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.

.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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?)

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.”

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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?

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

.

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.”

******

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.

******

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.)

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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!

******

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.)

******

From The New Yorker

******

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)

******

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 …

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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).

******

******

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?

******

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.

******

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?

******

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

******

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.

******

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.]

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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?

******

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).

******

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.

******

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)

******

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!

******

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.

******

From The New Yorker

******

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.

******

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.

******

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.)

******

Snap.

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

But I digress already.

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

The dead at Antietam

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

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

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

Jim Brandenburg

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

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

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

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

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

Selfie, anyone?

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

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

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

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

I know that others have worse weather than we do.

I don’t care.

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

William Saroyan: The Time of Your Life

******

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

******

Losing My Mind Gracefully

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

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

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

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

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

Malachy McCourt

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

******

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

Rain … Old Testament Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

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

Wikipedia: Boulder to Birmingham

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

******

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

******

Life = Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon: Yes, of course

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

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

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

******

Family Blotter

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

More coffee?

More soup?

Here, I’ll get that.

No, I’m fine. I’ll eat later.

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

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

******

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

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

******

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

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

******

******

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

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

******

One Hour Over Berlin

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

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

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

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

******

******

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

But this one may have legs.

******

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

******

Magnolia, You Sweet Thing …

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

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

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

******

Juneteenth

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

******

Moon Meets the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

******

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

******

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

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

******

Summahtime

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

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

It just took so long to get to Ambrosia.

******

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

******

What’s That Smell?

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

******

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

Oy.

******

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

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

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

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

******

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

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

******

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

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

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

******

Anti-Camping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

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

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

******

Oh Canada!

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said … grouch, Scrooge, misanthrope.

******

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

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

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

******

From The New Yorker

******

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

******

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

******

Good Will(ow) Hunting

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

But to get back to Willow.

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

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

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

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

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

******

Three from the New Yorker Archives

***

***

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

******

Someone Else’s Hard Work

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

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

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

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

******

******

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

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

Andrew Sullivan, Removing the Bedrock of Liberalism

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

******

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

******

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

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

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

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

******

Report From The Empire

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

******

******

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

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

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

*Pun intended

******

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

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

******

Misguidance

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

So I never saw him.

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

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

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

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

******

******

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

******

Amazing Grace

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

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

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

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

******

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

******

******

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

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

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

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

******

My Oh My Department

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

******