Surface Area

Each summer there is a family that sets up a tent in a vacant lot across the street from Walgreen’s here in Montrose. They sell various items of produce, but there are two things in particular that we go there to buy when their season rolls around. One is peaches from the orchards near Palisade CO, the créme de la créme of that fruit available here in Paradise. The other is Mirai sweet corn which is, to coin a phrase, to die for. Both of these are special enough to be worth committing small crimes to obtain, if there is need.

For instance, if I were in line and I could see that there were only a handful of ears of Mirai left on any given day, and there was a sweet elderly lady using a walker in front of me, I would have no hesitation in telling the lady that the police wanted to talk to her out behind the tent, and while she was processing this information I would sneak around and cut in front of her. And I would have no problem sleeping at night, either.

Yesterday I went to the stand where I bagged up some of their produce and then turned to the young woman behind the cash register. I was not prepared for what I encountered, and nearly dropped my peaches. She was wearing one of those “peasant” blouses that lace up the front, the sort you might see at Renaissance Fairs and festivals. This was a very healthy woman of ample proportions and the garment’s fastenings were straining hard to maintain propriety. I estimate that a good 8% of her body surface area was exposed to view through those laces, and another 8% was threatening to break free at any moment.

I was able to successfully conclude the transaction by focussing firmly on a point between the woman’s eyes. My purchase made, I picked up my treasures and quickly took my leave as I found that a substantial line of gentlemen was forming behind me.

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From The New Yorker

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The roller-coaster that is our pandemic continues on. The Delta variant has made it a new ball game, masks are making a comeback, and even some of the benighted are starting to timidly say Get vaccinated to their gullible flocks.

There are comic aspects, if you look at it from a perspective that is slightly askew. Yesterday the governor of Alabama, who is of the Red Party persuasion, said that it’s time to put the blame for our present mess squarely where it belongs – on the shoulders of the unvaccinated. She failed to mention how lackluster her administration’s and her party’s performance in promoting vaccinations has been.

(It’s nice to be able to point fingers. I do it all the time. Very satisfying.)

Robin and I were signed up to man a voter registration booth at the local country fair next week, but yesterday received an email from the local Democratic Party chairperson that the drive has been called off. The booths were to be located at an indoor facility, and with the very large contingent of unvaccinated people in Montrose County he deemed it unsafe for us to hang out there. Case levels are rising here, just like everywhere else.

And that Alabama blame-shifter is quite right in one thing she said. The Covid virus is sticking around because it has that big bunch of unvaccinated folks to munch on. This has produced enough time for a group of dandy mutations to occur, with the Delta variant being the leader right now. This is what some viruses do. Mutate all the darn time. Covid-19 is one of those viruses.

If we can’t get more people to do the right thing and get their vaccine doses, there will always be new variants to consider. It’s just about inevitable. We’re certainly not back to Square One, but, if you crane your neck, stand on your tiptoes, and the light is just right, you can see it from here.

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From The New Yorker

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Friday morning we were out the door and trying out a hike that was new to us, the Fall Creek Trail. You get there by going east on Highway 50 to the Little Cimarron Road, turning right, and then going 14 miles up the gravel to a dead end. The trail begins there.

We were planning on taking it easy because Robin’s knees have been troublesome recently, and only went in a couple of miles before turning around. It was one beautiful valley setting after another as we followed the creek upstream.

The hike was mostly gentle walking, which made the 11,000 feet in altitude easier to handle. Along the way we ran into a light rain, which you can see threatening us in the photo.We saw no other hikers this day. It’s really not hard to avoid the crowds when you follow the less “famous” paths. There are lots of those around here.

The Fall Creek valley turned out to be a lovely, special place, and we resolved to return with backpacks next time. Just to hike up a couple of miles and hang out for a day or two. Solitude plus.

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Lastly, this has happened twice in the past week, and no one in town knows what to think of it. You are in the middle of one of those blasting-furnace days that this summer has produced in abundance, and suddenly it cools and water falls from the sky.

Has this happened to anyone else out there? Is this what rain looks like? Let me know. We who dwell in an arid Paradise are puzzled.

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The Buzz

I’ve got a little project going in the back yard that had been going swimmingly until last evening. We have a large and aging wooden deck back there that needs to go away. Time and our pitiless sun have had their way with it, and we now have other plans for the space it occupies.

While waiting for the construction crew to come and build something new and more useful, I decided to take the old one apart. Nothing much to it but removing a few thousand deck screws and stacking the boards to be hauled away later, says I, and I went at it with all the fervor I could muster in our 90+ degree weather. My approach was to take one board off at a time, then take a time-out while sitting in the shade with a glass of cold water. It was all quite pleasant, actually. Like doing actual work, but in slow-motion.

One potential problem was that a population of yellowjackets also claimed ownership of the decking, and had been using its underside to build their nests on for years. So as I began to disassemble the thing, they would come up in squadrons and look around to see who was making all the fuss. For some reason, I wasn’t being picked up on their radar, and was able to keep working for several days without needing to pay them much attention as they buzzed around me.

This is a yellowjacket. While it looks intense, this is not the end of the insect that is most bothersome.

Until last night, that is, when I disturbed a particularly cranky bunch of them, and before you could say ouch damn ouch damn ouch damn ouch damn, I was stung four times. At that point the Buddhist in me took a seat, and a vengeful Northman came out with a battle-axe in one hand and a can of Raid in the other and I am ashamed to report that those yellowjackets are now in insect paradise. My karma definitely took a hit right there.

So now I will work on the project only in the cool of the day, when these little devils are less active and less aggressive. Of course I knew better from the beginning, but when has that ever stopped me?

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Looking back on the past 18 months, I have a little trouble coming up with a long gratitude list, but toward the top of it is a computer app – Zoom. This bunch of ones and zeroes came into our lives from out of nowhere, it seemed, and suddenly we were “Zooming” as if our lives depended on it, which to some extent was true.

I found it an improvement over FaceTime, principally in its ease of use, and millions of us must have felt the same way because the number of users took off like a rocket. Soon, Zooming had become a verb, and since I was too cheap to pay for even the first level upgrade, I found that it wasn’t too tough limiting my conversations to the 45 minutes or so that I got for free.

Zoom, a 10-year-old company based in San Jose, California, has been one of the pandemic’s biggest success stories.   Just two years ago, the company was valued at almost $16 billion. Its market cap has since swelled to reach about $106.7 billion.

CNN Business July 19, 2021

Robin was a lot more creative than I was, and early on she was attending book clubs, church “coffee hours,” grandchild play sessions, and more, and all of these on Zoom. Some of these habits will likely persist into the post-pandemic era, whenever that arrives. It’s just that easy to do.

I am presently reading a history of the influenza pandemic of 1918, and what a scary time that was. The severity of the disease, the rapidity with which it spread, and the obscene mortality rates make our present situation look rather tame by comparison. And those poor folks didn’t have Zoom with which to keep in touch. (Although when the carts are rumbling through the city streets while the drivers call out “Bring out your dead” you probably wouldn’t be conferencing much, anyway.)

A town about an hour’s drive from Montrose, Gunnison CO, had no cases of influenza because they took the disease seriously from the beginning. This is in contrast to our present situation, where a local population of ignoramuses have stood in the way of making proper progress against Covid-19. Look at these numbers and imagine what your town or locality could have done this past year … if it had the collective cojones to do the right thing.

  • Type of Site: Mountain town and county.
  • Population: 1,329 in town; 5,590 in Gunnison County.
  • Pop. Density: 414 pp./sq mi in town; 1.8 ppl./sq. mi in county.
  • Geographical Considerations: Gunnison was a small mountain town, far removed from Colorado’s major population centers, but on a major rail line.
  • Influenza Cases: 0 in town; 2 in county.
  • Influenza Deaths: 0 in town; 1 in county.
  • First Reported Case: Uncertain, but late October/early November.
  • NPI Implemented: protective sequestration with barricades of roads; rail travel restricted; quarantine of arrivals to county; isolation of suspected cases; closure of schools; prohibition on public gatherings (as per state law).

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Taken individually these infernally hot days we’ve been living with since the end of May are beautiful. There has been more than enough sunshine for any outdoor activity to be a success. That is, if it weren’t for the fact that half of the attendees often require medical attention for heat prostration.

For whatever reason thinking about this string of outwardly lovely scorchers a couple of nights ago brought to the surface of the clutter that is my mind the poem title “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” (Translation = the beautiful lady without mercy). It’s a poem about a knight who is seduced by a pale faery and is left to perish of medieval languor, which is by all accounts the worst sort of languor to have. Fortunately, as centuries have gone by there are fewer and fewer cases of this condition, because it is incurable. And boring as well. Really, if a pallid and droopy knight were hanging around and every time he opened his mouth he went on interminably about his encounter with this wonderful faery … well … wouldn’t you lose interest pretty quickly? And pretty soon start faking phone calls from a dying relative who needed you right then? I know I would.

(Of course, I lose interest awfully fast whenever the topic of conversation veers away from talking about me and my fascinating life, no matter who is doing the veering. So there is that.)

I reproduce the poem here for your edification and entertainment. But be careful in your reading … if you notice any signs of mournfulness or lassitude creeping into your soul while going through the stanzas … stop reading immediately, lest you become the latest victim of this ancient femme fatale.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

by John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing!

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful, a fairy’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—’La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

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Our Cup Runneth Over

My friends, and I count all of you among this group, I am saddened to tell you this, but Colorado is apparently full. Last weekend Robin and I went to Silverton for a day trip, and on entering the Bent Elbow restaurant, we were greeted by a sign that told us that we would likely have to wait longer for our food because they couldn’t find enough wait-staff to hire because “people don’t want to work any more.”

That’s a little bit o’whininess on management’s part, to be sure, and may have something to do with the salaries being offered, but who knows? Lots of people all over our sometimes puzzling country are not returning to their old jobs, in droves.

In this part of the state many businesses are having trouble finding workers, especially in the service industries. Help Wanted signs are visible in shop windows everywhere. At the same time, the wildest dreams of the state’s tourism agencies of attracting more people to the mountains have come true, and travelers are flooding the towns, campgrounds, and trails to an extent not seen before. It’s a perfect example of being careful what you wish for.

So we are dealing with more people and more cars, but at the same time there are fewer folks to bring us our food, tuck us in at night and put that little mint on our pillow, or sell us yet another T-shirt guaranteed to shrink at least a size before you get it home.

In other words, we’re full, and while the mountains have not shrunk and (most of) the streams have not run dry, a visitor may not find the serene paradise they were seeking. Maybe next Fall, or next year … you could try then.

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On Wednesday Robin and I attended a Zoom meeting on how to do voter registration. We have volunteered to take a shift in a voter registration kiosk at the local county fair in a couple of weeks, and this session was training for that. Turns out that it’s a bit more complicated than smiling and handing out a form, but we think we can handle the details.

With all the ugly voter-suppressive things that Republicans are doing in many states, whatever we can do to help improve voter turnout seems to us more important than ever. This, even though Colorado is sort of a dream state when it comes to the election ritual. Here every registered voter is sent a ballot which you can either return by mail, or you can carry it to a special ballot box and drop it in, or you can take it with you and stand in a line on election day to vote in person. Most people take the mail-in option. No fuss, no muss, no scandals.

Also this year we can register sixteen year-olds. If they turn seventeen before the next primary, they can then vote in the primary. If they turn eighteen before the next election, they can vote in that. Lastly, if you are a felon and not presently in a lockup, you are allowed to vote now. Robin and I admire the Colorado system, and feel privileged to support it in our small way.

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Here’s a piece that is all about David Brooks being thoughtful, and he does thoughtful better than most people. Title: The American Identity Crisis.

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There are two threads playing out in the media right now that have to do with the Catholic Church. One is the discovery of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unmarked graves of children at former reservation “schools” that were operated by the Church in Canada. These sad and lonely interments represent still more examples of the damage visited upon kids by the representatives of the Church over the past century. In this case, their cooperation with the Canadian government in the ugliness that was the attempt to blot out the cultures of the indigenous peoples in that country.

The second thread is this: Should Joe Biden, or any other Catholic public official who supports women in their struggle for rights over their own bodies, be denied communion? A group of conservative bishops is pushing this as their agenda.

It strains belief, watching these two stories play out. If there is any institution in America with less moral credibility right now than the official Church, I don’t know what it would be. So to watch these bishops thundering about moral rectitude and who is pure enough to be allowed at the altar rail is to watch yet another act in a play that is the very embodiment of cynical.

Children at the Kamloops residential school in Canada in 1931, where 215 unmarked graves have been found.

There are other venues where Mr. Biden could take communion, perhaps he should explore one of these.

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Because I watch the world of fashion as closely as I do, it has been obvious for a long time that one of my favorite garments of all time is held in very low regard. A garment that I had waited for all my life without knowing it until I owned my first pair and discovered how eminently useful they were.

