Down On The Farm? Ewwwww … Nossir!

So far I’ve not been too excited about the coming electric vehicle “revolution.” The cars are smooth and fairly reliable, and they will carry a person comfortably from one place to another as long as those two places aren’t too far apart. Some of them will accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in around three seconds, which is a really useful characteristic for a car to have, especially with many more older drivers on the road whose reflexes may have slowed a bit. Put Grandpa at the wheel of a new Tesla, for instance, and if he gets a cramp in that right leg he can be going 100 mph before he hits that light pole in the parking lot at City Market.

But a vehicle is on the horizon that finally gets my pulse up a few beats. The Rivian pickup truck is the one. It is not a truck meant for serious work on a farm or at the workplace. No, no, there will be none of that. Manure will never touch its bed. It is meant for the well-heeled wanderer, to be used primarily for glamping. If you want to load it up with everything the price is somewhere north of $91,000.

It’s true that the truck can get to 60 mph in a hair over 3 seconds. It can tow 11,000 pounds. It can be configured to have 15 inches of ground clearance. It has a motor on each wheel, which adds up to a total of around 800 horsepower. It can drive through a river that is three feet deep. And to top it all, my friends, it can do this:

Now I admit that there are very few times in my life when I have wanted to do a “tank turn” as in the video. There were those two episodes when I found myself having taken a wrong turn and briefly going down the wrong direction on a busy highway where it would have been handy, but that’s about it.

So I don’t think that I’ll put my order in just yet. For instance, I would like the truck to go quite a bit farther than its 300 mile range before it runs out of electricity. And if they would knock $50,000 off the sticker price it would be a lot more attractive. But I think I may have finally found an electric vehicle that would fit the style in which I imagine myself living, that of the gentleman adventurer.

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Followup photo of Robin in her PT outfit at the Mountain View Therapy center this week.

I think it’s quite stylish, but Robin vehemently disagrees. Whenever I suggest that she wear it out in public I get the look that says “Just shoot me first.”

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From The New Yorker

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We’ve now used up all of our Thanksgiving leftovers, so the day is officially behind us and we can go on to other things. It’s always painful when you look up from licking the last crumbs from the bowl that the decadent marshmallow-encrusted yams were served in and see the look on the face of your spouse which is “Who is this disgusting person?”

But crushed egos recover, as I know mine will, in time. And Robin really should be used to my habits by now if she was paying attention at all over the past 29 1/2 years. Perhaps when we were dating I concealed my tendency toward gluttony from her, but I’ve been open about it ever since. The telltale orange-stained fingertips indicating that an entire bag of Cheetos were now history, or the half-eaten ice cream carton that any knowledgeable archeologist can see was taken down to that point by a man with a spoon in his hand and no sense of decency at all. Oh, and how about that slice of turkey in the Tupperware container that is missing a chunk with a bite radius that exactly matches my own. These are among the telltale signs of a person not to be trusted with your edibles.

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From The New Yorker

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As recently as five years ago, I was taking no prescription medications. When friends would list the several drugs they were taking for this and that I admit that I thought to myself “Poor bastards, they have been afflicted, but I, for reasons quite unknown to me, have not. Perhaps it’s because I have lived such an exemplary and blameless life.”

Those thoughts have come back to haunt me now as I spend part of each morning and evening shoving chemicals down my gullet in order to preserve life and limb. That is, at least statistically because no sensible physician makes guarantees as they hand out prescriptions for the many tablets, caplets, capsules, and powders at their disposal.

At present I take one to calm down that sneaky blood pressure, one because the laboratory tells me that my lipids are slightly out of whack, and one aimed at reducing the likelihood of having another stroke. I also take one to calm my allergies down, a part of my immune system that continues to get more robust with time, while experts tell me that the rest of that same system is going all to hell (life does have a sense of humor).

So there is no more feeling superior to my contemporaries for me, as I am right in there in the pharmacy lines with everybody else, munching on yet another slice of humble pie.

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Lastly, here is a short sketch from SNL that you might enjoy.

Jon: This has my nomination for the best Saturday Night Live sketch of the year.

Robin: I don’t know ’bout that.

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Meleagris gallopavo Rides Again

Robin and I are in complete agreement … this has been a perfect autumn. Low and slow and drawn-out. As the leaves turned they remained on the trees for the longest time, giving us multiple opportunities to drive around in the rural and check them out. The temperatures have uncommonly dropped below 50 in the daytime, so far. And the sun shines nearly always.

What has been completely missing are freezing drizzle, early blizzards, ice storms, typhoons, hazardous sidewalks, plagues of frogs, power outages, and the endless leaden skies that drag one’s spirit down. So the winter solstice is only a month away and we haven’t even had to break out the SADD light yet.

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From The New Yorker

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Thanksgiving looms. We’re not going anywhere and no one is coming here. Being in fresh post-op mode for us means staying in and not even trying to be entertaining. Yesterday Robin walked to the mailbox and back, but these exercise periods are always followed by an increase in discomforts, although they are important for recovery.

Pain and swelling are still big issues a week out from surgery. At this point a person could be understandably wondering if this is the new normal, but then you realize that if it were, no one would ever have the operation. Robin is the poster girl for postoperative bravery, but even that stiffest of upper lips might quiver for an occasional second here and there if you look very closely.

For myself, I have taken on the position of UPN (unlicensed practical nurse) with my customary flair. My skillset expands daily. I don’t know if there has ever been a better bearer of ice bags than I am, or a finer fluffer of pillows. The dietary department here at BaseCamp has responded to the slightly changeable appetite of the recovering patient with flexibility and aplomb. When yesterday morning Robin said that good old hamburger soup seemed the right thing for supper, within a short while enough of the stuff for twelve persons was ready to eat. Overshot that one a bit.

We are doing a traditional menu for the day, even if each part is scaled back considerably. Our guiding principle is that there is no Thanksgiving dinner leftover that is not tasty and delicious. So a turkey breast, some mashed potatoes, a bit of stuffing … all are in the works for Thursday. There may even be a yam with a melted marshmallow on top … who knows?

One difference this year is that the pumpkin pie will have come out of the grocer’s freezer. I have no skills when it comes to baking. Cakes fall or fail to rise, piecrusts are suitable only for use as coasters, cookies become hapless scorched discs. I am willing to attempt almost anything else, but please don’t ask me to bake. It makes me nervous to think about it.

When I was playing around and learning more about cooking after my divorce, I tried a few desserts. There were three failures in a row of pineapple upside-down cake before one came out that was inelegant but edible. Then there was that cherry pie which never set up on the inside, so that the filling simply ran out like water when you cut it. And lastly more than one chocolate cake that had the general slope of a ski hill from one end of the pan to the other.

You can see what fun I had before I gave up on the whole enterprise!

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Our gratitude list is something that we pay attention to pretty much throughout the year, although especially in November. This year I am grateful that since I was unable to avoid becoming an older gentleman, that there are repairs available that were absent 50 years ago.

Robin and I both can see beautifully because someone figured out how to address the problem of cataracts (otherwise we’d be going around bumping into things all the livelong day). Medications can relieve blockages in arteries for stroke victims if they get to the emergency room quickly enough, or I probably wouldn’t be putting together this mess of poppycock each week. Crippling arthritis can be relieved for some people, even though the getting to that relief can be an ordeal.

And that is on top of all the rest of our blessings, which are countless.

To top it off, some of my wishes came true with regard to former president cluck. He was ushered out of office, just as I’d hoped. But he didn’t get that incurable rash with the Old Testament grade of itching that I was sort of counting on. I guess you can’t have everything.

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While typing the above I was playing the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack in the background. As usual, when the tune “The Wings” came up, at a certain point tears formed, even though I was not consciously thinking about the movie. Such is the skill of the composer.

I can just see Gustavo Santaolalla sitting at his desk there back in 2005, writing the film score, pointing to a group of notes and saying to himself – now right there is where everybody cries.

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From The New Yorker

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The other day I purchased a small jar of jam. It was called “Willamette Raspberry Preserves.” I thought well, cool, maybe it’s from somewhere near where grandson Dakota is out there in Oregon. And then today I read the rest of the label, where it says “Product of Belgium.”

Robin’s observation when I indignantly reported this misleading labelling to her was “Maybe that’s why it tastes so good. Because it’s Belgian.” I thought about that for a minute, and realized that I didn’t personally know a single person who was Belgian, and I knew only three Belgians by name.

The first one was King Leopold II, who I learned was guilty of instigating policies that led to countless atrocities against the natives of the Congo. So this is not a “good” Belgian reference at all, and is perhaps one of the reasons that raspberry growers in that country have not brought out a King Leopold Brand of jam.

The second one is Hercule Poirot, an exasperatingly fussy detective who solves crimes that stump lesser minds. But here’s the thing – Poirot is not real but a character of fiction so can hardly be used as an example of typical Belgian-ness. I’ve seen at least three movies in which he was portrayed and I don’t recall raspberries being mentioned in any of them. If there were, I suspect he’d complain about the seeds.

The third one is a horse. They are very strong, have awfully large hooves, and that is all I know about them. They have nothing to do with raspberries at all.

Therefore one could say that my ignorance of things Belgian is nearly encyclopedic. But, you know … their jam is darned tasty.

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To All of Thee: Happy Meleagris gallopavo Day!

Cruelty

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(From the Montrose Daily Press)

There is a herd of elk (the one in the article above) that lives in the valley leading into the town of Telluride. A couple of weeks ago we passed it as we were driving into the village, and what a beautiful group of animals it was. There was a stag in the group who had antlers that were as magnificent as any I’ve seen outside of photographs. We pulled our car over just to watch them for awhile. Because they are accustomed to people and cars, we were within 50 yards of the herd without seemingly bothering them at all.

Some days after our visit, a coward went into the area and killed a bull elk from the herd. It would have been as if one walked up to a group of cows and shot one. No more courage or skill was required than that. What they did was apparently legal but I wonder … how do you boast about shooting a cow?

No matter how one twists logic to justify it, the “sport” of hunting involves the killing of other creatures … for fun. The whole sorry business is despicable.

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Robin continues to mend steadily but at a slower pace than she would like. At least that is how I would think about it if our situations were reversed. But then I have never claimed to be stalwart in the face of discomfort of any kind. When I was a child spending time on Grandpa Jacobson’s farm, I would often get slivers in my hands. Since I had been taught that leaving the splinter in there was going to either bring on the nightmare disease of “lockjaw” or my hand would swell up and fall off, I had to seek help. And the help available was Grandma or Grandpa.

Grandma’s approach was to sterilize a small needle in a flame and then carefully unroof the splinter and extract it with a tweezer. Grandpa, on the other hand, would pull a pocketknife from his overalls and set about carving out a chunk of my flesh that would hopefully contain the bit of offending vegetation. It wasn’t that he was anything but a kind man, but when such a knife is the tool you have to work with, that is what happens.

So whenever I had a choice I would hide the injury until we got back to the house and Grandma could take over. Even then there was an embarrassing amount of grimacing and whining on my part until the thing was done. I’m not sure, but I expect that I might do the same today in similar circumstances. Heroism does not run strong on my side of the family.

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My favorite sort of cartoon is one that surprises me. One that takes me somewhere when I didn’t even know that I was traveling. The drawing above this paragraph is an example. It’s quiet, subtle, but is obviously taking place in some alternative universe. The clearest indicator is the dog being in the operating room in the first place. Such a thing could never happen, at least in the U.S. … or could it? There would be so many barriers to the animal getting in there, so many doors to get by and so many nurses and technicians trying to catch it and expel it from the premises.

Now look again. While the OR staff are all masked, none of their noses are covered, which is a totally unacceptable break in protocol. If we’re going to spread something from human to human, what issues from our noses is an excellent way to do it. Not everyone in the country appreciates this, though. I see it every day in the public square as one of the things our local drizzlewit population does when presented with mask mandates.

Lastly … those naked feet. God knows what microorganisms we carry about on our feet from day to day, but finding a pair of tootsies exposed like that in the operating suite would be enough to horrify any nursing supervisor to the extent that they would surely come down with a variant of PTSD.

No, this cartoon limns a place of fantasy where the beam from the overhead lights cuts sharply through the surrounding darkness and isolates the six characters (I include the dog and the owner of those feet) in their very own world. It’s a great cartoon.

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Even for an operation on one’s knee, there are modifications of the home that are necessary. For instance, we’ve added several useful hardware items to the furnishings – a chair in the shower and a walker, for instance. Also we’ve temporarily retired several area rugs and put them out in the garage to prevent them from causing tripping and falls.

Said rugs are now piled high enough to pose hazards to anyone in that part of the building and may prove an effective burglary deterrent. “Honest, Officer Krupke, I had no idea that a stack of rugs could do that to a person. Do you think a good mortician … ?”

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Krupke, Krupke … now where did I hear that name? Oh, yeah … right here, from 1961 …

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I have a nomination for the best book title of 2021. It is Josh Ritter’s “The Great Glorious Goddamn Of It All.” I have it on my list for winter reading. How could I not?

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I Know How You Feel and Other Fables

The journey that Robin is on involves giant dollops of pain in the early days after surgery. We should have known that by the insistence of her therapists that we have the Big Gun pain meds in our hands before she left the hospital, and that we don’t even think about skipping a dose in the first few days. All of the bad press that the opiates have received in the past several years certainly does make a person wary. But this sort of adventure is among those for which they were created. In using them a person has to remember to grab the knife by the hilt and not by the blade.

So yesterday was not a day we will probably choose to remember. Robin is extraordinarily game, and forced herself to do what she was supposed to do, take short walks etc., but it wore her out. Presently there is apparently no such thing as a comfortable position.

I’m pretty sure that this is the reason that late yesterday afternoon I found her on the phone checking my references as a caregiver. I didn’t think that I’d done that badly, but then … the patient would be the expert, wouldn’t they?

