Out & About in Coronaland

For the first time since the emergency began, Robin and I went out with our friends, the Evanses. Cautiously.

We chose an outdoor activity – bicycling – along the bike trail that runs from Ridgway State Park into the town of Ridgway itself. An eight-mile really lovely pedal along the river. On a golden sunny day in the 70s. Mostly we were safe distances apart, even though we relaxed our mask-wearing a bit.

At the end of the ride we had prepared a picnic lunch … actually … two picnic lunches. Each couple made and ate their own food, without sharing. Not quite as much fun as “you bring this and I’ll bring that” but it worked out okay, and guidelines were pretty much observed.

Interesting, though, was our table conversation. We’d all separately come to the conclusion from all we’d read and seen that we were all going to contract the coronavirus eventually. That it was inevitable, what with its silent spread through the population, lack of anything protective being presently offered, and the demonstrated infectiousness of the beast.

It was only a matter of when. We agreed that of the two choices – go ahead and catch it and get it over with vs. putting it off as long as circumstances allowed, we were all choosing the put-off strategy. There was always some small chance for a vaccine or an antiviral chemotherapeutic being developed.

And although the four of us are in the high-risk group, that still meant that as far as the statistics provided so far, we have an 88% chance of survival if we do come down with the disease.

It may not seem like cheerful table conversation, but at least there was no denial, no “it won’t happen to me as long as I keep on doing these magical things.” And facing what can’t be run from is liberating and requires much less energy than stuffing it away does.

So … four happy non-campers pedaling from country to town and back again. Good conversations. Great fun.

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On Sunday, we traveled to the Purgatory ski area near Durango and rendezvoused with Amy, Neil, & the kids. We repeated the social distancing picnic of Saturday and added a hike down the mountain (and back up) to the Animas River gorge this time.

Weather was excellent, the trail was strenuous and led us to beautiful overlooks, and the company was cheerful and energetic. The Hurley family are always good hosts, even under the present awkward circumstances.

There were no hugs on Mother’s Day for Robin, but she was still in the physical presence of some of her favorite people on the planet. Turns out that counts for quite a bit.

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From The New Yorker

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The standoff between the governor of South Dakota and Native American tribes over who gets to control access to reservation lands continues. The governor says the tribes don’t get to have their own checkpoints on highways running through the reservation, the tribes say it’s their only way to protect their vulnerable people.

The above photograph of the Republican caucus at a recent session of the SD legislature may go a long way in explaining why the tribes have lost confidence and taken matters into their own hands.

Governor Noem has also been in the news recently for having decided to let the coronavirus burn a swath through her own state rather have her office take a stand and interfere. As a result, SD has moved considerably up the list of new Covid-19 cases per capita.

Rumor has it that many people have tried to explain the germ theory of disease causation to her without success.

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The NYTimes has tried to help us out in our social distancing by reviewing stuff we could profitably watch on television. Monday morning one of the recommendations that newspaper made will make most of my family nod their heads and exclaim: “Yes, yes, there you go, New York Times.”

The author of the piece tells us all why re-watching Little House on the Prairie episodes could be a good thing for a person. Of course, I am about the only one in my extended household who needs such a reminder.

One of my problems, and I admit that it is a petty one, is that I could never get past Michael Landon’s hair. I knew that there never had been a pioneer Minnesotan/South Dakotan farmer with such a coiffure. So what other less obvious stuff was baloney as well, I would ask myself?

I know, I missed the point entirely, didn’t I?

But out Michael would come in his un-pioneer shirt and his big hair and my hands would instinctively reach for the remote.

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Living in this very awkward and tense time has very few positives … unless you’re a bit strange. Like myself. Speaking as a guy who dealt with infectious diseases for 35 years on a very basic clinical level, these are fascinating times.

This mindless microscopic bit of RNA has changed the course of life around the world for several months now. It popped up in Wuhan but quickly hitched rides on planes to places everywhere. Usually a new viral disease is of more local interest. The CDC gets a call and the experts get cracking while you and I learn about it only if we read the “science” sections of the newspaper.

But this time we’re all in the middle of it. There is no safe and dispassionate sanctuary to go to. We are all the guinea pigs. Social distancing, quarantines, “shutting down,” the quest for a vaccine and/or a therapeutic drug – the lot of us are darting around in a very big laboratory while scientists try to find where the light-switch is located.

And the variations in the clinical picture – the loss of sense of smell and taste in some folks, the “covid toes,” the widespread inflammatory disease that arises in some children who test positive, the people who don’t even know they are positive, the people who seem to be doing okay and then the bottom falls out and they move from one statistical column to another. These are all parts of a puzzle that Nature created and that brilliant minds are working overtime to solve. Watching that effort is elevating and fascinating.

For some reason this reminded me of that scene from the first Jurassic Park movie, where the hired hunter is stalking a trio of velociraptors and is drawing a bead on one of them when … well, watch the clip.

The analytic part of this man’s brain went into play immediately and he fully appreciated the drama of which he was a part. Even if not for long.

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Piping Away

When I first went off to college, at the half-ripe age of sixteen years, I was baby-faced and completely un-collegiate in my appearance. I decided that I should do something about that, and so I took up pipe-smoking. In my mind, this made me appear more like this gentleman, a rugged-looking individual who might have interesting tales to tell.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Any photos of me during those early years with the pipe in my mouth were so un-cool that I tore them up and burned the negatives, pledging whoever had taken the pictures to secrecy. Here is one that somehow survived.

As you can see, I did not achieve the result that I was going for.

But I kept at it, and eventually graduated with what would equate to a master’s degree in the black art of pipery. Along the way I burned holes in hundreds of shirts caused by sparks blowing back on windy days. I actually enjoyed the smoking part very much, but eventually I developed a cough that simply would not go away, and I began to experience the rumblings of a conscience about all those folks who traveled through the cloud of secondary smoke that trailed behind me.

It was with some small grieving that I gave up the habit and all of its attendant rituals. Rituals that included studying catalogs of beautiful briar creations, sniffing of hundreds (thousands?) of lovely aromas, cleaning the bowls of the pipes with special tools from London, and purchasing exotic varieties of tobacco with which to mix my custom blends.

Oh, yes, I was a snob when it came to tobacco. Just short of insufferable, I was.

Looking back, quitting was worth it, I know. My respiratory symptoms vanished and my shirts certainly look better. But … there are blue-skied autumn days when the air is crisp and the setting cries out for the pungent aroma of shreds of latakia smoldering in a briar bowl … .

(‘Scuse me while I cough into my elbow at just the thought.)

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I wonder what would happen if Cluck & Pence, our national pandemic comedy team, were rewarded for refusing to wear any sort of mask by catching the coronavirus. I’m not sure that even that would elicit anything like empathy from this ice-blooded pair, but there is the remote possibility.

They are the perfect examples of the let them eat cake approach of our plutocracy. Protected by wealth and position from any of the bad things that are happening out there among the hoi polloi, they pose and preen and posture and declare that they are put upon by life in a way that mere mortals can only guess at.

I think a proper bout of Covid-19 might be good for them. Oh, I don’t mean the awful variety where intensive care and ventilators are necessary. I just mean enough to scare them to death for a few days. To share the pain of tens of thousands of Americans in a decidedly non-metaphoric way for once.

I suppose it’s unworthy of me to think about such things. But there you are.

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From The New Yorker

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David Brooks has gone through a long period of navel-gazing recently, looking for the answers to the BIG QUESTIONS of U.S. society. So whenever he comes back to earth for a day or two I appreciate his insights. In the Times of New York recently, he posted this editorial: We Need National Service – Now.

Thoughtful and well-written, it goes over some familiar territory, and reiterates the fact that most Americans think that voluntary national service would be a good, perhaps a great, thing for our society. So the question always becomes – why hasn’t it happened?

I will own up to my personal prejudices here, in that I never thought that the military draft should have been stopped. In spite of the fact that the system was riddled with abuses, I thought that its benefits – those feelings of a shared experience that the majority of American men had – were worth it. And I also thought that having short-time soldiers like myself in the mix had a restraining effect on those in power. Not as easy to start a war when you know that you will receive some serious blowback from all those soldiers’ mothers out there, as happened in the Viet Nam war experience.

Instead of dropping it in 1973, I would have broadened it to include women, and done what was possible to reduce those abuses (most of which were due to people of various kinds of influence evading their responsibilities) and truly democratize the armed services.

But that’s neither here nor there, to coin a phrase. Wait … somebody already said that?

This new kind of national service could bring back some of that feeling of sacrifice and brotherhood/sisterhood that has been lost. Real, down-to-earth, tangible. Soooo valuable.

I’m for it. And if there was a branch of these new programs that made better use of the legion of wasted geezers out there as well … put me in, coach – I’m ready to play. Just make that obstacle course a little milder, and I’m your man.

[The sharp-eyed among you will notice those shoulder boards. Not American GIs, are they? Nope, they are Russian recruits on the obstacle course … but I loved the mud. And when you cover a man with mud, we all look about the same.]

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From The New Yorker

Pictorial Supplement

Scenes from a world gone slightly off its rocker. Protesting that somebody suggested that you wear a small bit of cloth to protect your neighbor’s health. Or maybe the fact that you are crazy, an idiot, a miserable S.O.B, or some combination of all three.

Is this the face of anyone you know?

Look closely here. Do you see anything resembling sanity?

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I do believe I’ve got the biggest gun at this here rally.

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We don’t really care about the coronavirus, we’re just your basic religious nutcases who saw the cameras and dug our sign out of the back of the R.V..

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Hey, you’re wearing the same cartridge belt as me. Damn.

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Logical stretch, anyone? Don’t all speak at once. Raise your hand and I’ll call on you.

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Check out the guy in the middle. “Goll-ee, are they taking our picture? Dang if I didn’t just shoot myself in the foot.”

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At first I thought she might be a wax figure, standing there with her three signs. Then I looked for hints of something warm and human behind those eyes.

I couldn’t find any. Can you?

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I know, I know, these are cheap shots. And I’m ashamed of myself for making fun of such thoughtful patriots. I am sooo bad.

But I do have photographs of some people that I admire. Very much. This group of ICU nurses who stood silently in front of a mob in Arizona. Women who had actually seen first-hand what the virus can do, and were testifying in their own quiet way.

You want a hero to follow? Here’s one. Standing in the street takes courage. But the real test kicks in when she turns around and goes to work inside that hospital. That takes even more guts.

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At The General

At the old Hennepin County General Hospital in Minneapolis there was a nurse on the surgical wards whose last name I have forgotten, but whose appearance I have not. She was an exuberantly attractive woman, single, who showed up every day for work dressed in the mandatory starched white nurses’ uniform and cap, and with the most amazing tan I’ve ever seen on a human being.

Now the house staff at the HCGH were a bunch of overworked and frazzled young men whose long working hours and tense hospital duties often stood in the way of a normal social life, so many of them made one up that included Mary (for that was the lady’s first name). Each one had their own private fantasy.

Mary treated all of us as a large group of well-meaning but learning-disabled dolts who were not particularly interesting to her. Pleasant but aloof, she was the consummate professional.

She ignored. We obsessed.

The rumor perpetually circulated that there was a member of the house staff who lived in the same building that Mary did, in a set of rooms two stories above hers. Each apartment had a small balcony, and allegedly Mary could be spotted on her balcony tanning on a padded lounge au naturel on every sunny day. At least so went the apocryphal reports from this anonymous house officer.

No matter. All that was necessary for we beleaguered ones was the belief that somewhere in Minneapolis there was such an apartment, and that there was such a balcony, and that on any given sunny day … well … .

We really were a pathetic lot, looking back.

