First Flake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But, I digress.

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

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

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Header Photo

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

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Got Them Ol’ Pre-Halloween Blues 2

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

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

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

Wikipedia: Cowlick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Special Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Soothing the Savage Breast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idaho Fertility.Com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do The Right Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia: Oliver Cromwell

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, October 1, 2021

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

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

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

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle

Irina Dunn, australian social activist, 1970.

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

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

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Saving Graces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Forget To Take Your Snake Oil, Dear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Brooks, New York Times October 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gourds

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

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

The web addresses are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why don’t we have tails?

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

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

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

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

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Learning In Spite of Myself

I Want To Tear Out My Remaining Hair Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How To Get Drunker And Poorer Extremely Fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Huron

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

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

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

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

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

I retract my plan. Never mind.

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

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

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Dear Robin, Please Come Back

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

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

I need lots of tending.

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

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

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

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

Any others?

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

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

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

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

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Loonacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torture. America. Unbelievable.

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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Fruits of Someone Else’s Labor

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

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

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

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

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

September Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILLOW: Me, too.

POCO: Wait your turn, mouse-breath

WILLOW: You’re not the boss of me

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

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

POCO: Still, how about a little deference here

WILLOW: You know you love me

POCO: Get away

WILLOW: You know you love me …

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

WILLOW: Love this part

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

WILLOW: I promise (has rear paws secretly crossed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Changes

Memento Mori

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

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

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

Cobbett Lake, Grand Mesa

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

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

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

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

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

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Potpourri

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

I was seeing double.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s Get Two Things Straight

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

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

DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!

YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!

And so it goes.

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

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

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

On the Rimrock Trail, Black Canyon National Park

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

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From The New Yorker

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I Think, Therefore I Am … I Think

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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All I Have To Do Is Dream

I used to wonder how Robin’s mother, Dorothy Clark, felt as she neared 100 years of age, when so many of her contemporaries had already passed away. Including the entertainers whose work she had enjoyed as a younger woman. I thought it might be a depressing state of affairs, but couldn’t really put myself in her shoes.

Now, of course, those shoes fit really well. My entertainment heroes are not exactly dropping like flies, but every week somebody famous and once important to me shuffles off this mortal coil. This past weekend it was Don Everly, the last remaining member of the Everly Brothers. A duo that was so big in the 50s and 60s that they influenced a whole generation of rock and country musical stars.

I picked out three of their songs … I could have closed my eyes with their discography in front of me and stabbed a pencil at any other three and done just as well.

These guys were that good.

.

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Robin’s sister Jill took flight from Paradise on Tuesday afternoon and returned to South Dakota. The week she spent with us absolutely sped by. What did she do? She visited the Grand Mesa, the funky ice cream shop in Ridgway, our Black Canyon National Park, a kids’ theater performance in Durango, the Peach Festival in Palisade, and did some serious tourist-shopping in Silverton.

She came a virgin to the daunting Million Dollar Highway and left a smiling and seasoned veteran of that sometimes sphincter-tightening experience.

Hmmm … not a bad week.

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From The New Yorker

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There is a tall tree a few blocks away that is in full view from our back yard and that has completely gone over into Fall color. No matter that it’s the only one in town that has done so. It’s a trend-setter. A breakaway from the herd. Marching to the beat of a different drummer, and all that. I have to admit that the sight is unwelcome. I was still hoping that some of what is great about Summer could be salvaged before we make our way into another season.

Because this past summer has been a killer. You can see plantings around town that have given up from the stress of the relentless heat of 2021, and there will no doubt be more fatalities along these lines. Our tiny garden suffered, producing tomatoes with odd discolorations and leathery interiors. Here in Paradise we had adopted a survival strategy that involved staying indoors most of the day and then venturing out in the early morning and late evening hours. In the mid-day heat the parks and streets were nearly empty. On the city golf course down the street the players scooted from shade tree to shade tree, got off their machines just long enough to have a desultory smack at the ball, then climbed aboard for another dreary few yards advance toward the clubhouse and the end of their ordeal.

It has been a kind of cosmic joke that the days when we suffered least from the sun were those where the smoke from western fires provided us some protection against its rays. So Autumn is in the odd position of coming too soon on the one hand, and none too soon on the other.

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Some Days Are Diamonds …

It’s nearly 5 AM and it has been raining lightly all night. The cats are wandering aimlessly around the rooms, occasionally stopping by my chair and looking straight into my face with a “Make it Stop” expression on their kitty countenances. They are impatient creatures about some things, accepting about others. But whatever keeps them from going outdoors when that’s where they want to go fits into the intolerable category.

