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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Johannes Was Such A Caution

That little Google illustration yesterday was entitled “celebrating Johannes Gutenberg.” He was the guy who invented the printing press, right? First books and all, right?

Well, wrong. He was the first European to do this. You all probably already knew this stuff, but I didn’t until recently. The Chinese were at printing for quite a while before Johannes got into the act.

No one knows when the first printing press was invented or who invented it, but the oldest known printed text originated in China during the first millennium A.D. The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist book from Dunhuang, China from around 868 A.D. during the Tang Dynasty, is said to be the oldest known printed book.

History Channel

That famous Gutenberg Bible didn’t roll off the press until 1452. What Johannes did that was special was to make type out of metal, and to develop inks that would cling to it. Previous types were made of wood or fired clay. So the Chinese beat the pants off everybody else way back then, much like today in that regard. Superficially it seems like so many instances in history where nothing really existed until a white person did it. The truth may be more complicated than this, but … seems like.

Johannes had some problems along the way to making that Bible. One of them was that the Church was basically opposed to it. Putting the Bible in the hands of lay persons didn’t seem to religious officialdom to be a good plan. Such proceedings would allow ordinary persons to make up their own minds about the Bible’s contents, and this was considered to be a very poor idea indeed. The Church was much happier telling people what to think. Kind of like today.

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We’re still involved in doing some limited remodeling here at BaseCamp, while a gentleman rips out the old carpeting from the living room and replaces it with planks that look like wood, but are clever imitations that require almost no maintenance. All of the L.R. furniture is piled up in other rooms, and life is mildly disrupted as a result. For me, it is a pleasure watching a skilled artisan at work. Total concentration, deft hand movements, years of experience being brought to bear at each step. All of those things that are so different when compared with my own haphazard approach to such projects. And completely absent is the application of colorful language that I would bring.

Our cats, who are quite unhappy creatures when their lives are being changed in any way, are letting us know that they are opposed to the project completely. Lots of complaining-style meowing being voiced right now, and threats of “we might just forget where the litterbox is located.” That last one is met with “well, we might just forget where the kibbles are kept,” or “what if that pet door got nailed shut with you on the outside … how would you like that?”

Such bickering, of course, gets nobody anywhere. When both parties are using their nuclear options, thoughtful discussion is the victim. It will look lovely when the installer is done, and once the furniture is replaced, I think serenity and good manners will eventually return to our humble dwelling.

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The George Floyd murder trial goes on. Yesterday the defense lawyers tried to assert that standing on people’s necks was appropriate police procedure. Perhaps if someone knelt on the necks of the defense team for, let’s say, twenty seconds, it might change their perspective.

No one has to compress any of my body parts to let me know that doing this is wrong from the get-go. Turns out that I have a pretty good imagination where suffocation is concerned.

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Human beings have the power of the gods, a fact of which I am periodically being reminded. The only problem is that we don’t always know what words to use to achieve our goals.

For instance, if it hasn’t rained for months, and the vegetation has all turned brown and crispy, you would think that all a god would have to say was something like, well, “RAIN!” But that’s not how it works. What you do have to say is “Okay, we’re going to have an outdoor wedding even though we have no backup plan in case of inclemency.”

Rain is almost 100% assured in instances like this. It’s finding the effective phrase that makes all the difference. Now in a more immediate case, yesterday mid-day it was so beautiful that Robin and I wheeled our bikes out onto the driveway to go for a couple of enjoyable miles. A light breeze played about our faces as we selected our itinerary. “Let’s go all the way to the Black Canyon National Park turn-off!”

We’d gone only two miles when a gale hit, nearly unhorsing us. The 30 mph plus wind that now smote us hip and thigh caused us to turn around immediately and head for home, half-blinded by the dirt and dust being blown into our unprotected faces. Mother Nature was only waiting for our cry to go “all the way” to unleash a bit of her forces.

It’s all in the words. The unfortunate part is that you only learn it by making one mis-decision at a time. To really acquire facility with the language of the immortals takes a lifetime, and this knowledge leaves the planet when you do.

