Bedtime Follies

Need help explaining why Black Lives Matter fits the moment better than All Lives Matter? Perhaps these young ladies can be of some assistance.

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I’m still making my way through the Studs Lonigan trilogy by James T. Farrell. I’m about half-way through, but that’s not bad for a book on my nighttime reading stack.

My usual routine is to climb into bed with every intention of reading for an hour or so, as Robin does. I arrange the pillows, adjust the light on my nightstand, fluff the comforter and look about the room to see if there is anything left undone which would require me to leave this sweet nest I’ve created. Seeing no problems, I then begin to read.

Since my resting pulse is in the low 50s, I estimate that 37 heartbeats from the moment I open the book I have fallen asleep.

Becoming rapidly unconscious is never my plan, but there is nothing, believe me, that can stop this comatose juggernaut once it gets going.

But to get back to Studs. I mentioned that this series of books had such a powerful effect on the boy I was when I first read it, and was hoping that I would find out how and why that happened in the re-reading.

And finally, I think, I have it figured out. Studs was a tough kid from a working-class family growing up in Chicago in early 20th century. If you were to have met him in person you might have thought him supremely self-possessed. But the story is basically 95% told as his train of thought, and those thoughts are nearly completely fear-filled and insecure.

Fear of not being tough enough, of not being attractive to girls, of being thought soft by his gang, of being stifled by his parents’ wishes for him, of the Catholic Church and its many commandments (way more than the ten that were good enough for Moses), of not being handsome enough, not having enough money, etc. There are very few moments in the books where he has a self-confident thought.

Just like I was at the time I read them.

That was my connection with the character, and why it was so powerful a read. And why Studs’ premature death moved me in the way that it did.

Now, I don’t suppose that any of you are going to run out and get the books from the library, but if you do I hasten to add that there were quite a few differences between Studs and myself. For one thing, he curses way more than I do … really. And he is a blatant racist/bigot for all seasons.

Except for Irish Catholics, pretty much every other nationality or religion is described with words taken from the same lexicon where the N-word, the C-word, and the K-word et al can be found. Black, Jews, Protestants – some of you might have passing acquaintance with the words yourselves, although I know without question that you would never utter them.

So the identification of the young man in the photo below with Studs was not complete, but it was still a strong and a forceful one.

I get it now, I really do. I see what he saw.

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Occasionally when I am watching an old movie, I will wonder … what does those actors think when they see themselves walking and talking as a fifty-year-younger version of themselves? Sadness? Poignancy? Embarrassment?

I had a flash of an inkling on the subject when I included the old photo above, of myself reclining on a blanket sixty years ago. I had none of those feelings while looking at the picture. Instead, I wished him well.

Because I know his entire future, right up to this moment. And I have inside information that tells me he’s just flat out not ready for it.

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Guests are coming for lunch today! Amy, Neil and family are passing through Montrose on their way to an isolated cabin-vacation in the Black Hills and will be here around noon. They will be our first visitors since the plague began.

We’re going to serve the food as if we knew for a fact that we were both named Typhoid Mary. Lots of separateness, sanitizers, and plastic gloves. It’s awkward but do-able.

A small bit of quasi-normalcy in an unquiet time.

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No Title

Well, whaddya know? Less than 7000 of America’s finest showed up for the Cluckaganza in Oklahoma. The organizers were expecting … six times that number.

Turns out it was all the fault of outside protestors who were nasty radicals armed with unfriendly placards. And then there was the problem of the media that had told people to turn their cars around and stay home, and by golly, tens of thousands of them must have done just that.

All in all it sounds like a disappointing party. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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Robin said: Whatever you want to do, we will do. So on Sunday off we went to explore new terrain. First you drive to Norwood, which is 66 miles south of Montrose. Then you turn left and go south-southwest for about 15 miles until you get to a reservoir named Miramonte.

It’s set in the beautiful broad valley that you see in the photo below. We had a picnic, explored the area, people-watched for an hour or two, and then returned home.

For most of this trip we were out of phone contact, which is par for the course in this part of the world. Since the entire drive there and back was through beautiful country, and the destination itself also very cool (in its own spartan way), we counted the day as a complete success.

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Good news and bad news from the garden. Out tomatoes are doing wonderfully, with fruit-laden plants approaching the size of the carnivorous one in Little Shop of Horrors. I never get to close to them for this reason, and water from a respectful social distance. I have also warned the cats repeatedly not to get near the tomato cages.

Which is where the bad news comes in. Tomatoes are awfully thirsty plants to grow. Ours are set in containers, which only increases their demands for water. They require around two inches every few days, and more when the weather is hot. Since we have been blessed with little more than a soupçon of rainfall this summer, nearly all of that moisture must come from the tap.

But those of you who have been forced to read my past rants on the subject of commercially grown tomatoes (which I will mercifully not repeat today) know that my duty is clear. Pay the water bill gratefully and enjoy the fruit when it appears … and don’t go picking them without another person nearby holding a rope that is securely tied around your waist, to pull you out of danger should those plants get frisky.

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Bob Dylan has a new album out, of all original songs. The first such album in ten years. For a change, I’m not going to tell you what to think about them. It’s Dylan, and listening to his music usually asks something of us that is very personal.

I will mention something about the title I Contain Multitudes. The phrase seemed familiar but I couldn’t place it. I had to look it up, and found that it’s from Walt Whitman.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself

Here are the first three bands on the album. They are: I Contain Multitudes, False Prophet, and My Own Version of You. I’ll dribble the rest along later on.

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There are times when I am in danger of being swamped by the examples of the horrors committed by members of our species, as in the litany of murders of black people that we’ve heard read off repeatedly during the past weeks. At such times, I need to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that brutality is not the all that’s out there.

There is also beauty. Much of it created by other members of our same rough species. Beauty enough to wring the poison out of one’s heart and leave it open again to love and understanding.

For me it is poetry, music, and the natural world that I often turn to at those toxic moments. Or to the memories of everyday acts of heroism that I have personally witnessed. Or when I look deeply at those dearest to me and am warmed and humbled by the love and goodness that I find there.

It serves little purpose for me to turn away from the daily uglinesses – how can I begin to help in the repairs if I don’t see clearly what is broken? But I can’t look at them without using these resources to keep me from drifting into despair and cynicism.

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The Hills Are Alive …

Friday we left town to take a longer hike, and this one started out a few miles south of Ouray, at a place called Spirit Gulch. We’d done this one before, and found it to be a moderately strenuous walk over largely rocky terrain. Lots of those small stones that roll under your feet and try to upend you.

(Oh, yes, I am at heart an animist, and there are no rocks in this world that don’t have a mind of their own, and aren’t fond of their little jokes.)

But add to Friday’s excursion the following: dark skies, occasional rain, several bouts of sleet falling, and temperatures that never got above 60 degrees.

So why go? Because some of the views are spectacular and well worth the effort.

And when it comes right down to it why, what’s a little bit of sleet driven into your face, really? Think of it as an exfoliation, for free.

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From The New Yorker

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It looks like Robin will not be deterred from being nice to me today, Father’s Day 2020. She really is impossible that way.

Apparently we all have a gift-giving center in our brains that can be seen to glow increasingly brighter on PET scans as holidays approach. In Robin’s case, however, you don’t need any electronic hardware to observe this, as her entire body develops a sort of fluorescence. It is brightest at Christmastime, of course, when the light she gives off approximates the output of a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Those last few days of Advent I can’t even sleep in the same room with her as a result.

