes on our vines. None of them seem to be in any hurry to ripen, however, but are resolute in their bright greenness. Unless the situation changes, we may have to turn to the Whistle Stop Cafe recipe book for inspiration.

A few seconds of research informed me that there is an operating Whistle Stop Cafe in the hamlet of Juliette GA, where the movie was made. In the film an unemployed general store provided the setting for the restaurant, and after the movie people left town, some residents thought they might have a good thing there.

Following the release of the film, the town opened up a real Whistle Stop Café set up just like the movie set. Local resident Robert Williams had inherited the building and partnered with his friend Jerie Lynn Williams to open up Original Whistle Stop Cafe. 

https://www.wideopencountry.com/

I don’t know quite what to do with this new intelligence, but it is a certainty that if I am ever in the vicinity of Juliette GA (you never know …) I will stop in for a plateful of those fried green tomatoes. To pay homage to that delightful movie, if for no other reason.

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Triple Plagues

My computer inbox is crowded each morning with reports on the three maladies du jour – Covid 19, racism, and Cluckism. Taken individually they are overwhelming. Taken together … what is three times overwhelming? Or is it overwhelming to the third power? My in-brain abacus must be missing a ring or two, since I can’t seem to come up with a sum.

These three plagues are interrelated in that the last one actively interferes with progress on the first two. Doesn’t prevent progress altogether, but presents a big speed bump for certain. I am long ago grown tired of wondering if today will be the day that P.Cluck puts on a mask. Who cares any longer? His chance to lead anyone but the clutch of cult members who follow him around is something he tossed away years ago.

Let’s have a moratorium on publishing his every tweet and/or fatuous self-promotion. Maybe every Saturday CNN could summarize these items in a single article for those of us who cling to sanity with broken fingernails and weakening grip. We could then clip out this section (metaphorically speaking) and place it in the bottom of a parakeet cage where it belongs. (The parakeet is also metaphoric. Would that make it a metaphorakeet?)

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Dr. Fauci isn’t sure that a Covid 19 vaccine will be as useful as it might. The number of people in a recent poll who said they wouldn’t get the vaccination when it is finally produced was about 30%. If the numbers are accurate, this would mean that the sought-after herd immunity wouldn’t have a chance to kick in.

It would be yet another instance where this anti-vaccine cohort would be depending on the rest of us to protect them as we do with measles and mumps and polio et al. No matter. If we have to save some of their ignorant lives to get the result we need, we’ll do it. Again. My own preference would be to isolate all of them in one or two states, perhaps Mississippi and Alabama, and let them live together in pox-filled peace and tranquility.

While I’m on the subject of the coronavirus, I am happy for two things. First, that our cats don’t have it. Second, that if they did, they aren’t like this guy. I’m not sure my protective mask would be up to the task.

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On Saturday my neighbor Ed and I are going to build a pergola-like sunshade that will provide some protection for people sitting in chairs in front of our home. At midday the sun out there is reminiscent of scenes from Lawrence of Arabia.

Ed is a knowledgeable and experienced construction person, which should balance out nicely with my cluelessness.

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My plan is for him to do the sawing, nailing, fitting, and planning. My role will be to hand him whatever tool he requires, much as an operating room technician assists the surgeon. I will also be in charge of the large box of Band-Aids necessary whenever I undertake any sort of carpentry chores. On the average I will lose 240 milliliters of blood per day any time that I take a saw in hand. My DNA is all over the place by the time that project completion rolls around.

If we do finish the thing, I will provide photographic proof of same.

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I’m going to close with a quote from my favorite cynic. It explains the speech of P.Cluck at Mount Rushmore quite well, I think.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Burning Perfectly Good Food

We’re having the Manns over for dinner tonight (Wednesday). Grilling outdoors and serving on the deck, where any stray coronavirus particles can be puffed away by the evening breezes before they have a chance to land. All of the distancing stuff will be observed, food preparation is being carefully done, and we earnestly hope not to share anything with our guests but clean vittles and our lovely selves.

It’s our first such social foray since the outbreak began. The Manns live just up the street, and are people who frequently pop into our minds as “We should have those folks over sometime and get to know them better.”

The evening forecast promises that it will be rainless, warm, and almost windless. There will be tunes, of course. What summer night would be complete without them? It’s a touch of the homely at an extraordinary moment in time.

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There is a form of cancer called a pheochromocytoma. It originates in the adrenal gland, which normally produces several hormones, including adrenaline (epinephrine), which is a fight or flight hormone. A “pheo” can over-produce these hormones, and occasionally if one unwisely presses too hard on the tumor during a physical exam there can be a dangerous flood of these substances into the patient’s bloodstream.