Robin’s sister Jill is staying with us for a few days. She flew in on Tuesday evening and will be here until next Tuesday. That’s a nice-sized visit, I think, especially since years pass between her trips out here to the Western Slope.

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This has been an interesting summer here in Paradise, one where we are glad to not have had travel plans. I’ve mentioned before how the mountains figure heavily into when and where you can take a trip. The problem is the paucity of highways going east/west. Mountain ridges basically are north/south things, so there you have the set-up for snafus of every stripe.

Last year there was a fire along I-70 near Glenwood Springs which messed with travel somewhat at the time but eventually burned out. However, all it took was a heavy rain or two this summer to cause a gigantic mudslide in the burned area, and all of that mud landed on I-70, completely cutting Colorado’s main artery in two. The debris on the road was 8-10 feet deep in places. This all happened two weeks ago, and only just recently a single lane in each direction was tentatively opened, allowing cars and trucks to begin to flow once again.

The real nightmare behind the nightmare is that when this is finally cleared away and the highway repaired, nothing stands in the way of a repeat but the fickle finger of fate. Those steep and barren hillsides are accidents waiting to happen.

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From The New Yorker

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I missed my own deadline this morning, when I didn’t get this rag out on time. Ever have days when nothing gets started, when putting the old one foot in front of the other mantra isn’t working? This morning I couldn’t get my sense of humor started, and without it at my side I really hesitate to get out of bed. It is my shield against the thousand idiocies and stories of cruelty that greet me when I open any page on any of the online news outlets.

So this morning I had to dig into my chest of armaments for my secondary protection. And what is that, you say? Why, rock and roll, I answer.

I found two cuts from the live album Rock N’ Roll Animal, by Lou Reed. The “Introduction” goes along in a wandering way until 3:20, when the band gives us a handful of power chords to wake us up, and then Reed walks on stage to grand applause.

I swear, if I ever strayed from the true faith of R & R, this is the tune that would bring me back.

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Anyone For Hubris?

The electric bicycles that Robin and I acquired have disc brakes, something not new in the world, but new to us. About a month ago I noticed a faint whispering sound occasionally, which over time became less faint and more constantly present. I diagnosed that one of the discs was rubbing on a caliper on the rear wheel. It turned out that I was right. (Diagnosis has always been my forté, implementation my weaker area.)

So I looked it up in Bicycle Maintenance and Repair and found several rather unclear illustrations dealing with how to make adjustments which might do the trick. I finally gave up and took it to the dealer when I found that finishing the repair properly would require using a small torsion wrench, something that I do not own.

The dealer fixed it in minutes, charged me $10.00, and away I went. Well, I thought, I’m going to get one of those special wrenches and the next time this happens, I can skip the inconvenience of hauling the bike to the shop, etc. So I looked it up to find that little tool would cost just under $110.00. And even with the proper equipment, there is no guarantee that I would do the repair correctly. In fact, I have quite a long and proud history of fixing things that never ran quite the same again.

Soooo, no new wrench for me. I might be tempted to use it. And at only ten bucks a pop having the dealer doing the work, it would be a looooong time paying for itself.

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From The New Yorker

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Today’s headlines are full of news of Afghanistan. The name-calling and blaming have begun in earnest. We did it wrong, they say, too fast … too poorly planned … should have turned left at that corner instead of right, etc. As if anyone knew the right way. The U.S. is just one more foreign occupier who has been forced to leave that country without achieving anything lasting. The country has successfully resisted being governed for long by anyone, including the Afghans themselves.

Remember how it all began, after 9/11? We went in and blew up those terrorist training camps to avenge that infamous attack? When we were done with that, we made our first serious mistake. We decided to stay there and try to make a nation out of the country so that those camps wouldn’t just spring up once again. From then on the outcome was never really in doubt. Eventually we would give up and get out and there would be humiliation enough for everybody to have a big plateful. Of course we made it even worse by choosing at that moment to add fixing that pesky Iraq to our to-do list, which was entitled “Things We Can Do To Really Make Our Lives Hell.”

Remember that old saw about those who do not learn from the past being doomed to repeat it? We didn’t have to make these mistakes ourselves … we could have studied the most recent example before us which was provided by Russia, who invaded and then stayed nine years before doing pretty much what we are doing now.

Leaving was always going to be ugly. Perhaps that’s why Presidents Bush, Obama, and cluck didn’t do it. The mistake was staying in the first place and thinking we were smart enough and powerful enough to succeed where no one ever had. Today’s vocabulary word, students, is one that means “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.” That word is:

Hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris, hubris.