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From The New Yorker

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I have very little personal experience with pain, relatively speaking. Oh, there’ve been drawn-out episodes of emotional distress that each seemed overwhelming at its time, but physical pain … not much. There has been the odd broken rib here and there, the fractured thumb when I was trying to render my brother unconscious during a fistfight that popped up in a basketball contest, the time when my “back went out” when I was trying to field a ground ball in a baseball game and for two weeks I couldn’t stand up straight, but that’s about it. Nothing like what I see in front of me these days. So I don’t even try to say anything like “I know how you feel” because truth is, I don’t know and Robin is aware of that.

Actually, I think we could safely retire the phrase “I know how you feel.” It’s probably never true, and how would we know if it was or wasn’t? I know that when I have heard people address me with those words, the only thing it did was make me wish they would gather up their blather and take it somewhere else.

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Doctor, Doctor, Give Me The News …

It’s Monday morning and we’re at the local hospital by 0630. A few minutes in admissions and then up one floor to the surgical suite. At this point Robin is whisked away by a very pleasant masked woman. I will not see my friend again until she is in recovery. I wish her well before she disappears behind a door. The well-being of the person I love most in the world is now completely out of my hands for the next several hours. I will learn what the OR staff wants me to learn when they want me to learn it.

At this point I am going on 99% confidence and trust in the process. Trust that everyone on the OR staff knows their role cold, is in good physical and mental condition, and that Robin’s body will do its part as well. But there is that 1% of me that worries. You can’t have been in this business and not have some reservations, because you have a personal collection of stories of snafus in the operating rooms that go back 50 years.

I did not sleep well last night and I am nodding in the waiting room, in danger of falling off my chair and embarrassing myself. So I am the second person in the line for hot coffee when the cafeteria opens at 0730. The other person looks like they’ve been here all night. It’s a little known fact that spending time in a hospital waiting room in magnifies every defect in your appearance and costume. If you normally look slightly haggard, now you are actually scary-looking and small children clutch at their parents’ clothing as you pass. Creases in shirts and pants appear as if by magic, generally going in an unnatural diagonal direction across your body. The same goes with creases in your face, and bags under eyes that you never had before are now the size of fanny packs.

I don’t know why or how this happens, but I have observed it thousands of times in others before today, and it is starting to show up in my mirror-reflection this morning.

By 1000 hours the orthopedist has stopped by to tell me that all went swimmingly, and that Robin will soon be moving to her room. By 1030 I am talking to her in person. At 1400 the nurses get her up for a short walk in her room. At 1600 she takes another walk down the station corridor before returning to her bed.

Quite a day, actually.

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I have developed an affection for the physical therapist who managed Robin’s treatment after surgery. Not because of his professional skills, which were excellent, but because he laughed at all of my lame attempts at humor. Convincingly. That is not an easy task, since I have heard tapes of myself doing jokes and mostly they just make me want to step into a closet until everyone goes away.

But Fred is neither condescending nor patronizing. He’s the audience of one that you dream about.

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In anticipation of the next several days, which we will call Just What I Kneeded week here at BaseCamp, I present a trio of hospital-based toons stolen from The New Yorker.

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Doctor Music Is Always In

Looking back I see that I have a habit reserved for times when emotions overwhelm me. For times so sharp that I have no words, when it becomes just me in a room with the pain or sorrow. Everybody eventually runs up against days like this, I think. Of course, how would I know? My troubles are mine … yours are yours … but mine will hang around and bedevil me until I finally sit down with them.

So that habitual way that I have of coping when the world is just too much is to pick out a piece of music and put it on endless repeat so that it becomes a mantra that I hear rather than speak. Doing this somehow opens a door and I am able to let go. I am always alone at such times, and if anyone were to wander in the door they would find a guy pretty much useless for anything for a while. I think the word unstrung is what describes at such moments best.

There was the New Year’s Eve when poor old John Lennon had to sing “Imagine” … maybe thirty times in a row … for only me. There was the evening after a kitty of ours named Rosa had died following a terrible two-day illness that neither the vet nor I were able to help. Hours when The Red House Painters song, All Mixed Up, became the background music for the release of emotions that had built up over those 48 hours when we were trying clumsily and ineffectually to save her life.

Many of us have such moments in our lives. Bottling things up is generally not a good long-term strategy, we are told. Finding ways to release those pressures is what therapy does for us, and in situations like these I’ve found music to be oh so therapeutic.

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I would like to call attention to an American hero, Sister Helen Prejean. She is the nun who wrote the book Dead Man Walking, an account of her serving as spiritual advisor to a condemned man named Patrick Sonnier. Since then she has been an advisor to six more inmates on death row, all of whom were eventually put to death. To do this sort of work … I would call that heroic.

Sister Prejean wrote a piece in the Times on Wednesday entitled Look At My Face, which I found a very moving read. I recommend it to you.

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From The New Yorker

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An interesting short piece found its way into the Times of New York on Saturday morning. It was an imaginative one about the death of William Holden, the actor. The title of the piece is The Many Deaths of William Holden Taught Me How to Be Anxious.

It isn’t the first time that I have considered deeply how fragile our bodies are, and felt a little frisson while doing so. When cars meet on the highway and the metal of the machine is distorted and torn apart the injury to the automobiles is nothing compared to what happens to the flesh of the occupants. When you read a story about a tornado roaring through the countryside driving pieces of straw into the bark of trees, remember that humans are caught out in the cloud of missiles that the tornado picks up and distributes. In a courtroom Friday a man told his story of being shot in his upper arm and his bicep being blown away. It was just gone.

The world is filled with hard things, and our bodies are not among them. For eight decades now I have threaded my way through the maze of sharp or stony objects that could have altered my life, or certainly my appearance, and here I am … one of the lucky ones. The bones that cracked, the blisters that formed, the thousand patches of skin left on the pavement in my childhood … all have healed themselves.

So hearing the many versions of the death of William Holden wasn’t necessary to make me a cautious man, or even an anxious one at times. I was able to put together my own scenarios from my own experiences. And when the stresses became too much to bear, there was always the possibility of the geographic cure, as in Ole’s case.

When Ole learned that most accidents, injuries, and deaths occurred within one-half mile of home, he did the only logical thing.

He moved.

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Oh, happy happenstance! One of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, has a new book out entitled The Sentence and there is no doubt that I will read it during the coming blustery months. I will wait for a day when I am looking out the window at weather so nasty that my forebears’ practice of wearing wolfskins wouldn’t keep a man alive and while I am experiencing the guilty pleasures of houses and central heating. So I will put that off for a while, but in a deliberate and not a procrastinative way.

To make things even better, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have made a second album together which will be released fully on November 19. Their first one was the surprising musical duet album of 2007, Raising Sand. It was the answer to the question I had never asked myself: “What do you get when you pair up a princess of bluegrass and a prince of rock and roll?” The answer was a hell of an album.

Plant has continually surprised me. When his former band (a little-known group called Led Zeppelin) folded up, I would have thought he had nothing left to do, being just another pretty band singer whose groin posturings had become less interesting to his followers as age did its thing. But instead he made, and still makes, interesting and intelligent music.

What to say about Krauss? A voice like a drop of dew on an Appalachian morning … as pure and straightforward as is her music with her band, Union Station. A classic. A professional, through and through.

The surprise is that together they become not just another bunch of duets by artists who are getting on in years, but something new.

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From The New Yorker

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The Neverending Conflict

When we have overnight guests, we cede the use of one of our two bathrooms to them, so that after these very welcome folks have gone home I take it back over as my primary facility. (The other bath is off the master bedroom, which doesn’t work out well with visitors coming through at all hours of the night.)

This morning I re-entered that hallowed place and found to my horror that the toilet paper roll was improperly hung, with the tag end on the outside. This never happens when under my supervision. It never happens because the practice of putting the tag on the inside was firmly established millennia ago. I long suspected that the Deity himself had given clear instruction to Adam and Eve on the subject and have found confirmation in the Bible Of The Church Of What’s Happenin’ Now.

In that translation God says to the lovely couple: “Now there’s two things you should not be doing. One of those things is eating the apples of that tree over there and the other is hanging the TP roll the wrong way. If you eat the apples you get banished from Eden, which I should tell you is the best gig on earth. And if you keep puttin’ that loose end of the toilet paper on the outside for the rest of your natural lives you will be pulling off too much paper and have to be rolling it back up and the whole thing will appear forever a mess.”

So it’s not only a practical necessity, but an ethical one as well. Else why would we get the orders from on high? It has been suggested that we adopt a TP holder such as the one in the photograph here where we can’t see the orientation of the roll. But while this might stop the arguments, I find the proposition morally murky.

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We are playing around with our air fryer, a tool that we bought a few months back. My research into the subject prior to purchasing this item had led me to an inescapable conclusion and that was that nobody needs one. Nearly every review on the subject went like this: “If you have an oven you don’t need an air fryer! But if you are determined to waste your money on fripperies and humbuggeries, here are those we think are the best of the bunch.” And our usage confirms those opinions.

However … if you want something that will take frozen Arby’s Curly Fries to heights you have never known before, even in Arby’s restaurants, an air fryer is the ticket. You can fine-tune the crispiness by fractions of a degree. Of course they are still nutritional nightmares, but that’s another question entirely. ‘Nuff said.

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Next Monday morning Robin is scheduled for surgery, a total knee replacement. This will be performed at our local hospital. The program here has a very good reputation, and we’ve been impressed with all of the prep work that the staff does for the patient and the patient’s support person. Robin has had a bad bunch of months this year because of a combination of a torn meniscus and osteoarthritis. Both knees are giving her trouble but the surgeon prefers to do one at a time.

At the present time hiking and bicycling are not tolerated well at all. Walking on level surfaces for shorter distances is less of a struggle, but there is still considerable pain involved in the course of life’s normal activities. Other treatment modalities have not been helpful, so the need for surgical relief seems quite clear to us.

We are both looking forward to the time that she can resume her usual practice of blowing me away on hikes … shouting back over her shoulder as she streaks by that she will be waiting for me somewhere up ahead on the trail.

You know, aging is aging. I am not attracted to books or programs that try to tart it up with phrases like “The Golden Years.” Every stage of life has its challenges, it just turns out that at our stage the challenges are primarily physical ones. Fortunately some of them can be repaired or at least ameliorated. If it weren’t for cataract surgery both Robin and I would be walking around the house bumping into things all the time, and someone would be driving us to and from the bingo parlor.** This now commonplace surgery made all the difference in our ability to care for ourselves.

When I had that stroke a year ago, if it hadn’t been for the scientific advances of clot-dissolving IV infusions and quick actions on the part of a handful of people I might not be communicating very well with you at all. God forbid … this blog might have been abandoned! (Please, no cheering. It’s unseemly)

So we are grateful that help is available to folks with the problems we’ve had so far. But I will admit that there are days when it seems like one pain in the posterior after another needs attention.

** Poetic license taken here: I have never been to a bingo parlor and have no plans to visit one. Should you ever see me going in the door of such an establishment, just shoot me.

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Sweet, Sweet Jane

This one is for Lou Reed fans. The introduction to the vocal is several minutes long and is just outstanding. This album gets played often at my home address, and played as loudly as my equipment and neighbors will permit.

It almost goes without saying that the song Sweet Jane is about drugs. After all, this is Lou Reed we’re talking about. In this case the substance is heroin. You might miss that in the lyrics … I did for the longest time … but it’s there. Part of the problem is that the original and longer lyrics to the song were dropped from the most popular recorded versions. So I heard the sadness and longing and missed the rest.

But watch the video, check out the vintage hair and mustaches and clothes, and get in touch with your rock and roll side for a few minutes. You know you want to. That bass player … is he inscrutable or impassive or imperturbable or what?

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The last spate of elections are over, and the Democrats are exhibiting their typical Brownian Motion, running around bumping into one another trying to figure out why they did so poorly this time around. Nobody asked me if I knew the answer. So I will put it out there anyway. Let’s say a political party spends an entire year and can’t come up with the equivalent of a mission statement. Who squabble so much among themselves that they can’t get the things done that they need to do to hold our interest, much less retain our loyalty. Why should we vote for them except for the fact that they aren’t practicing Cluck-ism? That might have been enough in 2020, but it’s not holding up very well as a reason.

If there is such a thing as an average American, their lot hasn’t improved one iota in the last two or three decades, while our “leaders” are enriching themselves so fast the money changing hands never gets a chance to cool off but is always slightly warm to the touch. The one percenters are so bored that they are climbing onto the Musk/Bezos rockets like they were a new ride at Disney World. “Excuse me, Elon, but I’d like an aisle seat if you please, and did I miss the snacks being passed out … I love love your peanuts!”

Once upon a time there was a guy named Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, a singularly courageous Russian writer. He dashed off a bunch of books in his lifetime, eventually winning a Nobel Prize for his work. Among the titles were The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. The books were very good and they were very anti-Communist, so when he was kicked out of the Soviet Union and came to America we all thought he might become our new BFF. But then he gave some speeches directed at us that were the literary equivalent of a swift kick in the pants with a hobnail boot. He thought we were weak, effete, and had lost our way in a maze and haze of materialism and secularism. Basically we were doomed unless we saw the light … and he didn’t think we would. Three of those speeches were gathered into a book called A Warning To The West, and some excellent excerpts are published on the Goodreads site. They are well worth reading, and I think their lessons are as applicable now as they were unwelcome news in the 70s.

What we needed then is what we still need now. Different flags to fly, different songs to sing – those that lift our spirits and bring us together in the common work that needs doing rather than focussing on our bottom line, which can only drive us apart.

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The music of Joni Mitchell’s Miles of Aisles album is doing its good work in my morning. That woman … what a talent … and what a fine double album this one is, recorded live in 1974. Music like this is never dated and sounds today as fresh as it did 47 years ago. The recording is clear and excellent as opposed to the mushy sound that live albums sometimes offer up. Here’s a photo of Joni and her backup band for the album, the L.A. Express.

It’s okay with me if you don’t rush out and buy this and listen to it just because I said you should. There is so much good stuff out there to listen to that it boggles the mind. As a matter of fact, I am having quite a bit of trouble getting unboggled this morning … perhaps the next cup of coffee should be intravenously administered rather than orally. I just wanted to let you know that this album was out there, in case you’d missed it the first time around.

