Sleepily listening to the radio the other day I was jerked awake by the opening salvo of Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen. I listened to the words carefully, and it is a wonderful hymn to a way that I once felt. That time was at the peak of adolescence. A time when my thoughts ran to stylishly morbid (not going to live to age 25) and my hormones were the very definition of chaos. A time when cruising the summer streets with the car window rolled down and a song like this cranked up would alter my DNA to the point that when I stepped out of the car I was at least temporarily a whole new character. (One that was much more interesting)
This song was a perfect anthem. One that could have made me feel taller, stronger, indestructible … all those qualities that I was looking for at age eighteen. The only problem is that it came out when I was thirty years old. By that time I was married, had four children, and was temporarily the property of the United States Air Force. So instead of being the song that made me feel like a contender, it was now a wistful reference to an earlier time.
It’s a great song, though. Telling the story of a last chance power drive … man oh man … can you dig it?
(NB: note deliberate use of ancient cliché)
From The New Yorker
We probably all have our own private mythologized places. Locations we have visited once or many times and which for some reason occupy their own special space in our minds, one that is often both haloed and hallowed. One of mine such space for me is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota. I’ve been there on trips with my own children, a grandchild, and perhaps thirty times with Rich Kaplan, an old friend. Robin and I have paddled and camped in the BWCA several times together. I go there every year in my head, even if it’s only every several years that my body tags along. Everything I use on these trips becomes a part of the mythological whole.
One of these items is Dr. Bronner’s soap. I first purchased a bottle for a canoe trip long ago because it was such a quirky product. Piragis Outfitters of Ely MN was happy to sell me a bottle, which I used as hand soap, body wash, and shampoo for the next several days. Since then it has become a regular part of each trip’s outfitting. At some point I discovered that you could get the stuff in local grocery stores pretty much everywhere, and that was all she wrote.
Now every time I shower using Dr. Bronner’s soap, I am gifted with some random recollections of the BW, and they are all good, even those involving drenching rainstorms and a wall of mosquitoes that you have to hack through to get to the water. Above is the label from a bottle – as you can see, it contains homilies and exhortations as well as a list of ingredients.
Like I said, quirky … but quirky good.
Here’s a little gallery of pics the BWCA, taken over a fifty year period.
Two years ago I followed the advice of online home repair enthusiasts, and attacked the two outdoor faucets of our home, which were leaking. All of the gurus I encountered told me that the repair was so simple that any fool could do it. So I purchased kits, watched the videos, and although it didn’t go quite as smoothly as the in the pictures, when I was finished the faucets did not leak and seemed to work just fine.
Until this Spring, when the backyard faucet failed me. Little more than a dribble comes through when I crank it up, and I have the uncomfortable suspicion that my work was not as successful as I thought it had been. Apparently there is a special variety of fools who cannot do this repair properly and I am one of them.
Sad story taken from the past week’s news, about a 39 year-old woman who went walking with her dogs off Highway 550, which is the Million Dollar Frightway that connects Montrose with Durango. Later that day the dogs came home and she didn’t. A searcher found her body, which had apparently been mauled by a bear.
Authorities mounted up and took yet more dogs to look for the offending animal, and when they came across a suspicious-looking adult with two cubs they killed them all. A tragic ending for all concerned. I found myself wondering why they felt that the bears had to be put down. This seemed quite different from the usual encounters that we read about where an animal comes into a human-occupied area and attacks someone. There could be honest concern that history would repeat itself. But here … ?
This time a human went into the bear’s domain, with dogs, and the animal defended its territory … protected its family. What the authorities did seems more like knee-jerk vengeance to me than a thoughtful response to the situation. I suspect that the formula of human dies = bear dies is the only one that operates in these instances. But perhaps I’m missing something here. Enlighten me.
Our electric bicycles are proving to be even more fun than we thought. First of all, for those of you who think that we are simply cheating by using the assistance of a few electrons, I will answer that the active word here is assistance. We still have to pedal, just not quite as hard.
Take an example. You can cycle all the way from one end of Black Canyon National Park to the other. The road from the visitor center to the turnaround point is 5.7 miles long. The trip out and back is composed of very little level ground, but lots of long drawn-out uphills and downhills. Going out, that last uphill at the end is 2.2 miles long, at the end of which I usually am begging Robin to release me from the cares of Earth. With these bikes, I simply press a button to the smallest level of “assist” and sacre bleu, I am up the hill with some energy still left in me.
Now all I have to worry about on this spectacular route are the people in automobiles on the narrow two-lane blacktop who are trying to kill me by forcing me off the road and into free-fall, where electricity is of no help at all.
From The New Yorker
Mitt Romney was booed this week when he spoke at a Republican convention and dared to speak some truth about former President Cluck. Mitt still doesn’t get it. The GOP has made itself into a party consisting of way too many sociopaths in suits. They respect nothing – not you, not I, nor even themselves.
On Monday I began to volunteer at the local Democratic Party HQ. It is a small office, perfectly befitting the small party that the Democrats are out here on the Western Slope. But it has a very nice grass-roots feel to it. My job yesterday was to simply keep the doors open for two hours, responding to questions from anyone who entered. I was the entire staff for those hours.
Of course, since it was my first day, I knew nothing, and was not able to be very helpful to the four people who did come by. My hope is that in the days to come I will either learn something or that fewer people will stop in.
Our governor suggested a few weeks back that we have a meatless day once in a while. Save the planet and be healthier and all that. For some of our local columnists and letter writers, you would think he had suggested fire-bombing all of the nursing homes in Colorado. They are still incensed that someone, anyone, would hint that beef was anything but the food of the gods. And that beef production was anything but a positive boon to the environment.
We are living in beef country, so this comes as no surprise, but these same correspondents indulged themselves in many bits of misinformation in making their case. Misinformation as in … fibs.
I see a parallel here, with coal. Coal mining has been a big deal out west, and its adherents still haven’t given up on the idea that suddenly it will become possible to burn it without harm to the atmosphere. But even when the facts we have are altogether damning, these folks will not believe what they don’t want to accept, and that is that. But it is a dead industry, with a few zombie-oid relics still standing here and there.
The situation with beef is similar. It is expensive to produce, relatively unhealthy to eat, the industry is riddled with systemic animal cruelty, and the effects on the environment are basically seriously negative ones. It is an unsustainable practice however you care to look at it. We will hear a lot of fibs in the years to come, but it is a doomed industry, just as coal was. Change can be very painful, if either mining or beef production are what you do and what your family has done for generations. But telling lies won’t stop it.
This post is for one of my kids, whose name I will withhold to protect her anonymity. But hey, I only have the three children, so that precaution doesn’t mean a lot.
Very early in life, she decided that the outdoor world might be a lovely place, but it held way more minuses than pluses. And one of the biggest minuses was … insects. They were everywhere creeping, crawling, stinging, and going so far as to suck the very blood from one’s body. Imagine, your blood being withdrawn against your will … it was all just too macabre.
As one of life’s little jokes, this person was born into a family whose paterfamilias loved to camp, and she was made to accompany the rest of the family on outings like this one, where she announced that she was not leaving the tent, thank you very much, and we could all just go on our little hike without her.
When she was an adult, she learned, as did we all, about those Africanized honeybees who are very aggressive toward humans, and have been nicknamed “killer bees” as a result. This only confirmed her belief that people should largely remain in their houses, because Nature was not to be trusted with one’s welfare.
So yesterday when I read about the 70 year old gentleman from Breckinridge TX who was innocently mowing his lawn when he was set upon by a cloud of these winged messengers of death, I thought instantly of my daughter’s old concerns. Sad to say, the gentleman succumbed to his injuries, and this is a lesson to us all. To my daughter, bless her heart, it probably confirms her long-held mistrust of bugs in general.
To me it meant that lawn-mowing was an inherently dangerous occupation, and I resolved to do as little of it as possible in the future. Mowing not only exposes a person to insect depredations, but other hazards as well. These include heat stroke, objects thrown at you by the mower blade, and losing one’s toes in the machinery. If that weren’t enough, it can also make you tired, cranky, and smelly.
But back to the bees. The place they were first reported in the U.S. was in a border community named Hidalgo TX. Instead of trying to play down the story, this town declared itself the killer bee capital of the United States, and this large statue was created as part of that promotion. Clever folks, these Hidalgoans.
From The New Yorker
Reading an article on modern obstetrics recently, and the ongoing controversies that simmer along in that discipline reminded me of something I will call Flom’s First Axiom: Everyone who is born vaginally has brain damage. Now before you jump all over me and ask for facts, I fully admit that I haven’t any. But what I do have is thousands of observations of babies at birth, and there is no way that your skull can be deformed like that and you not suffer repercussions. No way.
You take an organ that is starts out basically the shape of a bicycle helmet and quickly form it into something that resembles a Campbell Soup can with eyes. How in the world can that be a good thing? Since it happens to all of us, though, we don’t notice, except in extreme cases.
You take an organ that is starts out basically the shape of a bicycle helmet and quickly form it into something that resembles a Campbell Soup can with eyes. How in the world can that not be damaging? But since it happens to all of us we don’t notice, except in extreme cases.
For instance, here is a baby whose head was more than normally bent out of shape, and as you might expect he grew up to join the Tea Party. It is a truism that the newborn photos of Tea Party members all look like this.
Personally I think it’s a very good idea that several years must pass after we are born before we are asked to do complicated things, like writing checks. If we still had our soup-can brains we might give away the farm for certain.
Yesterday was supposed to be a rainy one here in dry and dusty Paradise, but what materialized was little more than a spatter. I think that probably the loneliest job in this part of the world would be that of an umbrella salesperson. You would do a good business ten days out of the year and then nobody needs you or wants to talk to you for the remaining 355.
Robin and I carry two umbrellas in our car, which I don’t believe we’ve unfurled even once in the nearly seven years we’ve lived in Colorado. They are the sort of devices which open just large enough to protect one person. Not the Singing in the Rain sort of parapluie at all, where two people who enjoy each other’s company could easily find shelter together.
But use them or not, we carry the umbrellas wherever we go, just in case … . You never know, do you? Which reminds me of a story.
I was a medical student spending a rotation at the old Hennepin County hospital, a relic of the 19th century which is long gone, but which was a wonderful place for a med student to be. It was a sweltering July afternoon when a very old man wandered into the Emergency Department dressed for January.
He was wearing long underwear, a wool shirt, wool pants, long wool overcoat, a large muffler wrapped around his neck, a “bomber” sort of hat, warm gloves, and overshoes. He was looking, he said, for the King of Poland. Why he thought the King would be hanging around the “General” we never found out, and we didn’t want to break the poor guy’s heart by telling him that Poland hadn’t had a King since 1795. So we changed the subject.
What we did ask was why he was wearing so much clothing on such a hot day. His answer was that he was indeed a bit warm, but “when you leave the house in the morning, you never know what’ll happen before you get back there.” We all agreed that his logic was unassailable, and we directed him toward the welcoming arms of our social services department.
Mr. Biden seems to be pleasing about half the people, and displeasing the other half. Which means he’s probably right where he should be. Conversations on television often talk about our nation’s leaders, but in actuality they rarely do. Lead, that is. Most of the time they are running about trying to find out what it is we want, and then attempting to get in front of that movement.
The hard part, for them, is discerning what our wishes really are and where we’re going. Because finding consensus in a flock of more than 300 million critters is not an easy thing to do.
What has happened is that the character of the herd has changed. We used to resemble sheep, but now we’re definitely more like cats. Nearly un-herdable, we are.
This past week Robin and I watched a two-part series about Mark Twain’s life, on PBS. It was excellent, and (against all odds) I learned quite a bit about his life and his work. It wasn’t hard to teach me, more like writing on a blank slate, but that’s another matter entirely.
Mr. Twain was the kind of guy I wanted to grow up to be, but instead I became me, and now I am stuck with myself. He was a brilliant writer, humorist, family man, stage performer, and sharp observer of the American scene. I think my eyes were first opened to the depth of the man when I ran across the short piece of writing entitled The War Prayer. Up until then for me he was represented in my head by the indelible characters of Tom and Huck and their friends. Which is already pretty awesome, when you come to think of it.
