Travelers

I’ve noticed that without any intention at all my musical selections over there in the sidebar have more or less settled into a mellower groove. There is so much noise elsewhere these days, so much shouting over one another – verbal violence to match the more physical variety being played out in the streets. Most mornings I have no wish to add to the tumult. However … I make no promises. I could break into something raucous at any time.

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I’m still making my way through the book White Fragility, page by painstaking page. I believe that I have found my sorry little self in every chapter, if not on every page. It turns out that reading it is akin to having a mental boil lanced, and that is a tender process. But I have confidence that when the probing stops I will be the better for it. Or at least I will understand more than I do today. People of my seasoned years may seem irrelevant to what it happening out there … but perhaps not … as long as we can vote, march, picket, and give aid and comfort to the enemy. My old and dear friend (who has never met me) Thich Nhat Hanh is fond of saying, if you want world peace, be peace. And one can do that at any age.

As long as the barricades aren’t so high they trigger my acrophobia I may be of some use in the struggles ahead of us. Ahhh yes, friends, there are some dandy struggles to come, even if Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are solidly victorious in November. The cruel hearts of those rough beasts that slouched their way into Washington will still be beating, and dealing with them will require our best attention.

And to address systemic racism, troubled economics, a very nasty virus, not to mention climate change and working once more with the rest of the world … I think Joe and Kamala will not want for things to do.

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Poor Mr. Yeats, I keep trotting out his poem (or parts thereof) on so many occasions. When I first read it, the imagery was so striking to me, and it still is. If he is watching us: I apologize, Sir, for overusing, and quite possibly repeatedly misapplying, your bit of verse, but I find that I cannot come up with a better one on my own. Whenever times are troubling it seems such a good fit into matter what the cause …

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats, the Second coming

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We’re expecting a guest in a couple of days. Daughter Maja is flying from Minnesota to social distance with us, and has come all the way from Peru just to do it.

Well, that’s not completely accurate. She needed a few weeks away from Peru’s hyper-rigorous lockdown, but the borders were closed. So she had herself crated up and placed in a container ship, the box having been labelled as some of those famous Peruvian textiles. Once in America, she chewed her way out of the box and thumbed rides all the way from San Diego to Mankato, having many adventures along the way. One of them involved a Maltese cat and a sack of onions … but it’s her story, and perhaps she should be the one to tell it.

So we are looking forward to debriefing her when she arrives in Paradise. In these uncertain days, learning new travel skills may come in handy down the road … who knows?

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A recommendation. Midnight Diner, on Netflix. Japanese, with subtitles. It has such … umami.

Each episode is under 30 minutes, so would it hurt you to watch at least one?

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Someone told me that they are not going to vote this year, because they abhor P. Cluck and they don’t like Joe Biden. I hope they rethink their strategy.

It would be great if our choices at the ballot box were as clear as between an awful candidate and a glorious leader, but how often does that happen in life? Sometimes in order to avoid the election of someone particularly distasteful, we must hold our nose with one hand while making our “X” with the other.

P. Cluck’s malfeasance may not yet have risen to the level of a Hitler or a Mussolini, but do we want to take even the most minuscule chance that he will be allowed to remain in office? Really, do we? And that’s exactly what not voting does. It improves his chances by one hair.

That’s not okay.

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Wildness

I thought the latest New Yorker Magazine cover was so arresting that I had to stop and stare at it for quite a while when it arrived.

Its title is “Say Their Names,”. Clicking the link takes you to a media story about the illustration itself.

The same artist is also featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in the July issue. He’s having a good month, wouldn’t you say?

If you’ve a few moments to spare, and Google the artists’ name, Kadir Nelson, you can browse through the many images that come up. Quite a talent. Good stuff.

But I can stop talking now, because here’s the man speaking for himself.

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Do you sometimes feel as I do, that we are suffering a metaphoric death by a thousand cuts? And of course I’m talking about P.Cluck and his traveling circus. Every single day we are assaulted in some way by their words, their actions … their trashing of things we cared about and other worthwhile items that we might not have even known existed before they ended up broken and strewn about the floors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

When he is finally shown the door, it will take a while just to do repairs. I don’t think that my psyche has an unbruised spot left on it. But it will be a job worth doing and one that will be truly joy-filled after this long dark season.

