Water, Water, Everywhere …

While Robin was away for a couple of days in Durango, doing grandma stuff with Claire, I stayed home in Paradise and took the opportunity to re-watch the movie Das Boot. It’s a movie made in Germany, with a German director, a German cast and highly inconveniently, everybody speaks German in the film. Fortunately the DVD manufacturer provided some little words in red across the bottom of the screen so we had some idea of what everyone was saying and could follow the action. They called these words “subtitles.” It occurred to me that there are quite a few American-made films that could use subtitles as well, especially those made in New Jersey (mumbling and jargon) and Alabama (accents and jargon).

But I digress.

Rotten Tomatoes gave it 98%, the audience gave it 98%, so it’s credentials are pretty solid. It’s a movie that takes place during wartime, but is really not about war. It is about men doing an extremely difficult job under what to me are some of the most stressful conditions imaginable. Take a person, put them and 40 other men inside a long narrow metal tube with only one exit, submerge the tube in the ocean, and then drop bombs on it repeatedly.

Well before the first depth charges went off, my claustrophobia would have kicked in and the rest of the crew would have had to duct-tape me to a torpedo to get me out of the way. It is also likely that I would need to be gagged so that my screaming wasn’t a distraction to other crew members as they went about their duties.

Myself, on being told that I couldn’t just leave the ship and go home this very minute.

When it comes to warfare I don’t want to be up in the air or be underwater, and even when appropriately stationed on terra firma I would immediately request that the only weapon I be issued was a word processor. Other than those limitations, I’m your basic warrior material.

The movie is one of the greats, and it is 209 minutes long in the “director’s cut.” So … a very long and often claustrophobic movie that takes place in wartime, with 99.9% male actors … not eye candy for everyone.

Did I mention that it was entirely done in a foreign language? Oh wait, there was a recorded song played as background a couple of times : “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.” English was used there.

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A little local mountain story. Paradise abounds in what are called “jeep roads.” Translated, this means trails that are a little wider than needed for two elk to pass one another, carved out of solid rock, and which at one time carried supplies to and from the thousands of mines in western Colorado. These days they are for adult children to play on with their toys. They are typically narrow and have severe drop-offs on one side, as in the photo below.

Not all of these roads require that you own a Jeep vehicle. Some are navigable by SUV, some by passenger sedans. The Camp Bird road is an SUV road located a few miles outside of Ouray CO. At one point it narrowed to a single lane that had a picturesque overhang.

Landmark overhang before the rockfall

But a couple of years ago, one day when no one was (fortunately) near, a big chunk of that overhang fell off. In a relatively short time the road was cleared, but something had been lost.

Rock debris after overhang collapsed

Then earlier this summer, a woman and her grown daughter signed up for a Jeep tour with a seasoned operator. They took off up the road and for reasons as yet unexplained, the vehicle left the road and tumbled down a couple of hundred feet. No one survived the crash.

Jeep vehicle being raised from canyon

The point? That even knowing the ropes doesn’t guarantee a good outcome every time. I went up the Camp Bird Road in a Subaru Forester the year before the rockfall, and when I had brought the vehicle back down to civilization, Robin had to use up a whole can of WD-40 and a small prybar to get my fingers off the steering wheel.

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All sorts of stories coming out of Hurricane Ian’s visit to the U.S. Destruction, heartbreak, loss. Heroism, unselfishness, kindness, sacrifice. The storm surges have hardly begun to recede before the accusation surge begins, where public figures berate one another for alleged incompetence, malfeasance, halitosis, and generally bad behavior.

Florida can’t get a break. Each tropical storm is a small respite from the daily assaults that humans make against a fragile ecosystem. There’s quite a bit of fuss in recent years about the state’s infestation with the invasion of Burmese pythons , which are eating up native wildlife at an alarming rate. Their depredations, of course, are small potatoes compared with what our own species has already done to the state with overdevelopment and ignorant land usage.

So far, the pythons haven’t started gobbling up Floridians, although some of the snakes have grown large enough to be worrisome. Here’s a photo of an 18 foot long, 215 pounder recently captured in that state.

My, my, my.

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I don’t know about you, but if one of these wandered into my campsite of an evening, it would provoke quite a bit of excitement. It would also prompt a careful head count once the creature had left the area. Billy? Jimmy? Heather? Bob? Fluffy … Fluffy … Fluffy … ?

Snake Drive, by the North Mississippi Allstars

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From The New Yorker

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I would like to thank The New Yorker magazine for being an unwitting contributor to this blog over the years. Of course I am referring to the fact that I “borrow” cartoons from their archives on a regular basis and publish them here. It’s a contemptible practice, I know, and if I have an immortal soul I am certainly placing it in jeopardy with each episode of this petty pilfering.

I salve my conscience by adding the phrase “From The New Yorker” before each cartoon. And even though I was taught long ago that my repentance is meaningless if I fully intend to go forth and sin again, which I do, I offer up a lament every day. My confession goes something like this:

Lord, I am sorry to be here for the numpteenth time confessing that I swiped yet another cartoon from New Yorker magazine for my personal use, without giving anything back to them but a measly attribution. However, Lord, if you had given me any artistic abilities at all, I wouldn’t have to steal, so who’s really at fault here?

At such times I turn to my religious mentor, Father Guido Sarducci, for guidance. Here is a videotaped sermonette of his that seems to apply, at least a little, to my situation.

If Sarducci is right about these things, I believe that an episode of cartoon larceny should be worth about … maybe … 35 cents an image? But like he says … they count up.

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The Play’s The Thing

When our granddaughter Elsa visited us a couple of weeks back, it was at the time that the few tomato plants we were managing were doing their utmost to bury us in goodness. So Elsa made a French tomato and mustard tart, a food that I didn’t know existed but which turned out to be delicious and beautiful to look at as well. A dish designed to give the tomato top billing, with the other ingredients as supporting cast. What you can’t see underneath those lovely red circles is a great gob of Swiss cheese and a generous helping of Dijon mustard.

At this point those same backyard plants are still providing too many tomatoes to eat fresh and too few to can. Robin stepped up to the plate and a couple of nights ago we had another new dish that was both a delight to look at and to eat – a tomato pie.

In this case there is also beaucoup cheese, but this time it’s on top and it’s the tomatoes that are hidden. The seasonings are different as well. Look at that thing – a Bon Appetit magazine cover if there ever was one!

And what, you may be thinking, is yours truly doing while females are going to all this trouble, taking all these culinary risks?

My answer is this. What would a play be without an audience?

And I think that I am filling that role in the larger picture quite well, thank you very much. I come into the kitchen as these delights are baking with my nose twitching like a rabbit’s, exclaiming “From whence cometh these amazing aromas?”

I then grab a fork and a plate and sit myself down at the table, quivering* in anticipation.

The part I play may seem passive and more than a little lazy, but I repeat – why make these wonderful dishes if there are no appreciative layabouts hanging around to gobble them up for you?

*I hasten to add that under normal circumstances I rarely quiver. It primarily happens when I am under the influence of my salivary glands.

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Nurse Ratched has passed away. We are finally safe from further abuse at her hands. It has all come too late to help Randle McMurphy, but then, it is extremely difficult to win them all.

Louise Fletcher played the sort of villain that made one want to climb through the screen and throttle her bare-handed. Thinking about her portrayal of a sadistic nurse who had the power not only to make or break your day but your life still gives me the creeps 47 years after I first saw the film.

Nurse Ratched (full name Mildred Ratched in the movie, also known as “Big Nurse“) is a fictional character  and the main antagonist of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, first featured in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel as well as the 1975 film adaptation. A cold, heartless tyrant, Nurse Ratched has become the stereotype of the nurse as a battleaxe. She has also become a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of institutional power and authority in bureaucracies such as the psychiatric treatment center in which the novel is set.

Nurse Ratched is the head administrative nurse at the Salem State Hospital, a mental institution where she exercises near-absolute power over the patients’ access to medications,  privileges, and basic necessities such as food and toiletries. She capriciously revokes these privileges whenever a patient displeases her. Her superiors turn a blind eye because she maintains order, keeping the patients from acting out, either through antipsychotic and anticonvulsant  drugs or her own brand of psychotherapy , which consists mostly of humiliating patients into doing her bidding.

Nurse Ratched, Wikipedia

The nurse from Hell itself. For Hell itself. So why does it still creep me out? Because I know that there are versions of Nurse Ratched still out there, doing their thing.

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Where Was This When I Needed It Department

When Robin and I went to Wally World to get our latest Covid booster, the product at left was being sold on an endcap in the pharmacy right next to the vaccination line.

My first thought was: Do we really need to introduce our kids to drugs so early that we need gummies to do it?

My second thought was: Where were these things when I needed them?

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Times when giving Junior a chewable Mickey Finn might be useful would be:

  • Whenever you want to sleep, but the child doesn’t
  • When the child is totally sugared up and it took hours to coax them down from the streetlamp
  • When it’s been raining all day and the kids are careening through the house all the while screaming at a decibel level incompatible with sanity
  • When you and your spouse want a little alone time, and don’t want the bedroom door flying open at awkward moments that might require hours of explanation
  • Any day that is “the day from Hell”
  • Any day whose name ends in “y”
You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by The Rolling Stones

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There was a time in history when there were only a handful of books available to read. An affluent dandy could conceivably read all of them in a lifetime. That is definitely not the case today, where an impecunious and ill-dressed fellow like myself will not have time to read even a fraction of the books I’d like to. For one thing, I keep falling asleep in my chair, book in hand.

An author who has completely escaped being read by me is Joan Didion, who wrote an extraordinary book call The Year of Magical Thinking following the sudden death of her husband. I know that it is extraordinary because critics have told me that it is, and not because I have read it. It’s on that imaginary bedside table of mine, I think at position number 107 in the pile.

What I have read of hers are quotes which suggest that if I can tear myself away from reading crap for a while I would benefit from making the effort to spend time with some of her stuff.

The first quote is from The Year of Magical Thinking.

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

I admit to going more than a little crazy a couple of times when a personal loss seemed overwhelming. When I couldn’t see past it to another side … any side.

The second quote of Didion’s is one that I absolutely love. As a person who believes in thinking pretty carefully about the options when making choices, over time I’ve adopted a philosophy similar to that expressed here so tidily by Didion.

Whatever you do, you’ll regret both

Joan Didion

There you have it. Short and sweet. Words to live by.

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For those of you who play the game Wordle at the New York Times website, this graphic will have meaning. This is how it went for me on Friday morning.

Excuse me, but I’m going out to buy 100 lottery tickets and will not be back any time soon.

I Feel Lucky, by Mary Chapin Carpenter

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There’s An App For That

I took one of those online “quizzes” this morning where you fill in your height, weight, age, and level of activity, and an app comes up with a “personalized” fitness and diet regimen for you. I knew I was in trouble when the menu they provided and from which I was to select my age only went as far as 80 years.

Apparently beyond that hoary limit there is no longer any point in trying so those so afflicted might as well crawl under the covers and lie back to await the approach of the spooky guy with the scythe in his hand.

(What this actually reveals is the age of the author of the software. Someone so young they are incapable of imagining that there could be life after eighty years. )

I reminded myself that back in medical school there was a day that I ran across a brand new word in my readings. It was apoptosis. This is defined as the scheduled death of a group of cells in the body. The word scheduled seemed alarming at first. I mean, I was willing to take my chances like everybody else, but if parts of me were already programmed to perish at a certain time … what parts were they and when was it going to happen? The whole business quite put me off my feed for at least a day.

(A-pop-TOH-sis) A type of cell death in which a series of molecular steps in a cell lead to its death. This is one method the body uses to get rid of unneeded or abnormal cells. 

Apoptosis, National Cancer Institute

Not to worry, said the book I was reading. It’s all good. The example given was that when we were embryos our fingers and toes were not yet separated, but only became so when some cells between those digits passed on to their eternal reward and voila! we could now pick up a pencil and our thumbs became apposable.

A few cells die, a few phagocytes come by to gobble them up, and life goes on. (I’m not sure this is what happened with my scalp hair follicles or not, but if not, it is certain that the ones that are there are not earning their keep.)

To get back to that previously mentioned app, it also came up with 1500 as the number of calories that I was allowed to consume per day and it seemed like quite a few until I counted up and realized that there were 1266 calories in an eight ounce bag of Cheetos. And you know how long a bag of those lasts … .

So I did the only sensible thing I could and trashed the app, with extreme prejudice. It had been free to download and to enter data, but if I wanted to use it for further guidance it was going to cost me $6.00 per month as a subscription.

I thought, why pay money to something that didn’t even acknowledge the possibility of my existence? What else might they have got wrong?

You Don’t Know Me, by Madeleine Peyroux

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From The New Yorker

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Just look at this, will you? I have developed early signs of carpal tunnel problems in my right wrist and am forced to wear a splint to try to stave off further difficulties. And why is this happening?

Because I am a slave to my art and have typed myself right into a disease. Yes, friends, I have been sacrificing my body to bring you these bi-weekly blatherings that if printed out properly (and on decent paper) can be used to line the bottoms of bird cages anywhere in the world.

So the next time you read something I have typed in this blog, remember that I was in great pain when I did it. It is also possible that I was hemorrhaging somewhere as well.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin mentioned she’d heard on NPR that squirrels forget the locations of most the nuts they bury. It’s not something I had ever thought about, not for a single nanosecond. What I did know about squirrels was that they had superpowers when it came to climbing, leaping, walking tightropes, etc. I guess it seemed to me that any creature which could walk a power line like it was a six-foot wide sidewalk wouldn’t have any trouble at all locating a few acorns.

While it might be frustrating for squirrels to lose their carefully hidden nuts, it can be beneficial for other organisms. In particular, it can help the forest itself! A study done at the University of Richmond cites that squirrels fail to recover up to 74% of the nuts they bury. This misplacing of so many acorns (the seeds of oak trees), the study says, is likely responsible for oak forest regeneration.

Why Do Squirrels Bury Nuts?, Smithsonian Science Education Center

Shoot, I can do that well. Or nearly so. I could find fifteen per cent at least, I’ll bet. But that power line? Fageddaboudit.

No Roots, by Alice Merton

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The Farm

Once upon a time, any given lad had two sets of grandparents. When divorce became more acceptable and common, this number could easily double … at least. But when I went through my childhood, there were two, the paternal set and their maternal counterpart. Nice people all. As the first of the grandchildren to come along, I was treated like royalty by all four of them. Love enough for a regiment was my happy lot. (So much so that I often wonder – how did I get so screwed up, anyway?)

But I digress.

Back then, if you had offered me a week with either pair of grandparents, and I was given the right to choose, the one on the maternal side would nearly always win. And there was a reason for this.

The farm.

The farm was only 120 acres, with perhaps only slightly more than half of it arable, but to a child from the city it was a mythic place. A place where many of the rules of city life were suspended. For one thing, there were no fleets of cars or trucks to be dodged. For another there were no parents to natter at you all day long.

The domestic animals on the farm included draft horses, cows, the occasional fearsome bull, chickens, hogs, sheep, ducks, myriad cats, and geese. A small child could feel quite important if he were given the chore of assisting in the feeding and care of any one of these groups.

There was a traditional barn, with a big haymow. Anyone of you who has ever had the chance to play in one of these will remember the mountains of loose alfalfa and timothy hay with their sweet/dry aromas, as well as occasional litters of half-wild kittens to be discovered tucked away in shaded places.

We went barefoot all summer, which meant the bottoms of our feet were more like hooves by August. We walked behind the machines as the men plowed fields, the plow leaving a smooth area about a foot wide as it carved the furrow, smooth and cool and damp even on the warmest summer day.

When it came time to harvest the grain, there were the rituals of cutting and binding the grain into bundles, which were then stacked into shocks. On threshing day, the shocks were tossed with pitchforks into wagons and hauled to the threshing machine, which was a metallic version of a dragon if there ever was one. We climbed onto the machine and watched the newly separated grain flow into a hopper that emptied itself periodically into an auger system that piped the grain into the high-sided box of a waiting truck.

Potential child-gobbling machine in action

Thinking back, I can picture dozens of places for a child to be injured on a threshing machine. But we kids climbed up and walked on the top of this pitching and jumping beast without a command from any adult to “Get down.”

It was not at all unusual for farmers to be missing parts of themselves that had been lost to machines at a time when safety guards were often a novelty. Most of those losses were fingers. My former father-in-law got his bib overalls caught in a gear one day on a harvesting machine. Fortunately he was wearing an old and threadbare pair of overalls because the clothing was ripped from his body, leaving him standing there in his underwear but with his corpus intact.

There were animal birthings galore to watch and sometimes participate in. There were slaughterings we were allowed to observe, usually involving chickens on their way to becoming Sunday’s dinner, and there were others of a grimmer variety that we were not invited to attend.

Do you get the idea that we weren’t being closely supervised? You are exactly right. Most of our days on the farm we wandered where we wished, only coming indoors for meals. Speaking as a former kid it was a great thing to be on your own in this way . That is, for those of us who survived childhood.

Now if you were to ask my opinion as to whether the not-always-so-benign neglect in those days was inferior to the hovering by many of today’s parents, my answer would be no, I don’t think it was.