So where am I going with this? The P. Cluck gang seems to me to be the political equivalent of a pheochromocytoma. They are a cancer on our body politic for certain, but not just any old tumor. If it is squeezed or threatened in any way out comes all manner of violent and unhealthy behaviors and pronouncements which do further harm to our citizenry and our country. When the moment comes in November this neoplasm needs to be cut away ruthlessly from the corridors of power.

Too overblown a comparison? Perhaps. I do tend to overblow. It’s one of the things I like most about myself.

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The cookout went very well. First of all, the gods of weather cooperated by providing one of those soft summer evenings you dream of in February. And the company was excellent. Zoom has been a boon and we are grateful for it, but there is nothing like face to face conversation. For me, all substitutes pale before it.

Unfortunately and eventually twilight turned to dusk turned to darkness and our guests had to go home, where they feared to find that their new puppy had probably reduced some rugs to shreds. It’s the difference between puppies and kittens. (Although a kitten can take a nice couch and turn it into a ratty-looking mess pretty quickly.)

I had a friend while in the Air Force who told stories about raising a St. Bernard from puppy-hood. One day he and his wife returned home to find that their new charge had chewed the entire arm from their couch. And when describing paper training, he grimly volunteered that when your puppy weighs fifty pounds, its toilet habits present an emergency.

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Heroism comes in all flavors and sizes. My own experiences have taught me that over and over. I will explain.

When I was working in Buffalo NY in the late 70s, it was at a hospital that was transitioning from an old-line private institution to a county hospital. Which led to a disconnect. The buildings themselves were located in an older and genteel part of town, while the populations that it served were elsewhere. At the pediatric clinic, I worked every day with a succession of grandmothers who were bringing in their children’s children for well-child care.

These women saw to it that those babies received their immunizations and examinations even when it required taking city buses and transferring two and sometimes three times, through the toughest part of town, to get there. Summer and winter. Rain or shine, they suited up and showed up. My own children were still small back then, and whenever it was my turn to bring them to their pediatrician for the same care, I generally regarded it as a chore eating into my precious day and would whine about the time spent.

But not these women. They saw the same visits as important enough to the lives of their charges to spend most of a day in transit just to get them done. To me their actions were heroism, of a very quiet and uncomplaining sort.

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Freedom To Let One’s Face Hang Out

It’s 2 A.M. here in Paradise, and I’m sitting out back listening to the wind chimes. Woke up to use the loo, and couldn’t just drop back to sleep for whatever reason, so here I am. Just for reference, it’s quite dark at this hour, so if there are wild creatures out there with me in view and wondering idly how I’d taste, at least I can’t see them massing. And what you can’t see ain’t real, right?

Official Portrait of Ron De Santis, Governor of Florida

Scanning the news – so far today it’s not too noisy out there. Florida, that state of masterful ostrich-style leadership, which reopened its beaches a few weeks ago and now is being swamped by new cases of Covid-19, is going to try to close some of those same locations for the 4th of July. Naturellement*, the yahoos are out in full force complaining that their freedoms are being curtailed.

Here are those freedoms as outlined in a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear
  • Freedom to bring a large cooler to any beach you want to, whenever

So I guess the yahoos are right on this one.

*An unfortunate habit of mine is to drop in a French word from time to time purely to show off and advertise that I had a minor in French as an undergrad.

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Our cats are with me out here in the dark on the deck, wondering:

What the feline ? Can’t he leave us alone even for a moment? Whenever he comes around it’s always Come here kitty and let me pet you? or Sit on my lap, won’t you? or some sort of mooning on how cute we are. He can’t just let us be. There are days when it’s enough to curdle one’s kibble.

I don’t blame them. Usually the night is their human-free time, where they can drop the little charades of polite social interaction and be themselves. Perhaps enjoy a tasty mouse or two and kick back.

Sorry, guys, I’ll stay here in my chair for now, the rest of the yard is yours. But at dawn, all bets are off.

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From The New Yorker

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Love the cartoon.

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I doubt this article shocked or surprised any of you. I’ve eaten chicken nuggets a couple of times, and on each of those occasions I knew that there was more than a little latex in those pneumatic lumps. Once when I attended a summer family picnic and saw them being substituted for shuttlecocks, this feeling was only reinforced.

I’ve read the story over a couple of times now, and am still in the dark as to just what the source of the rubber was. Old farm boots, discarded radial tires, erasers that were supposed to end up atop all those #2 pencils in all those classrooms … what?

The article goes on to tell us that the nuggets in question ” have a best-by date of May 6, 2021.” Apparently after that time you must have them recapped before you serve them.

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Robin and I are experiencing some of the heartaches of gardening this week. Some of our leafy children are being eaten or undermined by uninvited others. We find ourselves googling “diseases of tomatoes,” “diseases of chard,” and “diseases of spinach.” Wilted leaves, tiny beetles, wriggling larvae … all have threatened our small horticultural Eden out back.