(I had a point in there somewhere. Did I make it, you think?)

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From The New Yorker

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My introduction to the world of imported beers was in a jazz club along Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis when I was 21. A place where I could listen to the music while sitting at a tiny round table and nursing a Heineken, all the while smoking my pipe. I might have looked ridiculous, with my baby-face and self-conscious posturing and all, but I didn’t know it. I just felt like the coolest guy on the planet.

I have never felt that hip again. Self-awareness came along and ruined that particular delusion for me.

Later on a persistent and unpleasant cough forced me to abandon the pleasures of tobacco. To make matters worse, my Heineken punch-card came to be all used up, and that was that. All that was left was the jazz. Which, actually, is still pretty cool. If I wanted I could still go to a jazz club (if I could find one) but there would need to be only this small adjustment to my order once I was seated at the table:

“Waiter, could you be a dear and bring me something in a tall frosty bottle that won’t make me behave like an ass once I’ve finished it? Thanks ever so much.”

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One of the great pleasures of advanced age is that you have the time to acquire so much new information, to learn, to (hopefully) become wiser. As long as one keeps their mind open, it is possible that this will occur. Not at all guaranteed, but possible.

One of the great ironies of that same age is that no one wants to hear about it, especially those much younger than oneself. “What in the world can that old poop have to tell me that I might find valuable” is the mantra. And they may be right. We’ve all heard the adage: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. But it is also true that when the student is not ready, teaching can be difficult if not impossible.

So I now know more about living than I ever did, and unless something unheard of and unexpected happens, that knowledge will perish when I do. Just about fits the definition of a cosmic joke. But one of those things time has shown me is that giving unsolicited advice is as close to a complete waste of time and breath as you can get.

However, and since you didn’t ask, I will offer perhaps the most valuable thing I have learned in my time upon this beautiful planet, and it is this:

I believe strongly that I am right. But … I could be wrong.

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Goin’ Once, Goin’ Twice, Goin’ Gone

Darker skies are still the order of the day here in Paradise. The smoke blanket is less dense or more dense but never absent. Hard to imagine what it must be like around where it all originates. Awful, I imagine. Our local air quality is poor, and we’re at least a thousand miles away from the fires.

There is one benefit to having this layer between us and the sun, and that is to make the heat more tolerable. It’s like 95 degrees in the shade compared with being out in the open. A couple of days ago I realized that with the high temperatures, low humidity, and woodsmoke we are all being slowly converted into jerky. I judge that I should be ready for packaging in another month, I think.

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The midpoint of one of our regular bicycle rides is at a small bridge across an irrigation canal that draws its water from the Gunnison River. We stop, refresh ourselves from the water we carry in our packs, and take a minute to gather it all in. On the morning of August 11, this is what the view was from the bridge.

There were a few waterfowl swimming way upstream, and behind us a large fish jumped and made a splash. All that was left behind were the widening circles in the water. What the picture doesn’t show was a chorale of roosters at some coop in the distance letting us know in unmistakable terms that it was morning. As if a person couldn’t see that for themselves.

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One evening Robin and I talked about how as a couple we have always lived by a river. The Big Sioux, the Missouri, and now the Uncompahgre. Our home is not right on it, but it’s a very short drive from BaseCamp. I’ve never quizzed myself to see if I liked lakes or rivers better … what would the point be of that? Both have hooked me hard at different times, and then released me to the land, different from what I had been.

In the mountains the water is mostly very busy and in a hurry. A reservoir may interrupt it for a time, but once beyond each dam it hitches up its belt and takes off once again at a run. Along its route it makes those sounds that we all recognize as special. Whenever Robin and I are given the choice of sleeping near a stream we take it.

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A man named Cuomo has resigned his post this week, after the queue of women who claimed he sexually harassed them kept getting longer and longer. When it finally reached all the way from Times Square to Greenwich Village he gave in. On Tuesday he said that he never crossed an important line with women, but that when he wasn’t looking somebody moved the line and didn’t tell him. That’s at least a try at a defense. Not a very good one, but a try.

Of course his personal line was a pretty rancid one, and convincing himself that giving any breast or buttock within reach a good squeeze was not only okay, but welcome … what can you say?

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BTW, one of our younger grandchildren has decided that the word “breast” is too loaded and sensitive for daily use. She has substituted “chest,” as in “We’re having baked chicken chests for supper.”