For instance, we were never taught to be afraid of the world, but instead learned how to cope with it. To accept that there were hazards and avoid them when we could. To learn to walk on uneven ground wherever we found it.

It wasn’t fair that my mom’s side of the family got more attention from me just because they lived in the rural. Not fair at all. But it was the way that it was.

These Are The Days, by Van Morrison

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President Biden said the other day that the pandemic was over. That may be so, even though hundreds of our citizens are still perishing of Covid every day. It’s all definitional, isn’t it?

Perhaps I should feel more comforted by what the President said, but Joe doesn’t always know what he’s talking about. Nor does he always know when to talk and when to be be silent. So I will wait for confirmation from a more authoritative source, thank you very much.

And then I will still go and get the latest booster shot available to me. Be a shame to be the last person in the U.S.A. to kick the bucket Covid-style.

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Our tomatoes are done for the year. Those bright green and florid vines that grew into a miniature jungle have gone to a stringiness and a yellow-brown color. This was a good year for them. The sun was nowhere near as punishing as last summer, when gardeners despaired all over Paradise as the plants grew tortured fruit with inedible burns.

So we feasted for nearly two months on BLT sandwiches, homemade pasta sauces, caprese salads … anything that would put the flavor of the tomatoes front and center. A friend gave us a couple of plants which produced a bright yellow fruit half the size of a golf ball that had an intense and pungent flavor like nothing I’d ever tasted before.

The famous vineyards label their products (and price them) by year, knowing that each year’s fruit will have its own flavors which have a little to do with the name of the variety but everything to do with the unique combination of sun and rain and soil that came together that year. The same thing happens in our gardens – a less exalted venue, perhaps, but a place where something special and un-reproduceable happens nevertheless.

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Shuffling Off This Mortal Coil Department

Hilary Mantel was only 70 when she passed away this week. She wrote a great many books, among them a very popular trilogy dealing with Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, and Anne Boleyn. Two of them won Booker prizes. Two were made into an excellent television series starring Mark Rylance as Cromwell.

There are apparently a whole lot of people like myself who find this chunk of English history fascinating, and gobble up literature and dramas about it by the carload. To me Mantel’s writings were the best of the lot.

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Wikipedia has a rather long entry about her life, but I particularly liked this paragraph.

The long novel Wolf Hall, about Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell, was published in 2009 to critical acclaim. The book won that year’s  Booker Prize and, upon winning the award, Mantel said, “I can tell you at this moment I am happily flying through the air”.  Judges voted three to two in favour of Wolf Hall for the prize. Mantel was presented with a trophy and a £50,000 cash prize during an evening ceremony at the  Guildhall, London. The panel of judges, led by the broadcaster James Naughtie, described Wolf Hall as an “extraordinary piece of storytelling”.  Leading up to the award, the book was backed as the favourite by bookmakers and accounted for 45% of the sales of all the nominated books. 

It was the first favourite since 2002 to win the award.  On receiving the prize, Mantel said that she would spend the prize money on “sex and drugs and rock’ n’ roll”.

Hilary Mantel, Wikipedia

The old girl had spirit, no?

I’m Henry the VIII, I Am, by Peter Noone

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Changes

The leaves are starting to turn in Paradise, at least above 7000 feet they are. The dominant color is yellow, but even the aspens are not monochromatic, often shading all the way from gold to a lovely red on the same tree.

A brown and curled-up leaf fluttered to the backyard deck yesterday and is still lying there, waiting for Willow to bring it in as her offering. She will carry it in to just inside the door and quietly place it on the kitchen floor. Willow is a humble gift-giver and doesn’t hang around waiting for praise. Instead what we find is a single leaf or twig waiting for us to discover it. It’s a signature move of hers.

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I have no idea what sadistic person first came up with the term “the golden years,”to describe the December of our lives. But they were more than a bit off base. Probably worked writing treacly verses for Hallmark Cards as their day job.

Golden years, my sweet patootie is more reflective of my attitude.

Lest I come off as a crybaby, there are many good things about not having to go to work, not having to get up early if you don’t want to, and having grandchildren come to visit, not to mention acquiring a library of experiences over a lifetime to help guide us on our way, etc. But the list below makes golden seem not quite the right word.

(The photo at left is of a typical person well into their golden years)

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Here’s the list:

  • joints hurt
  • hair thins
  • heartburn
  • dry skin
  • shrinking stature
  • constipation
  • urinary tract difficulties
  • fragile bones
  • hair springing from unwanted places
  • cataracts
  • hearing loss
  • dental problems
  • can’t remember squat
  • et al, et al, et goldarned al

Like I said, something less than golden … . And that doesn’t even consider the more serious occurrences, like heart attacks, strokes, and cancers of endless varieties. Plus, just think … you could have massive tufts growing out of your ears AND a stroke at the same time! And there is no limit on afflictions per day per customer!

There is, however, a good side to that string of hits in the list. They prepare us for the day when the time for shuffling off this mortal coil approaches. It’s easier to walk away from a basketful of miseries than it would be if one was in their prime. The process is similar to what happens when Mother Nature prepares us for winter by throwing sleet in our faces now and again in October and November.

However, despite this mournful set of circumstances, each of us (the golden ones), bravely buckles up our swash each morning and ventures forth as if it were the best morning we could possibly have.

And if the Buddhists are right, it is.

Old Folks Boogie, by Little Feat

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Former Pres. Cluck needs to go to jail. Period. And everyone who voted for him needs to be taken to the woodshed and given three sharp strokes with a willow switch. After which they would be sent to bed without any supper, as we do with anyone who has done a particularly bad thing.

All of Cluck’s business holdings should be gathered together and sold at auction, with the proceeds going to a foundation devoted to promoting the study of democracy and honesty in political discourse.

Melania Cluck should be returned to the replicant factory where she could be disassembled and her materials recycled. In addition, her particular model line (the Stepford-27b) should be retired as a product with no legitimate use whatsoever. If she does not surrender voluntarily, we would then send a blade runner to bring her in. End of story.

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An esthetic crime has been perpetrated against America by the substitution of graceless steel buildings for the artful wooden barns of yesterday.

Without our permission or any warning at all, these …

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… have been replaced by this:

Shocking, no? And it happened right before our eyes, one barn at a time. I know, I know, those metal buildings are eminently practical and economically justifiable. And I know that no farmer needs a haymow any more, not with modern hay storage methods. But jeez, these things have all the charm of a $2.00 mailbox.

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Suddenly that river of sweet and juicy goods from local farms has dried up. No more excellent sweet corn from Olathe or succulent peaches from Palisade. Oh, there are substitutes shipped in from elsewhere on the planet, but let’s face it … they are not the same.

What we have available to us locally these days is a nice selection of roots. But while I like a good parsnip now and again, I have never quivered in anticipation of eating one.

But wait … there is one last flood of delectables to come, and this is one that endures for more than a few short weeks … apples. The orchards of the Cedaredge area bring their best to their Apple Fest in October. It’s my favorite of the local festivals, not that the others are unworthy. But the aromas once you hit the park in Cedaredge could drive a person mad.

Mark this. You are actually allowed to purchase warm slices of … can’t go on … too choked up … fresh apple pie. One of the most fragrant desserts in all of Christendom. Alternatively, you can walk up to those booths in broad daylight and say: “Give me the pie. Not a slice … but the whole darned thing. And one of those flimsy white plastic forks as well, if you please.” And they will sell it to you! (No extra charge for the fork.)

What a great country we live in!

Next step is to find a spot on the grass to eat what you have purchased, which can be a slight problem because of all the bodies lying about. These are people who bought just what you did a few moments ago, ate it, and are now slumbering in an apple-pie induced coma, all wearing foolish smiles on their faces, and bits of piecrust at the corners of their mouths.

Not to worry, it’s a self-limited disease. In an hour or two they will waken, find the fronts of their shirts and blouses encrusted with pie juices, and slink home to toss their clothes into the laundry basket. They might feel the slightest bit of shame that once again they have succumbed to their appetites, but that quickly passes. The taste will linger, however, oh yes it will.

Milagro, by Dave Grusin

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Ailurophobia Alert

*Ailurophobic: a. a person who has an abnormal fear of cats; b. a person who detests cats.

I watched a documentary recently about cats. Their history with humans, characteristics that the large and small cats have in common, and stories of some remarkably exceptional animals. The program reinforced what I had already read elsewhere, that modern cats are so close to the original African ancestor that we can regard them as wild creatures who have deigned to live among us. This, in exchange for regular rations and shelter against the storm.

It’s one of the things I like most about them. I admire their independence and the fact that they only stay with us because they want to. Need us … probably not.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see similarity in the expressions on a tabby cat’s face when compared with that of a Siberian tiger. I have looked carefully into our own cats’ gaze at times while imagining that I were a mouse and that this was the last thing I’d see on this earth. Chilling to do this, it is.

Siberian vs. Tabby

Study the tiger’s face for a moment. A dozen years ago Robin and I were visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, on a cold and rainy autumn afternoon. We entered the building containing the big cats and were completely alone in the subdued light of the tiger exhibit, where a Siberian reclined, staring out at passersby. As we walked past this magnificent animal, his head slowly turned, his eyes fixed upon us.

It was unnerving, even though he was behind a wall of serious glass. I found that I was not comfortable being the object of a tiger’s curiosity, no matter how safe I was and how idle the curiosity.

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There is an asymmetry in the completely unnecessary debate about which is the better pet, dog or cat? While dog fanciers can frequently be heard to say: I don’t like cats because they [fill in the blank], you almost never find a cat owner who feels that they have to denigrate dogs to justify their fondness for felines. I wonder why dog owners are so defensive about their choice?

One of those “dog people” was my friend, Rich Kaplan. Every once in a great while, he would say something like: “Well, you would say that, you’re a cat person.” At those moments I would respond with this litany: “I have owned perhaps eight dogs in my life, six gerbils, four hamsters, fifty tropical fish, two parakeets, twenty rabbits (started with two), a horse, and a clowder of cats. Which am I, then, a cat person, a gerbil person? A goldfish person?”

I always found Rich’s comments illogical and told him so. I thought they must be prompted by ancient archetypal fears. Perhaps his ancestors had been plagued for centuries by sabertooth attacks, I suggested.

For myself, if dogs did not require so much more upkeep, I might have one as a pet today. I admire them and enjoy their company. However, I do admit that I’m not too partial to those breeds which slobber profusely, and prefer the tidier ones.

(My favorite “dog,” I have to admit, is not a dog at all. it is the timber wolf.)

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The tiger is my personal favorite of all the wild creatures. It’s the biggest of the cats, the most beautiful (IMHO), and is capable of impressive feats of strength. These attributes and more make it #1 in my book.

gaurs and water buffaloes weighing over a ton have been killed by tigers weighing about a sixth as much No other extant land predator routinely takes on prey this large on its own

After killing their prey, tigers sometimes drag it to conceal it in vegetation, grasping with their mouths at the site of the killing bite. This, too, can require great physical strength. In one case, after it had killed an adult gaur, a tiger was observed to drag the massive carcass over a distance of 12 m (39 ft). When 13 men simultaneously tried to drag the same carcass later, they were unable to move it.

Wikipedia: Tiger
Tiger Rag, by the Mills Brothers

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FYI, this is a gaur, the largest wild cow on the planet. It can weigh up to 3300 pounds. This beast is not to be trifled with, nor is it easily dragged.

Rumor has it that gaur milk is particularly tasty, but there are presently no gaur dairies in existence, primarily because they keep kicking over the milk pails and chasing the workers out of the barn.

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The following video clip, taken from the movie “Apocalypse Now,”displays what I think would be my reaction to meeting my favorite wild creature on its home ground. Prudence and respect are the watchwords, my friends, prudence and respect.

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Pity The Fool

I read a story this morning in which a particular actor was described as a narcissist. I’m sorry, but is it news to anyone that actors are self-absorbed? It all reminded me of a Mark Twain quote:

Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.

Mark Twain

Their lives could be regarded as one big selfie, as they ramble from one role to another, each time pretending to be somebody other than who they are. And the better they are at deceiving us, the more praise they receive.

Henry Fonda, who conned me dozens of times

At some point in human history, actors were regarded as a very low class of people, indeed. Little more than decadents traveling in the company of other decadents, riding in a gaily decorated wagon as they traveled from village to village. But in our present day, some of them have been raised to god-like status through our odd fascination with everything they do. It is now quite possible for a “major” star to become unbelievably wealthy by doing the same thing that got them ushered briskly out of towns on morals charges in the past.

If they play a role of an intelligent person, we impute intelligence to them. If they portray a brave person, bravery. But they are hoodwinkers at heart, and little more than that. And while it can be amusing to let oneself be bamboozled, it’s a good idea to know what we are doing and keep our heads when we leave the theater.

As a preteen I attended a Saturday afternoon matinee nearly every week, provided I could round up the 12 cent cost of admission. Most of these were “cowboy” films, usually accompanied by a newsreel and a cartoon. When I left the movie house, I would feel taller and braver as I strutted on my way home because I had temporarily adopted the persona of the hero, and didn’t let go of it when I hit the streets. Usually this had worn off by the time I finished the six-block journey to my home territory, but not always. I’m pretty sure it amused my parents to have a three-foot tall version of Roy Rogers or Gene Autry come walking in the door every Saturday, with no six-gun at his hip but tons of attitude.

I was, and I remain, a susceptible. I am exactly the sort of person these con men and women are looking for in the audience. A mark. A chicken ready for the plucking. A sucker to the end. Fool me once, fool me twice? … I am waaaaay past that.

King of the Cowboys, by The Amazing Rhythm Aces

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From The New Yorker

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The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

The lady Elizabeth was queen for nearly my entire life, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I bothered to learn what her role really was in the English system of government. What power she had came from maintaining an image, a persona, and she knew it. My own feeling is that she did it awfully well.

It seems that whenever the subject of British royalty comes up, there arises in the media a boring repetition of the game that is criticism of the monarchy followed by support for the institution. Back and forth. They never get anywhere. I find myself wishing that the Brits would decide one way or another and quit nattering about it. Elizabeth’s job was to be a symbol, and a fine symbol she turned out to be.

[To me, the only really interesting royal in the last fifty years was Diana, and that was because she was naughty.]

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From The New Yorker

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One of the joys of harvest time is eating produce that is grown where you live. Fruits and vegetables are never fresher or tastier than when the truck brings them to the store from a farm down the road. In this part of Colorado we can gorge ourselves on peaches that I’m pretty sure are very close to what we will be served in Heaven. Fruit so juicy you need to eat it at the sink, leaning forward to keep the front of your shirt dry.

And a nationally famous brand of sweet corn, Olathe Sweet, is grown in fields just ten miles away. I wish corn were slightly more nutritious because I would probably eat only that from mid-August to mid-September if I could survive the month without getting scurvy or beri-beri.

Blessings you can eat. Life is good.

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All this fussing and dithering about if we should or shouldn’t stick ex-pres Cluck in jail for his offenses against the U.S. I have no problem with him going to the pokey, but of course I have never been one of his fans. The guiding principle that no one is above the law is all I think I need to justify my position.

In fact, I am such a vengeful sort that I think we should dig former President Nixon up and stick his coffin in solitary for a couple of years for all the bad stuff he did. Pardon or no pardon. Gerald Ford thought it would be too traumatic for the country to prosecute Nixon way back then. Baloney, B.S., and balderdash … I said it then and repeat it now. It might be painful to lance a political boil, but not doing so allows it to continue to do even more damage.

Maybe if we placed a few politicians in the juzgado when they deserved it we could improve the overall health of the genre, as when we cull a flock of chickens to get rid of those who aren’t laying eggs. I have no data here, and I could be only blowing smoke once again. But could we try it … just once … starting with “the Donald?”

In the Jailhouse Now, from the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack album

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Lastly, a link to a thoughtful NYTimes article on the subject: “Would human extinction be a tragedy or a good thing?” Whatever your answer, it’s unutterably sad that anyone might seriously pose such a question.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/17/opinion/human-extinction-climate-change.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

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Red Dirt Days

Robin and I took off with granddaughter Elsa on Wednesday morning for several days in southeastern Utah. I will preface this thrilling travelogue by saying that each day’s weather was exactly the same – 65 degrees on rising, 88 degrees by noon, 98 degrees by 1600 hours, 78 degrees at bedtime. No rain or wind. Nary drop nor flutter. For this and a host of other reasons, we did not attempt anything epic.

First stop was Goblin Valley state park. This is an amazing place if you like to look at thousands of hoodoos in one place. Fortunately for us we were hoodoo people. Unfortunately, in less than an hour walking around in the noon-day heat had sapped us. It’s not that we couldn’t have continued but there wasn’t a bucket of fun to be had in continuously sipping at our water tubes and staggering from goblin to goblin.

So it was back in the car to find air conditioning and safety until after supper when we returned to the park. Even though the temps were still in the 90s the sun’s lower position made things less brutal and now allowed us to comfortably hike for a couple of hours. Driving to our motel after dark we spotted a couple of jackrabbits. Hadn’t seen one of those for decades.

To bed at the Whispering Sands motel in Hanksville, Utah.