What is the source of the impulses that drive us each year to complicate our lives by trying to grow a small portion of our own food? To put ourselves at the mercy of the weather, rainfall, insects, birds … all for a few salads and a BLT or two? If we truly learned from experience, we would toss those seed catalogs as soon as they arrived, get rid of the planters, and use all that time freed up to learn to play blackjack or something else more useful.

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This one is for Jonnie. Blister in the Sun, by Violent Femmes.

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The Buzz

You may have noticed that I haven’t complained about being stung by the yellowjackets that have terrorized us in our yard each summer that we’ve lived here in Paradise. The reason is that I think I’ve found the way, finally, to live an outdoor life at home without being annoyed by these aggressive bugs. I go for the queens.

In past years I’ve waited until the swarms arise in the warmth of the day and fly in malignant squadrons back and forth looking for innocent flesh into which to plunge their barbs. I never caught up, and was always two steps and a swollen forehead or finger behind the beasts.

But this year I put out the traps I have always used, but I put them out in March … before the little darlings even showed up for their summers’ target practice. These traps attract the insects and do them in, and I believe that in 2020 I got the devices out early enough to catch the queens wandering by with their retinues. Much more efficient to catch one queen than a thousand soldiers, I always say, or at least I will from now on.

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Here are three more cuts from Bob Dylan’s latest album:
I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You
Black Rider
Goodbye Jimmy Reed

For those of you of tender years out there … try to imagine your life without Dylan songs playing all through it … putting words to thoughts and emotions you were carrying around but were having trouble expressing … imagine it, if you can.

I can’t.

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Hey, friends, did you ever think that OUR ENTIRE COUNTRY would be regarded as so pestilential that we couldn’t go visit foreign countries any time we wanted to? That’s where we are today. Even Canada doesn’t want us bringing our stuff up there. And really, who can blame them? We’re a soggy, highly infectious mess that can’t follow common sense rules.

There was even an incident where an American airline traveler refused to wear a mask.

On a plane.

In that crabbed and crowded passenger cabin which is a microorganisms paradise.

[I heard that the problem was solved by relocating the gentleman to a new seat in Aisle 13z, which was on the wing, while the plane was over Wyoming. With the low population density that that state enjoys it was thought unlikely that he would hit anyone on his way down. I must emphasize that this is only a rumor, and hasn’t been independently verified.]

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These are the elements of my new office-on-the-deck this summer of the plague. Robin has begun to mock me gently by saying that the only one who spends more time in the backyard than me is our senior cat, Poco. But he does it quietly, sleeping over behind the tomato planters in the shade, while I create more of a disturbance.

I don’t have much to say in my defense. I can be quite a bother, sometimes. If I wasn’t so damned charming I’m pretty certain she would have shown me the door long ago.

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Are You Influenced?

This morning I came to a startling conclusion as I glanced at a headline about a YouTube influencer who is quitting her channel over a controversy about some of her past behavior.

I suddenly realized that I was more backward than I thought. I do not subscribe to any YouTube influencers at all. I wonder that I have the brazenness to even go out the door where others can see me, showing off what must be my monumental ignorance and poor make-up skills.

Behind their masks at the grocery store – what must those people whose eyes meet mine and then shift away – what are they thinking about me? Am I guilty daily of worse gaffes than if I showed up in an emergency room wearing yesterday’s underwear?

Do YouTube influencers aimed at senior citizens even exist? If they do, what are they touting or suggesting to the rest of us? Arthritis aids? Balance exercises? Constipation remedies? Plastic surgeons?

Does Axe have an after shave cream for me? Perhaps one named “Musty,” or “Who Cares?”

Perhaps there is a technique out there that I am failing to use which will make me look 79 again, instead of the 80 year-old who greets me in the mirror each morning. That would be a 1.3% improvement, which is not to be sniffed at.

I think that I’ll stay in today. I’m feeling very insecure at the moment.

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Permit me to repeat a quotation that I used in the blog in May. It’s from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. 

Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.

In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

It seems obvious that stupidity is less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he speaks on behalf of an empowered group. In conversation with him, one feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans and catchwords that have taken possession of him.

The stupid man is under a spell…[And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison

I’m repeating it because I saw a video today on CNN, taken at a public meeting in Florida that was truly stunning. The behaviors exhibited were so bizarre and disheartening that I sat back in wonder … and then I remembered the quote.

Below is the video – the first part is where we leave the planet and are in some sort of angry la la land. The second part is where two more rational human beings shake their heads in wonder.

These are not people who you can sit down and have a conversation with and maybe both of your minds will shift a bit. With these folks you can talk until you are strangled by your killer face mask and you will get nowhere. Their minds don’t live where the rest of us live.

And if Bonhoeffer is correct, some of them may be downright dangerous.