So a little while back when I was starting to go into my spoilsport spiel about the relevance of a holiday devoted to the (quite variable) virtues of male parents, and I noticed that her aura was already firmly in place, I gave it up as a lost cause.

Today I know that I will be celebrated. And just between you and me, and completely apart from whether I deserve it or not, I admit that I will very much enjoy it.

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From The New Yorker

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Questions Raised

On a hike recently, we noticed a small herd of horses standing around in their pasture, looking beautiful. I thought more about it and realized that horses always looked that way. Beautiful. They never take a bad picture. They are always emblems of grace and strength. Somehow, they also seem … I dunno … thoughtful.

In this they are not at all like cows, which always look a bit dim. Now, I like cows. Nothing looks more peaceful and pleasantly pastoral than a herd of Holsteins standing in tall grass up to their udders in a June that has enjoyed good rains. But they can’t quite pull off majestic or graceful, especially when running.

A cow runs like it was never meant to do that. Like a rocking chair come to life. On a personal note, I have unfortunately found that over the decades my own running style has been regrettably evolving from equine to bovine.

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I only recently discovered that there is a third fly-fishing shop in town, located definitely off the beaten track. The other two are somewhat lacking in dedication to the art. Oddly, one of them never has anyone working in it. It’s in a small part of a much larger space which is mostly given over to curios, antiques, and such.

The other shop is half fishing gear and half sewing and crafts materials, because the owner is sharing the space with his wife’s business.

One of the joys of the sport of fishing is browsing in tackle shops, and presently I’ve had to make the 30 minute drive to Ridgway to find a good one whenever I need a fix. It would be nice to have a local venue where I can waste my time.

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From The New Yorker

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Now that we’re pretty sure that we aren’t all going to Valhalla this month in the arms of Covid-19, some interesting questions are beginning to be raised.

  • When will we feel comfortable shaking hands with … anyone?
  • When will we feel ready to have people over for dinner once again? Who will be brave enough to accept our invitation?
  • If grandkids come for a visit, when will their parents stop holding their breath if one of them makes a dash for our lap?
  • We’re being trained right now to treat much of our environment as a potential threat. Our friends, our relatives, our neighbors, the stuff we buy in the grocery store, the air we breathe, etc. Long term avoidance (years) is really not a reasonable strategy. How long will it take for this fear to subside?
  • Right now if there were a vaccination against Covid-19 I suspect the line to get the shot would reach a long way down the street and around several corners. But only yesterday physicians were having trouble getting many of their patients to accept vaccinations at all. What about those “deniers?” Will facing a more immediate threat change their minds?
  • When the kids come home from college, will they need a negative viral screen before you let them back in the house?
  • If a young person asks another for a date, will exchanging health certificates be part of the new ritual?
  • And, ultimately, the question we are all asking is: what about Naomi?

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Easter Sunday

Today is obviously the most unusual Easter Sunday ever. There will be no Easter Parade, no choirs belting out Handel’s Greatest Hits, and no eggs rolled in public spaces (impossible to keep those kids 6 feet apart). We will be missing the one day of the year that women of a certain age dust off their hats to wear to church – their Easter bonnets. Here in Paradise the churches are shuttered, so the single most important day on the Christian calendar will be marked by simple observations in homes or on the internet.

Robin and I are having no guests for Easter dinner, and there will be no hiding of candy eggs in the backyard for the grandkids to hunt. Nope, ’twill be a sober Easter for certain. Such is life in the emergency.

But Sunday afternoon we are Zoom-meeting with Robin’s side of our blended family, accepting seeing them in two dimensions instead of the preferred three as way better than not seeing them at all. I’ve learned how to change the background on my Zoom image, so this is what the other participants will see. Like I said, sober.

[Granddaughter Elsa may recognize the view – it’s from our tent camper parked in South Mineral Creek Campground, looking eastward toward the Red Mountains.]

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Any fisherman looking at the cartoon below will instantly identify with Ernest H.. There are times better left undocumented. To place yourself in a pristine environment, cast your line into a gorgeous river, and then pull out one of these puckered-up mutants is a blow that it might take the rest of the day to recover from.

Now I know that there are fisherman who deliberately go after carp, filling their tackleboxes with putrid baits and heavy lines, and who are delighted when they pull something out of the water that looks like a serious mistake had been made back in Creation times. I also know that there are cooks who work hard to come up with carp recipes that can create a momentary illusion of edibility. Until the person begins to chew, that is.

I know both of these things. What I don’t know is why they bother? A well-cooked carp is still a plate of mud.

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It could be that the worst of our trial is passing. That’s cold comfort to the families of the tens of thousands worldwide that have passed away from complications of Covid-19, and there are tough economic times to come for many of us. But we are given leave to start thinking about when the masks can come off and when we can begin to walk the streets without dodging one another.

I think that for me personally it will be quite a while before I shake anyone’s hand – I’ll be giving them a sincere Namaste instead with that short bow of the head.

And hugging … don’t even think about it. Come at me with open arms and you’ll send me screeching into a back bedroom to bar the door.

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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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Messages From Tatooine

My candidate dropped out of the race on Monday, Super Tuesday came and went, and somehow the earth is still rotating in the usual manner.

In the past 48 hours I neither lost nor gained weight, it continues to be winter in my neighborhood, the laws of gravity remain enforced, and toes still get stubbed in the early morning hours as we make our way in the half-darkness to the coffeepots of America.

Ergo, if we can break away from the breathless ones on political broadcasts, there are some reliable elements in this world of ours.

Temporarily, our lives here on Earth are being enhanced by something we can’t see with unaided eyes, and that is our second moon. It’s only the size of a VW mini-bus, and will probably be gone in a week or two, but if you really try you can imagine that you’re young Luke Skywalker … .

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Last year Robin and I read a book about the Manhattan Project, 109 East Palace, which told an absorbing tale. It recounted the story of the humans (as well as the bomb) who lived up on the hill in the group of huts and tents and trailers that eventually came to be the town of Los Alamos.

So on one of last summer’s trips to New Mexico we visited Los Alamos and took in one of the museums there. It was fascinating and immersive and enlightening, so when I discovered a new series on Hulu entitled Manhattan, we couldn’t resist taking a look. (Actually, it’s not really new at all, but apparently originally aired on WGN America in 2014.)

The first couple of episodes were pretty good, so I guess we’re in it for the duration. If there ever was a time and a situation that was a culture medium for growing drama, it was this one.

Take a large group of the most brilliant scientists in the world along with their families, put them in a primitive town created just for them up on a lonely mountainside, isolate the group from the rest of the world and all they knew, surround them with lies and subterfuge, and give them the job of creating the most horrible weapon ever devised by mankind.

Even I could come up with a good storyline or two, I think, given these ingredients.

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I’ve added a link over there on the right to one of the better sources for song lyrics that I’ve found (lyrics.com). It’s not a rare thing for me to need help deciphering the words of some tunes.

And that would be true especially for artists like Tom Waits, who often sounds like he’s pulled his sweater and jacket over his head and is singing through several layers of material.

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I mentioned the other day that we were simplifying, didn’t I? Well, yesterday I found some things in a box within a larger box upon a shelf in the Rubbermaid shed in the backyard that set me down to reflect. Brought things to a halt, actually.

The first was a small piece of driftwood that I had picked up on an overnight backpacking trip that I took with daughters Kari and Sarah in the autumn of 1975. We had set up our tent on an isolated part of the shore of Lake Superior, and it was just the three of us in an idyllic setting if ever there was one.