Peaceful Easy Feeling, by The Eagles

Next morning we found something unusual in the motel parking lot. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle with something intelligent written on it.

Usually the only script found on a Harley either suggests all sorts of mayhem that will befall you if you touch it, or extols the virtues of having bugs on one’s teeth. This was a pleasant surprise.

Onward we went to share the joys of walking in slot canyons with our granddaughter. We went up Little Wild Horse canyon for about an hour until the scrambling took its toll on knees and we turned back. Always amazing , those narrow and sometimes truly claustrophobic places.

Next it was on to the city of Moab. For those of you who have not been there, Moab was a boomtown when uranium prospecting was a craze in the late 40s/early 50s. But instead of drying up and blowing away when that was over, some entrepreneurs thought to themselves “Let’s see if we can talk a bunch of people into coming to this godforsaken part of the US by telling them that it is fun!”

And they have been successful.

Today you come to the town to hike, mountain bike, drive 4WD vehicles everywhere imaginable and many places where you shouldn’t, or to climb into rafts and run parts of the Colorado River. If you are of a more sedentary persuasion, there are scores of merchants with their arms full of t-shirts to sell you.

We spent most of the rest of the day exploring by car in the upper part of Canyonlands National Park. Stunning. Vast area of cliffs and canyons and valleys. As difficult to really take in as the Grand Canyon has proven for me.

Later we encamped at something called the OK RV Park, and according to the advertisements, we were “glamping.” It was a huge teepee which contained two beds, two swamp coolers, a fridge, a flat-panel television, a table, and a lamp. It was really kind of fun, and the teepee seemed much larger on the inside than a glance at the exterior would indicate. So consider me glamped, I guess.

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There was one jarring note on this trip. In the rest rooms in Canyonlands, this sign was posted. Please ponder it, as you mull over the fact that all of the instructions given were most likely prompted by instances of citizens not doing things the proper way.

I can see that the first and the last suggestions are pretty much common sense. But the rest … especially that middle one … who are these people and who let them run free without their leash?

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Lastly, a quote that we found on a national park sign which we all found particularly meaningful. And from a surprising source, President Lyndon Johnson, who I think of more as a rougher cob than as the author of such beautiful and prescient words. As he was signing the Wilderness Act of 1964, he is quoted as saying:

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” 

Lyndon Baines Johnson

It’s possible that Lyndon didn’t write this, he had many excellent speechwriters to help him in this area. But he definitely said ’em. If only we had listened and acted on what he said. Those last eight words … .

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ZPG

As we read daily about climate change and its oh-so-painful rollout, as we contemplate a future where we will live in vertically oriented housing, as we begin to accept that somewhere down the road we might have to eat insects to get the protein we need, there is one thing that is too often left out of the discussion.

There are too many of us. Too many already, and too many more potentially on the way. Like some aggressive weed, humans have overgrown the planet, and our world increasingly suffers for it. It seems to me that any “solution” that doesn’t deal with this is doing nothing but applying a Band-Aid to set a broken arm. It won’t do what is necessary and will ultimately fail.

But what would “dealing” be like? Who in the entire world is so naive or foolish as to trust their government with an issue as emotionally loaded as “How many kids can we have, Mr. President?”

For some thoughtful people, voluntary limitation of family size is the only real hope for a sustainable future. And this means education, education, education. Back in 1968 an organization was formed named Zero Population Growth. Its aim was educational, tying to knit together many of the loose threads in our social and political lives into a working philosophy of action. Twenty years ago it renamed itself and is now known as Population Connection.

In 1970 a young Air Force physician (that I know very well) went with his wife to attend a ZPG meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. That night this couple learned two things.

  1. The problem was worse than they had thought, and was world-wide, urgent, deserving the immediate attention of every human on the planet
  2. They were the only people in that whole room who had children. Four children, to be exact.

At the end of the evening, they quickly and quietly left for home before they were discovered and exposed as the raging hypocrites they seemed to be. Even though everybody at the meeting seemed quite pleasant and progressive, there was always that nagging worry about tarring and feathering to be concerned with when you are dealing with true believers.

But the problem hasn’t gone away. And it is a faint hope that education will do the trick. In the meantime I’ll be looking for a nice high-rise where I can get a closet-sized apartment on the 184th floor. Someplace I can sit myself down every morning to a good nutritious breakfast of cockroach flakes.

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From The New Yorker

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Let me share something personal with you that you may find helpful. Especially if you live with a person who is given to long-windedness and self-righteousness. It is very effective.

There are times when I start out in a dialogue with Robin but along the way it turns into my monologue and something quite near to a lecture. At this point my spouse will simply turn to me, and in the sweetest possible way utter a single word: Pedant!

If this does not slow me down, one or two repetitions of the word (Pedant! Pedant!) will always do the trick, and I slink away chastened. I have not yet found an adequate comeback. My problem, of course, is that I am such a knowledgeable fellow and feel the obligation to share that knowledge with the world. Even when the world may be unwilling to listen.

It’s a conundrum.*

*Conundrum is a word commonly used by pedants, I am told

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Sunday Robin and I drove up to Telluride to walk about on the third day of the famous film festival. We’ve been to previous festivals there on several occasions, always in the freeloader section of the attendees. It’s easy for us, we live only 75 minutes away from Telluride. If you don’t want to spend a ton of money, you can crowd-watch and perhaps see a real live celebrity, or you could sit on the ground in Elks Park and listen to a panel discuss some aspects of the world of movie-making, or you could stay to watch a free film at an outdoor venue at twilight.

If you are feeling particularly well-heeled, you can buy a pass to get into a variety of movie screenings, parties, etc. They range in price from $390 to $4900.

But. Read on.

The Patron Pass ($4900) Includes a tax-deductible donation of $2,900
Admission to all events in all sites. Priority seating at all theatres. Guest of honor at the Guest/Patron Brunch on Friday morning. Access to the ‘Patron’s Preview’ of an important new film on Friday afternoon on a first-come, first-serve basis (seating not guaranteed).

Official Website of the Telluride Film Festival

So even with a five-grand ticket in your hand, there are still events that you may wait in line for and be denied seating. What fresh hell is this?, I say. If I’m plunking down that sort of cash, I not only want to be guaranteed my seat in the theater, but to be carried from event to event in a howdah.

On the day we visited, the noon outdoor panel-in-the-park contained no Hollywood-style movie stars, but three foreign directors and an actress from Iran. Bummer, we thought. No flesh to press that we might later brag about.

It was the best of all the panels we’d ever attended. These were passionate people with stories to tell and imaginations to inspire us. One director was from Chile, one from Iran, and another from Mexico. The actress had been Iran’s most popular daytime television star until a sex-tape of her and her boyfriend was made public. Now, the life of a woman in Iran is no picnic at best, but at that point hers rapidly became hell on earth until she was forced to leave the country.

What we heard was an hour of discussion of ideas by bright and interesting people. And that, my friends, doesn’t happen every day.

An aside. Like the character Deets in the television series Lonesome Dove, I am not one to quit on a garment just because it’s got a little age.”

The shirt I am wearing here on a Sunday at the festival is the shirt that I wore on my first date with Robin more than thirty years ago.

Until it rots and falls off the closet hanger of its own accord, I will continue to enjoy its company. It’s really only now just broken in.

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From The New Yorker

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One of the themes discussed at the noon seminar in Telluride was the very thorny business of identities, and its effects. Not just in film-making, but in everywhere in our lives. Right now there is a dustup surrounding a new television series dealing with the world of the Lord of the Ring legends. Actors of color are being used in the series, and some Tolkien purists are up in arms.

There were no black or brown elves in Tolkien’s stories, is their cry, and they are right. Everybody knows that elves are not only white, but the palest shade (reference: Orlando Bloom) in that colorless palette at that. That is right, isn’t it? I would ask an elf myself just to be clear on the subject, but I keep running into that proverbial brick wall because they are imaginary creatures. It is therefore exceedingly difficult to interview them.

But I do admit that there are stories where the person’s color or gender or nationality are essential parts of the drama unfolding, and it would be awkward to cast the roles otherwise. For instance, submarine crews in World War II were entirely males; the fight for women’s suffrage necessarily involves women in central roles, there were no white slaves on southern plantations, Custer’s command was not rubbed out by a tribe of Swedes, etc.

But we are talking about actors. They are paid to represent somebody other than themselves. That is what they do for a living. For me, personally, it will not be off-putting to see actors portraying elves of color. I can handle it. I am experienced in the art of suspending disbelief.

Way way back when recently deceased Anne Heche had just made the news as Ellen Degeneres’ partner, she starred in a movie along with Harrison Ford entitled Six Days and Seven Nights. When I went to the theater to see it, I remember thinking: “Well, how in the hell am I going to be able to believe in a romantic setup here? A straight guy and a gay woman on a desert isle?” Within minutes that problem ceased to exist, because the skill of the actors involved made the film’s characters come to life, and their actual lives were irrelevant.

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Triumph And Disaster

If someone had read Rudyard Kipling’s poem to me when I was sixteen.

If he had sounded like Sir Michael Caine when he did it.

If I could have then set aside my mistrust of anyone older than myself to actually listen to what was being said.

If when I finally discovered the poem years later, even then I had applied its lessons to my life.

If I could have read it to my own children when they reached an age, and if they possessed more patience and understanding than their father had at the same life stage.

I dunno … what if? These are some good words strung together in a particularly good way. Although the poem ends with the words “You’ll be a man, My son,” there is nothing in the rest of it that couldn’t be applied to humans of all varieties. And to my antiquated way of thinking, we’d be the better for it.

One line stood out as I heard it read it this morning.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same

If, by Rudyard Kipling

There is a mote of Buddhism here, suggesting (Buddhism never demands, you know) that since both of these extremes are illusory and transient, we give them only the slightest nod and go on with our lives.

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From The New Yorker

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An adult granddaughter is coming to visit us for a few days next week, and we have been busy planning things to do while she is here. We had scheduled a couple of motel stays, and were feeling quite good about ourselves until the weather, which was supposed to cool off (read: Autumn in New York) decided instead to turn to scorching (read: Death Valley Days).

Here’s the really amusing thing. Many of those plans we made involved sightseeing in southeastern Utah. Which is a desert. Where it will be 100-plus degrees during her stay. The kind of territory where the highway signs read: “Welcome to Utah! Senior citizens please cower indoors at all times.”

Now this young woman, who we will call Elsa, is a very resilient person. She’s had her share of travel snafus, and even more important, she is fully aware of my limitations in putting together pain-free vacation itineraries.

So if it comes down to a three-person cribbage tournament in an air-conditioned room at the Whispering Sands motel in Hanksville UT, she will do just fine, I am sure.

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I’ve mentioned Hanksville before in this blog. It is a small town that has not quite regained the hustle and bustle it had when everyone was prospecting for uranium here in the 50s, but it still has its hopes, I am sure. If you go to its official website, and click on the menu item called “Attractions,” you will see a drop-down list which contains this item: Mars on Earth. Click on that and these bits of prose come up, giving you a pretty good idea of what you will find there.

The complex terrain of Wingate, Navajo Sandstone, Mancos Shale, Morrison and Chinle formations that surround Hanksville, has attracted the attention of the Mars Society, which believes it to be a good candidate for an imitation of the red planet.

While the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) does not take visitors, their presence here shows how similar Hanksville’s surrounding terrain and climate can be to the Red Planet. If you’re looking to explore the wonders of Mars, but can’t wait for the advancements in technology needed to get there, explore the surrounding areas of Hanksville. With the bentonite hills, sand dunes, rocky outcrops, unique geological phenomenon, and desolation you’ll feel like you’re on another planet. 

This area has served as the film set for several movies set in space, most notably Galaxy Quest (1999), Star Trek (2009), John Carter (2012) and The Space Between Us (2017). As you can see, the area surrounding Hanksville bears an uncanny resemblance to the red planet, making it the perfect place to film movies set on Mars. So next time you’re looking for a place to explore that feels out of this world, head to Hanksville.

Mars on Earth, Official website for Hanksville, Utah

I suspect that when the author of this particular bit of puffery sat down at their computer to compose it, they overlooked a possible dampening effect on the reader, since we are still looking for signs of life on Mars.

Rocket Man, by Elton John

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From The New Yorker

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Friday’s Times of New York featured an important guest column written by Ashley Judd which I can recommend to you. It recounts what happened after her mother’s suicide in April of this year, when police investigators and reporters descended on the family at a time when they were trying to process what had just happened. Coming to grips with how much their life had just changed.

Privacy. It’s what they hoped for at that awful time, and are now fighting in the courts to maintain. A suit to keep videos, tape recordings, and transcripts of interviews from being made public. Not because they contain state secrets, but because of the privacy all of us deserve, and which is so fragile.

I don’t know that we’ll be able to get the privacy we deserve. We are waiting with taut nerves for the courts to decide. I do know that we’re not alone. We feel deep compassion for Vanessa Bryant and all families that have had to endure the anguish of a leaked or legal public release of the most intimate, raw details surrounding a death. The raw details are used only to feed a craven gossip economy, and as we cannot count on basic human decency, we need laws that will compel that restraint.

Ashley Judd: The Right to Keep Private Pain Private, New York Times, September 2, 2022

The lady writes exceedingly well. When my son took his own life, those of us who loved him and were left behind to wander stunned and adrift. It was a hard time indeed, but we were spared the public scrutiny that the Judd family is still going through, because we were not celebrities. The Judd family has all my sympathy and I hope their suit is successful. The public does not always, and in every case, have “the right to know.”

[This morning I’m feeling quite self-righteous re: the Judd story, but honesty requires admission that there have been times in the past that I have been a part of that “craven gossip economy.” Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.]

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A friend of mine has suggested enuff awreddy with the versions of September Song I’ve been sending your way. Not only is he obviously tired of that song, but he suggests September Morn as the better alternative.

His suggestion follows quickly on the heels of Robin’s tactful observation the other day that in her opinion It is time to stop with the September Songs altogether. It was a cute idea that quickly wore thin, I am led to believe.

Two against one. I surrender … September Morn it is!

September Morn, by Neil Diamond

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This is getting to be an awfully long post, but just moments ago I ran across an obituary in the Times of New York. That of Archie Roach who died at the age of 66 years. He was an aboriginal folk singer from Australia who came to international prominence in the early 90s on the strength especially of this song from his first album, Took the Children Away. The story of Europeans taking away the native children and sending them off to schools for cultural re-education is a familiar one. It’s not just Australia’s story, but a source of national shame for the U.S. and Canada as well.

Here’s Roach as a young man, telling his story and that of so many others.

September Song 3

My mother had very few musical favorites, but one of them was Billy Eckstine. Might have had something to do with him being a good trumpet player, or bandleader, or vocalist. Or maybe it was just because he was so damned handsome.

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September Song, by Billy Eckstine

September Song 1

It’s September, to my mind the best of the twelve. And it seems only fitting that the best month has the best song. Here’s the very first recorded version, by Walter Huston, all the way from 1938. Yes, yes, they had electricity and recording devices in 1938, which was an entire year before I came to the planet.

The wonderful actor Huston introduced this ageless Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson tune in the 1938 play “Knickerbocker Holiday.” You’ll note that the lyrics on this first recording of the song are quite different from what we are accustomed to hearing. Huston’s beautiful 1944 re-make for Decca includes the less personal, more familiar words.

The original 78rpm single was issued on Brunswick 8272 – September Song (Anderson-Weill) by Walter Huston, orchestra conducted by Maurice De Abravanel, recorded October 19, 1938

The 78 Prof

There you have it. Listen to be entertained as well as edified. In a day or so we’ll share the 1944 remake.

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Zorba the Norwegian

Yesterday Robin and I ate what I have taken to calling our Zorba the Greek lunch. It consisted of homemade hummus, strips of bell peppers, pita bread, and Kalamata olives. Maybe we don’t have this meal every month, but pretty close to that often. It is delicious, easy to prepare, and you never feel the need to sleep it off.

I was in my early 20s when I became caught up in the writings of Nikos Kazantzakis, starting with The Last Temptation of Christ, then going on to Zorba the Greek, The Greek Odyssey, Saint Francis, Freedom or Death et al. Once I discovered his stuff, it seemed that everything that I’d read before was pallid and passionless. Kazantzakis’ characters get up in the morning, splash their faces with cold water, then open their front door and charge straight at life, rather than waiting for it to come to them.

I swear the books actually have a pulse. You can feel it beating as you read.

Anyway, in Zorba, the men working in the fields would sit down to a lunch of bread and olives. At the age of twenty-two I thought this sounded like one of the coolest things ever to do, and I also thought that if I set my fisherman’s cap at a rakish angle, why, I could positively pass for a baby-faced Anthony Quinn.

Any of you who are thinking that a mild form of ennui is the best that you can hope for today, I have only one thing to say to you: GET UP DAMMIT! Go to the library and check out Freedom or Death. Bleed a little, cry a little, lust a little, and try to imagine what it would be like to leap up and run hopelessly at full speed and side by side with Captain Michalis at the formidable Turkish defenses.

If we don’t exercise that imagination of ours, it becomes as slack as any unused muscle might. And while your body may go no further than the grocery store today, that beautiful mind of yours can go anywhere.