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BTW. The electric bikes that we recently acquired are a gas. It’s like having a tailwind whenever you want one. Robin and I have very different styles when out riding. She tries to use the power as little as possible, getting the maximum aerobic work out of every cycling opportunity. I, on the other hand, punch the power up to legal limits just to see what the machine will do. My thinking on the matter is perfectly simple: why would I have it and not use it?

A hazy sort of plan is forming up that may or may not come to fruition in the Fall. More than a decade ago, Robin and I cycled the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota, a beautiful 109 mile trail that runs through the Black Hills from Deadwood to Edgemont. We took it slow and stopped to smell every rose along the way.

The idea of doing it once again, but this time on E-bikes, is a very appealing one. Lots of things to think about, but September can be a terrific time to be in the “Hills” no matter what the excuse.

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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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Sweat Equity

I’ve been holding off writing about one of my present exercise practices. Mostly because I’m not sure that you will find me credible, and I wouldn’t blame you at all. But here goes – three times a week I do something called H.I.I.T. That’s High Intensity Interval Training, for those who aren’t familiar with the shorter spelling. It’s all a part of my quest to find the perfect program that will allow me to maintain my present amazing level of physical fitness while working out for the shortest possible time.

Why, you ask? Why would a person do such a thing to themselves? It all started, like so many things these days, with Covid. Our local Gold’s Gym took an early proactive stance where they posted a firm notice on the door saying that all who entered had to mask. Once inside the door, however, they could care less. Robin and I found that the majority of people working out were either not masked at all, or were wearing it on their chin or backside or some other useless place. So each of three times we walked in we spun about and left the establishment, deeming it an unsafe space to be in.

And then what to do? Sure, I know that you are saying now that we have these awesome bodies and how much you admire our lithe and feline movements, but they weren’t going to stay that way unless we found a substitute for the gym that wasn’t also a deathtrap for seniors. Therefore, we have been walking and walking and walking this winter, and we recently added a Schwinn AirDyne stationary bike to our regimen.

Fortunately for me, research on this subject is all over the place these days. Apparently if one does things correctly, doing HIIT for only a handful of seconds does the trick for improving and maintaining aerobic capacity. I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training (SIT), is a form of interval training, a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods, until too exhausted to continue. Though there is no universal HIIT session duration, these intense workouts typically last under 30 minutes, with times varying based on a participant’s current fitness level. The intensity of HIIT also depends on the duration of the session.

Wikipedia

Here is a video of a very fit woman doing HIIT using 10 seconds of maximum intensity followed by 10 seconds of relative rest. See her face toward the end of the video? That is my expression at the beginning of each session, and it goes downhill from there, ending up in photos that should not be displayed where sensitive children can see them .

Since there is no agreed-upon set of times, etc. for intervals, I have picked out my own set and will describe them below. Key to understanding the whole process is the phrase in the description above “until too exhausted to continue.” I reach that point in about … five seconds. That is on the first rep. In each succeeding repetition I reach exhaustion in a shorter amount of time until by the sixth such interval I actually hit that pooped-out mark before I start.

Here is how a typical HIIT session goes for me. Each repetition is 10 seconds of maximum effort following by 20 seconds of much less intensity.

  • First rep: I am now out of breath entirely. Are we done yet?
  • Second rep: hey, twenty seconds is not near enough time to recover, I’m gasping here!
  • Third rep: glad I put that waste basket nearby, I going to hurl any minute now
  • Fourth rep: my chest hurts … surely this is the big one? Arrgggghhhh. I’m not ready!
  • Fifth rep: no, no, no, no, no
  • Sixth rep: help me, help me, everything is going blurry … I see a light … at the end of a tunnel … someone in a white robe is beckoning … I’m a-comin’, Lord …

And then I’m done.

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We’ve started a small remodel project here at BaseCamp. The bathroom off the master bedroom needed a refreshment, and yesterday our contractor-neighbor tore it apart. We can only hope that he knows how to put it back together again, and better than it was. But it’s really an exercise in faith, isn’t it?