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I miss Jon Stewart. He’s not on my mind everyday, but anytime his name comes up, there is a pang right there under my ribs. Here is a video of Jon talking with Stephen Colbert that brought in a major ache.


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Friday night Robin and I went to the movies. Not just any movie, mind you, but the original Jurassic Park. At our local drive-in theater.

The movie didn’t start until well after 9:00 pm, when we are usually in bed already. We both stayed awake until the end (well, I do admit to a brief lapse just after the T.rex ate the lawyer in the bathroom). You can’t see enough detail in the photo above, but it’s the place where the owner of the park is explaining how they cloned the dinosaurs from DNA found in blood in the belly of a mosquito preserved in amber.

Of course you remember, don’t you? Hey, it was only yesterday (1993) that the film came out. As of today, it has earned just over a billion dollars at the box office. We added our thirteen bucks last night.

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Bedtime Follies

Need help explaining why Black Lives Matter fits the moment better than All Lives Matter? Perhaps these young ladies can be of some assistance.

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I’m still making my way through the Studs Lonigan trilogy by James T. Farrell. I’m about half-way through, but that’s not bad for a book on my nighttime reading stack.

My usual routine is to climb into bed with every intention of reading for an hour or so, as Robin does. I arrange the pillows, adjust the light on my nightstand, fluff the comforter and look about the room to see if there is anything left undone which would require me to leave this sweet nest I’ve created. Seeing no problems, I then begin to read.

Since my resting pulse is in the low 50s, I estimate that 37 heartbeats from the moment I open the book I have fallen asleep.

Becoming rapidly unconscious is never my plan, but there is nothing, believe me, that can stop this comatose juggernaut once it gets going.

But to get back to Studs. I mentioned that this series of books had such a powerful effect on the boy I was when I first read it, and was hoping that I would find out how and why that happened in the re-reading.

And finally, I think, I have it figured out. Studs was a tough kid from a working-class family growing up in Chicago in early 20th century. If you were to have met him in person you might have thought him supremely self-possessed. But the story is basically 95% told as his train of thought, and those thoughts are nearly completely fear-filled and insecure.

Fear of not being tough enough, of not being attractive to girls, of being thought soft by his gang, of being stifled by his parents’ wishes for him, of the Catholic Church and its many commandments (way more than the ten that were good enough for Moses), of not being handsome enough, not having enough money, etc. There are very few moments in the books where he has a self-confident thought.

Just like I was at the time I read them.

That was my connection with the character, and why it was so powerful a read. And why Studs’ premature death moved me in the way that it did.

Now, I don’t suppose that any of you are going to run out and get the books from the library, but if you do I hasten to add that there were quite a few differences between Studs and myself. For one thing, he curses way more than I do … really. And he is a blatant racist/bigot for all seasons.

Except for Irish Catholics, pretty much every other nationality or religion is described with words taken from the same lexicon where the N-word, the C-word, and the K-word et al can be found. Black, Jews, Protestants – some of you might have passing acquaintance with the words yourselves, although I know without question that you would never utter them.

So the identification of the young man in the photo below with Studs was not complete, but it was still a strong and a forceful one.

I get it now, I really do. I see what he saw.

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Occasionally when I am watching an old movie, I will wonder … what does those actors think when they see themselves walking and talking as a fifty-year-younger version of themselves? Sadness? Poignancy? Embarrassment?

I had a flash of an inkling on the subject when I included the old photo above, of myself reclining on a blanket sixty years ago. I had none of those feelings while looking at the picture. Instead, I wished him well.

Because I know his entire future, right up to this moment. And I have inside information that tells me he’s just flat out not ready for it.

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Guests are coming for lunch today! Amy, Neil and family are passing through Montrose on their way to an isolated cabin-vacation in the Black Hills and will be here around noon. They will be our first visitors since the plague began.

We’re going to serve the food as if we knew for a fact that we were both named Typhoid Mary. Lots of separateness, sanitizers, and plastic gloves. It’s awkward but do-able.

A small bit of quasi-normalcy in an unquiet time.

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No Title

Well, whaddya know? Less than 7000 of America’s finest showed up for the Cluckaganza in Oklahoma. The organizers were expecting … six times that number.

Turns out it was all the fault of outside protestors who were nasty radicals armed with unfriendly placards. And then there was the problem of the media that had told people to turn their cars around and stay home, and by golly, tens of thousands of them must have done just that.

All in all it sounds like a disappointing party. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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Robin said: Whatever you want to do, we will do. So on Sunday off we went to explore new terrain. First you drive to Norwood, which is 66 miles south of Montrose. Then you turn left and go south-southwest for about 15 miles until you get to a reservoir named Miramonte.

It’s set in the beautiful broad valley that you see in the photo below. We had a picnic, explored the area, people-watched for an hour or two, and then returned home.