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A man needs a little madness or else he never dares cut the rope … and be free.

Zorba

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I find the stories dealing with the shrinkage of some of America’s great reservoirs, like lakes Mead and Powell, fascinating on more than one level. There is the tragic one in that the reason for their diminished state is the seemingly endless drought the West is caught in. There is nothing funny about this part.

The interesting level is what is being revealed on the bottom of those lakes. Bodies in barrels, for instance. When Lefty shot Maxie in 1956, stuffed his body into a barrel, and pushed it into the dark waters of Lake Mead one starless night, he could not have ever guessed that we’d be reading about his adventure at our breakfast tables in 2022.

To jump back in time, I recall an afternoon where I was fishing on a lake in South Dakota, and had just lost yet another lure to the snags on the bottom. Fishing lures often hook up on the bottom’s debris, refuse to be dislodged, and are finally grudgingly left behind by cutting the line.

I thought to myself – what fun it would be if the lake could be drained and I could come back here and see what treasures had been left behind over the decades. Surely I must have lost thousands of dollars in fishing lures by now, and I am only one of a multitude to be so afflicted. There would be watches, billfolds, eyeglasses, gazillions of beer cans, maybe a few pieces of evidence that belonged in criminal trials of the past.

An amateur archeologist’s dream, and so much easier to pick it up from the dry lakebed rather than bother with all that tedious digging.

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I have a clear favorite among Native American musical groups, and its name is Brulé. The group has an origin story that is somewhat unusual. Its leader, Paul Laroche, grew up as an adopted son in a white family, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He was told that the reason his hair and skin were darker was that he was “French-Canadian.”

When his adoptive parents died, Paul was helping go through their papers when he discovered that he was neither French nor Canadian, but instead had been born to a Lakota woman in South Dakota, on the Lower Brule reservation.

Not long after this, Laroche went to that reservation where he met his blood relatives for the first time. Eventually he moved his own family to Lower Brule, where he still lives. Until that time he had been a musician without a firm direction, but now he took what he already knew and combined it with traditional native music to come up with his own new songs. He also took on a mission – to foster understanding between Native Americans and the dominant culture.

The musical group, Brulé, was formed which consisted of Paul and his two children, Nicole and Shane, along with additional musicians who have joined and left over the years. Robin and I have been lucky enough to see them perform many times.

Buffalo Moon, by Brulé

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Finally, something for my friend who is finally recovering at home after weeks in hospital. One of the most beautiful pieces ever written for classical guitar, played by a master.

Recuerdos de la Alhambra, by Andres Segovia

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Sounds and Furies

This week I noticed a bird behavior that was new to me, and surprisingly it was in barn swallows, which are birds I have been watching all of my life. They are beautiful creatures and an integral part of hot summer days as they fly in endless and seemingly tireless loops around us, catching their food. But when Robin and I cycled out to the South Canal the other day, I saw something new.

A group of the birds who were nesting under the bridge were out doing their thing and then I noticed that they were swooping down to the canal’s surface and causing ripples in the water. At the time I thought they might be picking bugs from the surface, but this video suggests they were drinking instead. Either way it was hypnotic watching them.

Birds, by Neil Young

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When I go out for dinner, paying somebody to prepare my food, carry it to my table, and do everything but chew it for me, there is always a reason. The reason may be obscure, but it is always there:

  1. I am being totally lazy and can’t be bothered taking care of myself.
  2. It is a social engagement, and the meal comes with the conversations.
  3. I am curious about a new restaurant, and would like to see if it is truly the one place on earth that will not set me kvetching after dinner.
  4. I want to try something that reveals a true chef’s skills rather than those of a simple dabbler like myself.

Here in Paradise there are not many places where the food is up to #4 on the list. Of course in ranch country we have steak houses, two of them, which do a good job searing your meal, but if you are trying to wean yourself from the sort of food that has already clogged 90% of your arteries, they are a poor choice to make regularly. We also have many many Mexican restaurants which are nearly interchangeable. Same big plastic menus, same offerings, same price structures. Even the “house specialties” are largely the same.

The national chains have a presence here, with McDonald’s, Burger King, Freddie’s, Culver’s et al. And these I use for those #1 type days, when all I want is salt and fat and don’t care much about anything else. They fill that bill pretty well.

But excitement? Something really out of the ordinary? I haven’t found it yet locally, and I’ve been looking now for nearly ten years. I seek that moment when I put my fork down after the first bite and realize that I have embarked on a journey of discovery and am eating food prepared so well that I absolutely know I could not reproduce it at home.

The Bible promises that if I seek I shall find.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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While I’m talking about restaurants, I would like to share one of my gripes with you. You knew I would get there eventually, it’s what seniors do. Be aware that this may be a repeat gripe and that I have forgotten the previous post. That’s also what seniors do.

One recurring scenario occurs when we are traveling and I order a breakfast which the menu refers to as biscuits and gravy, only to find myself with a large plateful of … absolute dreck, to be blunt. It’s an odd situation, because it is such simple fare, and every serving should be a home run, instead of the strikeouts that are so typical.

There are only two parts to this meal, the biscuit and the gravy. Let’s take them separately, shall we? I have had biscuit failures at home, to be sure, when I was careless in the preparation. But what we get are these ubiquitous leaden lumps that were not only not baked that morning, but not in any morning in recent memory. Forget flaky, light, and airy. These things are the embodiment of the line in an Army marching cadence that goes: “They say that in the Army, the biscuits are very fine. A roll rolled off the table and killed a pal of mine.”

Now let’s turn the spotlight on the gravy. This is something that starts out as a white sauce, a blank canvas upon which the cook/chef is supposed to paint with seasonings. It should also be lump-free if possible. Can I just say that there are very few Rembrandts out there painting in the sauces I have been served? Sometimes the lumps are the best part, because at least they have an interesting consistency. But flavor, savor, umami? Fageddaboudit. I’d rather eat the library paste I used to lick from my fingers in elementary school.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that while there is a natural expectation that the pork sausage gravy will contain pork sausage, most of what I have had brought to me in restaurants could be eaten without a second thought by orthodox Jews and Muslims. It is that distant from containing anything that was once porcine.

So why do I order it at all? Because on that one-in-forty day when you get your food and it looks like what you see in the photograph, when the gravy has a certain something in there where you love the flavor but just can’t identify the source – that is the best morning. This is the only form of gambling that I indulge in. Slot machines and card tables are not among my weaknesses. Biscuits and gravy is.

[BTW. Confession time here. I no longer make my own biscuits at home. At least not from scratch. What I do is to pop open a tube of ready-made Pillsbury dough chunks and bake them up. They are just plain better than what I make. Not merely a little, but a whole league better.]

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California just set the date for the beginning of the funeral service for the internal combustion engine. In 2035 the sale of new cars with gas engines will be forbidden in that state. It will take much longer to get the older cars off the road, but we knew it was coming, just not when.

It’s not just a switch in engines, though. It’s an entire switch in the culture. Think about a hot summer day on a residential city street, where an old beater rests at the curb with its hood in the air. Standing around it are a group of guys staring in at the motor and kibitzing.

Who in the world is going to open the hood and stare at an electric motor?

There’s no carburetor or fuel injectors to tinker with, and no need for endless but enjoyable discussions about air intakes, boring out the cylinders for more power, or how a pair of glass-packs would sound on this car. Staring at your car’s engine will have become as interesting as seeing the mechanical insides of a very large blender.

And that vanished but beautifully sonorous blast that used to issue from the muffler? Manufacturers have actually given thought to adding recorded engine and exhaust sounds to these sterile vehicles so that they rumble like something more alive than a light bulb.

But I do have to admit that I do look forward to one day owning a Subaru with a 500 horsepower electric motor on each wheel so that when I really tromp on it I can finally achieve my lifelong dream of traveling at Mach 3 in a small SUV.

Of course, it is much more likely that I would propel myself onto the sidewalk and into a long line of parking meters to finally end up climbing the side of a building. But while I am deleting myself in this colorful way, the recorded sounds of a Maserati ringing in my ears as I leave the planet would be a nice touch.

Maserati GranTurismo in full voice

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Lastly for today, a delightful article in the Times of New York about the daily flooding of the Lindisfarne causeway, and the tourists who pay no attention to the signs. Even if you don’t read a word, it’s worth a look for the photos, which include this one of George Douglas, a fisherman.

Islanders have little sympathy for those who get caught by the tides. “There are plenty of signs,” said George Douglas in his fishing shed on Holy Island.

It’s a light-hearted read about a place 4621 miles from my home in Paradise, and a gentle commentary on the silliness our species is capable of.

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Making Noises in the Dark

I just redacted a very big chunk of text and electronically tossed it away. Consigned it to the oblivion that the Delete key can so easily provide, and from which there is no coming back. And why would I do that? For your benefit, my friends, your benefit. So that your tender eyes and minds wouldn’t have to deal with a level of prose that is of even lower quality than my usual output.

I know that you will scarcely credit that there could be a lower level, but believe me, there is. What I threw out was yet another longish rant about the game of golf and served almost no point except to demonstrate how dead a horse must be before I will stop beating it. The game is slowly vanishing as we speak, with courses closing around the country and the younger generations showing less and less interest. It will disappear without any help from me.

What I should be talking about is what to do with these lovely spaces once the clubhouse doors close.

The one that comes most easily to mind is to turn them into parks. Place pieces of sculpture where the greens once were. Provide Tonka Trucks and let small children use the sand traps as play areas. Use the existing buildings as campuses for community education. Or just leave them all alone and let Nature reclaim them and make of them what she will. Habitat, you might call it.

There, now it was just a small and manageable rant. Almost painless.

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We finished the first season of The Bear last night. We really enjoyed each tasty episode. Although it takes place nearly entirely in a small restaurant, I don’t think we learned anything about cooking, except perhaps that people who are high-level chefs might be just the least bit tetched.

It is not for children, however, even though there is no nudity or violence. There are times when one F-bomb has barely faded out before the next one comes along. And there is a bit of drug use as well. Plus, the younger kids simply wouldn’t get it. It’s that kind of show. One that’s all about the mess that adults often make for themselves out of what could be a perfectly good life.

The characters are all rough cobs trying to make their way, and one of the good things about watching the series is seeing that they are no better or worse at it than you or I.

These characters are also often rude and sometimes behave horribly toward one another. But redemption comes along in the form of an epiphany (I behaved like an asshole!) followed quickly by an apology (I’m sorry that I behaved like an asshole!) out of respect for the other person.

What better lesson to learn?

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The bear cartoon cracks me up. It’s all about anticipation, no? Those lying-awake campers listening to the forest sounds and trying to sort out what they are hearing. And that droopy-eyed bear plugging into the amplifier in preparation for changing their world.

I’ve been in that tent. I’ve heard those thirty-foot tall bears scuffling through the campsite. It’s true that I didn’t have to deal with ursine musicians, but if I had, here’s a tune that would have definitely got my attention at midnight in the big woods.

O Fortuna, from Carmina Burana

When it is quiet in the woods, or the desert, or wherever you have pitched your tent, the imagination comes alive. Some urbanites can’t handle the quiet at all, never mind worrying about the identity of whatever is rummaging outside that flap of nylon.

The funny thing about camping among predators is how magically protective we think the tent to be. As if any dire wolf worthy of the name couldn’t slash its way through that light material with a casual sweep of the paw. We think … if we don’t open the door and tremble oh so quietly in our sleeping bags, we won’t be noticed and thus will be spared. You don’t think that saber-toothed creature going through our gear out there doesn’t know everything there is to know about us already? And isn’t busy trying to find a meal composed of inert materials, the kind that doesn’t make a big fuss when you eat it, rather than turn its attention to you and I, who can be a noisy and troublesome sort of snack, at best.

This video (which is not my own) re-enacts the toughest wild animal encounter I have had in several decades of camping. Although it might seem trivial, when you are standing out there the dark in your boxer shorts with a flashlight in your hand these animals seem quite large, indeed. And the gnashing of their teeth gets on your nerves.

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I speak no Norwegian. Let me put that out there to start with. I recall a few phrases that my grandfather used to utter at times, but that’s the extent of it. Actually, I only remember three. You can make up your own mind about me by what I recall.

  • Drittsekk: “Shitsack”- sort of an all-purpose word, often hurled at some creature, not necessarily human, of whom you have a low opinion.
  • Faen danse mig: “Devil dance me!” is a phrase used when something unexpected comes along, like a prodigal who has returned to the farm, or when one hits one’s thumb with a sledgehammer. (This has a more modern translation than the one my grandfather would have used, where faen danse becomes an f-bomb.
  • It’ll be all right before the bird farts in the morning: Sorry, but I can’t recall the Norsk words here, but this one is used when you hurt yourself and have come crying to your grandfather, who has assessed the injury and made the diagnosis of a self-limited problem. He doesn’t dismiss your pain, but reassures you that it will not last your entire lifetime.
Still Water, by Daniel Lanois

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I don’t think I’ve shared photos of the e-bikes that Robin and I are enjoying. I am coming up on 1000 miles on the odometer in non-epic trips around town. They both have 500 watt hub motors and will go as high as 28 mph with some significant pedaling help from the rider. The batteries will carry us about 40 miles before they need a recharge. The only thing we don’t like about them is their weight, which is around 65 pounds. You can get much lighter models in a few other brands, but be prepared to spend thousands more than we did for these Aventons. For instance there is a very nice Trek model sold here in town that only weighs 38 pounds, but retails for $4000.

The batteries can be removed using a key and then charged indoors, or you can charge them on the bike as well. Extreme cold and heat both sap the strength of the battery, so in cold weather I bring them in to store them, away from the bike.

When bicycle helmets came into vogue I resisted wearing them for the longest time (as I had once done with auto seat belts) but now I would not think of riding without one. I feel naked (and not in a good way) if I try to leave my helmet behind. As I look back through the years I find a pattern that is not necessarily flattering. When presented with each instance where a logical and sensible behavioral change is really the only way to go, my response typically goes like this:

  1. learn that there are such things as seat belts, but ignore them
  2. make fun of people who are using them
  3. unscrew them from new car that comes with them installed
  4. on learning that laws now demand their use, buckle belt and then sit on it
  5. buy t-shirt that reads: “I’ll wear a seat belt when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers”
  6. accept wife’s entreaties as valid: “set an example for the kids if nothing else”
  7. begin wearing them oh-so-grudgingly while wearing pained, martyred expression at all times
  8. wear the darned things without even thinking about it

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Bare Spots

Now here is something new under the sun … at least for me it is. Before I tell you the answer, what do you think made these open spaces in these cornfields?

It was bears.

Turns out that they love sweet corn as much as we do. And since for a bear each year is a race to add enough body fat to carry them through the next winter’s hibernation, in a situation like this they can set up housekeeping in a cornfield and munch away. No one at ground level can see them and they can eat all day and sleep in the space they have created.

While I think this all very interesting and amusing, apparently the farmers who own the fields have other feelings on the matter, some of their thoughts turning toward ursicide. There is a piece in today’s local paper that accompanies the photo.

It’s (a cornfield) got everything they need. They tend to eat the sweet corn rather than the field corn, because it’s a lot more palatable. In a cornfield, they’ve got food, they’ve got water and they’ve got shelter. They’ll just bed down in those fields and they won’t leave,” Renneker said.

Bears are unlikely to be successfully trapped from a cornfield. They have no reason to go after the bait when they have plenty of food at hand.“The corn is a really high-calorie treat for them,” CPW spokesman John Livingston said. “It’s one of those things that is hard to prevent. Once bears get used to getting that food source, it’s kind of a hard deal. With corn, especially, it won’t be long before a bear will take out a whole field.”

Montrose Daily Press, August 17, 2022

So these bears don’t have to do all that tedious berry-picking and ant-licking as long as they live in sweet corn country. When I was a kid visiting my grandfather’s farm, it would have been an absolute hoot to think that there might be bears in the cornfield. And when I think of the lost opportunities to tell terrifying stories to “city kids” about what might be lurking there amid all those bright green stalks, I weep.

I certainly hope that some arrangement can be worked out before tempers further fray. But if it comes to a community vote, I’m pulling the lever for Smokey.

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From The New Yorker

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Since Robin had been away from home for nearly a week, I wanted to give her a welcome-home gift that said how much I appreciate all the she does and what she has meant to me for more than three decades and so I searched for the gift that would perfectly reflect all of this and more.

That’s how I came to buy her this Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure. I know, I know, it’s embarrassingly personal and way too sentimental, but I guess that’s who I am after all.

(The only disturbing thing, once I got the figure home and glued the gavel in place, is that I realized that I’ve seen that stern expression before, and it was on the forbidding face of my third grade teacher, Miss Behrens.)

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When I was in pediatric residency training, each day was spent jumping from one hot spot on the griddle to another, as fascinating and challenging cases rolled in through the University Hospital doors in continuous succession. Inevitably I acquired a decent level of proficiency in acute care medicine, dealing with the kinds of illnesses that required constant conferencing and consultations.