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Grandson Dakota took his leave of us Thursday, on his way to the rest of his life. His car contained everything he owned, so off he went in a VW Jetta version of that famous truck in the movie, Grapes of Wrath. He is a fine young man and we are so glad we got the chance to know him better. ‘Twas a gift to us.

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As everybody knows, Paradise is located in Montrose County, Colorado. As of this morning our county is a Covid – 19 hotspot. Such news should not come, unfortunately, as a surprise to anyone. In the 2020 election, 2/3 of the county’s electorate voted for a presidential candidate who was completely unfit for the office, a charlatan of the first water. They knew it and they still voted for him.

Now, did anyone really think that having flunked Elementary Civics that these people would do any better at Preventive Medicine? The fact that we are now in a situation where nearly all of the deaths from this disease are in the unvaccinated segment of our society does not deter them from publicly refusing to be helped.

Denial? Death wish? Dumbassedness? Take your pick.

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Dune

We went to our first movie in a theater in two years this past week. The film was “Dune,” and it did not disappoint. Well, it would have if we hadn’t been forewarned that the story sort of stops in mid-sentence and where we are promised a second episode. That’s a good thing, because the good guys are certainly having a rough time of it in the first go-round. I wasn’t sure how Timothée Chalamet would do as an action hero, but he is better than I thought he’d be. And there is something very hopeful in his performance for people like myself.

In recent years the heroes in movies have all been impossibly buff, possessing pectorals the size of watermelons and twelve-pack abs. This contrasted with actors in the more distant past, who had regular physiques. They were good strong bodies, but nothing dramatically different from yours or mine.

Timothée is a throwback to those lovely days of yore. He is shirtless in one scene, and is shown to be a pleasantly skinny young man. My earnest hope is that this will catch on, and I can once again leave the theater without feeling that somewhere along the physical development road I went completely astray. There are days when I’m not entirely sure where my abs are to be found, and it’s pretty certain that I have less than six in my pack.

In this movie one has no trouble telling the bad guys from the good. All of the evil people are ugly, I mean break-the-mirror sort of ugly. At the opposite pole, everyone is handsome and beautiful. This is not quite like real life, but the movie’s story line is pretty complex, and anything that simplifies even a small part is welcome. Oh, and you will definitely have an easier time understanding what the film all about if you have read the book, and I highly recommend doing just that. But here’s a word to the wise – you’d best get a move on because the paperback edition is 740 pages long.

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‘Twas a mild Halloween this year. Outdoor temperatures were compatible with life and there was no sleet pelting the small petitioners as they dragged their bags of non-nutritious substances from house to house. Most of the kids came by before dark, but the last ones arrived around 7:30. All in all it was a pleasant evening for the little pagans and the parents who accompanied them.

Robin held court in a chair early on, but had to leave for a meeting, and after that it was my turn to face the horde. I was impressed by one kid who was about 10 years old and who was wearing a mask based on Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream and knew its origins. I doubled his handful of candy as a reward.

As the kids came through and I looked into their bags of stuff, I could see that every single item was securely wrapped or boxed and I thought how much work it was going to be to get the tiny candy morsels out of their coverings later on. And I recalled how much easier it had been in 1949 when everything was loose and unpackaged and you could actually eat some of what you’d collected as you walked along. There were people that gave out actual apples with no razor blades in them. Some (gasp) doled out cookies or brownies that they had made in their own kitchens and who knows what awfulness was baked into those things. Cookies that their fingers had touched … it makes me shiver all over to think about it.

Somehow we all survived back then. If there were rumors of evil people doing evil things in dispensing their “treats,” parents of the time had the good sense not to believe the stories. They just sent their kids out into the night with empty pillowcases and kept the porch light on. Each year all the children returned and were perfectly fine until they started eating what they’d collected and epidemic nausea set in.

So we’re safer now and everyone is protected from mostly non-existent horribleness and it’s a much better world, isn’t it … ? But our collective anxieties are on full display each Halloween. Kids pile out of and back into cars, parents walk them all the way to our doors, everything is super-sanitized. But there was something missing from the evening. There was nothing scary – anywhere … .

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Today, November 3, is Robin’s birthday. Of course I will not disclose the number involved … what gentleman would? Last night at supper I asked for details of her birth (which she does know!). This is quite unlike my own case, that of a dullard who knows only the date and the place of his own emergence.

Robin was born prematurely at under five pounds, and in the wee hours of the morning. She must have been a tough little thing, though, because she went home from the hospital with her mom at the regular time and was promptly installed in a dresser drawer that served for a while as her bed and bassinet.

So we will celebrate her birthday by doing whatever she desires … within reason. No arrests are to be expected, no front page bits of notorious behavior to be published in the local paper. It’s a simple case of everybody who knows her being glad that they do. She’s that kind of girl.

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The Many Pleasures of Nitpicking

It’s four in the morning and I am trying to edit a post on my blog and there is a fly in the house. Just one. In the entire place. And it has obviously taken annoying me as it’s life’s work. It can’t bite me, and there is no uncovered food to worry about being contaminated. But what it does do is walk on my head at random intervals. When I make a swipe at it it easily evades my primitive defenses and disappears into the murkiness that is the house at this time of day. Then suddenly there it is back again, traipsing across my scalp without a care in the world.

I am distracted beyond measure. I know that flies don’t laugh out loud, but I swear that I hear tiny chuckling noises. Such is my state of mind. Serenity is lost. Creative writing is impossible because my mental processes have been commandeered by this winged pestilence. There is a single word flashing across the marquee of my thought-stream.

REDRUM! REDRUM! REDRUM!

But now the fly has gone … somewhere. It’s been fifteen minutes or longer since I felt its presence. I know it hasn’t left the house, there is no exit available to it. It’s only waiting for me to relax and to begin to think that I can reclaim my day. Even though its life is (on the average) only 28 days long, it is very patient and probably is now reclining in a closet against one of my sweaters, filing its clacky little nails and waiting for just the right moment to come out and take one more hike …

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I am thinking that Senator Joseph Manchin is the Democrat’s equivalent of Senator McConnell. He seems to care less about doing the right thing than increasing his personal power, and is willing to wield that power widely for as long as he has it. If it were not for the slender margin of the Democratic majority, who would care what Manchin thought? He’s a backward-looking man who is still selling bags of coal to anyone who will buy, even as the earth begins to burn around his feet.

Reading about politics is a good way to spoil a good morning. My grandson who is spending some time with us is 29 years old. Here is the list of people who have been POTUS since he was born:

  • Bill Clinton (president fellatio)
  • George W. Bush (president Iraq/Afghanistan or bust)
  • Barack Obama (president who cares if I didn’t do squat – I’m rich, rich!)
  • Donald Cluck (president disaster)
  • Joe Biden (president wake me up when it’s over)

Now is that a lackluster list to contemplate or what? Keep in mind that these are the presidents, the holders of the highest office, and at least theoretically our best and brightest. God help that grandson if he starts looking at the sorry state of members of Congress during this same period. (I would never suggest that he do so unless a competent psychotherapist was right there in the room with him to ease him over the depression that would inevitably result).

A worm blob

I recently read an article about a blob of worms and its fascinating behavior. As I was reading I realized that without even trying my mind had made that squirming ball into a metaphor for American politicians and politics. Read the piece, watch the video, see if you don’t come to a similar conclusion. If not, please tell me why. There are days when my spirit could certainly use a boost.

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Our cats are already settling into winter behavior patterns. Basically this means more time spent indoors and less time in the back yard. They are eating more, sleeping more, and occasionally looking about as bored as any critter can look.

It has become apparent over the years that Robin and I are not stimulating company for a cat. At our best we are the providers of food, the openers of cans, and minions who deal with kitty litter in all of its delightful forms.

At worst we are poor conversationalists and don’t seem to know on our own when the best times are for the brushing of fur and for scratching behind the ears, and need to be reminded (sometimes forcibly) about doing our duty in these areas. In addition, we often let the weather get completely out of control, allowing wind, rain, and cold to run rampant on the other side of the cat door. Year after year we humans never seem to get any better at this. It’s enough to make a feline weep in frustration.

I know for a fact that Willow is thinking that if she had opposable thumbs and the keys to the car life would be a completely different story at our house.

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Robin and I got our booster shots of Covid vaccine this week. Just as before, it took 24 hours before we started to feel mildly lousy, but within another six hours our bodies were returned to us in fine shape but for sore arms. We are now armored as well as is possible here as players in the ongoing Montrosian soap opera I will call Days of the Numbnuts. The theme of this show is that over the first several episodes half of the town’s occupants are revealed to be mindless drones who get their instruction and misinformation from foxy television screens.

It isn’t long, however, before we find out that the drones are dying off one by one from a mysterious illness that results in their exploding at social gatherings. One cup of punch and they go blooey, leaving quite a mess behind for the host and hostess to clean up. By Episode Six no one is inviting them to anything any more, and they have only themselves to talk to. This is a state of affairs that they bitterly resent, but those TV screens are not providing them any help at all.

Not sure where this will all go from here, but the drama is mildly entertaining if you can just distance yourself and watch it as if you were an anthropological observer from Neptune. At least that’s how I am handling it these days. It makes me less crazy.

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Braindust

Each day I turn to my laptop to tell me the temp outside, the projected weather for the day, what time it is, and what day of the week it might be. On the morning of October 23, when I was told by my machine that it was Saturday, I felt that sense of relief that used to come when a workweek actually meant something. Monday through Friday were days for sweating and straining, but Saturday was the beginning of 48 hours of … whatever I wanted. A whole different set of emotions and possibilities were now open.

So when I recently learned that it was a Saturday morning, I felt a little pop of joy, which is not logical at all. It’s a vestigial element left over from my days in the mines. A meaningless fragment of a former existence. But hey, a guy can always use a pop of joy, n’est-ce pas? There is no such thing as too many of those.

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Observations on this Covid vaccine insanity that we are going through. The resisters, the non-vaccinators, have been behaving abominably, and fully deserve whatever guilt they might feel. That is, those among them who are capable of feeling guilty. Because tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of American citizens have died as a result of their non-benign form of stupidity. Their deliberate ignorance and laziness of thought have been infuriating to observe.

However, if they would tomorrow line up and do the right thing, to finally get their immunizations, I would probably eventually stop thinking about the harm that they have done, and life would go on. But I couldn’t forgive them because it’s not up to me to do that. It’s up to the tens of thousands of survivors of those who have died unnecessarily to do that. The empty chairs that will be at Thanksgiving tables all over this land speak volumes about what logic and citizenship and common sense have asked of us, things which those people have so far disregarded.

Any one of that very large contingent could, if they wished, stop their part of this madness tomorrow. They could step up and be counted and loosen one more of the hooks that Covid has in all of us. And they could do it by rolling up their sleeves and helping themselves in the bargain.

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In the past year I have had two interesting (at least to me) events which were brain things. First there was that stroke a year ago which was fixed by some marvelous people within an hour after it started, and then earlier this fall I saw double for a day, which fixed itself. Later this week I am returning to see my favorite neurologist to talk about these things. I imagine the conversation might go something like this:

So, what can I do for you, Jon? You are still walking and talking, and for someone your age, that’s pretty good. What more could you ask for? What questions might you have?

I am interested in comparing the results of the two MRIs that I’ve had this past year. Do you see anything there that is alarming?

Not really, pretty much everyday stuff. Blockages there, atrophy here … nope, nothing remarkable.

Atrophy?

Why, yes, with age the brain gets smaller and fluid takes up the space left behind.

Holy shrinkage, Dr. Belk. Could you clarify that a bit?

Well let me put it this way. Forty years age you had mostly brain up top, with maybe a juice-glassful of fluid. Now at eighty-two you’ve got a brain the size of an avocado and enough liquid to fill a Camelback.

That’s certainly not welcome news. Is there anything I can do about it?

My advice would be to always wear something with your address printed on it. Or better yet, have it tattooed someplace … somewhere there’s a nice broad uncluttered area … on your behind, perhaps.

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Drosophila melanogaster – the fruit fly

I must be getting jaded. This morning I read an article in the Times Science section about one of my favorite creatures (I bet it’s one of yours as well) – Drosophila melanogaster. On top of that, the article introduced me to a branch of science that I had never even heard about. Does the word connectomics mean anything to you? It didn’t to me.

But I read the entire piece, put the laptop down, and went to the kitchen to make a second cup of coffee. I noticed that there was no increased spring in my step and that the world seemed much the same as it had when I got out of bed. In other words, I had not been moved by what I had just learned. I had mentally filed the information away for possible future reference (or for possibly completely forgetting I had ever read it) and that was that.

It’s unlikely that I will find the opportunity to talk about connectomics with any of my acquaintances in the days to come, we just don’t go there as often as we did in former days. Now when I encounter one of those people on the street, and after we have exchanged opinions about the weather, we’re pretty much done with our conversation. Everything but Drosophila stories seems to have become controversial, and should I inadvertently stumble into a hot topic that to me hadn’t even seemed lukewarm, I may find the front of my shirt covered in angry bits of spittle as the person in front of me delivers their diatribe.

I never seem to get it. To sense the location of those minefields before I step into them. It might not change my behavior if I did, but at least I wouldn’t be so surprised when they come up, and that could be a helpful thing. For instance, I could take a step back to protect my clothing. Or I could deliver what I knew was going to be an inflammatory statement with something approaching panache instead of just plopping it out there. I like that idea a lot.

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[Joe Dator is now my favorite cartoonist. He is not quite right in the head, as my grandmother
used to say, and I am totally in synch with where his head has gone.]

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Tuesday was moist from start to finish. It started lightly but steadily raining before dawn and this pattern continued all day. After lunch we decided to take a drive in the countryside and headed out for Silver Jack reservoir. This lake is a gem situated in a mountain valley and well worth the 90 minutes of driving that it takes to get there. We never did … get there, that is.

The reason is that about three miles short of our goal it was snowing hard and the road was becoming slipperier and slipperier and I flat chickened out. The tracks ahead of us showed that only a single car had traveled that way since the snow began falling. I could see getting myself sideways in that stuff, and who would bail us out? Both of my passengers were nursing injuries and asking them to push was out of the question. And when you are down to the point where the only person who is certified to push the car out of a ditch is in his 80s you are in trouble, friends.