For most of this trip we were out of phone contact, which is par for the course in this part of the world. Since the entire drive there and back was through beautiful country, and the destination itself also very cool (in its own spartan way), we counted the day as a complete success.

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Good news and bad news from the garden. Out tomatoes are doing wonderfully, with fruit-laden plants approaching the size of the carnivorous one in Little Shop of Horrors. I never get to close to them for this reason, and water from a respectful social distance. I have also warned the cats repeatedly not to get near the tomato cages.

Which is where the bad news comes in. Tomatoes are awfully thirsty plants to grow. Ours are set in containers, which only increases their demands for water. They require around two inches every few days, and more when the weather is hot. Since we have been blessed with little more than a soupçon of rainfall this summer, nearly all of that moisture must come from the tap.

But those of you who have been forced to read my past rants on the subject of commercially grown tomatoes (which I will mercifully not repeat today) know that my duty is clear. Pay the water bill gratefully and enjoy the fruit when it appears … and don’t go picking them without another person nearby holding a rope that is securely tied around your waist, to pull you out of danger should those plants get frisky.

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Bob Dylan has a new album out, of all original songs. The first such album in ten years. For a change, I’m not going to tell you what to think about them. It’s Dylan, and listening to his music usually asks something of us that is very personal.

I will mention something about the title I Contain Multitudes. The phrase seemed familiar but I couldn’t place it. I had to look it up, and found that it’s from Walt Whitman.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself

Here are the first three bands on the album. They are: I Contain Multitudes, False Prophet, and My Own Version of You. I’ll dribble the rest along later on.

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There are times when I am in danger of being swamped by the examples of the horrors committed by members of our species, as in the litany of murders of black people that we’ve heard read off repeatedly during the past weeks. At such times, I need to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that brutality is not the all that’s out there.

There is also beauty. Much of it created by other members of our same rough species. Beauty enough to wring the poison out of one’s heart and leave it open again to love and understanding.

For me it is poetry, music, and the natural world that I often turn to at those toxic moments. Or to the memories of everyday acts of heroism that I have personally witnessed. Or when I look deeply at those dearest to me and am warmed and humbled by the love and goodness that I find there.

It serves little purpose for me to turn away from the daily uglinesses – how can I begin to help in the repairs if I don’t see clearly what is broken? But I can’t look at them without using these resources to keep me from drifting into despair and cynicism.

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The Hills Are Alive …

Friday we left town to take a longer hike, and this one started out a few miles south of Ouray, at a place called Spirit Gulch. We’d done this one before, and found it to be a moderately strenuous walk over largely rocky terrain. Lots of those small stones that roll under your feet and try to upend you.

(Oh, yes, I am at heart an animist, and there are no rocks in this world that don’t have a mind of their own, and aren’t fond of their little jokes.)

But add to Friday’s excursion the following: dark skies, occasional rain, several bouts of sleet falling, and temperatures that never got above 60 degrees.

So why go? Because some of the views are spectacular and well worth the effort.

And when it comes right down to it why, what’s a little bit of sleet driven into your face, really? Think of it as an exfoliation, for free.

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From The New Yorker

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It looks like Robin will not be deterred from being nice to me today, Father’s Day 2020. She really is impossible that way.

Apparently we all have a gift-giving center in our brains that can be seen to glow increasingly brighter on PET scans as holidays approach. In Robin’s case, however, you don’t need any electronic hardware to observe this, as her entire body develops a sort of fluorescence. It is brightest at Christmastime, of course, when the light she gives off approximates the output of a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Those last few days of Advent I can’t even sleep in the same room with her as a result.

So a little while back when I was starting to go into my spoilsport spiel about the relevance of a holiday devoted to the (quite variable) virtues of male parents, and I noticed that her aura was already firmly in place, I gave it up as a lost cause.

Today I know that I will be celebrated. And just between you and me, and completely apart from whether I deserve it or not, I admit that I will very much enjoy it.

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From The New Yorker

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Wildness

I thought the latest New Yorker Magazine cover was so arresting that I had to stop and stare at it for quite a while when it arrived.

Its title is “Say Their Names,”. Clicking the link takes you to a media story about the illustration itself.

The same artist is also featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in the July issue. He’s having a good month, wouldn’t you say?

If you’ve a few moments to spare, and Google the artists’ name, Kadir Nelson, you can browse through the many images that come up. Quite a talent. Good stuff.

But I can stop talking now, because here’s the man speaking for himself.

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Do you sometimes feel as I do, that we are suffering a metaphoric death by a thousand cuts? And of course I’m talking about P.Cluck and his traveling circus. Every single day we are assaulted in some way by their words, their actions … their trashing of things we cared about and other worthwhile items that we might not have even known existed before they ended up broken and strewn about the floors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

When he is finally shown the door, it will take a while just to do repairs. I don’t think that my psyche has an unbruised spot left on it. But it will be a job worth doing and one that will be truly joy-filled after this long dark season.