I haven’t yet, but the next time I see her I plan to ask how she deals with the term pork butt.

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Notes From A Backyard Deck

Neighbor Ed has nearly finished laying out the simple paver patio for us. The weather for construction has been abysmally hot, so when he and his helper quit early on Friday I wasn’t surprised or perturbed. Instead, we are pleased at how it is coming along. ‘Tis a simple rectangle which to we will add … what, I don’t know … but I’m sure it will all turn out to be snazzy, swell, and neat-o. How could it not be so? Robin and I bleed an artistic shade of red, and our decorating choices are impeccable.

Sometimes a visitor will look at something I have added to the house furnishings and particularly like, and they will say “Ewwwwww.” I forgive them and say “Come back in 25 years or so and you will find that what you despise today is utterly au courant. People will be scouring attics and barns for such things one day, just wait and see.”

I am so ahead of my time, whenever that is, that is.

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My very good friend who I never met, Nanci Griffith, has stepped out of the room. She was 68 at the time of her passing … a baby’s years. I don’t recall exactly when I first became aware of her music, but it captivated me then and there. Something about that child-like voice saying very grown-up things, I guess.

Listening to her songs today is a mixed thing. The music is just as special as ever, but the songs are tied to a period of my life that I don’t re-visit often. This heart that serves me so well has a few scars (and whose does not?), and Nanci’s tunes can pull uncomfortably at those.

Ms. Griffith also introduced me to Larry McMurtry and his book Lonesome Dove. There is no writer who has given me more pleasure, and no book that I have re-read more often.

Perhaps you can see why this particular obituary in the NYTimes on Saturday morning might have given me pause to reflect. But then, listening to a good song has always been worth a pang or two.

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It’s all just life, and this comes through in Griffith’s music. Life as defined by John Lennon: “What happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

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Is Anybody Out There?

The artist Nick Cave has been around for a long time now, making music that is not for the faint of heart, but those songs of his that I have listened to carefully come out of a special kind of intelligence. He was a favorite of my son Jonnie, and was one of those musicians that Jonnie employed to make me crazy.

But this past week I came upon a letter that Cave wrote to a fan a few years ago, who was asking how he was coping following the death of his own 15 year-old son in a fall from a cliff in England. I’m going to link to the letter for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there isn’t a one of us that hasn’t grieved something by now – the loss of a family member, a lover, a friend,or perhaps of part of ourselves. We’ve been stunned but somehow made it back to where we could function once again, although forever we are changed in some way.

I’ve never read anything more honest and insightful than Cave’s open letter back to the questioner. When asked if he believed that his son still existed in some form and was available to him Cave said that he talks to the boy all the time … but “he may not be there.”

You might read the letter and remember the link, if only to be able to send it along to someone who can use it one day. Life can be awfully hard at times, my friends, and my simplistic counsel would be that the more shoulders that are available to be leaned on, the better.

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Found this critter when taking out the trash Monday morning. Mantises are common here in Paradise, coming in all sizes. They are fascinating little killers, aren’t they?

It’s that unlike a lot of insects they turn their head to look at you that gets me. You just know that they are trying to decide whether it’s worth the trouble to try to eat you or not.

“Let’s see … I know that thing is too big to drag around … but if I chewed it up into manageable-sized pieces … ”

(Perhaps you think that I’m being paranoid. But study the photograph. The bug was giving me some serious side-eye at the moment the shutter snapped.)

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I could almost accept the fact that so many of my fellow citizens have decided to follow blindly an immoral fool of an ex-president and have thus donated their brains to non-science. Almost. If it were only the adults that were affected, you could say “Well, I warned them,” and let it go at that. It is impossible to police our part of the universe so well that stupid can’t break out at any moment and in any place. Que sera and all that.

But right now their folly places their children and everybody else’s children at risk because these kids are not yet eligible to receive the vaccines. That’s where a line is crossed for me, and I have trouble sympathizing with those putting personal “freedom” over the common good. One of our duties as adults in a society is to protect the children in our care. In 2021, this means getting the damned shots, and doing it yesterday. Anything less is neglect.

End of story.

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From The New Yorker

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In my family of origin a garment was almost never thrown in the trash, at least not before it went through at least one transformation. For instance, my uncle Elmer was a portly man who sold insurance for a living. This made him the only person in the entire extended family who wore a white shirt to work.

When Uncle Elmer was done with them, these garments were handed down to my mom, who took those very broad shirt-tails and made clothing for my brother and I. When we outgrew them or wore them out, they spent the next phase of their lives in the rag-basket, and finally were thrown away when they became too threadbare for even this homely chore.