But The War Prayer, which came into my field of view during the era of the Viet Nam conflict, was a surprise. A passionate antiwar piece if there ever was one.
You know, PBS is like those places in the U.S. where you can pay to wander around and sometimes stumble across a diamond. Not everything archived at PBS is such a treasure, but I’m going to spend more time in there, because there are those occasional gems … .
I am very much a fan of folly … human, that is. A really good piece of silliness can make my whole day. This morning I was picking out a couple of eggs to cook for breakfast from a carton labeled “Large Eggs.” I noticed that they were at least 1/3 smaller than those in the last carton I purchased, which were also called “large.”Obviously the eye of the beholder comes into play here, but there is just too much spread … there is way more egg on the one hand than the other.
It doesn’t make so much difference if you’re scrambling up a breakfast, you can simply make an an adjustment based on how hungry you are and how much egg you’ve tossed into the pan. But how about when you have purchased two cartons of eggs from different suppliers to make deviled eggs for a picnic and one set looks like the tiny bastard children of the other?
And how about olives? Here is one chart dealing with a naming system commonly used in the U.S. It is composed entirely of superlatives! There are no medium or small olives at all, instead we have “fine,” or “bullets,” or “brilliant.”
On the other end, outside of the wacky world of olives, how would you ordinarily rank Jumbo, or Colossal, or Mammoth? Which would you say is biggest?
Size apparently matters greatly in the olive business. So much they created extravagant nomenclature for it.
Recently an educated and otherwise sensible-seeming woman here in Paradise was overheard to say that she had done her research and had decided not to receive the Covid vaccine. I had to wonder … where could she possibly have done that research? Fox and Friends? Gilligan’s Island reruns? TheNational Enquirer? This is folly of the most dangerous, unfunny sort. People like her are the reason that we will still be wearing our masks at this time next year. Perhaps in 2023 as well.
The Oscars have come and gone and this year we didn’t watch the ceremony at all. But one of our favorite films of the year, Nomadland, did well, which gladdens us. There were no car chases, no shots fired, nor any of the blood-spattered excesses of the Tarantinoid variety in this quiet movie about nearly invisible people.
It is a movie that turned the lights and camera toward a part of America that I knew very little about. In a way, it reminded me of an old story that I have told here before, I think. No matter, repeating myself is an everyday thing.
There was a beloved and wise old man who lived in a small village. He was so poor that he had only a single possession, an earthen jar in which he carried water each morning from the village well to his little hut. The townspeople recognized him as a spiritual being, and loved and respected him very much.
One morning, as he was on his way to get water, he tripped on a pebble and fell. The jar flew from his hands and fell to the street, where it shattered. The other villagers were horrified and rushed to console him, but were amazed to see the most radiant smile upon his face.
Once in a while I meet extraordinary people who might be classified as holy fools. They don’t come along every day, and definitely not often enough. Such a man was Herb (not his real name), who I met in AA meetings in Yankton SD. When it came time for him to share, even the littlest things like his name, you never knew what would come out of his mouth. Where I might say in a meeting “My name is Jon, and I’m an alcoholic,” he might say “My earthly name is Herb but who really knows who and what I am.”
As a result, there were some who groaned when his turn came to speak, and waited impatiently for it to pass. I admit that at first I did not appreciate what he had to say. But for whatever reason, Herb would sometimes seek me out at meeting breaks, and much of his conversation was scrambled and hard to follow. But then there would be an amazing flash of clarity. A sentence that would stop you right where you were and show you something that had been there in front of you for the longest time but you never saw it.
So when Herb rushed up to me one day and pushed a recording into my hands and said “You’ve gotta listen to this, it will change your life,” I paid attention. I listened to it, and while I’m not sure that my life turned at that moment, I am still grateful for his gift.
Such was my introduction to the work of Jennifer Berezan. The recording Herb recommended was Returning, a 50 minute-long chanted meditation of layered beauty. You won’t find it on iTunes, but on her website, along with a lot of other beautiful things. Stuff that can be the antidote to some of the poison we take in every day through our eyes and ears without meaning to.
Since it is Sunday after all, I will share a short clip I took this morning from another long work of hers, entitled In These Arms – A Song For All Beings. The full work is more than an hour long. The last three lines of this clip are basically a short metta, or lovingkindness meditation. It is my gift today to you. You don’t have to take it, my part was to make the offer.
May everyone you love and everyone you never met be happy, safe, and free.
I cannot turn my eyes, I cannot count the cost Of all that has been broken, all that has been lost I cannot understand, the suffering that life brings War and hate and hunger And a million other things
When I’ve done all that I can And I try to do my part Let sorrow be a doorway Into an open heart
And the light on the hills is full of mercy The wind in the trees it comes to save me This silence it will never desert me I long to hold the whole world in these arms
May all beings be happy May all beings be safe May all beings everywhere be free
From The New Yorker
We’re watching a series from Iceland called “Trapped.” It’s a murder mystery set in a small port town, and it definitely has a flavor all its own. I won’t say anything about the plot here, so don’t worry about spoilers. Suffice it so say that it is said to be of the Nordic Noir genre.
What we love about it are the characters, exemplified by the chief of police. He is a quiet man, looks like he dressed in the dark in someone else’s clothes, and has two deputies who are very nice and very ordinary people. There is no Omigod you’re right moment, as officers dash to their cars for a wild ride to save lives. There is no tactical assault on an apartment building as a SWAT team piles out of a personnel carrier with guns drawn.
The first few episodes occur during a blizzard, which cuts the town off from the outside world, and is a great plot device. Freezing Icelandic citizens running around town in their little Isuzu SUVs, getting stuck, shoveling out, going into ditches, lost children, trying to solve a murder against significant odds … there was so much cold and blowing snow that I had to get out the afghan to stay warm for the hour each episode requires.
It’s on Prime. Season One was watched by 86% of the people of Iceland. That could either mean that it is pretty good, or that those people have way too much time on their hands.
It isn’t every day that I feel completely stupid. Oh, 45% stupid is pretty common, that would fit a whole lot of days, but 100%? And it all started a week ago, when I was trying to dig out the last bit of peanut butter from a jar that I had taken from the refrigerator. The PB was the consistency of sun-dried adobe, and I was having my difficulties.
I would say that 99% of the PB that I ingest is done at breakfast, on toast. A time of day when I am only partially conscious and really not ready for serious confrontations. But that last spoonful would not come out of the jar. So I put the container in the microwave and hit “Start”and within a fraction of a second the teeny-tiny bit of metal that must have been on the teeny-tiny bit of the seal which remained atop the jar’s rim began acting like the Fourth of July and throwing off quite a fireworks display.
It was all too much for me, so at that point I changed my mind and dished up some cereal. As I crunched away, my mind would not let the incident go. Finally I retrieved the PB jar from the trash and studied it for several minutes. The answer that has changed my life was right there. Nowhere on the label, not once, did it say that it “Must be refrigerated when opened.”
All those years … all that torn and disfigured toast … all that completely unnecessary cursing on mornings like this one. Robin found me with my head face down on the table, blubbering away. Worried that I might drown in my own tears, she gently turned my head to the side. At first she couldn’t make out what I was saying, but finally it came through clearly as:
(Melodrama and I are old buddies. Old and very fond of one another.)
Robin and I have been wearing these lapel/hat pins for a while now, and several people have asked where they could get one for themselves. The answer is at wokeface.com. They cost ten bucks each, and “100% of proceeds are donated to the national Black Lives Matter and local social justice and Black-led organizations.”
Bicycles are blossoming all over Paradise as the weather warms. The hardiest cyclists never put their bikes away at all, but continued to pedal their often fat-tired machines around town throughout the winter. What holds me back from seriously considering cold-weather cycling are those freezing breezes wafting past my unprotected nether regions and up under my jacket.
My unscientific impression is that there are more people mounted on bikes this Spring than ever before. All the way from kids who pedal down to the river to fish, to seniors on bikes of every description, including electric trikes (very useful if you dislike tipping over onto the pavement). Of course there is the Spandex Army that believes the walking/biking path along the river belongs to them alone and who cruise along at 20+ mph without much regard for others. Usually they don’t even signal their approach, but we strollers must depend on the eyes in the back of our heads to avoid having bike-tire tracks all over the back of our nice clean jackets.
As they pass by I frequently indulge a fantasy where I pull out a blowgun and hit them with a dart or two. Not to kill, mind you, but my missiles are coated with a compound that causes temporary loss of bowel control, and which becomes active within thirty seconds of exposure.
There is a newer type of vehicle that is found on the path this year in large numbers, and that is the electric skateboard. They look like they would be a gas to ride if they had come along when I still had a sense of balance. I am not tempted to ask if I could try one out at the present moment, since I have clear visions of being pitched screaming into the shrubbery should I make the attempt.
I am becoming this guy. Yesterday I had to toss out a pair of sneakers that were only two years old and had many miles left on them but … my feet had grown too big for them in those two years and my toes were being treated harshly.
Oh, I could go on about the sense of humor that Mother Nature has, where she shrinks the body while the feet grow apace, but I will not waste your time here. Except to say that when I was a stripling (ahhh, those lovely stripling years) I wore size 10 shoes. Yesterday the new ones that I purchased were size 12.
WHAT IN THE EVERLOVIN’ WORLD IS FAIR ABOUT THIS, I ASK YOU! SHEEESH … ENOUGH ALREADY!
Since Robin was to be engaged in not one, but two Zoomed book club meetings on Wednesday evening, I had made tentative plans to haul myself down to the river and attempt fish-catching. But as we nibbled on our supper, I glanced out the window and saw the Buddhist prayer flags standing straight out and fluttering madly toward the West.
Now when this occurs, and mind you I am still relatively new to the sport of fishing with flies, I have found that casting my lure becomes more than awkward. Perhaps it is my technique but the fly simply does not obey me when the wind blows at more than 20 mph. I can manage my wrist and forearm movements perfectly but instead of settling on the river the fly suddenly appears in the skin between my nose and eye with the point of the hook looking to embed itself in my brain. So I abandoned that plan and took up watching television for the evening, an activity which is wind-independent.
When viewing on my own, I typically will choose something without any redeeming qualities at all. The television equivalent of those mindless books you buy in an airport to take your mind off the fact that airplanes are simply not meant to fly and that the rivets on the one you are scheduled to board are very likely falling off even as you relax in the waiting area.
So I watched a pair of episodes of The Serpent. Apparently back in the seventies I missed the news stories about a French-speaking couple who were making a career out of murdering backpacking hippies in Thailand and pocketing their valuables. Because I never heard of these people. In this series they were very attractive looking psychopaths, though, and you could understand that if the real pair resembled the actors in this program that their victims might have willingly gone astray.
The series turns on the fact that a dweeby fellow at the Dutch Embassy catches onto the fact that a few citizens of the Netherlands have come to untimely and horrible ends while visiting Bangkok, and decides to investigate. Of course he receives little support – his superiors think he’s barmy, the local police think he’s a pain in the posterior, and even his girlfriend wants to push him into the lily pond now and again. But the man is obsessed.
So the deal is – how many more young and trusting travelers will perish at the hands of The Serpent, and will the Dutchman ever catch up with them?
I’ll never know.
Because even I have standards as to how I will squander the handful of remaining hours I have on earth, although they are very low standards indeed. Is it enough to say that The Serpent does not meet them.
What we all saw happen yesterday in Minneapolis was an example of how our justice system is supposed to work. A man broke the law, was brought to trial, and was convicted of his crime. A verdict came down that we can all understand. When I heard the news I felt no elation, as some seemed to feel. After all, one man was dead and another was going to prison. But there was a sense of something going right, being done the way it should be done. This was a day when one good step forward was made, and what I felt was relief.
As I gasp and wheeze around the trails in the mountains, I am often informed by three books written by these folks, Anne and Mike Poe. They are the best trail guides I’ve found so far, and together they cover the territory around Paradise very well.
These books appeal to me because they contain tons of photos, comprehensive details on the walks and how to get to them, and all of the hikes discussed are above treeline.
