Life

Sad story taken from the past week’s news, about a 39 year-old woman who went walking with her dogs off Highway 550, which is the Million Dollar Frightway that connects Montrose with Durango. Later that day the dogs came home and she didn’t. A searcher found her body, which had apparently been mauled by a bear.

Authorities mounted up and took yet more dogs to look for the offending animal, and when they came across a suspicious-looking adult with two cubs they killed them all. A tragic ending for all concerned. I found myself wondering why they felt that the bears had to be put down. This seemed quite different from the usual encounters that we read about where an animal comes into a human-occupied area and attacks someone. There could be honest concern that history would repeat itself. But here … ?

This time a human went into the bear’s domain, with dogs, and the animal defended its territory … protected its family. What the authorities did seems more like knee-jerk vengeance to me than a thoughtful response to the situation. I suspect that the formula of human dies = bear dies is the only one that operates in these instances. But perhaps I’m missing something here. Enlighten me.

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Our electric bicycles are proving to be even more fun than we thought. First of all, for those of you who think that we are simply cheating by using the assistance of a few electrons, I will answer that the active word here is assistance. We still have to pedal, just not quite as hard.

Take an example. You can cycle all the way from one end of Black Canyon National Park to the other. The road from the visitor center to the turnaround point is 5.7 miles long. The trip out and back is composed of very little level ground, but lots of long drawn-out uphills and downhills. Going out, that last uphill at the end is 2.2 miles long, at the end of which I usually am begging Robin to release me from the cares of Earth. With these bikes, I simply press a button to the smallest level of “assist” and sacre bleu, I am up the hill with some energy still left in me.

Now all I have to worry about on this spectacular route are the people in automobiles on the narrow two-lane blacktop who are trying to kill me by forcing me off the road and into free-fall, where electricity is of no help at all.

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From The New Yorker

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Mitt Romney was booed this week when he spoke at a Republican convention and dared to speak some truth about former President Cluck. Mitt still doesn’t get it. The GOP has made itself into a party consisting of way too many sociopaths in suits. They respect nothing – not you, not I, nor even themselves.

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On Monday I began to volunteer at the local Democratic Party HQ. It is a small office, perfectly befitting the small party that the Democrats are out here on the Western Slope. But it has a very nice grass-roots feel to it. My job yesterday was to simply keep the doors open for two hours, responding to questions from anyone who entered. I was the entire staff for those hours.

Of course, since it was my first day, I knew nothing, and was not able to be very helpful to the four people who did come by. My hope is that in the days to come I will either learn something or that fewer people will stop in.

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Our governor suggested a few weeks back that we have a meatless day once in a while. Save the planet and be healthier and all that. For some of our local columnists and letter writers, you would think he had suggested fire-bombing all of the nursing homes in Colorado. They are still incensed that someone, anyone, would hint that beef was anything but the food of the gods. And that beef production was anything but a positive boon to the environment.

We are living in beef country, so this comes as no surprise, but these same correspondents indulged themselves in many bits of misinformation in making their case. Misinformation as in … fibs.

I see a parallel here, with coal. Coal mining has been a big deal out west, and its adherents still haven’t given up on the idea that suddenly it will become possible to burn it without harm to the atmosphere. But even when the facts we have are altogether damning, these folks will not believe what they don’t want to accept, and that is that. But it is a dead industry, with a few zombie-oid relics still standing here and there.

The situation with beef is similar. It is expensive to produce, relatively unhealthy to eat, the industry is riddled with systemic animal cruelty, and the effects on the environment are basically seriously negative ones. It is an unsustainable practice however you care to look at it. We will hear a lot of fibs in the years to come, but it is a doomed industry, just as coal was. Change can be very painful, if either mining or beef production are what you do and what your family has done for generations. But telling lies won’t stop it.

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A Little Less Fresh Air, If You Please.

This post is for one of my kids, whose name I will withhold to protect her anonymity. But hey, I only have the three children, so that precaution doesn’t mean a lot.

Very early in life, she decided that the outdoor world might be a lovely place, but it held way more minuses than pluses. And one of the biggest minuses was … insects. They were everywhere creeping, crawling, stinging, and going so far as to suck the very blood from one’s body. Imagine, your blood being withdrawn against your will … it was all just too macabre.

As one of life’s little jokes, this person was born into a family whose paterfamilias loved to camp, and she was made to accompany the rest of the family on outings like this one, where she announced that she was not leaving the tent, thank you very much, and we could all just go on our little hike without her.

When she was an adult, she learned, as did we all, about those Africanized honeybees who are very aggressive toward humans, and have been nicknamed “killer bees” as a result. This only confirmed her belief that people should largely remain in their houses, because Nature was not to be trusted with one’s welfare.

So yesterday when I read about the 70 year old gentleman from Breckinridge TX who was innocently mowing his lawn when he was set upon by a cloud of these winged messengers of death, I thought instantly of my daughter’s old concerns. Sad to say, the gentleman succumbed to his injuries, and this is a lesson to us all. To my daughter, bless her heart, it probably confirms her long-held mistrust of bugs in general.

To me it meant that lawn-mowing was an inherently dangerous occupation, and I resolved to do as little of it as possible in the future. Mowing not only exposes a person to insect depredations, but other hazards as well. These include heat stroke, objects thrown at you by the mower blade, and losing one’s toes in the machinery. If that weren’t enough, it can also make you tired, cranky, and smelly.

But back to the bees. The place they were first reported in the U.S. was in a border community named Hidalgo TX. Instead of trying to play down the story, this town declared itself the killer bee capital of the United States, and this large statue was created as part of that promotion. Clever folks, these Hidalgoans.

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From The New Yorker

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Reading an article on modern obstetrics recently, and the ongoing controversies that simmer along in that discipline reminded me of something I will call Flom’s First Axiom: Everyone who is born vaginally has brain damage. Now before you jump all over me and ask for facts, I fully admit that I haven’t any. But what I do have is thousands of observations of babies at birth, and there is no way that your skull can be deformed like that and you not suffer repercussions. No way.

You take an organ that is starts out basically the shape of a bicycle helmet and quickly form it into something that resembles a Campbell Soup can with eyes. How in the world can that be a good thing? Since it happens to all of us, though, we don’t notice, except in extreme cases.

You take an organ that is starts out basically the shape of a bicycle helmet and quickly form it into something that resembles a Campbell Soup can with eyes. How in the world can that not be damaging? But since it happens to all of us we don’t notice, except in extreme cases.

For instance, here is a baby whose head was more than normally bent out of shape, and as you might expect he grew up to join the Tea Party. It is a truism that the newborn photos of Tea Party members all look like this.

Personally I think it’s a very good idea that several years must pass after we are born before we are asked to do complicated things, like writing checks. If we still had our soup-can brains we might give away the farm for certain.

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Holy Fools In Short Supply

Once in a while I meet extraordinary people who might be classified as holy fools. They don’t come along every day, and definitely not often enough. Such a man was Herb (not his real name), who I met in AA meetings in Yankton SD. When it came time for him to share, even the littlest things like his name, you never knew what would come out of his mouth. Where I might say in a meeting “My name is Jon, and I’m an alcoholic,” he might say “My earthly name is Herb but who really knows who and what I am.”

As a result, there were some who groaned when his turn came to speak, and waited impatiently for it to pass. I admit that at first I did not appreciate what he had to say. But for whatever reason, Herb would sometimes seek me out at meeting breaks, and much of his conversation was scrambled and hard to follow. But then there would be an amazing flash of clarity. A sentence that would stop you right where you were and show you something that had been there in front of you for the longest time but you never saw it.

So when Herb rushed up to me one day and pushed a recording into my hands and said “You’ve gotta listen to this, it will change your life,” I paid attention. I listened to it, and while I’m not sure that my life turned at that moment, I am still grateful for his gift.

Such was my introduction to the work of Jennifer Berezan. The recording Herb recommended was Returning, a 50 minute-long chanted meditation of layered beauty. You won’t find it on iTunes, but on her website, along with a lot of other beautiful things. Stuff that can be the antidote to some of the poison we take in every day through our eyes and ears without meaning to.

Since it is Sunday after all, I will share a short clip I took this morning from another long work of hers, entitled In These Arms – A Song For All Beings. The full work is more than an hour long. The last three lines of this clip are basically a short metta, or lovingkindness meditation. It is my gift today to you. You don’t have to take it, my part was to make the offer.

May everyone you love and everyone you never met be happy, safe, and free.

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I cannot turn my eyes, I cannot count the cost
Of all that has been broken, all that has been lost
I cannot understand, the suffering that life brings
War and hate and hunger
And a million other things

 
When I’ve done all that I can
And I try to do my part
Let sorrow be a doorway
Into an open heart

 
And the light on the hills is full of mercy
The wind in the trees it comes to save me
This silence it will never desert me
I long to hold the whole world in these arms

 
May all beings be happy
May all beings be safe
May all beings everywhere be free

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From The New Yorker

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We’re watching a series from Iceland called “Trapped.” It’s a murder mystery set in a small port town, and it definitely has a flavor all its own. I won’t say anything about the plot here, so don’t worry about spoilers. Suffice it so say that it is said to be of the Nordic Noir genre.

What we love about it are the characters, exemplified by the chief of police. He is a quiet man, looks like he dressed in the dark in someone else’s clothes, and has two deputies who are very nice and very ordinary people. There is no Omigod you’re right moment, as officers dash to their cars for a wild ride to save lives. There is no tactical assault on an apartment building as a SWAT team piles out of a personnel carrier with guns drawn.

The first few episodes occur during a blizzard, which cuts the town off from the outside world, and is a great plot device. Freezing Icelandic citizens running around town in their little Isuzu SUVs, getting stuck, shoveling out, going into ditches, lost children, trying to solve a murder against significant odds … there was so much cold and blowing snow that I had to get out the afghan to stay warm for the hour each episode requires.

It’s on Prime. Season One was watched by 86% of the people of Iceland. That could either mean that it is pretty good, or that those people have way too much time on their hands.

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Say What? … She What? … But I Just Talked To Her …

On Monday a friend of Robin’s, a lady of 87 years, was perky and going through her regular routines and looking forward to Zoom Bible Study on Tuesday, but that evening she passed away. Quietly, no fuss, no drawn-out or painful rite of passage. Two eyes closed in the evening and the last chapter in her personal story on Earth was written.

As always the finality of death was shocking, even when it comes to someone at that stage of her life. You can’t shuffle off this mortal coil at 87 without disturbing everybody you know, not even then. Her friends weren’t yet ready to say goodbye. For me it has always been that irreversibility, that complete resistance to petitioning, that refusal to listen to reason that has sometimes greatly pissed me off about death. The absolute lack of recourse.

Along came this piece by Margaret Renkl in Wednesday’s NYTimes, describing the role of poetry in helping people deal with hard places in life. This help comes at those times when we have run out of words to describe what is happening to us or how we feel. It comes when our own store of language fails us. Knowing that the poet could not have written what they did if they hadn’t seen what we are seeing. And if they survived, why, so might we.

I recall as a very young child overhearing my parents having a serious disagreement. Voices were raised and harsh words were exchanged. There were two things that were my takeaway that night. One was the terminally scary thought that mom and dad might separate and then where would I be? The other was that even while I was feeling so small and terrified, the people I could see through my window out there on the street were going about their own busy-ness, without a care for my troubles. How unfeeling they were! How unfair it all was.