Occasionally these economies didn’t work out as planned. When I was about six years old, mom decided to take an old wool sweater that had belonged to some adult and make swim trunks out of it for my brother and I. What possessed her I don’t know, but make them she did and the next summer we boys put them on for the first time and dashed into the lake.When we emerged, we found to our horror that although the elastic at the waist was holding just fine, the waterlogged woolen fabric now weighed several pounds and gravity had pulled it down so far that the crotch was at the level of our knees, revealing our private parts to anyone who cared to look in our direction.

I don’t recall how we got from the beach to a sheltered spot where we could rid ourselves of the distorted garments, but once we shed them we never saw them again. However, those swimsuits lived on for years in family legends.

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You may have noticed a couple of changes in the weather listings. We closed the Washington DC offices of the Empire and opened up an outpost in Stockholm, Sweden. Granddaughter Elsa had been living in DC but felt she had to leave when the behavior of the Red Party threatened her mental health. Being that close to the seat of all power was more than a sane person could tolerate, so she chose a location about 3900 miles away and will now see if that’s far enough.

What I know is that Robin and I live 1900 miles from DC, and there are many days that I wish it were further – for instance, if that offensive political party could be relocated to a large ice floe within the Arctic Circle. We would give each member the health care availability and economic opportunities of a person living on public assistance and let them work it out. Oh, and we would give them all the handguns and assault weapons they wanted to assist in solving arguments, in marriage counseling, and in employment disagreements.

I think that I’d sleep better if that happened. Then we could devote our energies toward trying to help the Democrats become a functioning political party that consistently worked for the benefit of all of us, instead of the prima donna casserole it tends to be now.

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Fat & Salt & Sugar, Oh My!

When we moved to Paradise, we bought a house with a sea of rocks covering half of the back yard. It was some person’s idea of xeriscaping, and it worked for that purpose, saving water and all, but it didn’t work as a visual. It was boring, colorless, and impossible to walk on if one was barefoot.

So we hired a landscaper/builder to make us a large wooden deck. Very large. He built it, and for at least a month, it looked great. But then the boards began to warp in our intense Colorado sunshine and low humidity. When I called to discuss this problem with the landscaper I found that his office was closed and he was nowhere to be found. In fact, the business had ceased to exist.

Six years later Robin and I gave up on continually replacing warped boards several at a time and never liking how the whole dreadful and dispiriting mess looked. We even found ourselves thinking back fondly on that sea of rocks. At a tipping point this summer I began to demolish it, pulling up one deck screw at a time (hundreds and hundreds of them), piling up those wretched boards alongside the driveway, and finally getting back to the naked stones we started with. Along the way I had many encounters with a community of yellowjackets that lived beneath that deck. Most of the time they just swarmed me and drove me indoors, but on one bad day four of them stung me when I wasn’t paying attention to their protests.

Our next plan is to create a proper patio using paver stones to replace the now disappeared wooden deck. Much smaller, quite a bit less pretentious, and the stones are guaranteed not to warp … ever. Even better, the person doing the work for us is a contractor who lives next door, which makes him much easier to find should events ever go south on the project. Even thinking about it makes me smile, which is something that our mega-deck never did (except for that first month).

BTW, we found an excellent place to recycle all that wood. There is a woman who operates a wildlife rescue service out of Olathe. It is a labor of love on her part, and her operation depends a great deal on contributions from the public. She takes in wounded or lost creatures, and helps nurse them back to wholeness when this is possible. It turns out that a large pile of used lumber fills a real need, and yesterday we loaded the last of our contribution onto her pickup. Took her two trips to get it all

She is turning them into pens and animal housing. I think this is a much better second life for the wood. Its first one was a bummer all around. But we have already reaped one benefit … the yellowjackets are gone … hallelujah!

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Thursday Robin and I went exploring on the Uncompahgre Plateau. We decided to take the second of the two major roads up there, one that we’d never traveled. The first one, the Divide Road, has a good and very civilized gravel surface and the only problem is dustiness when it’s been a while since the last rain. The second is called Transfer Road, which started out beautifully but about fifteen miles in it turned into something quite different. Strictly speaking, it was not a “jeep road,” primarily because as long as you drove about 5 mph you were okay, as none of the protruding rocks were higher than 4 inches.

But the rocks were the road. For about four miles. Every thirty seconds as the car heaved up and down and back and forth I would think “It must be almost over … it can’t be this lousy for much longer … should I turn back? … and finally it was better. The scenery during this highly uncomfortable stretch, however, was outstanding.