Into that piece of wood I had carved our names and the year, and then set it aside. This fine example of the woodcarver’s art had found its way to the bottom of a box and followed me from the UP of Michigan to South Dakota to Colorado, and had been lost to view until it surfaced again yesterday.

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Then there were two scraps of paper from the time of my son’s funeral on July 2, 1993. One was the leaflet from the service itself and the other a poem I had written the night before the funeral on motel stationery.

On the inside cover of the leaflet was this passage from a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis that at the time I thought suited the occasion so well, and looking back I still do.

The name of this fine young man was written on the snow; the sun has risen, the snow has melted and has borne his name upon the waters.

Nikos Kazantzakis, The Greek Passion

And the poem … well, it was a time of great emotion and sadness for us all, and it imperfectly captured a part of what I was feeling that night.

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We finish today with this excellent piece of cover art that really says it all, I think.

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Interesting Times …

Well, this is a political season like no other in my lifetime. It absolutely brings to mind that old ( Chinese? Jewish? ) curse: May you live in interesting times!

We have a mentally defective would-be-king in the White House and a Republican party that has completely lost its way and whose behavior is anything but democratic. Add to that a Democratic Party presently going through its winnowing process to find their candidate, and starting out with a field that was at first very broad and interesting but is now rapidly on its way to becoming once again a group of old white men to choose between. But the old white men are even older this time.

And now season this spicy stew with today’s version of the plague* hovering around the edges of our visual field, inching its way toward center stage.

*[Really, it’s nothing like the Plague at all. Maybe it is worse than influenza, which we deal with every year, maybe not. But its hype has certainly been more dramatic.]

Let’s take a moment to revisit another time, and another story of panic about a different infectious disease. Before the vaccination for it came into being, every summer was a time to worry about polio. When cases began to appear in a town, schools were closed, swimming pools were shut down, and people were cautioned against getting together in large groups lest they come into contact with a person who could leave them paralyzed.

Some small towns even put up barricades blocking the roads in and out of their village to keep strangers away. All of this because since we didn’t have all of the information we needed to make informed decisions, we frequently gave into hysteria in all of its colorful forms.

Then came the scientists who developed the tools to study the disease in the laboratory, and they found something startling. Every American, from young adulthood onward, had been infected with poliovirus at some time in their lives. Every bloody one of them. It was a truly universal infection.

Think about it for a moment. This meant that since we all got polio, it was only a tiny segment of the infected population who went on to have paralytic disease. It meant that blocking the roads was a useless gesture, since the virus was already present on both sides of all of the barricades.

The focus then came down to a proper one, that of finding a vaccine. When that was done, all versions of polio nearly vanished from the planet.

So now we are putting up the barricades once again. This time they are in airports and … wait … what’s this? … where did this case come from? … and that one … and that one … ?

Until the scientists can provide us with the data we need, we will probably worry ourselves into all sorts of frazzles, just as we are doing right now. Perhaps a vaccine will come along eventually, but that certainly won’t happen for at least a year or more, well after this season has passed.

In the meantime I’m going to wash my hands, try to stop scratching my nose, and not visit the Louvre this spring. I’m going to focus on what is important, and that means living my little life, doing the least harm to the world that I can, and trying to keep my wits about me.

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Plague? Black Death? Here’s Monty Python to help us put things into perspective. Or maybe not, I dunno.

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Robin and I are about another round of simplifying. For us this means letting go of more things, more stuff.

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.

Henry David Thoreau

I wish that I could say that we are in synch with some established wisdom, but our motive is much plainer. We are moving from “How can we build a bigger storage shed?” to “Do we need a shed at all?” The answer, of course, depends how much are we willing to leave off.

Simplify, simplify.

Henry David Thoreau

Fortunately for us in all of this, there existed a certain Mr. Thoreau who has published a guidebook to the process. Not so much in the particulars as in the when and why.

We might do well to keep his words in front of us as we begin.

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.

Henry David Thoreau

My first step when we began yesterday was to take several objects from the shelves in the garage and transfer them immediately to the trash barrel. At first I could hardly stop congratulating myself for being so forceful and effective. That is, until I realized that all of those items were pieces of junk that I was supposed to have tossed out months ago, but never got around to it.

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

Henry David Thoreau

We’re thinking of selling off my motorscooter which has been sitting outside all winter under a cover, which protected it completely from wind and snow but somehow did not prevent the battery from going completely dead. So I plugged it into a charger for a few hours, put a key into the ignition, and it sprang into life in a flash.

When I have met an immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all — looking like an enormous wen which had grown out of the nape of his neck — I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry. If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it will be a light one and do not nip me in the vital part.

Henry David Thoreau

I have never owned any device of any kind that was so reliable, so bullet-proof, as this little scooter. It asks almost nothing of me in the way of maintenance or upkeep, but only sits quietly waiting for another chance to be of service. Much like a Labrador retriever with a 49cc piston displacement. It is only missing a tail to wag.

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The latest pet food recall by Purina is instructive. This time the abnormality was elevated calcium levels in a handful of products intended for rabbits and poultry. Too much calcium = stones in the urinary tract = illness and death.

If I were a group of turkeys pecking around the trough this morning, I would be seriously considering filing a class-action suit against Purina. When you are completely dependent on a limited array of foods and one of those foods is found to be dangerous, what’s a gobbler to do? The supplier needs to be held accountable.

A problem for these creatures is that historically such suits filed by turkeys have not done well in the courts. When you weigh thirty pounds and have a brain the size of a green pea, the legal system really doesn’t want to hear from you, no matter how valid your cause may be. And even if you do win, the judgements tend to be around fifty bucks at most, which does not attract the sharpest legal minds.

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Control Issues

One of the problems with being my age is that people stepping out of the frame of that big picture of who I think I am becomes such a common occurrence that I don’t always give each one the credit, the space that they deserve.

Then comes that day when I realize that everybody … everybody … from that generation before mine … has quietly and with little ceremony left the photograph, or the stage, or whatever metaphor seems most apt to you.

This morning it was when I was listening to an Emmylou Harris song that those individual departures came all together and the effect, as always, is nearly overwhelming. Feelings sneaked up on me when my defenses were down and became an hour where I missed all those people together and individually. An hour of the most exquisite heartache where I just let go and let it happen.

I’ve obviously recovered my senses now, because I can talk about it. Episodes like this are uncommon for me, my nature is to avoid them if I see one coming. Even though I always feel cleansed when they have passed, and the grieving is the real-est thing there is, I don’t like feeling so much out of control.

(If you could see my face right now, you would see me smiling at what I’ve typed. As if I ever once, even for a moment in this sweet short life, really had control. Hubris.)

I’ll let Emmylou take it from here.

Bang The Drum Slowly
My Antonia

Rockin’ In The Free World

It’s drizzling here in Paradise on this Sunday morning. The temperature is 37 degrees, and all is well with yours truly, since we had no plans for outdoor activity. Yesterday we attended a local home and garden show at our event center. There was very little about gardening, but a lot of vendors hawking solar panels. Perhaps it was a mistake, but we signed up for a visit by one of the companies to see what going that route might mean for us.

There was an enthusiastic and very elderly gentleman in full Boy Scout regalia manning a booth on scouting. I found myself hoping that no one would give him a bad time because of this past week’s tawdry headlines of child sexual abuse in the BSA. He didn’t look like a perp to me.

There was a lady representing a company that made patio furniture out of the same plastic material that you build synthetic decks from. The stuff looked like it would last two lifetimes, but each chair weighed sixty pounds, and the table would require a gantry to put it into position on one’s deck.

And for this hernia-producing set of four chairs and a table you would need to shell out $2000 (and rethink the deductible on your health insurance).