Of course I am speaking of cargo shorts. Here are examples of the scorn that has been heaped upon this item of clothing and its wearers. (BTW, I said that I watch fashion, I didn’t say that I wore it)

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On our Saturday morning bike ride, I saw a bird species that was new to me, Gambel’s Quail. It was standing in the middle of the road up ahead of me, and at first I thought it was a mourning dove, it being slender and about that size. But when I got closer, that feather in its cap and its coloration identified it as a quail of some sort, but making a real ID meant getting home where my field manuals were.

The quail are only 10 inches long when fully mature, and as you can see in the photo (not mine), they are beautiful birds. They like the kind of desert scrub we were pedaling through when we saw them.

I say “them” because about a quarter-mile further along the same road there was a hen with a dozen chicks, each no bigger than a marshmallow.

So, two sightings on the same day. SCORE!

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Uniform = Homogeneous

When I went into the U.S. Air Force in the summer of 1969, I was assigned to Offutt AFB near Omaha NE. At the base I took the place of a physician who had been my chief resident when I was in pediatric training. I also bought his uniforms at a significantly reduced price, since we wore the same size and he couldn’t wait to get out of town. Wearing a uniform was one of the things that I enjoyed about Air Force life. It was much like having a valet who picked out each day what I was going to wear, relieving me of that tedious duty. I would simply get up and put on clothing exactly like what I wore the day before.

Twice yearly this outfit (summer/winter) changed, and I was told when that happened as well. There were never any worries when I got to work that I would not be dressed appropriately, or that somebody else would outshine me in the couture department. We all had the same valet.

I don’t think that I need to tell you that I looked magnificent in my blue uniform, with its single decoration, which was a Viet Nam service ribbon on my chest that indicated that there was a war going on somewhere in the world, even though I wasn’t in it. Rumor has it that our enemies quailed, yes, quailed, whenever they were shown my photograph during the time that I was on active duty. Such a powerful adversary as this, they were told … was typical of the U.S. armed forces.

Viet Nam service ribbon

I quickly learned all of the military courtesies needed when walking about outdoors. If I met someone who outranked me I would whip out a snappy salute and say “Good day, sir.” If that person was of the same rank that I was, a salute and “Good morning” were all that was needed. If they were subordinates, I would return their salute with a firm “Good morning, underling.” No undue familiarity here. I was an officer, and there were distances to maintain. After all, one day in the future in our Pediatric Clinic I might have to send one of those people into a room where they would face a furious two year-old with a mouthful of new and razor-sharp teeth. Without proper discipline being maintained, they might very well just tell me to take the proverbial hike.

The other thing that I liked about being in the service was lunchtime. There were 42 physicians stationed at the base hospital. Thirty-nine of them were draftees like myself. The other three were Air Force careerists. Each weekday at noon we draftees brought our bag lunches to the lunchroom, where between bites of tuna and egg salad sandwiches we complained steadily for the entire hour about being in the armed forces. Every weekday. What a joy those sessions were, 39 malcontents kvetching to their heart’s content. I’d never been so happy, nor felt such kinship with such a large group.

One day a family doctor named Merritt wasn’t there for lunch, and I asked if anyone had seen him. Merritt was the only black physician in our group, and one of the most creative of all of us in describing his disenchantments with military life. Several of the others present developed troubled looks on their faces, and finally George the neurologist related this tale.

Merritt was working a shift in the Emergency Room the night before, when a master sergeant brought in his wife to be seen, a woman who was ill with complaints of a gynecologic nature. The couple was ushered into a room, and Merritt took a careful history. Then he said that he would leave the room so that the patient could undress for an examination.

At that point the lady’s husband rose from his chair, obviously angry, and announced to all present that “No black bastard is going to touch …” He never finished his sentence due to the fact that Merritt hit him with what was described by onlookers as a first class right cross.

Now this set off a kerfuffle, to be sure. While an officer may be able to order a man into battle, where any number of bad things could happen to him, that same officer is not allowed to punch out that subordinate. Not in an emergency room. Not in Nebraska. Merritt was now eligible for a court-martial.

On the other hand, a sergeant is not allowed to call an officer a “black bastard,” either. Just think of what might happen if servicemen and women were allowed to express themselves this freely toward their superiors. It’s pretty much a certainty that discipline would collapse, and it wouldn’t be long before we’d have generals needing to get their own damn cars from the damn motor pool. No, no, couldn’t have that.

The exact details of what compromise was eventually worked out were never revealed, but Merritt was never court-martialed, and he finished the rest of his two years in the USAF without knocking any more people to the floor.

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From The New Yorker

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Last Friday evening was the first time since Covid hit the country running that Robin and I had gone out to a theater, actually a community playhouse. The Evans’ had graciously invited us to have dinner at their home and then go with them to a performance of “Mash.” Dinner was delicious and the performance … well … how can you go wrong with rehashing a story so well known and so beloved. It was like looking at family videos.

“Hey there’s Hawkeye, and Trapper, and Hot Lips, and Col. Blake, and what the heck is Radar doing over there?”

The actors did a fine job, the audience laughed when they were meant to laugh, and there was just the right amount of coolness in that auditorium on an 85 degree night outside.

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If you own a cat, sooner or later someone will refer to you as “a cat person.” This doesn’t happen with canine owners. They just own dogs. I have no idea why there is this difference in terminology, or what it means. Not knowing what I am talking about, however, has never stopped me from giving my opinions on a subject.

It is as if appreciating what interesting creatures members of the cat family can be automatically makes one a member of a suspicious subset of humans. This because the “normal,” of course, is to prefer the company of animals that slaver on carpets and floors, eat the arms from your sofa, try to have intercourse with your legs, and have such poor toilet habits that their owners cannot walk them about town without carrying the paraphernalia needed to pick up their poop. Which they then have to carry home.

I will mention here that I have owned several dogs in my lifetime, many of which had an unfortunate genetic trait that caused them to ignore the reality of automobiles, thus shortening their lives considerably. I have also owned gerbils, hamsters, turtles, lizards, mice, several species of tropical fish, parakeets, a horse … but no one has ever named me after one of these creatures.

It happens only with cats. Personally I suspect that people who use this phrase may have a variant of ailurophobia, or fear of felines. Since it’s an irrational thing (except in the case of uncaged lions, tigers, leopards, and the like when they are in the room with you) such people would not be able to understand why those who don’t have the fear would keep them around at all.

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Tried something that was new to me in the food department, and loved it. I saw the recipe in the NYTimes one morning, and had it for lunch that same day. It is an Afghan cold soup, made from a mixture of buttermilk and yogurt to which you add just a few ingredients. We always have kefir around the house, so I used that instead of buttermilk, and since one of the ingredients called for was Persian cucumbers, we had to substitute another variety. (although later I discovered that the “mini” cucumbers sold at City Market were called “Persian” elsewhere.)

But here is the original recipe, in case your interest has been piqued. Chilled Buttermilk Cucumber Soup

(I know that a recipe entitled “Afghan cold soup” doesn’t sound attractive to many in the Norwegian-American contingent of Minnesota, my beloved home state. I am talking about the people who have only two seasonings – salt and pepper – in their cupboards and think that Tabasco sauce is something you use to play tricks on others, where you pour it onto their food unobserved and then sit back gleefully to watch them suffer. Some of these folks are developing more venturesome palates these days. At least that is what I hear.)

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Snap.

I have been an admirer of photography since the Civil War, which occurred during my formative years. I remember as a child listening to men newly furloughed from the front sitting on the porch on a summer’s evening and singing “Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground.” Very moving.

But I digress already.

Matthew Brady’s photographs brought to life that dusty and bloody time in a way that reams of written words could not. They were all stills, of course, and the pix could be divided into basically two sets. The living were in one group of photographs, and the dead in another. There were lots of dead, as it turned out, to serve as subjects. Somewhere between 620,000 to 750,000 of them.

The dead at Antietam

But I’m not talking about that war, as important as it was, I’m talking about taking pictures. Now I am going to divide (we anal-compulsives do so love to organize) the photographic universe into two groups for this purpose. One huge group is People With Cameras, the other much smaller contingent is True Photographers. True Photographers are folks like Jim Brandenburg, a personal favorite of mine. These men and women are artists who fully understand their instrument and what the interplay of light and darkness and color can do. They know in advance what they want in a particular photograph, and then arrange the world (or wait for the world to arrange itself) to take the pic.

Brandenburg had been so successful in his work that a few years ago he set himself a challenge. For ninety days he would allow himself to take only one picture per day. At the end of that time he would collect those photos and publish them in a book. The book was Chased By The Light.

It contains ninety photographs of such beauty and artistry that if I had taken any one of them I would be showing it off to every person I met from that day forward. I would have it blown up as big as it could reasonably get and plant it over the fireplace. I would use it as my Christmas card picture. There would be T-shirts.

Jim Brandenburg

I would do all these things because I am in that larger bunch, that of People With Cameras. Every once in a great while I take a photo that is special, at least to me. But between these rarities there are a whole lot of not-so-special ones. My talent, if you can call it that, is to at least recognize those moments when quite by accident I am standing in a place where if I can just get my camera out there is a worthwhile picture to be taken right there in front of me. It’s the stumble across school of photography rather than a planned and/or truly creative one.

The digital camera has been a boon to people in my category. We can snap away like the bozos that we are and later sort through the resultant mess for one that has value, at least in our own eyes. It’s like panning for gold, where you can go many days without finding a single small nugget. The cost of all this “wasteful” snapping is minimal, since we are freed by technology from the need to pay for photographic film and its processing.

(We can also check each bunch of pics instantly if we so choose, and go on to take another hundred if we don’t find one we like. It ain’t an elegant or uplifting approach, and that’s a fact, Jack.)

One of those nuggets was today’s header photograph. Robin and I had traveled to Lima, Peru to visit daughter Maja, and we were staying with her at her apartment, along with granddaughter Elsa. One evening toward sunset Elsa and Robin were standing at the apartment window and looking out at the Pacific Ocean while they talked quietly together. Where they were standing was in front of a bamboo curtain, with part of the window completely open to view and part obscured. It was those silhouettes that caught my eye. Later when I studied the pic I liked it because while I knew both of the people in the photo, it could also have been of any two persons on the planet, as there were no faces seen. So what appealed to me was that the photo was both specific and universal at the same time.

A greatest boon to People With Cameras has been the smartphone. Since millions upon millions of us have decided that we are so important that we must be in constant contact with the rest of the world and carry a communications device with us wherever we go, and since the manufacturers of these tools have developed surprisingly good “cameras” to add to these phones as apps, the sound of snapping pics is now the background white noise of our times.

Selfie, anyone?

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From The New Yorker

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I’ve been thinking deep thoughts lately, and have come to sort of a plan. I have embraced Buddhism, as I may have mentioned, but there is that nagging little thing going on in my head … what if any of those other guys were right? Guys like Jesus and Muhammad and Yahweh? What if instead of being one of the wisest people ever, Buddha was really just a guy who came out of the forest after a long fast and was so tired that he sat down under a bodhi tree to rest. A largish branch broke off that tree and as it fell to earth struck him a glancing blow. Not enough to do him in, mind you, but just enough to do some serious work on his thought processes.

So he wakes up and cries “I think I was struck by lightning!” And the other guys in the neighborhood thought he said “I’ve been enlightened!” and decided to go along with him rather than risk a confrontation.

But just in case I picked the wrong horse (wouldn’t be the first time) I have come up with this plan.

  • I will immediately stop doing anything that Christianity considers a sin. No drinking, no smoking, no telling fibs, no watching anything but PBS … nothing but behavior from now on that is so refined that it would give St. Augustine a chill.
  • I will also stop doing anything that Islam considers wrongful, because it appears to me that they have all the same sins that Christianity has and a whole raft of others of their own.
  • When it comes to Judaism, I’m not so sure of what to do. They have a different concept of sin, but I plan to consult both a rabbi and a yenta. Between the two of them we should be able to come up with something.

I think that in being proactive I will have my cosmologic bases covered and be squared away with a good shot at a comfortable eternity. I welcome suggestions for betterment of my plan.

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From The New Yorker

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On Friday we hit 100 degrees here in Paradise. Late that afternoon it was like smacking into a physical barrier each time I ventured out of an air-conditioned space, and I began to wilt immediately on each occasion that I did.

I know that others have worse weather than we do.

I don’t care.

I am ready for a whopping dose of moderation. Can we vote on this, or what?

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What would Sunday be without a sermonette? And here is a dandy, written by William Saroyan as the preface to his play “The Time of Your Life.”

In the time of your life, live – so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.

Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart.

Be the inferior of no man, nor of any men be superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret.

In the time of your life, live – so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.

William Saroyan: The Time of Your Life

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Note: the music today is all from the Civil War era. John Doe’s voice on “Tenting Tonight” sounds little changed from the time when he fronted the punk band “X.”

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Losing My Mind Gracefully

There are some positive things about addictions. In the early days of exposure to whatever substance eventually turns out to want to kill you and everything you love, either it’s fun or it raises your spirits in some way or who would do it? But day by day the hook grows until maybe you find your sorry self at an AA or NA meeting, your life much the worse for wear and you hoping that there is something or someone in that room that will save you.