After such a stress-out, we decided to reward ourselves with a trip into the past and had supper at an A&W on the north side of Montrose. They have all sorts of forbidden foods to eat there, doubly so since it is combined with a Long John Silver’s franchise. All the fat and salt and sugar a person could ever want or tolerate without completely foundering is available at reasonable prices.

When we finished our meal, we drove immediately home so that we could be seated safely before the toxic nutritional tsunami caught up with us and made ambulation temporarily impossible. This one trip to the A&W may have taken a month off my life, but lordy, it was worth it.

(A day later I still have little fat droplets in my field of vision. My oh my.)

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From The New Yorker

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I borrowed this photo from CNN because I thought it was such a great one. That, my friends, is an athlete. Everything is in the picture – “I am strong, I am disciplined, and by God I just won my race!”

AUGUST 06: Allyson Felix of Team USA reacts after winning the bronze medal in the Women’s 400m Final on day fourteen
of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

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Three hours from Montrose is the small town of Creede, Colorado. We’ve spent a couple of days there at different times, and each time promised ourselves to come back and stay longer. It definitely has the kind of dusty charm that I love about Western towns, but have more and more trouble finding. For former South Dakotans, it is like Deadwood was before it was corrupted by the gamblers and the money they brought with them.

The NYTimes of August 6 did a story on Creede and on its community theater, which has been going now for more than fifty years. Creede’s origins were in mining that produced silver, gold, copper, lead, and zinc.

My advice to would-be visitors is that if you like the ambience that the article describes, come soon.

There is evidence that the sort of change may be coming that turned Deadwood into a soulless zombie-town. You can see it in the luxury home developments in the valley leading into Creede when you approach from the north. The sort of folks that build and buy those estates often prefer sleek and shiny over dry and dusty.

I hope I’m wrong, but that happens so rarely …

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From The New Yorker

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Sanity Isn’t Everything

The television series “Bosch” is over and done after seven seasons. No more years promised or hinted at. But it is still out there to be enjoyed, because this is streaming-land, where you can have a second chance if you missed it the first time around. And if you did miss it, here’s why you might want to take a moment to put it on your list.

Everybody looking nice and noir here in this poster.

It seems that there has been one police procedural series at a time that is clearly superior ever since “Hill Street Blues” came on the scene, and Bosch was one of those for Robin and I. Taken from a series of books by Michael Connelly, we got to watch characters rise, fall, stumble, surmount obstacles … to develop in ways that we might not have predicted.

Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch. A good actor gets a fine role. What’s not to like?

The lead character, detective Harry Bosch, had a childhood that was so unjust, so nightmarish, that it made him a crusader for fairness and justice in his police work. Crusaders can be prickly people, and his character is all of that. But most of his behavior is … admirable.

Watch an episode or two if you are between series. You may get as hooked as we were and be glad for it.

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I’m reading The Great Influenza, a book about the pandemic of 1918. Now (I can almost hear you asking yourself) why would a sane person read about one pandemic when they are in the midst of another one, the end of which is nowhere in sight? I think the answer is in the words “sane person.” Sanity, if you will search the pages of this blog going back as far as you want to, is not a quality I have ever claimed for myself. It’s not even a goal that I aspire to, to be honest.

My own variation of not quite on the beam does not involve the use of meat cleavers, AR-15s, or other violent tools and actions. It’s the kind of looniness that at its worst others probably find at worst irritating or annoying, at best amusing.

But about the book. If we think that we have it bad today, it is instructive to see what happened in 1918. Think bulldozers in Philadelphia digging mass graves to help alleviate the piling up of corpses in hospitals, morgues, mortuaries, and homes. Think what seemed like an ordinary influenza season turning into a nightmare as the virus mutated into something much worse, a killer of amazing swiftness and ferocity. Think a disease that hit hardest at the young and fit and was tolerated better by the infants and senior citizens of the time, turning the usual run of a disease on its head.

The author tells a good story, and he has a fantastic story to tell. For me, the introductory chapters on the development of American medical science were eye-opening. Where we went from backwoods medicine to the best laboratory benches in the world in less than a generation, and from the far periphery of science smack dab into the center, a position we still hold. Where doctors went from incompetent butchers to the gods of society that they became. This latter was especially interesting to a former doctor-god like myself, who had to turn in his celestial robe and scepter some time ago and who has been living contentedly as a mortal ever since. (I really don’t miss all that, although I will tell you that if you ever get the chance to party with the seraphim, you’ll never be the same).