Not that Colorado doesn’t have lovely forests to wander in, but I’ve done woods-walking all my life. What this state offers is a richness of opportunities to get that feeling of freedom that being aboveit all provides. (I know, I know, this from a guy who gets the willies climbing a stool to get something on the top shelf in the kitchen.)
If this weren’t enough to inspire me, Anne has alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, an inherited illness which resulted in her developing COPD. So what I tell myself whenever my spirits are flagging and my butt is dragging and I really really want to turn back is this – Hey, Bozo, Anne C. did this as an older woman, with emphysema!
Most of the books on walking in the mountains that I’ve personally scanned include a word that I watch for very carefully. That word is exposure. The photo at right shows people hiking a part of a trail that has quite a bit of exposure, which, loosely translated, means places that I will never intentionally be.
All of the books on walking in the mountains that I’ve personally scanned include a word that I watch for very carefully. That word is exposure. The photo at right shows people hiking a part of a trail that has quite a bit of exposure, which, loosely translated, means places that I will never intentionally be.
If a portion of a trail is mentioned as being exposed, I immediately cross it off the list and stop reading about it. This is because I know myself well enough that if I did somehow go up this particular path all the way to the top, I would not be able to force my body to go back down. I would simply set up camp on top and live there for as long as I could on the Clif bars in my pack, then make my peace with the Universe and quietly expire.
Using the Poes’ books allows me to make sure that this last scenario never happens.
One unfortunate side effect of Covid-19 is that it has driven more and more couch potatoes out into the fresh air since so many indoor activities and gathering spots have been closed. There they compete with more deserving types, like me, for available camping site reservations. Before this deuced virus came along, you might have found that it was hard to get a good spot if you called on the 3rd of July, but at any other times there were way more spaces to choose from than there were choosers.
Not any longer. We’re expecting guests at the end of June, guests who we are taking camping, and have basically found that most of the spots we wanted were already taken. We did finally reserve the time we needed, and at a very good location, but it was literally the last one available through mid-July in the area where we wanted to go. Last available reserve-able space, that is. There are always the first come-first served sort of campsites, but if you’ve ever driven several hours to a distant campground and found there was no room at that particular inn and were now scrambling for somewhere to lay your head, you know that this arrangement is definitely second-best.
So we will take our friends to the West Dolores River Campground and we will have a fine time. They may never know how close we were to using the WalMart parking lot in Cortez.
Somehow I seem to have sprained my wrist. It occurred when we were shoving furniture around the other day, waiting for the flooring guy to come and do his flooring thing. This exemplifies one of the more annoying things about being this age and that is that one bruises quicker and heals slower. Being aware of this tends to make one cautious, often more than is necessary. There are days when I must exert some little effort to avoid regarding myself as a fragile flower suited to only the quietest and safest of activities.
Not that I was ever really the daredevil type. I would look at friends who had skied very fast down places where there were signs that said Danger and wonder if I should feel sorry for them, sitting there in the wheelchair with their long-leg casts. Usually I would decide that I would feel sorry that it itched inside the cast, but the broken femur was their problem. For that part they would have to make do with self-pity since I was offering so little of it.
But, you say, you drove motorcycles for all those years. Wasn’t that a risky business? My answer is that it was, but that I wasn’t worried because I never assumed that I would survive a highway crash on those things. When you are piloting a motorcycle, the world is filled with automobile drivers who seem dead set on wiping you from the face of the planet. Either they don’t see you at all, or they do and resent that you are having so much more fun than they are.
Anyway, my wrist hurts today, and probably will for a while. Goes with the territory.
From The New Yorker
I have read everything there is to read about Covid-19 that has been published up until last evening, and have come to these conclusions as the result of my extensive research.
I should either go out more or stay at home.
I should wear a mask when I am at home or indoors elsewhere, but not when I am outdoors at the park, unless that makes me feel uneasy in which case I should never take my mask off.
My immunizations will protect me against infection, but not completely, so I shouldn’t count on them. Or I should, but not too much.
Schools should be opened up but students should not be allowed to attend.
Tucker Carlson is an idiot and should banished to Elba, where he must wear an ankle bracelet and be barred from using electricity.
Instead of reading all this stuff, I would have been better off spending the time binge-watching all of the episodes of Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. This would produce a gelatinous mental state comparable to having had five big-time concussions in rapid succession and I wouldn’t care one solitary fig about Covid at all. Or much else, for that matter.
From the Web
There was an article in Saturday’s NYTimes about hanging your clothing to dry rather than jamming them into the dryer, that cube-shaped energy hog that we have in our laundry room. Once again, Robin is ahead of the curve. She hang-dries most of our clothing, and has been doing so for decades.
Most of the time it was on one of those steel folding racks, and the racks were placed indoors wherever they were least inconvenient, to cut down on painful toe-stubbings and awkward bumps in the night. In pleasant weather they would migrate to the outside of our home, and our wardrobe would be out there in the sunshine for airing and public comment. A recurring problem was that it didn’t take much of a breeze to blow these racks over, they being tall and slim and all.
So finally, after years and years of dragging my feet and nodding “Yes, yes, I’ll get to it any day now” I finally put up a hard-copy clothesline. One that couldn’t be folded up and stored behind a bedroom door. It looks like this, and has been working out quite well, mostly because Robin believes in it.
Not only does it save enormous amounts of energy, but when I occasionally help her hang our things out on a glorious spring day, she will share memories of her own mother doing this year after year and season after season. The process isn’t perfect, of course, because even though you would never ever hang your clothes out in a rain shower, occasionally they do come along before the garments are dry and there you are frantically snatching them off the line and going back to the folder-uppers.
I have my own memories of my mom’s love-hate relationship with clotheslines. Not having a dryer as backup, as we do today, mom would put the clothes out on cold winter days, only to harvest them as frozen oddities a few hours later. And there were times when a harsh wind would rip the lines from their moorings, and down would go everything onto the lawn … everything most often requiring repeat washing.
Of course, Mom was a pre-boomer. Energy supplies were seemingly inexhaustible, Al Gore and global warming hadn’t been born yet, and most importantly of all, she couldn’t afford the alternatives. So fixed clotheslines were it for my family of origin.
It’s not been a bad tradition to revive, actually. Our carbon toe-print is slightly smaller as a result and it allows me to feel sooo self-righteous and superior … you wouldn’t believe how much hubris you can get for so little in this way.
That little Google illustration yesterday was entitled “celebrating Johannes Gutenberg.” He was the guy who invented the printing press, right? First books and all, right?
Well, wrong. He was the first European to do this. You all probably already knew this stuff, but I didn’t until recently. The Chinese were at printing for quite a while before Johannes got into the act.
No one knows when the first printing press was invented or who invented it, but the oldest known printed text originated in China during the first millennium A.D. The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist book from Dunhuang, China from around 868 A.D. during the Tang Dynasty, is said to be the oldest known printed book.
That famous Gutenberg Bible didn’t roll off the press until 1452. What Johannes did that was special was to make type out of metal, and to develop inks that would cling to it. Previous types were made of wood or fired clay. So the Chinese beat the pants off everybody else way back then, much like today in that regard. Superficially it seems like so many instances in history where nothing really existed until a white person did it. The truth may be more complicated than this, but … seems like.
Johannes had some problems along the way to making that Bible. One of them was that the Church was basically opposed to it. Putting the Bible in the hands of lay persons didn’t seem to religious officialdom to be a good plan. Such proceedings would allow ordinary persons to make up their own minds about the Bible’s contents, and this was considered to be a very poor idea indeed. The Church was much happier telling people what to think. Kind of like today.
We’re still involved in doing some limited remodeling here at BaseCamp, while a gentleman rips out the old carpeting from the living room and replaces it with planks that look like wood, but are clever imitations that require almost no maintenance. All of the L.R. furniture is piled up in other rooms, and life is mildly disrupted as a result. For me, it is a pleasure watching a skilled artisan at work. Total concentration, deft hand movements, years of experience being brought to bear at each step. All of those things that are so different when compared with my own haphazard approach to such projects. And completely absent is the application of colorful language that I would bring.
Our cats, who are quite unhappy creatures when their lives are being changed in any way, are letting us know that they are opposed to the project completely. Lots of complaining-style meowing being voiced right now, and threats of “we might just forget where the litterbox is located.” That last one is met with “well, we might just forget where the kibbles are kept,” or “what if that pet door got nailed shut with you on the outside … how would you like that?”
Such bickering, of course, gets nobody anywhere. When both parties are using their nuclear options, thoughtful discussion is the victim. It will look lovely when the installer is done, and once the furniture is replaced, I think serenity and good manners will eventually return to our humble dwelling.
The George Floyd murder trial goes on. Yesterday the defense lawyers tried to assert that standing on people’s necks was appropriate police procedure. Perhaps if someone knelt on the necks of the defense team for, let’s say, twenty seconds, it might change their perspective.
No one has to compress any of my body parts to let me know that doing this is wrong from the get-go. Turns out that I have a pretty good imagination where suffocation is concerned.
Human beings have the power of the gods, a fact of which I am periodically being reminded. The only problem is that we don’t always know what words to use to achieve our goals.
For instance, if it hasn’t rained for months, and the vegetation has all turned brown and crispy, you would think that all a god would have to say was something like, well, “RAIN!” But that’s not how it works. What you do have to say is “Okay, we’re going to have an outdoor wedding even though we have no backup plan in case of inclemency.”
Rain is almost 100% assured in instances like this. It’s finding the effective phrase that makes all the difference. Now in a more immediate case, yesterday mid-day it was so beautiful that Robin and I wheeled our bikes out onto the driveway to go for a couple of enjoyable miles. A light breeze played about our faces as we selected our itinerary. “Let’s go all the way to the Black Canyon National Park turn-off!”
We’d gone only two miles when a gale hit, nearly unhorsing us. The 30 mph plus wind that now smote us hip and thigh caused us to turn around immediately and head for home, half-blinded by the dirt and dust being blown into our unprotected faces. Mother Nature was only waiting for our cry to go “all the way” to unleash a bit of her forces.
It’s all in the words. The unfortunate part is that you only learn it by making one mis-decision at a time. To really acquire facility with the language of the immortals takes a lifetime, and this knowledge leaves the planet when you do.
BTW. The electric bikes that we recently acquired are a gas. It’s like having a tailwind whenever you want one. Robin and I have very different styles when out riding. She tries to use the power as little as possible, getting the maximum aerobic work out of every cycling opportunity. I, on the other hand, punch the power up to legal limits just to see what the machine will do. My thinking on the matter is perfectly simple: why would I have it and not use it?
A hazy sort of plan is forming up that may or may not come to fruition in the Fall. More than a decade ago, Robin and I cycled the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota, a beautiful 109 mile trail that runs through the Black Hills from Deadwood to Edgemont. We took it slow and stopped to smell every rose along the way.
The idea of doing it once again, but this time on E-bikes, is a very appealing one. Lots of things to think about, but September can be a terrific time to be in the “Hills” no matter what the excuse.
Our trip this past weekend to Great Sand Dunes National Park did not get off to a great start. Somewhere between Gunnison and Poncha Springs the back “door” of our camping trailer opened up and allowed two boxes of gear to fall out and be lost forever. We are still not sure exactly what was lost in those big boxes, but for certain our stove, tent heater, knives, kitchen implements, and several pots and pans were in them.
This necessitated a quick trip to Wal-Mart to replace a few of the lost items, like the stove and heater, which were most obvious and most needed. Over time we will replace the rest, as we notice their absence. If we can ignore that initial mini-disaster, the rest of the trip went swimmingly.
Our weather was exactly as promised. Daytime temps in the 50s, and at night it got down into the 20s. The brand new tent heater performed flawlessly, and the new Coleman stove … what can I say … it is clean, which is almost never true of an old stove.
From The New Yorker
The dunes were sandy. The campsite was sandy. The hiking trails were sandy. Several times a day one had to take off one’s shoes and dump the sand out, to make room for acquiring more sand. And yes, there was the occasional grain or two in your food. But what a remarkable place! Even though the season was early, the campground was full, and the parking lots were full as well. Once you hit the dunes themselves, however, there was no crowding. The hikers spread out across the face of these sand mountains, and had no problem avoiding one another. Walking up steepish hills in sand is not for the faint of fitness, and not well-suited to compromised knees, so Robin and I went about 1/3 of the way up to the crest before turning back, while the Hurley family went all the way.