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The pic above was borrowed (yes, borrowed, as I have every intention of returning it at some future and unspecified date) from a webpage containing an open letter to President Cluck.

The author of the letter? Why, it’s Neil Young, one of my favorite people on the planet. Just in case his name is unknown to you, he also writes music and plays guitar. In fact, to thank him for writing this letter and adding his voice to the chorus of clear-headed folks who can’t wait to see the door to the White House hit Cluck in the ass on his way out I am filling the JukeBox with an all-Neil program of music to kick off the day.

Maybe you’re not ready to hear rock n’roll before breakfast. But, friend, did you ever think that maybe you should be?

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I am waaaay to eager for Spring. At least too eager for this point in the month of February. I am certainly old enough to know better, and I have lived my entire life in places where Winter exists. I have no excuses for indulging in this unhealthy line of thinking.

But, come on, I can’t wait this year. Maybe it’s that now-blooming crocus that Robin received as a gift a couple of weeks ago; maybe it was tripping over the bikes in our garage last week and thinking I should put some air in those tires; maybe it was that taking of a nippy walk along the Uncompahgre River and thinking … this would look really nice … in green.

Either way I’m afraid that I’m lost this year. Can’t get my stoic attitude back now, too late to regain control. So for me it will be alternating moments of joy and despair until that unmistakable sign of Spring arrives. The scent of thawing dog poop. An eagerly anticipated and completely welcome bit of effluvium.

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In the book club at which I’ve been a guest recently, we were discussing the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, one at a time.

There was one story where an older gentleman would take himself down to the river, set up his chair, and cast out his line … without putting any bait on his hook.

I understood him completely. Of all the elements that are present in fishing from the bank of a river on a summer day, actually catching a fish may be the least important. It may even be disruptive to one’s carefully cultivated and mellow frame of mind.

Because now you have to find someplace to put that fish so that the heat doesn’t spoil it.

You have to clean it.

Cook it.

Eat it, watching carefully for bones that could spell the end of you.

It’s exhausting, really, and so easily avoided. Just don’t bait your hook.

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Maybe some of you cook with ghee, as Robin and I do. It’s basically clarified butter heated for a little longer. It’s nice stuff to cook with because it doesn’t brown or burn, but still adds some of that buttery flavor. It’s also stable at room temperatures for months on the countertop, and for years in the fridge.

When I have made ghee on the stove, I found that I had to stay right there with it until it was done, which does consume a chunk of time. I recently ran across this video where the lady cooks the butter in a low temperature oven for 1 1/2 hours, and it so easy and so much less demanding that it has become my method of choice.

I am now in a position to make gallons of the stuff, should the need arise. For instance: picture yourself, on a hot summer day, greasing down a Slip N’ Slide with a gallon of ghee.

Just imagine how fast and how far you could go … like a rocket, I would think.

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Our Friend Oscar

Watched the entire Oscar ceremonies Sunday night. Three-plus hours. Was it worth it? Who’s to say?

There is some pleasure in watching beautiful, famous people having a good time. And a couple of the musical numbers were exciting, especially the opening one where Janelle Monae and a score of dancers really put on a spectacular show.

This year we hadn’t seen a few of the movies that were competing for best film. We totally missed Parasite, for instance. which only played here in Paradise once, at noon on the day of the Oscar ceremonies, when I was under the weather and could not attend.

For somebody who has cut the cable cord and only streams their video, tuning in to the Oscar ceremonies is a bit of a shuffle each year. What you have to do is find a service, like Hulu, and take advantage of their “two weeks for free” offer for the night and then cancel the next day.

But when you come back next year, Hulu remembers that you took them up on that offer in 2019, and won’t let you do it again. I think that we are now out of options, having been through Hulu, SlingTV, YouTubeTV and others, unless something happens to change this picture. I have no idea why we “streamers” have to play this game, surely our numbers by now must qualify us for something better than third-class status.

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Over the years there have been all too frequent reports of nutritional injury to pets who are fed commercial foods of one kind or another. As example, a couple of years ago, there were warnings issued after many dogs died or developed heart damage through deficient foods. Last summer the FDA issued alerts regarding 16 different commercial dog foods that put pets at risk.

So where is this going? I don’t even have a dog! But I have been feeding a mixture of commercial dry and wet foods for the life of our pets, and I have taken to reading their labels. (There are almost none that don’t have vegetables and /or grains and soy as part of their makeup.) I have not fed any one of them as an only food because I have learned that in the veterinary world no one knows if there is one perfect food that a cat can eat exclusively without developing disease.

Except the cat. If they are out there running around, they eat no vegetables at all, but mice-y creatures (mice, gophers, voles, etc.) and small birds. Now, no one knows if soy, veggies, and grains are bad for cats, they have just not been tested over centuries. We don’t know about them.

What we do know is that cats in the wild are are pure carnivores. They have been that way for at least 10,000 years, and their digestive and biological systems are tuned to those food sources.

So, the upshot of all this blather is that I am making my own cat food. It’s a mixture of barn swallows, hummingbirds, and meadow voles … naw, not true, I lied. Each batch I make starts out with three pounds of chicken thighs and goes on from there.

The additions are some vitamins, oils, minerals, and taurine, an essential amino acid. The recipe comes from a level-headed veterinarian’s website.

I don’t have freezer space to make this the only thing my kitties get to eat, so I’ve compromised by feeding the home-made product in the morning, and commercial foods at night.

Poco loves the stuff, and has gained a good (and needed) amount of weight since we started feeding it.

Willow … can take it or leave it.

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Heard a song on the radio that made me want to run right home and look it up, so I did. It is Willow, by Joan Armatrading. From 1977. Lord, the music that’s out there is an endless treasure chest, just waiting for anyone to stir it around and find something new.

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Robin has discovered the joys of listening to podcasts. She also owns a pair of wireless earphones.

These two facts have led to a new scenario at BaseCamp. One where Robin and I are sitting in adjoining chairs, me jabbering away as she quietly knits. It’s only when I pose a question and there is no response that I realize she hasn’t heard a word I said. Looking closely I spy the tiny pieces of hardware in her ears.

But am I affronted by this? Nay, nay, say I. I am way too centered and mellow a person for such petty piques. Often, I am actually happy about the situation, because now I get to tell my story all over again, to a fresh audience.

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Awright – we all have some Neanderthal DNA in our genome. No matter where we came from on the planet. This news is making scientists around the world buzz. My take on this particular part of ancient biology is what’s the big surprise?

We all know how it could have happened. Let’s say there’s a party thrown by a bunch of homo sapiens. They’ve already discovered fermented foods, some of which produce alcohol and are being served in gourds around the cave. Everyone gets a little tipsy and late at night the guests wander away into the darkness.

Next morning, some of them look over at the spruce bough next to theirs and – whuh? – oh no, really? Is she from the village across the creek? Now how do I get out of this one? Maybe if I tiptoe quietly away, no one will ever know?

That’s it. I’ll sneak out into the savannah. Jeez Louise**, if any of my friends ever find out, I am so dead. Gotta cut back on my drinking … .

(**Yes, friends, the phrase Jeez Louise dates that far back.)

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Paul Simon’s wonderful album, Graceland, introduced many of us to the a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, from South Africa. Beautiful voices and harmonies.

1987: Joseph Shabalala at left, baby Paul Simon third from left.

The leader of that group, Joseph Shabalala, passed away this past week, and his obituary was in the NYTimes. The song Homeless is from that album, and displays the group’s distinctive style.

