Winter Stuff

One of the most common birds that we see on our exercise walks along the Uncompahgre River is none other than the American Robin. There is a large contingent of them that do not travel south for the winter but enjoy the pickings right here in Paradise. So we can’t use them as harbingers of Spring, can we? I like the bird … they seem to have a good attitude about things in general, perkiness being a strong quality of theirs.

Unfortunately for the females of the species, physical beauty is not handed out in equal portions.

The male robin is brighter in color than the female. His eye ring, bright beak color, and black head all show this bird is a male. The female’s feathers look washed out and faded compared to the darker, richer colors of the male. The female robin must be well camouflaged in order be safe from predators as she incubates her eggs. This is why females of many bird species are not as bright in color as the males.

Journey North.org

It is quite different for humans, where the female is so often the more colorful one. Perhaps this is because human females don’t have to sit on nests for weeks at a time. I suspect that if our species did have nesting as part of our reproductive scheme, that we males would be pressed into service in equal measure, in keeping with modern societal trends.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Earlier this week an avalanche swept across a group of backcountry skiers near Silverton, burying four of them. One was rescued, but three others were only found several days later. This raises the season’s death tally here in Colorado to eight, all of them skiers.

I find it hard to feel sorry for these folks. They put themselves out there, rolled the dice once again on that particular day, and this time they lost. Backcountry skiing is a risky business, and they knew it when they put on their skis. Who I do feel sorry for is their families and for the rescue workers who went out to try to find and save them, putting their own lives at hazard.

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BTW, do you know about “auto-chains?” I hadn’t heard of them until this morning. Some of the truckers here in the mountains have devices mounted on their vehicles that … well, here’s a video to show you what they do. Pretty interesting, even to a non-trucker.

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On Friday Robin and I traveled to Grand Junction for a day’s getaway. We decided to have lunch at Café Rio, an Ameri-Mexican place that we’ve enjoyed in the past. But this was in the time of Covid, and things were different.

At Café Rio you move in a line and indicate to the workers what your choices as you shuffle along. But now the staff was behind a layer of Plexiglas so thick that without shouting in a clear soprano voice (which neither of us had) you could not be easily heard through our face masks. Both of us finally gave up trying, and just nodded our heads whenever the worker would point at a pot. In this way both of us obtained tasty food, but neither of us got what we had planned.

Some days you just roll with the punches.

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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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Same Dude Different Day

I’m starting to be concerned. Here we are two days into 2021 and I still feel like the same guy I was last year.

Is it because I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions? Because I didn’t. Not one. If you could paint resolutions blue somehow, a view from a small drone would show a trail behind me of little sapphire-tinted piles of broken promises to myself stretching all the way back to the horizon. I think that I can safely say that no New Year’s resolution of mine ever made it to February in one piece.

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The largest share of the exercise walks that Robin and I take are down along the Uncompahgre River, which passes through Montrose on its way to a rendezvous with the Gunnison River about 20 miles from here. Most of the scenery along those walks is very pretty, with trees and shrubs planted according to Mother Nature’s grand and seemingly random plan. There are areas, as there are along so many rivers I’ve seen that are close to towns, where the carelessness of past generations has piled up, with unattractive industry still making a mess of the shoreline. But there is so much of it here that it spoils a good walk.

This past week the birding has been exceptionally good as we stroll along trying our best to get those heart rates up. There are the usual scads of robins and legions of sparrows (that I haven’t bothered to learn to tell apart from one another), but we’ve also seen a great blue heron, a small flock of mountain bluebirds (seen two days in succession), and a group of Bohemian waxwings all fluffed up against the chill.

[None of these photographs are my own. But they have been purloined in a good cause.]

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The New Landscape Department

Things Will Get Better, Seriously by Paul Krugman
We Just Saw How Minds Aren’t Changed by David Brooks

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Colorado made the news this week for the wrong reason. Somehow the first case of the more contagious variant of the Covid virus showed up near Denver, in a guy who never went anywhere. To the medical sleuths, this strongly suggested that perhaps there was somebody else in our fair state who has it that we don’t know about as yet. That’s going out on a limb, I know, but these epidemiologists are a wild and crazy bunch.

So now I have a new level of paranoia, what with the new variant stacked on the non-masked multitudes, and all this atop the basic worrisome virus that you can’t see, smell, or taste and which at its whim can either kiss you lightly on your forehead or make you completely dead. Ach, himmel, what’s a guy to do? We already have our groceries delivered by workers in Hazmat suits, irradiate our incoming mail before ever touching it, and take regular Lysol baths. I even tried brushing my teeth with hydrogen peroxide but had to give that up when I nearly foamed myself into oblivion.

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I saw something truly stunning yesterday, and unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy to record it. A shame, really.

We had decided to take a scenic drive just to get out of the house for a couple of hours and ended up passing through Redvale CO, a very small town with a very large number of Cluck flags still flying. That wasn’t the stunner. It was the old pickup with a camper on the box. A homemade cloth sign whose dimensions were about 4×6 feet was affixed to the side facing the street, and it declaimed in large letters: Burn Your Mask!

Just think for a moment of the depths of stupid and hostile that such a banner signifies.

Burn Your Mask! Good lord.

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Naw … really?