If I’d had someone else’s words to lean on, I might not have felt so alone and powerless on that turbulent night. But hey, I was just a kid. Who writes tragic or even thoughtful poetry for six year-olds? Here is the huge advantage in being an adult. There are places to which we can turn for support, if we will. Poetry is one of those.

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From The New Yorker

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The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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Musée des Beaux Arts

by W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.


In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

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Icarus

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We are off later this morning for a four-hour drive to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Camping there with the Hurley family. I’ve dusted off the camper, put the proper amount of air in its tires, and checked the supply boxes. The daytime weather is predicted to be good, but the nights are all scheduled to be below freezing so we’ll be wearing our socks to bed and bringing out Mr. Heater for those nights. I look forward to rolling up like a hedgehog in the bottom of my sleeping bag and wearing all of the clothes I brought. It’s one of those recurring situations in life that go like this –

“Why do you keep hitting yourself?”

“Because it feels so good when I stop.”

We’ve been to this park a couple of times, and if you’ve never been, it is pretty amazing. You drive along the highway and it is nothing but mountains and the lovely San Luis Valley and then all of a sudden – what the hey? – gigantic sand dunes, hundreds of feet high, piled up against those Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Be prepared … we may take photos.

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Autotomy Is Where It’s At

Okay, I have become pretty accustomed to being amazed by the things found in the natural world, but this one is in a class of its own. There is a sea slug that takes its own head off, leaving its old body behind, and then regenerates a completely new one. The article showed up in the NYTimes Science section Tuesday.

The idea of being able to leave your physical problems behind you and start anew is certainly an attractive one. Speaking only for myself, if humans were capable of autotomy I would do what I could to grow a taller body the next time. I might even go for a six-pack while I was at it.

The problem that I see is that this new buff corpus would still have my old face on it.

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Montrose County is presently at blue as far as Covid 19 cases are concerned, and is on the brink of going green. I would say more, but I’m not sure what this means to any of us as far as what behaviors we can safely change. There have been a few bad blips along the way during this past year, so perhaps this is just a good blip, one to be looked at and enjoyed while it’s here, but from the safety of being behind our masks and in our fortress houses.

For our part, we are having friends over for brunch on Easter Sunday. Friends in our age group who are vaccinated, that is. And unless the day is absolutely gloriously warm, we will be eating our meal indoors, rather than shivering on the deck while bravely smiling as we chew our rapidly cooling food. It will seem strange participating in this simple form of social engagement, just sharing a meal with others in one’s own home.

Perhaps to ease the transition we should all bring our computers to the table where we could Zoom-conference with each other during the meal instead of being fully en face.

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From The New Yorker

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Frankenmuth MI is apparently a nice place to live, and offers the visitor lots of Bavarian-style architecture, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, and a tiny possibility of bumping into members of the hometown band Greta Van Fleet.

Bronner’s looks like the sort of place that would send me screaming into the forest within minutes. I am a fan of Christmas, but the idea of extending its commercialization into a 365 day operation seems … well … more than the world really needs.

But Greta Van Fleet? I would skip the perma-Santa and walk across the street to hear these guys. They are three brothers and a buddy. The band doesn’t play quietly, but they do play well. Talented, theatric, flamboyant … who was it said rock was dead? These boys didn’t get the message. Here they are, playing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater, one of Colorado’s premier venues and an amazing place to listen to music.

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Really glad to see the country’s infrastructure finally on a front burner. As an example, the most recent estimate of bridges I was able to find that need work or replacement was 231,000, spread all across the U.S. It was already 13 years ago that a chunk of Interstate 35W fell on Minneapolis, taking quite a few citizens with it. Speaking personally, I would really hate to be on one of those bridges that are failing at the moment when it decides to give up the ghost altogether. The only thing worse, to a claustrophobic like myself, would be the collapse of a tunnel with me inside.

So this will be a jobs program like none other in recent memory. And Amazon (along with other large corporations and one-percenters) is going to pay for it. I watch for my Prime membership cost to climb significantly, since I suspect Mr. Bezos would rather bill that bridge repair to me than cut back on household expenses. And there is that divorce settlement of his, in which he pays each month to his ex-wife an amount equal to the entire budget of the state of Rhode Island.

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Report From The Front Lines 2

There are many differences between the adults and young of most species, including humans. Some of those differences allow archeologists to dig up a bone or two and tell us that it was that of the forearm of a twelve year-old girl who was helping make succotash when she temporarily lost her focus and became dinner for a passing predator. However, even if you are not an archeologist, or a scientist of any kind, when you have living examples of both groups in front of you, it is much easier.

For instance, children are often found at the top of things, where they dance and play and take great delight in the simple pleasures of climbing up there.

Adults, on the other hand, are often found at the bottom of things, looking up at those same children. They are quite content with having a more restricted view of the world as the tradeoff for not needing to gasp for breath, nurse a twisted ankle, or otherwise discommode themselves.

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As we began one of our hikes in Goblin Valley , someone mentioned rattlesnakes and I told them not to worry as long as they had me with them on the walk. I had never ever seen a rattlesnake in the wild, I told them, so they could relax because the odds against such an encounter on our present hike were astronomical.

Until Tuesday, that is.

Right in the middle of the path where I positively could not miss it was a small rattlesnake, estimated to be around 15 inches in length, and on a sunny 50 degree day. Why it was not still in its burrow sleeping like a sensible snake should be at this time of year I don’t know, but there it was, shaking its few rattles and looking as menacing as anything can look when it is only a little over a foot long.

I am indebted to Neil Hurley for this photograph of the snake. I took one myself, but since mine was snapped only after I stopped running and was more than 200 yards away, there was some unfortunate loss of detail .

So I was very grateful that Neil kindly allowed me to use his pic here on the blog.

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We treated the creature with the respect that it deserved, warned a group of Asian tourists behind us not to step on it, and went on our way. I can no longer say “never” when it comes to rattlesnakes in the wild. I am not a Crotalovirginal hiker any more.

(Addendum: we identified this as a Hopi Rattlesnake. Are we correct?)

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From The New Yorker

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Rep. Lauren Boebert came to town and addressed a group at a local bar. Apparently when your supporters invite you to come talk to them it pretty much goes well, so the evening was a modest success. Of course she was packing a firearm, that is her raison d’être. If it were not for the imaginary issue of people trying to take all guns away from ordinary citizens she would still be slathering mayonnaise onto BLT sandwiches in her Rifle CO restaurant. (Which to my mind is a perfectly honorable job. I love BLTs.)

Rep. Boebert is an excellent example of why it was wrong to give women the vote and allow them to run for public office. She is a boob, and I am being generous here. I apologize to boobs in general if they feel slighted by my adding her name to their ranks. But, really, she is one of you.

Before anyone gets all fired up and writes me a letter or starts warming up a cauldron of tar, I believe that it was wrong to give men the vote as well. Everything has pretty much gone downhill since the Magna Carta, in my opinion. Back in the day a country might very well find itself with a stupid king, but everybody knew that and kept their counsel (and their heads) by being quiet about it and waiting for the next king down the line for things to get better. Sometimes it might take more than one change of sovereigns for improvement to come about, but being a serf was such a time-consuming and back-breaking sort of life that one barely noticed.

However, embarrassing as Boebert is, we are stuck with her at least until the 2022 elections, and perhaps beyond. After all, we are living in the same part of the world that went for Cluck 2:1 in the last election. And such a sad number, my friends, requires that a gigantic amount of poor judgment be present in a population.

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Finally, a few more photos of people playing in a red desert. It is a spectacular place. It is a wilderness composed entirely of non-fluffy. There is an abundant shortage of soft places. There are few stumps of trees to sit on, but mostly rock to cradle one’s posterior. To a person like myself who grew up in Minnesota, a water-rich and green state if there ever was one, this is another planet. This is Mars. As Peter O’Toole’s character said in Lawrence of Arabia when asked what he liked about the desert: “It’s clean.”

The author Terry Tempest Williams has written beautifully about the Utah desert. She lives a couple of stone’s throws away from where we were.

In 1995, when the United States Congress was debating issues related to the Utah wilderness, Williams and writer Stephen Trimble edited the collection, Testimony: Writers Speak On Behalf of Utah Wilderness, an effort by twenty American writers to sway public policy. A copy of the book was given to every member of Congress. On 18 September 1996, President Bill Clinton at the dedication of the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, held up this book and said, “This made a difference.

Wikipedia: Terry Tempest Williams

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Wheels

I pity the populace of Paradise. Spring is starting to peep out, the air is becoming warmer, and the days noticeably longer and brighter. Vaccinations for Covid have proceeded at a very good and non-scandalous clip here in Colorado, making the streets not only sunnier and more attractive, but safer than they have been during the entire past year.

But now comes this bad news for these hopeful souls emerging blinking from their caves – Robin and I are now electrified. Tuesday we picked up our electric bicycles in Grand Junction, and we are about to hit the streets mounted as never before. Rest assured that as long as everyone on the sidewalks and pathways is prepared to leap out of our way and into the shrubbery at the sound of the warning bells mounted on our handlebars that they are safe, as we will not go out of our way to hit them.

The question becomes … why did we take this particular plunge? The answers can be found midway between our hips and feet. The knees are slowly going the ways that knees can go with time. Aches and pains and catchings and lockings and all of these many knee-type delights are becoming part of everyday life. So what is someone who loves bicycling to do but add an electric motor to assist in pedaling? It seems a logical response to Mother Nature’s plans, which are obviously meant to make life more difficult.

These vehicles are not like motor scooters, nor are they mopeds. The power kicks in only when you pedal, providing five different levels of boost, from just a tish to wow. With a modest effort on our part, that small engine can take us right up to twenty miles an hour and give us an assist for up to forty miles before the battery needs recharging.

I’ve also bought a new helmet to go with the new ride. I dunno, the vibe seems about right to me. This may be the time for some tats as well. What would you think of “Born To Be Wild” spread across my back?

(Naw, I didn’t think so either. It’s been done to death, and I doubt anyone would find me believable while I’m wearing my octogenarian disguise.)

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When you go to YouTube these days you find a viewing salad that the site has thrown together for you based on what you’ve looked at in the past. Often these suggested videos are of the WTF variety. But recently they started sending me a series called “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” The first one starred this guy, Lou Charloff. Loved it.

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The past couple of days we’ve had some serious winds here in the valley. On Tuesday night what sounded like a car hitting our house woke me, but it was just a blast of wind heralding a weather front moving in. But what a sound it had made.

Now I am not usually wakened by the weather outside our home. Often at breakfast Robin will ask “Dear, did you hear that tornado go through the back yard last night?” and my answer is always the same – “Tornado?” followed by “I didn’t hear a thing.” So this last episode was a role reversal of major proportions, where I woke and Robin didn’t. And not only did it rouse me from a sound sleep, but I found myself so completely awake that I had to get up and read for a while to quiet my mind.

The gale continued for an hour or so before it settled down to a milder whooshing. Poco was out there in the kitchen with me, because he doesn’t like weather dramas at all. His least favorite kind of day is a windy one. Snow, cold, light rains, blistering sun, he tolerates all of these. But let the breezes get above 20 mph and he stays indoors.

Maybe it has something with having one’s face only three inches from the ground that turns him into such a homebody, I don’t know. Cats are puzzles.

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A small glitch occurred in our bathroom remodel. The contractor called out to me yesterday when he found himself in the middle of a dilemma. Here is the story.