Can’t wait.

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Alas, New Yorker Magazine has made it harder for me to steal cartoons to embellish this scanty effort of mine. I used to be able to easily search their archives but this week when I looked for that little magnifying glass icon in the “Archives” section, it was gone.

Oh, I can still page through more than fifty thousand images if I so choose, but they are arranged randomly and so far I can’t find any way to filter them. I’ve written to the magazine as an aggrieved larcenist, but have received no reply so far.

Crime does not pay like it used to.

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From The New Yorker

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I don’t know if this news item is the last word on the Christopher McCandless story, but it is a turning point of sorts.

McCandless is the young man who wandered into wilderness Alaska on a personal quest and died there, in an abandoned school bus. His story became the book “Into the Wild,” and a movie of the same name. It was a good tale – personable man of privileged background looking for a place away from consumer America, makes a series of poor choices, becomes very ill and eventually perishes in the wilderness. Dramatic. Romantic.

That old bus had become a touchstone for many other young adults, who traveled far to visit it, even though the way could be difficult and dangerous. Some of those pilgrims died on their trip or had to be rescued.

So this week, to try to put an end to the deaths and injuries, the Alaskan National Guard hoisted the bus below a huge helicopter and took it away. Perhaps we’ll find out where it is later on, when authorities have found a suitable location for it.

End of story?

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Semi-Summer

We are basking, here in Paradise, in 80-plus temperatures. Everything out there is dry as toast and waiting for a substantial rain to make things right. When you walk on our lawn the crunching sound is loud enough to wake babies. Fortunately our nearest neighbors haven’t any of those little creatures around, so they are not complaining.

It’s been interesting reading about how Sweden is coping with Covid-19. They basically tried to shelter all of the aged while letting the virus otherwise rip through the country. The hope was that the younger population would handle it fairly well and eventually the virus would find new victims unavailable and eventually disappear.

Unfortunately, they didn’t protect those older citizens as well as they might have and as a result there are many fewer old Swedes today than there were two months ago.

There’s an important defect in this plan, I think, and that is posed by the tactics of Norway and Finland (and most other Western countries), who are doing the shelter-in-place thing. The virus won’t be as quick to leave those territories, so even if the Swedes get their wish at home, they can’t go anywhere.

It’s still all theoretical, of course, we don’t really know what this pest is going to do or how our personal and herd immunities are going to develop, or even if they will. We are in that uncomfortable place where the science is developing at its steady pace while our expectations and hopes are racing far ahead.

Patience is easier to come by for those less troubled.

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Leonard Pitts Jr. comes through once again in his latest column. His admonition is “Control what you can in this time of madness, and don’t forget … breathe.”

Unless your equanimity is already perfect, you might benefit from a read here. The man is a powerhouse of common sense and thoughtfulness.

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Joy Harjo has been given a second term as poet laureate of the United States. Here is one of her works. I wish I could say it is reprinted with her permission, but it is not. On the other hand, she didn’t forbid me to do it, either, so there is that.

Our poet laureate is blissfully unaware of my existence. It’s all part of the plan.

Once The World Was Perfect

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

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This morning I was watching Poco drinking at the outdoor waterer. I noticed his fur was sort of scruffy, his posture a little hunched. I also know he can’t jump nearly as high as he once could, and believe him to be arthritic. There are moments when he seems forgetful, maybe confused about where he is and what he’s doing there. Followed by times when he seems as clear as ever.

I was feeling a little wistful on his account, when I had this thought. Does he look at me and think the same things?

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Ducks In A Row

I will go out on a limb here and say that Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are awfully poor examples of their professions. This disreputable pair sold their souls to the Devil and Oprah Winfrey long ago, but all they got in the deal was a tawdry sort of celebrity in the world of the suggestible.

(Robert Johnson allegedly made the same trade-off but became a terrific guitar player and bluesman as a result of his own arrangement with Old Nick.)

Phil/Oz have popped up recently on FoxNews weighing in with blatherous pronouncements and opinions about Covid-19. We knew that it was only a matter of time before those lips for hire began their dreadful flapping. It’s a perfect marriage of shoddy network and shoddy professionals.