Therefore instead of Silver Jack we accepted where we were as our destination, and that was at Big Cimmaron, a small campground situated right on the Cimarron River. It was beautiful there, with the clear dark rushing water, the total absence of any human activity but us, and the snow falling. Robin and I made a note to return and camp there some day when the weather allowed, but it would never be prettier than it was on this Tuesday.

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Images

Today is my birthday. I mention that only to in relationship to two pix which I thought I’d share. I had no hand in my actual birth, it was one of those times when being a passive recipient of attention seemed the better choice.

The first image is a radar weather scan taken at 0600 today. The black teardrop symbol is the location of Montrose, so you can see what Mother Nature has in store for my day.

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The second is a scan of my birthday card from Robin. Love it!

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Taking To The Roads

I had no idea (except for the machine’s own advertising) how far my electric bike would go on a single charge. Robin and I have hazily-formed plans to repeat our 2009 cycle trip on the Mickelson Bike Trail in South Dakota next year, and the way we do it one of the legs of that 114-mile journey is around 50 miles long. So yesterday I took the bike out for a longer spin, traveling from our home all the way to the end of the park road at Black Canyon National Park, a round-trip of 38 miles with lots of uphills and downhills.

There was still some juice left in the battery when I returned home, enough to make me think that 50 miles is a real possibility. What I neglected to take into account was although the battery and the bike were tip-top at the end of the ride, my body wasn’t accustomed to 3.5 hours of steady riding on sometimes bumpy roads. Somewhere around 25 miles my nether regions began to complain loudly, at thirty miles I was certain that with that much pain I must surely be sitting on a blister the size of a watermelon, and by 35 miles I was standing on the pedals rather than sitting down whenever that was a practical thing to do.

But time heals all things, including bruised anatomies, and as Scarlett O’Hara always said: “Tomorrow is another day!” Girl after my own heart, that Scarlett was. Wonder whatever became of her?

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I am having a few problems with my bloghost,Wordpress, at the present moment. It appears that the theme of this site is being retired by that company, and this means the likelihood of glitches arising is to be expected. My site’s theme is now in the “legacy” category, and a word you never want to hear in computer land is “legacy.” It can be roughly translated as: you’re on your own, buddy and if something goes wrong don’t call us.

So I am simplifying the blog (and my life) by reducing the things over in the sidebar for now that aren’t working well. Gone are the multiple weather reports (which have always been inaccurate anyway), the music player (who wants to hear what music I like when they can pick out their own?), and the list of web addresses of various columnists, etc. If this doesn’t do it for the theme, I may have to choose another and maybe that’ll be a good thing.

I must say over and over today as my mantra – the only thing guaranteed in life is change.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin, Dakota, and I did some serious messing with pumpkins Wednesday afternoon. The weather was pleasant enough that we were able to take our artistic skills to the back yard and work on a table there. As you can see, our approaches were quite different, Robin used paints to make something special. Dakota carved this tiny face on his … somehow it was more frightening than mine. My carving was awfully traditional, but I don’t care. My clumsy carving skills allowed me to make something that was at least recognizable as a Jack-o-lantern and that’s the best I could hope for.

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An excerpt from a piece of Garrison Keillor’s writing, to whet your appetite for reading the whole thing.

November ushers us into a season of colorlessness and Thanksgiving, an awkward day when people who don’t like each other anymore sit down and practice politeness, a day that reminds us why “turkey” is a synonym for Flop. Anything you do to turkey is an improvement: stuff it with jellybeans, pour brandy on it and light it on fire — better yet, put some cherry bombs in it and blow it up.

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I happen to like Thanksgiving, as opposed to Mr. Keillor. For one thing, there isn’t as yet a tradition of buying things that has sprung up associated with it. There are no Turkey Day gifts to frantically purchase and no obligatory ornamentation required for the house. Preparation for the holiday is blissfully simple.

All you have to do is just get together with some friends or family and eat food. It is the national eating extravaganza. Keillor isn’t tickled to death by turkey, and I will admit that I have swallowed quite a few bites of overdone birds that needed to be washed down with copious gouts of water lest they remain permanently mounted in my mid-esophagus. But when that massive golden thing comes out of the oven all of the past failures are forgotten, and I know in my heart that this is the time at long last that I will tear into so much juiciness that I can’t stand it, and where there is so much meat that I can eat myself into perhaps the only coma from which full recovery is expected.

This won’t happen, of course. The bird is just too big for that to happen, and there is always that white meat/dark meat thing where cooking one is wrong for the other and so on. We try our damnedest, though, to overcome the drawbacks, and it’s kind of touching, really. We roast them slowly and sometimes put the creatures into large plastic bags to do it. We dip them into cauldrons of hot oil and swear that this is the only way that makes sense. We smoke them over applewood, or hickory, or mesquite, and in so doing turn them into 25 pound snacks. I love it. I love all the fussing and the equipment and the technology and the inevitable but soon forgotten disappointments. There’s always next year could be the permanent motto of Thanksgiving.

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The best movie version of the rite of carving the turkey is still the one in “Christmas Vacation,” I think. Wrong holiday, but right idea.

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People love stories about sharks. At least I do, and the odds are that you do too. The Times of New York has a doozy of an article this week, a long-ish piece about one of the densest populations of great white sharks in the world – the one just off Cape Cod. Reading it is a little like reading the script for “Jaws.”There are still the folks who want to let Nature be, and accept that there will be more seals and more sharks. And then there are those who live or vacation on the Cape and would really like to swim safely and would prefer to have the populations of these animals reduced, perhaps by hunting them.

Swimmers and shark off Cape Cod

For myself the calculation is an easy one. I assume that there are sharks or their equivalent in every large body of water, whether freshwater or saltwater, and avoid swimming in any of them as much as possible. Have you ever seen those huge northern pike that are as big as sheep? Or snapping turtles so large that a person could use the back of their shells as a paddleboard?

Alligator snapping turtle direct from Hell

Oh, sure, the reports aren’t coming in in anything like serious numbers on the attacks of these critters, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. For instance, a giant snapping turtle would just tow you down to the bottom of the lake and dine on you without anyone being the wiser. And while a great white shark is a beautiful animal to be eaten by, a snapper is the very picture of a nightmare. I really can’t handle the idea of becoming lunch for such a beast.

So I will continue to paddle about in the shallows, or in a kiddie pool when one is available, and by so doing avoid this class of catastrophes altogether. You may scoff as is your right. But that doesn’t mean that I am wrong. After all, they laughed at the Wright Brothers, too.

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First Flake

We’ve had our first snow, a few flakes mixed into the light rain that was falling on a 34 degree morning. They hit the ground and melted instantly. But the San Juans got a more extensive covering at the higher altitudes. We can follow the progress from here in Paradise as the white creeps down from the peaks to the shoulders over the next several weeks. Just put your car on Townsend Avenue facing south and it’s all there in front of you even though they are 50 miles away.

Whether they come rapidly or slowly, changes are on their way that involve long sleeves, long underwear, and the occasional short temper. I am often heard to say that I prefer living in a part of the country that has four seasons. However, I almost never say this in February, when my conversations on the subject usually consist of a series of sighs and grunts.

But the fellow in the purloined cartoon above is happy as a clam with his wagon and his wood, as is evident from the big smile on his beak. Possibly that’s because there is no wind to whip those flakes up his feathers and against his tender skin. Snow falling straight down can be a beautiful thing … walking about on a moonlit night at such times can be almost a spiritual experience. Snow falling sideways, on the other hand, is quite another matter, and it is best viewed through a window when one is safely indoors.

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This whole business of sending billionaires into space for a few minutes is drawing a bit of comment from the media. It is an obvious distraction from the awkward aspects of life here on planet Earth, and … let’s just say it is a bit of showing off by people who simply are so wealthy that they don’t know what to to with their fortunes. My only real complaint about these self-congratulatory performances is that the spacecraft eventually returns.

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On Monday morning I found something on CNN that made me smile. This is unique, since CNN usually makes me frown, occasionally nauseous. Spencer Tunick is at it again. He’s the guy who has been doing mass nude photo shoots in famous places for more than a quarter-century now. He always has an artistic explanation to offer for what he is doing but for me it is the amazing playfulness of the entire enterprise.

For instance, this time he took around 200 Israelis to the Dead Sea, which is disappearing (who knew?). He painted them white and then posed them variously. You might, upon hearing about the project, think that eroticism is part of his plan, but take a look at this photo and tell me, does it stir you in that way? Or does it make you wonder instead how they all avoided colossal sunburns?

Look again for a moment – over on the right there’s even a stooped-over guy who is using a hiking staff to get around in that desert, just so he can participate. Giving it his all, for art. While just looking at the picture is giving me a rash.

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Ran across an interesting article in the Times of New York about aging drivers. New research showing that they are safer in their driving habits than people much younger than themselves is slightly reassuring.  

Although there are now more older drivers than ever before on American roads, it seems there’s never been a safer time for those in the upper decades of life to drive a car. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers aged 70 and older were less likely to be involved in a fatal car accident than those 35 to 54.

Jane Brody: Keeping Older Drivers Protected On The Road, NYT October 19, 2021

I say “slightly reassuring” because we superannuated operators of automobiles still have to share the roads with those multitasking, distracted, overreacting, and overconfident younger drivers. They, as we already really knew, are the dangerous ones. We, on the other hand, are merely annoying as we chug along at legal speed limits and wait interminably at roundabouts for our turn to come.

Yesterday I was behind a Buick at a roundabout and I swear that the driver had time to knit a small sweater before the stars and planets were enough in alignment to for them to move forward. Everyone knows that there are certain vehicles that are notorious for being piloted by older folks, and Buicks are right at the top of the list. I will go blocks out of my way to avoid being behind one of those cars whenever I have a choice of doing so.

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But, I digress.

We never really had to “take the keys away” from my own parents, who had become so infirm in their later years that the question really didn’t come up. Illness sidelined them before we even had to think about it. And I am living so far away from my own children that they have no idea what my driving habits are and are insulated from the decision.

Robin is the one that I have to worry about, and I have hidden a set of keys away just in case she gets any ideas in that direction. Of course, the chance that I will remember where I have hidden those keys should I ever need them is completely another matter.

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Header Photo

Grandmothering in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2005

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Got Them Ol’ Pre-Halloween Blues 2

As I was struggling with my cowlick this morning, a gift from hell which is located at the back of my head and which is resistant to any strategies but the thick application of library paste with subsequent pressure on the area until the paste sets up. Since I had no such material on this particular day, I tried the various greases and waxes that I could find around the house with no more than partial success.

This started me wondering where the term came from in the first place. Do farmers have problems with cows licking their heads? I resolved to find out and turned to my most reliable but mute friend, Wikipedia.

The term “cowlick” originates from the domestic bovine’s habit of licking its young, which results in a swirling pattern in the hair. The most common site of a human cowlick is in the crown, but they can show up anywhere.

Wikipedia: Cowlick

I don’t like that last phrase much. For 81 years I have had one on my crown, and no others that I know about. But could new ones spring up with further aging? Wikipedia leaves that question open. And could they be located anywhere? Certainly the last two decades have been marked by many odd happenings in the hair department, and I really don’t look forward to dealing with new management problems, especially with cowlicks anywhere they want to be.

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This week I bought pumpkins for carving. I do this every year at this time, even though in my entire carving lifetime not a single one has ever turned out the way that I wanted it to look. I see those masterpieces on porches and in doorways around town and I weep.

Last year I purchased one of those cheap sets of pumpkin carving tools, which turned out to be six bucks tossed away. What was I thinking? They were exactly what I had the right to expect at that price … useless. The knives included were a little stiffer than aluminum foil, but not much. But I will go forward later today with my kitchen cutlery in hand and the highest of hopes that somehow, with no reason at all to believe that it could happen, and against all odds, my 2021 Jack-o-lantern will look like one of these:

Instead of this (which would actually be an improvement over last year’s edition):

Perhaps I am too hasty when I carve. Or lack the imagination to see what cuts will be necessary to achieve interesting-ness. Or is it that I have the manual dexterity of a wombat? Any or all of these are possibilities. No matter. The day promises to be cold and bright and I will take filet knife in hand and once again cause the ruination of a large vegetable that never did me harm. It’s Halloween, after all.

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The smoke from those fires in California and Arizona has largely vanished from our skies. We can see both the San Juan mountains and the Uncompahgre Plateau clearly now, see the colors changing on the Plateau and the new snow on the mountaintops. Awfully pretty. It means that the sunsets are not quite as spectacular as they were, but they are still way good enough for me.

Our cats are not meeting the colder weather with anything like equanimity. They perch grumpily on the sofa and chairs, ask to be fed on an hourly basis because they are bored, and in general are not presently sunbeams in the lives of Robin and myself. I am doing much the same, when I think of it. We’ll all acclimate with time, we do it every year. Stages of grief and all that, you know.

  • Denial: hard freeze this week? Naw, it’s way too early
  • Anger: we had the smoke, we had the blazing hot mid-days, we had the yellowjackets … dammit,we deserve a dad-blamed warm Fall!
  • Bargaining: I know it doesn’t work that way, but if I improve my behavior, think spiritual thoughts more often, and …
  • Depression: how long did you say it will be until Spring? That many days? Jeez. I’m sleeping in till noon.
  • Acceptance: hey, it’s not so bad. We can ski and we can go for walks and we can ski and we can go for walks and we can ski …

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Grandson Dakota was talking about clothing fashions for us regular folks, as opposed what suits the couture gods in New York and Paris. As an example he talked about how cargo shorts and pants have gone the way of the corset, and no self-respecting man will wear either of them any longer. I didn’t respond, because my casual wardrobe contains no shorts other than the cargo variety. I wish we hadn’t had that conversation because now I imagine that the people in the grocery store are all looking at me and thinking: “Did they dig that guy out of a Siberian glacier and thaw him out or something? Did you see those shorts he’s wearing?”