Robin and I have a lot of histories with remodels, both before we were married and since. The most common theme seems to be that a project is begun and then the workers disappear for the longest period of time, before returning without apology or explanation. During one such episode we had almost given up hope when we found our contractor’s picture on a milk carton on the breakfast table. Have You Seen This Person?, was the legend beneath the photo, and another frustrated customer’s number to call if you had.

But when it is done we will have a walk-in shower instead of the present tub/shower unit. That will make cleaning up so much easier, not having to lift my legs that high and all.

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The subject of electric bikes has come up once again, and this time we might even go through with getting a couple of them. Our knees and other body parts are showing signs of wear, and making bicycling a tish easier would be a welcome change, especially on the uphill stretches. The number of choices now are a little overwhelming, and in some cases, the prices are as well. If you want to spend more than $15,000 on a supremo electric mountain bike, you will have no trouble finding vendors, and will probably have to wait six months for delivery. The demand for them is way up in this Year of the Virus.

We are window-shopping in a completely different price range, and even then have trouble sorting through the scads of options available. Robin and I are pretty much okay with mountain-walking but done with mountain-biking. At least the kind where you are leaping over roots and rocks while going downhill at a blistering rate of speed. Nice tame fire roads or paved bike trails are more our cup of tea. We keep in mind that a basic principle of the senior citizen is that you get hurt quicker and you heal slower. Go ahead, call me a wuss, I can’t hear you.

I SAID: I CAN’T HEAR YOU!

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Is Half A Wit Better Than No Wit At All?

Last evening Robin and I revisited an all-time favorite film of both of us. For me, it is at #2 in my lifetime ranking, with Lawrence of Arabia still at #1. What movie is that, you ask? … Stand By Me, I answer.

To me, it is just about a perfect movie. Sweet and sad and funny. A reminder of what it was like to be a twelve year old boy, that is to say, a barely civilized human being. When it was over, and the credits were rolling, it occurred to me that I had never read the source material, which is a novella by Stephen King entitled “The Body.” Hey, I can fix that, says I, and it is now my night-time reading.

Here’s the final scene from the movie. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” What a great line.

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From The New Yorker

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Wednesday morning I spent sitting in the service area of the local Subaru dealership, having a trailer hitch installed on our car. The new vehicle will tow twice as much weight as our old one (and I’m not quite sure why there is such a difference). But one thing that we use the hitch for the most often is to carry a rack for our bikes. We’ve been fans of the platform-type racks for a couple of decades now. Their big advantage for us is that lifting the bikes onto the device is easier. And you can haul basically any bike with these things, no matter what it’s crossbar looks like. Or even if it doesn’t have a crossbar at all.

The only problem with them is that they are among the more expensive racks. More hardware and more engineering equals more expensive. Oh well, nothing’s perfect.

What I keep looking for is a rack and car combination that no matter where I go, my bicycling journey is always downhill, and the car is waiting for me at the bottom.

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The Republicans continue to surprise and entertain me with their seemingly unquenchable appetite for featherheadedness and self-destruction. There is no blather too ridiculous and no position too mean-spirited for them. The crazier the better seems to be the hallmark of today’s GOP.

At present the party is having a lot of trouble distinguishing between Abraham Lincoln and someone like Marjorie Greene (photo at left) as a person to admire and emulate. I would put my money on Greene, if I were a betting person. She’s the farthest away from thoughtful of any member of the present Republican class of half-wits. Which makes her practically a shoo-in.

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Up and Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entire menu is in the photo at right.

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

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

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

Yes, dear friends, above you.

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

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

It just gets better and better.

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Out & About in Coronaland

For the first time since the emergency began, Robin and I went out with our friends, the Evanses. Cautiously.

We chose an outdoor activity – bicycling – along the bike trail that runs from Ridgway State Park into the town of Ridgway itself. An eight-mile really lovely pedal along the river. On a golden sunny day in the 70s. Mostly we were safe distances apart, even though we relaxed our mask-wearing a bit.