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Back when I was in the process of becoming a divorced person, I sort of lost my mind for a while. I kept bad hours, slept too little and often ate things that were not fitten to eat. I would be up nights writing poetry, most of which I recognized the next morning as drivel, some of it as just okay, but then I would read one that was really good. One which contained ideas and writing that I recognized as not mine.

Out of these experiences came my theory of how my cranial contents, and perhaps yours as well, truly operate. First of all, this spongy bit of tissue tells me what to do to keep all of the nutritional substances that it needs coming in on a regular basis. It ponders odd things without cessation, and it does this without my bidding or leave, and often without my complete understanding. It prompts me to carry it around to different places, I suppose because its fairly confined life would be too boring if it didn’t have new things to look at.

But it has become obvious that what I used to regard as my brain I now realize is a brain. It doesn’t really belong to me, and is actually pretty independent of me. But I can “rent it” like a tool when I need it to tot up a column of figures or type a blog entry like this one. When my rental hour is up it doesn’t stop but keeps on going like that mad little bunny with the drum.

Anyone who has ever begun to meditate will recognize themselves here. You sit on your cushion, arrange your arms and legs just so, and then begin focussing on your breathing. Almost immediately your brain takes off on a tangent. You bring your attention back to the breath and in a few seconds that monkey mind is off again, following its own muse. You wonder why this is so, and why you don’t seem to be in control of your thoughts. Well … now you know what I think. Perhaps you have a better explanation?

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Animated By Animus

I will freely admit that I have an animus towards those people who are eligible but have refused to be vaccinated against Covid. Maybe an animus and a half. For all the right reasons, of course, because almost by definition, my reasons are the correct ones to have.

I think they are being fools in allowing their behavior to be influenced by politicians in this regard.* Double fools for going along with all of the rest of the sack of rubbish being handed out by a malevolent squad of public personages who have no one’s interests in mind but their own.

I think they are being fools in allowing their behavior on anything Covid-related to be influenced by politicians. Double fools for going along with all of the rest of the sack of rubbish being handed out by the Red Squad, a malevolent group of public personages who appear to have no one’s interests in mind but their own.

On the bright side, the Red Squad is doing us all a real service. They are showing us what happens when good men do nothing. I believe that there are good men and women among the Republicans, but they have silenced themselves for expedient reasons, thinking they might wait out the aberrancy that is cluckism. Instead they have found themselves with chicken poo all over their nice suits and reputations.

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BTW, I learned this morning that although Edmund Burke is often credited with the aphorism “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” he never said it.

The closest attribution might be from an address by John Stuart Mill, in 1867. Still just as true as ever more than 250 years later.

“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”

John Stuart Mill

Johnny Mill hit the old nail there, didn’t he? “Allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply … .” Kind of makes me squirm just a tish. When might I have done just that, is my question to myself?

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This t-shirt’s message could well be applied to many of my endeavors in this short life. Love it.

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Robin and I are planning a three-day getaway this coming week, starting Tuesday. We’re traveling to Fort Collins CO to revisit old stomping grounds. Amy, Ally, and Neil lived and worked in Fort Collins for a time, and we have a tote-ful of good memories associated with our visits to them. Since it has been well over a decade since our last time in F.C., we anticipate some of the stuff that we liked won’t be there any longer, change being inevitable and all that. Will let you know what we find.

It’s a college town, so there are some givens. There will be pizza, there will be taco joints and buffalo wing palaces, and there will be many places where a young man or woman can slake their thirst. The more generous-minded of these emporia may also allow senior citizens to come in as long as they behave themselves and sit over there in the corner where passersby don’t notice them. Get too many of the ancient ones in a place and they can be a bit of a drag on the revelry.

For instance, you will probably never hear someone in a group of hardbodies saying: “Let’s go down to the Sunset Home and get wasted.”

I just don’t see that happening.

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The weather app on my phone had a hissie fit this afternoon. Out of my pocket arose the sound ordinarily reserved for announcing that Armageddon is upon us (It is an app put out by the Gideons, who had noticed that last year’s restricted travel had cut down severely on the need for New Testaments in motel rooms. Ergo, the app. Wouldn’t want anyone to miss the end-times because they hadn’t been notified). A severe weather warning had been issued, and damage to life and property was to be expected. I had barely adjusted to that disturbing intelligence when the second notice came along which basically said “Oops, never mind.”