Yesterday I was holding my cap in front of me at City Market and an elderly woman dropped a dollar in it, saying: “There, my good man, now go and get yourself something decent to wear.” I thanked her politely and when she was out of sight I was so shaken that I used that dollar to buy a bag of M&Ms and wolfed it down. A guy can only take so much.

My brushes with fashions have always been painful. Wearing something that is clearly out of date is one thing, but there have been far worse times. Occasionally there comes a day when I realize that I dress hopelessly behind the times, and out I go to buy something trendy. But you know how there are always garments on the periphery of a trend that are not chic but ridiculous? Those are the ones that I am drawn to every time. I may wear them once or twice until a day arrives when a nearby toddler clutches at their mother’s skirts and cries: “Don’t let the clown get me!”

After each encounter like this I may not leave the house for days, only venturing out to obtain food.

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Special Edition

[Some thoughts that popped into my head too late to be included in Wednesday morning’s edition of the blog]

At the present time, it would seem that we have two countries. One that recognizes the threat that Covid-19 poses, and has followed the scientifically sound preventative and therapeutic strategies proposed by recognized authorities. The second country is made up of citizens who … let’s just say they follow the beat of other drummers.

The problem is that the two countries intermingle, and this poses a persistent chance of injury to those who are at least trying to do the right thing. Since the two countries share a common language and all wear the same sorts of clothes, it is impossible to tell who is in which group.

I have a modest proposal. We ask the members of the unvaccinated herd to wear a simple button that identifies them. No risks, no body invasions, no infringement on their freedoms. I have even picked out what I think is the perfect button, borrowing it from a magazine that is out of print.

The button should be at least this large, so that it can be seen from more than six feet away, thus giving us time to get out of their way and avoid contaminating ourselves.

We could even come up with a prize to the button-wearer who comes up with the most cockamamie sign or slogan, in order to make the program more palatable.

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Examples might be: “Viruses are hoaxes – have you ever seen one?” Or perhaps we could sell t-shirts that read: “My parents went to the ER and all I got was COVID-19.”

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Soothing the Savage Breast

Here’s a question I sometimes ask myself. What would the cupboard in the world of music look like if we took away all those genres that were created or influenced by black musicians and composers?

Most of classical music would still be in the cupboard. All of those old English ballads would still be there. Much of the folk music of the European and Asian countries would still be there. A fair amount of what is called “pop”music would survive, but not all by any means.

And that’s about it. No rock, no R&B, no soul music, no jazz, no hip-hop, no reggae, no ska, none of those rousing spirituals coming out through the doors of the black church, much of what we consider Caribbean music, etc. etc. While you may be able to shoot holes in my analysis above pretty easily, I hope I make my point. And if you ask whether I would rather take the black-inspired stuff rather than the other to listen to when marooned on a desert isle, well it’s sorry to see you go Beethoven and hello Ray Charles.

My introduction to the world of music that was outside of the one that contained pop artists like Perry Como and Doris Day was that single R&B station that I ran across in Minneapolis when I was in my mid-teens. And the song that ran through me like a knife was Fever, by Little Willie John. I never recovered from the wound, BTW. The scar still itches when it rains. I had never heard anything like that song, because a young white Minnesota boy in 1956 lived in such a tight little musical enclave that he didn’t even know it.

Little Willie opened the door to that other world for me personally and then Elvis Presley just smashed the door down entirely for all of us in my high school that same year. It was pretty exciting time to be a teen-ager as far as music was concerned … overwhelming, actually. Like going from a steady diet of chicken noodle soup to some serious gumbo overnight.

Here is a little gallery of just some of the musicians that corrupted me musically in 1956 .

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Another question that I have for myself is this one. I learned in Biology 101 that when the egg that was half of what eventually became me was fertilized, there was a fair amount of competition for that honor. I do not vouch for the numbers, but here are some from an article in Idaho Fertility. (Why Idaho, you ask. Why not, is my answer).

There are about 40 million to 1.2 billion sperm cells released with every ejaculation, yet only around 2 million of these persistent swimmers actually reach the cervix. For the 2 million sperm that enter a woman’s cervix, around 1 million actually make it to the uterus. For the 1 million sperm that reach the uterus, about 10,000 make it to the top of the uterus.

-For the 10,000 sperm that make it to this point, around half of them actually go in the right direction heading to the egg cell. For the nearly 5,000 sperm that make it into the utero-tubal junction, around 1,000 of these reach the inside of the Fallopian tube. For the 1,000 sperm entering the tube, only around 200 actually reach the egg. In the end, only 1 sperm out of this group of 200 actually penetrates and fertilizes the egg

Idaho Fertility.Com

So my question is this: Who would be typing this if another sperm had been the successful one? If getting to be born wasn’t a total crapshoot, I don’t know what one is. Only one out of the at least 40 million that started out became the other half of the fertilized egg that is now me.

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If another sperm had done the penetrating, I wouldn’t have been the same person, although I might have been a lot taller, with a way better jumpshot. There’s always that.

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Our weather here in Paradise has turned on us. Presently outside my window there is a 32 degree day. I want a different one, if you please. Someone goofed up my order.

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BTW. The original phrase is “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,” not soothe the savage beast.

If you have your smartphone in hand and are counting on playing music to stop the charge of a buffalo or change the mind of a rapidly approaching grizzly, you will likely be disappointed, or worse.

(The photo at left was taken from Duncan Schmeltzbarger’s camera after recovery of his body. Investigation showed that the tune he was counting on to save himself was Old Town Road, by Lil Nas X.)

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Do The Right Thing

When you take on the care of a pet, there are responsibilities that come with the fun. You must feed them well, house them safely, and occasionally … just occasionally … do something to them that they dislike intensely. Such is the case whenever we apply the anti-flea treatment to the nape of our cats’ necks. Both of them detest this interference with their bodies, and they take varying amounts of time to forgive us after we have finished. Poco takes an hour or so. Willow still hasn’t let me off the hook for yesterday’s application, and it’s been 24 hours now. She really takes it personally.

I do try to explain the necessity to them, since they are cats that are allowed access to the outdoors, but their ears and their minds are closed on the subject. To Poco and Willow, is it a violation of our contract with them, and not a benefit at all.

It’s a little like when I would take my kids in for immunizations. Unlike some of my fellow (scientifically-challenged) citizens I fully acknowledge the overwhelming benefits of getting those shots, and so I would show up in the pediatrician’s office with fearful children in tow time after time. Even though I was not injecting them myself, they were smart enough to know that I was a part of this painful process and what the hell was measles, anyway? They didn’t know any kid who’d had them, so why the needle?

At some point along the way you could talk to the victims and try to explain why this dread day had come. But truthfully, I don’t think these conversations were any more productive than having discussions about insecticides with cats. As a parent or pet owner, you simply do what you think is the right thing and accept the fallout.

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Our government is a bit more of a mess than usual. Really, whatever possessed us as a country to elect such people? Good old truth-teller Joe Biden is turning out to be yet another spinner of self-aggrandizing yarns, half of the Democrats burn the other half in effigy nightly, and the Republicans … god … what a den of vipers they have become! At the present moment, we are “led” almost entirely by people who reveal the truths in all of those hoary adages about power and money and corruption.

For myself, I have decided to vote for Oliver Cromwell in the next election, writing his name in on all the blanks. I think he’s the man to take on our own version of the “royalty”in Washington DC, and we could always hope for a better end to his story this time.

Despite being buried whole in Westminster Abbey, London in the 1600s, Oliver Cromwell’s head ended up buried in Cambridge … In 1661, the year after Charles II restored the monarchy, Cromwell was dug up, put on trial and hung from the famous gallows at Tyburn, then had his head chopped off!

Wikipedia: Oliver Cromwell

This is a photo of the man’s mummified head, which had been placed on a pike for emphasis and installed outside Parliament by the royalists. My oh my, but the English are really good at holding a grudge, aren’t they? Probably too much to hope that they’ll ever forgive us for the American Revolution?

So if I voted for Cromwell would I be wasting my vote? Who knows? In a world where corpses can be tried for treason, anything can happen.

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There have been a few pieces written over the past weeks about the widening educational gap between men and women in the U.S., and what this might mean for the not too distant future. Kathleen Parker nicely summarizes the topic and offers her viewpoint in Why men aren’t going to college anymore.

While correcting the cultural deficits and opportunities for girls was a grand mission that wouldn’t have gained traction without the relentless activism of feminist-minded women — and men — we sometimes veered into zero-sum territory. If girls were to succeed, boys would sometimes lose and, well, too bad. Hadn’t they had the upper hand long enough? This was no one’s stated aim, I’m pretty sure, but it became difficult to ignore trends aimed at diminishing the value of men and, collaterally, boys.

Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, October 1, 2021

I am not the most acute observer of the national/social scene, but at least thirty years ago I put three and two together to get four and I saw these same developing trends. Tactically, women were (and remain) behind in almost any way you cared to count them economically and educationally. Fewer CEOs, fewer leadership positions, less pay for the same work, etc. etc. But strategically, they were positioning (or being positioned) themselves for a major advance, and once they won that one, it would be adios amigos, and bienvenidos amigas.

There are still fewer female leaders and CEOs, but who are the people in power now? Old white guys who will soon be moving on to long term care, and who will take their places? … why, all those nice folks who went to college. And who are they? Right now it’s 3:2 in favor of women and that trend shows no signs of leveling off. It might still be a generation before this admirable work is done, but women are positioned to repair all those inequities. If they will, that is. Women are not one big bunch with a single mind, and we are seeing that truth at work now in Congress, where some of the brightest lights and dimmest bulbs are working in the same chamber, and the only thing they have in common is each of those members has two X chromosomes.

One of Parker’s observations is that with the use of sperm banks women really don’t need to keep a man at home for reproductive purposes. However, apparently those women prefer that the sperm comes from college-educated men with good physical characteristics. So what happens when that college-educated pool shrinks to little more than a puddle on the sidewalk? Very few women are going to go into one of those banks and ask for genetic material from a knuckle-dragging nincompoop.

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle

Irina Dunn, australian social activist, 1970.

Ah, but this sort of idle talk is only a distraction. To have such a situation arise would take much longer than a generation, and falls more into the area of sci-fi than sociology. Maybe women when they are in ascendance will do a better overall job of managing the world and be more thoughtful and merciful than men have been. I certainly hope so, because my gender has mucked up some pretty important things pretty thoroughly.

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And finally, a Doonesbury cartoon strip that makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. What is wrong with Texas, anyhow?

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Saving Graces

I’ve been reading a few of Garrison Keillor’s posts on the Writer’s Almanac this past week and they made me morose. It turns out that my own writing could easily be called a thin imitation of his, even though I didn’t realize it when I put fingers to keyboard and typed away in the early morning hours of any day you care to choose in the past decade. The major difference is his skill in arranging the exact same set of words that I have access to. Ah, me. Why didn’t I use that phrase … would have been so much clearer … or that one … or that one?

But we do what we can with what we have, as anyone who lived through the Great Depression will tell you if you give them half an opportunity. I try not to do that if I find myself across from someone who survived the Thirties, because the stories are pretty much the same and if I haven’t heard them all yet I lack curiosity about those I might have missed. Being born in the very last days of the Thirties I missed that excellent decade when what is now called recycling was then referred to as everyday life. You threw nothing away unless you absolutely couldn’t find a use for it, even if what you planned for it wasn’t anything close to its original employ.

Got a leftover anvil? Why just look at what a swell paperweight it makes. It would take a hurricane to blow those papers off your desk now. And those old jeans that you’ve been using for paint rags because they are full of holes and rips? Wash them until you can’t smell the turpentine any longer and then slap them onto your body. They are now called vintage clothing. And if parts of your anatomy are illegally revealed by those gaps in the material, why, you have only to wear attractive underwear, perhaps something in a cunning polka dot or stripe.

When we cleaned out the basement of my parents’ home, at the point where neither of them was ever going to be able to go down to there any longer because of infirmity, there was a virtual museum of old iron things that my dad had accumulated. Enough nuts and bolts to repair any fallen-down freeway bridge in Minneapolis, I would think. Angle irons, broken pocket knives, screwdrivers of all sorts, chisels without handles … everything was the same color due to being completely covered with rust. I doubt that Dad ever threw any part of any tool he’d ever owned away, just put it in a box to store because who knew it might be just the thing you needed? And when you moved to a different house it all came along with you.

There wasn’t as much of Mom’s stuff in that basement. It turns out that except for kitchen implements much of what she used from day to day wore out. A broom without bristles isn’t kept for some rainy day in the future, but is as useless as anything you care to imagine and is junked. All of her pots and pans and dinnerware were still in daily use, so they hadn’t made the trip to the basement yet. And that included a very old aluminum kettle with so many dents in it that was impossible to keep it level on the stove burner. Clothing? It either had fallen apart or was cut into pieces that became patches on some other aging garment.

So I’ve heard enough Great Depression stories, I think. If you are older than I am and want to tell your tales one more time before the Reaper stops by your house, I might not be the audience you are seeking. One of my problems these days is that I don’t always make the effort to look interested when I’m not. That faraway look comes into my eyes as … wait a darned moment! I saw that look just yesterday afternoon when I was sharing one of my vast collection of tales with grandson Dakota. He is so polite that he didn’t run away screaming when I came at him with yet another fascinating yarn, but you could see in his eyes that the man was off sailing in the Outer Hebrides even as I was nattering on about some random element of my past.

I better watch it. It’s so easy to wear out an audience, and damned hard to get them back once they’ve strayed.

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From The New Yorker

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I have returned to the backyard deck after a few week’s absence. After having that moderate but annoying illness for nearly a month my enthusiasm for sitting outdoors had waned, since any little breeze set me to shivering whether it was a warm day or no. An odd month, but behind me now. The body has such amazingly fine-tuned and really very adaptable systems, but put the wrong virus in the wrong place and nearly anything you can imagine can happen. There are a thousand things that can go wrong in a situation like that, but all I did was see double for a few hours and that was pretty much all she wrote.