There is a creek that starts in the mountains and trickles across the floor of the park, eventually simply stopping. It doesn’t go underground or anything like that, it simply runs out of the will to continue as it reaches a point where the soaking in and the evaporation are equal to the amount of water reaching that point and the creek ceases to exist.
From The New Yorker
There was a small campground drama that ended well, at least for us. Friday night the campsite across the road from us, which was occupied by a large gaggle of twenty-somethings, was an intensely irritating hubbub of too-loud talking, too-colorful language, and general pain-in-the-butt behavior which went on to at least three in the morning. Perhaps we should have confronted them but I have made it a habit never to have an argument with large groups of stoned or intoxicated strangers at night when I’m far away from being able to make a 911 call.
So Saturday we looked up the camp host to tattle on the miscreants, and the host promised that if there were a repeat performance that we should come knock on the door of her trailer, and she would notify park authorities. What we really wanted, of course, was for park authorities to round up the offenders, tar and feather them and ship them home, but we settled for her plan. We never had to knock on that door.
At around ten PM a park police cruiser visited the offending campsite and reminded that group that it was now quiet hours. They were given the option of behaving themselves and being better neighbors, or the park police would escort them to the border of the park and wave au revoir to them as they sought other places to stay. They were quiet as mice the rest of the night. Quieter, actually.
So a pre-emptive strike worked out quite well, and next day when park police stopped by to ask us if things had gone okay the rest of the night we said “Yes” and thanked them profusely. We would have hugged and kissed the officers, but of course this is still Covid-19 season so we demurred.
All in all it was a grand trip, with just enough small hardships (lost items, nearly constant wind, coldish nights) to make it possible to endlessly bore our listeners for weeks, perhaps months, to come. There are times, of course, when those listeners might start to head for the doors, but it is then when the true raconteur stands with his back firmly against those doors to prevent them from leaving, and drones on. It’s what we do.
On Monday a friend of Robin’s, a lady of 87 years, was perky and going through her regular routines and looking forward to Zoom Bible Study on Tuesday, but that evening she passed away. Quietly, no fuss, no drawn-out or painful rite of passage. Two eyes closed in the evening and the last chapter in her personal story on Earth was written.
As always the finality of death was shocking, even when it comes to someone at that stage of her life. You can’t shuffle off this mortal coil at 87 without disturbing everybody you know, not even then. Her friends weren’t yet ready to say goodbye. For me it has always been that irreversibility, that complete resistance to petitioning, that refusal to listen to reason that has sometimes greatly pissed me off about death. The absolute lack of recourse.
Along came this piece by Margaret Renkl in Wednesday’s NYTimes, describing the role of poetry in helping people deal with hard places in life. This help comes at those times when we have run out of words to describe what is happening to us or how we feel. It comes when our own store of language fails us. Knowing that the poet could not have written what they did if they hadn’t seen what we are seeing. And if they survived, why, so might we.
I recall as a very young child overhearing my parents having a serious disagreement. Voices were raised and harsh words were exchanged. There were two things that were my takeaway that night. One was the terminally scary thought that mom and dad might separate and then where would I be? The other was that even while I was feeling so small and terrified, the people I could see through my window out there on the street were going about their own busy-ness, without a care for my troubles. How unfeeling they were! How unfair it all was.
If I’d had someone else’s words to lean on, I might not have felt so alone and powerless on that turbulent night. But hey, I was just a kid. Who writes tragic or even thoughtful poetry for six year-olds? Here is the huge advantage in being an adult. There are places to which we can turn for support, if we will. Poetry is one of those.
From The New Yorker
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Musée des Beaux Arts
by W.H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
We are off later this morning for a four-hour drive to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Camping there with the Hurley family. I’ve dusted off the camper, put the proper amount of air in its tires, and checked the supply boxes. The daytime weather is predicted to be good, but the nights are all scheduled to be below freezing so we’ll be wearing our socks to bed and bringing out Mr. Heater for those nights. I look forward to rolling up like a hedgehog in the bottom of my sleeping bag and wearing all of the clothes I brought. It’s one of those recurring situations in life that go like this –
“Why do you keep hitting yourself?”
“Because it feels so good when I stop.”
We’ve been to this park a couple of times, and if you’ve never been, it is pretty amazing. You drive along the highway and it is nothing but mountains and the lovely San Luis Valley and then all of a sudden – what the hey? – gigantic sand dunes, hundreds of feet high, piled up against those Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Last night Robin and I began the three-part Ken Burns series on PBS about Ernest Hemingway. As we watched the first nearly two-hour segment, it triggered an avalanche of memories involving those books and stories.
The year that I turned nine was the year that my parents bought an encyclopedia. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I suspect that a traveling salesman came to the house and caught them at a weak moment. That was a periodic occurrence in our household, where vacuum cleaners, Watkins products, and other ingredients of life were brought to their doorstep by men with good smiles and better sales pitches.
At any rate, one day boxes and boxes of books showed up at La Casa Flom, and it was like Christmas. We gathered round as a family and first unloaded the National Encyclopedia, which I’m pretty sure you never heard of. It was a less expensive alternative to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and published by Colliers. Next to be unpacked was the Book of Knowledge, a series of books much like the “National,” but printed on better paper, and organized to be more interesting to younger readers.
As an inducement to buy these two excellent collections, my parents also received a ten volume set of novels by an author named Kathleen ?????? (can’t recall her last name), a large set of westerns by Zane Grey, and a similar extensive collection of the writings of Ernest Hemingway. It was a literary bonanza, and since I was at an age where I devoured anything in print that I could get my hands on, I started in that very evening.
I quickly tired of Kathleen ??????, and never finished the first novel, which seemed to me to have been written for girls. At nine I was a horrible sexist, and so I set these aside. But Zane Grey was amazing. The characters were brave men and women, the settings all in the Wild West, and the tales involved things like wagon trains, indomitable settlers, and landscapes described in ways to make a boy want to go there immediately – to walk those canyons, climb those mountains, and yes, take the land from those who were already there.
So not only was I a sexist at nine years old, but I had no problems with the Europeans invading and settling lands belonging to the Native Americans. That made me a racist colonialist as well. Quite the little beast, I was.
But it was when I reached the Hemingway books that I became a man. As reader, that is. Now I was in a literary world containing some of the most adult themes I had ever been exposed to, and I swallowed those books entire. Of course I didn’t really understand everything I read, but there was still a story in each that could hold my interest. The real kicker was the short stories, though.
There was a guy named Nick Adams, who lived in a country up north where there was nothing but forests and lakes. Where doctors paddled across lakes to attend deliveries of babies and where trout fishing could begin to heal a lad with PTSD. And there was one story called Up In Michigan. A story which I later learned that no less a personage than Gertrude Stein had pronounced unpublishable.
I read it one day, and at first I didn’t get it, but I knew that there was something about it that was illicit and therefore awfully attractive there. Then I read it again, and this time I got it. It was about s.e.x. What we would today call date-rape, actually. I remember being chilled and frightened by what I had learned about human beings through reading that story. Of course I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, especially my parents. They would have been appalled at where my reading had taken me. My peer group had little interest in discussing Hemingway, so I could expect no help there, either.
No, it was my first exposure to knowledge that I wasn’t ready to process, and had stumbled upon way too soon. The only thing that I could see to do was to get older, and that was what I did.
From The New Yorker
This is something called a radio-photograph, and is of a black hole which is out there 55 million light years away. I was interested in black holes until one day when I was listening to PBS that I learned some facts which turned me off completely.
It was when I became aware that if I were ever to approach one of these things, that my body would begin to accelerate to enormous speeds. The problem was that the acceleration would be uneven.
For example, if I were entering the black hole feet first, at some point my feet would be going so much faster than my head that my molecules would come totally apart.
The astronomer who was discussing these awful things right there in broad daylight said not to worry, our vaporization would all be over so quickly we wouldn’t even feel what was going on. I didn’t buy it. I’m pretty sure that if my feet started going faster than the rest of me that I’d notice. And I’d be extremely unhappy about the whole process, to boot.
In 1955 I was sixteen and OMG was I impressionable. There were many things that made dents in my psyche that year, dents which still show if the light is right and if I turn my head just so … . One of them was the book Something of Value, by Robert Ruark.
It was a novel about the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, which was very much in the headlines in the middle 50s. Lots of killing. More atrocities than you could shake a lion’s tail at. Colonials versus natives and all that. A very juicy set of horrors better viewed safely from several thousand miles away, which is exactly where I was.
Mr. Ruark was a White Hunter. Which means he was a member of a highly privileged group who traveled regularly to Africa to kill large animals for the fun of it. They would then take the heads, bring them back to the U.S. and build rooms in their homes to display them in, as evidence of their prowess. Ruark would write about his exploits, and publish these stories in magazines like Sports Afield and such. He was quite a good writer, actually.
When he decided to write about the Mau Mau, his informants were most often white people like himself. In spite of this handicap, he wrote a compelling novel that was very popular and which was my first little peek into the joys of colonialism. I learned that those brave and stiff upper-lipped British settlers could be quite awful at times in the way they treated indigenous populations. I learned that cruelty begets more cruelty, and that there seems to be no end to the creativity that can be brought to beat when doing harm to others.
It was a grim book, but had to be so if it were to accurately report the time and the events. The title comes from an African proverb which translates into something like: When we take away from a man his traditional way of life, his customs, his religion, we had better make certain to replace it with something of value.”
It was that thought that stuck with me from then on. I remembered it when I began to be more aware, as a young man, of the true history in my own country of European settlers and Native Americans. (I say true as opposed to the heavily laundered version found in movies, which were my first source of information on the subject.) More cruelty, more horrors, more taking away without replacing.
They made a so-so movie out of the book which starred Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier as the friends turned antagonists. If you think it might be hard to imagine the dignified and righteous Poitier doing very bad things, you are right. It was.
Which brings me to Easter Sunday. I can almost hear you saying “Huh? What fool sort of segue was that?”
My personal spiritual journeys have taken me on a zig-zag sort of route, and some of those directions have disappointed people I loved. So far I have caromed from Lutheran to Catholic to Lutheran to agnostic to Lutheran to Buddhist. If I live long enough, I might add yet another category to the list. Two things stand out for me. One is that you never know where your studies and thinking might be going until you find yourself there, and then what do you do?
The second is that I have never felt so rock-steady at any of these stages that I was tempted to proselytize. When I would leave one tradition behind for another, I have always been cognizant of the fact that … well … I could be wrong. That what I was leaving behind could be closer to the truth than where I was going. To debate with friends about religions has been something that I have avoided for these reasons. And to a large degree, it went back to that phrase from the book long ago:
When we take away from a man his traditional way of life, his customs, his religion, we had better make certain to replace it with something of value.
Something of Value, by Robert Ruark
So … if I were to argue religion with another person, and if I were successful in converting that person to my belief system, and if it turned out that my beliefs were wrong, what would that make me? What sort of friend would I have been?
From The New Yorker
All of the predictions are in place, the stars are aligned, and this Easter Sunday promises to be one of purely gorgeous Spring weather. It will be in the 70s here in Paradise, and there will be sunshine all over the place. Nor any drop of rain to fall. What will we do with this fine day?
We will have friends for brunch later this morning, for one thing. It will be our first indoor socializing since the onset of The Plague. Hopefully this is a true turning point in this disease’s dreary history, and a good first step back toward whatever normalcy will be.
I see myself lying back in the grass by a riverbank somewhere later on today, listening to the water and letting the unquiet air pass me by as I do the water in the river. I can almost feel the warmth of the sun on the aching places that I seem to have accumulated over time. And all of this in the company of my good and tolerant friend, Robin.
Okay, I have become pretty accustomed to being amazed by the things found in the natural world, but this one is in a class of its own. There is a sea slug that takes its own head off, leaving its old body behind, and then regenerates a completely new one. The article showed up in the NYTimes Science section Tuesday.