Well, there is such a person, you learn, and it turns out to be you. The other members of the club can support, they can exhort, they can point you toward some helpful truths. But you have learn how to find your own path and then to walk it.

One of those helpful truths is that you do have a very real enemy. Something powerful enough that if you don’t learn to deal with it you are very likely to make your way right back into the swamp you just left . And that is resentment.

Now who doesn’t have a few of those? I know that I did, and some of them were doozies. I liked them, I thought I had earned them, and sitting around with a glass in my hand and nursing the very heck out of them was not an altogether unpleasant thing to do. Plotting perfect revenges, how to make the offender pay one day … my, my, what a seductive hobby that was. While at some point that I sensed that alcohol was doing a number on me I never saw what resentments were doing and how they fit into the picture.

“Resentment is like taking poison and then waiting for the other person to die.”

Malachy McCourt

Learning to let go of resentments offered the chance to free myself from a potentially endless cycle of hate and anger and corrosion of my spirit. I could then use those energies for something better, much better. Like staying sober, for instance. Like being happier. Like becoming a full-on human being either again or for the first time.

These days, I no longer need that drawer I used to keep my resentments in. As soon as I discover one growing in a corner of my mind, I do what I need to pluck it out. I no longer have time to play with them … zero tolerance. BTW – none of this is for the resent-ee’s benefit, because they don’t even know what I am thinking and feeling. It’s all about me.

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Here’s one of the unsolvable problems of life. For every musical artist that I come to love and appreciate, I know that there are tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of equally talented people that I never get to hear. Once in a great while the name of one of those artists will surface, which is what happened today. The NY Times ran a piece about a slide guitarist/vocalist named Ellen Mcilwaine that was so intriguing I had to go listen to some of her stuff.

Exciting playing, powerful voice. Unfortunately, the piece in the Times was an obituary, so I’ve missed my chance to support her endeavors, but not the chance to admire her talent and take pleasure from what she’s recorded.

With all that she had going for her, the obit mentions that she augmented her income in the last several years of her life by driving a school bus. Not every good deed is rewarded in this life of ours.

I would love to have seen her in concert. Those songs over there are some kick-ass tunes for certain.

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My son Jonnie never cared for the blues. To him it was the boring and endless repetition of the same chords, tune, and lyrics ad nauseam. I would answer that I felt the same way about the mindless and unimaginative punk-twaddle that he was listening to. As you can see we had some deep and respectful discussions regarding music. My “office” and the location of my computer was in the basement just outside his bedroom door, and after a couple of hours of hearing the Replacements and Husker Du, I often had to go upstairs to unclench my fingers and try to restore a normal personal heart rate. I have no blood pressure recordings taken at those times, but I’m pretty sure that they were incompatible with life.

It is the way of all things, no? I would have been sorta disappointed if Jonnie had slavishly adopted my likes and dislikes, but he chose to go to a different place entirely. A foreign country, musically … almost a different planet. Funny thing … some of those pieces that grated on me back then … I have come to a sort of deténte with them today. I’ve put one of those up for you in the Jukebox. It’s sung by one of the whiniest vocalists I’ve ever heard. But Blister In The Sun connects me with a young man I used to know, and that’s okay with me.

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Every once in a great while I run across a gif that grabs me. One that I can watch over and over, and almost be hypnotized by it. Here is one from the New Yorker that seems perfect for summertime (and someone who counts cats among his friends). I think it’s just plain lovely.

Now I’m not sure if there is a single building in Paradise with a fire escape like this that you can climb out onto with your book in order to get away from the stifling heat indoors. Doesn’t matter. Some places are a part of nearly everyone’s collective experience, archetypal.

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I marched in the 4th of July parade here in Paradise, which is a very low-key affair. Basically, if you have a motorized vehicle and a bit of bunting … you’re in! My flapping feet accompanied the Montrose County Democrats “float.” There were some predictable sour happenings along the route. A couple of guys who booed, the family of four who turned their backs to the float as it passed by, etc. But all in all it was a good thing and people were polite to one another.

All of this reminds me that I live in a conservative area, and that right now the conservatives are the magnet for the crazies. These are folks who live in the woodwork and come out in numbers only when encouraged.

Today such encouragement comes mostly from only one of our two major political parties. I will not name names except to say that it is not the Democrats.

Democrats are the epitome of honesty, propriety, purpose, conscience, and justice. If it were not for us the republic would not stand. God is on our side for sure.

Problem is, that is pretty much what the loonies believe as well.

There have been times when our Blue party attracted more than its share of disaffected nitwits. What I have to remember is that most people occupy a quiet middle ground, and want the same things that I do. Allowing myself to be distracted by the noisy contingent is a mistake. For every “Confederate” flag and “Don’t Tread On Me” banner, there are a thousand regular old American flags flown by regular old men and women who care a great deal about the mess we seem to be in. These are folks that I can work with and learn from.

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Rain … Old Testament Style

Our friends Elsa and Marc are back in Washington D.C. and busy with pulling up the last of their stakes before departing for Sweden. But there was one last adventure that occurred while they were staying with us that I have to append to what I wrote a few days ago.

It all started with deciding what to do on their last day in Montrose. Elsa had reinjured an ankle and Robin’s knees were plaguing her so that anything too vigorous was out of the question. But hey – how about hiking up one of the beautiful Dominguez Canyons? We’d done that many times before and they are easy walks, a gradual uphill going in and a gradual downhill coming back. A weather check promised basically sunny weather. Perfect!

I had talked our intrepid quartet into going up Little Dominguez Canyon this time, as Elsa had already hiked Big Dominguez Canyon. To do it you have to cross the shallow creeks, which is where the fun came in later on. Sunscreen was lathered on, daypacks were adjusted, boots were laced. We took beaucoup water with us, this being a desert walk and all, and off we went. Our endpoint for this journey was an abandoned settler’s cabin about three miles in. The plan included eating a trail lunch there before turning around and coming out.

But a clear sky quickly clouded up, and an occasional raindrop fell on us as we approached the cabin. Then came the thunder. My first thought was: “How cool if we were rained on, here in the desert. How rare is that?” The few raindrops became a steady patter and we moved under the eaves, which afforded some shelter.

Over the next ten minutes the rain intensified, and the thunder became a steady roaring. Finally we had a full-on cloudburst going, with a cold west wind blowing the rain horizontally and right through us. We moved to the eastern side of the building where we could move the Index of Miserability needle back to four from the chilly eight that it had become. I found a window that was loose and planned that if anyone began to show even the slightest sign of hypothermia we would break into the cabin (illegal, even in Colorado) to sit the storm out. But after forty minutes of this outstanding performance by Mother Nature, the rain stopped and the sun came back out. We then struck out for the return trip.

But what a changed landscape we faced! Across the valley we saw dozens of waterfalls on the cliff faces that hadn’t been there before. New creeks had appeared in the dry washes we passed hiking in, creeks that were deep enough and currents that were strong enough to pose obstacles. And then we came back to the Little Dominguez Creek. It had gone from a sleepy small stream that you could easily hop across to an impassable torrent that was now thirty feet wide. The ground underfoot was now a sandy mud in the places between the rocks.

On the return trip we moved more slowly as our boots were waterlogged and twice as heavy as when we walked in. We needed someplace safe to cross the creek, and walked up and down the shore of the stream looking for such a spot. The group was almost resigned to sitting on the banks and waiting out the hours it might take for the stream to subside when I decided to attempt a crossing at an area that looked halfway promising. I used my hiking poles and picked my sorry self across, the water up to my knees. But while it had looked intimidating, it all turned out to be completely do-able. When I was safely on the far side, Robin made her own crossing, and when she also was successful, we tossed our poles back across the creek to Elsa and Marc for them to use. In no time at all the four of us were heading away from the creek with no more water crossings to worry about.

The last part of the hike was tedious but otherwise unremarkable. A stop at the Dairy Queen in Delta on the drive home seemed the right thing to do, and we staggered in the door. Other customers present looked at our dirty and bedraggled selves and pulled their children closer in for safety. Finally, at long last we were home, rinsing the mud from both the outside and the inside of our boots, showering, and finding dry clothing to cover sore muscles and aching joints. The consensus was that we had spent the day having Type II fun.

Type I Fun – true fun, enjoyable while it’s happening and fun in the recollection.

Type II Fun – fun only in retrospect, hateful while it’s happening. But all those good stories to tell over future fires …

Type III Fun – not fun at all, not even in retrospect. As in, what the hell was I thinking!

Truth is, you never really know what sort of “fun” you’re getting yourself into when you start out. Our start was a sunny day with no bad weather predicted. It finished up with a downpour and flooding everywhere on the valley floor. There was one part of the adventure that was Type I fun all the way, at least for me. The sound of the thunder. Those cracks and explosions reverberating across the canyon were the kind of music that goes straight to the spirit. An awesome and fearsome symphony … we were so lucky to have experienced it.

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From The New Yorker

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Robin and I were sitting out on the back deck wasting time with each other, this being one of the most valuable things we do. We had some music going in the background and when “Boulder to Birmingham” began to play I went into full recollection mode. I first heard the song in 1975 when I was introduced to the beautiful voice of Emmylou Harris. That line – “I would walk all the way … “ has such loneliness in it, such a sense of loss. Listening is like walking in a shadowed corridor and hearing the whispered voice of someone you will not see again.

“Boulder to Birmingham” is a song written by Emmylou Harris and Bill Danoff which first appeared on Harris’s 1975 album Pieces of the Sky. It has served as something of a signature tune for the artist and recounts her feelings of grief in the years following the death of country rock star and mentor Gram Parsons. Early in her career, Harris toured with Gram Parsons and sang on his two solo albums GP and the posthumously released Grievous Angel. The song is known for its chorus “I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham/I would hold my life in his saving grace/I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham/If I thought I could see, I could see your face.” Harris did not write again about Parsons’ death in such a direct way until “The Road”, a track from her 2011 album Hard Bargain, although “Michaelangelo” from Red Dirt Girl certainly appears to be about Parsons too.

Wikipedia: Boulder to Birmingham

I think those three songs (and the decades between them) are one of the best testaments to the durability of love that I’ve ever encountered. It is a poorly kept secret that I admire Ms. Harris’ music greatly. Her catalog contains songs to match any moment, sentiment, or experience I’ve ever had. As I keep repeating, she is a class act.

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It was so pleasant looking across the table at my granddaughter these past days and thinking back on the times the circles of our lives have overlapped as in some fluid Venn diagram. I don’t recall exactly at what point in my life I realized that when I was looking at my children I was seeing them as they were at that moment and somehow as they had been all of their lives, at once. It turns out to be true for grandchildren as well.

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Life = Good

Well, I’ve been away. Robin, Elsa, Marc, and I have been camping at West Dolores Campground for the past several days. And while we had access to electricity, the internet is but a dream in the valley of the West Dolores River. Here’s how it went down.

On Sunday we rose early and took off down the road, stopping at Telluride for a couple hours to show Marc the town. Just a mile outside of Telluride we encountered a herd of about 100 elk, looking just as elk-y as anyone could want. The males had begun to show the 2021 version of their antlers. Telluride was a busy village indeed, with Covid masks being required almost nowhere and seen rarely. The famous free gondola was up and running once again, and of course we took the ride up and back. Who wouldn’t?

We then continued on to the campground and set things up. This place is about 2 1/2 hours from Montrose. That first afternoon, once camp chores were completed, we hiked to a small geyser up in the surrounding hills. It’s a modest thing that does not spurt into the sky a la Old Faithful, but only goes from a placid surface to a rough boil. Small, but interesting. And one can never get enough of the odor of hydrogen sulfide, can one?

We settled into sleep fairly early, Robin and I in the Sylvansport camper, while our guests were forced to sleep on the ground in our small backpacking tent. They had good sleeping mats and sleeping bags, however, so when the temp dipped to 51 degrees they were snug in there. Why give them the tent while we luxuriated in the camper? Let’s see … youth, suppleness, level of overall fitness … take your pick.

Next day we took a nine-mile round trip hike up to Navajo Lake, which was at an altitude of 11,300 feet. The walk to the lake was through a portion of the Lizard Head Wilderness, and gained 2000 feet of elevation in 4.5 miles, which is a very sturdy amount of gain. My personal quads had begun to burn by the time we reached the water’s edge and were perfectly aflame after the trip back down. Scenery was amazing as the path wound in and out of the forest and through one meadow after another. Wild flowers all over the place. I think we saw at least twenty species that were new to us, and for which we do not yet have names.

Tuesday turned out to be a rainy day, so we bundled up and drove to Mesa Verde National Park, which Marc had never seen. We were not alone there, with so many other visitors scooting around and using up more than their share of the available oxygen. (Tourists, sheesh! Honestly, why don’t these people stay home?) It was raining hard when we reached the town of Cortez on our way back to camp, so we took supper there. Call me a wimp, but I have never liked too much rainwater in my food. Maybe I’ll get over that one day, but I doubt it. Especially the bread … such a soggy proposition.