Can’t wait.

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Alas, New Yorker Magazine has made it harder for me to steal cartoons to embellish this scanty effort of mine. I used to be able to easily search their archives but this week when I looked for that little magnifying glass icon in the “Archives” section, it was gone.

Oh, I can still page through more than fifty thousand images if I so choose, but they are arranged randomly and so far I can’t find any way to filter them. I’ve written to the magazine as an aggrieved larcenist, but have received no reply so far.

Crime does not pay like it used to.

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From The New Yorker

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I don’t know if this news item is the last word on the Christopher McCandless story, but it is a turning point of sorts.

McCandless is the young man who wandered into wilderness Alaska on a personal quest and died there, in an abandoned school bus. His story became the book “Into the Wild,” and a movie of the same name. It was a good tale – personable man of privileged background looking for a place away from consumer America, makes a series of poor choices, becomes very ill and eventually perishes in the wilderness. Dramatic. Romantic.

That old bus had become a touchstone for many other young adults, who traveled far to visit it, even though the way could be difficult and dangerous. Some of those pilgrims died on their trip or had to be rescued.

So this week, to try to put an end to the deaths and injuries, the Alaskan National Guard hoisted the bus below a huge helicopter and took it away. Perhaps we’ll find out where it is later on, when authorities have found a suitable location for it.

End of story?

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Up and Over

On our bike ride yesterday along the river, we met up with a dumb-butt who was fussing with his unleashed dog in the middle of the path, forcing Robin off the asphalt and into some sketchy gravel/dirt.

Trying to get back to solid ground she went down over the bars, hard and face-down.

I helped her up and checked her over, then we put the chain back on her bike and off we went in the direction of our first aid kit. Luckily the injuries were limited to scraped knees (2), scraped elbow (1), and sore wrists (2), one of which swelled up rapidly. All parts are feeling better today, but we’re watching that wrist. It needs to get better steadily or we’ll have to take our chances with the medical-industrial complex and all its vagaries.

Wounds of excellence, they call them. I do love riding this walking/biking path but it has become awfully popular, and even the most careful rider could have an accident brought about by unthinking pet-owners with their off-leash dogs and the unguided missiles they represent.

(BTW: Colorado is full of such pet-owners who apparently believe that municipal leash laws are for lesser creatures than themselves)

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Today we were in Delta CO when lunchtime rolled around. Robin insisted that I choose the place to eat. So I picked a family-owned restaurant I have wondered about for a year now – Tacos Garcia. (I could instantly see on Robin’s face as I said the name that she thought perhaps she’d been unwise to leave it up to me.)

It’s a tiny spot on Main Street, only a couple of indoor tables, with several more outside. It is not the typical Americanized idea of Mexican food.

The entire menu is in the photo at right.

Robin was game and ordered a couple of pollo tacos. After listening to the woman behind the counter go down the choices and describe each one I settled on barbacoa, which I learned was the meat from the cheeks of cows, shredded.

I waited apprehensively, hoping that I had not ordered some sort of gristle-pile that I would not be able to ingest. But it was delicious and not to be feared, even by a supremely fussy gourmand such as myself.

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So here’s a graphic of a mockup showing a new airline seating system that a man named O’Neill has proposed. I took one look at it and my ordinarily mild claustrophobia exploded. I had to go outside and take several hundred calming breaths. In such a move, the airline would put another nimbler human being above you.

Yes, dear friends, above you.

Now, I hasten to add for those of you who typically travel first-class that no one is suggesting that anyone do double-decking in your section of the plane, so you can relax.

But for the peons in the rest of the aircraft … that’s another matter entirely. Next step, I suppose, would be to do away with the aisle altogether and have us bodysurf on the backs of fellow travelers to get to our bunk-seats in the sky.

It just gets better and better.

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Paradise Found

(Right where John Milton left it. You can’t tell that guy anything!)

It is four o’clock on a cloudless afternoon with an air temperature of 88 degrees which is tempered by the excellent low humidity that one enjoys when one lives in a near-desert.

I am leaning back in a deck chair with my feet propped on the table, an iced tea at my left hand and an iPod at my right. The iPod is doing its Bluetoothing thing with a small red speaker sitting on the table, and the songs are set to “Shuffle.”

Sweet, sweet summer afternoon. Excuse me, but the song Born To Run just came up and it’s being done by the master himself and I have to pay attention. Talk to you later.

Not every moment during a pandemic is horrible.

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At some point in life I realized that the formula for happiness for a Minnesota boy growing up was very simple. There were only three elements:

  • It wasn’t snowing
  • The mosquitoes weren’t biting
  • You had your tunes handy

What more, I ask of thee?