I believed that I had purchased a new toilet with what is called a round bowl, as opposed to the other choice, which was an elongated bowl. The exterior of the box clearly stated “round.” But what came out of that box and that the honorable workman had just installed and seated was just as clearly “elongated.” The plastic seat itself was resolutely round, however, so we had a mismatch that a very small person could fall through.

Now these devices when still boxed weigh 100 pounds, and the idea of ripping out what had been done, trucking it back to the Home Depot, and then bringing home another god-awfully heavy box had little appeal for me. Also, I had no emotional investment in roundness vs. elongation. So I told Robin that longer was much better for the older male, and she went along with my admittedly weak story, although the look on her face was one of I know what you’re doing and not of happy acceptance.

Home Depot, however, was glad to provide gratis a new plastic seat that fit so much better, and now it’s on to better things. I doubt that when you come for a visit you will be much troubled by this new accommodation. But if you are, I apologize in advance.

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Mud Season

Yesterday Robin and I scored a sighting of a golden eagle, circling above the Ute Museum on the southern edge of town. We can’t take a lot of credit for our birding skills, however, for we only saw it because we came across a woman outside the museum who was pointing heavenward. When we asked her “What are you pointing at, my good woman? “she answered “Golden eagle.” Thus our discovery.

We’re not too proud to take the scraps that others toss us.

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I find myself marveling at the courage of Alexei Navalny. To be poisoned by agents of the Russian government, airlifted nearly dead to Germany for treatment, and then when you finally have recovered the strength to walk about you get right back on a plane and return to Russia. Where you are promptly arrested, as you knew you would be.

For generations, people arrested in Russia have had the habit of disappearing into huge and ugly prisons, anonymous graveyards, or camps in Siberia. And still he went back. I am in awe. It’s as if he is some completely different species of man … Homo intrepidus, perhaps.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon. I repeat this one every winter.

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It’s mud season here in Paradise. The remaining dirty snow and ice melt very slowly at the temperatures we are experiencing, just enough to keep the gumbo damp and treacherous. So we walk on concrete and asphalt 99% of the time. Maybe 99.9%. Word has reached us that the snow levels up on the Grand Mesa have finally reached the point where the XC-skiing is great. We’ll try to get up there this week and take advantage of that. It’s a favorite winter activity for us, even though we don’t pretend to be anything but perpetual beginners.

So far this winter has been an unusual one. The snowfalls have not been not epic anywhere, making travel more possible and predictable than ever. Of course, we’re not supposed to be traveling and who would we visit? We don’t have any friends in the dim-bulb section of the American populace … those people who walk about unmasked and show up at vaccination centers trying to prevent others from getting the care they need and want. So if we did show up at anyone’s house they would meet us with doors barred and refuse us entry. As they should.

The gods are laughing at us once again. Keep the roads open and take away the reasons to travel on them.

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In 2008 Leonard Cohen recorded a live concert in London, where his backup singers were The Webb Sisters. One of the songs performed was If It Be Your Will … a quiet prayer. Cohen reads a few lines, then turns it over to the Webbs.

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Thought you might like it. It’s kind of slow and hushed, as prayers tend to be. While it sounds as if it might have been written in Cohen’s last years of life, when he dealt often with themes of mortality, it actually showed up for the first time on an album of his that was issued in 1984, Various Positions.

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On our walks we typically encounter about thirty people and 45 dogs. And even though I complain whenever we come upon some unattendeddog droppings on the hiking path, it’s obvious that the majority of dog owners are picking up after their pets very well. Because if they weren’t we’d be ankle deep in doggy doo-doo for certain. There are that many canines out there in this state.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that each new resident of Colorado was issued a dog when they applied for their new drivers’ licenses.

Well, Sir, here’s your new driver’s license. I think the picture turned out pretty well, don’t you?
It’s okay, I suppose, but why wouldn’t they let us smile?
And here’s your Colorado welcome gift.
Wait, that’s a dog. I have no use for a dog.
Come now, Sir, you want to fit in here, don’t you?
Well, yeah.
Then I need to tell you that anyone seen walking in Colorado without a dog on a leash is assumed to be a tourist.
Really?
Yes, really. So here … take the leash. The dog’s name is Heraklyon, and he is a new breed, called a peke-a-poo-a-lhasa-a-doberman, and they are no trouble at all.
This one has its teeth fastened in my ankle right now, is that normal?
Awwwww, he likes you already.

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Let It Be

It’s been an emotional week here in Paradise. The Pema Chodron book that am in the middle of reading is so applicable to recent events in our lives that it’s uncanny. Each evening I finish one short chapter before retiring, and it helps me to clarify and to center myself. To be present with what is, rather than resisting it sounds so dry unless you are actively practicing it. Until you really need it.

Of course I ‘need’ it all the time, but I feel that poverty most strongly in harder times. I’ve heard said more than once in AA meetings that “he’s not the first person to find God in the back seat of a police cruiser.” Those hard moments are the ‘foxhole’ sort of events, where the supplicant tries to make his deal with the Universe for a specific purpose. When we realize that our ideas of control in our lives were mostly fictions. Stuff we made up.

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We’re already in the beginning of mud season here in Paradise. Yesterday Robin and I took our regular 4-mile walk on asphalt exclusively, with exuberant gumbo on both sides of the trail. On one occasion I saw footprints in the mud that suddenly vanished, as if the person had simply been swallowed by the muck. Is there such a thing as quick-mud?

Yesterday was the sort of day that our cats just gave up on. Not so cold, not so windy, not so rainy, but a little bit of all of these. So they became part of the furniture, changing their sleeping stations every couple of hours or so. Whenever they did step out for three seconds, they would come back indoors indignant, giving us an angry Rrrowwwrrr as if we were to blame.

I just hate being judged by animals, don’t you? And it’s so frustrating that they won’t listen to your explanation that humans are not in charge of the weather. They walk away even as you are talking to them, tail in the air, the picture of disdain. So rude.

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There are interesting little dialogues that are happening between people who are receiving the Covid vaccine. What they all come down to is: When you’ve had both doses, are you going to manage your life differently?

So far my answer has been: Nope. When most of the rest of the Coloradans have had their vaccines, then I will walk out the door without a care. But a new category of entertaining does open itself up. We have several friends up and down the street in our little part of town, all of whom are senior citizens, and all of whom will have been immunized within the next month or so. From my standpoint, I think that they would be safe to have over for dinner and a chat. Like in the good old days when I was blissfully unaware of the novel coronavirus’ existence.

The reason for persistent caution in approaching the general population is that the vaccine we received is 95% effective in protecting us, not 100%. That means that 5 out of every 100 people who receive their two doses are not protected, but they don’t know who they are, since no post-vaccine blood testing is being done. If I am one of those 5 people, it’s like I never got the shot.

It’s a numbers game, to be certain.

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No Complaints. No, Really.

We’ve been in a meteorologic twilight zone for several weeks now. Not cold enough to really expect that people will sympathize with us if we should complain, and not warm enough to elevate our moods from the Basic Winter setting (and that setting is only two millimeters above mild depression). When Robin and I go for outdoor aerobic walking we are still picking our way past icy patches no matter where we go.

[n.b.: senior citizens hate icy patches. Wherever these are to be found, in a senior’s mind all such hazards bear the symbol at left imprinted upon them. They speak of pain and trips to emergency rooms and x-rays and hospitals and traction apparati and casts and funerals.]

One of those walks of ours takes us past a pasture where about thirty horses are kept, and have been all winter. Yesterday the temperature rose to the point where it thawed two months worth of their droppings all at once. The resulting perfume was a heady one indeed. At first it pleasantly reminded me of boyhood days on my grandfather’s farm, but then it intensified to the point that survival became an issue, and we nearly ran until we were clear of the invisible but highly aromatic cloud.

Just past the toxic zone Robin spied a bald eagle high in a nearby tree. Its white head shone brilliantly in the winter sunshine. While seeing an eagle near the river is not a rarity, they never fail to impress. I don’t really care that some of their eating behaviors might not always be noble and inspiring – a bald eagle is still a grand symbol for a proud nation. Now if we could just get back on the path to fully becoming that nation, that would even be more grand.

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Pressure is being applied to Mike Pence to use the 25th amendment to remove p.cluck from office. Having not been asked to make any decisions at all for four years, he is having trouble imagining getting anything done in the few days he has left in office. He can’t do it by himself, of course, he needs seven cabinet members to go along with him. Think about that for a moment. Getting seven members of the most dysfunctional cabinet in modern times to do something that while it might be good for their country, is potentially bad for them.

I don’t believe I’ll hold my breath.

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Went down to the river on Sunday, not to pray but to fish. I still don’t know what I’m doing wrong because I caught another one. It could be that by some mischance I chose the right fly for the time and place. The part of the Uncompahgre River that I was wading around in was lovely, and the waterway was all mine, at least as far as humans were concerned. My only companions were small birds.

The only imperfection, really, was the footing. Walking on cobblestones in the water is awkward, especially when the stones are the size of grapefruit. And while the river posed no threat to life, running at the low flow levels typical of a mid-winter day, the prospect of falling down and filling my waders with near-freezing water was one that I have resolved to avoid at all costs.

I could only stay out for a couple of hours because as the afternoon began to cool there was ice forming along my fly line, and by then my fingers had lost the ability to tie a knot in anything smaller than a hawser.

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Just to get out in front of the critics, I am going to admit that not everything is perfect here in Paradise. For instance, in this past election Coloradans chose to send Lauren Boebert to the U.S. House of Representatives. Her opponent in that contest had been an intelligent, experienced, and thoughtful woman who would have brought some serious skills to Congress.

Instead, we elected Boebert, and I must now cringe whenever her name comes up on a television screen, wondering what inanity she might be involved in now. But why should I natter further? Here she is. Our very own entry into the one-trick-pony sweepstakes.

(Rep. Boebert is the one in the middle, pointing her weapon at the floor of her restaurant in Rifle, CO. Perhaps to shoot at a cockroach, who knows?)

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Flyover State

We’ve been treated to the sounds and sights of a great deal of traffic here in Paradise since the first of November. Aerial traffic, that is. Every day flights of Canada geese pass by. Not huge flocks, but many, many smaller ones. And periodically high up above the geese there will be a string of sandhill cranes passing overhead, with their very distinctive croaking calls.

The number of cranes migrating through our area is small compared with the huge flocks that pass through Nebraska and the Platte River area. They are fascinating birds who have been around much longer than we humans.

Sandhill cranes have one of the longest fossil histories of any extant bird.  A 10-million-year-old crane fossil from Nebraska is said to be of this species, but this may be from a prehistoric relative or the direct ancestor of sandhill cranes. The oldest unequivocal sandhill crane fossil is 2.5 million years old, older by half than the earliest remains of most living species of birds, primarily found from after the Pliocene/Pleistocene boundary some 1.8 million years ago. As these ancient sandhill cranes varied as much in size as present-day birds, those Pliocene fossils are sometimes described as new species. Grus haydeni may have been a prehistoric relative, or it may comprise material of a sandhill crane and its ancestor

Wikipedia

If you spend a few moments watching them you have no problem with thinking about sandhill cranes as descendants of dinosaurs. Everything about them says ancient, from their appearance to their voice.

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Sandhill cranes are not on an endangered species list, and therefore hunting them is legal in Colorado. It’s one of those times when I must scratch my head and wonder why? What is it about those people who upon seeing birds like these makes them want to grab a gun and kill them? For sport. For fun. I don’t get it.