The idea of being able to leave your physical problems behind you and start anew is certainly an attractive one. Speaking only for myself, if humans were capable of autotomy I would do what I could to grow a taller body the next time. I might even go for a six-pack while I was at it.
The problem that I see is that this new buff corpus would still have my old face on it.
Montrose County is presently at blue as far as Covid 19 cases are concerned, and is on the brink of going green. I would say more, but I’m not sure what this means to any of us as far as what behaviors we can safely change. There have been a few bad blips along the way during this past year, so perhaps this is just a good blip, one to be looked at and enjoyed while it’s here, but from the safety of being behind our masks and in our fortress houses.
For our part, we are having friends over for brunch on Easter Sunday. Friends in our age group who are vaccinated, that is. And unless the day is absolutely gloriously warm, we will be eating our meal indoors, rather than shivering on the deck while bravely smiling as we chew our rapidly cooling food. It will seem strange participating in this simple form of social engagement, just sharing a meal with others in one’s own home.
Perhaps to ease the transition we should all bring our computers to the table where we could Zoom-conference with each other during the meal instead of being fully en face.
From The New Yorker
Frankenmuth MI is apparently a nice place to live, and offers the visitor lots of Bavarian-style architecture, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, and a tiny possibility of bumping into members of the hometown band Greta Van Fleet.
Bronner’s looks like the sort of place that would send me screaming into the forest within minutes. I am a fan of Christmas, but the idea of extending its commercialization into a 365 day operation seems … well … more than the world really needs.
But Greta Van Fleet? I would skip the perma-Santa and walk across the street to hear these guys. They are three brothers and a buddy. The band doesn’t play quietly, but they do play well. Talented, theatric, flamboyant … who was it said rock was dead? These boys didn’t get the message. Here they are, playing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater, one of Colorado’s premier venues and an amazing place to listen to music.
Really glad to see the country’s infrastructure finally on a front burner. As an example, the most recent estimate of bridges I was able to find that need work or replacement was 231,000, spread all across the U.S. It was already 13 years ago that a chunk of Interstate 35W fell on Minneapolis, taking quite a few citizens with it. Speaking personally, I would really hate to be on one of those bridges that are failing at the moment when it decides to give up the ghost altogether. The only thing worse, to a claustrophobic like myself, would be the collapse of a tunnel with me inside.
So this will be a jobs program like none other in recent memory. And Amazon (along with other large corporations and one-percenters) is going to pay for it. I watch for my Prime membership cost to climb significantly, since I suspect Mr. Bezos would rather bill that bridge repair to me than cut back on household expenses. And there is that divorce settlement of his, in which he pays each month to his ex-wife an amount equal to the entire budget of the state of Rhode Island.
I have a tendency, as curmudgeons often do, to complain about aspects of modern life, comparing them to life in the golden years of the past (which I’ve often polished up a bit in my mind). So I thought I’d try to balance things out by listing a few things that are definitely better than in the “good old days.” A change of pace, if you will, and then I can get back to complaining, which is a much more natural posture for me.
Milk. Milk is better. I don’t know exactly when homogenization of milk became the everyday reality that it is now, but it hadn’t hit my family of origin until I was of middle-school age. Before that, milk was not one thing, but two. Each bottle had a two-inch layer of cream on top that had separated from the skim milk below. You would shake the bottle to try to mix them together, which was more or less an effort that was doomed to failure, because they never really combined completely. (Like oil and water) In addition, the cream layer was a little gloppy, and those lumps of glop were now distributed throughout the milk after shaking. I hated those glops with a passion. Still do.
Refrigeration. When I was a very small child, the cold food preservation system in our house was fairly primitive. It was called an icebox. Think of it as a picnic cooler that was too big to lug around. In one area you would put a large chunk of ice, and food was stacked in the other part.
Just like in a picnic cooler, there were colder and warmer areas of the box, you had to buy more ice almost on a daily basis in summer, and what happens when the ice melts? That water had to be hauled away.
ANY modern refrigerator is better than that.
Car Tires. The modern automobile tire is a marvel. Its durability and reliability are in a completely different league when compared to those I had on my first car, which was a 1950 Ford two-door coupe. I recall shopping for Allstate Tires in Sears catalog and finding that I had three choices, and the best available was guaranteed for 15,ooo miles. My Subaru’s tires now routinely get 65,000 miles or more.
And in those 15,000 miles you could expect to have a flat at anytime. Because the weak link was the tube inside. Punctures, slow leaks, fast leaks, blowouts – all were part of a driver’s experience, as was having a patching kit along to fix a flat on the highway. If you ask me today where my car’s jack is, I couldn’t exactly tell you, but I would point vaguely toward the back of the car. In 1956 you knew exactly where that jack was, because you used it just last week.
From The New Yorker
Cars. While we’re on the subject of cars, their overall reliability today is wayyy superior to what I experienced with that revered 1950 Ford. In that era, if anyone claimed that their automobile had crossed the hallowed 100,000 mile mileage mark, we would all gather round the speaker worshipfully, to hear what pearls of wisdom he had to share. How often did he change the oil, what kind of oil, what kind of gas, was the car mostly driven in town or mostly on the highway, and what were his traveling speeds, etc. That kind of mileage was the Holy Grail at one time, now it’s barely worth a sniff.
Socks. Socks used to get holes in them. Your choices then were to have them darned (sew the hole closed) or throw them away. That never happens today. What does occur is that all of the soft stuff that is in a sock wears off the bottom, leaving a nylon grid behind that is uncomfortable and eventually blister-producing. So it’s sort of a wash, I guess. The real improvement comes in the elastic material that holds a sock up. They used to fall down after a few washings, as the elastic material rapidly deteriorated. This meant that you would be tugging at them all day long to keep up appearances. Today they never, ever fall, but they cost fifty times as much as they did.
Worth every penny.
Shoes. In families of modest means, or sub-modest means like the one I grew up in, buying a pair of shoes was just the first step in that shoe’s life. When the sole or heel wore down, your father would take them to the basement and do a repair. There were tools available with which to do this. Hammers and nails and cast-iron forms.
Because an ordinary family would never own a sewing machine capable of stitching that new leather sole onto the shoe, my dad would use a bunch of small nails to fasten it. At first these nails would not touch your foot, but as the new sole wore down the nails did not wear correspondingly, and eventually flesh and iron met in painful and bloody congress. But not to worry, you gave the shoes to your dad and he’d start the whole process over once again. You tossed out a pair of shoes only when your feet had grown to the point where they couldn’t be shoved into them any longer, or when the leather of the upper itself became too thin to hold things together.
Hot sauces. In my family of origin, there was nothing hotter imaginable than Tabasco sauce. Not that anyone in my family actually owned a bottle, but they would sit around the table after supper and talk about people who they had heard about, people who had ingested the stuff and what horrible things had happened to them as a result … a stomach that never worked well again, bowels that became completely unreliable, et al.
Imagine my surprise when I started buying my own groceries and I first tried Tabasco sauce. It was certainly flavorful, but hot … what a disappointment. The era of jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, ghost peppers, etc. was still ahead for me. Also, for the longest time there was little availability of the interesting traditional pepper sauces from other countries around the world. Today I think you would never have to buy the same condiment twice if you didn’t want to, there are that many to choose from. And those international specimens have flavors that can be simultaneously flame-throwing and exotic.
(Keep in mind that this is being written by a Norwegian-American, which is a race born without the ability to metabolize or appreciate pepper in any of its many forms. I am obviously a hybrid of some sort, perhapsas a result of hanky-panky on the boat coming over to America, or to some serious “bundling” on a frosty January night back in the mid- 1800s in one of those lonely pioneer cabins).
Indoor Plumbing. My family of origin never actually lived in a house without it, but as a child one of my favorite places on the planet was my grandfather’s farm, which had neither electricity nor bathrooms on the inside until I was about eight or nine years old. Now an outhouse is tolerable in good weather, but in the dead of winter … my, oh my … you gave a lot of thought to the phrase – is this trip really necessary?
The water in Grandpa Jacobson’s house was accessed with a small hand pump at the sink in the kitchen. That was it. If you wanted to take that Saturday night bath, you pumped as much water as you needed and warmed it on the wood stove. You then climbed into the big circular galvanized tub brought out for that purpose and you scrubbed away. It was pretty much Little House on the Prairie kind of stuff.
I am not nostalgic for those baths or those trips to the privy. Means to an end, my friends, means to an end.
With the trial of the officer involved in the killing of George Floyd now underway, articles are appearing everywhere on what the scene of the crime looks like today. It has become a sacred space on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue … that intersection where I used to walk by on my way to Saturday morning movie matinees.
I moved away from that city in 1969, when the Air Force decided that my assistance was urgently required in Omaha NE if our country was to survive, and I never went back after that but for brief visits. One by one my personal ties to the town have gone away, but I still can be moved by its stories, even dreadful stories such as this one. After all, it was home for thirty years.
Robin and I are both wondering what the officer’s lawyers can possibly come up with as his defense. When you are photographed kneeling on the neck of a man for nine minutes … I’m sure that they will be as creative and imaginative as possible. When the evidence is so clearly damning, heavy legal smoke is definitely called for.
I also wonder is what is ahead for my old hometown, when the trial is over. No matter what the verdict turns out to be, it will create waves that wash through the entire country. Minneapolis has unfortunately become almost a metaphor for urban police violence.
Larry McMurtry died this past week. Even if the only thing he had written was Lonesome Dove, he would be in my personal pantheon of authors who hit it just right. You know how it is … there are books that when you finish them, you have the sense of that’s how it was, that you have learned something true about a time or a way of life? Of course you can’t know if that is so, but it feels that way. That’s how I felt when I had finished Lonesome Dove. And again when I watched that remarkable mini-series based on the book, on television.
The characters were as real to me as if they’d been staying overnight in the spare bedroom, and we’d be sharing coffee and trading insults in the morning. This was also true of the people in Last Picture Show, Leaving Cheyenne, The Desert Rose, Moving On, Texasville, Terms of Endearment … the list of excellent books he’s written does go on and on.
I will give you only one quotation from Lonesome Dove here today. There is a long, long list of toothsome sayings from the book on Goodreads if you’re interested.Anyway, here’s the one that won out this morning:
“I figured out something, Lorie,” he said. “I figured out why you and me get along so well. You know more than you say and I say more than I know. That means we’re a perfect match, as long as we don’t hang around one another more than an hour at a stretch.”
Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
I have read a lot of McMurtry’s stuff, and there is still a lot of it for me to cover in the years to come. His writing never disappoints. So thanks, Mr. M, for giving me folks like Augustus McRae to turn to for counsel whenever I need them. That’s something, it really is.
One day last week the programming robots at YouTube served this tasty bit up to me. I don’t ordinarily fill spaces in the blog with pirated Tubery, but when I found myself still chuckling at it several days later, and when last night I couldn’t resist forcing Robin to watch it again with me, I decided to bring it to your attention.
I just found this to be so funny. Conan O’Brien’s assistant is allegedly getting advice from a trio on her driving, and her responses are … well … supercute. Be warned of the presence of some off-color language. But the in-the-car banter is great.
Robin and I were picking something up in the bathroom fixtures department at Home Depot when I spied this sign on a displayed toilet. I couldn’t believe it at first, and then began to truly appreciate what this small decal provided. It was a gift, pure and simple. Let’s take it one line at a time.
First … what exactly is “stealth technology” when it comes to water-closets? Have we reached some sort of nirvana where our visits to the bathroom can at long last be completely silent? Where no one on the other side of the door can hear what is happening, even though everyone of those people knows exactly what is happening?
I’m not dealing with that “extra large trapway to prevent clogs” at all. There’s just some imagery that I’m not willing to entertain. But I guess if the gastrointestinal fates dealt a person a really awkward blow they might be glad for that supranormal capacity.
And now the piéce de resistance. “Flushes 7 billiard balls in a single flush.” The mind boggles. What possible relevance could this ever have to any human activity? (If you do know of one, please keep it to yourself.) Why are there only six balls in the photograph, instead of seven? And I simply don’t believe that you could make 7 balls disappear stealthily, so there goes claim #1 right down the drain. And how does one finish a game of billiards now that seven of the balls are on their merry way to wherever stuff goes when you turn the handle on the WC?