And at the end of that time, I got drafted into the USAF medical service, where I faced what seemed to be an endless line of colds, earaches, and comparatively minor complaints. The glaring discord between my training and what general practice asked of me couldn’t have been more obvious. What our residency staff would have called “fascinomas” came along only every few months, if that.

At some point I made a decision to stay in general practice pediatrics, but I realized two things. If 99% of the time I was going to deal with the more common sorts of illnesses, there was no excuse for not doing them well. And secondly, if I wanted to remain ready to take on the remaining 1% of problems, keeping those acute care skills sharp was going to be a challenge. When you run a “code” a couple of times a week, no problem. When it only happens a few times a year … that’s a problem.

And those were the tensions that I worked under for the next 35 years.

All of this is echoed in my approach to cooking. For quite a few years now, the division of labor in our household has involved me doing most of the meal preparation. At first I would look up exotic recipes and try to follow them, even if I had never eaten whatever it was I was trying to make, and therefore had no idea if it ended up tasting the way it was supposed to taste. There were some spectacular failures and occasional unrepeatable successes.

And so I made the decision to focus on doing “everyday” meals well, and leaving the more showy stuff to others. Gradually I developed my own collection of recipes that always, or nearly always, worked. I would stick with each of these until I ran across a new version that looked interesting and would try it out. If the new one seemed an improvement, that recipe joined the collection and its predecessor would be eighty-sixed.

So if you want to make a damned good coney island, I’ve got a recipe for a killer meat sauce. My pinto beans are worth wolfing down even if they make you gassy enough to be a fuel source. Pulled pork sandwiches … step right up, folks. And so it goes.

But if you ever come over and I tell you that I’ve cooked up an osso buco for you, I would suggest either crossing your fingers, murmuring a quick prayer, or feigning sudden illness and bolting for the door … whatever you’ve found works best for you.

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Something happened the other day for which I was not prepared. This is not in itself unusual, since my whole life could be described as a form of Brownian motion, with me bouncing from one thing for which I was unprepared to another. Fatherhood, husbandhood, toilet training, the list goes on.

Our home is located in a row of houses whose back yards face across an open space that contains a small irrigation canal and a paved walking path. The path gets regular use, with dog walkers, students moving from home to school, and seniors forcing themselves to exercise (just in case they find themselves in the longer-living group after all). The path is about forty yards from the deck where I was standing, idling on a summer afternoon, when a young girl of perhaps twelve years old passed by.

In an unexpected move, she waved and greeted me with a cheery “Hi.” I paused for a moment as I thought to myself, where are her parents and what sort of training has this girl had? Because I have long since become accustomed to kids giving me no sort of greeting at all as we all try to figure things out in these days of #me too and its predecessor, which was #avoid creepy old men at all costs.

But I returned her “hello,” which made her smile, and she then called out: “Jesus loves you!”

The best response I could come up on such short notice was “I hope so.”

Totally lame on my part.

The young lady kept walking and passed from sight, but not from memory. She had said what was probably the nicest thing she could think of to say to a stranger. I don’t know if her goal for that day was to walk around town warming hearts, but she had done it to mine.

Jesus Children of America, by Stevie Wonder

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On Being A Fifth Wheel

When Robin and I first got together, there were some accommodations required. Her life had been lived in South Dakota up until that point, but mine had been mostly elsewhere. In her case, she was part a group of four couples who had been getting together for years on weekend outings, like renting a common cabin and going skiing, for instance. The process of divorce and remarriage meant deleting one member of the group and replacing him with me, a person that you have come to know as an outstanding chap in every regard. But still … I was the odd duck. The new guy.

Mostly it was a problem after a long day of skiing, when the eight of us would get together in the rented cabin to ease sore muscles and kick back, and the conversation would turn quite naturally to all those past years, when I had been absent. I soon found those conversations, especially those involving her ex, tedious to the extreme, and my nose was often put out of joint as a result. And when my nose is crooked, I definitely become … well … peevish. Don’t believe it? Ask Robin.

Over time, as I acquired history with the group, this changed, but I still remember some of those first evenings as long and mildly dreadful. Let me hasten to add here that the other people in the group were fine folks, and we are friends to this day. It was just me feeling very much the “plug-in” spouse that first year or two.

Eventually one of the other couples dropped out, leaving six stalwarts to carry on. Skiing trips became less frequent, and instead we did more bicycling, all of which was done on the Mickelson Trail. This trail is a gem, following 109 miles of what used to be railroad tracks running north to south through some of the Black Hills’ most scenic territory.

Our group never covered the distance at one time, but would take a portion of the path each year and spend a day pedaling it, while leaving vehicles at each end to get us back to the start. Over the years we covered the entire trail, but only a few miles at a time.

Then there was the year that Robin and I pedaled the whole thing together. That would have been thirteen years ago. We took an easy approach, spending three days on the trail rather than pushing ourselves. This also provided much more time to just enjoy the beauty of where we were at every stage. A Ferdinand the Bull sort of trip.

The leg from Hill City to Custer was memorable in that we started out in a moderate October snowfall which quickly became much heavier and we were moderately hypothermic by the time we neared our destination. Enough so that when we reached the outskirts of Custer we pedaled up to the local hospital and simply sat in the lobby until our body temperatures climbed to somewhere nearer that typically found in living persons. (Did I mention that the day before the snowfall we were bicycling in sunshine and short sleeves? Such is the weather variability in the Black Hills.)

No matter, all in all the trip was a memorable one, and my only lingering question is still: How DO you bury a body which is frozen to a bicycle? Would the process involve an acetylene torch at some point?

(BTW, the music in the video is from the soundtrack to the movie Grizzly Man, and was composed by Richard Thompson.)

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From The New Yorker

You know how there is almost always something positive that comes out of even the worst of events? Some sort of learning that it took an intense fire to forge in you. It is such a regular occurrence for me that I regard it now as a commonplace.

Such is climate change.

What could possibly be the positive, you might well ask, in this slow-motion disaster we are all living through? For me, it is a heightened awareness of the fragility of life on our only home, Earth. Change the average temperature what seems an insignificant number of degrees and suddenly whole ecosystems start to fall apart. A slightly warmer winter and certain insects now survive that did not in harsher weather and before you know it entire forests disappear. Bump it another couple of degrees and coastlines all over the globe are completely re-drawn by rising water.

There is little doubt in my mind that the planet might have been better off if our evolutionary lineage had stopped at Neanderthal, instead of continuing on to Homo sapiens. And also little doubt that our species really doesn’t deserve the name it has been given, which means wise man, or knowledgeable man.

I hereby propose a change in nomenclature, and it is that henceforth our species be called Homo ignoramus. Might as well tell it like it is. How well we do in the next decades depends on whether the body of people who understand what is happening can carry, push, drag, or cajole the rest into doing what is necessary. If this effort succeeds, at some future date we could ask for our old name back, or at least an intermediate one, like Homo notquitesureaboutus.

Tell It Like It Is, by Tracy Chapman

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From The New Yorker

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Our old friend, Ragnar, has been away for an extended period of time. When you are dealing with the long dead, you never know what to expect, really. So whenever he shows up we try to take advantage of the time, as it is always challenging to hear his perspectives.

Hey, Ragnar, good to see you! It’s been ages.

I’ve been busy

What does a Viking who has been deceased for a thousand years do with his time, anyway?

I’ve been going around the world, listening in on conferences at the highest levels.

Conferences of what, may I ask?

You know, governments, scientists, pornographers, weathermen, the usual stuff. I can do that, being dead and all, because unless I want someone to see me, they can’t.

So you’re snooping, is that it?

Poor choice of words, if you want me to keep talking.

Sorry, I meant observing.

Much better.

So what’s your takeaway?

Well, the weather is getting worse.

Okay, got that.

And most of the people who are supposed to be leaders aren’t doing much of a job.

Yes ….

But a few are, and that’s a good thing.

And …

I think that pornography might be the only solid growth industry there is. If it ever issues stock, you should buy some.

Sounds a little unsavory to me.

You shouldn’t take it personally, it’s only business.

But still …

The industry depends on large numbers of people who are totally screwed up about sex, right?

Well, yes

Look at all of recorded history … any sign of improvement in this area?

None that’s easily discernible

There you are.

Were you Vikings any better about s.e.x?

Well … let me put it this way. We were never touchy-feely folks.

And yes?

More like being the pushing-shoving sort

Got it

No Valentines Day … no bouquets

I think that’s enough to give us the picture

You asked

I am beginning to regret it

No ballads … no sonnetsno Hallmark

Been good to see you, don’t be a stranger

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Stranger, by Kris Kristofferson

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Pedal On, Pedal On, Pedal On

The other day as I was straightening up the musty attic that constitutes my brain, trying to keep the cobwebs down and to make some sense of the arrangement of the boxes once again, I found myself remembering the military draft. It came up when I was eavesdropping on some men who were of at least one generation younger than mine and thinking … these guys have no concept of what it was to be an American male before 1975.

To them, trying to imagine stopping your life and putting everything on hold for two years while you had your head shaved and your clothing and location assigned to you would be as impossible as pondering what an alien abduction might really be like (except for the probing … anyone who has ever had their temperature taken rectally can imagine that). Add to this the very real possibility, depending on world politics, that you might be sent to a war zone where your chances of coming back alive might be only 80%, and your chances of coming back unchanged in a significant way would be zero.

The sword that once hung over our heads had been removed, and was no longer a fact of life. And who was the crew that broke the draft? It wasn’t our political leaders, who we all know rarely lead, but have to be forced into constructive activity. It wasn’t the Viet Nam Vets for Peace with their 1000 yard stares, although they made a strong contribution.

It was the moms.

The soccer moms, the middle-of-the-road moms, the housedress moms, who saw how careless our government had been with the lives of the boys they had birthed and raised. When those sensible shoes hit the streets in peaceful demonstrations, even good old President I Am Not A Crook looked out the White House window and said “We’re done here,” and the war and the draft became history.

Of course, the United States now has an all-volunteer army, but it hasn’t abandoned conscription altogether. At the age of eighteen, males are still required to register with the draft, just in case on some bright day in the years ahead we run into a situation where the country thinks it needs more bodies in uniform than have volunteered. So the door is open just a crack, one so small that it is almost invisible. But put the wrong guy in charge, or give a good president a bad idea, and that door could swing wide.

Can you imagine what a hoorah there would be if the government started actually calling up non-volunteers once again? The last several years it couldn’t even get all of us to wear masks or vaccinate ourselves against a very real threat to our health.

I will put the question to you. If you found a draft notice in your mailbox and your presence was demanded in a war zone somewhere in the world, and we were being led by a man as bereft of anything resembling morality or common sense as Donald Cluck, would you answer the call?

Myself, I think that I might take off for one of those extended Canadian vacations. I have a couple of beautiful and serene lakes in mind up there where I could live off the land as long as I was content to eat only lake trout, walleyes, and pine needles. (Of course, by the time the U.S. got themselves around to drafting people of my age, we would be in some serious doo doo for certain, and maybe Canada wouldn’t let me in.)

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Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

Mark Twain

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From The New Yorker

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It is such a treat to go looking for quotations in the Mark Twain section of the digital library. There are good reasons why his words are borrowed so often to employ in speeches and essays. He realized that we (Americans) are a colorful mixture of heroes and villains with a goodly number of b.s. artists in each group. All the keen observer has to do is wait for a day or two and a pomposity balloon will rise up just begging for someone with a hairpin and a strong right arm to pop it.

Someone might say: Well, he could say things like he did because he didn’t live in the toxic atmosphere that we do, where to speak your mind invites attack. But Twain was 26 years old when a little thing called the Civil War broke out, and I suspect that there were some very lively discussions at social gatherings during the years preceding the conflict and for a generation afterward.

After all, when more than 2% of the nation’s population were being killed in a confrontation, I imagine that it got people riled up in a rather forceful way.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I are presently watching the series “The Bear” on Hulu. You might like it.

We do.

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This song really belongs in an earlier post, when I gave the month of August a nod. But since 1967 it has been (for me) the essential summer tune. Here’s a clue – if I ever miss a whole season without playing and laying back and just going with it – well, momma, you can take this badge off of me ’cause I won’t need it anymore.

Brown Eyed Girl, by Van Morrison

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Robin is out of town, so yesterday I fired up the e-bike and took what is a long ride for me, close to forty miles. I went from home to the Black Canyon National Park, and then rode the park road to its conclusion. The route is basically one long uphill all the way there, and (why, you guessed, it you clever ducks), downhill all the way back.

For the first seven miles or so, I was also pedaling into a headwind which fell like 50 mph but was probably around 25. I mention these numbers because there is a small meter on the bike that tells me how much battery power I have left. By the time I reached the foothills leading to the park entrance, I had only a little more than half-power left to me already, with more uphill to go.

And then the motor quit in the middle of a hill. Just stopped altogether. And the bike’s computer screen flashed an error code – E 26 – which meant nothing to me. I sat there on the road for a couple of minutes and then tried again. The bike caught fire and off I went for another mile or so before it quit again. It was then that I remembered reading a review of this particular bike before I ever bought it and the writer talked about the electrical system protecting itself by a temporary shutoff whenever it felt it was overheating. Although this was a cool morning, I had been asking the machine to carry me uphill and into the wind for an hour straight, and it had finally asked for a break.

Once on top of the mesa I experienced no more shutdowns, but by the time I reached the far end of the park I had only two bars left (battery power) out of the ten that had been on the display at the beginning. And one of those two soon went away. But all praises be to the saints and the power of gravity I made it all the way home without having to get off and walk. All that downhill on the return trip did the trick.

But by that time my body’s own computer screen was flashing its own error message, which went something like this (and which was accompanied by a large amount of rubber-leggedness): Go in the house, you old fool, and don’t ask us to do one freaking thing that requires physical effort for the rest of the day. We’ve had it with you.

And that’s exactly what I did.

The Acoustic Motorbike, by Luka Bloom

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Alma, Tell Us …

In central Colorado there is a town called Alma which the visitor might remember for two reasons. One is that at 10,578 feet it is the highest incorporated municipality in the United States. The second is the presence of a good ol’ general store which a local genius has named Al-Mart.

Now although Alma’s population is only 296 today, in the 1870s it was a bustling 10,000 souls. Mining was what drew people to this place, and today there are 17,452 mining sites in the area around the town. Its climate is such that there is no real growing season, so anyone who has an obsessive itch to garden can finally relax because even a radish wouldn’t make it.

We took a couple of (what else?) beautiful hikes while staying in a BnB outside of town with friends last weekend. As one of those friends once said: Colorado is geologically blessed.

Alma, by Tom Lehrer

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Speaking of BnB’s. I wonder how the name still sticks, when the majority of these offerings don’t offer that second “B” at all? At the place we stayed, not only did they not make us breakfast, there wasn’t even (gasp) a toaster. We made do by hauling out a large electric griddle from the back of the pantry to burn our bread with. It did a fair job, although by the end of each morning there was a strong aroma of singed wheat in the dwelling.

There were ten of us in the cabin, and each had a bed, which was a good thing. Sometimes overzealous promoters of these places might say “sleeps ten” which is technically true if three of the occupants are okay with resting on pine boards stretched across a pair of sawhorses.

And there was a civilized touch in the presence of a dishwasher. Unfortunately the latch on the machine wouldn’t work, so that it couldn’t be closed. Oddly enough, even though the door wouldn’t shut, the washer would start up if you pressed the button. And if you were willing to stand there holding the door closed throughout the several hour cycle, it probably would clean your dishes. We chose to wash ours by hand. Quicker all in all, you know.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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The month of August has a lot of weight to carry, I think. It’s often the hottest month of the year, the mosquitoes are still around (although in shorter supply), plants and humans are drooping a bit under that merciless sun, and let’s face it – who plans an August vacation if they don’t have to? Looming over its shoulder is September, which will be cooler, less buggy, prettier in those areas where the leaves turn color, and in general a more hospitable milieu in which to continue one’s life.

But still, August comes around each year and occupies 31-days of the calendar to boot. It is the Rodney Dangerfield of months, soldiering along without respect.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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I am presently reading the book “Lincoln In The Bardo.” Last night there was a passage that I found awfully moving … here, I’ll quote it for you, rather than natter on.

First, though, I will set the stage with a definition of the word.

Used without qualification, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena.

Wikipedia: Bardo

The voices in this passage are of persons in the bardo.

Please do not misunderstand. We had been mothers, fathers. Had been husbands of many years, men of import, who had come here, that first day, accompanied by crowds so vast and sorrowful that, surging forward to hear the oration, they had damaged fences beyond repair. Had been young wives, diverted here during childbirth, our gentle qualities stripped from us by the naked pain of that circumstance, who left behind husbands so enamored of us, so tormented by the horror of those last moments (the notion that we had gone down that awful black hole pain-sundered from ourselves) that they had never loved again. Had been bulky men, quietly content, who, in our first youth, had come to grasp our own unremarkableness and had, cheerfully (as if bemusedly accepting a heavy burden), shifted our life’s focus; if we would not be great, we would be useful; would be rich, and kind, and thereby able to effect good: smiling, hands in pockets, watching the world we had subtly improved walking past (this empty dowry filled; that education secretly funded). Had been grandmothers, tolerant and frank, recipients of certain dark secrets, who, by the quality of their unjudging listening, granted tacit forgiveness, and thus let in the sun. What I mean to say is, we had been considerable. Had been loved. Not lonely, not lost, not freakish, but wise, each in his or her own way. Our departures caused pain. Those who had loved us sat upon their beds, heads in hand; lowered their faces to tabletops making animal noises. We had been loved, I say, and remembering, even many years later, people would smile, briefly gladdened at the memory.