I am reminded of an old joke, one of those that are slightly cringeworthy because of the truth within them.

A man is arrested and brought to trial for killing a protected bird. He pleads with the judge, “Your honor, I was lost in the wilderness for three days without food, and the eagle attacked me. I fought back in self-defense, and I ate it because I was starving.” The judge listens to the tale and rules that the man is not guilty. But he turns to the man and asks, “Well, now that we’re done with all that, I admit that I am curious to know, what does bald eagle taste like?” “Well, your honor, it’s like a cross between a snowy owl and a whooping crane.”

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Only two days until Christmas Eve. My letter to Santa went out weeks ago, trying to account for any sluggishness in the mails. Picking and choosing what to ask for used to be difficult, because although there were thousands of things that I wanted, there was very little that I needed .

And there was that phrase from the Bible that had nagged at me for years, found in Luke 3:11, which goes like this: He answered them, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.”

(A confession is in order here, because I still have more than two coats as of this writing.)

And so some years back I asked my family to direct their gift-giving impulses from me and toward those whose needs are greater by far than my own. One of the needy groups that I know a little about and have admired for a long time is Medecins Sans Frontiéres (or Doctors Without Borders).

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If there are any physicians who are more courageous and less guided by self-interest than those who work for this organization I don’t know who they are. These men and woman take their skills to work in areas where I would tremble to even drive through. My hat is off to all of them and to the indigenous helpers who make their work possible.

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Here are a few pix from our walk up at the Black Canyon National Park on Sunday afternoon. Weather = perfect. Snow = clean and pristine.

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Cold Hard Facts

I don’t know what went wrong, but we’re having a wee bit of Winter already here in Paradise. Saturday night it got down to 2 degrees F. Over the past few days several inches of snow have fallen and I actually had to shovel it away twice. Shovel. Me.

When Robin and I took our walks over the weekend we dressed in so many layers we looked like the kid in the movie A Christmas Story.

Even thought we might have looked a bit ridiculous, there’s no point in challenging the elements, is there? There are only two possible outcomes in such an endeavor … survival or frostbite.

We go for survival every time.

Sunday was cold enough that the cats were presented with a feline dilemma. Every instinct said “Go outside and do your thing!” And so they went through the flap on the pet door and were hit in their furry faces with the frigid reality that waited for them out there. They would try repeatedly but in less than a minute they were back each time.

Now, right next to the pet door is a bigger door meant for humans. Poco will make a run through the cat-flap, come back inside all disappointed, and then go stand in front of the big door meowing to be let out. Apparently he thinks that each portal leads to a different world, and maybe the next one will be nicer.

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I had only one experience with frostbite, but it was enough. At seventeen I was working part-time at a Red Owl grocery store in West St. Paul MN. I lived about a mile from the store, and walked to work rain or shine.

One snowy Saturday morning it was cold and windy and off I went to work, leaving the house at 5:00 AM and underdressed as usual. No hat, no protection for my ears, not enough jacket … you know the teenaged drill. When I reached the store my right ear was an unusual dead white color and felt quite firm when compared with its mate on the other side of my head. In the warm indoor air it now came back to life with a vengeance.

The appendage went from white and numb to red and painful in no time at all, but it wasn’t done with me yet. Within two hours it had swollen to twice its size. So here I was dealing with my duties and the general public looking all unbalanced … normal on the left and a crimson Dumbo on the right. By the end of my shift the thing was blistering and altogether nasty-looking.

It took a week for that ear to get back to normal. I guess that I was fortunate that it didn’t blacken and drop off, since it was sort of useful to have around, especially when it came to wearing glasses later in life. I did learn something, however, and never repeated my performance.

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The first Covid vaccine doses are on the trucks and planes and headed for everywhere. I am not too worked up about it, however. Each article that I read about who gets it first seems to move my personal category further down the list. As far as I can tell, if there are any doses left over in January 2025 I can apply for one and see where that gets me.

It’s starting to remind me of what the U.S. Air Force taught me about military triage. In civilian life, the person with the worst injuries, where survival is seriously in question, moves to the front of the line. In combat situations, they are placed in a category named “expectant,” and moved to an area where they are given pain relief but are out of view while resources are focussed on the more obviously salvageable. The idea being to get soldiers back to the front wherever possible in the shortest amount of time.

The ultimate goals of combat medicine are the return of the greatest possible number of soldiers to combat and the preservation of life, limb, and eyesight in those who must be evacuated.

https://ke.army.mil/bordeninstitute/other_pub/ews/Chp3Triage.pdf

So even though people like myself are in a high-risk category should we become infected, the medical powers-that-be have decided that since we can still walk ourselves right back into our homes we should just stay there until it is safe to come out, end of story.

I get it. I may not love the implications, but I get it.

I can wait until Hell itself freezes over. That’s another thing the military taught me.

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Honor and Betrayal

A headline this past week was quite moving, I thought. It trumpeted that the Boy Scouts of America now has more than 90,ooo pending claims against it for child sexual abuse. The story went on to detail the enormous financial drain on an already declining organization. No one knows how this will all shake out, but the central theme has by now become too obvious, hasn’t it?

Scout troop in Adams, Nebraska, 1913

If we take the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, and a whole lot of smaller organizations into account, what comes out of it all is that we must make a painful admission. We haven’t taken proper care of our children. Not by a very long shot.

So why do these ugly reports always seem to come as a surprise to us? Wasn’t this particular can of worms opened long ago? In the late sixties one of my teachers was Dr. Robert ten Bensel, who was a pediatrician on the staff at Hennepin County General Hospital. At the time he was probing disturbing reports of child sexual abuse and receiving little collegial support for his work. He was even thought of by some as being a little weird, because surely this involved a very small number of children and some awfully disturbed adults. So what was Dr. Bob* doing poking around in this nasty business as his career direction?

Within the next decade we came to know as a fact that abusing children was commonplace. And it was usually perpetrated not by a lurking stranger but by someone close to the child who had been entrusted with their welfare. It involved parents, relatives, teachers, clergy, doctors, nannies … and scoutmasters.

So the Boy Scouts failed big-time in their one of their major responsibilities – that of protecting the children in their care. If the organization goes down under the weight of these claims and lawsuits, it goes down. Nothing lasts forever. Let it happen and get on with life. But we must provide more safeguards wherever children are to be found.

(*Dr. ten Bensel went on to become an acknowledged expert in the field of child abuse, teaching and publishing for the remainder of his career until his passing in 2002.)

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We may or may not have a mouse in the house. Here’s how that happens.

Our senior cat, Poco, is done with all that. If a mouse ran across the room in front of him he would follow it with his eyes, maybe run over to where the creature had hidden itself and cock his head, but that would be it. He is quite content with the twice a day food service and a bedtime snack that Robin and I provide.

Not so Willow, who has two operating modes, sleeping and hunting. There has been quite a parade of rodents brought across our threshold over the years, most of them among the dead rather than the quick, but’s that latter group … .

Willow will bat them around a bit, then casually look away for a second or two. The mouse sees its chance and takes off, Willow in pursuit. Usually she catches them before they make it to a safe place, but not always. And a house like ours affords any number of such refuges. In the baseboard heaters, for instance, or under the wooden braces for the dining room table, or (nononono) in the workings of the hide-a-bed in the living room.

When that happens and she can’t get at them any longer, she will seek us out to help her. We’ve come to recognize a particular set of mewlings as saying something that goes like this: “Awfully sorry to be a bother, but I’ve a problem you might be interested in. You see, I’ve lost a mouse in the hide-a-bed and can’t seem to get at it. I know that you can help, though, because we’ve been down this same road before. So could you please come out to the living room, open up that contraption, and I’ll handle the rest.”

This time the rodent headed for our bedroom (Robin is the witness) and disappeared. That was three days ago, and we’ve seen nothing of it since. It could be gone, having wandered back across the living room and dining room and gone out through the pet door. Or it could have tried the same maneuver, been recaptured by Willow, and disposed of without her mentioning it to us. (When she dines on mouse, there are no leftovers to tell the story).

Or it could still be in the house, perhaps in the kitchen or pantry or somewhere where there is at least the possibility of finding food and water, items that our bedroom does not afford.

We may never know for certain where that critter went.

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Like some very large slug, His Malignant Orangeitude is leaving a nasty, rancid slick of a trail wherever he goes. But what we are finding is that America, although wounded, is coming through this long period of ugliness with most of what we hold dear intact.

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Our election process worked, in spite of many forces trying desperately to make it fail. Our populace voted in higher numbers than ever before, even if a dismaying number of citizens still marked an “X” in the box for Cluck.

Much is written about our division, that we are not a people of one mind, as if that were a completely new thing. They must not read much history. America was born in division.

Remember that not every colonist wanted to separate from England by a long shot, and there were years of violence between those factions as a result. Royalists versus Patriots, with not a red coat in sight. And the Civil War? Hundreds of thousands killed? Scars left that are still on display? How’s that for division?

Personally, even if it were possible, I would be very much afraid of a United States that was of one mind on everything. What grand possibilities for mischief there would be then.

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From The New Yorker

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“The Problem We All Live With”

[An article Saturday on CNN online was prompted by the 60th anniversary of a little girl’s walk to school. It is both a description of some horrible behavior and a testament to personal courage. I reprint it here.]

60 years ago today, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges walked to school and showed how even first graders can be trailblazers

By Leah Asmelash, CNN

 Ruby Nell Bridges, 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

Ruby Nell Bridges, 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

(CNN)Sixty years ago, Ruby Bridges walked to school escorted by four federal marshals as a White mob hurled insults at her.Bridges, just 6 years old on November 14, 1960, was set to begin first grade at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. As the first Black student to attend the school, Bridges carried integration on her small shoulders.Her first day at William Frantz came four years after Black parents in New Orleans filed a lawsuitagainst the Orleans Parish School Board for not desegregating the school system in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which determined in 1954 that state laws establishing segregation in public schools were unconstitutional. The year Bridges walked into the school, Judge. J. Skelly Wright had ordered the desegregation of New Orleans public schools. The Orleans Parish School Board, however, had convinced the judge to require Black students to apply for transfer to all-White schools, thus limiting desegregation, according to the Equal Justice Initiative

US deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

US deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. 

That year, only five of the 137 Black first graders who applied to transfer were accepted, and only four agreed to attend, according to EJI. Bridges was among them. “For me, being 6 years old, I really wasn’t aware of what was going on,” Bridges, now 66, told NPR in 2010. “I mean the only thing that I was ever told by my parents that I was going to attend a new school and that I should behave.”

Once Bridges entered the school and arrived at her classroom, all the other students had withdrawn. The rest of the school year, it was just her and the teacher, she said. And crowds continued to show up, at one point bringing a small baby’s coffin with a Black doll inside.”I used to have nightmares about the box,” Bridges said. “Those are the days that I distinctly remember being really, really frightened.”But Bridges stayed at the school despite retaliation against her family. Grocery stores refused to sell to her mother, Lucille. And her father, Abon, lost his job, according to the National Park Service. The toll was so hard on their marriage that by the time Bridges graduated from sixth grade, they had separated, she told NPR.Eventually, though, Bridges made it to second grade. And when she did, the school’s incoming first grade class had eight Black students, the EJI said. 

Ruby Bridges speaks onstage at Glamour's 2017 Women of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre in November 2017 in New York.