Wednesday it was returning to Montrose, and a few hours spent in the town of Ouray.

Even though there was some rain, and we had to often sit in wet camp chairs with their seats covered with plastic garbage bags, the campfire conversations in the evenings and mornings were excellent. Four friends, old and new, learning about one another while surrounded by some of Mother Nature’s best. There was never a sense of having to tread carefully in talking to Marc. Somehow it was as if we’d known him for years. He is smart, unpretentious, and witty. And it was a joy seeing Elsa once again … nearly two years since the last time. She is awfully well-traveled and has so many good stories to tell.

One more story. We had returned to camp on the day of our long hike, eaten supper, and were sitting around the fire ring where we had yet to build our campfire. The following conversation ensued:

Marc: Jon, can I ask you a question … for informational purposes?

Jon: Yes, of course

Marc: If I were to have to throw up, where would be a good place to do it?

Jon: Why, into the fire ring would be good, I suppose

At that point Marc stood up, stepped forward, and relieved himself into exactly that space of what looked like his entire dinner, after which he felt better. Our collective diagnosis was mild altitude sickness.

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Family Blotter

Justin and Jenny and their kids are making their first long eastern tour to touch family bases since their move to California earlier this year. First they spend a few days here in Montrose, then on to Steamboat Springs, Durango, Denver, and Sioux Falls. Lots of miles to cover with two children, although the kids do have movies to watch in the back seat of the family SUV.

Yesterday the six of us drove down to Lake Ridgway to hang out at the beach for a few hours, and the weather cooperated by not being so beastly hot, with good cloud cover and light breezes. Since Kaia and Leina had never been to a drive-in movie, we all trooped to the Star Drive-in towards evening and set up camp there for a couple of hours.

By then a light rain had started and the temp cooled down quickly. Our group huddled together on camp chairs set between our two vehicles to watch the show. There we were, layered up with hoodies on and car blankets wrapped around our bodies, slowly becoming hypothermic. After a while Robin and I noticed that everybody but us had moved into their vehicle, and we did the same. “Twas an adventure of sorts for the kids, it was.

There was an amusing happening during the day. After soaking at the beach, we decided to go for ice cream in the town of Ridgway at a fine little shop where the owner occasionally would create his own product using unusual flavors. Unfortunately we found the shop was closed for the day. Robin offered that we could instead to to Dunkin Donuts/Baskin-Robbins in Montrose, and off we went confident in our choice of Plan B.

But when we got there we found the store locked and this interesting sign in the window. We’re no experts on the subject, but it seemed to us that there was room for improvement in employee-management relations. We also agreed that it must have been a fresh action because if management had found the posted sign we wouldn’t have been reading it.

At that point we went to Plan C, where we returned home, dug a partially consumed container of ice cream out of the freezer, and were happy as clams.

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The Hurley family joined us for supper Thursday night, so we were ten at table. The table seats eight. So Robin and I took on the roles of our Norwegian grandmothers who never sat and ate with their guests, but sat in chairs away from the rest of the group and met those people’s needs as they arose.

More coffee?

More soup?

Here, I’ll get that.

No, I’m fine. I’ll eat later.

The three girl cousins (Claire, Kaia, Leina) went right at it and got into a gigglefest in Robin’s office area that never seemed to stop, except when they came out to chew on strawberry shortcake. Aiden has become a processing machine for food that requires constant stoking and he never strayed too far, basically locating his body between the table and the refrigerator for most of the night.

All in all the evening was delightful for all concerned except for our two cats, who had problems finding their space between the horde in the house and the canines in the backyard. They survived, however, and Poco got quite a bit of extra attention from Leina, who basically adopted him.

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Daughter Maja will be back on U.S. soil on July 7, to continue her recuperation. For a time she will be staying at her mother’s home, until she is ready to be completely independent. There will be no returning to Peru, a country that right now is up to its nostrils in Covid cases and some serious political unrest.

From her family’s standpoint, we’re glad that she will be at least reachable. Her medical journey is not over, but some speed bumps will now have been removed.

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Elsa and Marc arrive early Saturday afternoon to spend several days with us. We have planned to camp out for three nights starting Sunday, but wonder of wonders … it has been raining now for three days. No downpours, but short rains off and on all day, which can definitely affect the enjoyment one can derive from sitting outdoors in a camp chair in the mountains. Suddenly what was lovely to experience becomes something to be endured.

But, hey! That’s a problem for a day yet to be born. We could also be covered in sunshine the whole trip.

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Had a discussion late Saturday evening with Elsa and Mark. The basic question was: we know that Earth will survive the catastrophes that seem to be rolling down the road toward us, but how long will our species, homo sapiens, be a factor on this planet? We have created some amazing things but destroyed far too much. My own guess was less than a thousand years, maybe way less than half of that.

Once we humans are down to an insignificant number, the planet can get to the job of repair and renewal. A grim before-bedtime talk for sure. But the possibility of a different scenario rests, I think, on a serious and precipitous decrease in the level of dumbass in this beautiful world of ours. It could happen if we might be helped to see that our ‘enemy’ is not some other guy or group, but our collective behaviors. We need to give up the luxury of attacking one another and form a new “band of brothers” once again, as we did in 1941.

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One Hour Over Berlin

I have had a continuing fantasy for exactly as long as I have been driving a car. It came into being the first time I confronted a truly bad driver on the road. Someone who either endangered me or just plain p****d me off. I imagined that two 50-caliber machine guns were mounted on my car at bumper level, and that I could fire them with a button near the steering wheel. These were the same sort of armaments found on the P-51 Mustang aircraft in WWII.

By pushing that button I would never hit anyone in the cabin of the offending car in front of me, but the guns would be aimed so that a burst of fire would obliterate a tire and a rear wheel, forcing the vehicle to unceremoniously screech to the side of the road as I passed it nonchalantly. Perhaps I might even wear a leather flight jacket on these missions, with a scarf streaming behind me as I flew down the road. I was pretty sure that guns capable of bringing down a Messerschmitt 109 would have no trouble at all blowing the tire on a Chevvy Camaro to smithereens.

With the passage of time, my fantasy has become more civilized and less violent until nowadays I envision paintball guns mounted in the same place, and a sophisticated video control system that allows pinpoint aiming at whatever I want to mess up. When the offending driver reaches their destination, they discover that some serious clean-up is in order, perhaps even a complete re-painting of the rear of the car. Or I coat the rear window with something in a nice fuchsia to get their attention and make my point.

The theme is still the same, however. Someone has to punish these miscreants, and since one can’t always count on the highway patrol or local gendarmes to be on the scene, that someone might as well be me. It’s garden variety vigilante justice. As American as black powder and apple pie.

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My favorite musical instrument that I don’t play is the guitar.* Whether it’s Andres Segovia playing classical, Eddie Van Halen doing superhuman things in rock and roll, or Johnny Smith cruising along with his jazz quintet … the guitar is what I go there for. So when The New Yorker had an article on a jazz guitarist new to me, I whisked myself off to find recordings he had made. BTW, his name is Julian Lage.

It was well worth the trip. His playing is aimed more for the cerebrum than the hormonal system, I think. The man’s feeling for his instrument is a lovely thing to hear.

*Actually, I play no instrument at all. I have briefly owned several guitars in my lifetime, but always quit the lessons when my fingertips became sore. (What is the opposite of dedication?) I am glad, however, that Mr. Lage persisted in his studies.

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We recently bought some new panniers for our bicycles. They are the sort that are meant for carrying groceries, and I used them last evening for the first time. It went well. Driving the e-bike, I didn’t hesitate to take the four mile roundtrip in 98 degree weather to do the shopping. Hardly raised a sweat (relative humidity was in the single digits).

Each bag will carry the equivalent of what a paper grocery bag would hold, perhaps 20 pounds on each side. They are made by the Banjo Brothers, and this particular model is called the “market pannier.” The reviews were good, the price was not horrible (for bicycle equipment, that is), and they seem quite durable. I’ve put just short of 300 miles on my bike since purchasing it, about half of those were in exercise sessions, and the other half running the sort of errands where panniers come in handy.

All in all, this cycle project is working out better than I thought it might. My usual story is that I come up with an exuberantly positive rationale for a purchase like the e-bikes and associated paraphernalia, a rationale which is quickly forgotten once the item is in the garage and the rosy glow has worn off. For instance, when I discover that there is still work to do when one pedals the things.

But this one may have legs.

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Ahem. I’d like you to know that at the present moment I am playing Beethoven in the back yard. I have decided to try to elevate the musical conversation along the neighborhood’s back fences, and am sending out the strains of the “Pastorale” Symphony for all to hear and to wonder – who in blazes is playing this stuff? They might well be thinking: George, isn’t that the same guy who was playing that damned rock and roll when we were trying to take a nap yesterday? What is the matter with him? Why don’t you take this broom and go next door and smack him a couple of times?

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Magnolia, You Sweet Thing …

A small summer extra for this Sunday morning. J.J. Cale wrote an ode to someone special named Magnolia, and I have provided his excellent recording here.

But Lucinda Williams’ cover is just so perfect for listening to on a hot summer’s day that I had to send it along. Lucinda is at her mannered singing best, and sometimes even a super-fan like myself can’t understand what she’s saying. (That’s what lyric sheets are for, I guess) The backup band is outstanding, and the long musical breaks a joy to listen to. I can play it over and over, even though the recording is almost 10 minutes long and my attention span has been clocked by the U.S. Naval Observatory at 11.7 seconds.

It’s a sweet sweet version, and provides all the summer languor a person could possibly want, or handle.

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Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth, and I’m not even going to tell you when my ignorance about this topic ended, except that it was last year. Yes, I know that it’s hard to believe but I hadn’t heard of Black Independence Day, the Black National Anthem … or many similar important things, and even though I could blame others for those gaps in my knowledge base (blaming others being my go-to move), for a change I’m not going to do that. It’s a case of mea culpa all over the place, I’m afraid. Whenever Black History Month rolled around each year I skipped past most of those stories that were being told. Stories that I realize now that I needed to hear.

Way too often I was just another clueless white boy living in white boy la la land, untouched. So now I’m playing catch-up, and while I know that time is too short to make up for all that I might have learned and done in the past … you gotta start where you are, non?

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From The New Yorker

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In honor of the day here are six fine songs by a group called Our Native Daughters. Songs that touch on the experience of being black, played and sung by four excellent musicians, including (left to right) Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah.

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Moon Meets the Sun

When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing
When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing

You put the shackles on our feet
But we’re dancing
You steal our very tongue
But we’re dancing

Brown girl in the ring
Raise your voice and sing
Sing us solace
Sing us freedom
Hold us steady
Keep us breathing
We’ll endure this
You can’t stop us
And we’re dancing

You steal our children
But we’re dancing
You make us hate our very skin
But we’re dancing
We’re your sons
We’re your daughters
But you sell us
Down the river
May the God
That you gave us
Forgive you
Your trespasses
We’re survivors
You can’t stop us
And we’re dancing

When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing
When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing

Like the rabbit
We won’t bend to your will
Like the spider
The smallest will still prevail
The stories of our elders
We find comfort in these
We smile to the sky
We move to stay alive
And we’re dancing
You steal our work for your profit
But we’re dancing
You think our home we have forgotten
But we’re dancing

Step into the circle
Step into the ring
Raise your voice and sing
Sing freedom
Sing freedom
You can’t stop us now
You can’t keep us down
We’ll be dancing

When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing
When the day is done
The moon meets the sun
We’ll be dancing

You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now
You can’t keep us down
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t stop us now (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)
You can’t keep us down (We’ll be dancing)

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Here’s Rhiannon Giddens telling the story behind one of the songs. The tale and the tune are both harrowing and moving.

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Juneteenth. I don’t think I’ll forget that date now. In case I need a reminder, just this week it has become a federal holiday.

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No one ever inquires of me – how it is to get old? Either they are my age and know all about it already, or they aren’t my age and are afraid that I’m going to bore them with a litany of stuff they have no interest in and certainly don’t want to hear about. I understand. One of the cool things about being the hyperannuated guy in the room is that you’ve played on all those other stages during your life. This does provide some perspective.

The teenager can’t even imagine how it is to be seventy while I can remember clearly how it was to be eighteen. Gives you an edge, if you care to use it. What the geezer lacks in energy and flexibility he often makes up for in craftiness. And crafty can often be enough to win the day. (Now, that rare person who is a crafty eighteen year-old, there’s someone that’s scary and nearly unstoppable).

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Summahtime

It isn’t summer yet, as far as the calendar is concerned, but we are completely into the phase where you can no longer go barefoot outdoors in the middle of the day. You know that old business about frying an egg on the sidewalk that keeps coming up (even though I don’t personally know anyone who has tried it)? Well, it applies to feet as well.