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One of the things that happens when you blog on WordPress is that you acquire followers you don’t know. They just show up on a list. So far, most of them have been the equivalent of SPAM, and I pick them off one by one, like ticks.

But I don’t edit all of them out willy-nilly because some link you to lovely places, like the photography/literary blog maintained by a Scottish woman named Ailish Sinclair.

Beautiful photographs like the one below. And an expressive use of language that is notches above the burblage you find here in the Little Home.

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In my haste to garden where no man has gardened before, I set out a bunch of plants this past week. While it did not technically freeze at any time, the night before last the temp dipped into the thirties and we have our first plant mortalities of the year.

RIP: one Greek basil, two common basil, and three marigolds. Although we barely got to know one another, I feel that we would have become friends with the passage of only a little more time.

The full names of the deceased are being withheld until we can contact their nursery of origin. Memento mori and all that.

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Read All About It!

As if there weren’t enough things … . Our small-town six-days-a-week morning paper announced yesterday that they will henceforth be a five-days-a-week afternoon paper. How much must we bear, is all I have to say?

I’m not even sure what I will do with an afternoon paper. Will the “news” come to me half a day earlier or half a day later?

Most importantly, I don’t drink coffee in the afternoons. But coffee and newspaper-reading are linked so firmly in my habits … can I face each day’s tidings without caffeine at the ready? Do other people do that? But if I try a cuppa joe at 3:00 p.m., I might as well plan for being up until the succeeding 2:00 a.m., and start some quiet project that won’t disturb the sleeper in the next room.

Maybe I’ll find another small-town daily that still puts out its stuff in the morning and subscribe to that one. Most of what I read in the Montrose Daily News is not of the Holy Cow! variety, anyway. Let me get incensed about what they are doing about the potholes in the roadways of a village in Scotland or Wales. It might be instructive.

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The Times of New York published a piece Tuesday entitled “The Leader We Wish We All Had.” It was all about Dr. Amy Acton’s approach to the coronavirus emergency. (She is the director of the Department of Health for the state of Ohio.) It sounds like she’s doing a remarkable job, and deserves much credit.

But what was most interesting to me was the analytic approach that the article took, parsing out Dr. Acton’s usage of pronouns and what that might have meant to Ohioans listening to her briefings. It’s worth a read.

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On our last walk up at the Black Canyon we saw a weasel. Only for a moment, before he dove between the metal tubes in a cattle grate and disappeared.

Why even mention this? Okay, when was the last time you saw a weasel? See! It’s not an everyday thing, and every viewing is special.

Weasels are not at all like cows, who will stand there stolidly in front of you for hours while you study them in detail. These small creatures are a flash of color and then they are gone. It’s one of the ways you can tell them from cows. If you see something brown, you look away, and when you look back it’s still standing there chewing, it’s not very likely to be a weasel.

Other ways to tell them from cattle are the size differences, wherein a cow might weigh 1300 pounds while the average weasel tips the scales at 2-3 ounces.

And then there is the bit about the mooing.

[One note about the photo above. There is little doubt that the short-tailed weasel is darned cute. But not so cute if you could read his thoughts. He is wondering while looking at you: “Could I drag that thing home if I did bite it?”]

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Walking the Walk

The snow has melted from one of our mainstay hiking paths so it is finally open for business, and we took it yesterday. It’s up at the Black Canyon, and the only snow/mud we encountered was back in a niche in the canyon wall that never sees the sun. If you like to walk, this is a good one. Starting at the abandoned Visitor Center you make your way down a steepish path that drops you around 300 feet down into the canyon. Further on you have to climb back up that 300 feet, and that’s where the fun comes in, as you try to find enough oxygen molecules to sustain life.

[BTW – if you like your adventures with a little hair on them, at one point in this same hike you can choose to take a right fork and go all the way to the bottom of the canyon, which is 1800 feet down. About a third of the way to the bottom, it’s so steep you descend hand over hand down an 80 foot chain. I have not done this “trail, nor will I. I might be able to get down, but there is little chance I could climb back out, and how then would I get groceries?]

All in all our hike is just under four miles in length, and there are only a half-dozen ( mercifully brief) narrow stretches to make the hearts of acrophobes like myself speed up slightly.

Without an indoor exercise venue to attend, such places have become more important to us. When I was twenty, the phrase “use it or lose it” didn’t have much meaning to me, as my body was pretty much always ready for whatever. But at this stage of life, I should have that phrase stenciled in big letters on all of my pajamas in reverse so that whenever I pass a mirror I am reminded to get out of those sleep-duds and do something.

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Ay ay ay, as if there wasn’t enough to worry about. The latest addition to things that are nasty and coming to America from Asia is a species of hornet that attacks and destroys honeybee colonies wherever it can find them. It’s sting can also cancel a human’s lease on life under some circumstances.

Fortunately it has been given a pleasant name so as to not unduly frighten the timid among us. They call it the “murder hornet.” Read all about it in the Times of New York.

There is some good that can some from this news. For as long as the situation permits, no matter what mayhem is going on about you, you can always say to your friend or neighbor: “Well at least we don’t have murder hornets to contend with.”

Until you do, that is.

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At out home we have a couple of strings of Buddhist prayer flags going from the ash tree to the board fence. They are feather-light squares of cloth that flutter in the slightest of air movements.

Which makes them a valuable weather guide. Not as predictors, but as weather-tellers. You know what those are. You get out of bed in the darkness, stumble to the kitchen to make coffee, crank open an eye to peer out the window to see what sort of day it is, and the weather-tellers are there to help.

If it’s white out there, it snowed or is snowing. If it’s wet, it rained or is raining. If the prayer flags are standing straight out from the line, there is a stiff breeze blowing, and you can forget about spraying for weeds, unless you want the wrath of your neighbors coming down on your head as the herbicide drifts across their orchid patch.

Predictors can occasionally be wrong, but tellers never lie.

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Here’s an example of a weather-teller that you used to be able to buy in gift shops, taverns, gas stations, or anywhere unsophisticated people gathered. (Which category included pretty much everyone I knew)

I owned one of these when I was ten years old. Thought it was the funniest thing in the universe for about a month, showed it to every visitor to our home, then forgot about it till now. Its present location is unknown, but I strongly suspect a landfill figures in.

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Dave Eggers has done a great job of pulling together all the information we think we know about coronavirus and Covid-19. He’s put it together in a faux interview which will make you smarter and/or drive you bonkers, depending on your tolerance for contradictions.

It’s called Flattening the Truth on Coronavirus.

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From The New Yorker

Semi-Summer

We are basking, here in Paradise, in 80-plus temperatures. Everything out there is dry as toast and waiting for a substantial rain to make things right. When you walk on our lawn the crunching sound is loud enough to wake babies. Fortunately our nearest neighbors haven’t any of those little creatures around, so they are not complaining.

It’s been interesting reading about how Sweden is coping with Covid-19. They basically tried to shelter all of the aged while letting the virus otherwise rip through the country. The hope was that the younger population would handle it fairly well and eventually the virus would find new victims unavailable and eventually disappear.

Unfortunately, they didn’t protect those older citizens as well as they might have and as a result there are many fewer old Swedes today than there were two months ago.

There’s an important defect in this plan, I think, and that is posed by the tactics of Norway and Finland (and most other Western countries), who are doing the shelter-in-place thing. The virus won’t be as quick to leave those territories, so even if the Swedes get their wish at home, they can’t go anywhere.

It’s still all theoretical, of course, we don’t really know what this pest is going to do or how our personal and herd immunities are going to develop, or even if they will. We are in that uncomfortable place where the science is developing at its steady pace while our expectations and hopes are racing far ahead.

Patience is easier to come by for those less troubled.

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Leonard Pitts Jr. comes through once again in his latest column. His admonition is “Control what you can in this time of madness, and don’t forget … breathe.”

Unless your equanimity is already perfect, you might benefit from a read here. The man is a powerhouse of common sense and thoughtfulness.

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Joy Harjo has been given a second term as poet laureate of the United States. Here is one of her works. I wish I could say it is reprinted with her permission, but it is not. On the other hand, she didn’t forbid me to do it, either, so there is that.

Our poet laureate is blissfully unaware of my existence. It’s all part of the plan.

Once The World Was Perfect

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

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This morning I was watching Poco drinking at the outdoor waterer. I noticed his fur was sort of scruffy, his posture a little hunched. I also know he can’t jump nearly as high as he once could, and believe him to be arthritic. There are moments when he seems forgetful, maybe confused about where he is and what he’s doing there. Followed by times when he seems as clear as ever.

I was feeling a little wistful on his account, when I had this thought. Does he look at me and think the same things?

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Ah, Wilderness!

Some of you may not yet have had the chance to become Nanci Griffith aficionados, and I take the blame for that. I am a card-carrying fan, and this somewhat smudgy video may show you why.

Griffith is from Texas, but I don’t hold that against her. There are a couple of other good things in Texas, my friend Sid is one and my favorite western writer is another. His name is Larry McMurtry, and he has written beaucoup novels, but the one that first caught my attention and imagination was Lonesome Dove. I have read it … dunno … maybe five times. Could be six. It was a book that said to a midwestern boy (who had no way of knowing for certain) – this is probably how the old west really was.

Then along came the completely great television series made from the book. So good that I watch the series Lonesome Dove about every other year all the way through. A fine story well told. Memorable characters, with Robert Duvall playing his favorite role.

And how did I discover McMurtry in the first place? Why, right here, on the back cover of the Nanci Griffith album “Last of the True Believers.” I figured a woman who could write and sing like she could – well, I’ll take her literary recommendation any day.

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Finished the Edward Abbey book Desert Solitaire. What a guy! I love a person who can get off a good rant with flair and passion. Abbey is one of those folks.

He doesn’t like cars much out in the wilderness, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they bring roads. He doesn’t care for tourists, either, which is a problem for someone with a summer job in a national monument whose duties include tending to tourist needs.

Toward the end of the book he gets off this flame which I have retyped carefully. The oddities of formatting are his.

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Andy Borowitz of the NYTimes has perfected the art of using the headline to say nearly everything in his short humorous pieces. Here are three examples.

PENCE STARTS WEARING MASK AFTER FAUCI SAYS IT WILL PROTECT HIM FROM WOMEN

CNN TO SHOW PHONE NUMBER OF POISON-CONTROL HOTLINE WHENEVER TRUMP SPEAKS

TRUMP BLAMES PLUMMETING POLL NUMBERS ON PEOPLE PAYING ATTENTION WHEN HE TALKS

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Black Canyon National Park is not open, but it is, sort of. You can drive past the unmanned entry station and go the couple of miles to the shuttered visitor center. There you must leave your car and either walk or bicycle past the closed gates on the single two-lane road that runs the length of the park.

In years past Robin and I have cycled on this highway several times. The views are magnificent and the road is only six miles long until it terminates in a parking lot allowing access to a picnic area and the beginning of a one-mile hike to some killer views of the canyons.

There are only two things that keep this biking journey from being perfect. One is that the road consists entirely of loooooong grades that are steep enough to give a geezer’s heart and lungs a workout. The longest uphill is 2.5 miles, and it’s pitch is enough to get you coasting at 28 mph when you turn around and head back down.

But the real pain is auto traffic. The route is curvy, narrow, and largely shoulderless. Cars are not hurtling past you at 80 mph, but even so, drivers do often behave badly, acting as if you were placed on earth specifically to annoy them, and going by you with inches to spare.

But yesterday … ahhhhhh … no cars at all. Every inch of asphalt was ours. Not even another cyclist or hiker. We owned the park. Every viewpoint, every small flower, every whiff of junipers warming in the sun was ours alone to enjoy. It was like scenes from a disaster movie, where all other humans on earth had been wiped out by fiendish aliens with a death ray that left everything else intact (blessedly including the TP in one of the few privies along the way).