So yesterday I returned to the gym for the first time in a month. Everything was going well until I encountered this seriously crazy-eyed woman who was flitting from machine to machine and never cleaning the ones she had used. (There is a gym policy that we do that, and a small sign at each station reminding us to do so.)

So I told her to please clean up after herself, and of course she completely ignored me because who in blazes am I to give her instruction? But the next time I see her, if she is still being a gym slob, I will ask the staff to talk to her. Even if we can’t change her behavior, maybe we can get her back on her meds. Those eyes … unsettling, to say the least.

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An article in the Science section of the Times gave me an entrepreneurial idea. Researchers have evidence that ancient peoples in New Guinea raised cassowaries for food. Cassowaries are largish birds, weighing up to nearly 60 pounds in adulthood, and were a potentially large source of protein – probably seen as a good thing back there a thousand years ago. The only problem was that you had to pay close attention to their growth, since an adult cassowary is considered by some to be the most dangerous bird on earth.

The problem is those feet. That large talon is several inches long, and can quickly create openings in the body that were never meant to be there. Persons messing with adult birds are thus occasionally converted to dead people instantly.

Thus, my idea of starting a cassowary farm poses issues that raising ordinary poultry doesn’t. Almost never do you read of fowl/human confrontations that end in fatalities. However, if you can get past that wrinkle, the sky is the limit because of the novelty of being able to sell cassowary burgers and cassowary nuggets to adventurous clients. I do not have any information on the flavor of the meat, but until more information comes in, I will assume that it tastes like chicken. Nearly everything does.

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The weather this past week here in Paradise has been, well, heavenly. Daytime temperatures in the 70s, enough sunshine to satisfy anybody, and breezes so gentle that they barely ruffle the prayer flags in the back yard. Out in the mountains the trees are peaked or peaking in color, although here in town our foliage change is a couple of weeks behind them.

We’ve adopted the pleasant habit of taking our meals outdoors on the deck, unless it is raining or some of those damned yellowjackets choose to rise up from hell to bedevil us. It is somehow disconcerting to bring one’s fork toward one’s face and find oneself staring at the countenance of a stinging insect perched right there on one’s casserole. Try as I might, I have not been able to love all of Nature’s creatures, and these wasps top my personal list of persona non grata.

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Don’t Forget To Take Your Snake Oil, Dear

A growing probiotics market has led to the need for stricter requirements for scientific substantiation  of putative benefits conferred by microorganisms claimed to be probiotic. Although numerous claimed benefits are marketed towards using consumer probiotic products, such as reducing gastrointestinal discomfort, improving immune health, relieving  constipation, or avoiding the common cold, such claims are not supported by scientific evidence , and are prohibited as deceptive advertising in the United States by the Federal Trade Commission. As of 2019, numerous applications for approval of health claims by European manufacturers of probiotic dietary supplements have been rejected by the European Food Safety Authority for insufficient evidence of beneficial mechanism or efficacy.” Wikipedia.

I know, I know, Wikipedia isn’t the oracle that I might seem to be claiming it is, but if you do a much more thorough and way more time-consuming review of the literature you come up with the same result. There is a slowly growing suspicion that some gut micro-organisms might actually be beneficial to us. Perhaps. We don’t know which ones, for the most part. It wouldn’t be that far-fetched, actually, since we know that there is a whole army of them that are harmful. But the positive doesn’t prove the negative, etc. etc.

On the other hand, a trip to our local City Market you will find a medium-sized display of what are called “probiotics.” In addition, there are scads of labels around the store stating that there are probiotics in this or that product. This, my friends, is the modern equivalent of selling snake oil from the back of a wagon in 1858.

Our scientific knowledge on the subject is at the embryonic stage while these unscrupulous companies have geared up to fleece the gullible among us by pretending that they know what they are talking about.

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Periodically there are diseases that become quite modish. So much so that not having the problem can make one feel inadequate at parties or other social gatherings, where the room seems to be filled with people discussing their symptoms at length. One of these conditions is “gluten sensitivity.” Grocery stores today are filled with products proudly stating that they are “gluten free.”

Now if you check medical texts on the subject of gluten, you find that there is an uncommon problem called gluten enteropathy (celiac disease), which, once considered, is fairly easily diagnosed with lab studies of the bowel, and which is treated by taking the patient off gluten entirely. The problem with “gluten sensitivity” is that there are only symptoms and no physical or laboratory findings to study. In fact, there are some researchers who doubt that it is a disease at all, but is instead a sort of fad. So the subject of gluten sensitivity is presently muddled, to say the least.

I won’t get between those two camps, I value my life far too much to do that. Mentioning this controversy to someone who believes that they have this disease could result in my being beaten about the head and neck with a loaf of Rudi’s, and really, who needs that?

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Now, I am an eminently rational being if there ever was one, I have noticed that whenever I ingest a large plateful of pinto beans, there follows an evening of rumblings, hissings, and vapors like you wouldn’t believe. I think that I must be bean-sensitive, and will press my legislators to improve the laws regarding the food labeling process so that I never have to inadvertently have a trace of this poisonous foodstuff pass my lips. Why, only last night I became so distended after a dinner of beans and rice that I nearly took flight like some octogenaric dirigible.

It occurs to me that coming up with a line of bean-free products might be a good idea for the public health. It might also be profitable for yours truly. I will start with bottling legume-free spring water, which I will call Flatunot. Test marketing starts next Tuesday.

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It’s been a while, but David Brooks has come up with a good one, in Friday’s NYTimes. The title of the piece is This Is Why We Need to Spend $4 Trillion, which alerts you to the territory he’s taking us through. He does spend time discussing our present dilemma where he sees it as a case of a vicious populism versus (the just as vicious) elitist insularity.

Read again Robert Kagan’s foreboding Washington Post essay on how close we are to a democratic disaster. He’s talking about a group of people so enraged by a lack of respect that they are willing to risk death by Covid if they get to stick a middle finger in the air against those who they think look down on them. They are willing to torch our institutions because they are so resentful against the people who run them. 

David Brooks, New York Times October 1.

I know that it sounds as dry as day-old toast, but it may be the best description of where we are as a nation that I’ve read.

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Today, Sunday, Robin and grandson Dakota and I are heading for Cedaredge CO, a small town about an hour’s drive north from Paradise. The reason was the Applefest, which has returned after a year’s absence.

Applefest is a three-day celebration that is marked by the greatest set of smells in Christendom, as applegrowers in one booth after another put out their wares for the aroma-hypnotized citizens walking by. Apples, apple pies, apple crisps, etc. etc. You may make it past one or three of them without giving in, but there is no doubt where it all will end.

You and a plastic fork and a plateful of some baked apple creation all together sprawled on the grass of the town park.

It is a grand mass surrender to the not-so-nutritious-but-my-god-how-delicious part of life. You set aside everything you know about what’s good for you, block out the small voice in your ear that is your mother telling you you’ll get diabetes for sure if you eat that thing, and just go for it.

If we don’t get back, check with the local emergency room which I know will be jammed with cases of pie overdose and fritter poisoning. We’ll be the comatose trio on gurneys in the back, hanging to life by a thread, but with these gigantic smiles on our faces.

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Gourds

I have found Garrison Keillor. I had thought that he was done for when he was accused of allowing his fingers to play along the bare back of a woman on his show and when confronted he exited stage left rather than argue about it in public, with cowardly PBS kicking him in the seat of his pants as he walked off. I don’t know whether he actually did what he was accused of or not, nor do I know what the surrounding circumstances were, we never got the chance to fully hear the parties out who were involved. But at that time in our recent history he was not the only man in public life who was being similarly drummed out of the corps without what one might call a proper courts-martial.

I assumed that this might be the end of his humor, insights, and general drollery, so I never looked for it anywhere. Today I stumbled across not one but two web locations where his voice can be heard. If anyone is interested, that is.

The web addresses are:

Please know that my delight in being able to read more of Mr. Keillor’s writing in no way endorses letting one’s hands go roaming around anyone’s back who does not welcome it. That is definitely not okay. So is roaming around their front, for that matter. I just wish there were a better way to deal with these accusations of impropriety, and that when called for we could find penalties that are appropriate to the offenses.

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Yesterday afternoon Poco was overdue for the afternoon meal. He always comes back from his roaming around three o’clock, and now it was four-thirty and there was no sign of him. He’s an old guy, you know, and we worry sometimes. So I went out walking along some of his favorite territory down the irrigation canal that runs behind our home, calling out his name.

I looked back and trotting about thirty yards behind me there was Willow, who had now joined me in the search. As we reached the point where Poco finally answered my call, Willow ran ahead into the thicket and in a very short time out the two of them came. No longer worried, I started back for home, only to find that the two cats had lined up and were now trailing me, and they did so all the way back into our yard.

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The cartoon above is one of those that delight me when I run across them. Just the right amount of surrealism coupled with imagination to brighten a person’s day. And really, where do those damned things come from? Do you personally know anybody who has a gourd garden? I know that I don’t. And yet every autumn … .

There are times when I have a thought that I believe would make into a great cartoon. But we will never know because I can’t draw to save my soul, and whatever illustration I created would only distract from the the caption. Perhaps if I applied myself and got some serious instruction I could remedy this with years and years of practice, but would it be worth the time and trouble? I have my doubts.

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On Monday grandson Tanner joined our growing Colorado family for a few days. Dakota had picked him up at the Denver airport, and they were making their way back to Montrose when they got held up with the ongoing highway construction on Highway 50 for nearly two hours. So they arrived hungry and tired, and after Robin and I finally let them off the hook, they went immediately to their rooms.

Early on Tuesday morning a light rain came through, accompanied by the forceful whooshing sound that the ash tree in the back yard makes whenever a stiff breeze blows. Lovely to listen to, and it’s not unlike that feeling you get when camping by a stream. For the most part, natural sounds like these don’t keep one awake, but have the opposite effect. There are exceptions, however, and one that comes to mind is the freight-train-like announcement of an approaching tornado. That one wakes you up, hopefully before you are airborne.

A hailstorm is another waker-upper. There’s nothing quite like the symphony produced by tens of thousands of missiles of varying sizes pummeling your roof, your car, and anything else you forgot to bring into the house last night. I will share only one hailstorm story.

Robin and I were bicycling out in the Colorado rural several years ago, when hailstones began smacking us on our helmets and shoulders. We were miles from our car, but started pedaling like crazy to get there as quickly as we could. There was no shelter available anywhere in sight until we came around a corner and – unbelievable – there was a Porta-P0tti a quarter of a mile away, in the middle of nowhere. The storm, seeing we had an option to escape it, now began in earnest to try to kill us off by increasing the size of the hailstones and their numbers as well. (Lord, that was a painful moment). When we reached the little structure we threw our bikes to the ground and rushed inside.

What a din there was in that malodorous space! But it was so much better than the death of a thousand pebbles that we had left behind. When the hail stopped we emerged from our plastic cocoon as two bruised and grateful souls.

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Lastly for today, I will address a topic that is daily on all of our minds, I know. One that has occasionally kept me awake at night, unable to sleep because the answer to the question is so elusive. What is the question, you ask?

Why don’t we have tails?

Researchers think they may have discovered the gene mutation that lopped off the tails that our ancestors surely had, and this has them all a-twitter. I am happy for them, people looking for gene mutations on tail-less animals must live a lonely life. I do not in any way begrudge them this success.

But although this might throw some light on how we became tail-challenged, it does nothing to tell us why. Usually a successful mutation confers some advantage on those who have it. But why in the world did those ancestors of ours do better when what might have been a perfectly beautiful and useful tail suddenly went missing from Cousin Norma?

There are so many times that I have leaned back to rest on that tail before I remember that I don’t have one. And when swinging through the forest canopy I can see where my balance would be better with a good sized prehensile member to employ. So I will follow this research with interest, while I grieve my loss and wonder what life would have been like had this genetic accident not occurred?

It’s all I can do not to take it personally.

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Learning In Spite of Myself

I Want To Tear Out My Remaining Hair Department

Two nights ago, while I slept, the OS of my laptop updated itself. It’s my fault, of course, in a weak moment years ago I gave the computer the okay to do that whenever an update came along. But yesterday morning I found that the new OS doesn’t play nice with WordPress, the service that allows me to pass this blog along to you.

It doesn’t screw up everything, but just enough to make me crazy. Now there are days when making me crazy doesn’t take a whole lot, I admit, since I am hovering on the brink of one mental disorder or another most of the time. But this time … I cry out to the universe … Why Me?

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Here is a list of some of the disorders that I am on the brink of nearly every darn day:

  • Golden Years Depression – this is what happens when the reality of not being 25 years old any longer filters through my defenses
  • Socks don’t match and I don’t care-o-philia – Even when it is such a horrid mixing of colors that they offend my feet
  • Metamucil intoxication syndrome – the fear of becoming suddenly “regular” that comes from accidentally doubling the evening dose of psyllium husks. The uncertainties involved here keep me at home for days until the crisis has past.
  • Covid rage – a variant of road rage, this involves a serious rising of my personal gorge whenever I read another article about our brothers and sisters who still aren’t vaccinated and who think not wearing a face mask is courageous in some strange way
  • Insignificant Bipolar Syndrome – where I have these abrupt mood swings, but they are so tiny that only I notice them
  • Incomplete Narcissist Syndrome – just when I think I’ve got narcissism down pat, I break out in empathy somewhere, which I find very disorienting

And this is by no means a complete list, nosirree. Just enough to let you know what I am dealing with. I may seem serene and placid on the outside, but internally I am quite a jumble. So when Apple and WordPress don’t agree with one another … it’s all I can do not to toss my laptop into the dishwasher and be done with it once and for all.

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Bob Woodward has brought out yet another book about former pres. cluck. I saw the author on a news program the other night, talking about the book’s contents. But I don’t think it was really Woodward. I think that he has been replaced by an animatronic version of himself which is trotted out for public appearances. There was just something about the episode that didn’t ring true. I went back and calculated that if he had been 35 when he and Carl Bernstein published their stuff about the Watergate scandal, he would be 237 years old today.