Lord help us (and thank you again, Oprah, for your hand in getting them started).

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Ran across these on The New Yorker. See ’em, love ’em, share ’em, is my motto.

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When I read of the new Youth Poet Laureate, at first I felt badly because I didn’t know the former one. But then I learned that there wasn’t a former one. Amanda Gorman is the first.

Watching the following video made me somehow proud. Proud to be a tiny part of a country that gives people like Ms. Gorman a chance to have their voices heard.

Here she is on CBS’ Sunday Morning show, reading one of her works. The production is a little schmaltzy, but y’know, I can use a little more schmaltz these days.

Her words are inspirational, and what do you think about her performance? – to me she sounds like Maya Angelou, rapping.

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Almost everybody we know here in Paradise is Zoom-ing these days. All that was needed was a platform that was a little easier to use than its predecessors, and off went America into video-conferencing. Yesterday morning we connected with daughter Maja in Lima, and we were going to catch up later in the day with our grandchildren in Denver but that was postponed, because they were all Zoomed out for the day, having just finished an hour online with some other folks.

Robin meets with her church committees and book clubs in this way, and we both attend virtual AA meetings, all of these using the free version of the app. Pret-ty cool, I’d say, to be able to so easily fill in some of the gaps that geography and Covid-19 create.

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If you look closely, you will see that there is a duck, a mallard to be precise, in our front yard. He showed up Monday morning. This has never happened before, and personally I took it as an omen.

My only problem is that I don’t know what it predicts, or augurs. I have consulted all of my learned books, which are sadly silent on the subject of ducks. But it really bothered me, as who wants to begin any serious enterprise if it’s all for naught because the celestial plug has already been pulled … you just don’t know it yet?

So I turned to the only person I knew who might shed light on the subject – Ragnar the Imperturbable.

Dear Ragnar: Do you know anything about ducks in the yard? Is there any cosmic significance?

Ragnar: Ducks? You wake me up for ducks? By Freja’s golden hair I’ll …

Dear Ragnar: Really, I do apologize, it’s just that we’re all dithering out here, not wanting to do anything to mess with the gods’ plans. But again, anything at all?

Ragnar: Of course we have duck stuff. The only problem is sorting through it, there’s so much. I need to ask a couple questions of my own, first.

Dear Ragnar: Of course. Go right ahead.

Ragnar: Was it just the one … duck, that is?

Dear Ragnar: No, there was a hen, but she isn’t in the picture.

Ragnar: And what sort of bird was it? Could it have been a Mandarin duck? Or a Baikal teal?

Dear Ragnar: I’m sorry, we believe it to have been a common mallard.

Ragnar: And was it wearing anything … like an item of clothing … or spectacles, perhaps?

Dear Ragnar: No, nothing at all. It was very plain.

Ragnar: Was it up to quite a bit of quacking? More than a duck might usually be expected to do?

Dear Ragnar: It was a singularly quiet waterfowl.

Ragnar: Might it have been mute? That would narrow things down considerably.

Dear Ragnar: We really couldn’t say. We heard nothing.

Ragnar: Alright, here we go then. If a person finds a duck (or ducks) in their yard, nude, mute, and not wearing glasses, there is a very good chance that it might rain before twilight of that same day.

Dear Ragnar: That’s it? It might rain?

Ragnar: Well, what do you want? I don’t make this stuff up on my own, you know. It’s all there in the Book of Aqvavit, one of our most important sources to consult on weighty matters.

Dear Ragnar: Who in the world would bother about such an omen?

Ragnar: Well, let’s say you were planning on hanging out some laundry in preparation for pillaging England …

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Obligate

A little bit about viruses. They are very extraordinary things, these tiny particles, which usually cannot exist outside of the host (in the case of this new coronavirus, the host is us) for more than a few hours or days. And their only true place of residence is inside of our cells. The technical name for them is obligate intracellular parasites, which is a mouthful.

Someone coughs in my direction and a viral particle sails toward me, eventually coming to rest in my respiratory passages as I breathe in. Once there it grabs onto a cell and burrows into it. Now the virus commandeers the machinery of that cell, pushing aside all normal operators, and turns the cell’s activity to … guess what? … making more virus.