We did the 12 mile round trip, and while those hills had my legs wobbling at the end, I was a happy gasper. A remarkable day on our private highway in our private geologic wonderland.

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Naw … really?

Something unusual yesterday. Robin and I had barely started out bicycling on the path along the river. Up ahead was a group of bare trees, several of them containing each a single large empty nest way up high. Maybe thirty feet in the air.

In one of those nests sat a pair of Canada geese.

All along the rest of the ride I wondered … were they trying an abandoned nest on for size or were they just taking a break from flapping? I thought about the goslings that would hatch in such an aerie, and how would they make the transition from nest to the water, since they were not supposed to be that high off the ground?

I had worked myself into quite a lather on those babies’ behalf by the time we passed the trees a second time on our way back to where we’d parked the car. It was with much relief that I saw that the pair was no longer there. Empty nest. The world was back to the way it should be.

But later on, since I do have a bit of free time here in my Covid-19 hermitage, I Googled geese nesting in trees and found that there were many case reports of the same phenomenon, with a load of photographs to prove it (including the one up above, which I did not take).

So much to learn … so little time.

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While wearing a mask when one goes out in public is considered de rigueur these days, there are limits to even this thoughtful act.

Here are a couple of masks that are justifiably considered not acceptable here in Paradise.

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As society goes along on its merry way, there’s a trend that I’ve found I really dislike. It’s where we are being divided into yet another set of groups in order to pit us against each other. Twenty years ago, calling people “boomers,” or “millennials,” or Generation X” seemed harmless enough, even though the divisions were artificial and arbitrary.

But that was before blatherers and bloviators et al started to write about how the boomers were stealing the future from the millennials, etc. Angry young writers complained that older citizens were basically taking up too much of the oxygen. They never went so far as to suggest that those older people be put to sleep, but left that open to our imaginations.

Now in the days of Covid-19, this attitude comes up once again. Those loud-voiced folks who want us all to come out and go to work and play because their personal risks are way lower than that of their aging neighbors. So what if a few extra senior citizens are wiped out … there are already so many of the darn things.

There is a certain nasty logic to what they say, but only if you don’t step back and take a longer look. Such a view of the world works for those individuals as long as they can find a way to avoid aging. Because when and if they do, they will eventually have someone coming up behind them saying the same cold things.

These attitudes are antithetical to the idea of shared risks and blessings that I learned growing up. The belief that we really are all in this together. Not just in the Covid times, but always. Not seeing this is a sad and mean-spirited kind of blindness.

I am old enough to have moss on the north side of my trunk, but I still care as fervently as I ever did about the problems facing children. Doing what I can to help them along is to me akin to the old man in the Greek proverb:

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

Notice it’s not the oldster that is great, but rather the society around him that is enriched by each small act of selflessness.

If we don’t keep ideas like this in mind, we can find ourselves saying and doing all sorts of ugly things. We were all babies once, and with luck most will become graybeards. If we look after one another, that is.

Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, and the hatchlings toss the other eggs out of the nest to have more of everything for themselves. I have to believe that we’re better than cuckoos.

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Yesterday when Robin and I returned from our outdoor exercise we were greeted by an excited Willow, who rubbed against our legs, purred loudly when we petted her, and followed us about the room. Usually this quick greeting is all there is, but on this occasion she would not calm down but kept on meowing and running up to us repeatedly, until Robin thought it through and wondered … .

Robin walked over to the hide-a-bed sofa in the living room, and pulled it open partway, whereupon Willow dove into its workings and quickly came up with a disappointed but very much alive mouse that had escaped from her and hidden in the furniture. (This is not our first rodeo when it comes to Willow and mice hiding in the sofa.)

When we think of animals who use tools, like chimpanzees and a handful of others, no one ever says anything about cats. But here was Willow, at first thwarted, but finally succeeding by using the simple tools she had at hand.

Us.

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Olio

One of the outstanding features of living in Yankton SD was this time of the year, when the Missouri River town came alive in blossoming trees. More than anywhere I’d lived before. Questioning the old-timers as to how this might have happened frequently elicited “Gurney’s” as the reason.

The once-famous Gurney’s Seed & Nursery was located in Yankton, and was the source of one of the better gardening catalogs I would go through each year looking for plants that could survive the tactical nuclear blasts I was destined to send their way. Such were the criteria that one uses when one gardens with the polar opposite of a green thumb, the dreadful Thumb O’Death.

Shopping at Gurney’s was a fine experience. It was a big dusty barn-like store that smelled like earth, and featured ancient creaking wooden floors throughout. Wandering through the rooms you would find all of those plants, seeds, and devices that seemed almost magical when you read about them in the catalog.

Items like the 3-tined cultivator which was described as something that would make plowing up the garden be so much fun and go so quickly that you’d better have someone making your iced tea for your work-break before you even started out.

Of course, when you actually put it to use you found that it was a ***** to push and exhausting to walk behind.

But setbacks like this never put anybody off entirely, and each Spring I would return to the store and to the catalog, looking for the thing that would change my gardening life.

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America’s Four-year-olds Warn Against Following Trump’s Medical Advice by Andy Borowitz

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On yesterday’s river-walk we ended up at Riverbottom Park, where we bumped into two couples we knew who were already talking together. For the next half hour we joined them. What an odd thing it was – six people talking to one another each at least six feet from everybody else.

What transpired was that there were three conversations being conducted at any given time, with shifting personnel. To try to bring all six of us together would have been awkward. We would have had to create a large circle with a half-dozen people shouting from the circumference.

Of course at least half of what was being said dealt with the present emergency. How can you not, even though we are all becoming repetitious? When reasonably intelligent adults find themselves discussing when will the cutters of hair will be able to open their doors once again? And how well-supplied the paper products aisle at City Market was this week? Lord help us all.

I look at the pictures in the news of crowds flooding the beaches in Florida and California and think: Is our species worth saving? I force myself to remember that the people in the photos are a minority, even though they are capable of such dangerously moronic behavior and pose a risk to the rest of us.

Perhaps we should let those schnooks have one giant picnic in the middle of the country (we could let them have Kansas) where they could pass around the pulled pork sandwiches, beer, beans, and coronavirus and be done with it.

It goes without saying that we would put a fence around them for two weeks while this drama played out, so those of us who wisely didn’t attend the party could stay safe.

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Our governor has been giving regular radio messages to the citizens of Colorado since the beginning of the present emergency. They are marked by civility, common sense, attention to what the scientific community has to say, and by respect for his audience.

Each talk is about us, the problems we are facing, and the uncertain path to resolution. They are never about him. I wish the rest of the USA were as fortunate in their governance as we are.

His name is Jared Polis. If, God forbid, he ever leaves Colorado and moves to your state, I strongly advise that you vote for him. Even if he isn’t running for office.

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Notes From A Fanboy

I don’t actually remember when I got hooked on Lucinda Williams’ music, but it was a healthy number of years back. Thirty, perhaps more. What caught me then was the recognition that, warts and all, what I was hearing was unfiltered honesty.

This was a woman who for sure smoked too much, maybe drank too much, and perhaps loved too much. What she didn’t do was skip out on life. Like they say, she suited up and showed up.

The first album of hers that I actually purchased was Sweet Old World, in 1993. I hadn’t even begun to really listen to it when I lost my son to suicide. At that point the song Sweet Old World took on a whole new set of meanings for me.

I’ve picked out a few tunes that are representative of her music. But there’s a world of them out there, and if you were to select your own set, it would likely be quite different. Ms. Williams gives us glimpses of life and we take from that generous offering what we see or need at that moment in time.

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There are times when I wonder whether I’d have made it this far without music. I used to jokingly say that the thing that was seriously missing from “real life” was a soundtrack. Actually, I would still be saying it except that everyone I know has heard it at least twice.

But think about it. If there was one, you could tell when something sinister was approaching, as in that repetitive phrase in Jaws. Maybe you didn’t know what or from what direction, but you’d have a few precious seconds to prepare for fight or flight. Or those strings would rise up to a heart-melting crescendo, and you’d know that something positively momentous had just happened and maybe you should pay attention to it. Or you’d round a corner and find laid out in front of you a scene so beautiful you choked up trying to come up with the words to describe it … and then sweeping and glorious music made words completely unnecessary.

But there were times when with a little planning you got the musical score you needed, because you provided it.

For instance, let’s say you’re an inhibited, insecure, and slightly backward teenaged boy. Now, there may have been places in America in 1956 where you could have gotten by with saying “Hi, my name is Jon and I’m an inhibited, insecure, and slightly backward boy and I’m pleased to meet you,” but West St. Paul MN wasn’t one of them.

So if you happened to have been born completely without a persona of your very own what you did is make one up. Sometimes on the spot. Often highly flavored by the last song you heard on your car radio before you were called upon to introduce yourself.

  • Cool and nonchalant: Topsy, Part Two by Cozy Cole
  • Rakish and desirable: Don’t Be Cruel by Elvis Presley
  • Mysterious and slightly dangerous: Rumble by Link Wray
  • Etc.

[Some of you might wonder why a person would make themselves dependent on a DJs playlist like this, and I’ll tell you. The ability to play recorded music in one’s automobile didn’t come along until the mid-60s, with the coming of 8-track and cassette tapes. I know it will be painful and disorienting, but try to imagine an adolescence without having the ability to bring your tunes along. ]

So you would step from your vehicle with the last chords of Rumble still reverberating in your ear canals and strike a pose that said to one and all: “I know that I’m way short, I don’t shave yet, and I seem socially awkward, but I am really a mob enforcer in disguise and that suspicious bulge in my shirt in the small of my back is just what you thought it was.”

Then you followed up with this highly original but pithy phrase: “Got any beer?”

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Holding The Baby

This Sunday evening Colorado’s version of shelter-at-home expires, and some official loosening-up is expected. We’re not entirely sure which establishments will be allowed to open and which will remain shuttered, but we’ll be taking a small step toward … what? Normal?

I’m not sure that “normal” will be allowed us for a good long time to come. All of what’s happened the past several months has been too big a hit to just say “Well, that’s that. I’m going out for a haircut, dinner, and a movie. Maybe we’ll play Twister afterward. See y’all later.”

There are the restrictions that our governments have wisely put in place, and there are those that we added on for ourselves. What we’ve been so forcefully reminded of recently is something that was always true, we just chose to play it down, to ignore it.

We live in a world of hazards. Some of them are big, like automobiles and crazed moose. Some of them are so small as to be invisible. A car and a novel coronavirus can both hurt us, but you can at least see a car coming (sometimes) and try to get out of its way. If we were to take all of the possible threats that exist into consideration every day I don’t know who would have the courage to step outside their front door.

But how do we go from wondering whether we need to wash our cans of tuna or not, to happily sitting elbow to elbow in the bleachers at a baseball game holding our plastic cup of soda that’s been well-handled by many people? In one big step or thirty small ones?

How long will it take before a new mom can easily say to a friend or relative: “Would you like to hold the baby?”

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From The New Yorker

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Robin is going to be teaching a class on the Montrose campus of Colorado Mesa U this fall, and is already doing what thoughtful teachers do – the grunt work of prepping for the class. In her search for materials she bought a copy of Greta Thunberg’s small book, and has already nearly finished it.

Thunberg is such an interesting person. Even more interesting is the outsize effect one small individual has had on how we talk about climate change, at least those of us who think that Sir Isaac Newton really put his finger on something there with the falling apples and everything. Those of us who still kinda like science.