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Charles Blow is a black man filled with anger which is tempered by hope. It must be hard to maintain both when you are a man with the broad knowledge of American history that he has. The anger is so easy to come by. It is thrust upon you, actually, by daily events.

But the hope … where does he get that from? How does he maintain it? As he outlines in this piece from the Times of New York, it’s not just the awful shootings that are the problem. It’s the everyday stuff of racism.

E.v.e.r.y d.a.y.

We can’t give African-Americans their freedom. On paper they already have that. But whites can help them, at long last, to be able to exercise those freedoms by ceasing to oppose them in the tens of thousands of ways that we do.

So Mr. Blow’s hope must come from pride at seeing what young people are doing in the protest movement today, at watching the power of it as it grows and the almost panicky responses of government and industry as they stumble over themselves trying to redress the most glaring wrongs.

He must have not only faith in the activist young people of color, but also those young white folks who are marching with them. It will take the best efforts of both groups to make it stick.

I most earnestly hope that he is right on all counts.

*

Here I have to include an excellent op-ed by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, entitled “How Do We Change America.” Robin sent me the link to the piece which was originally published in The New Yorker magazine.

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I don’t usually comment on the music selections over there on the right, because they change independently of the posts.

But I will today. Dance the Night Away is perfect Van Halen. It features guitar artistry (Eddie Van Halen), a great rock vocal (David Lee Roth-their excellent posturing popinjay of a lead singer), and a lyrically lovely break.

My advice is to crank it or don’t play it at all.

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It’s mid-June up on the mountains, which means that the alpine flowers are starting up their annual show. On our walk today at the Black Canyon (8500 feet elevation) we were surrounded at times by lovely gardens created entirely by nature. Many of the cacti were flowering, which is always special and way too brief a moment.

By July and August the open spaces above treeline will be amazing. If you’ve never … you really should.

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Something new this week …

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Miss It?

Even though I’ve been retired quite a while now, there are still times when meeting new people that I am asked what I used to do when I was a productive member of society. I tell them I was a children’s doctor. Their followup question is frequently “Do you miss it?”

I usually give the short answer “Parts of it.” And that seems to satisfy the stranger.

The long answer is that there are parts that I miss terribly, and some that I wouldn’t revisit for anything you could offer me. There are also parts, quite a lot of them, actually, that bored me to death.

I do not miss being the bearer of bad tidings to parents. Not in the slightest.

I do not miss the routines, where a well-tuned android could do the same thing that I did, perhaps better because they are sooo reliable and never forget.

I do miss the thrill of waiting in an emergency room for the ambulance to arrive, with a team beside me. Not knowing exactly what was coming, and worried/scared each time that I would not be up to the challenge. Then to be completely lost for a time in the struggle to sometimes reclaim a life and hand it back to the person. That, I miss. (Adrenaline junkie variant?)

For similar reasons, I miss the excruciating nervousness during a high-risk delivery, when the baby-yet-to-be-born’s vital signs had turned to merde. Waiting with the knowledge that there was no one else in the room with the skillset that I had, and wanting so achingly for the obstetrician to please get that baby out and give it to me so I could do what I knew to do.

That, I miss.

I miss the puzzles posed in differential diagnosis, where a patient or parent tells you a few things, an examination tells you a few things more, and perhaps the lab or x-ray departments make a contribution as well. And then it is you, using that mainframe in your head going over and over the data, back and forth, testing and rejecting hypotheses before you finally come up with an answer. Sometimes you have weeks to make up your mind, sometimes a tiny fraction of that time.

That’s a longer answer to the question.

The one that if I tried to give it each time I was asked, I would probably end up talking to the back of the stranger’s head as they walked away. We don’t always really want the answers to the polite questions we ask.

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I, Too

by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides, 
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

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Finding

I woke Friday morning with the powerful scent of Mephitis mephitis in my nostrils. Somewhere out there during the night there had been an encounter, and this perfume on the air was left behind for us all to savor.

The aroma is an enduring one, and prompted two thoughts for me. The first is that I have read that skunk scent has been part of the recipe for exotic perfumes, at least in the past, because it lasted so long. This has been discovered by many errant husbands who returned home from a “night at the office” with a distinctly non-office bouquet about them. Any wife with a nose and half a grain of sense recognized this the instant the man walked in the door, and then wrote the rest of the story by herself.

The other was my own encounter with the skunk, in my living room, six years ago.

I’ve told the tale before, but have more perspective now, I think. Briefly, I was reading in my chair at four in the morning when a skunk wandered in through the pet door looking for the cat kibbles it could obviously smell. The creature came through the dining room and went around the corner into the guest bedroom where it began to loudly munch on what was in the cat dishes.