So watch carefully next time you see “Bob Woodward” on television. He has only two facial expressions. This is one of them. The other is a scary sort of grin.

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Thursday night Dakota and I (Robin was still out of the country, in California) drove up to Black Canyon National Park to check out the sunset at (where else) Sunset Point. There were clouds, but they only added interest to the skies for the small group of souls and the three-legged dog who had gathered there.

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The evening was perhaps not quite as warm as Dakota’s t-shirt-only costume might suggest, but it was very nice indeed. Everyone was quiet and subdued in their conversations, being respectful of the daily setting of the star we depend upon utterly.

I do remember distinctly when I was first confronted by the truth that everything changes and nothing goes on forever. I was less than ten years old and my grandfather had taken me to a movie at the Time Theater in Kenyon MN. There was a short film about astronomy that came on before the featured attraction, where the narrator’s voice told us how long it was estimated that the sun would last before it vanished. Even at that tender age I could put two and two together and I realized that if I lived long enough everything I knew would either go away or freeze up forever.

It was sobering, and I don’t think that I ever completely got over it. Sure, it was going to be one heck of a long time before that happened, but the frightening thought was that it would happen. Not might, but would.

See how dangerous knowledge can be? Who would ever think that a simple astronomic fact could be so alarming to a child? But even back then I knew exactly what to do about it, and I have resolutely avoided learning anything that I didn’t absolutely have to from that moment until the present one. Call me backward and a fool if you will, but I know what I’m doing.

[BTW: I know that I’ve told this story before, or one very similar. Not knowing which is the true one doesn’t bother me at all.]

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In what passes for a humor section, the New Yorker on Friday posted this bit of nastiness, entitled “Behold I Have Returned From A Hike. It is making fun of people (perhaps people like myself) who do some simple thing like take a walk in the open air and then rush to tell others about it. And maybe to share their pictures of the trek as well.

Does every adventure have to be heroic in nature or epic in scope before it is worthy of being reported? Must we all be Stanleys out there looking for our Dr. Livingstons before what we say is worthy of the pixels employed? I say Bosh! to this attitude. Yes, I have saved one of my strongest words for this occasion. I repeat it once again for emphasis. BOSH!

If a person (again, perhaps someone like myself) wants to write down every piddly thing they do, take a photograph of it, and then splash it all over a tiny corner of the publishing universe I say Bravo! Let’s have more of this twaddle! If nothing else, it may allow the reader to say “Why, my life is way more interesting than his. I feel much better now than I did before I read it.”

There are so many ways to serve humanity. This is only one of them.

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How To Get Drunker And Poorer Extremely Fast

I don’t write much about the world of ingestable ethanol, as found in wines, beers, and the like, because I am out of that game. My alcohol dance card was filled up way back when, and I am not likely to pick up at the unhappy place where I left off. But that doesn’t mean that occasionally I don’t come across an article on the subject that is interesting.

Such a piece was on the CNN website Monday morning, dealing with a limited edition of a Samuel Adams beer that reaches 28% alcohol, and that costs $240 for a 25 ounce bottle. Both numbers are outrageous in their own way, don’t you think? For one thing, who really needs a beer that will get you drunk 5 times faster than normal? And when you get home and you are asked what you did all evening with your buddies, your saying that you “just had a couple of beers” takes on a whole new meaning. Physically and economically.

Now, in another lifetime and before I decided to hang up my drinking shoes, there were several years when I made my own beers and ales. I thought it was a fine hobby, and unlike someone who made birdhouses, when I was done … well … I could drink the product. And they were excellent brews if I do say so myself, ranging from pale ales to near-stouts. I can say with pride that I never made anything approaching a “lite” beer, a beverage that I put in the category with “lite” coffee and insipid tea. (I was, and am, a beer snob, even if no longer a practicing one).

What I never knew, because I never ran the tests that would have given me the answer, is what the alcohol content of my beers and ales were. I know that they were nowhere close to 28%, but I suspect that they were well north of 6% by the effect that they had upon those who were courageous enough to sample them.

There was one other effect that some of my homemade beverages had on people. They were cathartic in a very real sense of the word. Calls back the next day from friends who had tried them frequently relayed the information that their problems with constipation were at least temporarily over.

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I was out on the backyard deck blaring away with my music, and hoping that if my neighbors were troubled by it that they would let me know. But until that happened, better to apologize later than to ask permission is my mantra. Anyway, I was playing songs by a group that is presently one of my favorites, one that goes by the name of Lord Huron. Suddenly grandson Dakota pops out and says that this is his favorite group, and that he has seen them live on more than one occasion.

Lord Huron

What are the odds? Two generations and a world of experiences apart, and we are presently in synch with each other musically, at least at this single point. After giving it a bit of thought, and without a shred of evidence to prove it, we concluded that our musical tastes must be genetic in origin. Happy with this unscientific answer that we provided ourselves, we went on to talk about other things.

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There are too many of us, and we do too many things to the planet that don’t give it time to recover. Which is something that it will do, when and if our numbers are reduced. We need to stop applauding when anyone admits that they have produced a family of twelve children. That is neither a good thing nor an amusing thing. It is completely selfish procreation. For being the parents of such a sad bunch is like carrying a tote bag that says to all you meet: “I care not at all that the brood I have produced is using up way more than its share of the earth’s resources. BTW, the rest of you can go jump.”

Comedian Bill Burr has a plan that features the sinking of cruise ships. According to him there are two good things that would come out of this – you reduce the population by 3500 at a time, and they are the sort of people that nobody will miss.

My own plan, which I have advanced over several decades now without picking up a single follower, is to put contraceptives in the public drinking water. If someone wants to have a child, they would have to apply to get their water from another source in order for that to happen. There is a problem with this idea, I admit, because it clearly benefits those who are good at filling out forms, and penalizes those who are not.

Thinking it through, should this plan become the modus operandi in the U.S., we might in a couple of generations become a nation consisting entirely of bureaucrats.

I retract my plan. Never mind.

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Our weather has shifted a bit, with high temperatures suddenly no more than 75 degrees or so. Nights are sometimes dropping into the thirties. It’s a welcome relief from those wok-like 90 plus days of this past summer, but could we please have something more gradual in our weather patterns, please? Would that be too much to ask? I know that I am from the generations that have caused all of the upheaval in climate and everything else bad that has ever happened since the Garden of Eden closed its doors, up to and including the development of those plastic tomatoes (had to get my annual tomato rant in somewhere) you see in the grocery stores. So I have no right to hope for better days? Is that it?

Funny, but I don’t think that way. Human history is a series of wonderful discoveries and awful blunders and there has not been a generation so far that didn’t participate in both. Maybe the present youngest group will turn out to be carbon neutral and lead so pure a life that they can tsk tsk the rest of us to death and beyond. We’ll see. In the meantime I am just happy to be cooler for a few days, and living in a place where if I touch the outside of my car I don’t have to go to the emergency room for burn treatment.

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Dear Robin, Please Come Back

Robin and I slept in Grand Junction on Thursday night as she had to catch a 6:00 AM flight to California on Friday morning. She will be spending a week watching Kaia and Leina while Justin must be away for work-related duties. Robin is absolutely dreading having to spend time with these two lovely children, I may have to push her through airport security to make certain that she gets onto the plane. I keep telling her that when you make a promise to do something, you must follow through, no matter how distasteful the project might seem.

Actually, the preceding paragraph was a big fib. My real concern is whether I will be able to get her to come back to Colorado once the week is up. I will do whatever I have to to accomplish this, up to and including a Zoom conference where I weep and tear my hair and prostrate myself in the most abject manner that I can muster. When it comes to meeting my own needs, I have no shame.

I need lots of tending.

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The Met Gala has come and gone and for the numptieth time in a row, I wasn’t invited. Of course, I would have had to attend as some sort of charity invitee, because allegedly the ticket price was $35,000 this year. But I think that the real reason that I remain a Met virgin is my opinion that in a world where climate is an existential worry, and in a country whose citizens can’t wait to acquire more guns with which to mow one another down, that there are might be important things than fashion. Poverty, the widespread abuse of children, the lack of proper food for millions, medical care so unfairly distributed that the system positively reeks ( I could go on and on) … these need to be front and center. In fact, fashion is so far down the list that you have to turn the page twice to find it.

If there was ever an event that says “Let them eat cake” to the rest of America, this gala might be the most egregious. I can just imagine a modern-day Robespierre somewhere sharpening the blade of their guillotine while humming a 2021 version of La Marsellaise. They would be looking at these photos and taking names.

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Robin and I have three Osprey packs apiece. A small one that we wear on exercise walks or when bicycling to carry water and a rain shell, a larger one that is a daypack and can carry the stuff you need to be safe in the mountains when out there for the entire day. The largest of our three packs is good for overnight backpacking for 2-3 days. We love them all, but this year my ( and only mine) daypack’s straps are literally disintegrating. The straps on all the other five are fine.

Fortunately the Osprey company has such a great warranty that they will either repair the rotten straps or replace the entire pack. No matter how long I have owned the pack. I have only to wait until they let me know which will be the happy outcome in my case. Now … how many products does a person own that are backed up this well?

Any others?

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Grandson Dakota and I had a lengthy discussion on Friday afternoon about coffee. It was the kind of conversation that can only take place when you have the luxury of time. Our dialog basically was based on the question: Is it just as good to use larger amounts of inexpensive coffee (per cup) as it is smaller amounts of the premium stuff?

We both agreed that weak coffee is an abomination, and those who make it should be subject to the severest civic penalties, up to and including being placed in the stocks in a public square. But answering our question will be difficult for several reasons. Firstly, we cannot do it as a blinded study. There are just the two of us, and only two packages of coffee in the cupboard. After all, we are ordinary folk and do not have a fat and generous research budget. And although I have never claimed to be one of the coffee cognoscenti, even my nose can tell the difference between the two blends that we are considering here at Basecamp.

I doubt this will stop our discussions, however, because sometimes facts only get in the way of a truly satisfying conversation. I believe that this is one of those moments.

(Readers are welcome to chime in with their opinions on this topic. Just to be clear, let me re-frame the question: Does using two spoonfuls per cup of poor grade coffee make just as good a beverage as one spoonful per cup of the higher-priced stuff? I am fully aware that coffee lovers are passionate people, and I ask that any contributors use only polite language on these pages.)

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Loonacy

Spent a very pleasant hour talking with friend Bill H. in Yankton on Friday morning. As we spoke he was fishing below the dam, from shore, and was pretty free to talk since the walleyes weren’t interfering with his bait in the slightest. We spent some of the time reminiscing (it’s what senior citizens excel in) about past fishing trips to Canada, especially to a certain lake in Ontario. This lake has hands down the best name for a northern body of water – Loonhaunt!

For me that name conjures up images of cold deep water, rocky shorelines, and the exotic calls of that splendid bird. I can never hear those calls without being instantly transported to places that are special in my memory – Canada, the Boundary Waters, etc. And if some of those places were haunted, it was the loon’s voice that provided the perfect soundtrack. (You can refresh your memory over there in the Jukebox.)

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During our several trips to Loonhaunt, we were billeted by the outfitters in different cabins, of varying vintages and states of repair. There are distinctive memories associated with the outhouses that came with the cabins. Some were places one did not linger, being dens of spiders, and if you were ever going to worry about spider bites, these unprotected moments were the perfect times for your paranoia to flower.

One privy stands out, being packaged with the most modern cabin of the lot. It had a large window, so that one could look out at the lake and beyond. There was one hitch in that there was no covering on the window, so that passersby could easily look inside to check on your well-being. It was generally conceded that the views looking out at the lake were the only ones worth talking about.

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John Cleese and the rest of the Monty Python crew have a special place in my iconography that goes back quite a long while. But Cleese isn’t done with us, and shows up on talk shows with some regularity. Here is one of my favorites, which to me is a perfect example of his brand of off-the-wall humor.

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Our daily temperatures … (hold on, am I jinxing myself?) … may be relenting just a bit. Looking ahead for the next week, there is nothing predicted in the 90s. That ten degrees is the difference between being comfortable and something that needs to be dealt with. Evenings, however, remain cool and wonderful.

Last night Dakota cooked supper for us. Some of the best chicken tacos ever. He’s a careful chef, mindful of so many niceties that I didn’t even know existed when I was his age. But then, I was never the brightest light on the tree as a young man. Signs of the paragon of wisdom that you see today were nowhere to be found in 1969. Earnest – yes. Thoughtful – at times. Wise – fageddaboudit.

But we need not dwell on such matters. What counts is that last evening’s supper was delicious. So flavorful that I didn’t even want to brush my teeth afterward. (I eventually did, don’t worry, I am a stickler for oral hygiene)

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I find that I am eager for the observations of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 to be over. That tragedy and the two sorry decades of warfare and mayhem that followed … there were so many ugly things that wash up into memory. I remember that it was a time when our government seriously debated whether to embark on a campaign of widespread torture of other human beings. The horror that those discussions provoked in me is something that I have never gotten over.

Torture. America. Unbelievable.

And only now, twenty years later, have we finally pulled our armies from that sorely troubled area of the world. We are getting to watch religious fanaticism at work, and that is never pretty. Way too often I find myself equating all of Islam with what the extremists are doing, which is completely unfair, I know. Because fanatics are to be found within all of the present-day religions. It is one of the very good reasons our colonial forefathers chose not to set up a theocracy for us to live in.

Could Taliban-like figures arise in Christianity? My friends, they already have, and one of their better-known programs was called the Grand Inquisition. How about gentle Buddhism, you ask? We have only to look as far as Myanmar to see nominal Buddhists assisting vigorously in the slaughter of others. What all of these show us is that allowing any large group of humans to amass too much power can invite very bad behavior.

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From The New Yorker

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Fruits of Someone Else’s Labor

We have been inundated with peaches here at Basecamp. First there was the large box of them that Robin purchased when Dakota first arrived to stay with us. That went into cobblers, pies, and desserts I can’t even name. And just when we finished them off, yesterday a friend of Robin’s brought by a gigantic box of fruit gathered from her own orchard. Already a second round of cobbler has been made. My cup, and my waistline, runneth over.