You go to the beach and the asphalt parking lot has already passed broil, the sand at the water’s edge is now set at scorch, and after swimming you have severe misgivings about running the twenty yards from the lake to the blanket where your sandals are parked. You are pretty sure that first degree burns on the soles of your feet are a guarantee and wonder why the hell you came out here in the first place.

These are those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Emphasis on the crazy.

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From The New Yorker

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So … sitting out back in the shade of the big ol’ ash tree for which we are eternally grateful I am listening to music that is cool … low key … nothing that encourages effort of any kind. Right this minute that means Riders on the Storm by the Doors, followed by Fade Into You (Mazzy Star), Pink Moon (Nick Drake), and … you get the picture. No tunes that make you want to get up and dance or do anything that might raise a sweat. Music that goes with iced beverages and leaning back and letting the wafting breezes do their thing. I love a good wafting as much as anyone.

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Yesterday I spent more than an hour with advisors on Apple Support. First I had to “talk” to a very junior person in a chat, where I laid out my problem as clearly as I could. After 15 minutes of showing no understanding of what was bothering me, #1 asked if I minded if they sent me along to someone more senior. Please do, I responded and there was a minute or two before #2 junior person came into the chat and asked me what they could do to help.

I said that they could start by reading what had already been covered in the chat history instead of our having to start afresh. Five minutes later they asked if I minded being transferred to a senior advisor. No problem, I repeated.

Minutes passed and I was directed to a third junior staff member who said that the “senior” was coming any day now, that in fact she might be trying to call me on the phone. I mentioned that this might be difficult since I hadn’t given them my phone number as yet, and I proceeded to share it with them.

More minutes elapsed until the phone rang. The lady who was on the line asked “How can I help you today?” Again I suggested that she first review the transcript and the images I had sent along. Ten minutes later she asked if we could bring in someone more senior. By now I am weeping audibly and trying to keep the tears from getting into my keyboard. Finally, a woman with a strong Southern accent named Ambrosia came on the line. From then on we worked together until the problem was solved.

Total time spent in chat and on phone = 80 minutes. Final piece of advice from the woman who actually helped me was that the problem would most likely recur, and if it did I should feel free to call anytime and we’d get it sorted out once again. My verbal response to her was “Yes, yes, I will do that.” My internal and silent responses were along the lines of: “When Hell freezes over ,” or “I’d rather die,” or “Just shoot me.”

It just took so long to get to Ambrosia.

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Jill Biden apparently was charming and did a creditable job of representing the mentally healthier part of America at the G7 this past week. She was able to do this because she is a real person and not the cardboard cutouts of human beings that we’ve sent out in the previous four years.

Ms. Biden has a fan here in Robin, who read at least one of her biographies during the campaign months. When it comes to such things, I trust Robin’s instincts and accept that Dr. Biden is indeed a winner. It can’t be a bad thing to have an educator as First Lady, can it? Our schools need help, our teachers need support and guidance, and to have someone who actually understands the problems in her position … how refreshing and encouraging.

Of course it was Joe who was elected and not Jill, but there is some reason to believe that he actually listens to her.

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Inch by inch we’re adding to our involvement in the local Democratic Party activities. We’ve volunteered to do voter registration at the county fair for a few hours later this summer. Someone called me today looking for a body to be precinct chairperson. She thought that I had all of the qualifications needed to do the job. Apparently this means having a pulse.

I told her that I might not be the right candidate, since my pulse is quite irregular at times. Skips beats quite often. We agreed to put off deciding about this particular task right now.

Being by nature a hermit, moving out into the public sphere in this way is working solidly against that nature. But I want to add my small voice to the multitude that says No More. And if that means being uncomfortable once in a while, doing something that I dread just a little bit, so be it.

The yahoos have had the stage for too long now, and I will be very happy to one day to have a hand on that trusty vaudeville hook as we drag them off into the wings.

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What’s That Smell?

I caught part of an NPR broadcast a couple of weeks ago where the chef from Noma, one of the most famous restaurants in the world, discussed his new book. It was all about fermentation. In the interest of truth and all that, I admit that I never heard of him or his restaurant before listening to him on the radio. That’s not altogether surprising because it is in Copenhagen.

But he made fermentation sound so interesting, and it sounded like it had all the attributes of being a great hobby. One where at the end you can eat your output. That’s what cooking is to me, and why I find it such great fun, even though my skills are still so rudimentary. (For myself, here is where I separate cooking from meal planning. The former is what I enjoy, the latter is a chore that I have to do.)

After the broadcast I thought of the ways that I had already used fermentation without thinking about it. Baking bread, feeding sourdough starters, making kefir, brewing my own beers (which were excellent), and one stab at making my own wine (which produced a horrible beverage).

There was that time when I tried to make unyeasted bread, just like in the Old Testament. I mixed up the dough and then left it uncovered for days, as the recipe directed. Nothing seemed to be going on, with no evident rising of the bread-to-be, and eventually I baked the lump of dough to see what would happen.This produced a rounded, beautifully browned, and totally unyielding flour brick that could not be sliced or torn. I could not even drive an ice pick through it.

I finally gave up thinking of it as a food. What if I did eventually break off a piece? Obviously, I was not able to eat rocks. So I tossed it into the back yard to the two Siberian huskies that I owned at the time, and they were able to gnaw it down to nothing, but it took the two of them a week to do it.

I ordered the book today and look forward to adventures in sauerkraut, kimchi, and other more exotic delights. I will study each recipe carefully, especially the mortality rates that come from eating the foods produced. I want to keep that number on the low side, if I can.

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Nandi Bushell, a 10 year-old Englishwoman, is some sort of drum prodigy, and apparently has a considerable YouTube following, especially in the UK. She challenged a favorite of hers, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, to a drum battle. This is the result.

I’m sorry … she wins the cute part of the duel instantly. Grohl never had a chance. They even dressed alike. Can’t stand it.

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Life is not fair … we pretty much all know that this is not true by the time we’re teenagers. It can be interesting, hard, joy-filled, complicated – but not fair.

But what I read on Thursday morning went so far from fair that I am speechless. Almost. Remember just a couple of weeks ago I reported on studies that showed that alcohol shrinks our gray matter? The stuff that we think with? Researchers have found out some new stuff about coffee, and it seems that in regular drinkers, coffee shrinks the gray matter as well, although it seems to rebound if you quit drinking it. Whaaaaaat? Hello, Great Spirit … what is up with that?

At any AA club, if a fire broke out, the first thing the members would save would be the coffeepot. It is an essential part of the meeting, when we are newly out of the swamp and blinking like bats in a bright light. And now they are telling us that this life-altering beverage may have a dark side of its own? Not fair.

Chalk another one up for the Trickster, that spirit found in many forms in Native American legends and stories. Just when we are feeling we might have a handle on things, he pulls out the rug.

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You may have noticed that I talk very little about the talents and intelligence of my fellow physicians. That is because the garment that is the medical profession is cut from a very big piece of material. For example, some physicians are outright idiots. Here Sanjay Gupta and Jake Tapper are discussing a doc who is in a class of her own. As she speaks, you will find that you understand magnetism much better than the good doctor does. Probably a lot of other things, too.

Oy.

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Once in a great while something peculiar happens, and I suspect that others have had the same experience. Out of nowhere I will be struck with the most intense feeling of longing. Enough to pause me in whatever I am doing in order to give the emotion my full attention.

But it is not longing prompted by anything I can put my finger on, nor is it for anything specific. No golden day of yesteryear or place that I have been or person who has been lost to me. The feeling is not attached to anything that I am conscious of at all. It is always accompanied by a light sense of melancholy. If I were a composer I might write a song that could bring those feelings out where they could be shared, and some of the sharpness of the poignancy eased.

Wait … someone already wrote that song for me, and his name was Francisco Tarrega. The song is Memories of the Alhambra. The yearning for something intangible is right there in this excellent short piece of music.

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From The New Yorker

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For three days now, we’ve been privileged to have Aiden and Claire as house guests. Ages 16 and 11 years, respectively. All in all, I think it’s going pretty well, with the kids being very tolerant of our foibles, and Robin and I returning the favor. They brought their bicycles along, and the four of us have been cruising the neighborhood and the trail along the Uncompahgre River. Later this morning we’re headed for the reservoir at Ridgway, where one can rent paddle boards and small kayaks and such. The temps are right around 90 at the hottest part of the day, so we have definitely been pacing ourselves.

Aiden had it in mind to make a short movie during his stay here, and so we are filming that epic one scene at a time, in between doing other enjoyable things. He’s quite proficient in filmmaking and very serious about the project. Watching him at work has been a lot of fun. He is a very good kid – smart, polite, talented, and self-aware. When I think back on how surly and selfish I was at the same age, I am embarrassed for my teen self.

Claire has revealed a side of herself that I had not noticed before, that of being a wise observer. She’ll be yakking on the phone with friends, turning cartwheels in the living room, singing songs in a language she made up, and then suddenly and quietly she becomes this real-life wise woman and says just exactly what needs to be said at that moment. It’s a startling transformation when it happens, and a delightful thing to behold.

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There is good news from Lima, Peru. Daughter Maja continues to make progress toward independence in her recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome, although slower than she would like. She has also been offered (and accepted) a job at the school in St. Paul where she worked before she took positions first in China and then in South America. Couldn’t happen to a nicer person. She definitely deserves a break or two after the past months. Maybe three breaks, come to think of it.

Speaking as the overprotective old fool that I seem to be at times, I will be glad to have her back in a country that is not in total lockdown, and where the possibility of visiting her exists. There are a lot of foxes out there in the world, and when the sun goes down I like to think that my chicks are safe for the night.

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Daughter Kari alerted me to the fact that one of the most perfect foods in the world is 100 years old this year. Cheez-its. I am talking about the original flavor here, of course. There have been many new ones brought out in the past decade, but that original … my oh my … .

Other companies have tried to imitate this paragon of cheesy crispiness, but they have all fallen way short. That’s not just my opinion, by the way, that’s the honest to god truth.

So I plan on celebrating the centennial of Cheez-its by cracking open several boxes in the coming months. I see it as my sacred duty.

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Anti-Camping

Just returned from spending a couple of days with Ally and Kyle. As much as we like our time with them, we know that this is their busiest time of the year, and they literally work all day at their farm/garden during Steamboat Springs’s short growing season. So we keep our visits short and sweet.

But what beautiful produce they turn out! Here is a photograph of a man wearing one of their spectacular bok choi plants as a hat.

Later on that hat was washed up, placed on the grill, and served to Robin and I as part of our evening meal. Edible attire, what a concept!

The 240 mile drive to Steamboat is through some pretty country, and the 90 mile lonely stretch from Rifle CO to Craig CO is my favorite. Rolling green hills and mountains, never out of sight of a river, good wildlife viewing … what’s not to love?

Our trip was on short notice, and we couldn’t find a local motel that would have us, so we camped at the only reservable space we could find, and that was at a KOA located between the town of Steamboat and the farm. It was good that we spent very little time there, because as camping goes, it was the opposite of what we usually look for. We found each tent or RV jammed up against its neighbor, constant cacophonous comings and goings of travelers like ourselves, and bathrooms where one enters a 4-digit code to get in (woe to those who forget their number in a moment of stress). Our “site” was little more than a patch of dirt alongside the road that wound through the campground. In the map below we are at site 11 (center and bottom).

The “pond” was a very small puddle of water covered with an oil slick and signs clearly warning us to neither fish nor swim there. I suspect that the oil was part of a scheme to prevent it from becoming the mosquito farm that it would otherwise have been.

The interesting thing was how democratic the commercial campground was. Site 10 was occupied by a young man on a bicycle, while site 14 contained a behemoth of an RV trailer from Nebraska that required 3 axles to support its obscene bulk. (Who are these people that need to tow such monstrosities when they leave home?)

The proprietors were very pleasant and chatty, however, and it turned out to be a quiet place to sleep, in spite of the daytime busy-ness. I doubt we’ll be returning, though, unless once again we are stuck for a place to stay.

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From The New Yorker

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The area around Craig CO contains several coal mines, all of which are destined to close one day. Coal has been a mainstay occupation for the people living there, along with ranching. It is pretty solidly red in its politics, with its share of the lunatic fringe. We ate our lunch in a city park there on Sunday, and across the street was a home surrounded by a chain-link fence. There were two signs on the fence.

The first was a professional one celebrating the existence of congresswoman and renowned public intellectual Lauren Boebert and the other was a homemade placard declaring cryptically that This Too Shall Pass. What the resident was hoping would pass … one can only guess.

Lots of fear evident in Craig’s signs and bumperstickers. And some reason to be afraid, not knowing what their future holds. This Too Shall Pass, but what comes after, when the mines have closed and the Socialists have taken all their guns?

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Oh Canada!

Robin took off for Durango on Wednesday to attend Claire’s 5th grade graduation. I took a pass on this one. I am not quite sure where all these micro-ceremonies have come from. Nursery school graduation, kindergarten graduation, fifth grade graduation, being able to drink from the corridor water fountain without dribbling all down your front certification, having the cleanest shoes in home room awards. I don’t get them and whenever possible I try not to attend them.