At the end of the ride we had prepared a picnic lunch … actually … two picnic lunches. Each couple made and ate their own food, without sharing. Not quite as much fun as “you bring this and I’ll bring that” but it worked out okay, and guidelines were pretty much observed.

Interesting, though, was our table conversation. We’d all separately come to the conclusion from all we’d read and seen that we were all going to contract the coronavirus eventually. That it was inevitable, what with its silent spread through the population, lack of anything protective being presently offered, and the demonstrated infectiousness of the beast.

It was only a matter of when. We agreed that of the two choices – go ahead and catch it and get it over with vs. putting it off as long as circumstances allowed, we were all choosing the put-off strategy. There was always some small chance for a vaccine or an antiviral chemotherapeutic being developed.

And although the four of us are in the high-risk group, that still meant that as far as the statistics provided so far, we have an 88% chance of survival if we do come down with the disease.

It may not seem like cheerful table conversation, but at least there was no denial, no “it won’t happen to me as long as I keep on doing these magical things.” And facing what can’t be run from is liberating and requires much less energy than stuffing it away does.

So … four happy non-campers pedaling from country to town and back again. Good conversations. Great fun.

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On Sunday, we traveled to the Purgatory ski area near Durango and rendezvoused with Amy, Neil, & the kids. We repeated the social distancing picnic of Saturday and added a hike down the mountain (and back up) to the Animas River gorge this time.

Weather was excellent, the trail was strenuous and led us to beautiful overlooks, and the company was cheerful and energetic. The Hurley family are always good hosts, even under the present awkward circumstances.

There were no hugs on Mother’s Day for Robin, but she was still in the physical presence of some of her favorite people on the planet. Turns out that counts for quite a bit.

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From The New Yorker

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The standoff between the governor of South Dakota and Native American tribes over who gets to control access to reservation lands continues. The governor says the tribes don’t get to have their own checkpoints on highways running through the reservation, the tribes say it’s their only way to protect their vulnerable people.

The above photograph of the Republican caucus at a recent session of the SD legislature may go a long way in explaining why the tribes have lost confidence and taken matters into their own hands.

Governor Noem has also been in the news recently for having decided to let the coronavirus burn a swath through her own state rather have her office take a stand and interfere. As a result, SD has moved considerably up the list of new Covid-19 cases per capita.

Rumor has it that many people have tried to explain the germ theory of disease causation to her without success.

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The NYTimes has tried to help us out in our social distancing by reviewing stuff we could profitably watch on television. Monday morning one of the recommendations that newspaper made will make most of my family nod their heads and exclaim: “Yes, yes, there you go, New York Times.”

The author of the piece tells us all why re-watching Little House on the Prairie episodes could be a good thing for a person. Of course, I am about the only one in my extended household who needs such a reminder.

One of my problems, and I admit that it is a petty one, is that I could never get past Michael Landon’s hair. I knew that there never had been a pioneer Minnesotan/South Dakotan farmer with such a coiffure. So what other less obvious stuff was baloney as well, I would ask myself?

I know, I missed the point entirely, didn’t I?

But out Michael would come in his un-pioneer shirt and his big hair and my hands would instinctively reach for the remote.

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Living in this very awkward and tense time has very few positives … unless you’re a bit strange. Like myself. Speaking as a guy who dealt with infectious diseases for 35 years on a very basic clinical level, these are fascinating times.

This mindless microscopic bit of RNA has changed the course of life around the world for several months now. It popped up in Wuhan but quickly hitched rides on planes to places everywhere. Usually a new viral disease is of more local interest. The CDC gets a call and the experts get cracking while you and I learn about it only if we read the “science” sections of the newspaper.

But this time we’re all in the middle of it. There is no safe and dispassionate sanctuary to go to. We are all the guinea pigs. Social distancing, quarantines, “shutting down,” the quest for a vaccine and/or a therapeutic drug – the lot of us are darting around in a very big laboratory while scientists try to find where the light-switch is located.