George Saunders: Lincoln in the Bardo

Now that, my friends, is a piece of writing. It is the sort of thing that can be just plain depressing, when I can’t avoid seeing the gulf between prose that can sing like this and my own best efforts which are little more than stuttering in comparison.

Ah, well. Ah, well. If we are given chisels to work with instead of scalpels, it is best we don’t take up brain surgery, no?

(It’s that last line that is the hooker. I think that it might be where our best shot at immortality lies. ‘We had been loved, I say, and remembering, even many years later, people would smile, briefly gladdened at the memory.At long last, one could hope that people we know are briefly gladdened)

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I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, by Tim Buckley

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Crawdads, et al

Yesterday afternoon Robin and I went to the Wednesday matinee movie to see “Where The Crawdad Sings.” In spite of a few plot holes, like … really … how does a 12 year-old survive completely on her own in the North Carolina marshes, we liked it. Mostly because Daisy Edgar-Jones and David Strathairn are such appealing actors.

I ask you, friends, is this a face or what?

I learned this morning that crawdads don’t sing, because I looked it up. They don’t even hum, although they have been known to move their lips if a lively tune is playing. But the meaningless phrase nevertheless still conjures up visions of the back of beyond in my head.

It was so interesting that the audience on Wednesday was nearly 100% senior citizens, until I thought more about it and realized -what group is most free to go to afternoon film showings and is attracted more strongly by the $5.00 ticket price? Righteous geezers like yours truly, that’s who.

Rotten Tomatoes critics gave it an uninspiring 34%, while the audience came up with a quite different score of 96%. It was that kind of movie.

But there was that one thing. On our recent camping expedition the weather had been warm and humid in the daytime, cool and damp in the evenings. Two days of this stuff without a shower gave me that creepy-crawly feeling, because living in a semi-desert I have grown happily accustomed to a dry epidermis. So the steamy cinematography and seeing all that laying about in the damp Carolina sand made me feel sticky and in need of a rinse-off even though it had only been a few hours since my last shower.

It turns out that I am attracted to movies that have swamps in them. Swamp Thing, Return of the Swamp Thing, Southern Comfort, In The Electric Mist, Beasts of the Southern Wild, et al. There’s just something about all that hanging moss, those gloomy over-arching trees, and all that dark water that could contain all manner of slithery, scaly, toothed things. Yep, give me a good swamp movie over a film shot on the Arctic tundra any day. So many more unseen threats and hazards (at least in the mind).

Born on the Bayou, by Creedence Clearwater Revival

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The header photograph was taken yesterday, during a hike in the Mosquito Range. I thought it was such a friendly gesture on the part of the mountain goat to pose like that while I fumbled for my camera and managed to get it pointed in the right direction.

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From The New Yorker

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I will admit that I haven’t given Kansans their due. It’s a flat land populated by flat people was my usual line of thinking. If it weren’t for the Wizard of Oz, I wouldn’t have thought about Kansas much at all.

But this week those folks surprised us all, by voting 60:40 to protect the rights of women to their own bodies. They cut through all the horse-pucky and voted for sanity over dogma.

Let’s face it. Most of the time it’s just too easy to become pregnant. Absolute dolts can do it just as well as any Rhodes scholar can. Momma Nature set it up that way on purpose, because she is always always in favor of more of the species. (Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem as interested in quality, as we have noted ad nauseam over the past few years.) The whole process follows its own logic. A male sees a female, a female sees a male, their hormones make a calculation for them, the back seat of a car provides a comfortable platform , and voila! Sperm meets egg.

It is at this moment that it gets loony. Some laws are beginning to appear that give full personhood to this single sperm and egg combination. My apologies to any folks who think that way, but that’s just crazy. To think that we should balance this microscopic implant against the rights of the owner of the body in which this is all occurring is a brand new level of bonker-ness, even for members of our tribe. (And which tribe is that? Why, homo not-always-so-sapiens is who us are)

There are days when I despair, but not today. Kansas have turned the light back on.

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From The New Yorker

(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66, by Nat “King” Cole

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This clip of Robin Williams is from a performance in 1986, or thereabouts. When I first saw it back then I was hit with two thoughts. The first was that I’d never seen anything like it in my life (still haven’t). The second was that no one could live with a mind running this fast for very long. Fortunately I was wrong about the second part.

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This morning I am not too hopeful for our tribe. I get that way on occasion. I know that my generation bears its share of blame for the mess that the world is in. But there were a few generations that came before mine that have blood on their hands, and the ones that have come after … are they really doing any better? They continue to make the same mistakes while bemoaning the errors of others. It’s a stance gets our tribe exactly nowhere.

There is such a lot of blaming and finger-pointing going on that there are moments when it seems that the specialty of younger generations is whining. The boomers did that or the boomers did this are repeated refrains, without the speakers showing any insight into the fact that they are the New Boomers and are doing the same damn dumb things over again.

Could it be that they too are using way too much of the world’s resources and paying way too little attention to their own individual roles in the maintenance of this monstrous climatic mess? Could that possibly be the truth?

Well, let’s just perish that thought immediately, they say, and then get back to basics which is finding out which finger is best for pointing.

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Harrumph, balderdash, and humbug! Now where is my afghan and slippers?

In The Boonies

Robin and I were off camping with Allyson and Kyle for the past couple of days. It was our first such outing this year, and we had picked an area between Montrose and Steamboat Springs in which to do it.

Here’s how to get there. Wait, you ask, where is “there?” It’s the North Fork Campground, and from Montrose you drive 157 miles northeast to Meeker, Colorado, where you take a right and then drive 32 miles back into the White River National Forest. By this time you have tried to call somebody or check something on your phone and realized that you have cut a more than a few ties with the civilized world. The facilities’ name derives from its location along the north fork of the White River.

This campground contains 28 sites, has running water, decent privies, and Bob. Bob is the campground host. Many of you who are not accustomed to camping might not know what such a “host” is. He is the custodian of the place. If the area and facilities are clean and in order, it was Bob’s doing. If you need information on what to do now that you are surrounded by all those trees, Bob can provide guidance. If you need wood for the evening fire, Bob’s your man.

We rented one site, and by plunking down a few bucks extra we received permission for a second vehicle, which was Ally’s truck. So for about the price of a movie each we shared a small patch of wild Colorado as our very own for two days.

Robin and I arrived first, and were halfway through setting up our tent camper when we were interrupted by a deluge. A solid rain that lasted for an hour and then cleared off. No more rain that day, though.

When our friends arrived around 2:00 P.M., we four for another drive 12 miles deeper into the forest to a place called Trapper’s Lake. It’s a beautiful lake in a nearly perfect setting, really. So lovely that when Arthur Carhart came by in 1919 well … here’s the story taken from the Forest Service website.

In the summer of 1919, the Forest Service dispatched its first landscape architect to Trappers Lake with instructions to survey 100 planned summer home sites and a road around the lake.  The 27 year old surveyor, Arthur H. Carhart, completed his plan and returned to Denver.  But he closed his report with a strongly-worded recommendation that the area remain roadless and undeveloped. “There are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they are rightfully the property of all people.  They should be preserved for all time for the people of the Nation and the world.  Trappers Lake is unquestionably a candidate for that classification.”

In an unprecedented move, the Forest Service set the plans aside for further study and the proposed road was never built.  Mr. Carhart went on to work with conservationist Aldo Leopold. The memorandum detailing their shared approach to preservation became the foundation and heart of the Wilderness concept.

In 1964, the Wilderness Act was signed into law. It set aside nine million acres of National Forest lands for the use and enjoyment of future generations. Since then, the system has grown to encompass lands in National Parks, Forests and Wildlife Refuges, as well as properties managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The Flat Tops Wilderness, home to Trappers Lake, was designated in 1975.

U.S.Forest Service: Trapper’s Lake

So we peons owe a lot to Art and Aldo for suggesting that the country hold off on making bungalows for billionaires in every beautiful spot in the US, and set some of that aside for use by commoners and corporati alike. Thus, Trapper’s Lake has no road around it, no campground directly on it, and no motorized boating is allowed. You can, however, portage your canoe from the parking lot to the lake and be a very happy man.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Here’s a gallery from the camping trip. Besides Trapper’s Lake, we hiked to Spring Cave, along the trail to Mirror Lake, and sat out another longer rain shower. We dined on Pork Vindaloo, White Lightning Chili, et al. (No, Bob did not provide the food, we’d brought that along with us)

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On the wall of the privy and facing the user was a space that had obviously once contained a sign of some sort. Having nothing in particular to think about at the time and having brought along nothing to read, I started to wonder what it might have said and came up with four possibilities:

  • Do Not Sit Down! The facility has been treated with an arsenic/lead disinfectant solution which can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Please check for snakes before use. The Mountain Privy Rattlesnake nests in the vicinity.
  • Trump/Pence
  • Jimmie – we meant to rendezvous with you and Mrs. Hoffa but don’t know where we are. Hoping you see this note.

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Ends of the Earth, by Lord Huron

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Safe At Last

We can all relax. CNN reports that the Entomological Society of American has decided that the insect Vespa mandarinia. will no longer be called “the murder hornet.” This unfortunate name was deemed unnecessarily fear-provoking and detrimental to rational discourse.

It will now be called the Northern Giant Hornet. I confess that putting the words “giant” and “hornet” together still gives me a slight chill. And the photo that accompanied the news item didn’t help. You can clearly see that the bug had to be run through with a rapier before the person in the photo would come anywhere near it.

This was done, we are left to assume, so that the photographer could avoid being murdered.

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From The New Yorker

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In general, I make a big deal about my Buddhist stoicism, my ability to accept the inevitability of change, and all that. When I have that working for me, it’s kind of my superpower. But it is not a shining coat of mail, this acceptance of mine. It’s more like that moth-eaten old blanket you keep in the trunk of the car for spreading on the ground at picnics, actually. A few polyester fibers stretched around a scattering of holes.

This morning is one of those where the holes are having their moment, but by the time the sun comes up and I’m on my second cup of coffee for the day, I’ll likely be fine. I find that night is the most vulnerable time. Anything and everything can come in, pull up a chair, and sit at my worktable. When that happens, mostly I sit there like Ebenezer Scrooge in a state of mild dread, waiting for what’s coming. An old regret … a sense of the losses that life inevitably brings … a fear for tomorrow … never know where these twilight hours will take me.

Having been through a few unpleasantnesses along this uneven and rocky path, I tell myself that I will be able to handle the next one, using what I’ve learned so far. But isn’t that just me, whistling in the dark?

Could it be that the next one will be exactly as it was with those that came before … me at the bottom of a hole with a child’s sand shovel in my hand, squinting up at the sun far above, and digging steps in the side of the pit to eventually get myself out and back to level ground?

Ah well, perhaps it is enough to be grateful that there are shovels in the world.

Life of Illusion, by Joe Walsh

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From The New Yorker

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Almost nine years ago I had an adventure where in the very early morning hours, as I was sitting in my La-Z-Boy and composing a blog entry, a skunk entered through a pet door, wandered around the house for ten minutes, and then left. As I watched from my chair. I must mention that our home is on a single level, and of only 1200 square feet in area, so the animal and I were in fairly close proximity.

It took me no time at all to decide that I didn’t want a repeat performance if I could avoid it, so the very next morning out I went to purchase a Havahart Trap at a local hardware store. These are devices to capture critters alive and unharmed so they can be transported to wherever they need transporting.

As I was studying how to bait and set it, I was struck by the thought: What if I was to be successful and catch it? What then? I would have a high-strung skunk in a wire cage with a short handle on it. Somehow that cage would need to be moved to a neutral location, and the cage door be opened. All while the animal was watching and perfectly capable of its unique form of retaliation. So I set the trap aside. For nine years. Until now.

About six months ago, we began experiencing a different sort of home invasion, this time by a large black and white cat who would drop by occasionally. He would enter through the pet door late at night, eat food that our own cats hadn’t finished, and then take his leave. Sometimes I would catch him at it, but apparently my blustering and waving my arms frantically weren’t enough to frighten him off permanently.

Until two nights ago it hadn’t physically bothered our own cats, and who cared if it stole a bit of food from time to time. But on this one particular evening he hurt Poco, biting our old friend so severely that he cried out when moved. After returning from a trip to the vet, I resolved to try to do … something, so I dragged out the Havahart, set it with a can of cat food, and this morning I have the invader in the cage.

When 0800 rolls around I will dial the Animal Control number and ask them to carry the trappee to the animal shelter. If the cat has an owner, they will find it there. If not, I hope that the shelter will find a proper home for the wanderer. It is a beautiful and resourceful creature, but an uneasy truce was broken when it hurt Poco. Not okay.

The whole episode makes me sad, though, in a way that I can’t seem to easily shake.

[BTW, the good news is that Poco is recovering nicely for an old gent of 15 years.]

Seems Like A Long Time, by Brewer and Shipley

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No Code

The moment when I realized that my assumptions about what it meant to be an American were just that – assumptions – was when I listened to the debate about using torture in interrogations, after 9/11. It was horrifying to me to hear members of our own government seriously talking about not whether to use torture, but how much.  As if once that door was opened there were any boundaries worthy of the name. 

How naive I had been, I thought, how could I have missed how close we were  to savagery? A government that can see its way to torturing the citizens of another country will not shrink from doing the same thing to its own if it imagines a need exists.

For that reason this Doonesbury cartoon evokes a rueful laugh. On the surface it is about a simple man who has swallowed a line of thinking without thinking.

What he is not wrong about, though, is the need for vigilance on the part of all of us when it comes to our leadership. I learned during the Cluck years how quickly institutions could be corrupted, and during the McConnell tenure that the naked lust for political power could be used to break what I believed could not, would not, be broken.

Because why? Because, I thought – Americans don’t do that s**t. Naiveté again.

So here I am in my golden years trying to figure out just how many “bad guys” are really out there? How to do what I can to help contain our country’s worst impulses so that the best ones can get the chance to be expressed?

I think that if I’m going to save the world I better get cracking.

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From The New Yorker

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Continuing on in this light-hearted mode, I would like to talk about the problem of doing CPR in dinosaurs like myself. If you watch enough medical shows on television, you could easily get the idea that resuscitation after a full arrest is a pretty cool thing with good results almost to be expected.

The reality is not so cool. When an 80+ year-old person’s arrest happens in a hospital, their chances of being brought back are around 12%. There is a very good chance that they will re-arrest, depending on why it happened the first time. Among that initial 12% of survivors there are patients who will have lifelong neurologic handicaps of varying severities. Many will not be able to take care of themselves, and will be discharged to nursing homes. Some will be in a vegetative state.

In short, a small fraction of persons my age who arrest will go home fairly intact. To me, that fraction is too small. Way too small.

When I had my stroke a couple of years ago and was being transferred from the ER to the ICU after I had regained the power of speech, the admitting nurse asked about my choices for critical care. I told her that I was to be considered a DNR patient (Do Not Resuscitate), which means that if I suffered a complete cardiorespiratory arrest nothing was to be done.

The nurse dutifully wrote down my wishes, my chart was so labelled, and a DNR sign was placed in my room. The R.N. did not gasp or faint or try to talk me out of my decision, but accepted it matter-of-factly and went on with her other questions. Having DNR put on my chart doesn’t mean that I will be ignored by staff from that moment forward. And it certainly doesn’t limit my freedom to be a total pain in the ass as a patient if I want to be.

It simply means that if all my lights go out, don’t go looking for a switch.

Others may make very different choices. It’s not a right or wrong situation. But for myself, I don’t like those odds, and I abhor the idea of being brought back to “life” in pieces. (And BTW, those dismal statistics are for in-hospital CPR. If the arrest occurs elsewhere, the odds are worse.)

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From The New Yorker

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One of the most beautiful songs/performances that I’ve heard. Written by my favorite poet of them all, Leonard Cohen. Unlike a lot of other musicians and groups that I have fancied over the years, my appreciation for this man’s work has grown steadily and shows no signs of flagging. Even though the troubadour himself left the building six years ago.

He’s been my man all the way from the soooooo romantic Suzanne, which was a perfect anthem for a 60s dreamer, to tender hymns like this one.

You know, maybe we should pick some tea and oranges that come all the way from China, then sit down and watch this together. All we need’s a bunch of cushions and a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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I was ready for quite a few of the things that come along with being a senior citizen. Physical capacities lessening a bit, forgetfulness up a notch or two … I anticipated these and more.

But what I wasn’t ready for was this unholy trio:

  • Basic irrelevance
  • Performing ordinary tasks is regarded as amazing
  • I have become “cute”

Let me take them one at a time. Irrelevance first. A friend of mine put it very well when he said sadly: “I just spent nearly a week with my children and no one asked me my opinion about anything.” That’s when you realize that you’ve been assigned to a new category which is: people who come from just too far back down the road to have anything useful to say. Like you were King Tut, a leftover from another era.