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L’Etoile du Nord

Robin and I watched the Democratic debates Friday night, and we stuck with it for two hours before fatigue set in. And since Friday morning a viral infection of some sort had exploded in my nose, I am thinking that I deserve special recognition for watching as long as I did … perhaps a presidential Medal of Freedom … now that President Cluck has cheapened that award by giving it to a man whose only claim to fame is several decades of homophobic, racist, and generally ugly verbiage.

But I digress. After the dust of the debate has settled, who is my candidate on this fine Sunday morning? Why, Amy, of course. And Friday night, baby, she crushed.

Solid, smart, sensible, and from Minnesota. Neither too old nor too young, a proven record of accomplishment, and did I mention that she’s from Minnesota, where children grow up strong and resourceful and a credit to their species?

And did I mention that I grew up in Minnesota?

(L’Étoile du Nord is a French phrase meaning “The Star of the North”. It is the motto of the U.S. state of Minnesota.)

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Our system of sharing the outside world with the slavering monster-cat next door is working out … sort of. On the even-numbered days when we can let our pets roam, we feel fairly secure, with only all the other hazards there are for outdoor cats to worry about. On the days when ours must be kept in, we put up tolerantly with their complaints, especially those of Poco, who is by far the most vocal.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a workable compromise for now. Of course, being a very small-hearted person, I find myself daydreaming about all sorts of mishaps visiting that nasty animal.

Like a collision with our recycling truck, or an unfortunate encounter with a coyote, or coming into contact with an unusually disagreeable strain of kitty-coronavirus.

In all of these scenarios I wish for the end to come swiftly, so perhaps I am not unredeemably bad.

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It took nearly six years, and I had almost forgotten how flat-out stupid South Dakota Republicans can be when in the herd. But I was reminded of all that when I read yesterday that the SD House recently passed a bill which would make it illegal for pediatricians and family docs to provide gender-affirmative medical care to children under 16 years of age. Fines and/or imprisonment await the physician who attempts to do the right thing for their patient.

Lord, lord, who dresses these people before they leave the house in the morning? Who cuts up their meat for them?

How in the world did a major political party become opposed to knowledge?

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I don’t do well with illness, even minor ones, like the “cold” I am dealing with right now. I am like a silent film actor, exaggerating my movements and expressions to obtain the maximum amount of sympathy from those around me, to the point of falling into a faint if that’s what it takes. (I have had the vapors too many times to count.)

Not for me the stoic and the long-suffering Norseman. I want people to know that my cold is the worst cold any human being ever had, and that a person with a weaker constitution would probably have already been put into that long pine box you’ve heard so much about.

Suffering in silence? Why, I ask you, why? Where’s the profit in that?

But say, while you’re up, would you move that box of tissues closer to my recliner? That’s a good friend. And the fruit in my bowl is starting to look a bit tired, could you be a love and freshen up the grapes?

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Pantry Hazards

Every once in a while you come across something that is just plain startling. Out of the blue. Completely unexpected. Such was the case this morning when I was shopping online for some additional pieces for the set of Fiesta Ware dishes we use every day. In my Google search this question popped up:

Is Fiesta Ware radioactive?

Huh? Radioactive? What the … ?

So I clicked on the question and received this answer:

Homer Laughlin, the maker of Fiesta, resumed using the red glaze in the 1950s, using depleted uranium. The use of depleted uranium oxide ceased in 1972. Fiesta Ware manufactured after this date is not radioactive. Fiesta dinnerware made from 1936-1972 may be radioactive.

Amazing. My head was spinning. How would we ever have suspected that our dinnerware was the reason that our family now glowed in the dark? Oh sure, it was handy sometimes, like when you entered a darkened house and were looking for the light switch. Or if you wanted to read late at night but didn’t have a lamp near the chair you were sitting in. But overall, it mightn’t have been that healthy for us to be walking night-lights.

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Once again the Grammys have come and gone without me. Except for “Old Town Road” I knew none of the tunes that won awards. I barely recognize the performers.

In fact, I am so far out of that loop that the Grammy committee now calls me and asks that I not watch the show. Apparently my profound ignorance and indifference leak backwards through my television screen and are off-putting to the people who are on stage.

So out of respect for the music I don’t tune in. It’s better this way.

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From The New Yorker

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The commedia dell’politico that is playing in Washington DC at the moment is bringing back John Bolton for encores. You remember him from the “W” administration, n’est-ce pas?

He’s the guy who has parlayed a large mustache and a cranky disposition into a long and undistinguished career.

Can’t wait to hear what he has to say, can you? The squeaking of yet one more rattus norvegicus who has left the listing ship of state.

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Monday it snowed lightly all the livelong day, and we ended up with about three inches of perfect whiteness in the village. Robin and I had planned to go to the Grand Mesa for a bit of XC skiing, but we turned back when the road up the mountain was too icy for comfort. It’s one thing to go up an icy mountain road, it’s quite another to come down one.

So we took a snowday. All four of us (kitties and humans). We’ve worked out a truce with the next-door neighbors who own an unprincipled cat that is bullying felines up and down our street. I’ve tried to tell these poor souls that their pet is a spawn from hell, but they remain unpersuaded.

Since they are reluctant to do the right thing and call in an exorcist, we’ve worked out a schedule with them: they can let their monster outdoors only on odd-numbered days, and ours can then enjoy a demon-free environment on the evens. Monday being an odd-numbered day, we were a quartet of shut-ins.

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Okay, here’s something that will make reading all the way to the bottom of this page worth your while. It’s Amy Klobuchar’s recipe for a hot dish, as reported in the NYTimes on Wednesday.

Having grown up in a home where the question “What are we having for supper?” was met 50% of the time with the reply “Hot Dish,” I can completely relate to this story.

Of course, “hot dish” could mean almost anything, since all you had to do was to add some protein to some starch and blend cream of mushroom soup into the mixture and you had supper. If you wanted to get frilly, toss in some frozen vegetables. Green peas were especially popular at our house.

All of this just gives me one more reason to consider Amy’s candidacy. Anyone that can serve this much melted cheese with a straight face deserves my vote.

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Memento Mori Department

Bob Shane, the last surviving member of the musical group The Kingston Trio, passed away this week. Younger readers might say “Who?,” and who can blame them, but at one time this trio was probably the most popular such group in the world.

Here are a couple of their early hits, Tom Dooley, and Scotch and Soda, both featuring Mr. Shane. In the photo, Bob is the guy on the left.

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Tripping

Composing entries for this blog when traveling can be awkward for the reason that some entries are made from a laptop and some, like this one, from a phone.

Typing on a phone with sausage-shaped fingers is troublesome as I can easily hit three characters at a time with one finger pad . This could make for awkward reading, since the reader would be faced with what looks like Enigma code. Inevitably there is an exceptional amount of backspacing and correcting that goes on. Enough to turn unintelligible gibberish into … another type of gibberish.

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Last week, just after dawn, I looked out my kitchen window toward the walking path between us and the row of houses beyond and spied the largest and most beautiful red fox I’d ever seen trotting along the concrete toward the fields on the west side of town.

(Not my photo)

It’s size made me glad that I could see our cats snoozing in chairs behind me. I’m not as worried about Willow who is probably at her physical peak, but Poco is more like me, where out-thinking a foe is much the better way to go when compared to running away or climbing a tree.

And you really can’t out-think a threat as immediate as a fox standing in front of you with lunch on its mind.