We can ignore climate science. We really can. Millions of Americans are doing it as I write this. What we can’t do is ignore it without causing harm. The teeth of the beast don’t become less sharp when we turn our back on it. All that happens is that the bite comes from behind.

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I read yesterday that two cats have been diagnosed recently with coronavirus infection. The cats had the sniffles. Don’t ask why the vets tested them, I don’t know. Don’t ask if it’s the same strain we humans are having so much trouble with, I don’t know.

The cats were in different states out East, and are allegedly making a good recovery. There are no worries about transmission to or from people, the article stipulated.

While I was reading the piece, there was a sudden sneeze and cough behind me and I whirled around, startled, to see Poco sitting there on the couch at my shoulder with a mischievous grin on his face. He then raised his eyebrows as if to say “What?,” before he jumped to the floor and walked away. He has not coughed since.

I think I’ve been punked. I had no idea he could read.

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The Devil in the Details

My own laptop is in the shop in Grand Junction, so this day’s post comes to you courtesy of Robin’s machine. I doubt you can tell the difference, but what I type should be a lot more mellow, because I won’t have the aggravation that comes from working on a particular computer that was designed and sold to me under the auspices of the Deuce himself.

I have been buying and using Macintosh computers exclusively since 1984, and I don’t really know how many that makes, but it’s pretty close to fifteen machines, give or take a few. The one I have now is the first to irritate the blazes out of me, and the issue is the place where man meets code – the keyboard.

Mac came out with something called the “butterfly keyboard” the year I bought my present device. Over the next twelve months there were so many complaints that Apple basically offered a “recall,” and if you were having problems you could go in and they would replace the faulty keyboard. I did that last year, and here we are once again with the same problems, only now the “recall” is over and done and the customer is on their own.

What happens is that letters start to stick, so that you have to push down hard to make them work, which instantly reduces my typing speed from a hurricane-like twelve words per minute to three. Worse yet, at any moment, and no matter which key your fingers hit, the cursor may fly to a random place on the document. This happens irregularly, but each time it is enough to make one be seized with the desire to see just how far a laptop could sail if hurled discus-style.

The repair will be done by Friday, so for a few months all should be well, or at least better.

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Daughter Kari commented on a post the other day, and just in case you missed it I am reproducing it here. It was in relation to some drawings of alleged John Prine sightings. A sweet anecdote.

My favorite memory of John Prine while living in Nashville. Both of us needed eyeglasses badly but did not own a pair so we went to an optical shop together and soon thereafter picked up our glasses. We both were amazed at how strange the world looked. He performed at the Bluebird that evening and we kept catching each other looking around the room with wide open eyes and would giggle at one another. Lovely to remember an icon giggling.

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From The New Yorker

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With the flood of disinformation and outright tale-telling coming at us from the CluckHouse, FoxNews, and other eminent right-wing quackeries, it is even more important that we humbler folk speak the truth to one another.

For me, this sometimes means simply keeping my mouth shut, instead of blurting out a commentary that was little more than something I made up on the spot. A pseudo-fact pieced together on the fly.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s quotations that I remember well deals with the question of “How do we get to world peace?” His answer has always been the same: “by being peace.”

If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh

I think we could easily substitute the word “truth” for “peace.” Lies and dishonesty are violence against our minds. An assault just as real as beating our bodies with clubs. At best we may be only bruised and recover swiftly. At worst, we can be damaged for life by vicious blows.

One of The Four Agreements (taken from the book of that name, a book that has been singularly helpful for me personally) is “Be impeccable with your word.” People need to trust what we say, for peace and harmony to have any chance at all.

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And lastly, with joy and no apologies, I present somebody else’s hard work.

Ducks In A Row

I will go out on a limb here and say that Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are awfully poor examples of their professions. This disreputable pair sold their souls to the Devil and Oprah Winfrey long ago, but all they got in the deal was a tawdry sort of celebrity in the world of the suggestible.

(Robert Johnson allegedly made the same trade-off but became a terrific guitar player and bluesman as a result of his own arrangement with Old Nick.)

Phil/Oz have popped up recently on FoxNews weighing in with blatherous pronouncements and opinions about Covid-19. We knew that it was only a matter of time before those lips for hire began their dreadful flapping. It’s a perfect marriage of shoddy network and shoddy professionals.

Lord help us (and thank you again, Oprah, for your hand in getting them started).

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Ran across these on The New Yorker. See ’em, love ’em, share ’em, is my motto.

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When I read of the new Youth Poet Laureate, at first I felt badly because I didn’t know the former one. But then I learned that there wasn’t a former one. Amanda Gorman is the first.

Watching the following video made me somehow proud. Proud to be a tiny part of a country that gives people like Ms. Gorman a chance to have their voices heard.

Here she is on CBS’ Sunday Morning show, reading one of her works. The production is a little schmaltzy, but y’know, I can use a little more schmaltz these days.

Her words are inspirational, and what do you think about her performance? – to me she sounds like Maya Angelou, rapping.

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Almost everybody we know here in Paradise is Zoom-ing these days. All that was needed was a platform that was a little easier to use than its predecessors, and off went America into video-conferencing. Yesterday morning we connected with daughter Maja in Lima, and we were going to catch up later in the day with our grandchildren in Denver but that was postponed, because they were all Zoomed out for the day, having just finished an hour online with some other folks.

Robin meets with her church committees and book clubs in this way, and we both attend virtual AA meetings, all of these using the free version of the app. Pret-ty cool, I’d say, to be able to so easily fill in some of the gaps that geography and Covid-19 create.

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If you look closely, you will see that there is a duck, a mallard to be precise, in our front yard. He showed up Monday morning. This has never happened before, and personally I took it as an omen.

My only problem is that I don’t know what it predicts, or augurs. I have consulted all of my learned books, which are sadly silent on the subject of ducks. But it really bothered me, as who wants to begin any serious enterprise if it’s all for naught because the celestial plug has already been pulled … you just don’t know it yet?

So I turned to the only person I knew who might shed light on the subject – Ragnar the Imperturbable.

Dear Ragnar: Do you know anything about ducks in the yard? Is there any cosmic significance?

Ragnar: Ducks? You wake me up for ducks? By Freja’s golden hair I’ll …

Dear Ragnar: Really, I do apologize, it’s just that we’re all dithering out here, not wanting to do anything to mess with the gods’ plans. But again, anything at all?

Ragnar: Of course we have duck stuff. The only problem is sorting through it, there’s so much. I need to ask a couple questions of my own, first.

Dear Ragnar: Of course. Go right ahead.

Ragnar: Was it just the one … duck, that is?

Dear Ragnar: No, there was a hen, but she isn’t in the picture.

Ragnar: And what sort of bird was it? Could it have been a Mandarin duck? Or a Baikal teal?

Dear Ragnar: I’m sorry, we believe it to have been a common mallard.

Ragnar: And was it wearing anything … like an item of clothing … or spectacles, perhaps?

Dear Ragnar: No, nothing at all. It was very plain.

Ragnar: Was it up to quite a bit of quacking? More than a duck might usually be expected to do?

Dear Ragnar: It was a singularly quiet waterfowl.

Ragnar: Might it have been mute? That would narrow things down considerably.

Dear Ragnar: We really couldn’t say. We heard nothing.

Ragnar: Alright, here we go then. If a person finds a duck (or ducks) in their yard, nude, mute, and not wearing glasses, there is a very good chance that it might rain before twilight of that same day.

Dear Ragnar: That’s it? It might rain?

Ragnar: Well, what do you want? I don’t make this stuff up on my own, you know. It’s all there in the Book of Aqvavit, one of our most important sources to consult on weighty matters.

Dear Ragnar: Who in the world would bother about such an omen?

Ragnar: Well, let’s say you were planning on hanging out some laundry in preparation for pillaging England …

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P.S.A.

It’s the nineteenth of April, and I will now perform a public service by summarizing what we know to date about the novel coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease it causes. As an former medical professional, I believe that I am uniquely suited to this important task.

  • It may have come to the U.S. earlier than we first thought, or maybe it didn’t
  • It might be possible to re-catch it, but probably not
  • There might be a drug that is effective, but maybe it isn’t
  • A vaccine might be coming this year, or maybe not
  • It might be soon time to re-open things … but probably it’s too early
  • Masks might not be helpful for most of us, but we should wear them anyway
  • Unlike STDs, you might be able to catch it from doorknobs and toilet seats … or perhaps this isn’t true, and we should relax and go to a movie

There now, don’t you feel better?

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One of my favorite Buddhist stories came up recently at a recent online AA meeting, one where we were discussing pre-existing attitudes and how they colored what we saw and experienced.

The story goes like this.

A man was walking along a dusty road and saw a village off in the distance. At the side of the road a blind man was sitting peacefully with his begging bowl and bothering no one.

The traveler asked the blind man:

Are you from that village?

Yes, I am

What kind of people live in that village?

What kind of people live in the town you are from?

Oh, they were terrible. Grasping and greedy, gossiping and lazy.

Well, I think you’ll find the people in my village are much like that.

The first traveler grimaced and continued on his journey. A second pilgrim then came down the road. When he saw the blind man, he asked the same question.

What sort of people live in that village?

The people in the village you are from – how would you describe them?

Oh, they are lovely. Kind and generous of spirit. There are no lengths they wouldn’t go to in order to help a sufferer, even a stranger.

Well, I think you’ll find the people in my village are much like that.

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I will close today with these observations by Andy Borowitz, a man cursed with an unclouded vision.

Dr. Oz Fears That Coronavirus Comments Could Hurt His Credibility as Expert on MagicBeans

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Gotta Love Amendment #1

Above is a photograph of a group from an Ohio chapter of FoxNews watchers exercising their first amendment right to display their ignorance. They are protesting that the state government is doing a bad thing by trying to help save their lives and the lives of their neighbors. I halfway concur. I think the governor should focus on helping those neighbors and let these folks go their own way.

The governor could go even further by offering these stalwarts the use of an empty football stadium (lots of them available these days) where they could march around and shout at a television camera to their hearts’ content. Of course, this might mean that they all come down with Covid-19, but since the rest of us are sooo overreacting, where’s the harm?

I find it interesting that their mouths are all gaping at the same time. Like Christmas carolers caught in the midst of a rousing “deck the halls...” .

[I do have some views on the intelligence and/or mental stability of men who wear Trump hats, but this is a family blog]

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Fighting the Good Fight Department
The Age of Coddling is Over by David Brooks
Words for the Class of 2020 by Mark Shields

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There’s the slightest of drizzles once again this morning. Almost unnoticeable unless you really pay attention. This week has been chilly, but that’s okay because in April we keep our expectations low, remember?

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For years, Robin has wondered out loud whether she would ever have a clothesline of her very own outdoors. She already uses a pair of those folding metal racks, but they are cheaply made, tip over easily, and do not last forever. Robin prefers natural drying to that infernal machine available in our laundry room.

What she was longing for was a grandma-style set of lines straight out of the olden times when a nice dinner of passenger pigeon was still a possibility. Something that involved clothespins and breezes blowing and patterned house-dresses. Well … maybe not the house-dresses.

Now, after all these decades of suffering in near-silence, she has such a clothesline. A sturdy one made of wood and metal and with its foot firmly implanted in concrete. A line which can turn with the slightest of breezes, like a weathervane. And how did this happen? I’ll tell you how. I set it up while being assailed by a fear I’ve dealt with all my life, the fear of construction.

I was born without any of the carpentry talents of my father and grandfather before him, the sorts of skills that allow homemade things to appear on one’s property. Things like homes, garages, bookcases, birdhouses, cabinets, etc, etc.