And the variations in the clinical picture – the loss of sense of smell and taste in some folks, the “covid toes,” the widespread inflammatory disease that arises in some children who test positive, the people who don’t even know they are positive, the people who seem to be doing okay and then the bottom falls out and they move from one statistical column to another. These are all parts of a puzzle that Nature created and that brilliant minds are working overtime to solve. Watching that effort is elevating and fascinating.

For some reason this reminded me of that scene from the first Jurassic Park movie, where the hired hunter is stalking a trio of velociraptors and is drawing a bead on one of them when … well, watch the clip.

The analytic part of this man’s brain went into play immediately and he fully appreciated the drama of which he was a part. Even if not for long.

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Ah, Wilderness!

Some of you may not yet have had the chance to become Nanci Griffith aficionados, and I take the blame for that. I am a card-carrying fan, and this somewhat smudgy video may show you why.

Griffith is from Texas, but I don’t hold that against her. There are a couple of other good things in Texas, my friend Sid is one and my favorite western writer is another. His name is Larry McMurtry, and he has written beaucoup novels, but the one that first caught my attention and imagination was Lonesome Dove. I have read it … dunno … maybe five times. Could be six. It was a book that said to a midwestern boy (who had no way of knowing for certain) – this is probably how the old west really was.

Then along came the completely great television series made from the book. So good that I watch the series Lonesome Dove about every other year all the way through. A fine story well told. Memorable characters, with Robert Duvall playing his favorite role.

And how did I discover McMurtry in the first place? Why, right here, on the back cover of the Nanci Griffith album “Last of the True Believers.” I figured a woman who could write and sing like she could – well, I’ll take her literary recommendation any day.

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Finished the Edward Abbey book Desert Solitaire. What a guy! I love a person who can get off a good rant with flair and passion. Abbey is one of those folks.

He doesn’t like cars much out in the wilderness, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they bring roads. He doesn’t care for tourists, either, which is a problem for someone with a summer job in a national monument whose duties include tending to tourist needs.

Toward the end of the book he gets off this flame which I have retyped carefully. The oddities of formatting are his.

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Andy Borowitz of the NYTimes has perfected the art of using the headline to say nearly everything in his short humorous pieces. Here are three examples.

PENCE STARTS WEARING MASK AFTER FAUCI SAYS IT WILL PROTECT HIM FROM WOMEN

CNN TO SHOW PHONE NUMBER OF POISON-CONTROL HOTLINE WHENEVER TRUMP SPEAKS

TRUMP BLAMES PLUMMETING POLL NUMBERS ON PEOPLE PAYING ATTENTION WHEN HE TALKS

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Black Canyon National Park is not open, but it is, sort of. You can drive past the unmanned entry station and go the couple of miles to the shuttered visitor center. There you must leave your car and either walk or bicycle past the closed gates on the single two-lane road that runs the length of the park.

In years past Robin and I have cycled on this highway several times. The views are magnificent and the road is only six miles long until it terminates in a parking lot allowing access to a picnic area and the beginning of a one-mile hike to some killer views of the canyons.

There are only two things that keep this biking journey from being perfect. One is that the road consists entirely of loooooong grades that are steep enough to give a geezer’s heart and lungs a workout. The longest uphill is 2.5 miles, and it’s pitch is enough to get you coasting at 28 mph when you turn around and head back down.

But the real pain is auto traffic. The route is curvy, narrow, and largely shoulderless. Cars are not hurtling past you at 80 mph, but even so, drivers do often behave badly, acting as if you were placed on earth specifically to annoy them, and going by you with inches to spare.

But yesterday … ahhhhhh … no cars at all. Every inch of asphalt was ours. Not even another cyclist or hiker. We owned the park. Every viewpoint, every small flower, every whiff of junipers warming in the sun was ours alone to enjoy. It was like scenes from a disaster movie, where all other humans on earth had been wiped out by fiendish aliens with a death ray that left everything else intact (blessedly including the TP in one of the few privies along the way).

We did the 12 mile round trip, and while those hills had my legs wobbling at the end, I was a happy gasper. A remarkable day on our private highway in our private geologic wonderland.