Our present Staying in Place restrictions have a good chance of breaking up this pandemic, or at least limiting the harm. Theoretically, since we are the virus’ only “food,” dividing us up into small groups should work well. If by mischance I somehow contract the viral agent and bring it home with me, basically there is only Robin to give it to, as long as I am following the guidelines with regard to human contact. So poor Robin becomes ill, we both recover (Oh Happy Day!), and that’s it for our particular branch of the tree. We are now immune. We don’t pass it along. We have become a dead end.

So for the present – no restaurants, movie theaters, church services, major league baseball … basically no amusements that involve large groups of people. I can live with that.

A couple of days ago I read of an evangelical pastor who was, by God, not going to let coronavirus keep him from spreading the Word on Sunday mornings, so services were being carried out as usual.

Not a terrific idea, to say the least. The odds are pretty good that his congregation will be a younger and smaller one when this is all over. But it will also be a smarter one. Because the brighter lights among the faithful will have stayed home as they knew they should.

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Robin came across a site claiming to have links to forty of the greatest essays of all time (No hubris at all, is there?). The very first one was by David Sedaris, who is a favorite of both Robin and I.

It’s title is Laugh, Kookaburra, and I’ll bet even money you will smile repeatedly as you read it. You may also chuckle, but probably not guffaw.

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I am an absolute sucker for articles written about wolves. Especially those with an encouraging outcome. Each time I visit Ely MN for a canoe trip into the Boundary Waters, I spend some time in the International Wolf Center there, being totally caught up in what I am learning about these creatures.

Wildness is what they bring to the conversation. A sense of what was and should be if our own species was not so voracious.

So when I found this piece this morning in the Times of New York, I fell upon it like … wolves. It’s about the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.

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A Fine Kettle of Fish

Okay, I admit that Willie Nelson can basically do no wrong. Drink too much? … he used to do that. Smoke pot by the hundredweight? … continuously until he couldn’t breathe well. Famously forget to pay his income taxes? … you bet. And yet somehow he transformed himself from a man who was (and is) simply a very good songwriter with a couple of bad habits to a national cultural institution and treasure.

I would really like to know how he did that so I can get started on my own monster legacy. I do have a hurdle or two to get past, if I am thinking of following in his footsteps. I can’t play guitar, I can’t read or write music, I can’t sing, and I’m a lifelong sufferer from charisma deficiency syndrome.

But today we’ll look at a new generation of Nelsons as they perform duets with the old man. Here’s a pair of videos, one involving son Lukas and the other daughter Paula.

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The sound that you hear is that of multiple apples falling not far from the tree.

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Friday night we’re going back to St. Mary’s Church for the Fish-Fry once again. I called to see if by chance they were calling it off for viral reasons, and the secretary seemed puzzled that I would even ask such a question. Apparently NOTHING interferes with the fish-fry, other than perhaps an inferno-style grease fire in the kitchen itself.

We’re attending with another couple, and I’ll have to admit that getting together in a public space these days where there will be scores of other people gives one a bit of a frisson. I may wear my Indiana Jones fedora for the occasion. Would packing a bullwhip be too much … ?

Actually, being at a Catholic Church dinner where a killer virus may be lurking doesn’t give me as much pause as attending services at a local Lutheran church would, the one where there is an old dude who openly carries a sidearm on Sunday mornings. The danger is random in both cases, but I don’t think that being 3 feet away from a gun-toting and paranoid septuagenarian provides nearly enough of a safe distance.

[Follow-up note: St. Mary’s is cancelling the rest of the Fish-Frys for this season due to concerns centered on COVID-19. An instance where the virus may actually have saved lives.]

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On Thursday afternoon, it being a lovely sixty-degree day and my having run out of excuses not to do it, we took our bikes out for the first time. The city has recently added 2.5 miles to the riverside bicycle/hiking trail and it is really beautiful now. Slight uphill going upstream, the opposite when you turn around.

It’s a nice workout, and the only problem I have each year on the first few rides is some lower-body discomfort located not where the rubber meets the road, but where the denim meets the saddle. Since we covered about 12 miles Thursday, I am still walking slightly askew today.

However, I am no longer visibly wincing.