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On the drive to Denver from Montrose along Interstate 70, it has become commonplace for us to be delayed, sometimes for more than an hour. Once it was an accident that forced us to take a long detour through Leadville. Another time it was during a heavy snow, where there was an unscheduled avalanche abatement miles ahead of us somewhere out of sight. That one went on long enough to bring scores of us out of our cars to empty straining bladders in full view of fellow travelers in that long stalled line of automobiles.

On this trip we were alerted by one of those overhead electric signs which reach across the traffic lanes that I-70 was closed up ahead at milepost 116. Backtracking would have added hours to our journey, so we exited at milepost 114, which was in West Glenwood Springs, and found a Culver’s restaurant. There we learned that an accident up ahead was causing the delay, so we settled in and had our lunch.

We have an app on our phones dealing with Colorado road conditions, and there the accident was at 116, clearly marked by a red indicator on the map. So we finished eating and stayed in our booth until that red spot went away, then continued on without further trouble.

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George Will is one of those uncommon birds these days. A conservative of the venerable stripe, dating from B.F.N. (Before Fox News). In previous decades his sense of prissy entitlement sometimes annoyed the very hell out of me, but he hasn’t lost his clarity, and that’s something special in these garbled times.

I have found that for this often intemperate liberal (moi) there are few things healthier than to read well-considered pieces by conservative writers. My firmly held (but often thinly-derived) opinions are thus tested, and it is not unheard of for actual change to occur as a result.

People like Will, David Brooks, and Andrew Sullivan come to mind as examples of folks I have found worth reading. Mr. Fawkes has collected examples of all three for your enlightenment.

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Monday Robin and I went to the Denver Zoo, along with the Johnsons. It was a sunny, warmish day and about one hundred thousand other people had the same idea. Which made finding a parking spot a test of my equanimity. Just as I had reached the sputtering stage, a tiny space appeared that I was able to shoe-horn our car into, while still being able to open the doors wide enough to exit the vehicle.

Every time I visit a zoo I am torn. Certainly there are those successes where species are literally rescued from extinction and saved to eventually be returned to the wild. A good thing.

But even with ever-increasing amounts of space allotted to their “cages,” the universe for most of these intelligent animals is so tiny relative to what Nature formerly provided. We humans have so much to answer for … and so few excuses.

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Sunday Morning

Sunday morning and we’re in Denver, catching up with Kaia and Leina and their parents. They are busy, what with school and athletics and music lessons and playdates and lord knows what else.

Denver is an okay city, with a lot of the good stuff that only a large population can support. But I wouldn’t live there. Traffic is bad, the air quality is poor, and living costs are high. There are just too many tradeoffs you have to make for that occasional visit to a museum or concert or trendy part of town.

Of course a Denverite would look at our lives here in Paradise and say the same thing in reverse. What a backward village Montrose is, they’d say. A population with way too many yahoos in it, gun-toting would-be heroes packing their iron into the churches on mornings like this one.

Sure, the air is fresh, but why bother to breathe at all if there is nothing to do but look at rabbitbrush all day?

Ah me, to each their own.

But one thing Denver does have is an REI store, a dream factory if there ever was one. More great tools than you could use in several lifetimes, and all designed to take you outdoors into whatever adventure you feel has your name on it. I know … we came for the kids, but would it hurt to go shopping for a minute or two?

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This morning Willow is curled up in my lap, a thing that she does only early in the morning, and only when she wants to. Try to pick her up and plonk her there is way more likely to get you a growl than a lap-companion, and you might even come away with a scratch or two.

She is very much her own creature, and does not suffer fools well.

I admire that quality in her, showing me how close she is to the wild, and how thin the layer of civilization really is in her case. If she could state her feelings, I fancy this would be what she’d say:

I like the trappings that come with living with humans – warm rooms, shelter from the wind, safe places to sleep, food when I am feeling too lazy to catch my own. I am even fond of the particular humans who share this space with me, as long as they behave themselves. But I am not their ornament or plaything. I have my own life to live, as do they. Things work out best when we all remember this.

(Anthropomorphizing is one of my deepest and most persistent traits.)

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Love it when I find a story like this, the tale of Bill Fay. Where the musician records a couple of albums as young man, they don’t sell, he then makes his way at unglamorous jobs, but never stops writing new songs. Then thirty years later someone “discovers” him and brings in the world’s attention.

But the guy is so grounded … he has long ago realized that it is only the music that is real, and fame is ephemeral. Read the story, from the NYTimes.

If you’re interested, here’s a couple of examples of what he’s written. The second song, Filled With Wonder … , is from his latest album, which releases later this week.

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A word from Mr. Guy Fawkes
I don’t know what you may have already read about me, but I imagine it is composed of equal parts falsehoods, innuendos, and claptrap.

To set the record straight, I was arrested while guarding a number of barrels full of gunpowder located in a room directly beneath the House of Lords. The authorities took this all very badly and they quickly scheduled a day and time for my soul to be released from my body in a public and uncomfortable manner. But that’s another story.

Since then I have languished, without any application for my fervent spirit, so I am happy to be promised occasional opportunities to express myself in this column.

For today just let me say that I sense that there is a revolutionary mood alive in the land. But I realize that my old methods may not be applicable to the times, and where would one find big barrels of gunpowder anyway in 2020?

Perhaps there are other, less explosive ways to achieve the same goals, eh? So I’ve taken over the “Fighting the Good Fight Department” section while renaming it. And this makes it easy to skip if you’re tired of these topics. You’ve gotta know that if it were up to me, this whole blog would be about these articles or op-ed pieces.

But then, I’m a detonative sorta guy. It’s in my nature.

GUY FAWKES DEPARTMENT
Why Does America Hate Its Children? by Paul Krugman. (The problem is that children don’t run for office to represent themselves. And the adults that are supposed to do that never adequately stand up for them)
Trump’s Evil Is Contagious by Timothy Egan. (The lesson here is that if you stand too close to a manure pile you will still stink if you step away)
Senate Republicans Are Bathed In Shame by Frank Bruni. (These people are exploring new depths of dishonor and degradation- lower than you ever thought possible on such a large scale)

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The story of Evelyn Yang makes me nauseous in so many ways. It is a tale of betrayal in every way possible as she sought justice for herself and other women. It involves:

  • The physician who abused her and dozens of other women who is no more than a serial predator deserving of much harsher punishment.
  • The Columbia University staff who worked hard at hushing the matter up rather than at helping the victims.
  • The state attorney general who decided that taking a plea deal was the best way to go and then was surprised that the victims felt betrayed is a clueless individual indeed.

Personally, the most visceral response for me comes from reading about the doctor who violated his oath and the law. There are many things that physicians owe to our patients, but providing for their safety while in our care is the minimum they have the right to expect from our profession.

The absolute minimum.

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Follow Me …

We couldn’t quite make it all the way through Tuesday night’s debate. By now the candidates’ soundbite strategies were pretty well established, and the 90 minutes that we did watch didn’t move my opinions much at all.

Except that Joe Biden’s age seemed to wear on him more than on previous evenings. He did make one strong point, though, when he said that of all the people on that stage he was the best at building the kind of coalitions that will be needed in November. And I think he may be right on that.

One thing. I really disliked how the questioners framed their questions this time. It was all “Why are you the best one to be Commander-in-chief,” or the best one to do this or that. We Minnesota Norsk-people are not brought up this way – to toot our own horns in public – so that approach didn’t sit well.

Let them tell us what they’d do if given the chance, and we’ll make up our own darn minds who’s best.

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Dear Ragnar: Do you have an opinion on this latest controversy? As to whether President Cluck had justification for killing that Iranian general?