Something unusual yesterday. Robin and I had barely started out bicycling on the path along the river. Up ahead was a group of bare trees, several of them containing each a single large empty nest way up high. Maybe thirty feet in the air.

In one of those nests sat a pair of Canada geese.

All along the rest of the ride I wondered … were they trying an abandoned nest on for size or were they just taking a break from flapping? I thought about the goslings that would hatch in such an aerie, and how would they make the transition from nest to the water, since they were not supposed to be that high off the ground?

I had worked myself into quite a lather on those babies’ behalf by the time we passed the trees a second time on our way back to where we’d parked the car. It was with much relief that I saw that the pair was no longer there. Empty nest. The world was back to the way it should be.

But later on, since I do have a bit of free time here in my Covid-19 hermitage, I Googled geese nesting in trees and found that there were many case reports of the same phenomenon, with a load of photographs to prove it (including the one up above, which I did not take).

So much to learn … so little time.

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While wearing a mask when one goes out in public is considered de rigueur these days, there are limits to even this thoughtful act.

Here are a couple of masks that are justifiably considered not acceptable here in Paradise.

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As society goes along on its merry way, there’s a trend that I’ve found I really dislike. It’s where we are being divided into yet another set of groups in order to pit us against each other. Twenty years ago, calling people “boomers,” or “millennials,” or Generation X” seemed harmless enough, even though the divisions were artificial and arbitrary.

But that was before blatherers and bloviators et al started to write about how the boomers were stealing the future from the millennials, etc. Angry young writers complained that older citizens were basically taking up too much of the oxygen. They never went so far as to suggest that those older people be put to sleep, but left that open to our imaginations.

Now in the days of Covid-19, this attitude comes up once again. Those loud-voiced folks who want us all to come out and go to work and play because their personal risks are way lower than that of their aging neighbors. So what if a few extra senior citizens are wiped out … there are already so many of the darn things.

There is a certain nasty logic to what they say, but only if you don’t step back and take a longer look. Such a view of the world works for those individuals as long as they can find a way to avoid aging. Because when and if they do, they will eventually have someone coming up behind them saying the same cold things.

These attitudes are antithetical to the idea of shared risks and blessings that I learned growing up. The belief that we really are all in this together. Not just in the Covid times, but always. Not seeing this is a sad and mean-spirited kind of blindness.

I am old enough to have moss on the north side of my trunk, but I still care as fervently as I ever did about the problems facing children. Doing what I can to help them along is to me akin to the old man in the Greek proverb:

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

Notice it’s not the oldster that is great, but rather the society around him that is enriched by each small act of selflessness.

If we don’t keep ideas like this in mind, we can find ourselves saying and doing all sorts of ugly things. We were all babies once, and with luck most will become graybeards. If we look after one another, that is.

Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, and the hatchlings toss the other eggs out of the nest to have more of everything for themselves. I have to believe that we’re better than cuckoos.

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Yesterday when Robin and I returned from our outdoor exercise we were greeted by an excited Willow, who rubbed against our legs, purred loudly when we petted her, and followed us about the room. Usually this quick greeting is all there is, but on this occasion she would not calm down but kept on meowing and running up to us repeatedly, until Robin thought it through and wondered … .

Robin walked over to the hide-a-bed sofa in the living room, and pulled it open partway, whereupon Willow dove into its workings and quickly came up with a disappointed but very much alive mouse that had escaped from her and hidden in the furniture. (This is not our first rodeo when it comes to Willow and mice hiding in the sofa.)

When we think of animals who use tools, like chimpanzees and a handful of others, no one ever says anything about cats. But here was Willow, at first thwarted, but finally succeeding by using the simple tools she had at hand.

Us.

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God Bless The Equinox!

On our walks this week, out in the fields only a block beyond our home, we have encountered three new arrivals – robins, mountain bluebirds, and meadowlarks.

That lovely call of the meadowlark is unmistakable and a perfect addition to any warm afternoon’s perambulation. (Like that word? I’ve got a pocketful of ’em, all for shameless showing off that I used to comb the Reader’s Digest for new words).

But these birds’ presence means that the icy fingers of winter are well into being loosened from about one’s throat, and it happens just in time each year … about the time you start looking for a length of good hempen rope and a barn rafter.

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If you haven’t lived with a cat, you probably don’t get this next cartoon. If you have, you are ruefully smiling.

Poco, especially, is the master of walking from side to side across the keyboard. He will continue to repeat this maneuver until you either start to get serious about petting him or chuck him out of the room. My personal record for cat-chucking is from the bedroom/office across the living room and into the foyer.

There are sounds that the Macintosh makes when he wanders across the machine that I have been unable to reproduce on my own. A specific chorus of bleeps, warbles, and honks. They are sounds of computer distress, I think. Or perhaps of amusement … quien sabe?

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This is an interesting time for so many reasons, but one that Robin called to my attention the other day hadn’t occurred to me. It will be an Easter without a church service here in Paradise, for those doors are among the ones that are closed. Ministers are trying to come up with televised services, podcasts, and the like, but it’s obviously not the same as gathering together.

Way back when I was a student Catholic, I was taught that I needed to attend church a minimum of once a year, and Easter was that day. I wonder if that requirement still stands, and whether listening to a podcast would count?

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A Guindon cartoon