At one point I consulted a famous neurologist, Dr. Myron Synapse, who did a PET scan and found that while most people have a small group of neurons in the hippocampus that are responsible for handiness, I completely lacked that group. There was, instead, a fluid-filled vacancy.

If you could retrace my steps through this vale of tears you would easily find the evidence of my deficiencies. There was the simple little walnut box in 9th grade shop class that never got finished. Not in an entire school year.

There was the carburetor that I rebuilt as a teenager, because my Ford coupe was running roughly and family experts told me that this was the problem. After my rebuild, the engine would not function at all. Eventually a real mechanic had to throw away the piece that I had rendered useless (he said that there is never a need for a five-pound sledgehammer in doing carburetor work – fancy that!) and install a brand-new one.

Oh, and the privacy fence I built in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that required a series of holes to be dug in the earth, each one a given distance from the previous one. If memory serves, I dug forty such holes, and hit water in twenty-two of them.

The cartoonist Al Capp created a character that used to grace his strips who was named Joe Btfsplk, the “world’s worst jinx.” Wherever he went ladders collapsed, tires blew out, and cars ran straight into one another.

Whenever I would start a project, Joe would stop by out of curiosity and we’d chat. I never drew the line that connected those brief visits with the inevitable failures that awaited me in a day or two.

.

But this clothesline stands straight and true, and rotates just like it is supposed to do. I find myself staring at it in wonder, waiting for the hammer to fall. But so far, nothing.

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Questions Raised

On a hike recently, we noticed a small herd of horses standing around in their pasture, looking beautiful. I thought more about it and realized that horses always looked that way. Beautiful. They never take a bad picture. They are always emblems of grace and strength. Somehow, they also seem … I dunno … thoughtful.

In this they are not at all like cows, which always look a bit dim. Now, I like cows. Nothing looks more peaceful and pleasantly pastoral than a herd of Holsteins standing in tall grass up to their udders in a June that has enjoyed good rains. But they can’t quite pull off majestic or graceful, especially when running.

A cow runs like it was never meant to do that. Like a rocking chair come to life. On a personal note, I have unfortunately found that over the decades my own running style has been regrettably evolving from equine to bovine.

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I only recently discovered that there is a third fly-fishing shop in town, located definitely off the beaten track. The other two are somewhat lacking in dedication to the art. Oddly, one of them never has anyone working in it. It’s in a small part of a much larger space which is mostly given over to curios, antiques, and such.

The other shop is half fishing gear and half sewing and crafts materials, because the owner is sharing the space with his wife’s business.

One of the joys of the sport of fishing is browsing in tackle shops, and presently I’ve had to make the 30 minute drive to Ridgway to find a good one whenever I need a fix. It would be nice to have a local venue where I can waste my time.

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From The New Yorker

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Now that we’re pretty sure that we aren’t all going to Valhalla this month in the arms of Covid-19, some interesting questions are beginning to be raised.

  • When will we feel comfortable shaking hands with … anyone?
  • When will we feel ready to have people over for dinner once again? Who will be brave enough to accept our invitation?
  • If grandkids come for a visit, when will their parents stop holding their breath if one of them makes a dash for our lap?
  • We’re being trained right now to treat much of our environment as a potential threat. Our friends, our relatives, our neighbors, the stuff we buy in the grocery store, the air we breathe, etc. Long term avoidance (years) is really not a reasonable strategy. How long will it take for this fear to subside?
  • Right now if there were a vaccination against Covid-19 I suspect the line to get the shot would reach a long way down the street and around several corners. But only yesterday physicians were having trouble getting many of their patients to accept vaccinations at all. What about those “deniers?” Will facing a more immediate threat change their minds?
  • When the kids come home from college, will they need a negative viral screen before you let them back in the house?
  • If a young person asks another for a date, will exchanging health certificates be part of the new ritual?
  • And, ultimately, the question we are all asking is: what about Naomi?

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Here Kitty, Kitty

For a few months now I’ve been making food for our cats here at home. I should say “cat” because at first Willow basically treated it like it was a dishful of dreck and waited patiently until I would open a can of commercial cat food, as I was supposed to do in the first place. At least as far as she was concerned.

But I kept putting a bit of homemade in her bowl alongside the primo material, and now she will take it in preference some of the time. The women (including a veterinarian) who concocted the recipes that are online and that I follow basically have me putting a chicken back together, sort of. It’s a mixture of chicken thighs and giblets ground up with egg yolks, bone meal, B vitamins, fish oil, vitamin E, and an amino acid, taurine. Poco, especially, seems to be thriving on it, and although age is still his daily burden he moves about more easily and even jumps a little higher (not all that high, I admit).

Any time I serve up a bowlful and the cat involved looks the slightest bit askance at it, I simply say “Ivory-billed woodpecker,”or “passenger pigeon,” and they dive right in.** Willow has stopped her distressing habit of occasionally catching small birds and is now completely focussed on mice when she goes hunting. Maybe my reconstructed Franken-chicken is filling the ornithine space in her diet. Or perhaps mice are just easier to catch.

**A blatant falsehood.

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Our videoconference on Easter Sunday went swimmingly. Everybody showed up, and there were no problems managing who should talk when. The techno-children kept changing the background images on their devices, which made it interesting and even a little festive. At one point most of us were “at the seashore” together, although several different oceans were involved.

By forty minutes in we were all caught up on our lives to the moment, and goofiness started to creep in around the edges, as evidenced here:

Obviously, it was time to fold our tents and steal away.

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We had a freeze Sunday night in Paradise, not exactly a record-setting event, but still an unwanted one. Once the whole Spring thing gets started, any setbacks are treated by the precarious pudding that I call my mind as personal affronts.

“Come on, let’s get linear,” I’ve been heard to say. “No more of this back and forth,” “What a wishy-washy way to run a universe,” and “This sucks” are other examples of the elegant pithiness of which I am capable. If none of these are aphorisms worthy of being printed on a T-shirt, they are at least honest.

When I’ve decided that it is Spring, the Gods interfere at their peril.

Did I hear a gasp? Are you waiting for me to be chained to a rock like Prometheus or rolling a boulder forever up a mountainside Sisyphus-style?

It’s not happenin’. My liver is safe and intact exactly where it’s supposed to be, and I think Sisyphus’ troubles are much like ordinary life, n’est-ce pas? I don’t know about you, but I can’t count the times I’ve been sent back to square one already, and I have reason to expect that some more such moments are up ahead.

So, if any celestial occupants are listening, here’s the drill. Warm nights, leaves and blossoms bursting forth without fear of harm, and chaise lounges on patios with minted iced tea in the cupholders. Let’s get it done.

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Here is a graphic that is nothing short of scandalous. It compares the death rate in two countries, one whose leaders took the Covid-19 onslaught seriously and one whose leaders dithered. You don’t need to have had a class in statistics to see that something’s wrong here, and the wrong is the orange guy, the narcissist, the huckster, and the pathologic liar. No, that’s not four different men, it’s all one person – President Cluck.

Read David Leonhardt’s newsletter, or better yet read the paper published last week in the New York Times. This is what you get when you elect incompetence in its purest form. His first real test, and thousands of Americans may be dead unnecessarily as a result.

David Leonhardt: Trump’s Role in the Death Toll
New York Times: He Could Have Seen This Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus

We need to dis-elect this malignant fool, toss out anything he’s touched in the White House, swab the whole place down with Lysol, and get about cleaning up the harm he’s done in the past three years. It won’t be hard to see what to do – stop at everything we see that’s completely covered in orange guano and hose it clean before we move on.

And while we’re at it, let’s help end the political careers of every single one of his enablers by voting blue in November.

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On a more positive note, I would like to say hello and goodbye to Oumuamua, the first (known) visitor from another solar system, and wouldn’t you know – I completely missed it! Oumuamua flew past us in 2017 when I was busy … I don’t know … probably trying to figure why my basil plants were dying off at a depressing rate.

You can read about it here, but the real question that I have this morning is – why didn’t anyone call me? Like those astrophysicists are so busy they couldn’t pick up a phone and let a person know?

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Easter Sunday

Today is obviously the most unusual Easter Sunday ever. There will be no Easter Parade, no choirs belting out Handel’s Greatest Hits, and no eggs rolled in public spaces (impossible to keep those kids 6 feet apart). We will be missing the one day of the year that women of a certain age dust off their hats to wear to church – their Easter bonnets. Here in Paradise the churches are shuttered, so the single most important day on the Christian calendar will be marked by simple observations in homes or on the internet.

Robin and I are having no guests for Easter dinner, and there will be no hiding of candy eggs in the backyard for the grandkids to hunt. Nope, ’twill be a sober Easter for certain. Such is life in the emergency.

But Sunday afternoon we are Zoom-meeting with Robin’s side of our blended family, accepting seeing them in two dimensions instead of the preferred three as way better than not seeing them at all. I’ve learned how to change the background on my Zoom image, so this is what the other participants will see. Like I said, sober.

[Granddaughter Elsa may recognize the view – it’s from our tent camper parked in South Mineral Creek Campground, looking eastward toward the Red Mountains.]

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Any fisherman looking at the cartoon below will instantly identify with Ernest H.. There are times better left undocumented. To place yourself in a pristine environment, cast your line into a gorgeous river, and then pull out one of these puckered-up mutants is a blow that it might take the rest of the day to recover from.

Now I know that there are fisherman who deliberately go after carp, filling their tackleboxes with putrid baits and heavy lines, and who are delighted when they pull something out of the water that looks like a serious mistake had been made back in Creation times. I also know that there are cooks who work hard to come up with carp recipes that can create a momentary illusion of edibility. Until the person begins to chew, that is.

I know both of these things. What I don’t know is why they bother? A well-cooked carp is still a plate of mud.

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It could be that the worst of our trial is passing. That’s cold comfort to the families of the tens of thousands worldwide that have passed away from complications of Covid-19, and there are tough economic times to come for many of us. But we are given leave to start thinking about when the masks can come off and when we can begin to walk the streets without dodging one another.

I think that for me personally it will be quite a while before I shake anyone’s hand – I’ll be giving them a sincere Namaste instead with that short bow of the head.

And hugging … don’t even think about it. Come at me with open arms and you’ll send me screeching into a back bedroom to bar the door.

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Solitaire

Got our taxes done and off in the e-mail. Our preparer is a down-to-earth woman who lives on a very small farm near Delta CO. She’s probably somewhere in her 60s, plain-spoken, always professional. Year before last she had gotten involved in raising sheep, but quit after a single year when “the coyotes got all the lambs.” The way she tells it, that episode broke her heart.

She’s the sort of person I have no problem visualizing on the seat of a Conestoga wagon heading West in the 1800s, reins in her hand and moving steadily toward an uncertain future and away from a grudging past. Her name is Darla Haptonstall and she’s a gem.

This year she doesn’t get to chat with her clients, which is one of her main reasons for getting up and going to work. Because of the emergency we all bring in our contaminated papers and leave them at the door, and she turns them into refunds, which are signed electronically. The work gets done, but is devoid of en face human contact.

I spoke with her briefly on the phone yesterday, and I’m not quite sure what I said but it had to do with toilet paper and it broke her up entirely. The poor lady must be starved for amusement.

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I don’t mind paying my taxes, because I know that our elected officials will use them prudently. If Pres. Cluck can take my few dollars and funnel them into some needy plutocrat’s pocket, why, isn’t that what he’s there for?

If I were to keep those pesos for my own use, I might squander them on fripperies like food and shelter and music and have nothing to show for them at the end of the day but a smile on my face.

No, it’s better by far that I send my shekels off to Washington D.C., where there are skilled people who know exactly what to do with large quantities of other people’s money.