But with the stealthiness, the dreadful trapway, the billiard balls, and that sinister-sounding vacuum assist … I’m not sure I would have the courage to ever sit down on the device. And I would make absolutely certain that I was well away from the bowl when I turned that handle.
My son had returned home from college for a few days, and on the second morning of his too-brief stay he came up from his basement bedroom and declared: “And to think that this was a home where rock and roll was once played.”
I blinked like a deer in the headlights, because I had no response. He was right. In my as yet unfamiliar-to-me life as a divorcée, I had drifted waaaay too far from the real stuff, and into New Age music. Without thinking, really, over a period of several months I had effectively replaced Led Zeppelin and Neil Young with the tunes from folks like David Arkenstone and Enya, and that’s what I had playing in the background since the young man’s arrival. Oh, the shame of it all!
No Mas! I cried, as I flew to the turntable with an album by the J.Geils Band in my hand, and tossed whatever dreck was already on there over the loft railing. As the opening notes of “Hard Drivin’ Man” began to fill the room, I felt renewed, cleansed, and oh-so-repentant. I thanked Jonnie for reminding me of who I was and pledged right then and there to never again fall away from the true faith.
He looked over at me and said something like “Rise, father … go and sin no more.” (I think he borrowed that line from somewhere, for it sounded very familiar but it was highly righteous and very much to the point on that special day.)
I have been the truest of disciples since then. I carry a large staff with me everywhere I go and whenever I find a New Age adherent I ply that stick about their head and shoulders until they see the light. It’s a thankless job … but someone’s got to do it. We’re saving souls here!
I have had so many very wise and urgent things to say recently that I have sorely neglected what it probably the best part of this blog, and that is when I don’t write anything at all but only share a few cartoons from the New Yorker magazine. I do this whenever my personal thoughts are an undecipherable clutter. Today I am going to pass along a murder of cartoons. It’s a lot like a murder of crows, but more fun.
As I read the headlines for the past two months, and think about the office of POTUS, I wonder all over again – who in hell would want the job? President Cluck left things in an unusually messy state, to be sure, but even if he hadn’t totally mucked things up the world is a certified perpetual bucket o’disorder.
Let’s see … take a sample of the problems that the U.S. faces domestically, for instance. What shall we choose … how about racism, income inequality, gun violence, immigration, and the large number of special interest groups, which at last count was equal to the population? And to accomplish anything in any of these areas POTUS must do something that is much harder than herding cats, he must herd politicians. At least with cats you can fairly easily understand their motives and behavior. They like to be fed, they don’t like to get wet, and they sleep most of the day.
Unfortunately, politicians don’t sleep nearly enough, so that when we go to bed there is always the chance that they will do something so bad during the night that it takes us years to get over it. I refer you to the quotation by Gideon J. Tucker: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”
Maureen Dowd kind of nails it for me in her recent editorial about the contrast between Joe Biden and Barack Obama. I will confess that I never joined the Obama Fan Club, although there were a couple of months after he was first elected that I did start to fill out the forms for membership. This makes me a heretic, I know.
But I just couldn’t shake the growing feeling back then that he liked the perks of the office more than getting the job of America done. There are lots of photos showing him doing cool things – attending White House concerts, making excellent speeches, shooting baskets with celebrities. But there are few photos of him getting his hands dirty. He went full speed ahead to solidify his status as Mister I-don’t-sweat-it and in that he certainly succeeded. The rest of us … looking back, we didn’t do quite as well during those eight years as we hoped we would.
We can blame his political opposition all we want for the roadblocks that they threw up, but when you think back on Barack’s time in office, do you have a picture in your mind of a man who gave the job 100%? Who went to the mat for his vision of America? Who was willing to risk being soundly beaten in the service ofdoing the right thing?
Dowd brings out something else that I missed along the way, and that is the patronizing disdain that Obama and the crowd around him felt for his Vice President, and how they showed it. This sentence from her piece says quite a bit, I think:
In eight years, Biden said in a recent reveal that stunned Anderson Cooper – and left Washington gasping – he and Jill were never invited by the Obamas to their private digs in the White House.
Maureen Dowd, NYTimes, March 2021
So he was a better President than his predecessor, and infinitely better than his successor. But a great one? I think he didn’t want it bad enough to do the work.
They raised the rate of water flow in the Uncompahgre River this week. This flow is controlled by the Ridgway Dam that is located 25 miles south of us, and this recent increase has totally changed the character of the fishing in the river. Seven days ago a fisherman could put his waders on and pretty much walk for miles up or downstream without much difficulty at all. Now … you will have to choose more carefully where wading is safe or even possible.
For a gentleman like myself, who just hates the idea of floating downstream wearing a pair of waterproof pants that have suddenly become a big jugful of cold river, it means more fishing from the shore in more limited areas. It’s still a beautiful stream, just not as welcoming to those who might be balance-challenged.
Things will stay this way until Fall, when the water levels are cut back once again. I can live with that.
From The New Yorker
Paradise is still stuck in the in-between weather stage. No longer winter but not quite Spring. No danger of frostbite but no daffodils, either. I look at the five-day weather forecast and there is no day when the high will rise above 50. I know, I know, you counsel me to have patience. Everything in its own time and at its own pace. Good advice and I don’t dispute it.
But if there is anything that marks this time of the year for me it is restlessness. The yearning to get out there. To cruise the riverbanks with a book of verses underneath the bough, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread—and thou beside me singing in the wilderness. ( I stole that last bit, and the jug of wine has become spring water to avoid my falling in the river and thus becoming flotsam).
Of course Spring is much more than budding trees and romantic notions, it is also ticks and mosquitoes and black flies. It is mud. It is goosebumps because you didn’t use the sense that God gave you when you left the house and didn’t bring warm enough clothing, having been seduced by the warmth of the sun. And now a cloud drifts across it and your teeth are chattering and your lips are turning blue.
Like Sam Elliot? Who doesn’t? Last night Robin and I stumbled across a little movie in which he stars, rather than supports. Title: The Hero. It’s got what you might call a short dramatic arc, but it crams a lot into that space. Fatherhood, aging, death, poetry, the often baffling elements of love. It may not be a great date movie, nor it is aimed at the adolescent mind (whatever that bewildering thing was … sheesh), but if you want a quiet and lovely film with Sam in it, and a fine performance by a lady named Laura Prepon, it’s on Hulu right this minute.
Did somebody say poetry? Two of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems are featured in the movie. The first one I knew, the second one, I didn’t. Why didn’t I know the second? And why do I know almost nothing about Edna St. Vincent Millay? There’s no excuse, it is because I’m a philistine, and there you have it.
My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— It gives a lovely light!
Dirge Without Music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you. Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust. A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew, A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,— They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve. More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
But not everything in the world is so solemn. Some of it is beautifully silly, like this moment on the Conan show. Where a perfect man with turkey legs can wish things were different.
A member of my family who has been hospitalized for two months returned to her apartment in Lima, Peru this week. She still requires help in many things, but the direction is clearly toward getting better. Those of us who have watched and waited at a distance are very grateful for the recovery she has made, and look forward to seeing her in person later this year.
There have been many times in this life of mine that I have been forcefully reminded of just how fragile a “normal” existence really is. And what a mistake it is to take any day for granted, when all it takes is a phone call to turn a sunny day into a tragic drama in which we are the players.
Sometimes the metaphor that occurs to me is the proverbial thin ice. Sometimes it is that of a marionette and all those strings it takes to keep matters going well. Drop even a single string and it’s a brand new day.
There are many differences between the adults and young of most species, including humans. Some of those differences allow archeologists to dig up a bone or two and tell us that it was that of the forearm of a twelve year-old girl who was helping make succotash when she temporarily lost her focus and became dinner for a passing predator. However, even if you are not an archeologist, or a scientist of any kind, when you have living examples of both groups in front of you, it is much easier.
For instance, children are often found at the top of things, where they dance and play and take great delight in the simple pleasures of climbing up there.
Adults, on the other hand, are often found at the bottom of things, looking up at those same children. They are quite content with having a more restricted view of the world as the tradeoff for not needing to gasp for breath, nurse a twisted ankle, or otherwise discommode themselves.
As we began one of our hikes in Goblin Valley , someone mentioned rattlesnakes and I told them not to worry as long as they had me with them on the walk. I had never ever seen a rattlesnake in the wild, I told them, so they could relax because the odds against such an encounter on our present hike were astronomical.
Until Tuesday, that is.
Right in the middle of the path where I positively could not miss it was a small rattlesnake, estimated to be around 15 inches in length, and on a sunny 50 degree day. Why it was not still in its burrow sleeping like a sensible snake should be at this time of year I don’t know, but there it was, shaking its few rattles and looking as menacing as anything can look when it is only a little over a foot long.
I am indebted to Neil Hurley for this photograph of the snake. I took one myself, but since mine was snapped only after I stopped running and was more than 200 yards away, there was some unfortunate loss of detail .
So I was very grateful that Neil kindly allowed me to use his pic here on the blog.
We treated the creature with the respect that it deserved, warned a group of Asian tourists behind us not to step on it, and went on our way. I can no longer say “never” when it comes to rattlesnakes in the wild. I am not a Crotalo–virginal hiker any more.
(Addendum: we identified this as a Hopi Rattlesnake. Are we correct?)
From The New Yorker
Rep. Lauren Boebert came to town and addressed a group at a local bar. Apparently when your supporters invite you to come talk to them it pretty much goes well, so the evening was a modest success. Of course she was packing a firearm, that is her raison d’être. If it were not for the imaginary issue of people trying to take all guns away from ordinary citizens she would still be slathering mayonnaise onto BLT sandwiches in her Rifle CO restaurant. (Which to my mind is a perfectly honorable job. I love BLTs.)
Rep. Boebert is an excellent example of why it was wrong to give women the vote and allow them to run for public office. She is a boob, and I am being generous here. I apologize to boobs in general if they feel slighted by my adding her name to their ranks. But, really, she is one of you.
Before anyone gets all fired up and writes me a letter or starts warming up a cauldron of tar, I believe that it was wrong to give men the vote as well. Everything has pretty much gone downhill since the Magna Carta, in my opinion. Back in the day a country might very well find itself with a stupid king, but everybody knew that and kept their counsel (and their heads) by being quiet about it and waiting for the next king down the line for things to get better. Sometimes it might take more than one change of sovereigns for improvement to come about, but being a serf was such a time-consuming and back-breaking sort of life that one barely noticed.
However, embarrassing as Boebert is, we are stuck with her at least until the 2022 elections, and perhaps beyond. After all, we are living in the same part of the world that went for Cluck 2:1 in the last election. And such a sad number, my friends, requires that a gigantic amount of poor judgment be present in a population.
Finally, a few more photos of people playing in a red desert. It is a spectacular place. It is a wilderness composed entirely of non-fluffy. There is an abundant shortage of soft places. There are few stumps of trees to sit on, but mostly rock to cradle one’s posterior. To a person like myself who grew up in Minnesota, a water-rich and green state if there ever was one, this is another planet. This is Mars. As Peter O’Toole’s character said in Lawrence of Arabia when asked what he liked about the desert: “It’s clean.”
The author Terry Tempest Williams has written beautifully about the Utah desert. She lives a couple of stone’s throws away from where we were.
In 1995, when the United States Congress was debating issues related to the Utah wilderness, Williams and writer Stephen Trimble edited the collection, Testimony: Writers Speak On Behalf of Utah Wilderness, an effort by twenty American writers to sway public policy. A copy of the book was given to every member of Congress. On 18 September 1996, President Bill Clinton at the dedication of the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, held up this book and said, “This made a difference.“
We’re on our first official “outing” of the year, spending a couple of days with Amy, Neil and family in southeastern Utah. Believe me when I tell you that there is ample room for humans to social distance in this part of the world. When we arrived on Sunday afternoon our families rendezvoused in Goblin Valley State Park, a surreal landscape if there ever was one. A world of red sandstone carved into fantastic shapes by wind and time. By the end of the day our (Robin’s and mine) feet were sore, our arms and legs were sore, our knees were well-scraped, and our hands and fingers were tired from grasping at the abrasive rock.