Performing ordinary tasks is next. What … you tie your own shoes? Cook your own food? Turn the computer on all by yourself? That’s amazing.

I don’t know exactly at what age this happens, but it’s closely associated with retirement.

The horrible “cute” thing. This is the worst. You spend your whole life creating and living in the fiction that you are a dangerous and fascinating person. And then one day you hear a young woman’s voice behind you saying “Look at that old guy … isn’t he cute? A crushing blow. James Bond was never cute. You realize that you and a Capuchin monkey at the zoo are now looked at in the same way.

Wearing a new shirt? Cute.

Wearing a new pair of slacks? Cute.

Wearing any clothes at all? Cute.

Dance a couple of steps? Cute.

No need to go on. All of us, if we last long enough, will eventually face these indignities. Part of the human condition, and all that. But no one says we have to like it.

In my head, I am still dangerous, but there are differences today. While I used to overcome adversaries with physical prowess, now I do it by being crafty. And since I have become so disarmingly cute, finding out that I’ve outwitted them often comes as an unwelcome surprise.

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Plus ça change …

My friends, I don’t know if you’ll recognize me or not the next time we meet. I have been to the opera and my cultural battery (which was on low ebb) has been recharged. I am fully me once again. I don’t know how the word got out that I was attending that night, but it did.

It started in the parking lot at the Santa Fe Opera House, where our car was singled out for special treatment. All of the vehicles in front of ours were shunted to the side, some actually into ditches to make room for us. We were directed by people in uniform saluting as we passed until we were parked at the point closest to the performance hall. Several of these attendants fought one another to open our car doors for us and walked alongside us as we went through the gates . Since the evening was uncomfortably warm, they carried large fans to waft us along.

At some point we were encouraged to accept a ride in the sedan chairs which were offered, that our heels may not be bruised on the rough pavement. Out of modesty I refused at first, but soon relented when I realized that each chair came with a complimentary bag of jalapeño-flavored Cheetos.

The performance of Falstaff was exciting, the costumes inventive, and the voices were uniformly excellent, especially the young soprano who had the role of Nannetta. Her name is Elena Villalon.

It is of no matter that she was young enough to be a grand-daughter (perhaps a great grand-daughter). She warbled her way into the part of my heart that doesn’t acknowledge age at all. Both Robin and I were smitten by her.

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While we’re on the subject of smiting, I must relate the tale of Robin and the waiter. Our journey from Paradise to Santa Fe went like this. First we drove to Durango and picked up grandson Aiden. The four hour drive from there passed through country that was uniformly and constantly beautiful. Through towns with names like Abiquiu, Española, Cebolla, Tierra Amarilla, and Chama. Looking out the window of the car was like watching a travelogue where only the very best scenes had been saved in the editing.

We stopped for lunch in the nearly dried-up village of Chama, to take our chances at the Boxcar Cafe. You never know. But the food turned out to be good diner food, with some kitchen creativity. For instance, there were the french fries cooked in duck fat and sprinkled with cayenne pepper. On the menu they were listed as Duck Fat/Togarashi. Interesting.

But it was our waiter, a slender man of about eighteen years who was topped with a pile of unruly curly hair, who had Robin’s full attention from the get-go. I think that if he had recommended the dustmop with a side of cactus thorns she might have ordered a double helping. When our meal was over and we were driving away from the restaurant, Robin was on her knees on the rear seat and gazing longingly out the rear window as the Boxcar Restaurant faded from view. Plucky girl that she is though, an hour later she had fully composed herself and was looking forward to the rest of the day.

Aaahhhhh, such is life … there are times when loves come and go with so little ceremony.

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I thought that although the January 6 hearings have been going on for quite a while, so many of the characters are only names, and we don’t have pictures to go with them. Why, a person could bump into Josh Hawley on the street, have a perfectly good opportunity to give him a piece of your mind, but miss the opportunity because you had no idea what this particular toady looked like.

Therefore I offer this modest gallery of some of the players on the Republican side of things.

Donald Cluck

Kevin McCarthy

Mitch McConnell

Josh Hawley

Steve Bannon

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Lindsey Graham (I include him here even though he is really not a proper Fascist at all, but only a minor bootlick without any obvious character, backbone, or principle.)

Although he’s been dead for 77 years, I have included Benito Mussolini’s photograph here because … perhaps it’s just me … but there is more than a passing resemblance between him and some of our present-day players.

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The French have a phrase for all of this in plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (the more things change, the more they are the same).

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The Americans have a couple of phrases for all of this as well, at least to Woody Guthrie’s way of thinking.

All You Fascists, by Billy Bragg and Wilco

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The Sane Person As An Endangered Species

Anti-choice and anti-abortion fanaticism is running rampant through the land right now, and we are beginning to see outcomes, some predictable and some unforeseen. An op/ed in the New York Times takes one case and opens it to show how these present-day Torquemadas are yet one more version of the crazed mob we have seen portrayed in movies, running up and down the cobblestone streets with their torches while looking for witches to burn.

The photo below is either that of a horde in Texas out looking for abortion providers or a group in Europe trying to smoke out the Frankenstein monster, I can’t remember which.

The author of the op/ed is a pediatrician who tells the story of an obstetrician-colleague who is being pilloried right now for performing a legal abortion on a ten year-old rape victim. Ten years old … my god! It makes chilling reading. The concluding paragraph of the piece is reproduced below.

Our medical and ethical responsibility as clinicians is grounded in delivering comprehensive, safe and evidence-based health care. If providing that care results in threats to professional and personal safety, patients will suffer. Doctors have sworn to do no harm. Clearly, many of those in power have not.

Dr. Caitlin Bernard Was Meant to Write This With Me Before She Was Attacked for Doing Her Job; Dr. Tracey A. Wilkinson, New York Times July 16, 2022

But the fanatics don’t really care who gets burned in the relentless crusade to inflict their personal version of moral perfection on all of us. To them, it is acceptable collateral damage. It is okay to force ten year-old children to carry pregnancies caused by rape to term, to make their point.

If we needed it, and apparently we sorely do, this is one of those teaching moments where the reasons for the separation of church and state are plainly visible. Even though the world’s religions are very capable of doing good works, each one of them harbors men and women who are zealots and love nothing better than to see the tendrils of smoke rising from a fresh immolation.

The inmates are truly running the asylum when the churches who still won’t accept full responsibility for their enabling role in the rape of children all over the world are leading today’s charge against giving women full say over their own bodies.

The Days That Used To Be, by Neil Young

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A Dick Guindon cartoon.

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I don’t often provide recipes here, because I know that many of you are better cooks by far than I am. (I also don’t take photographs of what I am eating because I suspect that you could care less.) However, I thought I’d share something with you about Paprika, a recipe organizing software that Robin and I have been using for maybe eight or nine years. It works with iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows. We have found it the best of the three such organizers we have used over the years. Here is what Paprika does for us:

  • It can download recipes from most sites on the internet with ease, saving much typing and cursing about typos. This is a big deal.
  • “Can I get this recipe from you?” is a common question asked by friends, and with Paprika the answer is always Yes. Just email it from your phone or computer to that person.
  • There is no limit to the number of recipes it will hold, and you can sort them by using your own keywords
  • Want to make half a recipe or a double recipe? Just a click and the program does the calculation for you.
  • It syncs between laptops and iOS devices
  • You’re at the grocery store and you forgot your list of ingredients for something that you were going to make for supper? Bring up the recipe on your phone and you’ve got the information!

We use the program nearly daily and although you can live a life that is happy, joyous, and free without it, for us it is a good and reliable worker who helps us with the daily chore of feeding ourselves.

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Periodically someone will mention to me that their physician, their spouse, or the checkout person at the grocery store is in the habit of lecturing them on the evils of eating bacon. I recoil in horror at these stories. Why, a world without fried and crispy slabs of hog fat is unimaginable and I would not want to live in it. If push came to shove I would ask for transport on the first Musk-A-Plane to Mars that had seats available.

These do-gooders will natter on about their belief that bacon fat doesn’t need to be digested but passes right through the stomach to the bloodstream in large lumps that you can see with the naked eye. These chunks then wedge themselves in blood vessels everywhere in the body. If a chunk lands in someone’s brain that person may not be able to talk, drive a car, or take care of themselves any longer, but the good news is they will still be able to legally carry an Uzi at the movies in the state of Texas, so there is that.

Another annoyance is the fact that these same folks say that there are so many cancer-causing agents in a piece of cured bacon that it should only be available by prescription, and that only for people already on death row.

I say poof and piffle on their science. This is America and I can be as ignorant as I want to be even if it makes those around me tear the hair from their heads.

There are two great morning smells in the world – coffee cooking and bacon frying. These aromas are essential to a civilized life. End of story.

Bacon, by Jim Gaffigan

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A George Booth cartoon

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Golf is a silly game. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good games are silly, like the kids’ card game of Going to the Dump. It’s part of what makes them fun to play. What’s different about golf is that its adherents have almost covered up its aspects of childhood fun-ness and have instead dressed it up to make it look like it’s important, almost a religion.

It has its temples like Augusta National and St. Andrews. It has its priests and heroic figures like Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. It has its dogmas and its vestments and its commandments. [Those vestments often take the form of clothing more suitable to that of students at a clown college.]

All the game really is about is to take a stick and strike a small ball toward a small hole and try to roll it in. All the rest is pretty much overblown twaddle.

Here in Paradise, which is a small town of 19,000 souls, we have not one, not two, but three golf courses. Two of them sit right in the middle of town and are impediments to any sort of logical street planning, since all roads must go around them. This also happens in communities with large parks, which are open areas where you can go to rest up and heal life’s wounds. Roads have to go around these as well.

But the particular parklands that golf courses represent are for members only, an “elite” composed of people who dress oddly and have convinced themselves that knocking balls into holes gives them an insight into the meaning of life.

Every few years I replay these clips from performances by Robin Williams and George Carlin on the subject of this game. They are full of f-bombs, so don’t watch them if you are offended by coarse language. Also don’t watch them if you are one of golf’s true believers. It won’t improve your day.

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I can hear some of you saying – But what sort of hypocrisy is this? A rant from a man whose home is on a street named Country Club Way? I offer this as an example of how the pretentiousness of the “sport”seeps out into the community. There is a golf course nearby, a good two blocks away, but the people who built the houses in our little subdivision thought it would dress up the place to put in a reference to such a club. In spite of the fact that there is not a single square foot of Country Club Way from which any golf course is visible.

You might as well call our street Lagoon Avenue, we can’t see a lagoon from here, either.

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I am publishing this edition one day early because later today (Tuesday) Robin and I are taking off on a two-day mini-vacation that involves taking grandson Aiden to the Santa Fe Opera. Aiden has a love for all sorts of musical theater. In addition, he has an excellent voice and an eagerness to learn. How could we not take him?

And what better guide than myself for such an experience? I am positively loaded with culture. My credentials are that I have actually attended an opera twice in my life, both times being disappointed that they were done in a foreign language. I thought that the least they could do when performing in America was to sing in American. Call me fussy.

The opera we are going to see is Falstaff, which I understand is Mr. Verdi’s idea of what Shakespeare’s character would have been like had he been born under an Italian grape arbor and with a plate of pasta before him. Aiden will be very fortunate to have me to explain the nuances of the production. This is doubly important because once again they have stubbornly decided to perform the entire opera in Italian, in spite of the fact that I wrote them about my previous unhappinesses.

Ah me … well … maybe they will at least be selling popcorn at the intermissions.

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The first song by the Rolling Stones that really caught me was “The Last Time.” I heard it issuing from a boombox in 1965 which was being carried on the shoulders of a kid in Minneapolis who was walking past the run-down tri-plex that I called home. This was way back at their beginning, when the group was young and hungry and interesting to me. It is rock and roll stripped down to essentials, with a hook that is instantly recognizable.

The song’s refrain is similar to “This May Be the Last Time”, a traditional gospel song recorded in 1954 by the Staple Singers. In 2003, Richards acknowledged this, saying, “We came up with ‘The Last Time’, which was basically re-adapting a traditional gospel song that had been sung by the Staple Singers, but luckily the song itself goes back into the mists of time.”

The Last Time, Wikipedia

Even now, that hook will stop me and I will listen to the rest of the song all the way through, every time. I don’t know if any rock and roll tune should be called “perfect,” because an essential part of the genre is a certain amount of raggedy-assedness, but for me this song is about as close as it gets.

The Last Time, by The Rolling Stones

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O, Pioneers!

[Note: I know many of my readers personally, and occasionally conversation gets around to some subject in this blog (doesn’t blog sound like some horrible substance sucking at the wheel of an oxcart?). From time to time they will sheepishly admit that they haven’t read an entry since the Harding administration. There is absolutely no need be shy about such an admission. For one thing it shows that you have good taste and a high degree of discernment, and that you have much better things to do. To be perfectly frank, everyone has better things to do, or at least they should.]

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It was a few years back that there was a small local celebration of Montrose’s pioneers, specifically ranchers whose families had been on the same piece of land for more than 100 years. My brain was on idle at the time but something was clanking around in there and then I realized what it was.

The brave European pioneers (and they were brave) that were being honored that day … some of them either stole the land by driving off its previous inhabitants, or they bought it from the guy who did. Not as much to brag about when you look at it that way, is it?

Growing up as a child in Minnesota I was told scads of pioneer stories, there were pioneer exhibits at the fairs, pioneer crafts to learn in school, etc. A St. Paul newspaper is still called The Pioneer Press. The word pioneer had nothing but good connotations.

Native Americans were mentioned in those stories, of course, but somehow my teachers managed to obscure the fact that those courageous Natives and those courageous settlers were parts of a very large pattern of fraud, deceit, and rapaciousness. Those same teachers glossed over the fact that the deceivers universally had rather pale complexions.

My Antonia, by Emmylou Harris and Dave Matthews

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A George Booth cartoon

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Sometimes Nature is just too … unbelievable to be believable. Take the Monarch butterfly, for instance. Each year swarms of Monarchs migrate to somewhere in Mexico, returning the next year to where they came from. So what’s the big deal? There are birds that do things like that all the time.

But individual Monarchs don’t live a year.

So a butterfly that takes off from … oh, let’s say Minneapolis … dies four months later, not having yet come anywhere near Mexico. Its children continue the journey, but like their parents, they only live a few months. In fact, the entomologists have figured out that the butterflies that “return” to Minneapolis are members of the fifth generation since the beginning of the journey for that insect family. They are the great-great-grandbugs of the ones that started the trip!

(Pause while reader parses out what they’ve just read.)

So how does that lovely creature with the tiny little brain do this? How does it find its way to Mexico, to Minneapolis? It couldn’t ask its mother-bug, because she’s never been there. Nor its grandmother-bug, for the same reason. A precise journey of thousands of miles without an external guide of any kind. Whoah! Pardon me while I un-boggle my mind here.

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Where do these travelers keep their map and where did they get it are the questions I’d like answers to, please, and the quicker the better. I haven’t got all day, you know.

Here’s the thing. You and I have very large brains, with all sorts of nooks and crannies for information to be stuffed into. How much of our behavior is as unconscious and programmed as is the Monarch’s? Is that why whenever I have an opportunity to stick my foot into my own mouth I can’t pass it up no matter how hard I try? And if a group of insects can fly all the way to Mexico and back using ancestral memory patterns, why do I ever, EVER get lost if I am the superior being I keep telling myself that I am?

For the answers to these and other such questions of importance, you must look elsewhere. This blog is, after all, only a trifle and not an oracle.

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From The New Yorker

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Hooahhh! We have a new poet laureate and her name is Ada Limon. There was a piece in the Times of New York about her on Wednesday. It was a quotation from one of her works, Dead Stars, that caught my eye.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.

We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.

Dead Stars, by Ada Limon

So of course off I went swinging through the trees to learn what I could about Ms. Limon. I have a soft spot for poets, at least the ones that don’t use phrases like “alas, fair Endymion.” They work very hard, share views of the world that may be quite novel and good for our souls, open their minds and hearts for us to plunder, never become wealthy, and none of their work is made into movies.

I have even written a few lines of doggerel myself along my path, mostly when life was way crazier than I could handle and I needed a way to deal with emotions that were becoming hazardous to my health. Most of those literary efforts were written late at night and deleted with extreme prejudice from my computer the next morning as terrible excuses for literature.

But I did keep a few, and occasionally look back on them from this safe distance and think … that one isn’t too horrible, really. Anyway, here’s a link to Ms. Limon’s Dead Stars, which is definitely a keeper. That line What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No is starting to haunt me. What if we did, indeed?

BTW, I once had a friend who described poets as the last truth-tellers. He may have been right. And for those of you who are not “into” poetry, if you listened to the song My Antonia earlier in this post and you were touched by its haunting lyrics … why, what were they but a poem set to music? And Bob Dylan didn’t win the Nobel Prize for folk music, but for literature … his poetry.

The Poet Game, by Greg Brown

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One of the good things about these blazing hot summer afternoons is that they don’t last. The classic joke: “Why are you hitting yourself? Because it feels so good when I stop” comes to mind. But each night the temperature drops at least into the low seventies, sometimes further. And we are revived.