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Here’s a touching John Prine story. If you’ve ever in your sweet short life known a 10 year-old girl, I guarantee you’ll like it.

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I am rereading Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. This will be the third time I’ve gone through the book, and this time promises to be the best of all.

I was a twenty-something living in Minnesota when I first read it, and had to try to imagine through Abbey’s descriptions what it was like living in Arches National Monument for those seasons. I read it the second time as a middle-aged South Dakotan when I visited Moab UT for a couple of days on a swing through the southern part of the state. I understood his book on a different level then, having actually seen some of the places he had written about.

But this time I know so much better all of those locales, especially Arches (which is now a national park) and the Moab area. I’ve spent an accumulation of weeks wandering about the red slickrock of southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado and have a deeper appreciation for that desert landscape and what it does for my spirit to be there.

To be there and to take the time to do nothing at all. To walk without any agenda that the land itself does not provide.

[Wikipedia has a particularly good review of the book that I can recommend to you.]

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Out, Out, Damned Cartel

This was our nighttime sky on Tuesday evening, supermoon and all.

[The photo was stolen outright from the Montrose Daily News electronic edition]

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John Prine passed away on Tuesday, of complications from coronavirus infection. He’d beaten cancer a couple of times, but this little twisted bit of ribonucleic acid did him in. He’s written many excellent songs, but my favorite is Angel From Montgomery, which you can listen to here.

Vale, Mr. Prine.

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We finished the third season of Ozark last night. It’s basically your everyday Shakespearean tragedy grinding along toward disaster, and last evening’s episode took some long steps toward that conclusion.

Jason Bateman has done a great job playing an unflappable man who might be better off flapping once in a while. His wife, played by the excellent Laura Linney, does her Lady Macbeth thing, being able to switch from an expression of deepest horror to a reassuring smile and honeyed voice in less than a single out-breath.

The rest of the cast is very good, but I do have a small suggestion for the guy who plays the head of a Mexican cartel – take the melodrama down from 10 to about seven. I think it will work better for the character. If you want to see what I mean, watch a few episodes of Narcos – Mexico on Netflix. Menace is more interesting than rage.

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Beans and rice tonight for supper. When I saw this whole Covid-19 drama unfolding back in January, I didn’t really start to hoard (being a classy person, I am incapable of doing tawdry stuff like that) but did buy enough dried food, including pinto beans and rice, to last a week or two. At the time all the grocer’s shelves were full, hugging had not become the don’t even think about it! thing that it would, and toilet paper never came into a conversation.

Most of those dried provisions are still on the shelf in the garage, and I figured we’d better get going on reducing the pile. Ergo today’s (and many tomorrows’) menu.

I think I shared this recipe for pinto beans back a few months ago, when our Instant Pot was still new and we were wondering what to do with it. It’s still a winner.

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There are a few fruit trees blossoming here in Paradise. Many of them are apricots, a popular planting hereabouts. We’ve thought about putting one in our front yard, but there is one thing holding me back. Such a tree, if successful, will always produce more apricots than a person could ever eat, and somebody has to pick up the hundreds that fall to the ground.

You can walk barefoot on the apple seeds from last year, but not apricot pits. Far too sharp and pointy, they are.

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Well, just when I thought things in the Executive Branch couldn’t get any dumber, they did. I know the words “perfect storm” have been greatly overused since that movie of a few years ago, but there is now a perfect storm of quasi-medical horseapples rolling down the streets of Washington D.C., which if we don’t watch out could engulf us. Or at the very least get all over our shoes.

The reason … President Cluck and Doctor Oz are presently on the same collaborative page, advising people to go out and treat the Covid-19 (that they may or may not have) with drugs never tested against the disease.

You all remember Dr. Oz, don’t you? He’s the former surgeon who long ago left medicine, his integrity, and what wisps of common sense he was born with behind and became a full-time shill for diet crazes and a hundred varieties of snake oil.

You might say, hey, if someone’s dumb enough to take the advice of this pair of bozos, they deserve what’s coming to them. And you’d have a point. Perhaps we should look at it as a tool of evolution, where a handful of these easily-led citizens remove themselves from the gene pool by following the advice of such popinjays.

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The header photo is of Robin paddling up Pagami Creek, in the Boundary Waters wilderness area of Minnesota. Two months later what you are looking at in this picture was engulfed in fire, one of the biggest the BW has ever experienced.

This all happened nine years ago, so time and the inexorable forces of life have done much to repair the damage that a lightning strike caused. Pagami Creek is green again, although the new trees are smaller, and are mixed in with the blackened reminders of 2011.

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Kalsarikännit

On Sunday we tried Zoom videoconferencing with daughters Sarah and Kari and their spouses ( who also have perfectly good names and they are DJ and Jon). I think I made all the rookie mistakes in hosting the get-together, but after a few minutes had everyone settled in fairly well.

It went well enough that we’ll certainly try it again, with a couple of changes. Sarah and DJ attempted to enter the meeting from their car which was located in the parking lot at a McDonald’s restaurant, but Mickey D didn’t have the network bandwidth to make it run smoothly for them. It did come through, but was jerky-jerky at times.

So it was a learning experience for us, and we’ll all be pros the next time. The star of the show was Kari and Jon’s new puppy, who was on screen for only a few seconds but that was way long enough to win our hearts and minds. He’s a baby malamute with fur twelve inches deep and feet like snowshoes. He apparently also pees, somewhere, every 40 minutes.

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Ahhhhh, there’s good news today! The Finns have done it again. They’ve come up with a word to describe an activity wherein the isolation of these coronavirus days could be an advantage (at least for part of the populace), and that’s kalsarikännit.

The translation is “getting drunk at home, alone, in your underwear.”

No less a publication than the Times of New York has reported on this practice. (I will add that it is not restricted to those of Finnish ancestry.)

Being inspired by this story, I began experiments with being at home in my underwear but not drunk, for reasons that I need not go into. Obviously, I am also not alone, since pushing Robin out the door for hours at this time of the emergency when there is nowhere for her to go would be cruel. It would also be impossible, since she is much stronger than you would suspect of a 62 inch-high person.

The interesting thing is that Robin hasn’t even noticed that I am experimenting, since over the years I have apparently achieved a level of everyday slovenliness that has numbed her to my physical appearance.

When I pushed the envelope even further and went without clothing at all one day … nothing. Nothing, that is, for several hours until when I was going to fry up some bacon for lunch and she silently held out an apron for me to wear. Something she has never done before.

It warmed my heart.

She had noticed.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

Trump’s Narcissism Could Cost Us Our Lives by Jennifer Senior
Has Anyone Found Trump’s Soul? Anyone? by Frank Bruni

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Yesterday we went to do our taxes, at the HR Block office in Delta CO. Don’t ask why we drive 20 miles to do what could be done easily 2 miles away from home, but we got started with a woman we like and we’re sticking with her.

We had a 3:00 appointment, but when we arrived, we found they had adopted a “drop-off only” policy, where I simply stepped inside the door and handed them our papers. The receptionist received them into her latex-gloved hands, all the while looking like I’d just handed her a cow-pie, and told me that the file would be kept in quarantine for a day before our tax preparer even started on it.

No problem-o, said I, and off Robin and I went to Confluence Park, located on the outskirts of Delta. It’s a lovely little 265 acre chunk of naturalness that is located where the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers come together.

We wandered the trails in the park for more than a hour, and even though there were other people around, social distancing was easily accomplished. We were rarely closer than 25 yards from the next human being.

Spring is soooo underway out there. Even though this is truly the season of our discontent, the rest of the natural world cares not a fig for the coronavirus. We are the only species that is dithering about it – for everything else it’s just another spring.

Of course, the rest of the natural world has its problems here and there, too. Ask an American Elm how it’s doing if you can find one, or check out some of the forests here in Colorado where the pines are reddish-brown instead of green because of bark beetle infestation, or consider the wasting disease that is reducing deer populations all over the country even now.

But yesterday afternoon everything was as beautiful as it could be. The sky … impossible that it could be more blue than it was.

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Moments

Forgiveness is letting go of the hope for a different past.

This pithy saying is a takeaway from an orientation talk at a rehab center many moons ago. It somehow made it through my muddy thought processes at the time, being one of those moments of clarity when I felt I was face to face with wisdom. Something to truly hang one’s hat on. I still see it that way.

The world of recovery is filled with slogans, enough to last a person their entire life without ever having to repeat one. They are all over the walls of AA meeting rooms, on the pages of the books and bumper stickers, etc. Some of them raised my gorge when I first laid eyes on them and still do. Some of them provoked tears of relief and have that power today.

Are you ready for a Sunday morning metaphor? When you are drowning in a rapids, as most addicts are, these slogans are branches floating by that you can grab onto for a moment’s rest from the need to fight the current continuously.

Most of the aphorisms are perfectly applicable to people’s lives who are not addicts, which is what you might expect since these sayings are drawn from all of literature.

Early on in AA, I began to feel a little sorry for people who weren’t addicted, because there was so much good stuff to learn in the world of recovery. The only problem was that you had to be a soggy mess in danger of losing your life to get through the door, and being so afraid of drowning that you were willing to do the hard work of learning, of letting go.

But there are really marvelous resources out there for us all, and we all have free access to them.

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So this year’s answer to the question – What did you give up for Lent? – will hopefully not be repeated in our lifetimes.

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I have recognized a feeling just this morning, and that is survivor guilt. There is a typhoon blowing through much of the world, but only the slightest of breezes here in our mountain valley.

Oh, we are doing all the moves along with everyone else – we wear masks, stay six feet apart, make only essential trips away from home, don’t scratch our noses, etc. But there have been so few positive tests in our county, so few hospitalized people, and the single death was just reported this morning. We are a smallish town geographically isolated. Once the ski slopes were closed, there were even fewer reasons to come this way in the wintertime.

It’s likely that there are harder trials still ahead of us, and we will yet be given the opportunity to be tested as our brothers and sisters elsewhere. But right now, we are watching the eastern cities burn while our tin-pot Nero fiddles. We help where we can and however we can.

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Daughter Maja related a story to me just yesterday that I am sharing with you with her permission. Adversity is not without its opportunities for grace, in fact, perhaps they stand out more vividly when we are under fire.

I will let Maja tell the story.

It is very common here in Lima to live in an apartment and have doormen as security.  Before the State of Emergency, there were 3 doormen in my building and now there is only one:  Giovanni.  He is here day and night every day, working tirelessly.  He keeps us healthy when we leave and return by spraying disinfectant on our feet, giving us hand sanitizer, spraying down the elevator buttons, etc.  The other day the hot water went out in my apartment and even though it isn’t his job he came and fixed it!!  I tip him exorbitantly whenever possible.

Every time I leave the building to get groceries, I ask him what he needs.  He only ever asks for water.  I always return with water and a small something else, usually a pre-made meal of some kind like chicken and rice.  Today, for some unknown reason, I brought him these items and also a large brownie cake with festive sprinkles.

He told me that today is his birthday and how did I know? I didn’t.  He started to cry.  I started to cry.  We couldn’t hug.

Small gestures to those around us mean a lot.

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No Longer Virgins, We Are

Apparently Robin and I were the last two Americans to learn about the existence of “Zoom,” a platform for sound and video conferencing. I might be exaggerating just a little, because I’ve learned that there is a pocket of non-electrified citizens living far back in the Florida Everglades who share our ignorance on the subject.

At any rate, we’ve only come into the light during the past month. Regular users of Zoom seem to think it’s better than FaceTime or Skype, the only other free platforms I’d known about until now. I will reserve judgment for a while. It does seem easier to get started with, but my past experience has been that early simplicity can be deceptive, and before long I find myself wondering if that codger up the street who used to work for Hewlett-Packard still remembers anything that might help me.