Ruby Bridges speaks onstage at Glamour’s 2017 Women of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre in November 2017 in New York. CNN reached out to Bridges for comment but did not receive a response.

Bridges continues to be an inspiration for many. In 2011, she was invited to the Oval Office, where the painting commemorating her walk by Norman Rockwell — criticized when it first appeared on a magazine cover in 1964 — was on display.”I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be here today,” then President Barack Obama told Bridges during her visit, according to the White House archives. Lucille, who Ruby says pushed her to attend the school, died this week at age 86. In an Instagram post, Ruby called her mother a “champion for change,” adding that her actions altered the course of many lives.

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This is the Look magazine cover referred to in the article. It is of Ruby Bridges and her journey to school, and was painted by Norman Rockwell. Its title is “The Problem We All Live With.”

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Poco came to us as an outdoor kitten that we coaxed into our home. Later on, when we would attempt to retrain him and deny him access to the outdoors, he was so unhappy that it was a difficult time for all concerned, and we eventually stopped trying.

Case in point. In this pic, the outdoor temperature is a chilly 38 degrees, the wind is a blustery 20-25 mph, and here he is, sleeping out along the backyard fence. Even though the pet door is wide open to him, and only 25 feet away. Inside that pet door is warmth and loads of comfortable furniture to lie about on. But you see where he chooses to be.

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Willie and the Boys

On Sunday afternoon, having a few moments that were free of responsibility for the world’s turning, the sun rising and setting, the perfection of mankind and the like, I created a Willie Nelson radio station on Pandora. And then I sat back in a recliner and listened for an hour. Migod, what an hour that was. One great song after another, including duets with other legends of country music, spanning decades of songs that I had heard over basically my entire adult life. Mr. Nelson is 87 now, still putting out new music, and would undoubtedly be still touring if it weren’t for Covid-19.

Now, from time to time I describe myself as a “class act,” and I do so knowing that you folks know better and won’t be led astray by such a tremendous fib. But as a performer, Willie … he is the very definition of a class act.

Robin and I caught a concert of his down in Grand Island, Nebraska a year or two before we moved out here to Paradise. It was Nelson and one other musician playing steady on for 90 minutes. The time flew by and our lives were at least two notches richer for having been there and seeing him in person. I really started being a solid fan of his when the album Red Headed Stranger came out, around 1975. And the song from the album that hooked me (and never let go) was Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.

Being 87 means that he is a Grand Senior Citizen of country music, but to read the interview in the New Yorker you wouldn’t know it. If humility means you know very clearly that the planet and stars don’t come and go for you alone but for everyone, Willie Nelson is a humble man indeed.

Here he is in a video of Eddie Vedder’s beautiful song, Just Breathe, with his son. That boy Lukas, if he don’t sound like his daddy I don’t know what.

Now, seriously, how many country artists do you know who describe being heavily influenced by Django Reinhardt, the great Belgian jazz guitarist from the 30s and 40s? I can’t think of one other. Mr. Nelson is a man of many parts.

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A light snow on the backyard deck this morning, just enough for Poco to make tracks in when he stepped out to check the weather. Our predicted winter storm never materialized here in Montrose, we only had a sniff of it when the wind kicked up on Saturday for a couple of hours. But it soon settled down and the sun came back and that was that. It seems to be a common pattern, where weather systems head for us and then split just before they reach our little town, with the rains or the snows falling both north and south of the city.

I’m actually okay with that, especially in the winter months. If I have to get in the car and drive for half an hour to find snow deep enough to XC ski, why, that’s just about perfect. It’s called the “having one’s cake and eating it, too” type of winter.

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There have been rumors that P.Cluck might fire Dr. Fauci, who persists in his apostasy by telling the truth about our pandemic. If that should happen, and I were Joe Biden, I might step right up to a nearby mike and say: “Don’t worry ’bout it, Tony, you get your job back on January 20.”

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I read the article on companies incorporating insect proteins into dry pet food to Poco, who was initially incensed. I tried to explain that it had already been going on for years, but only very small manufacturers had been involved. The news now was that it was Purina who was trying it out. And Purina is a big guy on the street when it comes to pet food.

I also asked him if he could claim that in his entire life he hadn’t already chewed down a bug or two. At that he looked a bit sheepish and muttered “Well … .” Once past that hump I could take time to present the rationale, which included a better use of the planet’s resources and that there was much less impact on the climate as well.

He conceded all of these points, then countered with “Alright, I get it. I am willing to do my part. And when it comes available at the market I will happily eat my black-fly-larva kibble if you do the same. Because I happen to know that there are insect-based food products out there on shelves for humans as well.”

I just hate it that the cats have learned to read. They’ve been nothing but trouble ever since they started.

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And finally, this photo has nothing to do with anything I have said before. But it is an amazing picture. Everyone in it is reacting in some way to that ball that’s on its way. Reminds me of those old Norman Rockwell magazine covers.

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Listen Up

There was a wonderful article about Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in the Times of New York on Wednesday. It’s a longish piece so I won’t go into it much here, but these are two people devoted to their music and the human stories they have to tell.

These are not shiny, bling-y people. To me what they do transcends genres, and actually forces me to sit up straight in my chair and pay attention. No background sonic pap is to be found in their discography.

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Back when movie theaters were a recreational choice, if I was unlucky enough to see one of those mile-high plates of yellow goo and corn chips that were called “nachos” being purchased at the refreshment counter, my gorge would instantly rise.

Because I have tasted that golden mess and declared it “not food” in my mind. But at the same time I have repeatedly wondered if there was something called nachos out there that were actually worth eating, perhaps the food that they were before the waves of queso started flowing.

So when I ran across this story of the origins of nachos I found it very interesting and personally reassuring. These present-day piles of corn chips n’glue started out life as something made of honest-to-god ingredients. Even better, the article goes into the origins of the snack’s name.

Even more better, there is a recipe so that we can make our own honest version, just like Ignacio did back in the day.

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There are times when I sense that I am a terrible disappointment to my cats. This morning, for instance. Poco was following me around, meowing periodically. I had fed him, the litterbox was clean, the pet door was open to a beautiful November day, and we had already spent some early-morning quality time together. And yet at one point he stopped still in his tracks and his expression said so clearly: You have failed me. I give up.

Moments later, as I was sitting by the dining room table, Willow leapt onto the table (which she never does and knows that she is forbidden to do) and walked straight at me. With her face now only inches away from mine, I could see that she had the same querulous and disappointed look about her. “Can I ever trust you again?”, it said.

So I turned to the pair and declared: “You know, there are times when you two are no bargain, either.” We left it at that.

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The Chicks have a new album out, their first in 14 years. I’ve like them for a long time, smart and skilled musicians that they are. This time there is a cut that I find very moving, and it’s called March March. I present here the official video for the song, and also a version they did on Stephen Colbert’s late night program. I find that both are affecting, but in slightly different ways.

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As I write this, on an early Thursday morning, the national election is still undecided, although Mr. Biden leads in those anachronistic electoral votes. Best we be done with them and at long last use a system that requires no explanation. Obviously I have hopes that P.Cluck is eventually fired as president, and that he finally has the time to get the mental health counseling that he so evidently needs. Maybe there is a family plan where the entire unsavory family gaggle could be therapped grouply.

But I will stop here, because it isn’t over yet … and there is many a slip …

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So far our November here in Paradise has been outstanding. Sunshine in great abundance, with chilly nights and warm days. Much of the color has been drained from the landscape, leaving behind a palette of grays and browns. Robin and I have resumed our regular walks and roamings, and we are not alone out on those pathways.

Even after being out here for several years, I am still struck by the number of dogs that Coloradans own. I like dogs, really I do, but it is necessary for there to be 3.7 canines per person? And could we get a doggy diaper law, please? Because the honor system of picking up after one’s pup is definitely not working.

On the walking trail out in back of our home, we get to watch the passing parade every day, and it is obvious that the older a citizen gets, the smaller the pooch they own. There are no seniors with mastiffs, Great Danes, or pit bulls. Instead they parade around with a bewildering number of mutant and diminutive breeds I never heard of. What on earth is going on with all of these cocka-whatevers? Dogs that closely resemble the ends of dustmops, where the only way you can tell which end is which is to look for the eyes?

Yesterday on our river-walk we encountered a dog, at least that’s what I think it was, which was clearly assembled out of the spare-dog-parts bin. It was the size of a beagle, with legs like a bulldog, a face like a boxer, and ears like a jackass. I honestly have no idea what it was or what you would call it. Or why you would call it.

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What Do We Want – SNOW? When Do We Want it – NOW?

Monday Morning: The prognosticators smacked it on the proverbial head. We got our snow here in Paradise, the first of the season for us. Using the looking out the window method of measuring … I’d guess about six inches have fallen. Whatever the actual number is, it is water on the ground and that has been in awfully short supply this year.

We have hopes that it helps the brave firefighters out here on the Western Slope as they go about their perilous work. Ever come across a bunch of those young men and women sitting down together for breakfast at a local café? First of all they reek of a level of physical fitness most of us can only dream of having. Secondly, their morale seems to be super-high, if one can judge by the character and volume of their table conversations. They have a sense of mission, an esprit de corps that is altogether admirable. Each time I come across a group, I develop a reflected swagger in my step just from observing them for a few minutes.

Our closest local fire is west of Silverton about 12 miles. It’s called the Ice Fire due to its location along the Ice Lakes Trail, a trail that Robin, granddaughter Elsa, and I hiked in the summer of 2019. It’s a smallish fire, and before this snowfall was about 45% contained. It’s in rugged country, a steep-sided valley through which the South Mineral Creek flows. When we walked it there were a large number of downed trees on the ground caused by avalanches the prior winter. There is no shortage of fuel there.

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The Times of New York has a “Science” section, which is always worth a look. Today I ran across an article on the slow loris, one of those cute and fuzzy creatures that you are better off leaving alone, should you run across one. Why? Because they are the only primate with a venomous bite, that’s why. A bite capable of killing a human being.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you are extremely unlikely to encounter one anywhere but in Southeast Asia, and they are becoming rare even there. Believe it or not, they are in demand as pets, at least for those among us who want to keep a critter around the house that costs $18,000 and can put a serious dent in your day (and body) unless you are careful.

BTW, the name “slow loris” implies, at least to me, that there is a fast loris out there somewhere. However, if there is such an animal, Google couldn’t find reference to it anywhere.

Interested? Here’s three minutes of loris lore.

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The cats are wandering about the house uttering complaining meows, stopping every once in a while to stare up at us with pleading faces that say: Take this away, please! (referring to the snow and colder weather). It’s as if they don’t remember previous winters at all, but have encountered them for the first time today.

In this, I am with them. Oh, it’s not that I don’t recall past seasons, but I came into this one totally unprepared, as usual. I have known for a week that the snow was coming. The meteorologists were unwavering in their predictions. And yet this morning I had to plunge through what had fallen out to the backyard shed and wrestle our snow shovels out of the tangled mess there. And I had left the sail/sunscreen up on the front side of the house, which was now filled with several score pounds of a whitish material closely resembling … snow. Who knew!

Like Poco and Willow, I started to walk around the house leaving a trail of verbal mewlings behind me until Robin called a halt to it. Her look said everything. No more, Señor.