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No Longer Virgins, We Are

Apparently Robin and I were the last two Americans to learn about the existence of “Zoom,” a platform for sound and video conferencing. I might be exaggerating just a little, because I’ve learned that there is a pocket of non-electrified citizens living far back in the Florida Everglades who share our ignorance on the subject.

At any rate, we’ve only come into the light during the past month. Regular users of Zoom seem to think it’s better than FaceTime or Skype, the only other free platforms I’d known about until now. I will reserve judgment for a while. It does seem easier to get started with, but my past experience has been that early simplicity can be deceptive, and before long I find myself wondering if that codger up the street who used to work for Hewlett-Packard still remembers anything that might help me.

Furthermore, like many other such enterprises before it, Zoom has been caught collecting and selling data on users without their permission. Those mental pictures of executives with their hand in our till while we’re sleeping are never flattering.

Anyway, Robin and I have both Zoomed now and can never look back to that purer state of unawareness we once enjoyed. Friday noon I’m attending my first AA meeting using the app. Chats with other family and friends can probably not be far away …

[The photo at top is from 1999, from the children’s TV show, Zoom. No connection.]

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The black and white cat-beast next door has bothered enough people in our neighborhood that its owners have had to shut it away indoors for the past couple of weeks. They are considering placement for the vicious critter on a farm somewhere, and I only hope that time comes soon. If they can’t find a farm, I might suggest an urn.

It’s been so pleasant seeing our pets without new injuries that he’s caused. Just a week ago at 0300 hours he had slipped his bonds and tried to gain entrance to our house by ripping his way through the pet portal, which was fortunately firmly shuttered at the time. I have no idea who or what he was after, since he and I have a really bad vibe going. (In my dreams his claws are at my throat … )

I had reached the point where I was about to invoke city ordinances when I learned that the cat was being kept in. Glad that didn’t have to happen. I would have disliked dealing with the couple next door on a persistently hostile basis.

I actually like the couple. My read is that they’ve had trouble realizing and accepting that the big fluffy purr-y guy living with them is a killer, and does not play well with others.

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It is my friend Bill’s birthday today, and Bill is 119 years old. His recipe for living this long is simple … don’t die, whatever else you may do. He looks really good for his age, I think, and while I don’t have a more recent photo, here’s one from last summer.

Bill has a daily regimen that may be contributing to his longevity. He rises regularly at 4:00 AM, takes a shower with the water temperature set at precisely 37 degrees, then jumps on his road bike, a Trek Domane SLR 9, and off he goes for 30 miles of hard pumping. Once a week, just to make it a real workout, he will tie a rope to the bike and drag the wheel ( with tire) of a 1952 Chevvy pickup behind him.

Another shower and it’s time for calisthenics. His workout varies but usually includes 100 bent-knee situps and 50 one-handed pushups on each side.

By now it’s 8:00 and time for breakfast, where large helpings of toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, hash-browns, and pomegranate juice are chewed, swished, and swallowed. He wipes his chin, picks up all the food fragments that have fallen into his lap, and walks to his bedroom, where he collapses onto the bed and doesn’t get out until 4:00 the next morning.

Works for him.

So … here’s hoping that I catch him during that short interval between pushups and breakfast and that this Happy Birthday wish can help make his day a bright one.

Onward … to 120!

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Bill Withers, man.

There were those hot summers when his music was like sweet salve on a burn. It is still here to soothe and inspire us all over again, nearly fifty years on.

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Moving On Up …

The story of Covid 19 continues. Colorado finally officially has its first two cases as of Thursday, so now we can see what kind of mettle the mountain-dwellers have. Colorado’s Governor Polis was given a passel of emergency powers by the legislature on Thursday as well, just in case he needs them. One of those was interesting to me personally.

If things really heated up out here, and the number of available medical personnel were insufficient, he has the authority to grant people like myself a temporary license to practice during the emergency, as long as we are under supervision of someone who has proper credentials.

Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas in 1918

I shudder to think of the poor patients in such an extremity. First they are struck down by this nasty microbe, and just when it seems that things couldn’t get any worse, in totters a doctor they have never seen before who is pushing a walker and wearing an expression of the purest befuddlement.