Furthermore, like many other such enterprises before it, Zoom has been caught collecting and selling data on users without their permission. Those mental pictures of executives with their hand in our till while we’re sleeping are never flattering.

Anyway, Robin and I have both Zoomed now and can never look back to that purer state of unawareness we once enjoyed. Friday noon I’m attending my first AA meeting using the app. Chats with other family and friends can probably not be far away …

[The photo at top is from 1999, from the children’s TV show, Zoom. No connection.]

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The black and white cat-beast next door has bothered enough people in our neighborhood that its owners have had to shut it away indoors for the past couple of weeks. They are considering placement for the vicious critter on a farm somewhere, and I only hope that time comes soon. If they can’t find a farm, I might suggest an urn.

It’s been so pleasant seeing our pets without new injuries that he’s caused. Just a week ago at 0300 hours he had slipped his bonds and tried to gain entrance to our house by ripping his way through the pet portal, which was fortunately firmly shuttered at the time. I have no idea who or what he was after, since he and I have a really bad vibe going. (In my dreams his claws are at my throat … )

I had reached the point where I was about to invoke city ordinances when I learned that the cat was being kept in. Glad that didn’t have to happen. I would have disliked dealing with the couple next door on a persistently hostile basis.

I actually like the couple. My read is that they’ve had trouble realizing and accepting that the big fluffy purr-y guy living with them is a killer, and does not play well with others.

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It is my friend Bill’s birthday today, and Bill is 119 years old. His recipe for living this long is simple … don’t die, whatever else you may do. He looks really good for his age, I think, and while I don’t have a more recent photo, here’s one from last summer.

Bill has a daily regimen that may be contributing to his longevity. He rises regularly at 4:00 AM, takes a shower with the water temperature set at precisely 37 degrees, then jumps on his road bike, a Trek Domane SLR 9, and off he goes for 30 miles of hard pumping. Once a week, just to make it a real workout, he will tie a rope to the bike and drag the wheel ( with tire) of a 1952 Chevvy pickup behind him.

Another shower and it’s time for calisthenics. His workout varies but usually includes 100 bent-knee situps and 50 one-handed pushups on each side.

By now it’s 8:00 and time for breakfast, where large helpings of toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, hash-browns, and pomegranate juice are chewed, swished, and swallowed. He wipes his chin, picks up all the food fragments that have fallen into his lap, and walks to his bedroom, where he collapses onto the bed and doesn’t get out until 4:00 the next morning.

Works for him.

So … here’s hoping that I catch him during that short interval between pushups and breakfast and that this Happy Birthday wish can help make his day a bright one.

Onward … to 120!

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Bill Withers, man.

There were those hot summers when his music was like sweet salve on a burn. It is still here to soothe and inspire us all over again, nearly fifty years on.

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Big Dominguez

A warmer Wednesday morning … 45 degrees way before the sun comes up. We took a longer hike today, revisiting Big Dominguez Canyon. It’s about an hour and a half away, and was completely free of snow, as we had hoped. So many of our favorite hiking areas are above 8000 feet, where snow is still an issue.

If you walk the whole length of the canyon it’s a trip of about 24 miles out and back, but we’ve never gone that far. Ordinarily we go up about 5 miles, have a nibble, then return. It’s not a hard walk, but can be brutal in midsummer, since the landscape is pure desert – hot and dry.

But Wednesday was a perfect day for this walk. And at least a hundred other very pleasant people thought the same.

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Some of you have seen these videos, which are both timely and hilarious. Both are take-offs on pop music tunes, one by Adele and the other by The Knack.

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Since we can’t go to the gym because of the pestilence, we’ve resorted to walking and bicycling on actual dirt and sidewalks. It’s really amazing what you can do without an electrified treadmill or elliptical. Why didn’t somebody tell us? Sheeesh.

For resistance training, we’re using a box of SKLZ latex cables that we’ve had around for years, but never got serious about until it was necessary. They don’t cover all of the territory that a universal gym does, but are simple and unglamorous helpers.

When you have a sculpted physique like mine, you can’t let a day pass without pushing or pulling on something or it will go all soft on you. If that something has to be a set of rubber bands, so be it.

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Dear Ragnar: So, Ragnar, how do you think America is doing in dealing with this latest version of the plague? I know you’ve seen quite a few of these come and go in your time.

Ragnar: Well, it’s kind of a mixed bag, isn’t it? You average Joe is doing okay … following the rules and taking care of business. On the other hand your average Yahoo is running around claiming it’s a sunny day and why are all the bars closed?

Dear Ragnar: So you think that “staying in place” programs are the right way to go?

Ragnar: Well, of course. We had our own guidelines back in the day, we called them “get back in your damned hovel or else!”

Dear Ragnar: Really?

Ragnar: You bet. We had two guys, Einar and Lothar, who did nothing but walk around the village and smite rule-breakers right and left.

Dear Ragnar: So strong leadership was important?

Ragnar: Well, duh! And that’s something I haven’t yet been able to figure out. We’d pick the bravest, strongest, and smartest person in the village to be our leader. But you guys … what’s the deal here?

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Under Pressure

Monday morning was a drizzly sort of thing, with some intermittent patches of slushy snow falling. Thirty-two degrees of half-way-welcome damp. Early in the afternoon Robin and I went out for a walk and just when we were far enough from home to ensure that we would be good and wet, we found ourselves in a thunderstorm.

On Sunday I had assembled one of those small Rubbermaid storage sheds as the final piece in our “Let’s see if we need that big rental shed after all” project. The winning strategy involved ridding ourselves of yet another pile of truck. We’re not quite down to the place that daughter Maja is in, one where all she owns is a suitcase-ful of clothes, a pair of Birkenstocks, and a parasol, but we finally appreciate the utility of that way of living.

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A few months ago, on a routine office visit, my personal physician, Dr. Geronimo Malfeasance, found my blood pressure to be elevated. Rechecks x 4 were okay, so he let it pass as due to my being a nervous sort of person (I denied it) and that was that.

But because the alarm had been raised, I had purchased an inexpensive BP cuff to take my pressure readings at home, which proved so frustrating to use that I stopped doing them very early on. As far as I could determine, any chance of getting an accurate reading required that you have three arms and the manual dexterity of a sword juggler.

But recently it started to bug me that I hadn’t been a better patient, so I dug out that POS cuff and found a reading that was so high it belonged on a Stanley Steamer pressure gauge rather than any device used by human beings.

So I threw out that poor excuse for a blood pressure cuff and did some quick research. I am now the proud owner of an Omron upper arm BP measurement tool. It’s a beaut. Put it on your arm and press a button – that’s all. It blows itself up and lets itself down. No cords, no tubes, and the readings are beamed via Bluetooth to my phone into an app from Omron, where they are recorded and averaged.

I’ve taken a good two dozen readings and while most of them are mildly elevated, there is no serious cause for alarm. Some weight loss, taking the salt shaker off of the table, you know the drill. With any luck my numbers should come down delightfully. But Omron will tell me if they don’t.

Life is good.

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Referencing the cartoon above, some of you may not have encountered smelt or the people that fish for them, and I offer this information.

Smelt are a small silvery fish, a little over six inches long, that inhabit large bodies of water during most of the year, but in spring migrate up streams to spawn. As they do, they are set upon by humans dressed in all the warm clothing they own and wearing high rubber boots.

These men and women, who are vehemently opposed to fish having sex in the open where children might come upon them, wade into the cold water with long-handled nets and scoop the fish into buckets. There is no angling, no hook and line, and no finesse required, but only the shoveling skills of someone cleaning out a barn.

You then take the bucketsful home and fry up the fish, usually whole (no scaling or cleaning) with a little breading. At this point everyone sits up to the table and congratulates the fisherman on all his hard work. The fisherman is often not present to hear this praise, being indisposed as a result of the hypothermia acquired doing all that scooping the day before, and the pneumonia that it became later on.

Just in case the prospect of wading in freezing water to scoop up little fish doesn’t meet your criteria for entertainment, in those parts of the country where smelt can be found, churches and social groups will put on what are cleverly called smelt feeds. You need only show up with enough money for the ticket and you can eat all you want.

They are actually quite delicious. And the children are protected.

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Obligate

A little bit about viruses. They are very extraordinary things, these tiny particles, which usually cannot exist outside of the host (in the case of this new coronavirus, the host is us) for more than a few hours or days. And their only true place of residence is inside of our cells. The technical name for them is obligate intracellular parasites, which is a mouthful.

Someone coughs in my direction and a viral particle sails toward me, eventually coming to rest in my respiratory passages as I breathe in. Once there it grabs onto a cell and burrows into it. Now the virus commandeers the machinery of that cell, pushing aside all normal operators, and turns the cell’s activity to … guess what? … making more virus.

Our present Staying in Place restrictions have a good chance of breaking up this pandemic, or at least limiting the harm. Theoretically, since we are the virus’ only “food,” dividing us up into small groups should work well. If by mischance I somehow contract the viral agent and bring it home with me, basically there is only Robin to give it to, as long as I am following the guidelines with regard to human contact. So poor Robin becomes ill, we both recover (Oh Happy Day!), and that’s it for our particular branch of the tree. We are now immune. We don’t pass it along. We have become a dead end.

So for the present – no restaurants, movie theaters, church services, major league baseball … basically no amusements that involve large groups of people. I can live with that.

A couple of days ago I read of an evangelical pastor who was, by God, not going to let coronavirus keep him from spreading the Word on Sunday mornings, so services were being carried out as usual.

Not a terrific idea, to say the least. The odds are pretty good that his congregation will be a younger and smaller one when this is all over. But it will also be a smarter one. Because the brighter lights among the faithful will have stayed home as they knew they should.

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Robin came across a site claiming to have links to forty of the greatest essays of all time (No hubris at all, is there?). The very first one was by David Sedaris, who is a favorite of both Robin and I.

It’s title is Laugh, Kookaburra, and I’ll bet even money you will smile repeatedly as you read it. You may also chuckle, but probably not guffaw.

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I am an absolute sucker for articles written about wolves. Especially those with an encouraging outcome. Each time I visit Ely MN for a canoe trip into the Boundary Waters, I spend some time in the International Wolf Center there, being totally caught up in what I am learning about these creatures.

Wildness is what they bring to the conversation. A sense of what was and should be if our own species was not so voracious.

So when I found this piece this morning in the Times of New York, I fell upon it like … wolves. It’s about the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.

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Battlefield Dispatch

On Wednesday morning I showed up at the City Market at 0700, to take advantage of the advertised “senior shopping hours.” There were already 60-70 people in a shapeless and meandering line reaching back into the parking lot. I examined each face in the line closely to see if there were any younger shoppers sneaking in on our senior dime. If I had found one, I had plans to publicly shame them right back to the time period where they belonged, the hours from 0800 onward.

I am using military time here, because in many ways what I found in the store resembled a military operation. Once through the doors, most of the shoppers pointed their carts toward the paper products aisle, like LSTs heading into Omaha Beach on D-Day. I can only imagine what violations of the Geneva Convention were perpetrated there by those fearful-faced older citizens grabbing at the four-paks of Charmin. There are lengths that I will go for a roll of TP, but battering my way through forty members of the shuffleboard set is not one of them. So I went there last.

Some of the workers in the produce department were wearing Kevlar vests. and I asked why this was the case. Apparently on one drizzly morning earlier in the week, there were some incidents involving angry shoppers stabbing at employees with their umbrellas, inflicting small round bruises on their chests. One man had had to defend himself with a vegetable sprayer when a gaggle cornered him between the turnips and the artichokes.