Ten minutes later, once it had eaten its fill, it retraced its steps and left the house, never to return.

All of this I watched from my chair, paralyzed by the thought that if I moved it might startle the animal, and I would be dealing with one of the more powerful fragrances in the world sprayed on the walls and furnishings of my own home sweet home. And what, I wondered to myself, does one do about that?

The skunk itself looked as big as a Great Dane when this happened, but I have since come to accept that this was probably not the case. Experience tells me that a Mephitis in one’s living room looks easily four times as large as an outdoor member of the species.

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We are presently watching a series called “A French Village,” which is about a village in France. Oh, you got that? Sorry.

It takes place during the Nazi occupation, in 1941. We are enjoying it, perhaps because it has a bit more subtlety than many such productions with WWII settings, which are more like jousts between monsters and angels.

Not that Nazism itself was anything but monstrous, but it’s likely that there were some German soldiers who were schlemiels like you and I but who were drafted and found themselves in the middle of a nightmare. There are a couple of those guys in this series. There are also French heroes in unlikely places, and collaborators who were venal as well as some who thought they were serving their countrymen the best way they could.

Like I said, more subtlety. It’s also not a stomach-churning torture-fest, for which we are grateful.

You will find the series on Hulu, if you’re interested. Subtitled.

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Okay, have I got an app for you. Avenza Maps. It’s like having a real GPS in your phone. You download maps to it, and from then on you don’t need an internet connection. It knows where you are.

Scads of the maps are free, as is the basic version of the app itself. If you can’t find a free one for the area you are going to, you can buy commercial versions, including those great National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps, to download.

Then you look on the map for a blue dot. When you move, the dot moves, and it keeps continuous track of where you are. Ot, at least where your phone is.

It’s a hoot! Friday Robin and I went hiking in new territory, and used a NatGeo map to find the trailhead and then to track our journey. Periodically I would check the map, especially at unmarked crossings, and we wandered valleys and hills and forests in terra incognita on the Uncompahgre Plateau for three hours and ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.

At the end our screen looked like the pic above, with the orange line showing our path.

If you are interested, read more at http://www.avenzamaps.com. It’s available for Android and iOS.

[I received no commission for this blurb. I tried, but had no success.]

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I am indebted to brother Bill for the link to this song. It is said to be John Prine’s last recording. Poet with guitar. Beautiful.

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Signs of the Times

The people in our neighborhood are not given to posting signs in their yards, with two exceptions. The Trump/Pence Codger three doors down, and us. BTW, the Codger is an unpleasant man whose response when invited to the annual HOA picnic was: “I don’t eat with liberals.” We did not repeat the invitation the next year. Wouldn’t want to harass the old bugger and spoil his appetite.

Yesterday the BIDEN sign Robin had ordered arrived, and is already proudly displayed out on the berm. Unfortunately, we don’t know who his running mate will be, so we’ll need a new placard some months down the road.

In this basically “red” county, anything “blue” comes like a poke in the eye to the Republicans which we are glad to provide.

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Pandemic Puzzlement

As time goes by, it’s harder to understand the empty shelf spaces in grocery stores. Surely most of the hoarders are done by now (God knows they will never have to buy another roll of TP in their miserable lives, and will be able to pass them on to their heirs – “And to my son George, I leave my garageful of Charmin Special with Lotion …”).

But why shortages of canned goods? Frozen vegetables? These items are just sitting somewhere in warehouses … how are all of these supply chains being disrupted?

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From The New Yorker

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It occurred to me that the header photo would be a good visual metaphor for the ferment sweeping through the country right now. A high wind is blowing and sweeping many things before it.

Anyone who sees how much damage racism has done to this land is hopeful that this will be the time … that from this moment on no more knees will be placed on black necks by psychopaths with badges.

The call is out there for those of us who are not black to march, to write, to raise our voices in concert with those of people of color. Our silence has made us the passive accomplices of those brutes who continue to murder black men and women with impunity.

I use the rhetorical “us” in the above paragraph and that may be too general a pronoun. What I have written certainly applies to me, and that is all I truly know.

Black Lives Matter

I get it.

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Our gym (Gold’s) has re-opened, and we attended a couple of days ago for the first time. Their response to the emergency is to provide more materials (and encourage their employment) to disinfect each machine immediately after use. These were previously available but their usage was irregular to say the least.

The other major change, at least in the case of the treadmills, ellipticals, etc. was to retire every other station, creating a proper social distancing. Mask-wearing is left up to the client’s discretion.

At first I was disappointed in not being required to mask up, but then I thought more about it and realized that there were special considerations for some of us.

For instance, were I to wear a mask while exercising, there would always be the chance that I might inhale the entire contraption during some of the gasping that occurs. And I’m pretty sure that would not be a good thing for me.

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