Which could lead to the following scenario:

(Ring, ring, ring)

You can stop shaking that bell now, sir, because as you can see, I am here.

Who are you?

Why, I’m Doctor Jon, and I’ve been assigned to your case.

But you’re … ancient. Are you really a doctor?

Of course I am … or was … but the Governor says I am again so there you are. Now, what can I do for you?

I need to know how sick I am. Am I going to make it?

Well, let’s begin with this. How do you feel?

I feel terrible, I ache all over, I can’t stop coughing, and I have a constant fever of 104 degrees.

That’s not a good start at all. Have you seen a doctor?

I thought that’s what I was doing now … why are you standing way over there in the corner?

Can’t be too careful, now, can we? Catch a cough like yours and I could blow myself to smithereens.

Can I get another physician?

Of course you can, sir, this is America, after all.

Then I’d like one who is under ninety years old, please.

(Pause)

There aren’t any.

Any what?

Any working physicians who are younger than I am. All the younger doctors are out sick.

So you are the best I can get?

‘Fraid so. Can you hear me if I talk to you from the hallway?

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Curiosity finally got the best of me and I took my first ride on an e-bike this past week. Our local bicycle shop had a dozen models on hand, and I chose the lowest-priced one to take for a spin. My thinking was that if I liked the cheaper model, then I would love the shiny blue one over there that looked like a rocket. But if I wrecked El Cheapo in this test drive, it was nothing special and who would miss it?

So the salesman wheels the machine out the door, I climb aboard, turn it on, and I’m off. What it feels like is starting out on a normal bicycle for a pedal or two and then someone places a gentle hand in the small of your back and gives you the most wonderful push that doesn’t stop until you cease pedaling.

Now the sharp-eyed among you will speak up and tell me that I was riding a “girl’s bike.” And that will instantly mark you as so far behind the times that you are hardly worth talking to because they are not boy’s and girl’s models anymore, but step-over and step-thru.

It’s a new naming system that I support wholeheartedly, especially since my personal stepping-through is working a whole lot better than my stepping-over these days. I don’t know exactly when that right leg of mine lost its desire to swing high in the air but it did and it shows no sign of wanting to go back to its old ways.

The short of it all is that I have become a customer for one of these. All that remains is to resolve the conflict between the bike that I desperately want -the one that will make my life a better life and me a better (taller, handsomer, infinitely more charming) person – and the model that more realistically suits my budget and my needs.

When fantasy and getting real have worked out their differences, make no mistake, I will be electrified!

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When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Anonymous

A piece of writing on CNN details how shoppers are stocking up on certain items, trying to avoid shopping among diseased neighbors should Covid 19 come to town.

A curious situation is that shortages of toilet paper are developing in some communities as hoarders selfishly buy up the good stuff and leave the less desirable brands behind.

Why, just last night as we wedged another twenty rolls of Charmin into the back of our Forester, we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune as those were the last twenty rolls of that homely but reliable product on the shelf. And we had beaten out that elderly gentleman to the punch as he reached haltingly for the packages that we snatched away from his outstretched hand.

I know, I know, I should feel guilty, but I don’t. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and the meek do not inherit the earth or the best toilet tissue, not when push comes to shove. (Tried to get another cliché in there but ran out of room).

It’s a sad state of affairs, but if you come to visit us during the pandemic, we don’t want to have to hand you a corncob or a handful of switchgrass on your way to the bathroom. Our standards as far as being a proper host may be modest ones, but there are depths to which we simply will not sink.

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Walken Rules!

Ahem. My friends, I have the privilege and pleasure of presenting to you perhaps the best commercial ever for a product of this genre. It’s worth watching for the philosophy expressed regarding friendship, even if you have no need for the last thirty seconds or so.

Plus, it stars Christopher Walken, who has somehow come to possess a brand of cool that other mere mortals can only dream of acquiring.

Now, hey, did I steer you wrong?