Some of those early mornings I can be found sitting out on the backyard deck and typing in the dark, the only light provided by the computer screen, and it always feels special. Ours is not a very noisy town, but at three a.m. you can pick out the sounds of individual vehicles going past on the highway, which is two miles away. Occasionally there will be a jarring blast of sound as someone hits the gas on a vehicle with a cutout muffler and demonstrates to whoever is awake that here I am, by God, and I can create a racket whenever I choose. I make the assumption that these are testosterone-fueled outbursts, but have no way of knowing, really.

I love the feel of the rough deckboards on bare feet, the cool movement of the air – not enough to even be called a breeze – just movement.

I have no idea what’s going on out there in the dark, but at least once every couple of weeks there is the obvious aroma provided by a disturbed skunk, and I wonder – who is bothering those critters, anyway? There’s no sound, no barking of a repentant dog, nothing to indicate why this particular perfume at this particular moment.

It’s now four a.m. and the eastern sky is starting to light up. We are warned that there may be thunderstorms in our future this afternoon, but the weathermen cry wolf so often that I will one day surely be swallowed up by one of these disturbances because I largely ignore their alerts. If I am going to hike in the mountains, it is a given that I should be heading back down the trail by noon or thereabouts to avoid being caught out in open terrain when the lightning walks the world.

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Thursday last Robin and I rendezvoused with Amy and Claire at Little Molas Lake, a few miles from Silverton CO. Our purpose for getting together was to take a hike. The trailhead parking lot was just off a small campground at the lake, and at the end of a mile of road characterized by potholes that could hold large mammals.

It turned out to be one of the more beautiful walks we’d ever taken, with 99% of it above treeline. Robin and I left Montrose at 7 a.m. to get to the trailhead by 9:00. We wanted to be off the trail by noon to avoid those pesky lighting bolts, and in this we succeeded. After the walking we ate a picnic lunch in the parking lot while dark clouds were filling up the western sky. When we climbed into our vehicles for the return trip a light rain began, one with a sprinkling of small hailstones. What a fine outing it had turned out to be!

The trail we had walked was a tiny piece of the Colorado Trail, which begins near Denver and ends in Durango. Doing that walk would be one of those epic journeys, right up there with the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Maybe I will do it and maybe I won’t.

The seventeen year-old who uses my eyes says “Let me at it!” The octogenaric body, however, says “If you make me do that I will punish you with great blisters and aches the nature of which you cannot even conceive. It would be a deluge of discomforts, a tsunami of soreness, an endless succession of walking in places where only goats are meant to go, and all this wrapped up with a glorious opportunity to sail off of a precipice whose name you might have learned but which cares not a whig or farthing for you.”

This blurb from the Colorado Trail website gives a bit more balanced information.

The journey that you are about to embark upon follows a portion, or perhaps the entire 485 miles of recreational trail that crosses Colorado from Denver to Durango. The Trail passes through six National Forests, six Wilderness areas, traverses five major river systems and penetrates eight of the states mountain ranges. The Colorado Trail is administered and maintained by Colorado Trail Foundation volunteers in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service. What makes The Colorado Trail unique is that it was developed with the efforts of thousands of volunteers, all interested in the conservation and recreational exploration of Colorado’s stunning mountainous areas.

Colorado Trail Foundation
Colorado Song, by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils

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Storms Never Last

Another story of trouble on the water. Different location, same idea.

It was 1993, and our second vacation together in Mexico. We had chosen to go to Isla Mujeres, an island 22 miles (and an entire universe) off the coast where Cancun rested in the sun during the day and took off in sinful decadence at night. Our guidebook told of a trip by small boat to Isla Contoy, a bird and wildlife sanctuary where we would have a chance to snorkel on a reef about half-way to the island, and later swim with small rays in some of the clearest water in the Caribbean.

We were ten people on the open boat, with a short Mayan captain and a 15 year-old boy as first mate. The trip out was idyllic, and along the way the men in the group were each handed a rod and reel with baited line. As soon as you tossed in the line you had a hit, and very shortly we had caught a half dozen small barracuda which were to be turned into our shore lunch later on.

On the return journey we could see a storm brewing to our west. Dimly visible in the distance was the mainland of Mexico. It seemed no time at all until we were in the middle of something really terrifying. The sky turned green-black, a drenching rain began and the winds blew hard enough that all of the passengers held their hats firmly in their hands, as well as anything else that might blow away.

The sea grew rough and our captain adeptly steered us into waves that towered above our boat and broke over us as he tried to make headway. A man sitting next to Robin asked her with a shaky voice if she thought we were going to die out there and her response was a truthful “I don’t know.”

If we were to capsize it was a long long way to the only visible land, and none of us aboard knew anything about what our chances were in the sea in such a storm, even with life vests on.

Instead of panicking, which is what I would have predicted my behavior would have been, I became completely calm. I remember thinking that if these were the last scenes that I would see in my life they were strikingly beautiful ones, and I was going to give them all my attention. The dramatic colors, the looming and gigantic waves, the taste of the salt water as we were repeatedly drenched, the shrieking of the wind drowning out our voices … it was all thrilling and an experience I was never to forget.

This surprising serenity that I describe, by the way, is in no way meant to be portrayed as courage. Courage is quite a different matter, where a person has a choice between easier and more difficult options, and then knowingly chooses the harder one. What I felt here was more a sense of utter acceptance. Everything, and I mean everything, was out of my hands. The only thing that I could do was to clutch at the wooden plank beneath me to keep from being tossed into the sea, and this I did with enough vigor to leave a mark, I’m sure. But no fretting or worrying, no quickness of thought, no physical effort of any kind was going to change whatever outcome was on its way. And the scene in front of us was fearful and spectacular.

In less than half an hour it was obvious that the front was passing and we were through the worst of it. Soon after that we were back in full sunshine, riding on a calm sea. Fortunately, even though he had provided such a memorable experience for all of us, the captain didn’t charge us extra for all the added thrills.

Storms Never Last, by Waylon Jennings and Jessie Colter

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

Our morning bicycle rides into the rural have become even more agreeable with the increasing profusion of birdsong that cheers us on our sweaty way. I’m no expert on bird calls, but there are some easy ones here, the red-winged blackbirds, the Western Meadowlarks, and the Gambel’s quail just to name a few.

Last Wednesday we saw a pair of these pretty little things run across the road in front of us. The quail are not much bigger than a pigeon, can run like crazy, and have beautiful coloration. A designer bird if there ever was one.

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I’ve had one of those now I can’t unsee it experiences this week. If you’ve been reading this column for awhile, you know that I often use quotes by H.L. Mencken. I’ve used his stuff because of his intelligence, his wit and sometimes his delicious sarcasm. Usually there was some truth in each one along with a dollop of wisdom.

This week I decided to go further and read the whole list of Mencken quotations found at Goodreads.com and suddenly I found myself in a very different place indeed.

First, let me show you why I have admired his writing with a series of Mencken quotes:

Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will make a better soup.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.

Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean … and missing? That’s the way the mind of man operates.

Pretty good stuff, I think. But this week on Goodreads.com I came across these:

The Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of. As commonly encountered they lack any of the qualities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence. They have vanity without pride, voluptuousness without taste, and learning without wisdom. Their fortitude such as it is, is wasted upon puerile objects, and their charity is mainly a form of display.

How far the gentlemen of dark complexion will get with their independence, now that they have declared it, I don’t know. There are serious difficulties in their way. The vast majority of people of their race are but two or three inches removed from gorillas: it will be a sheer impossibility, for a long, long while, to interest them in anything above pork-chops and bootleg gin.

So I investigated and learned that Mencken had kept a diary which was sealed at his request for 25 years after his death. When it was opened a good deal of this repellent thinking was revealed. Bigoted statements … yep, fer sure. I found myself in one of those classic situations – what do I do with an artist whose work I have admired who I now learn was a very imperfect person? Toss out everything they did or wrote and thus “purify” myself? Or do I accept that it might be possible to learn something even from men and women who might have (or once had) a darker side?

I do believe that if we cleared our libraries of the writings of anyone who had at any time expressed bigoted thinking anywhere in their corpus those library shelves would be much more thinly stocked than they are. And if we only allowed the purest of heart among us to be admitted to the library as members, there would be very few patrons in the aisles involved in searching through those half-empty shelves. I freely admit that I would certainly be denied entry if my entire life were to be carefully examined. And if I couldn’t have gained entrance, making my way out of my ignorance would have been that much harder.

The author William Manchester had been a good friend of Mencken’s, and wrote a piece for the Times of New York addressing these problems and the legitimate concerns the diary raises. It makes good reading.

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A George Booth cartoon

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I’d like to take a moment here to quash some rumors making the rounds. I am not going for the hoochie daddy look this summer. Spending so little time on social media meant that I was completely unaware of the term until listening to NPR a couple of days ago.

The last time I checked out my look in the mirror, it was obvious that my hoochie daddy moment had come and gone at some time in the past, perhaps when I was sleeping. Even though this five-inch inseam length was what I wore all the time in a universe far, far away. At that time, which would have been in the fifties, they weren’t considered hoochie at all, but simply shorts. Also at that time, the skin was clearer, the muscles more toned, and the vibe going out was very close to “Here I am, baby … I believe that I am just what you’re looking for!”

If I were to try it today, I would be besieged by Boy Scouts trying to help me across the street, assuming that if I dressed that way I must have lost my mind (or at least my fashion sense) completely.

BTW, read the legend carefully on the above graphic and you see that there is no Hoochie Grandpa category. That is not a typo. Put a 5 inch inseam on an octogenarian and you get no vibe at all, but a silence as profound as any encountered in outer space.

Short Shorts, by the Royal Teens

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Monkey Mind

There have been many times that I have wished for a steady-on sort of brain. One that would grab a thought and stick with it until I (emphasis on I) wanted to quit. This was especially true when I was studying mindfulness meditation.

Let’s see, you sit on the cushion like this … that’s good, comfortable … then you begin to pay attention to your breathinghere’s an in-breath … there’s an out-breath … here’s – I wonder where I put that book that I bought yesterday … wait … I’ve gone off track … here’s an in-breath … there’s an out-breath – I bet it’s still in the back of the car, probably fell behind the seat, I’ll go see … no … wait … off track again …here’s an in-breath … etc. etc. etc.

But in the great body-part distribution I got what the Buddhists like to call a monkey brain, one that swings through the trees from one branch to another with no more thought for the moment than the next piece of fruit. If those same Buddhist sages are right, well, some of you have probably got one, too.

So anyway I went out to the backyard deck because it was so lovely out there with the dappled sunshine and the low humidity and the gentlest movement of the air and all. I turned on my music and the first tune up was Ripple, by the Grateful Dead. This has been a fave since 1985, when I first heard it in the movie Mask. It was a melancholy song which made it figure so well in a melancholy story. But hearing the tune today set me off to find out where I could see the film one more time. This was what I did instead of staying with the project I had brought with me to the porch. Classic monkey-brain-ness.

The film starred a young Cher and a young Sam Elliott and a younger man who turned out to be a fine actor in his first big role, Eric Stoltz. It’s one of those “based on a true story” movies – this one about a special boy and his strong bond with a strong woman, his mother. Sounds all good except that the boy had an illness that was both severely disfiguring and life-shortening to boot.

Back in the day film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave it two thumbs up, and this glowing review. I wasn’t able to find that the movie was streaming anywhere or I would have watched it last night. Instead I give you the review.

The Review

Ripple is one of those songs that move me quietly at each listening. Here’s a piece from American Songwriter:

For “Ripple,” Garcia constructed a melody that was pure and humble, tinged with a bit of sadness. Hunter recalled to Rolling Stone when his old friend came up with the music to match his lyrics: “We were in Canada on that train trip [the Festival Express, 1970] and one morning the train stopped and Jerry was sitting out on the tracks not too far off, in the sunrise, setting “Ripple” to music. That’s a good memory.”

In the studio, the band caressed the song with the gentleness of a lover. Garcia’s acoustic guitar is the song’s tender heart, while the rhythm section of Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann nudge the song forward. By the time they got to “Ripple” on American Beauty, the Dead had darn near perfected the harmonies they used heavily on Workingman’s Dead. The ensemble voices on “Ripple” provide comfort when the words evoke hardship.

Hunter delivers lyrics that evoke cosmic wisdom and serenity without ignoring the darkness on the fringes of even the most blessed lives. The song nods at different religions and philosophies, from the Christian overtones of the lines about cups both empty and filled, which recall the 23rd Psalm, to the Buddhist koan feel of the refrain. The chorus even breaks off from the relatively straightforward rhyme scheme of the verses to form a haiku, another example of East meeting West in the song.

The song opens up with Garcia opining on the power of music, or perhaps it’s better to say the lack thereof. Even if his words glowed and were majestically propelled through the air on a “harp unstrung,” he has no certainty that they’ll have any positive impact on the listener. Still, ineffectuality aside, he also concedes that the world is better for having music: “I don’t know, don’t really care/ Let there be songs to fill the air.”

American Songwriter: The craft of music

As the man says, let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple, by The Grateful Dead

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From The New Yorker

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The weather app on my phone went off on an alert Wednesday afternoon, warning of a strong thunderstorm headed our way. I didn’t panic, mostly because the app sends these alerts fairly often and then nothing materializes. But I clicked on it to find that the storm was less than an hour away and at that moment was delivering quarter-sized hailstones along with high winds and drenching rains. It was those hailstones that got my attention, and I made sure the car was in the garage and the door was shut. I have this thing in that I think an automobile with a thousand dents in it lacks a certain something.

When the front finally hit us there was no hail left to worry about, but the light dimmed as the temperature fell nearly twenty degrees. Powerful winds and heavy rains followed. Robin and I were all smiles and enjoying the drama, because rain in this country is so very, very welcome. This stormfront was the kind of stuff that on the prairie might have raised a tornado or two, but that particular annoyance happens here vanishingly rarely. That’s a good thing for many reasons, one of which that most of the houses in town don’t have a basement to duck into, including our own.

I know that I’ve said it many times before, but I am one of those weirdos who enjoy storms and are energized by them. There’s something about being exposed to that awe-inspiring power which emerges seemingly out of thin air .

You’re fishing in a small boat on a Minnesota lake on a bluebird day and not paying full attention when you turn around and become aware that the sky behind you has turned green-black and has a murderous look about it. The shore that you must reach for safety now seems a god-awful distance away but you crank up that five-horsepower outboard motor and off you go full tilt, knowing that being the tallest thing on a lake is a poor location when the lightning comes. Now the wind begins and the goosepimples erupt as the temperature drops. You are fully alive and trying your best to keep things that way as all hell breaks loose, then at long last you tie up the boat at the dock as the rain lashes and nearly blinds you. One more safe harbor gained in the knick o’ time.

Safe and dry later in the cabin you muse, do you have nine lives like the proverbial cat and was that one of them that you just used up?

Storm, by the North Mississippi All-Stars

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From The New Yorker

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Those books whose aggressive titles go something like this seem foolish to me, and the person buying them a special type of fool as well.

100 Places You Absolutely, Positively Have To Visit Before You Die Or You’re A Schmuck

First of all, if you have to buy one of these books to tell you where you should go you are not much of an adventurer to begin with, are you? And since none of us knows the day and time that we will leave this planet behind, it would be impossible to properly plan such an ambitious itinerary. So why begin at all if you aren’t going to finish the job? How about if you get to only 99 of these required destinations and then blow the whole project by kicking the bucket … what an utter bummer. To leave this vale of tears a failure in one’s final lap is just too sad an ending to contemplate.

A guidebook like this introduces a feeling of desperation into one’s life. An unnecessary race against an invisible clock. Pfaugh! Who needs it? The authors of these things are usually someone you never heard of and why would you ever follow their advice over that of any other stranger?

Better to buy a book with this title:

If You’ve Got Nothing To Do Next Tuesday And You Are Still Breathing Here’s A Nice Place To Go

See … no pressure. I would totally buy this one.

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When the former POTUS Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace I remember reading at the time in more than one op-ed that there was no need to prosecute him for his criminality because the “poor fellow had already suffered so much” in not being POTUS any more. This eventually led to a pardon issued by his replacement, Gerald Ford. I disagreed vehemently with that line of thinking at the time.

If we as a society have decided that the best thing we can think of to do with crooks is to put them in prison, then why not a bozo whose misdeeds had already been laid out in front of us so clearly in the televised Watergate hearings?

So when the same sort of murmurings begin to be heard with regard to former POTUS Donald Cluck, I lose patience quickly. This country will eventually recover from the harm that he has done, but not in my lifetime, so if there is justice in the world, I would like to see him at least be given at least … let’s say … 200 hours of community service. Perhaps with a canvas shoulder bag and a pointed stick to pick up litter on the White House grounds. Or better yet, cleaning cages at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Something suited to the man’s true talents.

I am vindictive enough that if this happened, I would drive all the way across the country just to take a picture of him serving out his sentence. Gloating is unseemly, you say? Perhaps you’re right … how about a few moments of smug, would that be okay?

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