I rushed outside to see for myself, and found nothing but a skyful of grey clouds drifting along in a perfectly peaceful manner. No different from yesterday or the day before. No threats to be seen in any direction.

Well, we’ll let this one go since it is their first app, but the Gideons better sharpen things up or it will never be the hit those New Testaments have been.

[My apologies to the Gideon Society. They’ve never done me harm and here I am poking fun at them while making awfully free with the truth at the same time. It’s almost as if I had no scruples at all. Heh, heh, heh.]

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From The New Yorker

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There is a habit that develops in some older citizens where they start to say things like “This is the last car I will ever buy.” I humbly suggest that this is not a good habit to acquire. It may be that the statement turns out to be true, but if you think about it, that could also have been true of the very first car you ever bought, had things gone differently in your life.

We have never known at any point in our lives when and what our final act would be like, and we don’t become any wiser in this regard just because we’ve added a few decades. At some point each of us will take our leave and that’s the only surety in this ride we’re all on. But thinking about that “last car” seems to me to be closing doors that don’t need closing. What fun is there in reading about a seductive new automobile if you only end up saying to yourself “Whatever I’m looking at is not for me. I won’t be around that long.” Bumming yourself out unnecessarily? I think so!

I had a forceful reminder of mortality’s possibilities last October when a blood clot not much large than a grain of rice took the powers of clear thinking and of speech away from me for an hour. Only an hour, thanks to Robin and her gang of helpers.(The speech came back for certain, but I suspect that you may not accept the clear thinking part, and who could blame you?). But even that short time was instructive.

However, I am still reading auto reviews in Car and Driver magazine, still buying shirts that will last a very long time even though they may be slightly more expensive, and still think that anything offering a “lifetime supply” is a good deal. Call me a loon … you won’t be the first to do so. And I have no idea if you will be the last.

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Simple Tools

One of the most common misconceptions about electric bicycling that I run into is that the cyclist sits there and the motor does all the work. Many people are surprised that I pedal at all. What they have missed along the way is that the point of e-biking is to assist, rather than replace, the effort you make in getting from Point A to Point B.

The best description that I’ve come up with so far is that I do the same amount of work in a given amount of time but go faster and further with the electrical assistance. Now, it is true that if I dialed the assist level up to 5 that I wouldn’t be getting much exercise at all. It’s all in what you want out of it. It’s only a simple machine, after all. One simple tool riding upon another.

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I ran across this music video recently that I found intriguing. It’s of a song by the Chemical Brothers collaborating with Beck. Once you start watching you can’t stop until the end, just to see how it all comes out.

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I had suspected for a long time that I might be underestimating the level of thick-headedness in the good old US of A, but today’s situation … what the hell! To have nearly half the country, including many people who should definitely know better, abandon their wits en masse and refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19 is a situation that a year ago I would not have thought possible. C’est incroyable!

Here are some quotes from my favorite cranky S.O.B., H.L. Mencken. He would have loved the opportunity to comment on today’s news. I think that even he might be amazed at today’s goings-on. It’s all I can do to keep my inner cynic in check, and it causes me to wonder anew about the long-term future of the species homo sapiens.

H.L. Mencken

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

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.

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My friend Joe sent these along to me. I don’t know who to credit, but to whoever painted these … Bravo! There is a great deal of obvious skill involved in doing the painting, but what is even more impressive is the imagination that saw the possibilities present in an ordinary hand.

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Tuesday afternoon was one of those perfect times to be out on the deck with an iced tea in one hand and a word processor in the other. I listened to new music on Apple and to some old music from my library, all the while being caressed lightly by a breeze that never got too rowdy. The contrast between sitting here under a shady ash tree and doing any kind of work out there twenty feet away in the brilliant sunshine is striking. I can do the ash-tree bit for hours. I can do working in the sun for perhaps 20 minutes before I fade. Kinda pathetic, actually, this weather-wimpiness. When, exactly, did that happen?

Oh, well.

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There are some musical groups that stand out for me, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young is one of them. Maybe the premier one, actually. My appreciation of their music began when I was wearing a USAF uniform and listening to a San Francisco radio station playing “Four Way Street.” I wore out the original vinyl of that album decades ago. Their musical and social sensibilities meshed with my own in a way that has withstood multiple breakups and reunions of the group without flinching. At present it doesn’t exist as a functioning and touring unit, but no matter. Over these forty-plus years they have created a body of music that I can turn to whenever.

So when I ran across this album named CSNY 1974 (Live), what could I do? The album was put together recently, culled from many concerts played in that year, when they were young men and their future unclear.

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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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