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Authorities have taken down the first Murder Hornet nest in the U.S., out there in the state of Washington. With a name like that, this bug is not likely to make many new friends, or attract supporters and defenders. As for myself, I plan on doing my patriotic duty by having a custom-made, hand-tooled leather holster made that fits a large can of RAID. I will be practicing open-carry and will show no quarter to any of these critters that cross my path.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

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Gallery

It’s Sunday morning, and I decided not to wander into politics or social change today, but only deal with mental comfort food. The door to the New Yorker cartoon vault was left open a crack, and I was in and out before they even knew I was there. I left no prints behind, but probably some bits of DNA.

If they do come for me, I’ll not be taken alive. There’s no way I’m going back to the slammer.

Today’s subject is pets. I offer a gallery of drollery. (Click on one to bring them up in a decent viewing size.)

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A Brief Posting

Sunday night I couldn’t sleep, and a motel room is just too small when that happens. There is no good place to go. Even the light from a computer screen is enough to wake a sleeper and that wasn’t going to work out. So I left the room and went driving at 2 AM. Out in the countryside, along the lake road. I pretty much had the territory to myself, and it was all familiar. The wall by the Gavin’s Point Dam, the dark Missouri River reflecting any lights in the neighborhood, the quiet place that is Lake Yankton. I knew every turnoff and turnout.

I wasn’t alone. I saw two young raccoons at the side of the road and slowed so that they could cross safely. I saw a white cat streaking across the highway in front of me, and right behind it was a red fox. The fox screeched to a halt before entering the road, having made the calculation that my car was too close and coming up too fast to take a chance, and so lost its opportunity for a feline breakfast.

Around 5:00 I returned to the lobby of the motel, where the coffee pots had already been put out for us, and settled back in a comfortable overstuffed chair. Then two Yankton policemen came in. Somebody had begun to phone in a 911 call and then hung up. Their system could tell that the call had originated in the vicinity of the motel, so they were checking what they could check. I had to tell them twice that I was fine and had not called them, but they still looked at me like I might explode at any moment. They then put a question or two to the woman at the desk before they left the building.

So I felt reassured, having people care about my welfare, even when they were armed and wearing Kevlar vests and didn’t know me from Adam. Life is good.

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We did get in a supper at Charlie’s Pizza, and although the personnel were unknown to us, and Covid had rearranged the seating somewhat, the pizza was every bit as good as we remembered.

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Looking For Mom And Pop

We’re off to South Dakota later this morning. Plans are to bed down in North Platte NE for the night, then drive on to Yankton SD the next day. The total trip distance (to Yankton) is 866 miles, give or take a foot. North Platte seems a decent little town, with the usual cluster of motels, restaurants, and gas stations along the interstate. We’ve chosen the Husker Inn, which came up #1 on Trip Advisor. It looks to be a typical mom-and-pop establishment … one level, each room opening directly onto the parking lot. Seems just right for traveling in the Covid era, with fewer opportunities to actually come in contact with other living and breathing human beings.

Even before the pandemic came along, these little places were my favorites when traveling. Not when the hotel is a destination, mind you, but when all you want is a clean bed in a clean room for the night. Forgot something in the car? Why, it’s no problem at all. Your vehicle is just outside your door.

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The weather here in Paradise promises nothing but sunshine for the next week, with very moderate temperatures. It’s the golden time of year, when all the windows can be open and neither the A/C nor the furnace are needed. Most of the flying things that bite you are long gone, and you can actually walk to the end of the block without needing a full canteen.

Our cats love this weather. They tolerated (because they had to, as did we all) the slow roasting that this past summer provided, but now they can sleep or stretch out whenever and wherever. It is what cats do best. Total inactivity interspersed with bursts of intense mouse-chasing. Last evening Willow caught three mice in four hours, bringing each one indoors and being instantly shooed back out. Robin and I are just not into providing living space for small rodents.

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I was sitting here with my second cup of coffee as companion, thinking back on the good parts of our camping season this year, which did have its negative aspects, I admit. But in between calamities there were moments of great beauty and serenity. There was also the feeling that I get at those times of being, I don’t know, sort of capable. We pick a spot, we erect a shelter, we cook our food under relatively primitive conditions. We eat a pine needle or two in our chili and call it seasoning. If a fleck of forest duff blows into my coffee cup in the morning I fish it out and keep on drinking.

We clean up after ourselves while paying attention to what needs to be done to keep bears honest (and alive). In short, for a few days we take care of ourselves with few barriers between us and the natural world. It’s sweaty and dirty and showers are hard to come by but we do profit.

You don’t need to go to the woods or the mountains to meditate, to get some perspective, but it is just so much easier to do it out there. At least it is for me.

When I leave home for these few days each year, the absence of distractions helps me to be mindful. I am ancient enough that I had my brand of ADD for thirty years before everybody knew there was such a thing. Robin can tell you that taking me out to lunch in a sports-bar sort of establishment is a bad idea. All those television screens going at once makes me crazy, and I don’t get back to full self-control until we’ve paid the bill and walked out. I may not even remember what I ate, and my shirtfront is occasionally covered with mustard.

But put me in the woods, and you can have my full attention. I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel everything. I am entirely present. The real trick? To be able to do that when I return home. When the student asked the venerable Zen Buddhist monk how to achieve enlightenment, his answer was: “Chop wood, carry water.” Meaning you can achieve peace in your life by doing everyday tasks and living everyday life, but doing it all mindfully.

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From The New Yorker

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On Wednesday I went to see my grandson, the ophthalmologist. No, he’s not really. My grandson, that is. He’s just that young. I had cataract surgery on the left eye a couple of years ago, but the right eye wasn’t bad enough to please the folks at Medicare. They have their criteria as to when they are willing to pay for surgical correction. Time passes and the cataract worsens and finally you qualify. For about six months now I haven’t enjoyed three-dimensional vision because the right lens is mostly clouded over. So today I gave all the right answers on the questionnaire and got on the schedule for surgery at the end of October.

The surgery should be pretty much a breeze … for me, that is. I don’t know how it is for the surgeon, because I see him only for a nanosecond and then somebody gives me something very nice to tumble me off to sleep. When I wake up this time I will see well out of both eyes, thank the nurses, and Robin will take me home. Piece of cake. A miracle of sorts, made possible entirely through technology.

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I moved my writing station to the front of our home this past week. It’s less private, but I do get to watch a different set of people moving around, some of them in their automobiles. You remember autos? Before electric vehicles came around, people actually depended on those smelly and noisy internal combustion engines which did so much harm to the environment.

To make things worse, they had no guidance systems, but were piloted solely through the skillset of the driver. Which varied so much that there were tens of thousands of citizens who were mowed down by their neighbors each year in horrific collisions of flesh and bone versus metal and plastic. Of course we still have the odd collision nowadays, when an onboard computer develops a glitch. Like last year when that semi-trailer plowed through a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and when the police approached the truck they found no one in the cab. Somehow its program had gone off and started the engine without any human input, and that was all she wrote.

At any rate, there are still a few of those things around here in Paradise, and since most of them are operated by senior citizens, be aware of that fact if you come to visit us and set your EV’s hazard control systems to “High Alert.”

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Saturday Scramble

Margaret Atwood is something else, isn’t she? When I went looking for a particular quote of hers that I vaguely remembered, I found no less than six pagesful of them in BrainyQuote. There are some really sharp ones in there. The one that I had originally sought was this:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Margaret Atwood

The thing that brought this saying to foggy mindedness was a book review in the Times of New York of The Bass Rock, by Evie Wyld. The book’s theme is violence against women by men, which is as tried and true a theme as ever was. (I used to cringe whenever this subject came up yet one more time, being a lifelong member of the perpetrator gender, but as in so many other areas I found that ignoring it didn’t make it go away.)

This above all, to refuse to be a victim.

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I personally believe that this violence will not stop, or be significantly reduced until the topic has been laid out in front of us, bloody and raw, in a public square where we must walk by it daily and cannot turn our heads away. (How’s that for a metaphor?) Until we men are all absolutely sick to death of hearing about it and decide en masse to do something.

In this it is like the painful awareness of the systemic violence against people of color of that is today confronting Caucasians everywhere and around every corner so that we can only ignore it by complete denial of the nananananana variety. When we males (whites) as a group finally acknowledge the whole ugly mess as one we made and need to clean up all on our lonesome, it will happen.

The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.

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I think that I might have to read this book. The sharper among you may have noticed that I am not perfect yet, but I believe that there is still that outlier of a chance that I may still get there one day. No one will ever notice when I do, of course, because I will have become the quiet, flawless, and empathetic listener that I was meant to be.

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Warning! Watch at your own risk! The following short video is known to cause liberals to smile broadly, and even right wingers’ faces to crack in painful ways. It’s all about the shoes. Oh, yes, it’s also about a real person with a sense of humor, something of which the red-right is seriously short.

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I’ve never been a big Martha Stewart fan. Back a few years, when you couldn’t turn your head without seeing her face on television, billboards, or magazines, I chuckled slightly when she went to jail for a few months for cheating. Although I admit that I did respect her for not prolonging things, the way a very wealthy person is able to do seemingly endlessly, when she decided to drop the legal maneuvers and do her short time in the calabozo.

So when I read yesterday that she is bringing out a line of CBD products for both humans and pets, I smiled. Yes, we’ll soon be able to chew our way to health or whatever it is that CBD can do for us and we will know that they are being sold to us by a very reliable ex-con. Because there has never been a question about Martha’s super-reliability.

I smiled again when I read who her partner (and old friend) was in this new venture, because he’s someone we already know as well. It’s Calvin Broadus. Calvin Broadus, you ask? Why, that’s his birth name. You may know him better by his professional name, which is Snoop Dogg. (I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks.)

We will be in very good hands, here. Madame Stewart’s ironclad WASP-y solidity, and Mr. Dogg’s long personal experience with the hemp family. Love it.

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Eggs and tomatoes go together so well, and there are scads of recipes out there of various combinations. Recently I experimented with something so simple and delicious that in the last seven days I had it three times for breakfast. Three times. It’s really only a variation on Chinese stir-fried eggs and tomatoes, but I humbly offer it here.

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I ran across this on YouTube and I found it to be helpful and inspirational. I have a well-developed tendency to think in stereotypes because it’s so much easier. After all, that way I can deal with people in large groups, rather than as individuals. So when a bunch of Southerners come out saying that Black Lives Matter, it gives me a chill. Now I actually have to think, which can be quite painful for me, and makes me crabby.

BTW, I should mention that I am not a neutral party, being the proud son of a union man who grew up during a time when that meant sometimes dodging the billyclubs and fists of the goon-armies of the rich.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

When A Heart Is Empty by David Brooks
Trump Wasn’t Oblivious, He Didn’t Care by Paul Krugman

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I am presently re-reading Awakening the Buddha Within, a book that I first came across when I decided to see what the deal was with this thing called Buddhism. The book still interests me in its presentation of the main points of this “religion,” and also irritates in prodding me to accept karma, rebirth, and miraculous ideas that some schools of Buddhism adhere to. I am not a particularly good customer for miracles, it turns out. It’s one of my enduring quirks. Please notice that I said enduring, not endearing. This facet of my personality can be quite maddening to some.

It may well be that I am missing a great deal of the magic and beauty of life by insisting on a less colorful rationality, who knows? Even if this is true, I already find so much to admire out there … the world as I see it is so much more beautiful than it needs to be.

