The Buzz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CNN Business July 19, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

by John Keats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Cup Runneth Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, two sightings on the same day. SCORE!

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Uniform = Homogeneous

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

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

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

Viet Nam service ribbon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Snap.

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

But I digress already.

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

The dead at Antietam

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

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

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

Jim Brandenburg

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

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

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

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

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

Selfie, anyone?

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

I know that others have worse weather than we do.

I don’t care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Saroyan: The Time of Your Life

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

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Family Blotter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More coffee?

More soup?

Here, I’ll get that.

No, I’m fine. I’ll eat later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s That Smell?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oy.

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good Will(ow) Hunting

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

But to get back to Willow.

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

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

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

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

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

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Three from the New Yorker Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ground Control

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

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

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

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E-bike Report:

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

Montrose Daily Press, May 19, 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon appetit.

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Roosters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Way

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

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

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

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

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

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From The New Yorker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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