Don’t get me wrong. I love peaches. And this has been a particularly flavorful year for them. But when you look in the mirror and you could swear your color is a subtle shade of yellow, and when the announcement of dessert time doesn’t elicit a YUM! but a “yum,” it’s possible that you are approaching “over-peached.” Something that I had never believed possible.

And yet I know that when this delicious season has passed I will soon wish it had lasted longer. How fickle is man, at least this one.

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Each September I amuse myself and bore you all by mentioning that this is my favorite month. It’s a month that is automatically filled with wistfulness because … if nothing else … summer is over. And then there is the changing of the color of the leaves to emphasize that point. This phase is such a brief and beautiful one that many of us occupy ourselves for a while with running about and finding as many of the gorgeous spots we can visit before those leaves are gone. And when they are, it seems like such a loooong time until they are replaced, and we have months of bare branches ahead of us.

The music of September tends to follow this same slightly melancholy course, with the obvious “September Song” right up there leading the parade. The song is a metaphor for life, of course, and I reprint the words here as the beauties that they are.

September Song

When I was a young man courting the girls
I played me a waiting game
If a maid refused me with tossing curls
I’d let the old Earth take a couple of whirls
While I plied her with tears in lieu of pearls
And as time came around she came my way
As time came around, she came

When you meet with the young girls early in the spring
You court them in song and rhyme
They answer with words and a clover ring
But if you could examine the goods they bring
They have little to offer but the songs they sing
And a plentiful waste of time of day
A plentiful waste of time

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September
When the Autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days
I’ll spend with you
These precious days
I’ll spend with you

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Periodically I try to remember to give a little space to the non-human residents here at Basecamp. Today is such a day. Take it away, Poco and Willow.

POCO: Well, thanks for nothing, big guy, it’s been years since I’ve had a chance to speak my mind here.

WILLOW: Me, too.

POCO: Wait your turn, mouse-breath

WILLOW: You’re not the boss of me

POCO: Hey you’re not the one getting old, and who knows how may turns of the day I have left?

WILLOW: I am too getting older, it just doesn’t show

POCO: Still, how about a little deference here

WILLOW: You know you love me

POCO: Get away

WILLOW: You know you love me …

POCO: Okay come over here and we’ll groom each other for a couple of minutes

WILLOW: Love this part

POCO: But when we’re done, would you please go somewhere and leave me alone?

WILLOW: I promise (has rear paws secretly crossed)

[This sort of interchange goes on day after day with these guys. A definite love/not love relationship on Poco’s end of things. But then for her part Willow will groom him and then give him a nasty swat at the end that starts a spat every time.]

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Watched a terrific movie on Netflix the other night. Title = Worth, starring Michael Keaton, Amy Ryan, and Stanley Tucci. We were truly moved.

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Could American politics be any more dismal than right now? I hope it is a low point, but who knows, with that basket of snakes running the Red Party? I keep hoping that one day the real Republicans out there who are not bats**t crazy will wake up, look in the mirror and say to themselves “Holy Pancakes! This is our country that we are totally trashing! Let’s stop this nonsense and begin to help out wherever and whenever we can!”

Almost makes you want to get on that next Elon Musk rocket and take it all the way to Mars. “Yes please, a one-way ticket, and when we get there a simple tiny home will do us very well. We don’t need a yard, in fact we’d rather not have one at all. Don’t want to get hooked on that old bluegrass-lawn thing again. We do have two pets, but they will be of great help in case there are any Martian rodent populations to deal with. What skillset would I bring to the new city? Well, I’ve been writing a blog for years … what’s that? Go to the end of the line? Dang.”

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Saturday morning we took off for Dakota’s first look at what is variously called the Million Dollar Highway, or the Red Mountain Road, or the Road of Certain Death (which is my personal name for it). He was impressed, but unafraid. We lunched in Ouray and then continued on to something called the Red Mountain Overlook. From there a beautiful look at these special mountains.

It’s hard to imagine ever tiring of looking at them, even as jaded as I’ve become.

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Changes

Memento Mori

Michael K. Williams passed at the tender age of 54 years. Robin and I first encountered him in Boardwalk Empire, where he played a memorable character named Chalky White. Whenever he was in the frame, he was the one you watched. He was actually more famous for a role in The Wire, one of those “perfect” crime series.

The man was the very definition of charismatic. I was so looking forward to seeing more of his work in the years to come. Vale, Michael K. Williams. Too soon gone.

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Labor Day we went driving with Dakota and ended up on the Grand Mesa. It was a gloriously cool and sunny day, and we found more people up there than we’d ever seen before. It was such fun watching families fishing, kids playing lawn games, oldsters growing into the webbing of their folding chairs. The lodge at Mesa Lakes was super busy, which was very unusual.

Cobbett Lake, Grand Mesa

Everyone enjoying the celebration of the rights and contributions of the American worker, rights which are seriously in need of support today.

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We’re in the process of switching to a new physician. This recent illness of mine shook our confidence in our present one. When one’s MD is not in and her office tells you that the on-call doc covering for her is Dr. Z, and you call Dr. Z and she knows nothing about the arrangement it’s like you fell off a cliff, there is no Plan B for this, except for emergency departments, and that’s not okay. One of the hard-ass tenets I carry with me from a life in medicine is that you never leave your patients uncovered. Never. To do so is abandonment.

So as we begin our search for a replacement, one of the first questions we will ask is “Who covers for you when you’re away, and how do we reach them?”

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Our days are still in the 80s, but the temperature drops off earlier and further, down into the low 50s every night. So … not stressful at all. We’ve let the little garden go except for the basil plant, which show no intention of shutting down. It’s a pleasing thing to me to follow the flow of the seasons … to not wish for a longer or shorter summer … to be accepting of whatever Autumn brings. I can’t say that this remarkable equanimity will last all winter, but it’s where I am this morning and that’s good enough for me.

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This is an awful thing to admit, I suppose, but as I daily watch the confederation of fools parading against vaccines and common sense, I think to myself … each day there are fewer of them as the Delta variant works its awful mathematics, and I take a small comfort in that knowledge.

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Potpourri

A low-level infection somewhere internal had been dragging along for three weeks. Off and on achies and a very low-grade fever if any fever at all. Then the game captain upped the ante. I got out of bed Monday and looked out on a different world.

I was seeing double.

Now it turns out that seeing two of the same thing side by side isn’t the fun thing that it’s supposed to be. It’s disorienting as hell and super-annoying. So I called my physician, Dr. Strangelove, and told her of my plight. Her response was “Don’t come see me, go to the ER.” Not quite the come-to-Mama-hand-holding response that I was looking for, but oh well.

The ER doc was careful, though, and he did that one magical thing that a medical professional can do to instantly win me over … he listened. If you are worried about your head possibly exploding it is good to feel that you have an ally. His proposal was to order an MRI.

I mentioned my claustrophobia, and requested some help in that regard. I also mentioned my needs to at least two nurses who came by periodically to check on me, because getting an MRI on that day meant waiting in the ER for four hours. And then the radiology tech came to get me. She was not happy to hear that I was such a wimp that sticking my head into a hole in a giant magnet would bother me. In my defense I said that I had told other staff, and sure enough, there it was on the chart. But that was not enough for this queen of the night. I heard at least three “humphs” and a couple of “tsk tsks.”

Finally, meds were ordered and injected and it was at that point that I fell off the world. I had never been given this drug before (Ativan), and if anybody tries to use it on me again, I will defend myself by any means that are at hand, including stabbing them unmercifully with those tiny plastic hospital forks, if I have to. Because I went down a rathole of a drug reaction where I sat for three days, of no use to anyone including myself.

But on Thursday morning, my vision was much improved, and I continue to get better and better. In fact I would say that I am at 98%.

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Our grandson, Dakota, has been staying with us the past few days. He was injured on the job in Oregon, and while he needs to do his PT and take it easy for several weeks, would rather do some of that time in Colorado. We are the lucky beneficiaries of his misfortune.

My health issues have kept me from interacting much with him so far, but now that the cloud has passed I plan to interrogate him unmercifully about everything.

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Right now is a good time to visit Colorado, that is, if you love peaches. They are widely available and the prices are less daunting. Robin sorta overbought and is now looking for things to make with them, like crisps and pies, and the rest we will eat with our own little hands.

What is more sublime than to approach a beautiful piece of fruit, knowing that the first bite must be taken with care, or a river of juice will run right down your shirt? So you take the peach, lean way forward over the sink, and bite down. Your teeth meet almost no resistance. Slowly and appreciatively you chew what you have in your mouth. And then once again … .

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I cannot bring myself to write but little about the great sorrow and disappointment that has been our country’s role in Afghanistan. I am especially disheartened by the way that the withdrawal has been handled by our President.

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On Saturday Dakota and I explored just a bit of the Uncompahgre Plateau by car. Specifically we checked out the Silesca Guard Station and a tiny campground, Iron Springs. The guard station is a large cabin that has been there since the 1930s, and is now available for rental. Robin and I stayed there one weekend in 2019. I thought it was lovely. She thought it needed a deep cleaning.

The campground is really nothing special except that it is what every campground should aspire to. A place to re-create. No noise, the trees above, the sky beyond. Nature with you a part of it.

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Let’s Get Two Things Straight

This is the 300th post on the blog since I began using WordPress several years ago (Worpress keeps track of such things). For years before that, I used another software that one day went kaput, along with the company that created it.

Can you believe it – 300 posts and I have yet to make a decent point, evolve a consistent style, or say anything you could put on a t-shirt that anyone would care to read. So … the question is … why do it? My answer is perversity. Someone once suggested that I drop the whole mournful project and apply myself to something more useful, such as making birdhouses. My response was the one that I have been using since earliest childhood, and it goes like this:

DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!

YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!

And so it goes.

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Sunday morning we donned our boots and went for the second real hike of the summer. We’ve been careful about Robin’s right knee, which did a lot of complaining in the Spring. Complaining to the point of getting MRIs and making tentative plans for surgeries. On the first real hike of the year, which we did with Elsa and Marc, we just about did the poor joint in for good.

But Sunday, walking slowly and choosing the footing carefully, things went very well for her. In fact, it was me lumbering along that was the drag. There had not been enough of these outings to maintain what passes for conditioning in my own case, so there were many stops to catch breaths, much grunting, and the usual outcome at the end of it all, which for yours truly is nausea.

Yes, friends, getting out there in the fresh air and hitting these mountain trails in joyful explorations stands a good chance of making me feel like hurling. This all happens at about the same moment that I can actually hear my heartbeat in all of its sprightly and slightly irregular glory.

On the Rimrock Trail, Black Canyon National Park

So why continue? Because it has been this way for 50 years and the negative feelings always pass leaving the positive ones as what is remembered.

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From The New Yorker

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I Think, Therefore I Am … I Think

Robin and I have begun to watch “The Chair,” a new Netflix series about a professor of English who becomes the first woman of color to chair the department at a formerly prestigious small university. She comes in at a time when enrollment is declining drastically, academic styles and mores are in flux, and her little pissant of a daughter is being revealed to us as an adopted demon-child. (I know, I know, elementary school-aged children can’t be little pissants … or can they? Remember cute little Damien of “The Omen?”) Sandra Oh is the title character, and for me she makes the whole thing work.

Or at least seems to work. What comes across to the viewer is that the job of “chair”is impossible, thankless, and an endless minefield to traverse every single day you get out of bed.

Now I have the advantage of watching the series with my very own Professor of English on the next sofa cushion. She’s not my very own, of course, but a full-growed woman who is highly independent in her thinking. But she is someone I can turn to with the query “Is it like that?” as many times as I need to. And she will patiently answer all of my questions, even the most painfully naive and childish ones.

My own ideas of how the world of academe should be are personified by the crusted and aging members of the hypothetical department in the series. There is still waaay too much old school and ivy creeping around in my personal conception of the university and I know it, but hey, they’re my fantasies and I am fond of them. In this way the student body comes across as a larger group of demon-children, being composed of narcissistic and half-formed adults . And who knows what that ultimate form will be if their only examples to follow are themselves?

Oh well, the show is definitely entertaining, even if I find myself jumping up on the couch several times per episode and exclaiming “AAUUUUGGGGHHHHH! I HATE THAT!”

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From The New Yorker

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So you might be asking yourself, “What is it really like being married to a Professor of English? Surely it must be a comfort to know that your every utterance will be at least examined for grammatical correctness and you will be spared the embarrassments of being revealed as the poorly educated lout that you are?”

That might be true in another’s case, but it doesn’t fit Robin’s management style. In our house I am given the opportunity to make as many mistakes as I want, and she will only comment in one of two situations. One is when I realize on my own that I am in way too deep and call out to her to cast me a life preserver, and the other is when it is just too painful for her to listen to a particular line of my gibberish without comment. As when I am writing or speaking in full fingernails scraping on the blackboard mode.

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Okay, what it is really like being married to a Professor of English? It means that my education never stops. That Robin’s immense store of knowledge is available to me 24/7. That my appreciation of and for literature has increased so gradually and painlessly over our nearly 30 years together that I almost don’t recognize myself in the rear-view mirror. I am still quite the literary dolt, but I am an improved version of the dolt that I was three decades ago, thanks to her gentle and patient guidance.

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From The New Yorker

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The Boundary Waters are closed, and have been for a week now. The wilderness has been emptied of all of the canoeists and campers that could be located and ordered out for their safety. The culprit is fire. No date has been set for re-opening of the area, but there are some seriously disappointed people whose permits have been cancelled and money refunded.

Of course they understand the reasons for caution, and I doubt there are many of them who don’t appreciate how capricious and explosive a forest fire is, and what a miserable experience that leaving the planet as a puff of smoke would be.

No matter that fire has always been a part of the life of a forest, and that clearing away the old and making room for the new is often ultimately a very good thing for the creatures that live there. Somewhere in the unrealistic pudding that is my thinking organ resides the idea that I would prefer every tree and every bush to be the same as it was when I first discovered the “BW.” There are places that I don’t want change to mess with, no matter what. Right there is where my crazy begins.

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