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A translation of the lovely song “Djorolen” goes like this:

“Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
The worried songbird
Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
For those of us who have no father
Her thoughts go out to them”

Here, Kitty Kitty

In my continuing efforts to try to satisfy the nutritional needs of the two furry gourmands who live at the same address that I do, I am daily swinging from elation to depression. No matter how eagerly they ingested the “Grilled Chicken with Liver” paté the last time I opened a can, today they may walk as carefully as members of a bomb squad might do to the same dish, give it a quick sniff, and then exit through the cat door, completely ignoring it.

And then the mess sits there gathering dust and developing an unattractive tough surface film that after a couple of hours pretty much guarantees that neither of the pair will ever eat it. They will then stand beside the rejected dishful and begin to complain that they are being ill served and would I please give them something to eat that is not revolting or poisonous?

The same goes for my homemade ground chicken mixture. It is vet-designed to contain everything that a cat needs to be healthy and happy, with proper attention paid to all of the known mistakes made in the past with regard to feline nutrition. Most days Willow will not touch it but Poco will clean his plate. Some days both cats act like they haven’t been fed in weeks and gobble it up with unseemly haste. Then there are the days when it doesn’t pass the sniff test at all, and both critters walk scornfully past their food containers and out the door.

Cats do scorn awfully well.

Ah well, it was so raising small children as well. They would have been happy with one bowlful of Lucky Charms (that toxically-sweetened and garishly-colored monstrosity of a cereal) after another, rotated with occasional platefuls of Kraft Mac n’Cheese or Spaghetti-Os at all meals and on all days and for years. It was when I tried to pay more than lip service to nutrition that I ran into trouble with them.

There are certainly no guarantees in parenting or pet care. My advice to the younger citizens of America is to acquire children or cats only after long and careful consideration.

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Yesterday our weather did an abrupt 180, going from sunny and nearly 90 degrees on Monday to 55 degrees and a cold drizzle on Tuesday. Wednesday morning is much the same. If I were in charge of things at the Celestial Department of Meteorology I would never do it this way. Humans are much happier when transitions are gradual. In fact, you can slip some pretty ugly weather into their lives if you do it one step at a time over several days or weeks.

My idea of the perfect September is 75 degree days while I walk about the town watching the leaves turn beautiful colors, each leaf remaining quietly on the tree for at least three weeks until the breezes finally carry them away. Maybe we’ll get some of that perfection, but here we are on the ninth day already … the gods better get cracking, is all I’ve got to say.

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It would appear that P.Cluck has completely taken leave of anything even remotely resembling decency, probity, or his senses. His public rantings are uglier than ever, his personal psychopathies more nakedly displayed. Who, I ask myself nearly every day, are these citizens who still eagerly follow him? Are they as degenerate and corrupted inside as he is? Is that what’s going on?

I am not able to sort it out, but the wondering makes me very sad some days. I very much want to think better of my own kind, but then I see pictures of the rallies chock-full of demented-looking Caucasians, applauding his vicious brand of nonsense.

My (distanced) mentor Thich Nhat Hanh would probably say that if I had grown up with different parents and had a different childhood that I might be in those stands wearing my MAGA hat and clapping my hands right along with them. And he would probably be right. But acknowledging that doesn’t make these people less dangerous or their attitudes less difficult to deal with.

On some days life is easier than on others, isn’t it?

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We are continuing to enjoy Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, on Netflix. It’s that little Japanese series (with subtitles) I mentioned a few posts back. It is sooo low-key, sooo kind-hearted, and if it occasionally wanders a little to the melancholy side it is never a downer. It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, and that covers a lot of years of television.

You owe it to yourself to watch at least one episode. It will do your heart good. And you might find that your chopstick technique improves as well.

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… hate to see that evenin’ sun go down …

First of all, I didn’t take this photograph. I could have, if I hadn’t been cowering indoors away from the heat. What it shows is a magical sunset, a Star Wars sunset, that happened last week as the sun shone through the gray smoke which filled our sky for several days. The fire was a hundred miles away, but its effects reached a long way down the valley.

Here in Paradise we coughed more often, our air quality suffered in any way you cared to measure it, and experts told us (and rightly so) how unhealthy it all was. But, child, we did have some sunsets, didn’t we?

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Just a hundred yards from our home a couple of evenings ago Robin and I saw something special. Six buck mule deer in a group crossing Sunnyside Street. We see does frequently, but not the males. Not in groups like this. They were beautiful to behold. A bunch of graceful bachelors hanging out on a Saturday night.

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Sunday afternoon the weather was unsettled, but Robin and I decided to take our exercise hike anyway. It wasn’t long before we plucked our rain shells out of the daypacks and put them on as drizzle protection. It never rained hard, but just enough to provoke the gumbo gods and a thick coating of mud built up on the bottoms of our boots. But we persevered and were glad we did. Some of the joys of walking in the rain are experiencing the aromas of the plant communities, like the sage and rabbitbrush. Aromas that may be there on drier days, but our limited sense of smell doesn’t pick them up.

We took off our mud-encrusted boots before we got back in the car and placed them carefully in the cargo bay of the Forester, driving home in our stocking feet. Once back at la casa del Floms, I hosed the boots down and put them in the garage to dry. That gumbo becomes semi-concrete if you give it half a chance.

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This summer I have really come to love the sound of the Hawaiian slack-key guitar. I was formerly ignorant of the entire genre, but now prefer it to any of the more familiar sounds from those islands. The music has an interesting history, starting with a bunch of 19th century Mexican cowboys … but I’ll stop there, you might want to read more on your own. Wikipedia is a good place to start.

It is all in the tuning, apparently, and I have to trust those who know about such things, because the only musical instrument I ever learned to play was the stereo. The effect is to mellow me out so thoroughly that I am in danger of slipping right out of my chair and cracking my head on the way down.

But this sweet music fits perfectly into the languor of these hot summer afternoons and evenings.

Here’s a couple by Ledward Ka’apana: Pua Hana and Slack Key Lullaby.

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We Are Probably Incapable Of Learning Our Lesson Department

Against all odds and common sense we are planning a campout for the Labor Day weekend, most likely with Amy, Neil, and family. Since everything is pretty much buttoned up down here, we’re thinking about going up onto the Uncompahgre Plateau, a largely uninhabited and wild place where only the weakest minds venture to go and only the hardiest survive (definite hyperbole, there).

This time we’re planning on bringing sleeping bags, just for variety, and the sorts of food that if any of it drops on the ground you can pick it up and blow the dirt off and it’s good as new. Our camper has also been repaired and all of the poles work as they should.

There’s a small campground up on the plateau containing 8 sites of the first-come/first-served kind. It has a vault toilet, but no water. The daily camping fee is zero dollars, because they don’t patrol or pick up trash or much of anything, actually. But we’ve seen it, and it’s surprisingly tidy. It is also located close to some hiking/biking trails that are appealing.

But spill one’s chicken chili out there and it’s a long way back to Montrose for provisions.

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Sunday Morning

Yesterday I was reaching into the interior of one of our tomato plants for a very red fruit way back there that needed picking. Suddenly there was a sharp pain between my thumb and forefinger. Without thinking I brushed at the area and was rewarded by a second sharpness a centimeter from the first one. Looking down I saw the yellowjacket who had delivered its message of “Stay away!” in such a pointed style.

Unfortunately for the creature it did not survive the encounter, and it perished as it delivered my first and second stings of this summer. There was no moment when I calmly decided that the insect was just protecting its turf and that I should respect its boundaries and move on. That would have been what a good Buddhist would do. Nope, I just wiped it out of existence. Bye-bye bad bug.

Our local yellowjackets are notorious for being irritable and aggressive, and this is not always a good thing for them. Especially when they meet up with a larger creature who is also irritable and aggressive … like myself, for instance. And I can also be vengeful.

Being stung often results in a widespread search for as many insect nests as I can find, even though members of any given colony may be completely innocent of wrongdoing on that particular day. This is where I bring into play the tools at my disposal, which include a powerful aerosol can of insecticide that can spray a deadly stream for a dozen feet.

This morning the stung area is only slightly swollen, and only itches a bit. I will look carefully when I go to pick more fruit in a couple of days, but if these little beasts have decided to hang out in there, my enjoyment of the eating may be made more piquant by the risks of gathering.

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We’re off later this morning for some more camping. This time we’re not carrying our gear on our backs, but instead are towing it behind us on the trailer. We will be meeting Ally and Kyle at Turquoise lake, near Leadville CO, for some conversation, chili-eating, and proper social distancing. It froze at night on our outing at Hunt Lake, and we expect much the same weather in the Leadville area. But this time we have our Mr. Buddy heater to comfort us when the temperature dips too low.

Return from Hunt Lake

Robin and I are back, ladies and gentlemen, from our adventure in backpacking. The walk up and down the mountain was challenging, to say the least. But the body recovers.

Our final destination was a small lake called Hunt Lake, and the setting was gorgeous. We found several dispersed camping sites along the waters’ edge, and selected three of them close to one another. Justin and Kaia in one, the Hurley family in another, and the two of us in the third. The altitude at the lake was 11,480 feet.

Our campsites were in a sort of bowl, with Banana Mountain along one side. The part of that mountain facing us was basically a gigantic pile of scree which we did not attempt to walk about in. The chunks of rock making up the pile were too big, too sharp-edged, and the spaces between them looked full of hazards to one’s legs. But they were filled with pikas, those small alpine creatures who scurried about as if they weighed nothing and had suction cups for feet.

These guys were just as adorable as the one in the photo above, and a full-grown animal is the length of my outstretched hand. Pikas are in the family of lagomorphs, which includes rabbits and hares. So … a tiny mountain bunny-cousin.

Here are some pix from the trip.

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Imagine our surprise when we returned to Montrose and found that President Cluck was once again telling tales. New birther horse-doodle for his doodle-hungry followers. It was truly a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous. Such an unworthy man.

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It’s August – Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Just finished re-reading (for the fifth time?) Canoeing With the Cree, a classic of wilderness canoe travel. It’s a very popular book in stores in Ely MN, a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This, even though the route described by the book passes nowhere near the “BW,” but quite a bit west of there.

No matter, it’s a great story, first published in 1935. Young Eric Sevareid and his friend Walter Port wanted an adventure in the summer following high school graduation. In spite of their youth and inexperience, they persuaded their parents to let them paddle a canoe from Minneapolis to Hudson’s Bay, a journey of 2250 miles, at least 500 miles of it poorly mapped.

That’s the craziest part of all. I ask you, readers … would you let one of your kids do this? On their own in the wilderness for four months, barely enough time to finish the trip before winter would set in, which would probably have been fatal?

Honestly, if any of my own children had threatened to do this I would have locked them in a tower cell and worn the key around my neck, hoping that a few months of solitude would clear their mind.

(This strategy would probably have been moot, because if anyone tried to do this today, I think Child Protective Services would take the children away before they ever pushed off from that first landing.)

They did make it, of course, and Eric wrote the book. Both men went on to long lives. Eric became a journalist and a famous television news commentator of the fifties and sixties. But it is the story of these two eighteen year old kids that is still amazing, 90 years on. It’s a quick read, see if your library has it.

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I was alerted to this video by friend Caroline, and I am indebted to her. It provides some much needed humor, of the gallows variety.

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Yesterday Poco did several remarkable things, for which I have no reasonable explanation. In one corner of the back yard, our other cat, Willow, had caught a mouse. Poco did what he often does, out of curiosity. He padded over to watch the drama.