Ragnar: What controversy? He killed him. End of story. Anybody who bothers to listen to Cluck tell us why he did it should have his belt taken away and somebody cutting up his food for him.

Dear Ragnar: I don’t think I quite understand.

Ragnar: Maybe this will help. I was reading some of your history the other day, the part where little Georgie Washington said: “I cannot tell a lie.” Now that may have been embellished slightly, but it made a nice story for the kiddies. This other guy, now, when the Golden Book about him comes out it will read: “I cannot tell the truth, so help me God.”

Dear Ragnar: So aside from that, you have no opinion as to the morality of this situation? Whether we should accept assassination as a legitimate political tool?

Ragnar: Really. You’re asking a Viking warrior’s opinion on slaughter?

Dear Ragnar: Okay. Last question today. Recently a member of our family made his own lutefisk. Went to all the trouble involved, but when the final product hit the dinner table, no one would eat it. Do you have a comment?

Ragnar: I’ll just say this about that. As soon as I was dead and had more choices, I gave up lutefisk as a bad idea. These days? Give me a big plate of butter chicken and I’m a happy Norseman.

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From The New Yorker

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More on the continuing and rapidly evolving saga of electric bikes and trikes. If they are not the wave of the future, they are at least a healthy ripple.

First, here’s the prettiest ebike I’ve seen yet, and it comes from the French.

It’s called the Angell, and hides its battery in the luggage rack. Its range is 70 miles, but if you bought one of these beauties, would you really want to get it dirty? I think not.

The second one is something truly remarkable. It is the Danish VELOKS MK3. It’s a recumbent tricycle that costs a bit over $6000, which exceeds my trike budget by about $5900, but here’s the deal. It’s top speed is 37 mph and it will go more than 400 miles before it needs recharging.

That’s 400 Miles!!

F-o-u-r-h-u-n-d-r-e-d-m-i-l-e-s!!

Of course, at the end of such an epic trike ride you might need to roll yourself straight to a chiropractor’s office to be extracted from the cycle and adjusted back into a standing posture. But what an achievement this is.

The one shown in the photo is a rear-wheel drive trike, but the company has front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive models in the works. Amazing.

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Last night Robin and I watched A Marriage Story on Netflix. It was one of those well-acted, wrenching films that I never wish to see again. To watch two characters who had been in love, but now were less so, crack open the door to divorce and discover that they had no idea what things could be lurking behind that door … . The movie brought that scary territory into full view and did it very well .

My own divorce happened more than thirty years ago, and what a learning experience it was. This picture tapped into some of those old feelings, and even though its particulars were different in very many ways from my own story, I strolled through some old neighborhoods last night that I hadn’t planned on revisiting.

Good movie, though.

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Needle & the Damage Done …

Willow went for her routine health exam on Thursday and except for needing to lose a bit of weight, she passed easily.

The result was that she was given three immunizations, and was feeling pretty ill by Thursday evening. She was sleeping constantly, plus eating and drinking poorly. Not a good day.

For me, it is all so reminiscent of taking my own small children in for their shots decades ago. You take kids to the doctor who are uneasy in their minds because any kid over two years of age knows that the doctor’s office is the House of Needles.

After the patting and the probing and the putting of metallic tools on their bodies, and just when they start to have hope that they are done, that they’ve dodged a bullet, in comes the previously non-threatening nurse with a trayful of trouble.

Sometimes my kids felt ill afterward, just like Willow is going through right now. In each case I had taken a person or pet in for “their own good,” and rolled those dice for them. Because I knew the odds. I knew in depth about the diseases they were being protected against. I also knew the possible side effects of the shots themselves, which ranged from the trivial to the very serious. The good always far outweighed the bad, as long as you were not that unlucky one in a million who experienced the rare serious side effect.

So I empathize with my small friend, and hope that tomorrow is a better day.

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BTW, on that same Thursday I went to the City Market pharmacy for my own influenza vaccination. A little late in the season, perhaps, but I carry a hiking stick to point at anyone approaching me who has a bleary eye and a bad cough. In this way I will hope to keep the disease at bay until the immunization has time to work its magic.

The pharmacy tech came up to me and demanded to know how old I was, because their supplies were at low ebb, and he wasn’t sure I was the right age for the products they had on hand.

In other words, here I was at eighty, and being carded.

He matched me to their materials, I got my shot, and Friday morning am nursing nothing worse than a sore arm and a touch of fever.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department
Stop Freaking Out About the Climate by Emma Marris

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Robin’s first small-group discussion of Flannery O’Connor’s stories on Thursday evening was delightful. Last night’s story was “Good Country People,” which I found both hilarious and macabre. The great thing about the discussion is that we never came to a consensus about anything in the tale except that we couldn’t come to a consensus.

Except for one Buddhist, the members of the group were all from Robin’s church, including the pastor and his wife. One of the ladies had been an English teacher when she was younger, and kept repeating how repellent the story was to her. Disgusting, repugnant, yechhhh! Are they all like this? the lady said. But by her own admission she will be at the next one, so there must be something she is drawn to.

Here’s a photo of O’Connor. She described herself once as having a receding chin and don’t mess with me sort of eyes.

The eyes for certain … a steely gaze indeed. There is a quote of hers that fits this pic:

“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”

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The song “Love, Lay Me Blind,” over there in the Jukebox, is so affecting. I can’t recall when I first ran across this piece of music and purchased it from iTunes, but whenever I play it a sense of sadness comes over me. Somehow it recalls a loss, but there is no memory attached, just a feeling. Perhaps it’s one of those archetypal memory things tucked away in my DNA somewhere.

This lovely video for the music tells its own story, which is also of a haunting.

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Pithiness

For Christmas, Robin gave me a copy of Barnes & Noble’s “Book of the Year.” It’s title is The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. It’s a slender volume, each page an illustration with a few words on it, or sometimes no words at all. It takes no time at all to read the entire book if you go at it as you would a novel. But I doubt that’s how the author intended it be used.

Taking in the pages slowly as you would a book of aphorisms would be a better way of approaching it, I think. To me it was all very reminiscent of the Winnie the Pooh books, where a cast of small characters say small things that can have large meanings.

I loved the illustrations, which were done by the author, as much as I did the text … perhaps more. They have a soul of their own, a tender and wistful one.

I’ve scanned in a couple of pages for you, just to illustrate what I mean. All in all it’s a lovely little book that I like very much, even though it strongly leans toward the Hallmark-y side of literature, which is not my usual territory.

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Here’s a cartoon by an old fave of mine, Dick Guindon. He was a student at the U of Minnesota when I was an undergrad, and drew for the student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily .

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I was thinking about the fascinating pictographs all over this fine country of ours that have been left by early Native Americans. There are some very well-known ones in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, which are treasured by that state’s citizens, as they well should be.

Hegeman Lake, Boundary Waters, Minnesota

In numbers, though, they are dwarfed by the sheer abundance of the paintings and petroglyphs in this part of the country. One of our favorite local hikes, in Dominguez Canyon, contains hundreds of such drawings, inscribed on a handful of boulders. Perhaps it’s as simple as that there were so many flat rocks to write upon, and that shale and sandstone make better “paper” than granite.

Dominguez Canyon, Colorado

No matter. What has intrigued me is that we know so little about why they are there and what they say. Into this pool of thoughtful ignorance I will drop this small suggestion: perhaps some of them are the equivalent of blogs.

A man or woman feels the urge to record something. They find a large flat stone surface, have the tools at hand, and they write/paint their observations on life’s happenings. Or their imaginative take on them. Then they come back on other afternoons and add to the record, one piece at a time.