Call me a grouch, Scrooge, misanthrope … I don’t care. Any hour that a kid spends in these ceremonies is an hour that they could have been playing or creating some wonderful piece of ephemera that made use of their imagination. (The same is true for the adults present.)

Here is a child who decided not to go to his 5th grade graduation, and do something way more creative.

As you can see, it’s only a short step from what seems to be aimless swinging to understanding both the principles behind Foucault’s pendulum and the best way of dealing with an annoying cowlick.

As far as I can see, these rites serve mostly as a moment for the teachers to congratulate themselves and say: “Look what wonders that I have been able to achieve with the rough clay that you sent me.”

Like I said … grouch, Scrooge, misanthrope.

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Arthur Staats passed away this week. I didn’t know his name until I read the obituary in the Times of New York, but I have made frequent use of his work for many years. He was the guy who popularized what we know as the “time-out” as an aid to raising children. You know, what to do in the situation where your kid has just dumped his porridge on the floor for the fifth time and you are beginning to have thoughts that rise perilously close to the level of manslaughter.

The time-out gave us an alternative, a structured moment when we could separate ourselves and our child from the scene of confrontation and allow us all, parents and progeny, time to collect ourselves and start that part of the day anew. There is a large body of research that has supported its use and established its effectiveness in training and education. Especially when compared with what parents might have previously been employing in their discipline, some of which involved willow switches and dark closets.

Thanks to Arthur S. for handing us that gentler tool, something to use while we continue to search for the perfect way to parent.

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From The New Yorker

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At an AA meeting Thursday morning, a friend and I were musing on the irony of now being offered free beer for getting our Covid vaccinations. Where were these programs when we could have made use of them? Drat.

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Friday the temperature hit 90 degrees, with more of such days promised. Zero percent chance of precipitation. The saving grace here is the low humidity. And as my mother always said, it’s not the heat it’s the … oh, you’ve heard that too, eh? Sitting out on the backyard deck Friday afternoon was still a very pleasant thing to do, as long as you had some shade and a glass of cool water handy. In fact, it was so mellow and comfortable doing nothing in that way that the only thing missing was having someone to refresh my beverage once in a while. Had to do that myself.

Looking at the national meteorological map there aren’t many who will escape this early hot spell. In fact, for a change we’re apparently sending some of our steaming weather all the way up to Canada. There is no need for us to feel guilty about this. They have been sending us nasty cold waves for-ever. Think of it as payback for those polar vortexes of last winter.

And while we’re on the subject of Canada, they still won’t let Americans into their fine country. Bully for them. Why would they want a bunch of clodhoppers wandering about their cities and forests who are too chuckleheaded to protect themselves (and others) against the Covid-19 virus? I’m a little surprised that the Canadians aren’t openly discussing building a wall to keep the U.S. citizens out on a more permanent basis.

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And I saved the best for last. Architects with nothing better to do created a masterpiece called the sky pool, which is certainly eye-catching.

Especially when you realize that it is suspended more than 100 feet in the air, stretching between two apartment buildings. Never mind that the first question that pops into the inquiring mind is “WHY?” Here’s a short video giving you the grand tour, just in case you were moving to London and hadn’t settled on living quarters as yet.

At first I thought about the view from the pool as a swimmer looks down through the water. I’m not sure whether that would rattle an acrophobe like myself or not. But it would seem that the view from the street below would be nothing but soles of feet and bottoms. This might appeal to certain categories of fetishists, who would then make nuisances of themselves by blocking sidewalks and streets as they gaze raptly upward.

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Good Will(ow) Hunting

Willow is our hunter-cat. Poco used to be one too, but age and infirmities have slowed him to the point where everything else runs faster than he does. I know exactly how he feels.

But to get back to Willow.

She is now four years old, and catches small rodents regularly. One of the ways we have of telling is when she comes in through the pet door with something dangling from her mouth. Half the time she drops it and it stays put, the other half of the time it doesn’t, but gets up and runs for cover. When this happens it energizes all of the humans in the room and elicits many loud cries and expostulations.

Willow! Go outside! Take that with you! Get it! There it goes! Don’t let it get under the couch! Open the door! Where is it now? I see it behind the TV! Willow – there it is … aaaahhhhhh, she’s got it, now take it outside, Willow. No – don’t drop it! There it goes again

That’s one of the ways we can tell what she catches. Another derives from the fact that if she catches something during the hours that I am sleeping, she will consume it entire except for one part, which she leaves behind wherever she has dined. That leftover is the creature’s cranium. Leading to the repeating scenario where I pad barefooted to the refrigerator in the pre-dawn darkness and step on something hard. I think I need not dwell on this further.

To use a phrase borrowed from St.Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Willow does not suffer fools gladly. And in her eyes all humans are fools. She is not a cat that one can pick up, place in one’s lap, and pet it. To do so is to invite bodily damage of various degrees as she brings those eighteen claws into play.
On the other hand, if on rare occasions that lap looks pretty good to her, she will march right over and stare at you until you clear away whatever else you are doing and make room for her. Then she curls up and goes to sleep and what does a person do?

But when she wants to be petted, she will walk back and forth beside your outstretched hand for the longest time, purring away. The look upon her small face at such times is bliss. We find it irresistible.

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Three from the New Yorker Archives

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Monday afternoon I was swept up into an immobilizing time-warp as my ears were being bathed in the music of another era. Robin says that my pupils were fully dilated and although I was breathing evenly and had a regular pulse she could not break through to me. So she did the best she could on a holiday and called some of her girlfriends to ask their advice.

One of them, a nutritional cosmetician, said that it sounded like Vitamin E deficiency to her, and Robin should do what she could to insert capsules of that substance into every orifice she could reasonably reach. Then she was to rub the oil onto my face and chest.

Friend Adele, a behavioral podiatrist, said she had no idea what was wrong with me at all, but shared that her uncle once had a certain tick which paralyzed him for hours and that Robin should turn me about and tip me over to look for ticks. If one were found, removal could effect a cure.

Yet another amie who leans toward the occult began to warble about demonic possession, but Robin hung up on her when she got going on animal sacrifice and the proper strewing of entrails.

Keep in mind that I knew nothing of any of this, although I do remember clearly every tune that was played. This continued until around dinnertime when I spontaneously returned to my senses and frightened Robin nearly half to death because I came up behind her in the kitchen and asked “What’s for supper?”

I still have the lump where she caressed my head with the skillet she had in her hand at the time.

I put some of the tunes that had transported me over on the right in the Jukebox area. Listen to them with care, or you could wake up slathered with Vitamin E oil.

(BTW, if Atlantis isn’t one of the trippiest tunes ever written, I’ll eat my vaccine passport.)

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I’ll have to re-watch it to be sure, but in my memory Body Heat is a movie that conjures up the feeling of heat and humidity like none other. Even in an air-conditioned theater you found yourself wiping non-existent sweat from your brow. And then there was this scene … a hymn to lust if ever there was one.

Every time I watch this I need to take a cold shower afterward.

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Someone Else’s Hard Work

After listening to a few Bob Dylan songs this afternoon on a perfect backyard 80 degree day with the cats swatting at the insects buzzing within range, I found myself wondering. What would be the appropriate recognition for a man whose music was the background for most of one’s life? A man whose lyrics … what did they do … they didn’t so much tell you the next right thing to do as they indicated the territory where you might profitably look for it.

It’s a legitimate question to ask myself, I think … what sort of person would I have been if Mr. Dylan hadn’t been gifted in the way he was? If I hadn’t internalized the lyrics to songs like Blowing in the Wind or A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall or Mr. Tambourine Man or Masters of War or Things Have Changed or Shelter From The Storm … the list does go on. When you put that stuff into your head it changes you. Perhaps each song molded me only a little, but many hundreds of songs and their repetition … that had to make a sizable dent, for sure.

So add Bob Dylan to the list of folks who I would happily invite in for coffee and a warm-up if they showed up late at night on my doorstep during a snowstorm.* (There is a second list, those to whom I would say Begone, Wretch!).

*I would ask Bob in even though I have heard that he can be a cranky S.O.B. at times.

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What do you know about Critical Race Theory? Before I read Andrew Sullivan’s piece I knew absolutely nothing. After reading it, I know a tiny bit. But the piece is interesting in its summary of what Western liberalism consists of and the fact that what I take for granted today could very easily be lost.

In his forth coming book, “The Constitution of Knowledge,” Jonathan Rauch lays out some core principles that liberal societies rely upon. These are not optional if liberal society is to survive. And they are not easy, which is why we have created many institutions and practices to keep them alive. Rauch lists some of them: fallibilism, the belief that anyone, especially you, can always be wrong; objectivity, a rejection of any theory that cannot be proven or disproven by reality; accountability, the openness to conceding and correcting error; and pluralism, the maintenance of intellectual diversity so we maximize our chances of finding the truth.

Andrew Sullivan, Removing the Bedrock of Liberalism

Those four principles are so basic to my own view of the world that I don’t even notice them. They are the air I breathe, the sea I swim in. They are what is and what always will be, I thought. Apparently that is not the case, according to Mr. Sullivan. A very different universe could come to exist, and the other possibilities look pretty damned ugly.

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My land, but this is a performance. Mr. Cash took this song from Nine Inch Nails and made it his, cell by cell. I play it once a year for the benefit of my soul.

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Once again Robin and I have challenged the fates and started our garden. It’s only a tiny one, a few tomato plants, some greens, a pot of basil. But it gives us something to fret about and chores to do, just as a larger one would. In this droughty country, watering is the constant duty. For the past couple of years, there has been very little rain to help us out, so the plants’ survival comes from the end of a hose.

Our garden is a small thing, but it is a strong reminder of how our survival depends on somebody out there growing the food that keeps us alive. Those people are doing their own fretting, their chores, and worrying about the rains coming. We never get to thank them in person.

There is a table prayer that I learned at a Buddhist gathering that says it for me.

We give thanks to the sun and the rain and the earth, and to someone else’s hard work.

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Report From The Empire

It’s been more than a year since we brought you up to date on the status of the Empire. I have no excuses (and as Emperor I am not required to have one) but we’ve all been busy, nest-ce pas? There have been changes, however. We’ve opened a branch in California and are soon to close one in Peru. In August granddaughter Elsa will carry the Imperial flag to Stockholm, Sweden, and plant it firmly there. The excitement is palpable.

Since the Empire is small, even though it stretches halfway across the world, we have to be very careful about what we say about our closest (and biggest) neighbor. Who might that be? Let’s just say that its national bird is the eagle, its national song is The Star Spangled Banner, and its national fool … well, that is an office that is constantly in rotation, but in modern times it nearly always is filled by a prominent Republican.

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At present that office is shared by a troika featuring Kevin McCarthy, Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. All of them trying to show as clearly as they can why people have so much trouble trusting politicians.

Here in the Empire we don’t have politicos as such. Our system of government consists of the Emperor and the House of Merry Pranksters. The position of Emperor is a hereditary one, and can be traced back to when Emperor Hackberry the First was chosen by acclamation at a meeting held in 1655 in a fairly disreputable inn named The Empty Pocket. As I recall, it was on a Tuesday afternoon in October.

Members of the House are chosen through the National Lottery when we buy those tickets at the grocery store. We are proud of the fact that we can vote and have a shot at a tidy jackpot at the same time. The function of the House is basically to whisper into the ear of the Emperor what they think about an issue. And what they think that the general public thinks about that same issue.

It is considered bad form to talk to the press about anything important, and we have no domestic television or radio stations. What holds everything together is that we have a small population. Everybody knows everybody else – their business, their foibles and errors, and where they spend their Saturday nights. We are peacefully governed, mostly because we know that if our group isn’t in the leadership position right now, we will eventually be given our turn sometime soon down the road. We also know that being in office is mostly a bother, and are proud of the fact that it is never a passageway to great wealth. (We think that’s a problem for that large neighbor of ours.)

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The Empire has largely avoided the whole Covid thing. We didn’t go anywhere, and basically no one came here. It’s not because our homeland isn’t lovely, but we don’t have that big thing, that major tourist draw. There are no mountains, we are at least 2500 miles from any large beaches, and our populace indulges itself mostly in un-showy pastimes. I wouldn’t say that it’s boring, but let’s just say that when ten 0’clock rolls around you don’t have to tell an Imperial citizen that’s it’s quiet time.

We did vaccinate everybody, though. It’s one of the virtues of having a small population where each member has his or her head screwed on properly. So we had no trouble reaching 100% of eligible citizens, and when vaccines approved for children come around, we’ll get to them, too. The controversies confounding our larger neighbor are baffling to us, to say the least. They would be comical if the consequences weren’t so dire. 591,000 dead, with more to come. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? How could they have gone so wrong?

Sometimes … we simply have to weep for them. There’s nothing else for it.

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Some sobering news from England.* In a fairly large study British researchers came to the conclusion that there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink, when it comes to long-term brain health. Those two glasses of burgundy per day that we thought were actually healthy for us may not turn out to have been such a good thing after all.