Another worker was wearing a therapeutic boot on his right foot. On the previous day, an irate customer driven mad when he learned that the store was entirely out of cilantro deliberately piloted his electric scooter over the employee’s foot. He did this not once, but went back and forth repeatedly until a passerby switched off the machine, saving the worker’s metatarsals, if not his life.

But I floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, to quote the great Muhammad Ali. My shopping technique is more akin to lightning commando raids rather than frontal assaults. I will slip around a large knot of carts wedged together and dart down an aisle, grab what I came for, and off I go in one fluid maneuver. It’s basically drive-by shopping. By the time the knot realizes what I’ve done, and goes en masse to the spot I just left, I am somewhere entirely else.

So at the end of an hour I had 95% of what I’d come for, which is an excellent result. As I checked out, I could still hear small-arms fire near the canned fish department, and I counted among my many blessings that I was done for the day.

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I am indebted to Andy Borowitz for this thoughtful report. The title of his piece is New Evidence Indicates Intelligence Not Contagious, and it couldn’t be more timely.

I will admit that I had noticed this ongoing public experiment myself, but could not find the words to describe it properly.

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There was a time when I used to teach medical students. I no longer remember exactly what it was that I was teaching them, but no matter. For the most part they were juniors on their pediatric rotations, which is in general a fine group to work with.

On days when I was feeling positive about physicians as a class, I would relate this quote to them, taken from a longer poem by Rumi.

A dragon was pulling a bear into hits terrible mouth. A courageous man went and rescued the bear. There are such helpers in the world, who rush to save anyone who cries out.

Like Mercy itself, they run toward the screaming.

Rumi: Cry Out In Your Weakness

I would relate the quotation, then say to the students: “That is what you have signed up for, to be one of those who run toward the screaming, rather than away. You may all take a bow.”

Of course, not all of them would grow up to be as courageous as the man in the story. Physicians are made from the same clay as everybody else. Some sinners sprinkled in among the saints. A few who run, but to hide, not to help.

But right now, there is an army of medical personnel of all classifications who deserve our admiration and praise and help. They are those on the front lines of this pandemic, way too often going to work without the tools they need to protect themselves properly, walking into rooms that most of us would avoid, in some cases isolating themselves from their own families in order not to chance bringing this new plague home to loved ones.

I salute these men and women working in hospitals and offices and clinics around the country. Doctors, nurses, laboratory and radiology techs, physician’s assistants, orderlies, receptionists, security officers … the list goes on. Their courage and personal sacrifice are the antidote to the cynicism about our species that I sometimes feel.

When you compare their quiet everyday heroism with the behavior of our President, for instance, you can see so clearly what billions of dollars cannot buy.

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Light snow this Saturday morning. We took our constitutionals yesterday walking in the bluffs along the Uncompahgre, and whenever our heads peeked up over the crest of the hills we were met with a 30 mph wind, which was refreshing to say the least.

it was not hazardous hiking, although there were a few spots where if you would stumble and fall down the hill, you wouldn’t come to rest for quite a way, and at that point you would begin a long hour of picking cactus spines out of your epidermis.

I was reminded of a time past when I was (really, I was) considering hiking up Long’s Peak, which is a fourteener that tens of thousands of people who don’t share my phobias have climbed. In doing my research, I bought a book describing how all of the people who had died on that climb had perished.

Most of them had been struck by lightning, which I learned could largely be avoided by not being on top when the afternoon storms rolled in. Then there was the guy who went all the way up only to do what he came for, which was to jump off and end it all.

And then there was the guy whose story cancelled my plans. He was traversing a stretch where one walks along a rather narrow ledge. A gust of wind came by and blew him off the ledge. Blew him off the ledge was all I had to read. There was no amount of psychological training for my acrophobia or knowing that I needed to be getting down from the peak before the storms that could neutralize such a threat.

Long’s Peak is still there, and I am still here. We’ve never met.

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Inoffensive Care Unit

Well, it had to happen. The number of cases of Covid-19 quadrupled over the last two days in Montrose County. From 1 to 4.

All of the patients were taken to a remote line camp on a ranch in an undisclosed location up on the Uncompahgre Plateau, along with 20 pounds of dried rice and beans, a good Coleman stove and lantern, four excellent (zero degrees-rated) down sleeping bags, and enough back issues of True West magazine to last them at least a month.

Some of the boys who rode up with them chopped enough wood to last the unfortunates for a solid week, and set the pile up right against the cabin where they could get at it easy. We don’t pamper our patients here in Paradise like they do in some other places. We sympathize, but by God, iffen you can’t take care of yourself in this world of trials and troubles, we don’t think you’re much of a cowboy.

We’ll check on them every couple of days …

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You could see it coming. This morning (Thursday) at 0600, by decree of Governor Polis, we are officially under a Stay At Home policy. From what I’ve been able to garner so far, it will not be much different for Robin and I, except it will be even harder to get a haircut than it was, and it was already impossible.

Details as to how it will be enforced aren’t clear at all. Probably not as vigorously as in daughter Maja’s situation in Lima, where she would be stopped and asked to show her papers on her way to a bodega. And where she saw people being hustled into military vehicles and carted away.

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David Brooks is not given to emotional outbursts. He is the very soul of responsible and thoughtful conservatism, and wouldn’t be caught dead with an epithet in his eminently sober mouth. No way. Too cool for that.

So when I saw the title of his latest piece in the Times of New York, I just had to read it, and I offer it to you here. Click on: Screw This Virus!

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And while we’re citing op/eds, this essay by Leonard Pitts was so beautifully written … a small but humbling story. Click on: Coronavirus crisis reveals the depth of our grace — and our greed 

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Robin has discovered a new (to us) communications software called Zoom. (As if senior citizens needed more than FaceTime and Skype.)

But this one seems a little easier to use, and is very straightforward in its rules and regulations. It is cross-platform and allows conference calls of up to 100 participants, which in the era of social distancing is not to be sniffed at. Robin used it a couple of days ago for a meeting of her book club, and those who participated thought it fun and very workable.

The amazing thing for all three of these programs is how much utility they provide the occasional user like ourselves, for free. Yes, friends, for the low low introductory price of only zero dollars, that’s zero down and zero per month, you too can start your own communications empire.

If this interests you at all, you can start your journey at zoom.us.

[Disclosure: we received no funds from Zoom.us for this endorsement. We tried like hell to get some, but failed miserably.]

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The music today is definitely not cool. I started to pick out a couple of tunes to go along with the first item in today’s post, but as I listened to them it became more than that.

They are from the pre-rock and roll part of my existence. From the Saturday movie matinees where Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and all of their buddies did improbably brave things while wearing fancy outfits that never got dirty. Whose silver-plated guns glistened enough to blind adversaries, but which never ever killed anyone. And these songs, corny as they might seem now, were played straight in all of those films.

They were the background music for a time when I believed in everything. The world was fair, courage and honor always won the day, and tragedy – why, what was that? If a guy knew he was about to pass into that great pasture in the sky, there was nothing for it but to smile bravely as you saddled up ol’ Buckskin, or ol’ Paint, or ol’ Trigger or Champion and rode out into the sunset.

I’ve had to temper some of those ideas since that uncomplicated time, but listening this morning I could remember exactly how it was when I first heard these songs by the Sons of the Pioneers. Like uncorking a wine bottled in 1948.

Still tastes good, actually.

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This week Colorado abolished the death penalty, becoming the 21st state to do so. In the graphic below, which is now obsolete, our state’s color has gone from blue to green.

There were three men on our death row, whose sentences were commuted to life without parole. Looking at the graphic, in general it would seem that the closer a state is to Canada the more likely it is to be enlightened on this issue.

No matter what a person’s feelings are about the morality of the death penalty, there are two facts that stand out. One is that it is basically a penalty reserved for the poor. If you can afford Alan Dershowitz’ services (and others of his high-billing breed), you are not going to be hung, gassed, shot, guillotined, drawn, quartered, or given a lethal injection. Period. Never, ever happen.

The second is that it is not a rare thing for a person to be wrongfully convicted and executed. Anyone who labors under the delusion that our justice system is completely trustworthy and that everybody on death row deserves to be there … lord have mercy, I just don’t know what to say!

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Unfair! Unfair!

Dr. Atul Gawande is so smart and thoughtful and charming he makes me feel altogether puny. How could the universe give so much to one person and so little to another? Where’s the justice here?

In the New Yorker this week, he stands back and looks at our journey so far through corona-opolis, and begins to put some things right that have been askew. Straightens the pictures on the wall, so to speak. He puts to rest the feeling that this is all completely new territory and we don’t have any idea how to deal with it.

While that mindset might have had a tinge of truth in it a couple of months ago, it simply isn’t reality today. We are learning rapidly due to reports from around the world, and through shared experiences. Gawande summarizes what we are finding, and it is moderately reassuring. Not complacency-promoting, but reassuring.

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Our village has started senior hours at the grocery stores. Apparently this is happening out there in the rest of the world as well. On M-W-F older citizens can shop from 0700-0800 without having to deal with those pesky youngsters and their runny noses. Theoretically this will reduce the older folks’ chance of exposure to coronavirus and thus prolong some of their lives.

But this system is not without its drawbacks. If you take the store up on their offer, what it would mean is greatly intensified exposure to one of the supreme aggravators of our time – the elderly female grocery shopper.

They clutter the aisles, moving at so slow a pace that one has to paint lines on the floor to be sure they are moving at all. They park their carts on one side of the aisle and their bodies on the other, completely obstructing traffic. And they pay you no attention when you holler at them to get out of the way or you will come through at ramming speed.

But the worst, the absolute worst things happen at the checkout counter. These women have on average about 1500 coupons dating back to 1944, all of which have to be gone through one at a time to see which are valid and which are not. And they do not toss out the rejected ones, but replace them in their purses to be brought out again at the next visit.

The idea that you have to actually purchase a bag of coffee to get the $1.00 credit seems to be a foreign concept to many of these ladies, and there is quite a bit of harrumphing at the inflexibility of the store.

But now comes the coup de grace. The groceries are all rung up, the cashier is waiting for the customer to select method of payment, and after scratching around in a bottomless purse for several minutes out comes the checkbook. They never, n-e-v-e-r, have their checkbook out and are ready with pen in hand when the total is rung up. It apparently comes as a surprise to them every time.

So those senior hours look a lot less attractive when you really think about them. Am I being too harsh? Too sexist? Aren’t old men just as deficient in these areas?

Of course they are. But no one in their right mind would send an old dude to get the groceries. Might as well throw your shopping list into the street, for all the good it would do you. They are so distractible and memory-challenged that they come to the checkouts with nothing in their carts at all and must be sent back into the store to take a second run at it.

So for all these reasons I think I’ll shop with the millennials. Besides, they are so easy and fun to annoy.

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So … yesterday I looked at myself in the mirror and saw shagginess. The kind that a haircut can fix. After a few phone calls, I found out that you can’t do that in Montrose these days, because all of the barbers, etc. have shut their doors. Apparently good grooming is yet another casualty of the present plague.

Later in the day I came under fire from our children for even considering going to a salon and risking that exposure, and I accept that criticism as caring and well-intended. Even sensible. Looking in the same mirror, suddenly I didn’t look all that untidy, after all.

And I have come up with a plan of sorts, should the emergency continue for weeks into the future. I will either let my hair grow without interventions or clip it back to the skull by my own hand. Walking around with a botched self-cut somewhere in between has no appeal. My personal appearance standards are low, I admit, but I do have them.

So, unless there is a change in our present situation, a few months from now I will likely have one of these two possible “looks.”

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