Grand Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Utah

Until someone comes up with the key to unlocking the true origins and meanings of these art forms, I am going with my own interpretation. (Just like I do with nearly everything else.) And if the truth does come out and conflicts with what I think, well, then I have some choices to make, don’t I?

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Robin is leading a book discussion group at her church dealing with the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. For myself, until just recently I really knew nothing about the woman or her writing but for the story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” a twisted little tale that ends with a psychopath shooting an old woman completely dead because she was annoying.

I have been invited to attend the first discussion Thursday evening and I am planning on going, although I have advised her to keep her expectations low when it comes to my participation. After all, I am an old Minnesota boy of Norwegian/American heritage and we do not have a reputation for literary commentary. We are much more noted for shyness and being too modest to plop our opinions down in public.

One item that attracted me to this group (besides the fact that I have a thing for the teacher) was learning that at the age of 5, O’Connor had her first 15 minutes of national fame due to owning/training a chicken who walked backwards. Here is Flannery and the bird.

Now there’s someone I can learn from.

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Once every couple of years or so, I need to remind myself how great the music coming out of the Sahara can be, especially the guitar music.

So here is the band Tinariwen.

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Story of Tito and Amanda

My friend Bill sent along a news clipping from Florida. I include it below:

The article speaks eloquently for itself, and I only have a couple of comments to make. First, some mental aberrations are much funnier than others. Apparently Tito and Amanda believed in their product, and they might make a case for police harassment of an innocent vendor. Maybe. And since it’s pretty common knowledge that when Jesus wants to meet up with someone he often does it behind a KFC, there is that.

Secondly, the article doesn’t mention it, but I strongly suspect that the purchasers of those golden tickets were some of those barmy evangelicals who support President Cluck so strongly. If they’ll buy him, they’ll buy anything.

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Let’s play with this a little longer. If there were planets made entirely of drugs, what would they be called? I have four suggestions to offer. Perhaps you have others.

  • Crackitopia
  • Morphinia I
  • Cocainatus Prime
  • Methamphorian

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The critics are not quite unanimous, but almost, in panning the new movie Cats. I think the Rotten Tomatoes rating was down below 20% at one time. But Robin wanted to see it no matter what and off we went.

We really liked it.

Not that there weren’t flaws, but there was also a lot of music and energy and some really appealing characters. Who cares if the cinematography looked like it was shot through a lens of strong coffee when you get to see Judy Dench strut her stuff, and watch Ian McKellen in cat-drag?

There were excellent dance numbers, especially a tap-dance number along a railroad track that was terrific.

Forget about plot. The original musical’s plot was always pretty hare-brained but you were able to forget about it most of the time, because … it was forever about the music and it still is!

Songs like Memory, Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, and Mr. Mistoffelees, f’rinstance.

So nya-nya-nya and pish-tush to those critics who are unable to find the fun.

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Our fearless leader may have finally gone and done it this time. Those of us who have worked at keeping our wits in a witless era have known that when you have an immoral and foolish person as your president, eventually he will do something irretrievably stupid on a grand scale.

Ergo – assassinating a general and then threatening to blow up cultural sites if the Other Side does anything about it.

The Day After War Begins in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni
Congress, Stop the Rush to War by the NYTimes Editorial Board

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The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions Department

We had an old Canon photo printer that we hadn’t used for several years because it would no longer play with our computer’s OS. I thought: Rather than throw away something that had been working, we’ll take it to Goodwill and maybe there’s someone out there using an older PC or Mac that can make the thing fly again.

So I stuffed the printer’s power cords into a plastic bag that I thought already contained some unused ink cartridges for the machine, and went to the Restore where they gratefully accepted the donation.

After returning home I was dismayed to find the bag of ink cartridges still in the car … what in blazes was in the bag I left at the Restore? I asked Robin and after checking the car she told me that I had given away a brand new pair of exercise pants that she had purchased only yesterday.

Back I went to the Restore, where the I found that the administrative person who screens donations had decided that they couldn’t use the Canon after all, and it had been trashed. The young man who had helped me at my earlier visit then showed up and told me he knew where the cords were. Together we went outside to a gigantic dumpster, whereupon he climbed up to a precarious perch on the side of the beast, leaned way in, and retrieved the bag and its contents from the top of the pile.

I thanked him profusely and then drove back home, where I returned Robin’s pants, which seemed none the worse for their brief visit to the dumpster.

Memo to Myself: Always check the derned bag.

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New Year’s Eve

The snow piled up until we were able to do something that’s never been possible in the six winters we’ve spent here in Paradise. We buckled up and went XC skiing right from the door of our garage. There’s a biking/walking path starting there that leads to open fields a quarter-mile away. It wasn’t a groomed trail by any means, but our skinny skis had more than enough white stuff under them to make it fun.

Something we both like to do is read the animal tracks in new snow. Day to day we don’t see much of these creatures, like the foxes, raccoons, rabbits, and skunks, but they leave clear traces of their night’s travels in the snow.

We have a neighbor a few houses up the street who has a video camera scanning his back yard at night, and each evening he puts out a dish of kibbled food. I asked him yesterday if anything new or noteworthy had shown up on the video recording, and he said: “No, mostly it’s just trash pandas and a couple of feral cats.”

Trash panda is his name for raccoons.

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As I was musing the other day … musing being something that I do quite a lot of since it requires so little energy and I hardly break a sweat … I thought how much repair and maintenance the process of aging requires of us.

Each morning there are the bathroom rituals that we must perform so that when we exit that safe space into society we don’t look as muddle-headed as we feel. Many of those rituals involve hair. Not the hair atop our heads, which grows alarmingly thinner with time, but that which pops out of places it needn’t and in directions it shouldn’t. So some shaving and plucking is often in order.

Then those modified hairs, which are the fingernails and toenails, come into focus. During each day they look for ways to chip and fragment themselves, having become brittle and unreliable. If one doesn’t give them proper attention each morning they will go about their business of snagging on anything they can, socks and sweaters being regular victims.

Did I mention the slathering of ointments and creams on one’s integument to stave off that parched look? The swallowing of tablets guaranteed to reduce the chance of croaking before the end of the day by 0.124 %? And fiber – don’t get me started on fiber! Suffice it to say that the Metamucil years are in full flower.

I could go on. Actually, I already have, and since there is no end to this sort of dissertation, I will simply stop here.

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Our Buddha’s hat has been added-to. He remains serene as ever.

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Today is New Year’s’ Eve. The last time we threw a party on this date, not one person attending was still present at our house by midnight, all of them having already headed home for those beds that called so strongly.

At least I think they were all gone, because by 11 P.M. Robin and I were fast asleep. And that was nearly two decades ago. Somehow the fascination of watching the ball drop at Times Square has diminished. And looking at the crowds on television I no longer imagine how exciting it must be to be a part of that expectant throng, but instead I think: What a field day it must be for pickpockets.

As you can surmise, a party animal I am not.

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A New Year’s Eve recollection. I was a kid, staying at Grandpa Jacobson’s farm for the holidays. The day being a special one, I was allowed to stay up until midnight with the adults, listening to radio broadcasts of celebrations in New York City.

The heat in that small dwelling was provided by an oil burning stove in the center of the living room. A black pipe led from the stove to the wall and thence the chimney.

At the stroke of midnight, Grandpa would take a piece of blue carpenter’s chalk and write the number of the New Year on that pipe. That number would remain there until 365 days later, when it would be wiped away and the new one inscribed. The year I am remembering the number was 1949.

I’m pretty sure that by 12: 05 I was sound asleep.

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