If further studies bear these findings out, it shouldn’t really come as a complete surprise. After all ethyl alcohol is a toxin. When we drink enough to feel that sense of relaxation and ease that we enjoy, it is because our cerebral neurons are faltering under its influence.

A few years ago at Springfield State Penitentiary in South Dakota, administrators had to remove all of the hand sanitizers from the premises. The reason was that some resourceful prisoners had learned how to extract the ethanol from the product so they could use it as a beverage. But why was ethanol in the hand cleaner in the first place? Because it is very good at killing things.

*Pun intended

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I will end with something to appeal to all those fond of low humor. Which pretty much describes my entire family of origin.

Lena: “There is trouble with the car, sweetheart. It has water in the carburetor.” 
Ole: “Water in the carburetor? That is ridiculous.” 
Lena: “Ole, I tell you the car has water in the carburetor.” 
Ole: “You don’t even know what a carburetor is. I’ll check it out. Where is the car?”
Lena: “In the lake.”
 

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Misguidance

Back in high school there were two attempts that Henry Sibley High School made to point us in the right direction as far as our future occupations were concerned. One was the appointing of a guidance counselor. He comported himself exactly like the character Major Major, in Catch 22 . If he was in his office his secretary would tell you that he was out. If he wasn’t in, the secretary would usher you into an empty room telling you that he’d be just a moment. After a long while had passed you realized that he was never coming and wandered off.

So I never saw him.

The other effort was to administer something called the Strong Interest Test. This turned out to be an extremely unhelpful way to spend a couple of hours, for at the end of the testing session I was informed that I would be happiest as either an accountant or a forest ranger. (I still fail to see any connection between these jobs.) I chose to go to a school of veterinary medicine instead.

After a year of doing spectacularly poorly while surrounded by a hundred other freshmen and freshwomen in blue corduroy jackets who already knew seemingly everything there was to know about large animals, I dropped out of school for a while. From there it was on to pre-med and that’s all she wrote.

I’ve never mused about what life as an accountant would have been, but there have been many times when forest ranger seems like it would have been just the right thing for me. The woods, the rivers, the fresh air … and then there were those great uniforms.

I think I would have been the very definition of dapper in one of these, especially the one on the far left. Is it time to bring jodhpurs back into fashion, do you think?

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We spent the observance of our anniversary wandering the countryside in our car. It was a windy 50 degree day, which discouraged slow walks in the park, laying out in the backyard catching rays, and picnics. When you have to hold onto your paper plate with both hands to keep your beans and hot dog safe while your potato chips go flying across county lines, it’s not that much fun, to tell the truth.

So we headed for Telluride, to see what they’d done with the town in the year since we’d last been there. Turned out that this shiny tourist town wasn’t quite open for business as yet, with several restaurants closed but featuring signs in their windows promising “Opening Soon!” All of the T-shirt shops were running, though, so no problems there for those wanting garments with logos screaming “TELLURIDE.” The famous free gondola wasn’t running, which was a first for us – that thing had not stopped since we moved to Paradise. With the relaxing of Covid restrictions it might soon be in use again, but there is no getting six feet away from other passengers once you are inside that capsule.

We then drove to a small county park along the San Miguel River near Placerville and took a stroll. It’s a pretty spot and we passed two kayakers practicing lazy paddling on the tiny lake in the park. Next we took off down the road toward Owl Creek Pass, a local landmark of sorts, but were turned back after 8 miles by a road barrier. We couldn’t see far enough ahead to assess whether it was snow or road damage might be the problem, but there was no arguing with that heavy steel gate.

Finally it was back to Montrose for supper at a local Italian restaurant. When we returned home we were late for the cats’ feedings, and they sat there tapping their paws and looking very cross until we served them up their evening meal. One thing that cats do very well is impatience. They’ve had millennia to practice. Look at this Egyptian statue … is that haughty and cranky or what?

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What a horror in China, where 21 out of 172 participants in an ultramarathon perished when when a storm caught them out on the 100 mile mountain race course. Light running gear was no protection against freezing rains. Sounds like some very poor planning for inclement weather was involved, but the stories are still sketchy.

Wouldn’t happen here, I think. There are high altitude races out here each summer, but also lots of water stations, volunteers with Ham radios, and the like. In any endurance contest there can be the occasional heart giving out or things like dehydration causing illness or even death. But 21 runners lost … that is the definition of not okay.

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Amazing Grace

Apple Music has a feature where they put together various themed collections that change weekly, an hour or two of tunes with a similar “feel.” One of those is named “Isolation,” and I swear … no matter what mood you were in when you started, if you listened to more than five of these songs in a row you would find yourself looking for a razor blade and a warm tub. Here’s a sampling of what Apple was offering to me this morning during my toilette.

  • Lost Cause (Beck)
  • Where is My Mind? (The Pixies)
  • Alive and Dying (Angel Olsen)
  • Sidewalk Bop After Suicide (Cass McCombs)
  • No Distance Left to Run (Blur)
  • Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying (Belle and Sebastian)
  • Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (The Smiths)
  • How It Ends (DeVochKa)
  • et al

Fortunately for me on this occasion, Robin recognized that I had been sucked into a musical vortex and rushed the bathroom, knocked the speaker onto the floor, and then dragged me out into the hallway, covering my ears as she did. A few slaps in the face, a dash of cold water, and I was blinking myself awake, crying “Wha hoppen!”

It was a close one this time. Obviously it’s not a place I should ever go alone.

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Love these soft warm mornings a little before dawn. Just enough air movement to get the wind chimes gently moving and the prayer flags fluttering. Our small city is quiet at these times. All in all, just like a town should be the moment before it starts to come to consciousness.

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A followup on Poco the cat. Two weeks ago he developed swelling in his right eye. The vet said “Dunno” and prescribed eyedrops. Two days later it was obvious that there was an abscess above the eye, and that was cleaned up, opened up, and an antibiotic injection given.

Two days after that the eye looked dreadful, and there was a puddle of blood between the cornea and the iris. A second vet told us that there might be infection inside the globe itself, and a different antibiotic needed to be given, along with a change in eyedrops. He also said that if the problem was inside the eye, Poco could lose that organ entirely.

So for a week now we’ve dutifully given him pills twice a day that he definitely doesn’t want and eyedrops that he detests. There has been improvement, but I’m not sure that is is the meds or simply the passage of time that has effected this change. It’s not particularly rare for doctors to be given credit for recovery that happened all on its own. Why, it even happens with some pediatricians.

So the old fellow has had an uncomfortable pair of weeks and his human companions have worried about him for the same length of time. Doing uncomfortable things to a creature you love, whether it is a pet or a child, is potentially a part of the bargain you make when you take them on. But it’s always one that you hoped you could skip.

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My Oh My Department

Daughter Maja’s seven favorite non-relatives on the planet have a new album. This is a screen grab from the music video for “Butter,” which YouTube would be happy to run for you.

What’s not to like? They are young, talented, and beautiful. Maybe if North Korea could put together a group like this we might get along better with them, and be able to forget about all those nasty warheads and such. So far they haven’t shown any rhythmic tendencies at all that I am aware of.

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Twenty-nine years ago today two perfectly useful people with relatively low mileage who had each been rejected by their previous spouses decided to give it another go and were married. To one another. The lady’s counselor was not happy about the idea, and cautioned her that this was only a “transitional relationship.”

In planning for the wedding with the pianist, the couple chose Amazing Grace as one of their songs. At first the musician frowned and said “We play that so often at funerals … “ and then you could see her lips move as she went through the lyrics in her head. A smile came on her face and she nodded “Yes, that’ll do just fine.” During the service the entire assemblage sang it together, and yes, it did just fine. Beautifully, actually.

At the reception, and at the groom’s request, the first tune that was played to begin the dancing was this timeless and haunting melody.

I think that it’s pretty clear to all that this “transitional relationship” has lasted this long only because of the lady’s forbearance, tolerance, and excellent sense of humor.

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Ground Control

Wednesday Robin had to drive all the way to Grand Junction by herself, even though I was available as traveling companion. It’s an hour’s drive to get there, and her goal is to shop, but she’s given up on taking me along when we are not looking for a particular something and have a focus.

She says that I get a look on my face, in spite of myself, when shopping itself is the intent. I had her describe what I look like to a police portrait artist, and at left is what he came up with. It’s a look usually associated with traumatic wartime experiences, and is called the thousand yard stare.

It seems that watching me spoils the day for her in these instances. “It’s not personal,” she says, “we’re just different.” I do try, and I put on my best smiley face and attitude when I know she’s looking, but as soon as I relax I apparently revert to what you see in the drawing. I guess I’ll have to accept that there is one more thing in this world of which I am incapable.

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E-bike Report:

We’ve now got 150 miles on our machines, not any epic amount, but these are mostly short trips around town. These beasts work really well, and no spot in town is safe from us any longer. I do most of my grocery shopping using the bike with either a rear pannier or the Burley Nomad trailer we’ve had for a dozen years or more. It’s a seven mile trip to City Market and back, without ever having to hit serious automobile traffic.

Did I mention that they are not only practical but fun? When you press that button for pedaling assistance, it’s hard not to smile every time.

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From The New Yorker

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Colorado has a brand new law, making us the second state after Washington to allow composting of human remains. My first reaction was “Whaaaat?” But after reading a bit further I found that it is just another way of breaking down the body, to be added to the already common practices of cremation and chemical dissolution.

Actually, it mimics the process that would occur if we simply buried bodies in the ground without elaborate vaults and hermetically sealed coffins.

Composting a human body means placing the body in a closed container along with natural materials such as wood chips, alfalfa, and straw grass. The body is slowly rotated to induce microbial breakdown of the body’s tissues

Montrose Daily Press, May 19, 2021.

Since there is no corner of American life that can avoid rampant commercialization, I can see the brochures now for this new/old choice that families will have:

“Your loved one’s body will be placed upon a bed of roses, surrounded by sandalwood chips that were harvested in a sustainable manner in the highlands of Nepal. You then have your choice of Dakota buffalograss or Carolina switchgrass as the last component of the composting nest. When this gentle and natural process is finished, the resultant soil will be sent to you by UPS in a tasteful container, with a complimentary packet of flower seeds.”

I am totally down with the idea, and would carry it even further by having additives put into the soil produced that would allow special usage. Potting soils, peony mixes … the mind boggles at the possibilities.

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The Old Testament has come to Paradise in the form of a plague of flies. Small houseflies that can apparently pass through walls unimpeded, like ghosts. They showed up Wednesday evening, when they drove Robin and I back indoors from our al fresco dining on the backyard deck. Unfortunately, by the time we gave up and went back inside, there were scores of them to greet us in the dining room. They don’t bite you, but they walk all over your food with their dirty shoes.

They are smallish creatures, stupid and clumsy to boot. So swatting them is no problem, except that I have the definite feeling that for every one I swat, three more have squeezed in somewhere. I made an emergency run to Ace Hardware after supper, and now we have sticky traps in all of the windows. Clear plastic panels with some sort of tanglefoot on them. These devices are working, but they are soooo passive, and at this point I am in favor of something quicker and more murderous.

Patience, patience. All in due time, one of my better angels is whispering.

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While we are talking about such creatures, I offer you a recurring mini-grossout. You are eating outdoors when a small piece of organic stuff floats down from the tree above you onto your food. Just as you are about to pick out the offensive material and flick it away, it wriggles off under its own power. You know that if you hadn’t seen it arrive, it would have been on your next forkful.

Bon appetit.

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End of Mud Season

Spring was declared officially complete for Robin and I as of Sunday. For the first time this year we were able to take our hike on the Oak Flat Loop/Uplands/Rimrock Trail at the Black Canyon National Park, a walk that undulates along the sides of a mesa. Two weeks ago we tried this same route but had to turn back because there was still too much mud and ice on the shady side of the mesa wall. That may be okay when you’re walking on level ground, but there is precious little of that here.

But Sunday everything was cool. On our way we met three twenty-somethings, two women and a man, who had spent the night down on the Gunnison River. Which meant that they had clambered down 1800 feet to the gorge and were now clambering back up. We congratulated them on their achievement and made a big deal about it all because … well, because it is IS a big deal. Strictly for the sturdy, it is.

I believe that I might be able to make it down, but that would be as far as the adventure went. I would need to arrange ahead of time for a lumber drop so that I might build myself some sort of shelter at the bottom of the gorge, because that would be my address from that day forward.

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I will admit to having a streak of misanthropy buried in the affable and perennially charming person that I am. But even those who are more generous in their approach to our species have to admit one thing … there are too many of us. We overwhelm.

One evening in the late sixties, my former wife and I went to a meeting of a newly formed organization called Zero Population Growth. It was dedicated to informing society of the benefits that would accrue if our population numbers didn’t continue to mushroom. Unfortunately, we never attended a second meeting when we learned that the fact that we had four children at the time would put us into a sub-group of one in the organization, and we might be vulnerable to being labeled hypocrites.