But our spirits were in good shape, so there was definitely that.
On Monday we took on exploring two of the many famous slot canyons of the San Rafael Swell nearby. These are new experiences for me, best described as a claustrophobic’s idea of a bassackwards way of spending a vacation. You walk into a maze where the visibility is mostly up and the walls keep crowding in on you until in places you can barely pass through. More red sandstone, more (very) close encounters with the earth. By the end of the day our (Robin’s and mine) feet were sore, our arms and legs were sore, our knees were well-scraped, and our hands and fingers were tired from grasping at the abrasive rock.
Wait … did I just repeat myself?
When we finally exited this bit of amazingness we had been scraping and clambering and trudging over some of the planet’s more interesting and bizarre landscape for about 9 miles. Every movement in any direction was now uncomfortable. Getting into the car required planning. Sitting in one position for more than 5 minutes produced a body that could not be restarted without earnest prodding. But those spirits … somehow, they never flagged.
Our basecamp for these modest expeditions was the hamlet of Hanksville, Utah. Population 219, elevation 4295 feet. It was a half hour’s drive south from Goblin Valley and the other activities described above. If you continued on in a southerly direction further down Highway 24 you would end up in less than an hour in the Lake Powell recreation area.
Hanksville has a couple of places to stay, including our residence which was named the Whispering Sands Motel. It is a basic sort of place, short on frills, definitely not an all-inclusive resort. But the rooms are clean, the beds were comfortable, everything that we needed worked, and the managers were the kind of people you are glad are in charge of your lodging. That is, there are strict and enforced rules about how a guest should behave. For instance, quiet hours start at 9:30, and if you make a nuisance of yourself you will be asked to leave and you will not get your money back, says the little sign on the door. Since Robin and I have mutually agreed to leave behind our days of trashing hotel rooms, we appreciated this concern for our present-day welfare.
Down the road from the Whispering Sands is Duke’s Slickrock Grill, which has some decent food to offer. The cafe is also a shrine to the actor John Wayne, with nearly everything on the menu either carrying the title of one of his movies, or something related. There are a few books for sale in the lobby, all related to Mr. Wayne as well.
A life-sized cutout of the man stands behind the bar.
It was the sort of place where you didn’t feel like mentioning that in general the official ‘Trinity’ was not Father, the “Duke,” and Holy Ghost.
Here are a handful of representative photos of the footsore survivors. There are many more of these pictures, and I feel that I must warn you that even the slightest evidence on your part of any interest in them may bring on the dreaded: “Here is every single picture that I took on my vacation, including double exposures, out-of-focus pics, stunningly boring repeats of the same scene with only the slightest of differences, et al.”
I don’t put a lot of car stuff on the blog, although I still have an academic interest in that world. A long time ago, I used to consider the outside appearance of my car as a direct extension of my persona, while the character of the exhaust note and the loud screeching sound that the tires made on a hot July afternoon when I hit the gas hard from a standing start were an important part of the music of life. Now, I look at a vehicle and I think: “How likely is it that this car will get me from Point A to Point B in one piece and without unnecessary delay? “
A totally utilitarian rather than a romantic viewpoint.
And that’s exactly where this Canoo pickup hits me. It’s not your usual macho machine found in that genre, with big engine, big bed, big tires, and a name like Raptor. It is instead a carpenter’s/plumber’s/architects/construction worker’s/rancher’s office on wheels. It’s a workspace that you can drive to the site. Or it’s a vehicle for an ordinary guy who likes to get outside and do his or her own thing.
It’s beautiful in concept. It is also bit bug-like in appearance, though, which won’t appeal to everyone. I don’t see the Confederate flag-flying crowd lining up to buy one, for instance. It will not rip up a peaceful Saturday night into proper cacophonic shreds. But I love what its designers have done, and it all makes me wish, just a little, that I needed this car.
I pity the populace of Paradise. Spring is starting to peep out, the air is becoming warmer, and the days noticeably longer and brighter. Vaccinations for Covid have proceeded at a very good and non-scandalous clip here in Colorado, making the streets not only sunnier and more attractive, but safer than they have been during the entire past year.
But now comes this bad news for these hopeful souls emerging blinking from their caves – Robin and I are now electrified. Tuesday we picked up our electric bicycles in Grand Junction, and we are about to hit the streets mounted as never before. Rest assured that as long as everyone on the sidewalks and pathways is prepared to leap out of our way and into the shrubbery at the sound of the warning bells mounted on our handlebars that they are safe, as we will not go out of our way to hit them.
The question becomes … why did we take this particular plunge? The answers can be found midway between our hips and feet. The knees are slowly going the ways that knees can go with time. Aches and pains and catchings and lockings and all of these many knee-type delights are becoming part of everyday life. So what is someone who loves bicycling to do but add an electric motor to assist in pedaling? It seems a logical response to Mother Nature’s plans, which are obviously meant to make life more difficult.
These vehicles are not like motor scooters, nor are they mopeds. The power kicks in only when you pedal, providing five different levels of boost, from just a tish to wow. With a modest effort on our part, that small engine can take us right up to twenty miles an hour and give us an assist for up to forty miles before the battery needs recharging.
I’ve also bought a new helmet to go with the new ride. I dunno, the vibe seems about right to me. This may be the time for some tats as well. What would you think of “Born To Be Wild” spread across my back?
(Naw, I didn’t think so either. It’s been done to death, and I doubt anyone would find me believable while I’m wearing my octogenarian disguise.)
When you go to YouTube these days you find a viewing salad that the site has thrown together for you based on what you’ve looked at in the past. Often these suggested videos are of the WTF variety. But recently they started sending me a series called “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” The first one starred this guy, Lou Charloff. Loved it.
The past couple of days we’ve had some serious winds here in the valley. On Tuesday night what sounded like a car hitting our house woke me, but it was just a blast of wind heralding a weather front moving in. But what a sound it had made.
Now I am not usually wakened by the weather outside our home. Often at breakfast Robin will ask “Dear, did you hear that tornado go through the back yard last night?” and my answer is always the same – “Tornado?” followed by “I didn’t hear a thing.” So this last episode was a role reversal of major proportions, where I woke and Robin didn’t. And not only did it rouse me from a sound sleep, but I found myself so completely awake that I had to get up and read for a while to quiet my mind.
The gale continued for an hour or so before it settled down to a milder whooshing. Poco was out there in the kitchen with me, because he doesn’t like weather dramas at all. His least favorite kind of day is a windy one. Snow, cold, light rains, blistering sun, he tolerates all of these. But let the breezes get above 20 mph and he stays indoors.
Maybe it has something with having one’s face only three inches from the ground that turns him into such a homebody, I don’t know. Cats are puzzles.
A small glitch occurred in our bathroom remodel. The contractor called out to me yesterday when he found himself in the middle of a dilemma. Here is the story.
I believed that I had purchased a new toilet with what is called a round bowl, as opposed to the other choice, which was an elongated bowl. The exterior of the box clearly stated “round.” But what came out of that box and that the honorable workman had just installed and seated was just as clearly “elongated.” The plastic seat itself was resolutely round, however, so we had a mismatch that a very small person could fall through.
Now these devices when still boxed weigh 100 pounds, and the idea of ripping out what had been done, trucking it back to the Home Depot, and then bringing home another god-awfully heavy box had little appeal for me. Also, I had no emotional investment in roundness vs. elongation. So I told Robin that longer was much better for the older male, and she went along with my admittedly weak story, although the look on her face was one of I know what you’re doing and not of happy acceptance.
Home Depot, however, was glad to provide gratis a new plastic seat that fit so much better, and now it’s on to better things. I doubt that when you come for a visit you will be much troubled by this new accommodation. But if you are, I apologize in advance.
Holy Cow, Batman, it was 65 degrees outside on Sunday. Robin and I went down to the river for our walk and there were people all over the place, acting as if they had as much right to be there as we did. Two small girls whizzed past us on electrified Razor scooters. These were not silent devices, sounding much as a hiveful of metal bees would buzzing inside a tin pail, which was a good thing since the girls’ control of the scooters was marginal and the noise at least gave one a chance to get out of the way.
Right in the middle of the park, surrounded by hundreds of unquiet folk, was a lone fly fisherman. He looked very serious about the whole thing, even though with all the clamor and movement above the water there was only a nano-chance that any trout would bother his fly at all. Any fish with half a brain would be hiding behind rocks and in watery crevices until we all left the area.
There was a small group of women on the softball diamond just tossing the ball around and hitting fungoes. They left and were immediately replaced by a dozen children going slightly nuts with all that room to maneuver in. There is something about an empty first base line that inspires people of all ages to run amok.
We found that over the winter a chunk of our hiking path along the riverside bluff had simply fallen away. Perhaps fifteen feet of the path along the edge of the cliff no longer existed. Had we been walking on it when it fell off, we would likely not have perished, but would have come to a stop a hundred feet down with more scratches and bruises than a person could ever want. The good news is that we were nowhere near the place when it happened.
Remember this aphorism, even if it doesn’t apply to you today: When you are a senior citizen you bruise faster and heal slower. Keeping this in mind will prevent scores of grunts and moans in the future.
An article in The New Yorker caught my eye this morning. It was discussing the possibility of a Civilian Climate Corps, modeled after the CCC of the Great Depression era. I think it sounds like a great idea, and this time it would not be just for men, but for women as well.
The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior, according to a paragraph buried in Joe Biden’s long executive order on climate change, had been directed to make plans for a Civilian Climate Corps, modelled on the Civilian Conservation Corps—the C.C.C.—of the nineteen-thirties. It would put underemployed Americans to work on projects intended “to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.”
The New Yorker, March 2021.
One of the reasons that the Republicans of another time hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal so much is that it was an example of big government that worked, and there were several great ideas that came out of this administration. One of them was the CCC.
The C.C.C. left a legacy of trees, trails, shelters, footbridges, picnic areas, and campgrounds in local, state, and national parks across the country. It had equally notable effects on the health and outlook of the men who served. Most were undernourished as well as unemployed when they signed up. They came home with muscles, tans, and, according to a letter sent to corps headquarters, in Washington, by a resident of Romeo, Colorado, an “erect carriage” that made them easy to pick out from the rest of the young male population.
The New Yorker, March 2021.
So when it comes time to sign up, I plan on being at the head of the line. That is, unless there is some sort of age-ist agenda in the proposals. While it is true that I can no longer shovel with the speed of a twenty year-old, once I have scooped up my ten pounds of dirt I am much smarter about where to put it. (An untested hypothesis, I admit)
From The New Yorker
I don’t know exactly when I began to harbor racist thoughts, but it was some time after I was nine years old. Because recently I was reminiscing about my ninth summer, when I would try to emulate my baseball heroes, and three of those heroes were Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, and Don Newcombe. I even had comic books starring those guys.
Of course I knew that they were black men, since I was not blind, but I didn’t care. The only important thing was that they played baseball and they were pros. Nothing else mattered. The racist societal poisons hadn’t filtered down to me as yet, to interfere with my dream of being able to grow up to pitch like Satchel Paige.
[BTW, I never did get that far. It turned out that I had an arm like a rubber noodle, my time running to first base was several seconds longer than it needed to be, and my best hits were generally foul balls. I also stayed resolutely white. One more set of dreams dashed … sighhhhhh.]
I know that it’s Sunday morning and you have a God-given right to be left alone … but here I am anyway. Let’s face it, you clicked on something to get here, so face up to your part in all this. Ever hear of folie a deux?
Folie a deux (‘madness for two’), also known as shared psychosis or shared delusional disorder, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief, and sometimes hallucinations, are transmitted from one individual to another.
First of all, here’s more on Dr. Seuss and taking books away, by Ross Douthat, a generally morose but occasionally thoughtful columnist. He thinks that liberals should care more about what is going on.
Another page in the movement toward alternate foods made of stuff we didn’t even know existed. For instance, do you know about the supremely hardy extremefungus from Yellowstone National Park that is taking off right now? You don’t? Your ignorance could stop right this minute, should you so choose. Up to you. But know this – there might be, right this minute, a fungus burger out there with your name on it.