Suddenly the mouse made a run for freedom under the wooden fence. In an instant Willow was up and over the 5-foot fence and down the other side. Right behind her went Poco, our 14 year-old arthritic friend – up and over. Two minutes later both cats paraded back into the yard, but this time the mouse belonged to … Poco, who proceeded to devour it. Even though he has very few teeth left.

I had believed him physically incapable of all of these behaviors because of his age and infirmities. (Poco and I are about the same age, according to the data I have available.)

That dratted cat is making me look bad, and I deeply resent it.

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From The New Yorker

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Burning Perfectly Good Food

We’re having the Manns over for dinner tonight (Wednesday). Grilling outdoors and serving on the deck, where any stray coronavirus particles can be puffed away by the evening breezes before they have a chance to land. All of the distancing stuff will be observed, food preparation is being carefully done, and we earnestly hope not to share anything with our guests but clean vittles and our lovely selves.

It’s our first such social foray since the outbreak began. The Manns live just up the street, and are people who frequently pop into our minds as “We should have those folks over sometime and get to know them better.”

The evening forecast promises that it will be rainless, warm, and almost windless. There will be tunes, of course. What summer night would be complete without them? It’s a touch of the homely at an extraordinary moment in time.

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There is a form of cancer called a pheochromocytoma. It originates in the adrenal gland, which normally produces several hormones, including adrenaline (epinephrine), which is a fight or flight hormone. A “pheo” can over-produce these hormones, and occasionally if one unwisely presses too hard on the tumor during a physical exam there can be a dangerous flood of these substances into the patient’s bloodstream.

So where am I going with this? The P. Cluck gang seems to me to be the political equivalent of a pheochromocytoma. They are a cancer on our body politic for certain, but not just any old tumor. If it is squeezed or threatened in any way out comes all manner of violent and unhealthy behaviors and pronouncements which do further harm to our citizenry and our country. When the moment comes in November this neoplasm needs to be cut away ruthlessly from the corridors of power.

Too overblown a comparison? Perhaps. I do tend to overblow. It’s one of the things I like most about myself.

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The cookout went very well. First of all, the gods of weather cooperated by providing one of those soft summer evenings you dream of in February. And the company was excellent. Zoom has been a boon and we are grateful for it, but there is nothing like face to face conversation. For me, all substitutes pale before it.

Unfortunately and eventually twilight turned to dusk turned to darkness and our guests had to go home, where they feared to find that their new puppy had probably reduced some rugs to shreds. It’s the difference between puppies and kittens. (Although a kitten can take a nice couch and turn it into a ratty-looking mess pretty quickly.)

I had a friend while in the Air Force who told stories about raising a St. Bernard from puppy-hood. One day he and his wife returned home to find that their new charge had chewed the entire arm from their couch. And when describing paper training, he grimly volunteered that when your puppy weighs fifty pounds, its toilet habits present an emergency.

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Heroism comes in all flavors and sizes. My own experiences have taught me that over and over. I will explain.

When I was working in Buffalo NY in the late 70s, it was at a hospital that was transitioning from an old-line private institution to a county hospital. Which led to a disconnect. The buildings themselves were located in an older and genteel part of town, while the populations that it served were elsewhere. At the pediatric clinic, I worked every day with a succession of grandmothers who were bringing in their children’s children for well-child care.

These women saw to it that those babies received their immunizations and examinations even when it required taking city buses and transferring two and sometimes three times, through the toughest part of town, to get there. Summer and winter. Rain or shine, they suited up and showed up. My own children were still small back then, and whenever it was my turn to bring them to their pediatrician for the same care, I generally regarded it as a chore eating into my precious day and would whine about the time spent.

But not these women. They saw the same visits as important enough to the lives of their charges to spend most of a day in transit just to get them done. To me their actions were heroism, of a very quiet and uncomplaining sort.

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Freedom To Let One’s Face Hang Out

It’s 2 A.M. here in Paradise, and I’m sitting out back listening to the wind chimes. Woke up to use the loo, and couldn’t just drop back to sleep for whatever reason, so here I am. Just for reference, it’s quite dark at this hour, so if there are wild creatures out there with me in view and wondering idly how I’d taste, at least I can’t see them massing. And what you can’t see ain’t real, right?

Official Portrait of Ron De Santis, Governor of Florida

Scanning the news – so far today it’s not too noisy out there. Florida, that state of masterful ostrich-style leadership, which reopened its beaches a few weeks ago and now is being swamped by new cases of Covid-19, is going to try to close some of those same locations for the 4th of July. Naturellement*, the yahoos are out in full force complaining that their freedoms are being curtailed.

Here are those freedoms as outlined in a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear
  • Freedom to bring a large cooler to any beach you want to, whenever

So I guess the yahoos are right on this one.

*An unfortunate habit of mine is to drop in a French word from time to time purely to show off and advertise that I had a minor in French as an undergrad.

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Our cats are with me out here in the dark on the deck, wondering:

What the feline ? Can’t he leave us alone even for a moment? Whenever he comes around it’s always Come here kitty and let me pet you? or Sit on my lap, won’t you? or some sort of mooning on how cute we are. He can’t just let us be. There are days when it’s enough to curdle one’s kibble.

I don’t blame them. Usually the night is their human-free time, where they can drop the little charades of polite social interaction and be themselves. Perhaps enjoy a tasty mouse or two and kick back.

Sorry, guys, I’ll stay here in my chair for now, the rest of the yard is yours. But at dawn, all bets are off.

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From The New Yorker

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Love the cartoon.

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I doubt this article shocked or surprised any of you. I’ve eaten chicken nuggets a couple of times, and on each of those occasions I knew that there was more than a little latex in those pneumatic lumps. Once when I attended a summer family picnic and saw them being substituted for shuttlecocks, this feeling was only reinforced.

I’ve read the story over a couple of times now, and am still in the dark as to just what the source of the rubber was. Old farm boots, discarded radial tires, erasers that were supposed to end up atop all those #2 pencils in all those classrooms … what?

The article goes on to tell us that the nuggets in question ” have a best-by date of May 6, 2021.” Apparently after that time you must have them recapped before you serve them.

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Robin and I are experiencing some of the heartaches of gardening this week. Some of our leafy children are being eaten or undermined by uninvited others. We find ourselves googling “diseases of tomatoes,” “diseases of chard,” and “diseases of spinach.” Wilted leaves, tiny beetles, wriggling larvae … all have threatened our small horticultural Eden out back.

What is the source of the impulses that drive us each year to complicate our lives by trying to grow a small portion of our own food? To put ourselves at the mercy of the weather, rainfall, insects, birds … all for a few salads and a BLT or two? If we truly learned from experience, we would toss those seed catalogs as soon as they arrived, get rid of the planters, and use all that time freed up to learn to play blackjack or something else more useful.

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This one is for Jonnie. Blister in the Sun, by Violent Femmes.

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The Buzz

You may have noticed that I haven’t complained about being stung by the yellowjackets that have terrorized us in our yard each summer that we’ve lived here in Paradise. The reason is that I think I’ve found the way, finally, to live an outdoor life at home without being annoyed by these aggressive bugs. I go for the queens.

In past years I’ve waited until the swarms arise in the warmth of the day and fly in malignant squadrons back and forth looking for innocent flesh into which to plunge their barbs. I never caught up, and was always two steps and a swollen forehead or finger behind the beasts.

But this year I put out the traps I have always used, but I put them out in March … before the little darlings even showed up for their summers’ target practice. These traps attract the insects and do them in, and I believe that in 2020 I got the devices out early enough to catch the queens wandering by with their retinues. Much more efficient to catch one queen than a thousand soldiers, I always say, or at least I will from now on.

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Here are three more cuts from Bob Dylan’s latest album:
I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You
Black Rider
Goodbye Jimmy Reed

For those of you of tender years out there … try to imagine your life without Dylan songs playing all through it … putting words to thoughts and emotions you were carrying around but were having trouble expressing … imagine it, if you can.

I can’t.

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Hey, friends, did you ever think that OUR ENTIRE COUNTRY would be regarded as so pestilential that we couldn’t go visit foreign countries any time we wanted to? That’s where we are today. Even Canada doesn’t want us bringing our stuff up there. And really, who can blame them? We’re a soggy, highly infectious mess that can’t follow common sense rules.

There was even an incident where an American airline traveler refused to wear a mask.

On a plane.

In that crabbed and crowded passenger cabin which is a microorganisms paradise.

[I heard that the problem was solved by relocating the gentleman to a new seat in Aisle 13z, which was on the wing, while the plane was over Wyoming. With the low population density that that state enjoys it was thought unlikely that he would hit anyone on his way down. I must emphasize that this is only a rumor, and hasn’t been independently verified.]

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These are the elements of my new office-on-the-deck this summer of the plague. Robin has begun to mock me gently by saying that the only one who spends more time in the backyard than me is our senior cat, Poco. But he does it quietly, sleeping over behind the tomato planters in the shade, while I create more of a disturbance.

I don’t have much to say in my defense. I can be quite a bother, sometimes. If I wasn’t so damned charming I’m pretty certain she would have shown me the door long ago.

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Up and Over

On our bike ride yesterday along the river, we met up with a dumb-butt who was fussing with his unleashed dog in the middle of the path, forcing Robin off the asphalt and into some sketchy gravel/dirt.

Trying to get back to solid ground she went down over the bars, hard and face-down.

I helped her up and checked her over, then we put the chain back on her bike and off we went in the direction of our first aid kit. Luckily the injuries were limited to scraped knees (2), scraped elbow (1), and sore wrists (2), one of which swelled up rapidly. All parts are feeling better today, but we’re watching that wrist. It needs to get better steadily or we’ll have to take our chances with the medical-industrial complex and all its vagaries.

Wounds of excellence, they call them. I do love riding this walking/biking path but it has become awfully popular, and even the most careful rider could have an accident brought about by unthinking pet-owners with their off-leash dogs and the unguided missiles they represent.

(BTW: Colorado is full of such pet-owners who apparently believe that municipal leash laws are for lesser creatures than themselves)

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Today we were in Delta CO when lunchtime rolled around. Robin insisted that I choose the place to eat. So I picked a family-owned restaurant I have wondered about for a year now – Tacos Garcia. (I could instantly see on Robin’s face as I said the name that she thought perhaps she’d been unwise to leave it up to me.)

It’s a tiny spot on Main Street, only a couple of indoor tables, with several more outside. It is not the typical Americanized idea of Mexican food.

The entire menu is in the photo at right.

Robin was game and ordered a couple of pollo tacos. After listening to the woman behind the counter go down the choices and describe each one I settled on barbacoa, which I learned was the meat from the cheeks of cows, shredded.

I waited apprehensively, hoping that I had not ordered some sort of gristle-pile that I would not be able to ingest. But it was delicious and not to be feared, even by a supremely fussy gourmand such as myself.

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So here’s a graphic of a mockup showing a new airline seating system that a man named O’Neill has proposed. I took one look at it and my ordinarily mild claustrophobia exploded. I had to go outside and take several hundred calming breaths. In such a move, the airline would put another nimbler human being above you.

Yes, dear friends, above you.

Now, I hasten to add for those of you who typically travel first-class that no one is suggesting that anyone do double-decking in your section of the plane, so you can relax.

But for the peons in the rest of the aircraft … that’s another matter entirely. Next step, I suppose, would be to do away with the aisle altogether and have us bodysurf on the backs of fellow travelers to get to our bunk-seats in the sky.

It just gets better and better.

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