(P.S.: that lovely bicycle, called the YT Jeffsy, can be purchased online for the puny sum of only $4000. My modest cycling skills do not warrant my owning such an excellent machine, )

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Robin and I attended a fish-fry at a local Catholic church Friday evening at the invitation of another couple. The food was a really good example of its genre, and all of us went back for seconds. We are not the sort of people who quail before a little bit of lipid.

It is, after all, called a fish-fry, not a fish-poach.

The other guy, let’s call him Ron since that’s his name, is a licensed pilot who rarely flies these days. Although I have never been licensed to fly them, I have had an interest in aircraft since a time when they were called aeroplanes. During WWII there were little cutout paper airplanes tucked into cereal boxes and I recall assembling many of those before I was five years old.

So off we went on tangents involving aircraft. Each of us could hardly wait for the other to finish telling their tale so that we could get into telling ours. But we were polite enough not to interrupt one another, and the evening passed quite pleasantly.

I told a story of the first time I was in the US Air Force, at age 19, and since any story about me is by definition endlessly fascinating, I will repeat it here.

I had arrived at Lackland Air Force Base (San Antonio TX) in the middle of July. Along with a group of young men I was escorted to the base barber shop where our hair was amputated. Then we were taken to a large barn-like building where we were issued our clothing, which we stuffed into a big green duffle bag.

Our group then marched in an irregular fashion across the base where we were instructed to place those duffles in a pile while we trekked off to somewhere else to do some other important thing the nature of which I have long ago forgotten.

At any rate, one of our number was assigned to guard that pile of duffles, and he stood there at parade rest under a blazing July sun while the rest of went off whistling the Colonel Bogey March. I should add that we had been issued pith helmets to wear as protection from the sun.

(At left is a photograph of a British officer in 1918 wearing a pith helmet. He looks quite a bit more dashing than I or any of my compatriots did on the day in question. In fact, the most complimentary thing you could have said about us is that we were a motley-appearing crew).

Perhaps an hour later we returned to find our clothing still being guarded by our lonely fellow-at-arms, but when the sergeant in charge addressed the young man, he did not respond. Peering under his pith helmet, it was determined that although he was still standing he was quite unconscious and well on his way to a heat stroke.

The youth was quickly carted off to the base hospital, and did not rejoin our group of recruits for several days. I recall filing away what I had learned that morning as follows: while sergeants can order you to do most anything they want to, not all of those orders are in your best interest, and you will do well to keep this in mind.

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Although there are times that we citizens of Paradise seem isolated from our fellows in more populous cities, the slow but inexorable spread of this new virus has shown how we truly are all connected, and share vulnerability to this threat.

Our local police department is taking things very seriously, and their emergency preparedness unit is ready for whatever comes, they believe. Yesterday they were photographed practicing what to do if someone shows up at a City Market grocery store with a bad cough and suspicious behavior.

It was all very impressive, and I have nothing but the greatest respect for these folks, who are our first line of defense against criminals, people in favor of gun control, and errant microbes.

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Robin and I have made it a habit to visit the town of Telluride at least once each winter season, just to see what the one-percenters are doing. On our ride up the mountain on the gondola we could not avoid listening to one lady’s story about how she had just won a half-million dollar condo in some sort of restricted lottery that none of the rest of us in the conveyance would even qualify to enter.

I tried to muster a “congratulations” but failed in the attempt, due to an extremely heavy fog of entitlement that had popped up within the car and which was distracting me.

Later on we treated ourselves to a pizza at the Brown Dog, which has become a part of nearly every visit to Telluride. It is officially my favorite pizza of all time. They call it Detroit-style, and what that means is it is a rectangular pie with a pillowy crust that has perfectly crisped edges. Whoever adds the sauce and the toppings is not riding in their first rodeo, either, as they are balanced exactly the way you yourself would have done if you had been in the kitchen.

Please excuse me for a moment, I seem to have drooled all over my computer keyboard.

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We started out this post by watching Mr. Walken do a commercial … let’s waste a little more of our time watching him do that great music video for a tune by Fatboy Slim. It is a classic.

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