From The New Yorker
One of Billie Holiday’s signature songs was Strange Fruit. Biography has a short piece about the song and how singing it probably shortened Holiday’s life, while it certainly impacted her career. A sad story of the bad things that bad men in government can do and of the power of music to frighten them.
If you’re up for it, here is the song, sung by Ms Holiday herself.
Yesterday Robin and I went out for lunch. Together. To a local BBQ joint. Both of us ordered a hamburger. It was delicious. But it had been … I don’t know … more than a year since we had done that? Without even trying, our consumption of red meat has fallen so far off that we are no longer even counted by the Beef Producers of America as existing humans. Purged from the rolls we have been.
Cutting down on ingestion of this product line has been made easier by the fact that this genre of foodstuffs is in the most expensive section of the grocery store. Our local City Market has two uniformed officers stationed at the “Beef” section, wearing full riot gear, intimidating dark glasses, and carrying AR-15s with the safety off. They have been trained not to answer questions from customers, much like the guards at Buckingham Palace. One of our pair of guards was recently indicted by the FBI for having played a role in the insurrection in Washington DC on January 6 of this year. He was seen clearly on video to be selling street tacos on the steps of the US Capitol. Apparently he has been charged with nourishing rioters who were engaged in the performance of a felony. It’s a test case and he is being represented by the ACLU on first amendment grounds.
Because we are just down the highway from the ski town of Telluride, our food markets get a lot of trade from that economically advantaged population. Ergo, we actually have a small Wagyu beef section in our local store. Thus, although we live in the middle of ranch country we must import a proportion of our beef from Japan to feed those Tellurideans, whose palates are so refined that they cannot handle the Angus beef that is served to the hoi polloi here in Paradise. And who can blame them, really? Living among the ordinary folk is already quite a burden.
From The New Yorker
The entire national Republican Party has been rounded up this week and shipped off to a reeducation camp for group instruction and psychotherapy. In its present form the party has been declared a national menace by the Surgeon General, Dr. Windsock Carapace. Their symptoms include extreme moral turpitude, stage 4 mendacity, complete susceptibility to any and all conspiracy theories, and just plain being dumb as a load of fenceposts.
Dr. Carapace admits that this is a drastic measure: “But it was either that or have them put down. The nation can’t function with so many incompetents in the mix. Generally speaking, Congress will still work as long as the completely useless category does not get too high, but within the present-day Republican party we are at 96% and that is an unacceptable level.”
The nation’s chief doctor then added that once they have been rehabilitated, they will be neutered before being released. “Can’t be too careful where the national interest is concerned, we don’t want to be right back here in another generation,” said the esteemed physician.
Have I mentioned that we are in the throes of a small home remodeling? The bathroom off the master bedroom just wasn’t making us happy anymore, so we called upon our neighbor Ed to come to our rescue. Ed is a contractor who does this sort of thing, and is an interesting mix of characteristics that is rarely found in modern humans. He is reliable, honest, and highly skilled. Almost takes your breath away, doesn’t it?
It took a while to get the project started, but once Ed showed up it was get out of my way and let me work. We should be able to use the room in another four or five days, and until then Robin and I are sharing the small bathroom on the other side of the house that I normally employ. This is quite a small space, not the palatial one that Robin is accustomed to, being about the size of the typical phone booth (you remember those, n’est-ce pas?). It is so small that I cannot have a full bar of soap in the shower, but must cut them in half.
But Robin is nothing if not a game gal, and the only complaint that I have heard from her in this whole affair was one day earlier this week when a plaintive cry of “Why me, Lord?” could be heard through the bathroom door. I wasn’t quite sure which of many possible calamities she was bemoaning, and did not have the courage to ask.
It’s not all that often that I watch a movie that makes me feel that I am a better person for having viewed it. Of course, that isn’t really true, I am pretty much the same schlemiel today that I was before Robin and I streamed “Nomadland” Tuesday night, but my view of the world is just that much wider, more inclusive … maybe that is some small progress.
It’s a beautiful movie, starring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, and an interesting bunch of normal people (non-professional actors, that is). McDormand is soooo good, as always. It’s a small thing, but if there were an Olympic event called “smiling,” I believe that she would take home the gold every year.
The film is available on Hulu.
There is presently a small dustup in the world, one that can’t really compete with the big ones that rage all around us 24/7, but it’s interesting. A half-dozen of Dr. Seuss’ books are being quietly un-promoted, because they contain images that could, without too much imagination being required, be interpreted as racist.
There seems little doubt that Theodor Geisel (Seuss’ real name) harbored racist thoughts back in the early 1940s, and there is also quite a bit of evidence that he rejected those thoughts and writings later in life. This almost surgical excision of a part of his catalogue seems to recognize that even flawed people can produce worthwhile things, and throwing away everything that he’d written for those old errors would be a loss to us all. It also gives one hope that the belief in the possibility of redemption hasn’t gone away altogether.
We’re living in a time when figurative dunk tanks, burnings, and witch-hunts on social media are all over the place. Make a mistake sometime twenty years ago … fageddaboudit, you’re toast. This is not o.k. When there is only a single space between effusive acceptance and outraged rejection it is a hazardous time for those in the spotlights of the world.
It makes me so very glad that I am unimportant. No one is going through those old steamer trunks where my life’s words and actions are stored, looking for something to be furious about.
Writing the above reminded me of a scene from a movie that I saw as a child, when my grandfather Nels took me to the Time Theater in Kenyon, MN.
The film was Stars In My Crown. The main character was a small town minister in the Old West, whose congregation included the owner of a saloon. When one of his congregation’s elite confronted the preacher about accepting contributions from the saloonkeeper … it was the Devil’s money, said the concerned member.
“Yes, it is,” admitted the minister, “but just think of all God’s work that I am going to do with it.”
One of the most reliable signs of Spring has always been the aroma of tens of thousands of pieces of dog poop that have been deposited around the town during the previous winter, thawing all at once. It’s unmistakable, the day when that happens. No matter how blue the sky or how warm the gentle breeze might be, the cloud of scent can be overwhelming, often driving one back indoors.
But we’ve kind of lost it, that day. And the culprit is the people who insist that dog owners carry those little plastic bags with them and pick up every single dropping within seconds of its being dropped. It is estimated that in Colorado, if it were not for people picking up after their beloved canines, the entire state would be covered in pup-doo to a depth of six inches within a single year. Such is the pervasiveness of dog ownership here in Paradise.
So one more piece of my life’s acquired knowledge has become useless to me, and I must consult calendars just like everybody else, to know when Spring has finally arrived. Bah.
When Robin and I planned to take a couple of days and go skiing on the Grand Mesa with Ally and Kyle, I did not see that as a challenge to the gods of winter at all. And when I wrote this on a blog post recently, I felt the same way.
The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with.
Apparently the gods saw things otherwise.
When Ally and Kyle arrived on the Mesa last Friday it was 35 degrees and blue skies, and they had a fine afternoon XC skiing and exploring. Later in the evening they bunked down in the cabin we had rented together at the Grand Mesa Lodge, Cabin #15 to be exact. Then some sort of bottom fell out of the weather during the night, and when Robin and I showed up at the cabin the next morning (Saturday) the temperature was 8 degrees and a bitter wind was blowing in your face no matter which way you turned.
But we were there to have fun, even if it meant the possible loss of body parts to frostbite in the process. Our first stop was at some sled dog races that were being held just a few miles from the lodge. Cold people, cold canines, red cheeks, white noses, and only one trailer selling hot beverages. We spent an hour or two watching the dogs, all the while stamping our feet in a brave but fruitless attempt to restore circulation. From there we moved to the cross-country ski trail area and set off through the woods.
The snow was perfect. Four inches of powder on six feet of base. Originally I had plotted out a four mile loop, but our quartet voted very quickly to cut that distance in half, “then we’ll see if we want to do any more after that.” We didn’t. At that point it was back to the cabin to warm up, sip a little coffee, and look out the window at the abundance of snow that the Mesa had to offer. Later in the afternoon Ally and Kyle headed back to Steamboat Springs, and at suppertime Robin and I went up to the lodge where the menu in the restaurant was basically pizza. It was an excellent home-made pie, however, and we finished it up and then licked the plate afterward.
Not wanting to brave the weather any more that day, we turned in early. When we awoke Sunday morning, the temp was eight degrees below zero. Now I know that some of you in the Midwest have learned to love those sorts of temperatures, but Robin and I were not emotionally prepared for them, nor had I brought along nearly enough warm clothing to go playing in a freezer. So we scratched our original itinerary and returned home a few hours early.
If it hadn’t been so frigid, though, what a landscape was up there to be explored! More beautiful snow than anyone could ever want. Too brilliantly white to look at in the sunlight without eye protection. Aspens, evergreens, iced-over lakes, and a serious shortage of the scars of civilization. It is true that there were areas where snowmobilers were blasting about with their malodorous machines, but it wan’t too hard to get away from their noise. And left to itself, a snowy landscape is one of the quietest there is.
Cabin # 15 Review
The cabin had originally been built in the late 1890s, but for some reason the original structure was taken down and a “new” one built with the same logs, in 1939. Its outstanding feature in 2021 was its slanting floor. The footing sloped in several directions making walking about the room interesting. On a shelf in the cabin was one of those notebooks where guests are invited to write a few words about their visit. The last entry was just a week before we arrived, where a gentleman offered these words of caution:
You are advised not to drink alcohol during your stay, because it is hard enough to walk here while sober.
There was a metal-framed futon in the main room, whose mattress did not do nearly enough to protect one’s posterior from the metal slats of the frame. The sitting surface was only inches from the floor, which meant that each time you were moved to sit down, there was no contact where you expected it to be, and a moment of panic until you finally crashed onto the thinly covered slats.
We found four chairs at the small table in the kitchen area, of the wobbly and untrustworthy plastic variety often found in tall stacks at Home Depot. However, if one moved slowly and didn’t wiggle excessively, the chairs did not collapse.
Kitchen facilities were more than adequate, with a good refrigerator, nice gas stove, and newer countertop and sink. Heat for the building was a large propane space heater on the front wall of the room. With the miserable outdoor temperatures we found ourselves dealing with, that heater never had a moment’s rest.
To get upstairs to the dormitory area, you climbed a very old-fashioned stairway of the kind that was common in Thomas Jefferson’s day. The angle of the staircase was 60 degrees from horizontal, making it more like a ladder, actually. It wasn’t so hard going up, but coming down you needed to pick your way very carefully to avoid the unpleasantness that could come from a too-rapid descent. The wood of those steps had originally been rough-cut lumber, but 81 years of people going up and down had worn them to a shiny and slightly hazardous slipperiness.
The mattresses on the beds were comfortable, but all guests had been told to bring their own sleeping bags. In Covid times, it was felt safer all around to use one’s own bedding materials, apparently, and so we complied.
I liked the place, of course, in its quaint basic-ness. There was not a trace of elegance to be found. The wind found its way in through scores of cracks and gaps, and many of the furnishings were just barely adequate to their tasks. In this it resembled some fly-in fishing camps where I have stayed in the past. But the views out the windows were serene. All in all, I was glad that Cabin #15 was there for our use, even if I had a few quibbles. We were there only for a few hours, but the cabin had been there in one form or another for more than 100 years.
We took far fewer photos than we would have if it hadn’t been so cold. Here are the few we have.
Legislation has been introduced to ban the use of Native American mascot-ery in Colorado. If the bill goes through, our local Montrose Indians will have to find a new name for themselves or face stiff fines. It’s way past time for this, nest-ce pas? Way past. What is one to think of the mental processes of our European forefathers, who first did their best to kill off the Natives and their culture, and then later co-opted their images and names as examples of courage and resourcefulness. A truly amazing and cruel affront.
Television viewing suggestion: The limited series Pretend It’s A City is a hoot. Fran Lebowitz’ brain runs way faster by far than the average human’s does, and she is a superbly sharp-tongued curmudgeon. The lady is aided in this documentary program by her obvious fan and friend, Martin Scorsese. Each segment is less than half an hour, so take a look. It couldn’t hurt.
Here’s a sampling of the kind of stuff you might see if you tuned in.