I checked this morning, and ZPG is still around, although it has renamed itself Population Connection. The message is still the same. There are too many of us, and life would be better if that could be changed. The next time you read about what food might become in the future for our growing numbers, with all sorts of unappetizing sounding things like bug smoothies and earthworm pancakes, think of this: it wouldn’t be necessary if we bred less and thought more.

If Elon Musk is successful in building his ships to take a select few to colonize Mars as Earth collapses, the new pioneers would have to deal with the knotty subject of human fertility up front, way before anyone gets aboard that first rocket. Because that new world would be lacking in the flexibility that Earth afforded in the “old days.” You build a station on Mars for 1000 people, and that’s what it would have to remain.

Of course, since most of us won’t be asked to join Elon on his new/old planet, we might have to pay more attention to folks like Bill Burr, who has his own ideas about population control.

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Robin and I are watching the limited series “Underground Railroad.”

Some amazingly beautiful cinematography. Confusing at times. Strong performances. Brutal. All in all, it may be what some critics say it is – mandatory viewing for Americans.

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Lawrence of Montrose

Those who know me well know that my favorite movie of all time is “Lawrence of Arabia.” It jumped to #1 the moment I first saw it in 1962 and has yet to be displaced. I am not shy about sharing my opinion with others, and introduce this fact into the conversation at every opportunity. Sometimes on the most threadbare of pretexts.

Other Person: Man, is is hot today!
Moi: Hoo Boy, if you think this is hot, you should see them sweat in Lawrence of Arabia, it comes off in buckets.

O.P.: Sometimes I wish I didn’t own such a big dog. I swear he’s eating me out of house and home.
Moi: If you think that’s bad, what if he was a camel, like in Lawrence of Arabia? Think of that pet food bill!

O.P.: You seem thoughtful today, is anything the matter?
Moi: I was thinking about the final scene in Lawrence of Arabia, where everything has fallen apart and Lawrence’s work has come to naught.
So sad.

So when I ran across these video comments by two of the larger talents in the movie industry, I had to share them with you. Because you can exist in only three possible states:

  • You never saw the movie. WHAAAAAAAT! Just do it. What kind of mother did you have anyway?
  • You saw the movie, but it was a long time ago. What are you waiting for? It’s time for a re-viewing. Treat yourself. You know you want to.
  • You saw the movie recently. Come over for coffee and we’ll talk about it until you can’t stand it.

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If you’re teetering, be aware that it is available for streaming on Amazon Prime for the measly price of $2.99. Less than three bucks for one of the best films ever! In the safety of your own home! Where the popcorn is so very reasonably priced!

This scene alone is worth the $2.99 to watch on a bigger screen. Okay, that’s all I have to say today.

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From The New Yorker

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The recent change in recommendations for mask-wearing seems to have sent a lot of people right to the crazy department. In order to put some perspective on the situation, I’ve asked Ragnar to chime in. Wearing facial covering is old hat to this gentleman, he’s been doing it for centuries.

Dear Ragnar: I know that you’ve been paying particular attention to our behavior during the pandemic, and have just finished a fact-finding tour of the U.S. Do you think we should be wearing masks these days or not?

Ragnar: Well, first of all, let me tell you when I wear one. When I go to war. Simple as that. It protects my face from contacting annoying things like swords and clubs. Back in the day we didn’t worry about the kind of stuff you’re dealing with, like viruses, because they hadn’t been discovered yet. Not that it wouldn’t have been handy to know about them. Could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble when we were sacking cities and burning monasteries and all.

Dear Ragnar: But now that you do know about viruses, what do you think?

Ragnar: It’s pretty obvious that my old mask wouldn’t be worth beans today against Covid. Although it was awfully ferocious-looking, and the sight of it would sow fear and confusion into the hardiest of English hearts, the present pesky coronavirus particle would sail right through the holes and get me every time.

Now this mask would be better for what you’re dealing with today, but forget about sowing fear and confusion. No one’s afraid of the Minnesota Vikings. Also you can forget about it guarding against anyone lurking around town with a halberd that has your name on it.

Dear Ragnar: So we should continue to wear masks as we have in the past? Is that what you’re saying?

Ragnar: You know what I think? That the good news and the bad news are the same thing here – I think you are all going to do what you want to do, no matter what anyone says.

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The cicadas are coming, the cicadas are coming! But not quite yet. Apparently it’s been chilly in the part of the country where Brood X is due to emerge, and the actors in this drama are waiting for that sunny day. I can completely empathize with them.

Think about it. You’ve been looking at nothing but dirt for seventeen years. You are on the brink of your big moment in time – when you will pop out of the ground, shed your old clothes and put on beautiful shiny new ones, sing your “I’m lonely here” song for all the world to hear, mate with the love of your life, and then … die.

Why rush into it? Why not wait for just the right day? I know I would.

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Roosters

Tuesday night we had people over for dinner. Just a simple get-together composed of comfort foods with no attempt at elegance or haute cuisine or anything other than what it was. A conversation with just enough food provided to keep you alive through the end of the evening. If there is anything that the Plague has shown us, it has been that what was most important about nights like these in the pre-viral days was always the connection with other humans, face to face and jabbering away. What a treat these social re-openings are!

The night’s menu included coney islands, cole slaw, a fruit salad, and roasted potatoes. I’ve mentioned this coney sauce before, I think. It is a highly seasoned ground beef mixture that you drape around a hot dog, add a few chopped onions and then squirt some yellow mustard on the whole mess. Unlike a chili dog, there is no tomato anything in this concoction. (Not to diminish the chili dog at all. Those are delicious in their own way, but this coney is a different thing altogether.)

So at the end of it all we counted the evening as a success, although we didn’t allow our guests to vote. We’ve found it better this way. Too many opinions and it all gets confusing.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I have returned to Gold’s Gym in an attempt to maintain something resembling muscle tone, and there are quite a few senior citizens who appear to be there for the same highly focussed reason that I am. They come in with serious faces, go quickly through their routines, then exit the building. We are a nondescript bunch, stepping into the ring with time and losing most of the rounds.

There is another group that is much more fun to watch. These are the guys who finish an exercise and then walk slowly about the room in their sleeveless t-shirts, chests out, nodding when they meet others like themselves, before returning to the machines for more “reps.” It is not as obvious behavior as in the case of the roosters below, but if you listen very carefully … it’s nearly subliminal … the crowing is there.

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Yesterday at the gym I decided that I was glad to be a guy for yet one more reason. Spandex. Or rather, the lack of it in a gentleman’s wardrobe. Although I was supposed to be concentrating on my grunting and straining, I was also watching the others in that space. Nearly all of the people that I could identify as male were wearing floppy clothes. Big shorts down to the knee and loose-fitting t-shirts, for the most part. Nearly all of the females were wearing Spandex either from the waist down or all over.

I marveled at the body confidence that it must take to wear such a material, where passersby could count the freckles on your posterior, if they so chose. Occasionally as I make my way to the shower I inadvertently see my nude self in the mirror and … there is no way that I would trade my formless garments for something more revealing of this lifetime’s worth of acquired defects. As far my own case is concerned, what is visible in the bathroom stays in the bathroom.

There is so much to observe and to think about on a visit to Gold’s Gym. Our human frailties and peculiarities are there for anyone with a quick eye to see. First of all, would we even be there if we were content with who we were? Secondly, the mating behaviors of the younger attendees are also right out in front – usually in a reversal of what is found in other species, where the males are the ones who provide colorful displays to attract attention.

I wear my mask during my workouts for two reasons. One is that there is the tiniest chance that I am still at risk from Covid. The other reason is that I think that my mask is annoying to the yahoos in the building … those who have taken the position that things like masks and vaccines and working toward the greater good are for lesser beings. If I can annoy those folks, even for a moment, it makes me happy. (Of course that is a petty attitude … have I ever claimed to be more?)

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Fogged-Out

One of the powers of books for me has been to occasionally feel less the odd duck in this world. Periodically I will run across a piece of writing that says to me: “Hey, someone else thinks the same weird way that you do.” The sense of alienation doesn’t go away altogether, but eases up. Such a moment came in the opening paragraphs of Stephen King’s book “On Writing.”

Here’s the text that grabbed me:

I was stunned by Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liar’s Club. Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by her delightful grasp of the vernacular, but by its totality – she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years. … Mary Karr presents her childhood in an almost unbroken panorama. Mine is a fogged-out landscape from which occasional memories appear like isolated trees … the kind that look as if they might like to grab and eat you.

On Writing, Stephen King, paperback edition p.17.

That’s me. Right out there in that fogged-out landscape with Stephen. There are entire sections of my life that I don’t recall at all. Big sections. Parts of my childhood … young adulthood … last year! Robin will say something like “Remember when we were in Tuscaloosa and ran into the Binghams?” And I will think … have I been to Tuscaloosa? Really? When in the hell was that?

Then there are other sections that I recall in such minute detail that I suspect my brain is making it up all on its own, without any prompting from me. So if I were to honestly characterize my daily thought melange, I think that it would fall somewhere west of non-fiction. What this all comes down to is that while I really don’t trust my collection of memories as being the absolute truth, I do enjoy them as I would any tasty tale.

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Speaking of Liar’s Clubs, can you believe what the GOP has transformed itself into? It goes beyond anything I could have imagined. It is a nasty brew that they are concocting over there, and each sip they take moves them further into the territory of the unhinged. They have let so much craziness in that I wonder how they can ever find their way back to reality.

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From The New Yorker

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Our friend Poco is finally healing, but this last abscess episode has been a tough one for all of us. There is so much edema around his eye and the membranes of the eye itself that it’s hard to look at the poor guy without cringing. Fortunately for him, cats don’t seem to dither and dissolve into self-pity at such times. Examples are provided below of what I think are differences between the two species.

HUMAN: Oh dear oh dear oh dear I think that I may be going blind and the pain the pain it’s just too much to bear. Look at me, do you think it’s getting worse? Please, won’t you call the doctor again … I know that it’s only been ten minutes since you last called him, but I’m going downhill so fast … .

CAT: What in blazes … ? I can hardly see out of my sore eye. Well, I’ve still got the one. Is it time for breakfast? Is it nice outside?

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Lastly for this morning, Margaret Renkl offers her take on the amazing story of the cicadas. The whole thing is mind-blowing, really. And yesterday Robin and I went to the gym for the first time in many months. There were two people there who were masked – myself and the lady I married.

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No Way

Today is Mother’s Day. I support this holiday 100%. Mothers deserve the recognition, completely. And more.

If the situations were reversed, and I were presented with the option to navigate a pregnancy and go through labor, there wouldn’t have been any kids in my family pictures at all. No way. I simply wouldn’t have put up with the whole business. The nine months of progressive body distortion, the hours and hours of tortuous labor pains, the endless mountains of diapers and of clothing covered with spit-up. Wouldn’t do it. The species could stop right there, as far as I was concerned.

So anyone who is perusing this, it was because you had a mom. If you had depended on good old dad, chances are you would have ended up as simply a disappointed ovum with poor reading skills.

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Thought I’d add a few pictures of my own mother. My tendency has been to forget that she was a girl before her mom-ship took over. She was, of course. Eleanor Ruth Flom (nee Jacobson) was only twenty years old when I came along. How could she have been ready for that?

That’s me in the 1943 photo, the absolutely darling blond boy at Mom’s right side. I think I was a fairly good son to raise until adolescence, but at that point no one could do anything with me at all, because I became omniscient.

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From The New Yorker

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Our friend Poco has done it again. Somewhere in the past week or so, he tangled with another cat, and this week he developed an abscess above his right eye. When the vet saw him he said : “Darn, Poco, we’re going to have to get you an abscess punch card, so you get a free one once in a while.”

What this all meant was anesthesia, surgery, antibiotics, and a sad-looking cat with a bad shave. He does look pathetic. But … it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve had the talk. Over and over.

Our cat Willow never gets into fights. Never needs surgery. She simply turns around when confronted and runs away at just the right speed. But Poco forgets that he’s 100 years old, has fewer teeth than he once did, and charges right at any and all cat intruders into our yard. I would admire his pluck if it weren’t for the veterinary visits and the periods of illness. Sheesh.

It’s like living with Feline Rambo, The Perpetual Sequel.

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Saturday night and I’m holding court on the little front patio in front of our home, Willow the cat is lying nearby as my support animal. Our part of the neighborhood is sleepy and still sunny at nearly 8 PM. Nick Drake is singing from the Great Beyond, his Pink Moon album. He is in remarkably good voice for a guy who passed away in 1974. Couldn’t tell, really, by listening.

It is 56 degrees and windless. Robin is off to Durango while I mind the feline outpatient department. The report is that all are doing well there, and that the mothers are being treated with the respect due them.

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Ahhhh, Them Last Chance Power Drives

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)

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From The New Yorker

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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.

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Here’s a little gallery of pics the BWCA, taken over a fifty year period.

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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.

The plumber comes later today.

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Life

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.

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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.

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From The New Yorker

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Little Less Fresh Air, If You Please.

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.

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From The New Yorker

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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.

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