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A concession to the times we are living in. I truly enjoy shopping for groceries. Part of the fun is getting bargains and part is exploring new foods, some of which I may never have heard of before.

But we’re going to experiment with something called ClickList, at our local City Market. Here you shop for your food online, and then at a designated time, drive to the store and a stockperson delivers your order to your car. The only human contact is with that man or woman, and you avoid the herd inside the store. There is a charge for this service (at least partially offset by the lack of opportunity for impulse buying).

Now, I would much prefer to be in that herd, but will accept that this route may be the one to take until the crisis passes. After all, as Robin gently reminds me, I am in a different risk group these days.

Odd to imagine oneself as situationally fragile, but there you are.

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Ups & Downs

We of the Empire do feel sorry for the citizens of the United States. They are for the most part good people, but in the back of my mind I keep hearing that accusatory saying: “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

If that is so, one has to wonder what the Americans ever did to deserve swimming around together in the political chamber pot they occupy today.

Not that those of us in the Empire are above reproach, not at all. We’ve had our own ups and downs, although none of our downs have … but enough of this. Our neighbors are resourceful, and have dug themselves out of worst scrapes in the past.

Imagine being sentient and reading the newspapers in 1954 as Senator Joseph McCarthy went about his daily rounds ruining lives and fouling the nation’s waters. The US of A got through those times and came out the better for it.

Could happen again. We Imperial citizens sincerely hope that a sweet relief for our friends comes rapidly.

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Monday morning an article in the NYTimes told a story that was like … I dunno … a plot for a “B” movie starring Melissa McCarthy and Adam Sandler. Officials finally cleared the Westerdam, a cruise ship, in the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and hundreds of passengers disembarked to go sightseeing or shopping, while scores more jumped onto planes to continue their vacation travels.

The Westerdam

And then of a sudden one American lady triggers the thermal scanner, and later tests positive for coronavirus. But all these other passengers were out there doing their thing, some of them carrying their viral load to the far corners of the earth. An epidemiologic nightmare, nest-ce pas?

Imagine that you’re on a plane somewhere in the world on Monday morning, reading the Times story, while somebody across the aisle from you is telling the guy next to him how he had been quarantined on a cruise ship and just got released the day before in Cambodia and what a mess that had been. And then the guy coughs a couple of times.

Make you nervous just reading about it, doesn’t it?

Bill Burr might not be your favorite comedian, but while I was reading the Times piece I flashed back to his solution to the world’s population problems, and it involved cruise ships. Here’s a shortened version of that bit, from Conan O’Brien’s show.

Like I said. A “B” movie script idea if there ever was one.

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I found this animated GIF on the New Yorker site. It’s hypnotic. I keep waiting for something to happen … a dog running into the frame, or the bicyclist’s head to turn. But it never changes. The cyclist just keeps pedaling, the snow falls forever.

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The Boy Scouts of America have filed for bankruptcy as their sexual abuse lawsuits continue to pile up. This has become another sad and sordid story about yet another institution that didn’t do its job, didn’t protect the children under its care. Yet another group that had to be taken to court and forced to admit that it failed in its primary duty. Make room on the Bench of Shame, Catholic Church, here comes the BSA.

Is there a de-merit badge that the adults in scouting responsible for the offenses and/or the cover-up could be sentenced to wear?

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I do have a positive Boy Scout story for you. When I was working in Yankton, a teen-aged Eagle Scout came into the office with the complaint of pain in his chest.

He had been backpacking at the Scouts’ Philmont Ranch in New Mexico, leading a group of younger boys. On the second day out, he suddenly developed chest pain and shortness of breath. In spite of this he finished the trek, which meant another day in the mountains carrying a full pack, and then a day traveling home.

My examination and workup quickly showed that his left lung was nearly completely collapsed due to a spontaneous pneumothorax. It happens – a lung springs a leak and collapses, just like the inner tube on a bicycle. A physician then inserts a tube which sucks out the air from the space where it isn’t supposed to be, and the patient is usually good as new.

This kid, who was a Type AAA personality if there ever was one, hadn’t let a little thing like a collapsed lung get him down. He finished the job and then sought care days later.

As a person who feels that he should not be expected to walk whenever his little toe is aching slightly, I remember being suitably impressed.

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